Georges Head Battery
|Georges Head Battery|
|Part of Middle Head|
|Mosman, Sydney, New South Wales in Australia|
Exterior of gunners' barracks attached to the Georges Head Battery
|Fate||Decommissioned; remnants now contained within the Sydney Harbour National Park|
The Georges Head Battery is a former military fortification located on the Georges Head in the suburb of Mosman in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. The site consists of the original battery and barracks, designed by Colonial Architect James Barnet, located at the end of Suakin Drive, Georges Heights, two later batteries located adjacent to the corner of Middle Head Road and Best Avenue, Georges Heights, and the Beehive (or Lower) Casemate adjacent to the Armoured (or Upper) Casemate in Chowder Bay Road. The Georges Head Battery is one of three forts in the area that were built for the purpose of defending the outer harbour. The other two forts are located at Middle Head and Bradleys Head, Mosman. The fort became a command post in the 1890s for the coordination of all of Sydney's harbour defences. It was decommissioned in 2002 and part of the land is managed by the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, with other parts managed by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service as part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.
In 1999, the Georges Head Military Fortifications was inscribed on the State Heritage Register and in 2004 the Chowder Bay Barracks Group, including the Georges Head Battery, was inscribed on the Australian Heritage Database.
Defence activity began in this area of Sydney Harbour as early as 1803 when a gun battery was installed on Georges Head.Built between 1801 and 1803 the then so called "Georges Head" battery was hewn by hand out of solid rock using a work gang of 44 convicts on what is now known as Obelisk Point near Middle Head. The Georges Head Battery is in fact 1km to the south west. This is the oldest remaining colonial fortification in Australia and was built to defend the entrance to Sydney harbour during the Napoleonic wars. The fort was isolated from Sydney town and was abandoned a few years after construction. In July 2010 The NSW governor, Marie Bashir, officially reopened the site and finally this historic fort was recognised.
On the 10th March 1801 Governor King informed the Secretary of State for Colonies that a battery was "in forwardness opposite the entrance to the Harbour, which will completely prevent attack from without". Despite that confidence, the job took another two years to finish. With only picks, crowbars, wedges and sledgehammers, a gun pit was cut out of solid sandstone, leaving a curved parapet 80 feet long on the cliff edge about 50 feet above sea level. There were two embrasures or gun openings, but guns could also be fired over the parapet. The guns - four twelve-pounders and two six-pounders - were landed at Obelisk Beach (then known as Georges Beach) and hauled up through the bush. Also in the gun pit was built a magazine for powder and shot, with stone walls three feet thick. The "Sydney Gazette" reported on the 23rd October 1803 that "The new battery is compleated and the artificers and labourers recalled ... the battery mounts six guns, two long twelves [12 pounders] on the right, two of the same size on the left and two short sixes in the centre. The first of these command the bay inwardly, those on the left command the entrance of the harbour between the heads and those in the centre point across the channel."
With the French threat in the east removed with the capture of Mauritius in 1810 the battery was abandoned and never used again for military purposes.
Following the removal of the British forces from Australia in 1870, construction began in 1871 on the battery at Georges Head and was completed in 1873. The departure of British forces put the onus on colonies like New South Wales and Victoria to assist in, and organize its own defences, prior to the Federation of Australia.
Georges Head Battery was an outer line harbour defence fortification designed especially to attack and prevent enemy ships from infiltrating the inner harbour. The fort held a prominent position and was located high above sea level with strategic views to the entrance of Port Jackson. Other batteries were located on Middle Head, South Head, Shark Point and Bradleys Head, but none were ever used for combative purposes.
Georges Head was armed with four 80 pounder rifled muzzle loading guns and two 68-pounder guns. The rifled guns were conversions of the long-obsolete 68-pounder smooth bore guns, and a common weapon in British colonies. It took three months and 250 soldiers to roll the gun barrels all the way from North Sydney to the batteries. They came along a rough track which later became Military Road. The guns had been positioned so poorly that this created the risk of one gun firing upon another. Also, the guns and soldiers were visible from the harbour. In 1877 large mounds of earth were placed between the pits to make sure the guns could not fire upon each other and to help protect the gun crew from enemy fire. When construction of the fort was complete, there were a total of 41 gun emplacements positioned around the harbour.
Defence tactics were planned using telescopes and plotters mounted in the middle of the second gun pit. From the telephone exchange, the Port Jackson District Commandant could communicate with all military installations on the harbour. Telephone cables ran through the tunnels, down the cliff and under the harbour to batteries on the other side.
In 1888 Georges Head was chosen as the best place to observe and fire underwater mines, the latest in harbour defences. Each underwater mine was attached to an electric cable that ran up the cliff to a firing post. From there, miners watched for ships entering the harbour. The miners' job was to explode the mine closest to an approaching enemy ship. Minefields were laid across the main shipping channels of Port Jackson from 1876 to 1922 and a base was built at Chowder Bay for the submarine miners.
The work of the submarine miner was secretive, technical and dangerous. During a demonstration in 1891, a crowd of several thousand watched as a terrible accident killed four miners and injured another eight.
World War II
In 1942, during the Second World War, the Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net was installed. The boom net spanned the entire width of Sydney Harbour from Green (Laings) Point, Watsons Bay to Georges Heights in Mosman.
The command post remained until the 1930s. The area then became home to various defence bases until 2002 when the Australian Army left after 130 years at Georges Head. The area in which the fortifications are situated is now open to the public and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust has restored the historic fortifications, creating a new type of lookout.
Casualty clearing station & storage facility
The hospital was carved out of solid rock during the construction of the tunnel system in 1872, and was originally designed to provide a storage room for the black powder charge used when firing the 68-pounder and 80-pounder guns of the battery.
The floor was originally covered in a bituminous substance, the walls were tiled with ceramic tiles not unlike those seen on the wall pictured, and the tunnel ceiling leading to the room was lined with cork. The purpose of these measures was to reduce the possibility of sparks and the potential for a powder explosion. The zigzag tunnel at the far end of the room was designed to act as a blast wall to contain any blast within the immediate area.
The room has been modified since 1872 and was used as a casualty clearing station in 1932/33 when the battery was re-gunned with the 6 inch breech loaded MK7 guns. Designed for emergencies only, it fortunately saw no casualties of war.
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- Submarines miners and their mines (1890). Watching and waiting (Plaque). Georges Head, Sydney: Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.
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- The hospital (Plaque). Georges Head, Sydney: Sydney Harbour Federation Trust.
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