Fort Lytton National Park Brisbane

Fort Lytton National Park. Photo credit: Ellie Jamieson © Queensland Government

Nature, culture and history

Culture and history

Fort Lytton is the birthplace of Queensland's military history. Built in 1880–81 to protect Brisbane from enemy attack, the Fort is the principal remaining landmark of a reserve that for 40 years was the focus of Queensland's defence activity.

The Fort itself 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 Noumea. Local defences were essential.

Based on the recommendations of the illustrious British soldiers and military tacticians Jervois and Scratchley, Queensland opted to rely heavily on Fort Lytton as a fixed defence position for its capital and wealthiest port—Brisbane.

Initially, the Fort had four heavy gun positions. 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 breach-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 had a veritable arsenal:

  • two 6-inch BL 5-ton Armstrong guns
  • two 6-pounder QF Hotchkiss guns
  • one 4-barrel 1-inch Nordenfeldt machine gun
  • one 10-barrel 0.45-inch Nordenfeldt machine gun
  • two 64-pounder RML guns

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.

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 l. 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 upgraded with additional weapons and a new searchlight. The fort played a secondary role to the more modern batteries on Moreton and Bribie Islands, but had the important responsibility of keeping enemy vessels from entering the river by the operation of a boom gate across the river. The remains of the winch system that controlled the boom are adjacent to the searchlight. In 1945 the fortifications were decommissioned and the main operations became signalling on Signal Hill.

The land was included in property obtained by Ampol to build an oil refinery in the early 1960s. Ownership of the Fort Lytton site was transferred to the Queensland Government in 1988. Although Ampol had carefully maintained the site, public interest in heritage gave the Fort a higher profile as an historic site under the management of Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

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