To the south of the City of Melbourne is Port Phillip Bay,
a large expanse of sometimes turbulent water some 700 nautical square miles in
area. The Bay extends about 30 miles inland from the Heads, and averages 20
miles in breadth.
Some historians have stated that Melbourne's bayside
defences were obsolete when built, and that some of the guns when worn by firing
were as dangerous to their crews as to any potential enemy.
Two suggestions for defences were as cheap as they might
have been ineffective. The Commander of HMCSS Victoria, William Henry
Norman, in 1858 suggested that if an enemy were to attack, the buoys in the
shipping channels could be moved. Port Phillip was treacherous at the best of
times, but shifting the buoys would ensure enemy ships would sooner or later
go aground on sandbars or rocks. But time would show that vessels often could
enter Port Phillip unnoticed. The Commander's plan was otherwise quite
J. B. Edwards later, in 1878, cheerfully suggested an
even more fantastic idea. His heroic plan was for audacious naval men to
approach enemy warships -- and pour cold water down their funnels. This would,
he claimed, not only stop them dead in the water, but also stop their
steam-powered gunnery systems from operating!
In the end, the only naval shell ever to land on
Melbourne came not from a foreign raider but from the guns of
HMVS Nelson during gunnery practice. A workshop in St. Kilda was
badly damaged by the practice shell, and damage was done to a neighbouring
house. Luckily no-one was killed. The Victorian Navy was unable to adequately
explain the `accident'.
In another embarrassing earlier incident, gunners at
Queenscliff had been unable to reply to a salute from a visiting Russian
warship in 1862. They had no ammunition. The Victorian Parliament, which had
overseen the spending of close to a million pounds on defence by then, was
outraged. Worse still, it was believed that the Russian vessel was examining
and testing the defences of the port.
But such incidents were rare and the bayside defence
concepts were both intelligent and formidable. Victoria had relied on
outstanding British defence experts like Royal Engineers' Majors Charles
Pasley and Peter Scratchley . . .
By 1864, several emplacements for 68-Pounder guns had
been contructed near Melbourne. The following batteries were also in place:
Sandridge Lagoon Battery, Emerald Hill Central Battery, Emerald Hill Advanced
Battery, St. Kilda Battery, Breakwater Pier Battery, Lighthouse Battery, and
Right Battery. Lighthouse Battery at Williamstown, near the Railway Pier, was
the largest, with eight 68-Pounders available.
Forts were erected on both sides of Port Phillips
Heads -- at Point Nepean and Queenscliff. Smaller forts were built in the
South Channel and on the Pope's Eye shoal. Swan Island provided a base from
which to control a minefield. Should all these defences be somehow avoided, a
further, formidable obstacle remained -- the floating gun platform that was
HMVS Cerberus, with her 10-inch guns.
Later innovations at the Heads included Fort
Queenscliff's Disappearing Gun, removed from the South Channel Fort,
the mechanism of which brought the gun down behind solid walls where it could
be reloaded with complete safety.
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Do you have a forbear involved in the
gunnery emplacements around Port Phillip, especially at Queenscliff, Point
Lonsdale or Williamstown? Do you have a photo of them?