The birth of Queensland military
British occupation in Australia started with the establishment of the penal colony of Port Jackson, near current-day Sydney, in New South Wales, in 1788. In 1825, the colonial government decided to create a secondary detention centre for recidivist convicts in the waters of Moreton Bay, about 900 km north of Port Jackson. After the closing of the penal settlement in 1839, the area was open for free settlement. In 1851, Queensland became a separate colony from New South Wales and gradually moved towards self-government.
As the Australian colonies achieved sovereignty, the British government adopted the view that colonial autonomy should mean self-defence. Britain saw its role as that of adviser rather than to actively deploy troops in the Antipodes. The last Imperial troops were withdrawn from the Australian Colonies in 1870.
In order to establish an independent defensive system, in 1877, the Australian colonies invited British Royal Colonel Sir William F.D. Jervois and Lieutenant-Colonel Peter H. Scratchley to assess the continent’s defensive situation and provide strategic recommendations to the developing colonies in response to a fear of attack by other imperial states such as France or Russia. Their report identified marine attacks as the most significant danger for the developing colony of Queensland and proposed a series of measures to ensure the defence of the Australian coasts, such as the construction of defensive structures near key ports.
The first military bastion in Queensland
Sir William F.D. Jervois and Lieutenant-Colonel Peter H. Scratchley’s report identified the area of Lytton, in the mouth of the Brisbane River, as an ideal location at which to build a defensive fortress with the goal of protecting the Port of Brisbane, located 10 km inland, from potential raids.
Fort Lytton’s design, developed by Jervois and Scratchley with assistance by colonial architect F.D.G. Stanley, reflects the characteristics of 19th-century military architecture in the British colonies: a geometrical pentagonal plan surrounded by a sloped earthwork parapet, or glacis, and a wet moat crossed by a bridge.
Jervois and Scratchley’s initial defence strategy included an electrical submarine minefield across the river and four machine guns. The minefield was the main defensive system as it would impede the entrance of boats to the river mouth. It was controlled from the test room and was connected to the observation firing room. Because this minefield could be subject to attack by small unarmed boats, the plans included the installation of two 64 pounder muzzle-loading rifled guns in pits 3 and 4 to defend the structure.
Disarmament and transformation into training centre
In 1885, the tension between the colonial powers of Russia and Britain caused a general military alert in the Australian colonies. Worried about a potential Russian invasion, the Queensland government decided to accelerate the completion of the fort and reinforce its defences by installing two 10-barrelled Nordernfelts in purpose-built gun pits outside of the fort.
The development of small, fast, engine-driven water craft at the end of the 19th century made the existing artillery obsolete, and so in 1893, the heavy 64-pounders were replaced by two Hotchkiss 6-pounder quick firing guns in pits 3 and 4, the last of which has been preserved nearly intact.
The fears of the colonial government never realised and, due to the lack of military menaces, Fort Lytton lost its defensive role, the submarine mining works being dismantled in the 1910s. The bastion became then an army training and embarkation point, hosting the annual Easter encampments that gathered volunteers, cadets and servicemen for a general army training.
Fort Lytton during World War II
The role of Fort Lytton changed when, in 1935, the Australian government decided to upgrade Brisbane’s coastal defences, creating a network of forts in the sandy islands of Moreton Bay, which formed the Outer Examination Battery, with Fort Lytton becoming an Inner Examination Battery on the Brisbane River.
Fort Lytton’s role changed when, after the Allied military defeats in the Philippines and Pearl Harbour, the US Navy decided to establish a major naval and submarine base in the Port of Brisbane in 1942. The Fort went through a series of reforms to ensure the protection of the ships and the submarines stored in the safe waters of the Brisbane River. Such reforms include the rearmament of the fort and the construction of a new gun pit and an elevated fire control post. As a response to the threat of air raids, the fort was covered in camouflage paint and netting and heavy anti- aircraft batteries and searchlights were installed nearby.
Because of the threat of submarine attacks, the physical barriers in the Brisbane River were re-installed, and they included an indicator loop (submarine detection systems based on magnetic sensing), a boom gate and an anti-submarine net. When a ship approached the control point, the net was lowered to the bed of the river while Fort Lytton’s guns were pointed towards the ship. It took approximately 20 minutes for a ship to pass the control point in order to enter the Brisbane River.
After the end of the war in 1945, the military equipment of the Fort was dismantled and the stronghold maintained a communications role until the 1960s.
Preserving Fort Lytton
Fort Lytton is currently managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and it was declared a National Park in 1989 for its outstanding cultural heritage values. National Parks staff and community based volunteers from the Fort Lytton Historical Association have worked to preserve and interpret the cultural record of the site. In order to help the interpretation of the site, a number of reconstructed artillery pieces have been installed.
In 2013, digital documentation of the site was undertaken using the Zebedee handheld 3D laser developed by CSIRO. The mapping system was trialled at Fort Lytton through a collaboration of CSIRO, the University of Queensland’s School of Architecture and the Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service. Digital models and historical research for this CyArk entry have been completed by students from the School of Architecture over several years.