Following is an article I wrote for Cascabel last year that didn’t get published.
As part of the 150th Anniversary of Artillery in Australia in 2021, we had three batteries from southwestern Victoria participate in the fireplan. This article has been written to give you more information about the Southwest Cannon Trail and encourage you to go and have a look.
I’d like to thank Stephen Ivey from Flagstaff Hill and the Warrnambool City Council for a lot of the information provided for this article, some of it copied in verbatim.
There is no trail per-se, but multiple historical garrison sites at Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland.
The sites date back to the 19th century when there was a fear of attack from the sea by “hostile forces”. These hostile powers were, at various times, identified as the French, the Russians and, at one stage during the American Civil War, the United States. Whilst the sites contain some emplacements and relevant coastal guns, some also contain additional collected guns.
From a Standard news article in 2009 (link below):
A TRAIL of old cannon along south-west Victoria’s coastline gives a glimpse of the era when communities feared attacks from foreign fleets. French, Russian and even American naval attacks were feared by the British colonial powerbrokers worried about their lucrative trade from Down Under being plundered. So they arranged for Victoria’s key ports to be defended with obsolete British weapons dating back to the Napoleonic wars. Between 1866 and 1887 the colonial government developed a network of permanent fortifications overlooking the Southern Ocean.
Today 14 large cast iron cannon shipped out for the Victorian defence still remain in the south-west along with 12 other cannon and artillery pieces from the 19th and 20th centuries. The displays in Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland are regarded as extremely rare, representing one of the world’s largest intact collection of artillery pieces within a single defensive network, apart from major colonial ports.
Our own website in the first of the “History of Artillery in Victoria” article (https://artilleryvic.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/History_of_Artillery_in_Vic_Pt1.pdf) highlights the three batteries forming as the Western Artillery, Royal Victorian Volunteer Artillery Regt on 6th Sept 1866, with three separate Bty’s as of 1 Jan 1884 (Belfast Battery (later Port Fairy Battery), Warrnambool Battery and Portland Battery). These continued in various forms/names as Garrison Artillery until just after the turn of the century (No8 Victorian Company, Australian Garrison Artillery, 1st Jul 1903).
The following information has been taken from the Visit Warrnambool website (see link below).
In Warrnambool, the artillery pieces are located at Flagstaff Hill, Cannon Hill (currently off site due to repairs) and the Botanic Gardens.
Cannon Hill: Artillery Cres
In the nineteenth century the hill was a defensive site and now comprises several WWI trophy and WWII disposal guns. It is believed the guns located at Flagstaff Hill and Botanic Gardens were originally located at Cannon Hill and moved in 1910.
- 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
Flagstaff Hill: Merri St
The Flagstaff Hill Battery was established in the late 1880s. There are other small guns retrieved from local shipwrecks in the maritime museum on site.
- One 68 pdr smooth bore cannon on a wooden carriage and slide
- 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
Botanic Gardens: Botanic Rd
A single gun:
- One 28 pdr converted to 32 pdr smooth bore gun on a wooden carriage and slide
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 St
The site now contains six pieces of artillery
- Two 80 pdr rifled muzzle-loading guns mounted on iron carriages and slides
- 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.
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 Pde
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.
Visiting the Sites
The sites are open to the public and easily accessible. The Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village fort requires an entry fee – all others are free.
It’s only 100klms from Warrnambool to Portland, so you could easily visit all sites in an afternoon, although distances to each from Melbourne would probably mean an overnight trip. As a tourist package, you could drive to each locality, or there is a rail trail for walkers and cyclists that links Warrnambool, Koroit and Port Fairy.
There is also the Great Southwest walk around Portland which could include a visit to the Portland Battery and perhaps the military museum located in the Portland Water tower.
There is not a dedicated website but there is a brochure on the Southwest Cannon trail which includes Historical Gun Batteries and fortifications located at Warrnambool, Koroit, Port Fairy and Portland. A copy of the brochure can be obtained by contacting Flagstaff Hill Maritime Museum Warrnambool www.flagstaffhill.com
Firings and Displays
Information regarding regular firing displays can also be obtained from Flagstaff Hill Warrnambool. However it’s not easy to find on their website, so you may have to contact someone there.
Looking at the 2022 programs (which was when this article was written:
- Warrnambool tended to have summer sat programs in Jan, Labour Day, Ester Sunday, and Queens (Kings) Birthday weekends.
- Port Fairy had New Years Day, sundays in January and the Grand Final weekend
Again, it’s best to check beforehand.
Information on Port fairy firings can be found by searching “Vintage Weekends” on the net or the Tourist information centre Port Fairy.
The Guns at Portland were fired on St Barbara’s day in December 2021 and had not been fired since the early 1990’s. Interested parties in Portland are currently negotiating with Glenelg Council and local tourism groups to re-instate a regular firing program. In the meantime, Glenelg Council has secured a grant to create a virtual tour of the Portland Battery which is fantastic as the underground section is currently not open to the public.
Letter From Flagstaff Hill Warrnambool Garrison Artillery Volunteers
Following the 150th Anniversary activities, the Association receiver the following letter (edited) from Stephen Ivey of the Flagstaff Hill Warrnambool Garrison Artillery Volunteers.
To whom it may concern,
On behalf of the Flagstaff Hill Warrnambool Garrison Artillery Volunteers, may I express our thanks and appreciation for the support and assistance in bringing together the event consisting of the 80 lb Rifle Muzzle Loading gun fire at the Colonial Artillery fortifications at Portland, Port Fairy and Warrnambool in order to celebrate Saint Barbara’s (the patron Saint of Artillery) day as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Australian Artillery celebrations of 2021.
We would like to acknowledge:
- The Co-operation of the Glenelg, Moyne and Warrnambool Councils was significant towards the promotion of the Southwest Cannon Trail and the education and preservation of our colonial military history.
- The inclusion by the Royal Australian Artillery Association Victoria in the 18 Gun Salute on the same day ceremony at the Shrine of Remembrance with the Fire plan allowing for a one round fire from the Guns at Portland, Port Fairy and Warrnambool amounting to a 21 Gun Salute from Victoria.
- Victoria Police for granting the necessary permits and support in order to conduct the activity.
- The efforts of individuals that included such important things like cleaning the Portland Gun barrel that had not been fired since the 1990’s. Rotating the Gun to face out to sea rather than towards the windows of the Portland Grain Silos. Letter drops to residents, Road closure organisation and a myriad of other tasks that culminated in the success of the event.
Our sincere thanks for allowing us the privilege to be a part of it.
Youtube Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAjn_wAFrEs
Warrnambool City Council
The President, COL Cooke, responded to thank them for their contribution, not only for the 150th Anniversary contribution but for maintaining these important aspects of Artillery and Victorian history.
- An article on the Maritime Museums of Victoria website with a lot more information on the history – http://mmv.com.au/2016conf/defending_south_west_coast.pdf
- Visit Warrnambool – https://visitwarrnambool.com.au/itinerary/south-west-cannon-coastline-trail/
- I Am Port Fairy – https://portfairyaustralia.com.au/explore/worthy-of-exploration-battery-hill/ – with a lot of information about Battery Hill
- The Standard newspaper article from 2009 on the history of the garrisons – https://www.standard.net.au/story/729806/rare-cannon-tell-story-of-a-district-fearing-the-might-of-foreign-fleets/ (subscription required)
- The Standard newspaper article from 2021 on the Flagstaff Hill cannons – https://www.standard.net.au/story/7535262/uncovering-city-cannons-peculiar-past/ (subscription required)
- Coast FM Article on the Firings – https://coast.com.au/articles/cannon-fire-for-milestone/
I hope this article encourages members to get out and have a look.