Fort Largs

Fort Largs


Posted 2013-02-19 by Dave Walshfollow

One hundred and thirty years ago the people of SA were rather concerned. Their new colony was just 50 years old, but growing steadily and becoming increasingly prosperous.

But the storm clouds of war were gathering on the horizon.

Defence preparations were hurriedly made, and forts constructed firstly at Fort Glanville and later was built in 1883 to defend us from foreign powers.

A third coastal fort was planned for Glenelg, but never built.

While Fort Glanville has long been accessible to the public, has always been a restricted area.

Initially restricted by the military, for the last 50 years it has been inaccessible due to its use by the SA Police for their Police Academy.

But in his 2012 Annual Report to Parliament , the Police Commissioner reported that The Police Academy was decommissioned following the final graduation at the site on 14 December 2011. The new SAPOL Academy opened on 8 February 2012, and is no longer used for law enforcement purposes.

The story of can now be told.

[SECTION]Why was built[/SECTION]

From the time of the Crimean War in the 1850's and at regular intervals thereafter a persistent concern among the citizens of South Australia was the fear of invasion by the Russians and, of necessity, the government was prodded and urged to make appropriate arrangements to meet the oncoming hordes from Asia.

So wrote Geoffrey H Manning, an eminent South Australian history researcher in a treatise on the defence of South Australia .

Like the other nations of Europe Russia was on the lookout for new territory to explore in the 19th century, and it was not uncommon for her fleets to pass near Australian soil.

However in 1882 Glenelg awoke to a Russian squadron at anchor in Holdfast Bay, creating no little concern. After a flurry of panic, it was found that warning of the friendly visit had been sent from Melbourne, but a postal clerk had omitted to pass it on.

Fortunately the colony had already commissioned British military engineer Sir William Jervois to advise on defence matters. To protect Adelaide, construction of Fort Glanville had commenced in 1878.

By 1883 had been completed, and within only a few years it assumed the dominant role in the defence of South Australia.

Citizens could travel about Adelaide without being concerned about invasion or raiders.


is a raised structure overlooking the Gulf of St Vincent at Taperoo. It is almost hidden from view on Lady Gowrie Drive due to sandhills and vegetation.

On top of the structure are two large coastal defence guns, with a command observation post located in between them.

At the ground level there are storage areas, and at least one tunnel under the dunes which appears to be where the magazine stored shells.

Part of it has now been blocked off, indicating the possible existence of a caponier - a defensive passage that possibly protected the fort from the west.

The tunnel at the northern side of the fort has narrow gauge rail tracks inside, which disappear at the exit but reappear outside a locked door behind the guns.

Charges and ammunition were probably taken from the tunnels using handcarts on the rails, then a hoist used to raise the material to the guns.

It's likely that the same arrangement existed at the southern end also, although no tracks are visible.

To the east of the gun emplacement is a rear defence wall with an elevated walkway, which allows for the defence of the fort by firing rifles through loopholes in the wall.

The open area was probably a manning parade used to drill the soldiers.

There was also a barracks building for the soldiers, but that was re-built during World War 2. There is an area under the barracks that was probably also used by soldiers, but it is currently locked.

A number of vents are dotted around the sand hills near the guns, presumably providing ventilation for those in the tunnels. Without a torch I was unable to explore the northern tunnel fully, but it appears to have been blocked at the end some time in the past.

never fired a shot in anger.

But it remained in military service from the 1880's through the first and second world wars.

In 1916 was used as a temporary interment camp for enemy aliens.

Originally fitted with disappearing guns , these were later replaced by World War 2 with 6" Mark VII naval guns commonly used in a coastal fort of the period.

For a period there was also a gun emplacement further north of the fort, but this was removed subsequently.

As can be seen in the photo above, the barracks area formerly was quite different.

The fort would have originally been illuminated with candles and lanterns - a dangerous combination with gunpowder about.

At some stage electricity was connected. This Siemens junction box appears to date from around 1940 based on the logo design.

Between 1951 and 1960 was used as a WRAAC Barracks, before being handed back to the SA Government.

[SECTION]The SA Police Years[/SECTION]

In 1961 SAPOL was given as the site for its Police Academy, which progressively grew in size and sophistication.

Initially the accommodation at the academy was extremely basic - in the 1960's asbestos huts from Radium Hill were used. Later they were replaced by railway huts, and finally by six dormitory blocks.

The rooms beneath the guns once housed a firearms museum and the Pitt collection of arms and armour , on loan from the South Australian Museum.

By the 1970's the tunnel had been bricked off, with the accessible area holding police confiscations from all about Adelaide including weapons, court evidence, and two up coins.


Some modifications have been made in the vicinity of the old fort, although much of the fort itself seems intact.

There appears to have been some minimal maintenance done to protect the structure.

The State Heritage record notes:

Architecturally is important because it represents the end of an era of coastal fortification philosophy - in terms of planning, design, and construction - spanning over three centuries. The integrity of is poor, because of the constant upgrading and other alterations relating to its continuous, active role as a military or para military complex. Nevertheless, most of the 19th century fabric remains, and all subsequent additions are well documented.

When seeking permission to explore the fort, I was advised by SAPOL that the land is no longer theirs. Renewal SA, also said that the land is not under their control. At that point I assumed the land had reverted to Crown land, and obtained the images for this article.

I was subsequently advised that the land is under the care of SAPOL, but my questions about getting access remain unanswered by SAPOL at this point.

Until then, be aware that trespassing here is not likely to be tolerated.

Now that the SA Police have finished with the old Police Academy, the land around will almost certainly pass to Renewal SA for disposal as housing allotments.

Despite the departure of former Heritage Minister Caica, I am not confident that will remain protected as the unique heritage asset that it is.

The present government has a very poor track record of heritage protection when developers are queuing in a shark-like feeding frenzy.

Watch this space!

154716 - 2023-06-14 09:47:07


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