As a result of conflict between the expanding British Empire and Russia, Fort Lytton was built in 1881 on the advice of British engineers, Jervois and Scratchley. Situated at the mouth of the Brisbane River, the pentagonal shaped fort was surrounded by a water-filled moat. It boasted four heavy gun positions – two to fire down the river and two to fire across. An underwater mine system could also be placed across the river in times of emergency. By the turn of the century the armaments had increased to six heavy guns and two machine guns.
Queensland’s defence force had started with volunteers in 1860 and by the mid 1880s included some permanent soldiers. Fort Lytton was their main training ground. Annual camps were run there, which in the early years were a highlight in Queensland’s political and social calendar. Thousands of Brisbane’s citizens would travel by train or boat to Lytton to watch the spectacular military manoeuvres and ceremonial displays.
Fort Lytton was well entrenched in the psyche of Brisbane’s inhabitants. The following references reveal some glimpses not just the way of life at the Fort but of life in Brisbane and Moreton Bay during these times:
Clarrie Phillips recalls:
“The artillery at Fort Lytton had fairly regular practice in the early part of this century. The light guns fired across the Brisbane River at a target in the vicinity of Luggage Point. The heavier guns fired mostly towards Tangalooma or on the Naval Reserve Banks on the South Passage. Their target was a float with several red flags – towed there on a long line by either the Midge or the Mosquito, small fast Naval craft about 50 feet long. The target practices were advertised in the daily press, and a large red flag was flown from Lytton fort before practice commenced”. (1)
“I joined the Royal Australian Engineers during the Depression in 1932 and was stationed at Fort Lytton at the mouth of the Brisbane River. It was an active garrison then and its six-inch guns commanded a view of the entrance to Moreton Bay right up to Caloundra. I remember there was a moat of water round the guns so that they couldn’t be taken from behind. The ground was very swampy and the mosquitoes were bad – so bad, in fact, that the horses would drag their tethering pegs right out of the ground.” (1)
“I remember too that in the 1930s the army had camps at Fort Lytton where they would practice fire the cannon across the boat passage out towards St Helena. Quite a lot of the shells would end up in the mudflats at Wynnum. One of our childhood pastimes was to look for the artillery shells buried there.” (1)
“Lytton was a military fort. One part was called Reformatory Hill, where deserters were quartered. Sentries were posted but still some got out, looking for money or tobacco. Later before WWII, Lytton was a training camp. My father’s shop supplied the Officers’ Mess with extras. I used to deliver them in our truck, but only at certain times because they used to have firing practice there. Once, General Chauvel visited there to review the troops, and we had to supply the flowers and tablecloths for the mess.” (2)
Throughout World Wars I and II, Fort Lytton continued its defensive role and remained a major training facility. A submarine boom was mounted across the river during World War II. After World War II the fort no longer met the defence needs and was gradually abandoned.
In 1963 it was included in land sold to Ampol (now Caltex) to build an oil refinery. Ownership of the Fort was transferred back to the Queensland Government in 1988 under the management of the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.3
(Extract from ‘The Port of Brisbane, Its People and Its Personalities’)
1. Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay People-The Complete Collection. privately published, Stones Corner, 2000
2. Ludlow, Peter. Moreton Bay Letters. privately published, Stones Corner, 2003
3. Heritage Parks of Moreton Bay – Visitor Guide. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 2007