Fort Lytton National Park
History and museums, Natural sights
Fort Lytton is a national park located in Lytton, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) northeast of the Brisbane CBD. It is located near the mouth of the Brisbane River on the southern bank. It comprises the heritage-listed Fort Lytton and the hertige-listed Lytton Quarantine Station. Fort Lytton is a pentagonal fortress hidden behind a moat and grassy embankments. It is the only fort in Australia with a moat.
Fort Lytton is the birthplace of Queensland's military history. Built in 1880-81 to protect Brisbane from an enemy, maritime attack, the fort is the principal remaining landmark of a reserve that for 40 years was the focus of Queensland's defence activity. It was designed by Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Scratchley. The fort was used for defensive purposes in Brisbane until the end of the Second World War.
Fort Lytton was established in response to the fear of a Russian invasion in the 1870s and 1880s. To guard the river ‘two six-inch muzzle loading rifled guns and two 64-pounder cannons’ were installed and heavier guns were ‘to face the river and sweep the foreshore’. Barracks were established for the permanent garrison and the soldiers who came to train there. Fort Lytton was maintained for many years as a defence force and thousands of soldiers trained there during the Boer War and two World Wars.
The fort is a typical nineteenth century garrison - a pentagonal fortress concealed behind grassy embankments - surrounded for greater protection by a water-filled moat. Located near the mouth of the Brisbane River, it was designed to support the controlled river mines and counter any determined effort by enemy ships to attack the Port of Brisbane and hold the city to ransom.
The Australian colonies were part of the British Empire, which had made many enemies by the nineteenth century, when colonial powers were rapidly expanding their empires. At the time the fort was built, Brisbane had fewer than 100,000 people, with an annual trade worth more than four million pounds. Brisbane was more vulnerable to naval attack than Sydney or Melbourne as it was just three days' sail from the French naval garrison at Nouméa. Local defences were essential as Moreton Bay had numerous island on which the enemy could establish a base. Based on the recommendations of the illustrious British soldiers and military tacticians Colonel Sir William Jervois and Scratchley, Queensland opted to rely heavily on Fort Lytton as a fixed defence position for its capital and wealthiest port, Brisbane.
The Commissioners favoured Lytton near the river mouth, ‘where there is a good site for a land battery, whence both a raking and a cross fire could be directed upon hostile gun-boats.’ Submarine mines would be strung across the river channel, protected by a battery of heavy guns at earthworks near Lytton. Jervois imagined the Queensland force in action:
"To oppose a landing, I recommend, firstly, that a gun vessel of light draught should be provided ... to dash in amongst an enemy’s boats whilst in the shallow water between the anchorage and the shore, to which the enemy’s ships could not obtain access. Taking up a position in the boat channel at the mouth of the river, she would be very favourably placed for acting either to the north or the south, and for directing her fire also against the enemy’s ships, if desired."
Given that enemy forces could land elsewhere on Moreton Bay, a field force of field artillery, engineers and infantry would also be required ‘to co-operate with the floating defence in preventing a landing, or in opposing an advance on the town if an enemy succeeded in obtaining a footing on shore.’ Smaller versions of the Brisbane plan were submitted for Rockhampton and Maryborough – torpedo defences of floating mines strung across the shipping channels, with artillery batteries nearby supported by mobile field forces. Approval for construction of a fort at Lytton was given by the Parliament of Queensland in 1878.
To effect this plan, a Naval Brigade and Torpedo Corps would need to be raised, a Garrison Artillery battery established for the Lytton defences, and a better-organised Field Force for operational deployments. The Commissioners did not favour cavalry, as mounted soldiers could be recruited from the police force in an emergency. It was also necessary to improve the telegraphic network along the coast, and purchase at least one armoured gun-boat, ‘a good, swift vessel which would be able to afford protection to places on the coast generally, and within the reef, against privateers or gunboats’, reported Jervois.
The result was a scheme of fortified coastal batteries and submarine mines, supported by land based forces. Coastal forts had been built by the mid-1890s at Lytton, Kissing Point near Townsville, and Green Hill on Thursday Island.
At Lytton the defences included submarine mines that could be submerged in the river. A small permanent battery of artillery for the forts and engineers to work the submarine mines was established. The permanent force also provided a cadre of experienced instructors who trained the part-time militia and volunteer forces, artillery batteries, infantry companies and mounted infantry companies, that were established in more than 40 towns across the colony. A small marine Defence Force also took shape, consisting of the two gunboats Gayunduh and Paluma, the torpedo boat Mosquito, and supplemented by Naval Brigade companies at various ports.
In giving shape to many vague presuppositions and assumptions, Jervois and Scratchley’s reports directed Australian preparations for coastal defence for the remainder of the nineteenth century, with the British Colonial Defence Committee tweaking the details as circumstances required. Combination for mutual defence was one of the cornerstones of Federation. When the Australian colonies came together to build Green Hill Fort on Thursday Island in keeping with the Defence Commissioners’ scheme, it was an unprecedented collaboration that foreshadowed the movement to a Commonwealth.
Initially, the fort had four heavy gun positions. Two faced seaward and another two faced the river. By the turn of the century, it had six gun pits and two machine-gun posts. Its main ordnance was the 6-inch 5-ton breech-loading Armstrongs, called disappearing guns, which could be raised rapidly to fire over the fort's ramparts and lowered below the parapet just 20 seconds later. By Federation, Fort Lytton consisted of the following:
The controlled minefield, supported by the guns, was operated from a concealed tunnel under the fort. The tunnel was built in the early 1890s and can be visited today. In the 1930s this system was replaced by a boom gate, which monitored all river traffic by a series of flags. The remains of the winch operating the boom are down near the riverbank, adjacent to the World War II searchlight emplacement.
From statehood in 1859 until Australian Federation in 1901, Queensland relied mainly on volunteers for its defence. The Queensland Defence Force started with volunteers in 1860. By the time of Federation, Queensland was able to contribute a highly qualified military force for defence of the new nation.
Before the Great War began in 1914, Lytton was the main training ground for the Queensland Defence Force. The first annual encampment held at Lytton in 1881 was the fourth annual training camp for Queensland's volunteer soldiers. The annual camps were run by permanent defence staff and provided the only regular training for the volunteers. They became a highlight in Queensland's political and social calendar. Every year, Brisbane's citizens would travel by train or boat to Lytton to watch the spectacular military manoeuvres and ceremonial displays. Tales of camp revelry, daring and fellowship survive that era.
Fort Lytton was put to the test twice in World War I. The fort's guns were used to warn a Dutch steamer and a fishing vessel which tried to ignore the official procedure before going upriver. During World War II the fort was a secondary defence position to more modern batteries established on Moreton and Bribie Islands. By 1945, the area had degenerated as an effective defence and the site was abandoned.
When World War II ended in August 1945 the old Fort Lytton became redundant and was abandoned and was emptied of all equipment, except fortunately two RML 64 lb 6″ Barbette Mounted Guns, of 1878 vintage, and four original barrels, of 1886 vintage, of the 6″ RBL Disappearing Guns. The 64 pounders were stored in Brisbane and the four barrels left lying in the fort area, two of which were at some time removed, one to Ampol Refinery, where it is now mounted in concrete at the Main Entrance, and the other to 11 Field Regiment at Dudley Street, Annerley, which is also now redundant and part of history.
After the cessation of hostilities in 1945, the old fort was left to the wind, rain, sun, and occasional grass fires, which eventually destroyed a lot of the wooden construction within the fortress area. In 1956 Ampol purchased most of the site to build a refinery and tidied the place up. The original bridge into the fort had been burned down, plus the buildings inside. Eventually part of the moat in front was filled in to get inside the fort to clean it out of rank undergrowth etc., a causeway was built and it became a sort of picnic area.
Fort Lytton was entered on the Register of the National Estate in 1986.
In 1988 it became evident that Ampol was to give the fort area back to the government as a Historic Tourist Attraction. Very quietly, on a particularly wet Saturday afternoon the same year, there was a gathering of ex-service WW II gunners and much younger National Parks and Wildlife personnel and a few current Army personnel. The idea being to form a tourist attraction, volunteer guiding groups handled by the veteran gunners, and eventually the possibility of future refurbishment of the gun emplacements. The site was declared a Historic National Park in 1990.
The old Quarantine Station Laundry was given on a loan basis, with an old refrigerator and furnished with tables and chairs by National Parks and Wildlife to be used as a canteen and part museum. The museum in the fort area was restored by the Department of Works and stocked with memorabilia. Two of the guns inside being part of the original fort armament, one 9 lb RML horse drawn field gun and a four barrelled Nordenfeldt garrison and naval gun, a so-called machine gun which was actuated manually and very effectively.
One of the two 6″ barrels mounted at the entrance is the barrel that was at 11 Field Regiment for a number of years and the other barrel is off No. 2 Disappearing Gun. The fort is now managed by National Parks and is ably assisted by survivors of the original group of gunners who up till the time of writing still carry on voluntarily as Guides to the public. It is worth mentioning that the original group who started in 1988 were a mixture of gunners, NCOs and officers, all returned servicemen from WW II who pitched in to get things going, notably led by Ray Cook, and went from nothing to the present state at the time of writing.
At the beginning, the original optimistic group consisted of Ray Cook, Bert Lonie, George Ludinski, John and Ian McKenna, Fred Shelberg, Howard Williams, Bernie "Max" Beare, Harold Campbell, Dan Hunter, Alan Brooke, Eric Bingham, Col Fraser, Dick Phillips, Frank Davis and one sig, Jim Meehan. Over the years the older men fell by the wayside, and their places have been taken by others, Jim Cross, Don Morrison, Tom Trevannion, Frank Heywood, Harry Lynas, Maurrie McGuire, John Allen, Frank Pellatt, Peter Gore, Dave Sinclair and Ray Jell (for a period of nine months), Grant Carpenter, Dave Spethman, Lee Deighton, Graham Kluver, Ian Wheeler and Adrian Scott.
In 1992 permission was granted to go ahead with the construction of the Disappearing Gun in No 1 Gun Pit, which was completed in five stages as money became available and was finally finished in time for Easter Camp 1996. The only original part being the barrel. Soon after work began on a 6 Pounder QF Hotchkiss in No. 3 Pit, which was completed by Xmas of the same year. There were no original parts used in the construction of this gun. Later again in 1997 more patterns were made by Ray Cook and Dick Phillips and once again with the tremendous assistance of Bryan Davidson, a consummate welder from National Parks, a replica of a QF 4.7″ Naval Gun, vintage 1898, was slowly constructed and mounted in No. 4 Gun Pit in the fort. There were no original parts used in the construction of this gun.
After a brief respite and a lot of thought, as a tremendous amount of time and money had been put into these three pieces of armament and though the wish was there, it was decided that though the minds were willing, the bodies were much weaker, age was taking its toll, and it was decided to finish on that note, that for men approaching eighty it was felt that they had done enough. BUT, charged with confidence and the fact that the fort would be complete only if the last gun was built it was decided by these three men that they would go ahead and do the job with the assistance of others. So consequently a twin barrelled QF 6 pounder gun was built for No 5 Gun Pit from nothing and you can now see it along with the other three inside the fort. They are a monument to those old ex-servicemen who thought enough of the future generation to show what was there to be used at Fort Lytton from 1882, (when it was completed), to August 1945, when the war ended, and there was no further use for this sort of fortification in case Brisbane and Ipswich were attacked from the sea. Everything had become old hat, so to speak, and but for the foresight of Ampol, the Government, National Parks and Wildlife, and a small band of dedicated men there would have been naught to show for it.
After a lapse of a couple years it was decided to erect a Repository and Moving of Ordnance display in the Artillery Store, and by May 2001 it was finished and the refurbishment of the Artillery Store was completed. Also in 2001 one of the original 6" 80 Pounder RML Guns was returned to Fort Lytton by 1st Field Regiment and after 3 months hard work was restored and repainted and put on display in the Foyer of the Canteen.
In 1992 Mr Ray Cook was honoured with the Order of Australia Medal for his untiring efforts and his dream of seeing the fort brought up to its present standard, much to the pleasure of his mates. In 2000 this same honour was accorded to Mr Dick Phillips, and in 2007 Mr George Ludinski was also awarded the Order of Australia Medal for his work at Fort Lytton. Special mention must be made of Dan Hunter for his unbroken continuous attendance from the instigation of the Fort Lytton Guides to the time of writing. Without the tremendous efforts also of George Ludinski and a much younger Harry Lynas this history and the publication of it probably would never have been accomplished.
Lytton Hill has been used for non-military purposes. It served as a customs lookout, signal and telegraph station and boys reformatory. St Helena Island was not connected to the mainland via telegraph. Lytton Hill was used to observe semaphone messages from the island.
Lytton Quarantine Station was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 2000. Fort Lytton was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register in 1992.