Fort Lytton History

Inside Fort from Near Gate 1000x288 v2

The text below is the two History sections of the Queensland Heritage Register listings for Fort Lytton and Lytton Hill, downloaded from the Queensland Heritage Register Website on 11 January 2016.The two together present a reasonably comprehensive history of the colonial fort and its surrounding military complex.For the full listings see Fort Lytton Heritage Listing and Lytton Hill Heritage Listing

FORT LYTTON
Fort Lytton, a pentagonal earthwork fortification located at the mouth of the Brisbane River, was constructed in 1880-82 by the Queensland government on advice from British military engineers Col. Sir WFD Jervois and Lt. Col. PH Scratchley. The fort contributed to the coastal defence of Queensland until the end of the Second World War. In 1990 the site was gazetted as an Historic National Park.

Prior to the 1860s, defence of the Australian colonies had been solely the responsibility of the Imperial government. Britain considered that the Imperial Navy would always provide the first line of defence in any threat to her colonial empire, but from 1863 required the Australian colonies, by then self-governing, to contribute toward the costs of maintaining Imperial garrisons on colonial soil, and encouraged the colonies to provide for their own military infrastructure such as fortifications and barracks. Queensland, which had separated from New South Wales in December 1859, could not afford to contribute to Imperial defence, and so Imperial troops were gradually withdrawn from the colony – the last had left by 1870. In the 1860s Queensland established a number of volunteer defence units, based on the British model, but their effectiveness was severely impaired by a lack of armaments and ammunition.

By the 1870s the Australian colonies were developing rapidly and were concerned with potential threats from colonial powers such as Russia and France [the latter had annexed New Caledonia in 1873]. In 1877 the colonial governments of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, anxious to secure the land defence of their coastlines, jointly invited British Royal Engineers Colonel Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois and Lieutenant-Colonel Peter H Scratchley, to inspect existing defence installations and make recommendations as to how these might be improved. Scratchley’s particular expertise was in the design and construction of deterrent coastal fortresses.

Jervois and Scratchley identified maritime attacks as the greatest threat to Australia, and recommended that coastal defences be developed for all the mainland colonies. Despite being physically closer to the source of most threats, Queensland, with its sparse population and limited resources, was not considered to be greatly at risk. In his August 1877 preliminary report on Queensland coastal defences, Jervois identified the principal threat to Queensland security as an attack from the sea on the major ports [Brisbane, Rockhampton and Maryborough], in the form of city bombardment to secure supplies and coal, rather than for permanent occupation. Sea-power would prove the first line of defence, but recommended that Brisbane, as the capital and principal port of Queensland, be defended with the construction of a fort at Lytton, at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Moreton Bay, with its myriad of islands on which enemy forces might establish bases from which to raid the mainland, could not possibly be defended. However, sandbars at the mouth of the Brisbane River, which restricted the size of up-river vessels to a 4.8 metre draught [unarmoured gun boats], provided a natural defence which could be enhanced with the construction of a fort at the river mouth, supplemented by sub-marine mines located so as to force shipping within range of the guns located at the fort.

In late 1878, despite initial opposition to the cost of Jervois’ scheme, the Queensland Parliament sanctioned the construction of Fort Lytton. Early in 1879 Scratchley fixed the position of the battery, and Colonial Architect FDG Stanley, in consultation with Scratchley, commenced work on plans for the barracks, magazines and gun emplacements, which were to be constructed in brick and concrete. Excavation and earthworks for the Lytton battery commenced in August 1880, tenders for construction of barracks, magazine, etc were called in September 1880, and the main battery was completed by mid-1882. The contractor for the whole was John Watson of Bulimba. In 1882 the firing of two 64-pounders signalled the commencement of operations at Fort Lytton.

The fort was constructed at an initial cost of £10,000, and comprised four gun emplacements protected by a closed earthwork parapet surrounded by a water-filled moat, which extended a quarter of a mile around the perimeter, enclosing some 900 square yards of ground. Within the moat was a narrow berm, beyond which was an earthen mound or parapet, turfed to reduce the risk of erosion and to improve the camouflage of the site – the object being to conceal the fort from ships entering the river. The mound formed an irregular pentagon, and within the parapet were set four gun-bays to house the larger 64-pounder RML guns. Gun positions 1 and 2 protected the seaward approach to the fort, and positions 3 and 4 covered the mined area within the river mouth. [In 1893 the 64-pounders in gun positions 3 and 4 were replaced with 6-pounder QF guns, and gun positions 5 and 6 were constructed to house the RML guns removed from positions 3 and 4.] The landward side was to be defended by field guns. Inside the fort were barracks, powder magazine and shell room, with brick-lined passages connecting the magazines to the gun emplacements. Lifting tackle was installed on rails to facilitate the handling of ammunition. Special accommodation was provided for the electrical connections associated with the submarine explosive devices which were strung across the river. The rear parapet sheltered timber buildings to house the officers, guards, cook-house and ablutions areas. The entry was provided with a timber bridge and the entry passage was reinforced with timber blocks bolted together. A wooden gate reinforced with iron sheeting protected the entry. Scratchley also arranged for prickly plants, trees and buffalo grass to be planted over the battery, to supplement the defences. In addition, a boys’ reformatory was established on nearby Lytton Hill (QHR 601366) in 1880-81, the buildings to serve a dual function as part of a Redoubt commanding Fort Lytton. The Redoubt was not completed until 1885.

Even as Fort Lytton was under construction, attitudes towards colonial defence were changing. Military experts were supporting the implementation of more mobile defence forces, as opposed to fixed facilities such as the Lytton battery. Technology was changing rapidly, both for weaponry and shipping, such that techniques for defence against maritime attack were under constant review. Despite this, Fort Lytton was maintained and contributed to Queensland’s defences until the mid-20th century. It also served as a semi-permanent military camp from 1881 until the early 1930s, principally during the annual Easter Encampments at which militia from all over Queensland gathered at Lytton for manoeuvres.

Following the passage of Queensland’s Defence Act 1884 under which a core defence force of 150 men was established, supplemented by militia groups, “A” Battery Queensland Artillery was garrisoned at Fort Lytton. During the ‘Russian scare’ of March 1885 [generated by British-Russian mobilisation along the Afghanistan border], 20 men from “A” Battery, and 200 troops raised from militia units, were mobilised at Fort Lytton to defend Brisbane; the force was stood down in May when the border dispute was submitted to arbitration.

Following the ‘Russian scare’ a series of improvements to the Lytton battery were approved in 1887. These included the provision of casemates, and an engine shed to accommodate dynamo, two boilers, and duplicate engines. An underground tank to hold 10,000 gallons of water was also constructed. Queensland’s muzzle-loading guns were sent to England for conversion to breech-loading and new hydro-pneumatic carriages were provided. The slope of the embankments at Fort Lytton was eased to provide a deflection surface or glacis for enemy shells. Further improvements occurred as funds became available.

When the Lytton Defence Reserve of 120 acres [48 hectares] was finally gazetted late in 1887, it included Reformatory Hill, Fort Lytton, and possibly part of the Customs Reserve. By 1901 the Defence Reserve had been extended to 640 acres [259 hectares] following the resumption [in two stages: 1891 and 1900] of Lytton township for defence purposes.

The severe economic depression of the early 1890s restricted expenditure on Fort Lytton, but by 1897 money was once again being spent on the facility. A shed was provided for artillery stores and a new smithy, fitters’ and carpenters’ workshops and a large new store were constructed. Additional storage was provided in 1900.

In 1901 the Queensland Defence Force was amalgamated into the new Commonwealth defence force, and Fort Lytton was transferred to Commonwealth ownership. Various small improvements were made to the fort during the early 1900s. In 1903 a new concrete base was provided for the search light which had been installed in 1892. Culverts, roads and wharf structures were repaired and improved. A new bridge was provided over the moat in 1907 as well as new ablutions areas, gates and kitchen facilities. In the years immediately prior to the First World War [1914-18] yards for horses were provided and major repairs were made to the wharf servicing the fort. With the outbreak of war, new barracks and cook-houses were erected [1914-15] and water supplies and drainage were improved. A new forage barn was built in 1916 and a dermatological hospital was constructed on Lytton Hill in 1917. The fort fired in anger only twice during the First World War – on both occasions a round was fired across the bows of civilian craft which ignored procedures for approaching the river mouth during war time.

In 1913-14 a quarantine station was established on land adjacent to the fort. This accommodated newly arrived immigrants and persons considered to be at risk of causing infection to the general population. The quarantine station buildings at various times also provided accommodation for persons stationed at the fort. Fort Lytton also played a role in the function of the quarantine station, controlling ships attempting to enter the Brisbane River without appropriate health clearances.

By the end of the First World War the inadequacies of Fort Lytton as a defensive base were clearly apparent. Expenditure was kept to a minimum during the interwar period and in 1932 the wharf at Fort Lytton was closed, with the battery relying on the berthing facilities at the quarantine station. In 1938 training walls and revetments were installed along the river banks to improve navigation and flood control.

The Second World War [1939-45] brought a major change in the role which Fort Lytton served in the defence of Australia. The longer-ranging capabilities of modern armaments made real the threat of shipping and aircraft strikes. In response, outer defences were established on Moreton and Bribie Islands and anti-aircraft installations were provided at Lytton, Colmslie, Hemmant, Balmoral, Hendra Park, Mount Gravatt, Archerfield, Amberley and on the islands in Moreton Bay. Fort Lytton provided an important coastal communication link and was pivotal to the coastal defence of the Brisbane River. Boom defences against submarine invasion were placed in the river at Lytton, and the fort was adapted to defend these: gun position 4 was altered to accommodate a modern 4.7 inch QF gun; gun position 7 was installed to house a 6-pounder QF gun; and a forward command post was constructed to provide a better viewing position than was available previously. A signal station was established on Lytton Hill and an anti-aircraft facility was established on land between the fort and the hill.

Fort Lytton’s role as a defensive facility ceased in 1946 when all fixed coastal defensive positions in Australia were decommissioned, but military authorities maintained Fort Lytton as a communications base until the 1950s. In the early 1960s the land was acquired by Ampol for the establishment of an oil refinery. During the construction of the refinery fill was deposited in the moat, and the timber bridge across the moat, which the military had damaged by fire in the 1950s, was replaced by a permanent causeway.

By the 1970s various community-based historical groups were lobbying for the protection and restoration of the area and in 1988 the Department of Environment, Conservation and Tourism, through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, took over the management of the former fort. In 1990 Fort Lytton was declared an Historic National Park, and during the last decade of the 20th century the site was recorded and the framework of the fort restored. In 1994 minor preliminary works in anticipation of the stabilisation of some concrete roofs and retaining walls, and the restoration of existing drainage pipes, was undertaken. The bitumen roofs over the Engine Room and casemates 1 and 2 were resurfaced. In 1996 a restored hydro-pneumatic gun was installed in gun pit No. 1. A military museum has been established in a former artillery store, and various military history groups conduct annual pageants at the fort, reminiscent of the Queensland militia’s annual Easter encampments. In 1999, Fort Lytton National Park was extended with the incorporation of part of the adjacent former Lytton Quarantine Station. The buildings on this site have been occupied and managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service since 1988, and serve as the administration centre for Fort Lytton National Park.

Besides its defence and communications functions, the Lytton battery also acquired a ceremonial role. In May 1901 it was the venue for His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, to present medals to Lytton-trained troops who had served in the South African War [1899-1902]. In 1963 a 21 gun salute from the Lytton guns welcomed Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in the Britannia as she sailed up the Brisbane River. In April 1991 the muzzle-loading cannon at the fort were fired to greet soldiers returning from the Gulf War.

LYTTON HILL
Lytton Hill – also known as Signal Hill, Reformatory Hill, or the Lytton Redoubt – is highly significant in Queensland history. Strategically positioned at the mouth of the Brisbane River, the hill has been used as a customs lookout, signal and telegraph station, observation post and redoubt commanding the Fort Lytton defence complex, and boys’ reformatory.

The history of the Lytton district is closely aligned to the establishment during the 1840s and 1850s of the Port of Moreton Bay at Brisbane Town, on the Brisbane River, rather than at Cleveland on the Bay. In 1857 the New South Wales colonial government began to investigate the suitability of establishing a customs station at the south head of the Brisbane River [present-day Lytton]. In August 1857, surveyor James Warner completed a preliminary survey of a site for a village at the south head, which was approved in November 1858, and in December 1858 tenders were called for the construction of a Customs Station nearby on the river. In February 1859 Warner officially surveyed sections 1 to 13 of the village of Lytton, as well as sites for a customs landing place and a signal station [Lytton Hill?].

Between 1860 and 1863 some Lytton township allotments were alienated, mostly by Brisbane speculators who anticipated the development of wharf facilities at Lytton. Few private buildings were erected there. The Crown and Anchor Hotel at Lytton held a license in 1865-66 – about the time a government wharf adjacent to the Customs Reserve was built in 1866 to tranship railway stores and plant. From 1878 until c1905 the Lytton Hotel served local farmers and the annual military presence.

Following separation from New South Wales in December 1859, the Queensland government maintained Lytton’s role as the customs entry to the Port of Moreton Bay. In 1860-61 an electric telegraph line was constructed from Brisbane to the Lytton Customs Station – the first telegraph line in Queensland built specifically for internal administrative use, to communicate shipping intelligence and meteorological observations from Moreton Bay. The Lytton Telegraph Office opened on 1 June 1861, the third to open in Queensland after Brisbane and Ipswich on the inter-colonial line, which had commenced operation in April 1861. In 1864 the electric telegraph was extended from Lytton via Cleveland and undersea cable to Dunwich on Stradbroke Island and north to Cape Moreton on Moreton Island.

It is possible that Lytton Hill was functioning as a signal station as early as 1859, semaphoring news of the movement of ships to and from Moreton Bay to the Customs Station below, and from 1861, to the Lytton Telegraph Office. From 1866, Signal Hill, as it became known, also proved a useful post from which to observe semaphore messages from the prison on St Helena Island, which was not connected by telegraph.

Sir George Ferguson Bowen, on completion of his term as Governor and departure from Moreton Bay on 4 January 1868, officially named and designated Lytton as Brisbane’s port.

The telegraph line at Lytton appears to have been extended from the Customs Reserve to Signal Hill in the early 1870s, when in 1873 tenders were called for the construction of an electric telegraph station and residence on the hill. This was a double-gabled timber building which combined office and residence, and a detached kitchen house at the rear, erected at a cost of £534. The style was the forerunner of the most common 19th century type of post and telegraph office, with decorative finishes to verandah fascias, and sun hoods. Only four of this type of post and telegraph office were constructed in Queensland – the others being at Blackall [1883-84], St George [1885] and Cunnamulla [1889]. The former Lytton Telegraph Office is the only one of these four remaining, and is also one of the earliest surviving, purpose-designed, post and telegraph office buildings in Queensland – pre-dated only by the former Cardwell Post and Telegraph Office [1870], and contemporaneous with the Mt Perry [Tenningerring] and the first Ravenswood offices, both erected in 1873 and both substantially modified.

From 29 April 1876, the Lytton Telegraph Office also functioned as a Post Office. In the 1880s, telegraph lines were extended from Lytton to the Pile Light (constructed 1883) in Moreton Bay and to Fort Lytton.

The history of Lytton Hill from 1880 is closely associated with the establishment of a military facility in the locality. In 1876, in an unprecedented act of colonial cohesion, the principal Australian colonies commissioned military experts General WFD Jervois, RE and Colonel P Scratchley, RE, to advise on colonial defences. As a consequence of their reports, a system of east coast seaboard fortifications was adopted, including Jervois’ 1877 recommendation that the Brisbane River be defended with the establishment of a fortification and redoubt at Lytton, commanding lines of submarine torpedoes across the shipping channel at this point. Jervois recommended that the redoubt [an independent fortlet commanding Fort Lytton] be established on Signal Hill, which he considered would be an excellent point whence to watch the movements of an enemy in Moreton Bay.

In July 1878, Scratchley recommended that the occupants of the hulk Proserpine, a former gaol anchored in Moreton Bay which had been refitted c1871 as a boys’ reformatory, be removed to buildings on Signal Hill as part of the defensible post to be established there. He considered that the Reformatory buildings would eventually form part of the hill defences, and that the boys could help with ground preparation and maintenance associated with the defence complex.

Despite some political debate, the Queensland colonial government voted to proceed with Jervois’ and Scratchley’s recommendations for the defence of Brisbane. Plans for the defence complex at Lytton were prepared in the Queensland Colonial Architect’s office, and approved by Jervois in February 1879. The redoubt on Signal Hill was to include a large, single-storeyed, hardwood-framed, Reformatory building with chamferboard walls and a shingled roof; kitchen wing; WCs; and a boundary fence enclosing 2 acres.

The Reformatory buildings on Signal Hill were erected in 1880-81, before work started on the redoubt, using day labour assisted by the Reformatory boys. Dormitory accommodation was provided for 120 boys, along with schoolroom, workshops, store-room, kitchen and other facilities. A large vegetable garden was established and a superintendent’s cottage was erected to the south of the Reformatory building, beyond the fortification earthworks. This cottage has been identified as an 1864 timber building – possibly moved from the Customs Reserve to Signal Hill c1880. The 1873 Post and Telegraph Office remained within the Reformatory stockade, and the complex was completed and occupied early in March 1881. At this period, Signal Hill became known as Reformatory Hill.

Following the ‘Russian scare’ of March 1885 [the mobilisation of British and Russian troops along the Russia-Afghanistan border], Colonel French, Commandant of the newly created Queensland Defence Force, took the opportunity to complete the fortification of the redoubt on Reformatory Hill, without which Fort Lytton was vulnerable to attack from land. To this end the stockade fence on the south side was re-erected 20 yards nearer the Reformatory, arrow-headed demi-bastions were formed at the northeast and southwest corners, a ditch was constructed around the fortifications, the trees in front of the redoubt were cleared, a telegraph line was installed from Signal Hill to Fort Lytton below, and ordnance were ordered. In much of this work, the Reformatory boys assisted. By 1887 the Redoubt had been completed, its armament had arrived [although never mounted in position], and French recommended that the Reformatory now be removed. Finally in 1899, just prior to Federation, tenders were called for the removal of the Reformatory buildings from Lytton and their re-erection, with additions, at Westbrook near Toowoomba.

The Lytton Redoubt was used as a semi-permanent military camp from 1881 until the early 1930s, principally during the Queensland Defence Force’s annual Easter Encampments, at which militia from all over Queensland gathered at Lytton to practice manoeuvres.

When the Lytton Defence Reserve of 120 acres [48 hectares] was finally gazetted late in 1887, it included Reformatory Hill, Fort Lytton, and possibly part of the Customs Reserve. By 1901 the Defence Reserve had been extended to 640 acres [259 hectares] following the resumption [in two stages: 1891 and 1900] of Lytton township for defence purposes. In the early 1900s this land and all military structures at Lytton were transferred to the new Commonwealth Department of Defence, and the Post and Telegraph Office on Lytton Hill was transferred to the new Commonwealth Post Master General’s Department. At this time the only other building identified on Lytton Hill was a military store, erected in 1898 at a cost of £515. This is thought to be the brick building extant at the north end of Lytton Hill, possibly replacing the building marked ‘store’ on an 1886 plan of the Lytton Redoubt.

The fortifications on Lytton Hill remained in use until at least the early 1900s, when Queensland troops camped and trained on the slopes of Lytton Hill for active service in the South African War [1899-1902]. The preparations for war was the longest continual use of the Lytton defensive positions since they were constructed in the 1880s. Some improvements to Lytton Hill were made at this time, including the construction a 20-stall timber stables building in 1901-02, and in 1903 the erection of a tent store and barbed-wire entanglement around the Redoubt. Subsequently the site deteriorated, prior to its re-occupation by the military during the First World War [1914-18]. In 1917 a dermatological hospital for Australian Infantry Forces and huts for men and officers were erected at Lytton Hill.

Between 1919 and 1931 the flats adjacent to the Lytton Quarantine Station [established 1913-15] were used as Brisbane’s first airfield, and it has been suggested that Lytton Hill may have acted as an air traffic control observation station. This has yet to be substantiated.

During the Second World War [1939-45], Lytton Hill was occupied by military signallers and engineers. A number of concrete structures were erected on the hill in association with this use. In addition, the c1880s brick store at the north end of the hill was remodelled as a signals building, and a timber wing added.

After 1945 the Lytton defence facilities were virtually abandoned, but military authorities maintained Lytton Hill as a communications base into the 1950s. In 1954 a wireless station with radar facilities was erected on the hill for the use of the pilot service. It was staffed on a 24 hour basis, seven days a week.

Lytton Hill remained part of the Lytton Defence Reserve until title to the reserve passed to Ampol Refineries [Qld] Pty Ltd in 1963. Subsequent construction of the oil refinery and holding tanks has removed most traces of the Second World War defence installation, which included an airfield, with the exception of the top of Lytton Hill and a Second World War anti-aircraft position with concrete bunkers and gun emplacements, in the refinery grounds adjacent to Fort Lytton. For some years the post and telegraph office on Lytton Hill was occupied as a residence by an employee of the Ampol Refinery.

The Port of Brisbane Authority designated Lytton Hill as the control for the Port of Brisbane c1980, erecting an observation tower there to monitor Brisbane River and Bay shipping. A section of Lytton Hill was ceded from Ampol to the Port Authority for this purpose, but in the late 1990s the tower was removed and the land reverted to refinery ownership [Caltex Australia Pty Ltd, with which Ampol merged in the 1990s].

A 1994 field survey conducted by Austral Archaeology identified 50 archaeological elements visible on the surface of Lytton Hill, and all located above the 20 metre contour line. The bulk of these remain, but the former Post and Telegraph Office was vandalised in 1994, resulting in loss of interior casement windows, doors, light fittings and fireplace surrounds and grates.

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