A Coastal Defence Gun at Fort Largs
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 Fort Largs 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, Fort Largs 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.
SA Police's New Fort Largs Police Academy
But in his 2012 Annual Report to Parliament
, the Police Commissioner reported that The Fort Largs 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 Fort Largs is no longer used for law enforcement purposes.
The story of Fort Largs can now be told.
Why was Fort Largs built
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.
Fort Largs is Barely Visible From Lady Gowrie Drive
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.
Manning the Nine Inch Guns in 1890 (B18968 Courtesy State Library of SA)
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 Fort Largs 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.
Design of Fort Largs
Fort Largs Looking West From the Barracks
Fort Largs 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.
Artillery Guns and Observation Post at Fort Largs
On top of the structure are two large coastal defence guns, with a command observation post located in between them.
Storage Area Below Observation Post (Exterior)
Storage Area Below Observation Post (Interior)
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.
Tunnel Entrance, Possibly to Magazine
Rail Tracks Inside the North Tunnel
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.
Tracks to Storage Area Behind Observation Post
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.
Inside the North Tunnel, Now Partly Blocked
It's likely that the same arrangement existed at the southern end also, although no tracks are visible.
Rear Defence Wall and Part of Barracks
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 Ventilator Arises From the Sandhills
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.
Fort Largs in Action
Artillery - Probably Six Inch Mark VII Naval Gun
Fort Largs 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 Fort Largs was used as a temporary interment camp for enemy aliens.
Rear of Six Inch Mark VII Naval Gun
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.
Garrison Artillery Training in 1933 (B8714 SLSA)
For a period there was also a gun emplacement further north of the fort, but this was removed subsequently.
Garrison Drill on the Manning Parade Outside Barracks 1933 (B8715 SLSA)
As can be seen in the photo above, the barracks area formerly was quite different.
Garrison Firing Artillery in 1933 (B8716 SLSA)
The fort would have originally been illuminated with candles and lanterns - a dangerous combination with gunpowder about.
Siemens Electrical Junction Box Circa 1940
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 Fort Largs was used as a WRAAC Barracks, before being handed back to the SA Government.
The SA Police Years
The Former Fort Largs Police Academy Behind the Rear Defence Wall
In 1961 SAPOL was given Fort Largs 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.
The Former SA Police Shooting Range Adjacent Fort Largs
Fort Largs Seen From the West
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 Observation Post
The State Heritage record notes:
Architecturally Fort Largs 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 Fort Largs 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.
Old Lettering Just Visible Next to the National Trust Plaque
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 Fort Largs 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 Fort Largs will remain protected as the unique heritage asset that it is.
The Rear Defence Wall
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!
What is the Future of Fort Largs?