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Kangaroo Bluff Battery

History

Range of the Hobart Batteries

The Kangaroo Bluff Battery was developed to stop any enemy vessels from shelling Hobart Town from just outside the range of the Domain and Battery Point batteries. Although the proposal was mentioned in the early days of settlement, procrastination was the order of the day.

It is thought that the appearance in the River Derwent of two Russian warships in 1873 prompted plans for the construction of the Kangaroo Bluff Battery. Excavations commenced in September 1880 in accord with plans provided by Col. P. H. Scratchley, a British military engineer in charge of defences for the Australasian colonies. Work was brought to a halt in April 1881, due to excessive costs. At the end of May 1883, Patrick Cronly was contracted for the erection of the fortifications in association with the Public Works Department.

The work was supervised by the Staff Officer (Boddam) and completed in October 1884. The cost was approximately $16,300, at a time when labourers received 50 cents per day. In mid 1885, public trespass resulted in the ditch being deepened, walls raised a further course and broken glass set in mortar on top of the wall. A fence was built around the fort (as a safety measure) after a nine year old boy drowned in the water-filled ditch in November 1885.

Structure

The pentagonal form of the battery fitted snugly into the curvature of the bluff. The ditch, underground passages and chambers were cut out from solid stone and faced with masonry. The excavated stone was cut into 0.6m blocks to build the battery. The fort is at its widest (146 m) where two caponiers project into the ditch.

Kangaroo Bluff - Part of the underground construction

Several loopholes slit into these stone casements allowed riflefire along the whole length of the ditch to repel any assault by a land party. Access to caponiers was by iron hatchway. Open passageways were cut into the rock 3m below the ramparts, to connect the gun emplacements on both sides of the fort. These led to underground magazines, stores, lamp room, well and loading galleries. Speaking tubes were set into the walls for communication purposes.

The battery, or fort as it is sometimes known, was covered by a dry mound and surrounded by a wet moat. If the enemy managed to get past these they would encounter prickly hawthorn hedges on top of the moat walls.

Guns of the Battery

The Tasmanian barque Lufra arrived from England on 3 November 1882. On board were two large new muzzle loading rifled Armstrong guns with a total weight of 25.9 tonnes. One gun was lifted from the hold on 25 November and days later taken to Bellerive wharf. It took a team of thirteen horses to transport it to the battery. The other gun followed at the end of the month; however they were not mounted until 1884.

8 Inch Guns

8 Inch Armstrong Gun

The guns could fire projectiles of 81.7 kg and the powder charge was only half that weight. The size of the bore was 203 mm in diameter (8 inches), hence their designation as 8 inch guns. They are the only original guns of the battery. In 1925, orders were given to bury the guns as obsolete, but they were dug up and placed on new concrete mounts by the Army in 1970.

In April 1885, rifled muzzle loading eighty pounders were placed on each flank of the fort. They were able to fire projectiles of that weight (36.3kg). Both these guns had been converted from old smooth bore sixty four pound cannons and were mounted upon large sliding wooden carriages. A gun once situated on the flank facing Hobart was originally at the Queens Battery near the Domain cenotaph. It was brought to Bellerive from Brighton Army Camp in 1970. Made in 1866, the barrel weighs 4.2 tonnes and it was able to fire a projectile of 31.8 kg. From the early 1900s, it served as a time gun for Hobart Town, carrying on a sixty year tradition (dating from 1863) of a one o'clock gun fired as an accurate check for watch or clock.

On the opposite flank an emplacement was added in 1888. It was for a small quickfire Nordenfelt gun balanced on a pillar. The gun could fire projectiles of 2.7 kg. Provision was also made to mount a Nordenfelt machine gun near the bridge over the protective ditch of the fort.

Operating the Battery

Nordenfelt Gun

6 PDR Rapid Fire Nordenfelt Gun

One method of loading (that kept the men under cover) was by traversing the gun to the protected loading gallery. The muzzle was lowered onto a wooden rest and the powder charge and shell were placed in a trough and rammed home by a rope haul. Shells and cartridges were brought up from the stores below by means of a suspended hardwood rail with brass "travellers" attached. This slow and difficult method was soon replaced by men standing on the parapet and loading by derrick fitted to the gun carriage. Charge and shell were rammed home separately.

The shells had projecting studs that matched the rifling of the barrel and thereby imparted spin for accuracy. Silk bags holding powder charges were kept in zinc cannisters. A simple "compressor" that worked on friction between interleaved plates (to counteract recoil) was a primitive device.

There were two accidents from excessive recoil. Together, the guns could cover an arc of 227 degrees, ranging from 63 degrees to 290 degrees from true north. Trial shots were fired (two from each large gun) in February 1885, on the occasion of a visit to Hobart by Major-General Scratchley. Hidden beneath the merlon (mound) is the magazine complex for the large Armstrong guns and the artillery store. Adjoining are the cartridge store and shell store, while at the head of this is the lamp room with a well beneath and storage tank above.

Towards the front of the battery are two loading galleries. The doorways to these are near the semi-circular aprons of both gun emplacements. Passageways link-up all sections of the magazine. The floors of the artillery, cartridge and shell stores are 6m below the mound surface. The magazine is constructed of rubble masonry together with arched brickwork. It is covered with a minimum thickness of 0.61m of bombproof concrete. On top of this, at least 1.22m of earth provided further protection. A copper ventilator supplied necessary air. There were shelves and cupboards for clothing, side arms (rammers, handspikes, etc.) besides cleaning equipment for the guns.

Protection against accidental sparks that might cause an explosion was of the greatest importance. Hence, the buckets carrying water to wash out the gun bores were made of leather; felt shoes were worn by the men; shovels and other tools were made of wood and no matches, iron or steel were permitted in the powder magazine. Candles were preferred to oil or spirit lamps, as candles usually extinguished themselves if overturned; whereas spilt oil or spirits tended to spread flames.

Manning of the Battery

For many years, the permanent military forces in Tasmania consisted almost totally of infantry from Great Britain. Imperial troops were withdrawn from Australia from 1870 to 1901 and so each state had to provide its own defence force. Not until 1859 was there a Volunteer Artillery Company constituted for the defence of Hobart Town. A School of Artillery was formed in 1862. Thereafter, a number of inquiries probed the problems of manning the defences.

Although a Handbook for Artillery was produced in 1868, interest lapsed by 1870 and disbandment in the south of the State took place several years later. Flagging interest was re-kindled by Dr E.L.Crowther at the end of 1877 and an inducement of $5 per year was given to those who attended sufficient camps and parades to be considered as "effective". The majority of defence volunteers were tradesmen.

The Bluff Battery and Alexandra Battery were usually manned in turns on selected days from 9 am - 4 pm or used on annual training camps for drill purposes or shell practice. There were daylight and night drills on other occasions as well. In 1886 a Permanent Artillery, consisting of twenty men, was formed. The Southern Artillery continued as a volunteer group until it was disbanded in 1904.

By this time, defence matters were clearly in Commonwealth Government hands.

The Kangaroo Bluff Battery was manned until the early 1920s and during this time no shots were fired in anger.

Management of the Site

In 1901, after Federation, the Kangaroo Bluff Battery was handed over to the Commonwealth. In the 1920s, the large guns were ordered to be buried and doorways bricked up. In 1930 the Clarence Council took over the area for use as a public park.

In 1961 the battery was considered obsolete and the Scenery Preservation Board acquired most of the battery. The site was first reserved in 1961 under the Scenery Preservation Act.

The battery was declared as an Historic Site in 1970 under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970 and is now managed by the Parks and Wildlife Service.