Mulgrave Battery, Hobart in WW11

Queens Battery, Hobart

PHOTO: The Queens Battery was constructed as a first line of defence but never saw any action.

It was described as a 'A pitiful mud fort' built in 1818 from stone, Hobart’s first proper battery was the Mulgrave Battery, located at Battery Point in what's now known as Princes Park. Once described as a "poor pitiful mud fort", the battery was criticised by those who served there amid concerns the stone would shatter if fired upon.

History professor Stefan Petrow from the University of Tasmania said it was a "just-in-case battery”. "There was no particular threat," he said. "We were a military and convict colony; we needed to have a battery for show as much as anything else." He said the first serious motivation for a proper defensive network was came in the 1850s.

The Crimean War was underway and Britain was fighting Russia. "We were really worried the Russians were going to attack Van Diemen's Land," he said."Clearly Mulgrave Battery was not going to do it for us.”

The Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery group

PHOTO: The Southern Tasmanian Volunteer Artillery Group at Queens Battery on the Domain. 

Mulgrave Battery did not have a view down the river, and it could only stop threats already entering the port.


Professor Petrow said governor William Denison took the lead and declared that a "first line of defence" was needed. That led to the construction of the Queens Battery, which was on the Domain where the Cenotaph now stands.

Queens Battery civilian visit, Hobart, 1900

PHOTO: Civilians visit the Queens Battery in Hobart in 1900.But it was a signal that was never required and the volunteer groups never fought.

Historian said the battery was home to a unique hot shot oven."It heated the shots that went into the guns so they were extremely hot," Ms Smythe said. "The idea, which was developed during the Siege of Gibraltar, was that if you hit a ship it would set the ship on fire." A dig in 1989 found remains of the hot shot oven, but not the guns. Queens Battery was used for ceremonial purposes until 1923, and the following year the first sod for the Cenotaph was turned.There's no sign of the battery today.

Warships in the Derwent.

Another wave of anxiety about a Russian invasion saw more batteries proposed for Hobart.

"In 1870 Russia is on the move, it looks like it's going to move into Asia and threaten British interests in Asia," Professor Petrow said.

In 1882 two Russian warships unexpectedly anchored in the Derwent, sparking fear in the town.  "They didn't tell anyone what they were doing," he said.  While Russian ships had previously visited Hobart on friendly terms, the presence of warships was disconcerting.

"In this case people immediately put two and two together and said: 'Why would Russian warships be here? They must be here for hostile purposes. So people started to say, 'we need more batteries'.

Old artillery fortifications overlooking a river.

PHOTO: Alexandra Battery, named after the Princess of Wales, was built after Russian warships frightened the colony.

"They were built, and by the time they built them they'd spent £50,000 by 1895," Professor Petrow said. They took that threat [of Russia] seriously. We had to be prepared."

The Russians returned in 1886, and while it was a friendly visit, local residents were scared by the ship's spotlights shining up the Derwent. The three colonial batteries were defunct shortly after federation in 1901.

German submarines come close. Fears in the lead up to World War II resulted in the creation of two more batteries on Hobart's shores. The Federal Government acquired land at South Arm near the Derwent's eastern entrance to establish Fort Direction.  It was used for training by the defence department but also as a precaution to protect Hobart's zinc interests, deemed important to the war effort. Overlooking the entrance to the River Derwent, Rodney Milton said there were pillboxes that guarded Hobart.

 PHOTO: Fort Direction was mostly used for training, but also to protect Hobart's zinc during WWII. Piersons Point at Tinderbox, opposite Fort Direction, was built in 1938 but was abandoned by 1944. It had one gun and a series of tunnels and military personnel were housed there. Ms Smythe said it was the only battery to fire a shot in anger — but it wasn't at an enemy."There was an American Liberty ship steaming up the river and it hadn't been cleared, so they put a shot across its bow to stop it," she said.

The German mines found in the River Derwent

PHOTO: German mines were found at the mouth of the Derwent near the Iron Pot.

But the war did come close to home — German mines were found at the mouth of the Derwent near the Iron Pot.  This caused the closure of the river to boats at the end of 1940. "We know at the end of the war that German submarines were out there," she explained. The German commander wrote about his experience, and they actually thought they'd been spotted when they were hovering around the Iron Pot. They were seen on Bruny Island because they had a habit of sneaking ashore for provisions."

A Japanese flyover

Hobart's closest brush with battle was in March 1942, when a Japanese seaplane, called the Glen, flew up the River Derwent and over Hobart. The Glen was launched from a submarine at Great Oyster Bay on the Tasmania's east coast — the plane was able to fold up and could be launched from the submarine with a catapult. Hobart was the last port it visited on a reconnaissance mission.

 Warrant Flying Officer Nubuo Fujita and Shoji Okuda

PHOTO: Nubuo Fujita and Shoji Okuda with the Glen, the plane they flew over Hobart.

On this mission Warrant Flying Officer Nubuo Fujita took off from the water. "He came up the Derwent and reported seeing fishing boats and five cargo ships," Ms Smythe said. The furnaces at the zinc works were open. He went back, and on landing the plane back on the submarine they damaged one of the wings. That meant the plane could not be used to conduct any more reconnaissance in the area; the crew then headed to New Zealand.” Thanks to Ms Smythe for the photo’s in this article.

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