Guns & Cannon along Victoria’s South West Coastline

Guns & Cannon along Victoria’s South West Coastline

The City of Warrnambool and the Shires of Moyne and Glenelg are proud custodians of a collection of artillery pieces of heritage significance at a state, national and international level. These pieces are directly related to the defence of south-west Victoria in the 19th century or are 20th century trophy and disposal guns.

The Batteries

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries the threat of invasion posed by wars waging in Europe, Canada and the United States led to an integrated system of defence along Victoria’s coastline. Between 1866 and 1887 the colonial government developed a network of permanent fortifications at strategic positions to defend Victoria’s principal ports. This network consisted of small coastal settlements that were already established hubs of trade and industry, the forts at Queenscliff, South Channel Fort and Point Nepean, and Melbourne. Due to the importance of these ports as gateways to the interior, it was feared they were vulnerable to attack from the sea. A report prepared in 1877 by two of Britain’s military advisors, General Jervois and Captain Scratchley, identified sites suitable to facilitate defence operations in Australia. The report stated that ‘the local defences of British ports need not provide … complete protection against prolonged operations, but they should be sufficiently formidable to act as a powerful deterrent to attack by hostile warships’. Following this report, fortifications were constructed by the colonial government in prominent locations at Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland during the 1880s.

The fortifications were designed to house artillery pieces that were imported to the colony from Britain as early as the 1850s. Some of the pieces dated from the Napoleonic Wars. The fortifications included: concrete gun emplacements, armouries, powder magazines, officers’ huts and earth ramparts. Associated drill halls and orderly rooms were located off-site within the towns. Accompanying artillery pieces were grouped together in a battery. The operation and maintenance of each battery was undertaken by a garrison of local voluntary militia who trained at the battery and the drill hall. In 1884, at the height of the Russian ‘scare’ at least seventy-five men were assigned to each battery.

The fortifications were established on elevated positions commanding views over the Southern Ocean.

By 1909, the threat of attack had declined so the emphasis on defending regional outposts receded and the fortifications were downgraded and soon became redundant. The sites again became strategic briefly during World War Two. World War One trophy guns and World War Two disposal guns located on Cannon Hill at Warrnambool complement the south-west collection.

The Guns

Naval artillery was designed first and foremost to destroy ships at sea and was therefore favoured over lighter land-based counterparts. The south-west Victorian defences used naval artillery either taken from ships or supplied directly to the batteries. Despite variations in size, naval artillery of the 1800s was similar the world over. Initially the barrels of naval guns and cannon were simply bored out of solid pieces of cast iron forming a smooth interior. Later, advantages were achieved by rifling, that is, boring spiral groves inside the barrel which made a cannon ball spin making firing more accurate. Breach loading, that is, slotting shells through a gap in the side of the barrel rather than dropping shells into the front, increased the rate of fire from each gun.

By 1805 during the Napoleonic Wars naval artillery standardised on the 32 and 36 ‘pounder’ smooth-bore, muzzle-loaded guns capable of firing a cannon ball weighing 32 or 36 pounds (14.5 or 16.3 kg). The 32 pdr fired a cannon ball a distance of 2.5 kms. Smaller 24 pdr guns were sometimes re-bored to enable them to fire a 32 pound cannon ball. As the nineteenth century progressed warships were fitted with iron sheathing as armour requiring larger artillery to pierce them. The 68 pdr small bore, muzzle-loaded gun enabled firing a cannon ball 2.9 km. By the late 19th century further advances were achieved including a rifled, muzzle-loaded 80 pdr gun which could fire a 32.3 kg armour piercing shell a distance of 3.7 km which then exploded on contact. Unlike land combat artillery, coastal artillery did not have to be moved about but still required manoeuvring to select distance and direction. This was achieved by mounting the guns initially on simple wooden wheeled trolleys. As naval artillery became heavier, basic wooden carriages became insufficient and were superseded by carriages and slides which could be swivelled on iron rails to change direction and which enabled the gun to recoil and return to its original position for refiring.

At the end of their useful lives in Europe, one of three fates awaited these naval artillery pieces. Most gun barrels were melted down in Britain, the metal reused and the carriages and slides destroyed. Some pieces were handed down replacing older artillery or relegated to lesser defensive sites like those set up along the south-west coast of Victoria. Others were removed from their defensive sites and recreated as monuments. Surviving guns from the 1800s are now rare internationally and their timber carriages and slides are extremely rare.

Warrnambool Artillery

The artillery pieces at Warrnambool are located at Flagstaff Hill, Cannon Hill and the Botanic Gardens. In the nineteenth century Cannon Hill was a defensive site and now comprises several WW1 trophy and WW2 disposal guns. Flagstaff Hill Battery was established in the late 1880s. It is believed that the artillery pieces at Flagstaff Hill and Warrnambool Botanic Gardens were originally sited at Cannon Hill and moved in 1910. There are other small guns in Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village Museum retrieved from local shipwrecks.

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village Forecourt, Merri Street
- One 68 pdr smooth bore cannon on a wooden carriage and slide

Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village Museum, Merri Street
- Two 80 pdr rifled muzzle-loading guns on iron carriages and slides
- One possibly 6 pdr smooth bore cannon on wooden carriage
- One 1 pdr cast iron smooth bore grapeshot gun, disassembled
- Two 9 pdr cast iron guns, possibly reproductions
- Four concrete gun emplacements, armoury and officers’ hut

Cannon Hill, Merri Street
- One World War 1 105 mm German howitzer trophy gun
- One World War 1 150 mm German howitzer trophy gun
- One World War 2 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft disposal gun
- One World War 2 3 inch disposal mortar

Warrnambool Botanic Gardens, Botanic Road
- One 28 pdr converted to 32 pdr smooth bore gun on a wooden carriage and slide

Port Fairy Artillery

The site of the Port Fairy Battery has been used for defence purposes since 1867 when a 32 pdr smooth-bore muzzle-loaded artillery piece was installed. Another was installed in 1872. One was sold to the Borough Council and moved to the Botanic Gardens for use as a monument around 1887. In 1874 further defences were added including a redoubt. Then, following the Jervois and Scratchley reports of 1877, more permanent fortifications were constructed. Just two years later, two 80 pdr rifled muzzle-loaded Armstrong artillery pieces with iron traversing carriages were installed in concrete emplacements.

Battery Hill, Griffiths Street
The site now contains six pieces of artillery:
- Two 80 pdr rifled muzzle-loading guns mounted on iron carriages and slides

Battery Hill Reserve, Griffiths Street
- Two 32 pdr smooth bore guns mounted on wooden carriages
- One 68 pdr smooth bore gun mounted on a wooden carriage
- One 68 pdr smooth bore gun mounted on a wooden carriage and slide

Sadly another cannon was stolen in 1999.

Portland Artillery

The Portland Battery was constructed in 1889. The site had been gazetted for defence purposes in the 1840s and initially comprised the Portland Lighthouse which was built in 1859. However the lighthouse and the lighthouse keepers’ cottages were relocated to Whalers Bluff to make way for the Battery. The Battery comprised a magazine, an upper chamber, a parapet wall and three gun emplacements. During World War 2 the Battery was used by Volunteer Air Observer Corps for aircraft movement observations.

Battery Hill, Victoria Parade
In 1984 the Battery underwent a major restoration and the site now contains three pieces of artillery:
- 32 pdr smooth bore gun on a wooden carriage, not original to the Battery
- 68 pdr smooth bore gun on a wooden carriage and wooden slide, not original to the Battery
- 80 pdr rifled muzzle-loading gun original to the Battery

There is also a 68 pdr smooth bore cannon located outside Glenelg Shire Council Offices, Cliff Street, Portland.

The City of Warrnambool and the Shires of Moyne and Glenelg are proud custodians of a collection of artillery pieces of heritage significance at a state, national and international level. These pieces are directly related to the defence of south-west Victoria in the 19th century or are 20th century trophy and disposal guns.

Accommodation Nearby

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