Friday, 21 December 2012

Princes Park

When Governor Lachlan Macquarie toured the Hobart Town settlement in 1811, he was alarmed at the poor state of the defences and the general disorganisation of the colony. Along with planning for a new grid pattern of streets to be laid out, and new administrative and other buildings to be built, he commissioned the building of Anglesea Barracks, which opened in 1814, and is now the oldest continually occupied barracks in Australia. Macquarie also suggested the construction of more permanent fortifications.
Following his advice, a new location comprising an area of 8 acres (32,000 m2) was selected on the hillside of Battery Point just to the south of Hobart Town, and construction began on what was to become the first of a series of new defensive installations.

By 1818, the new battery had been completed on a location in Battery Point uphill of what is now Castray Esplanade, and was dubbed Mulgrave Battery in honour of Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave, who was at that time Master-General of the Ordnance. The Battery had six guns which projected forward through earthwork embrasures. At first, these were ships guns, but in 1824 they were replaced with 32 pounders. Now Hobart Town had two firing positions protecting either side of the entrance to Sullivans Cove.
Upon its completion, the Mulgrave Battery soon attracted heavy criticism from those who had to serve there. Members of the Royal Artillery felt it was inadequate, and one critic is even said to have described the Battery as "a poor pitiful mud fort."
Engineers reported that the gun carriages were a danger to men firing the guns, and so new timber was sent from Macquarie Harbour in 1829 to make them safer; however, records showed that only one gun had been upgraded by 1831. The same year, the galleries were improved with large 15 metre long sections of timber, heavy bolts, braces and bars.

As the colony began to grow larger, more British Units were sent to serve in the settlement of Hobart Town. Amongst one of these contingents was a commander of the Royal Engineers named Major Roger Kellsall. When he arrived, he assessed these two fortifications, and wrote in his report that he felt the colony was virtually undefended.
He devised an ambitious plan to fortify the whole inner harbour of the Derwent River with a network of heavily armed and fortified batteries located at Macquarie Point, Battery Point and Bellerive Bluff on the eastern shore. He envisaged the forts all having an interlocking firing arc, which would cover the entire approach to Sullivans Cove, making it impossible for ships to enter the docks or attack the town unchallenged.

The scale of the plan was enormous for such a small colony, the population being approximately 20,000 in the 1830s. The small population meant the cost was too prohibitive, considering that at that period the British Empire enjoyed relative peace with the exception of border conflicts in India.
Despite funding problems, work using convict labour did begin in 1840. Mulgrave Battery was enhanced and expanded, and a new site was located slightly further up the hillside on Battery Point, behind the location of the Mulgrave Battery, where construction also commenced in 1840.

A semaphore station, built in 1829, and signal mast were constructed above Mulgrave Battery, allowing communication with ships entering the mouth of the river, and through a relay system of masts, all the way to Port Arthur penitentiary on the Tasman Peninsula. The semaphore station and signal mast are still standing on the edge of Princes Park and once signalled ships entering the harbour, and relayed messages via a chain of stations to Port Arthur.
The modern Hobart suburb of Battery Point takes its name from the Mulgrave Battery. The original guardhouse, built in 1818 which had been located nearby is the oldest building in Battery Point, and one of the oldest buildings still standing in Tasmania.
The new battery, named "Prince of Wales Battery", was completed in 1841. That year ten new 8-inch (200 mm) muzzle loading cannons were lifted into position, enhancing the firepower of the colony's defences. Despite its significant firepower, the poor location and firing angles of the new fortress soon became obvious.

The layout of the fortifications continued to have the Mulgrave and Prince of Wales batteries to the south-west of Sullivans Cove and the Queens Battery to the north-east, until the outbreak of the Crimean War with the Russian Empire. Fear of attack or even invasion by Russian warships of the Imperial Russian Navy, which were known to sail in the South Pacific, led to calls for review of Hobart Town’s defences. A commission was called and it found that further strengthening was needed. With the problems of the Prince of Wales Battery, it was decided a third battery, the Prince Albert Battery (named for HRH Prince Albert Queen Victoria’s Prince Consort), would be constructed even further up the hill, behind the Prince of Wales Battery. These three batteries were to be linked with a series of underground tunnels.

By 1855, the colony of Van Diemens Land was granted responsible self-government by the colonial Office, and renamed Tasmania. The Colonial Office began to pressure the newly formed local government to take more responsibility for the self-defence of the colony.
As a result of these calls, the Tasmanian colonial government began to establish Volunteer Local Militia Forces. One such force, established in 1859 was the Hobart Town Artillery Company under the command of Captain A. F. Smith, formerly of the 99th. (Wiltshire) Regiment, who began to assume responsibility for the Hobart fortifications from the Royal Artillery who were increasingly being withdrawn, and had all departed well before the withdrawal of the last British forces from Tasmania in 1870. Prior to this, in 1868 a Defence Proposals paper had been published which outlined the need for greater defensive fortifications. It also suggested the need for proposed batteries further to the south of Hobart Town on either side of the river.

Improvements to ship’s armaments meant that the existing fortifications, which provided covering fire to a range of approximately 2,000 yards (2,000 m), would allow enemy ships to ship outside the range of the defenders guns and still be able to bombard the town. This left the colony virtually defenceless.
The arrival of three Imperial Russian Navy warships, the Africa, Plastun, and Vestnik in 1872 caused a great deal of alarm in the colony. Britain and its empire had only been fighting the Crimean war with the Russians 16 years previously. The colony was virtually defenceless, and had the Russians had hostile intent, would probably have easily fallen. Luckily the Russians were on a good will mission, however, it cause a great deal of debate about the state of the colonies defences.

It had also highlighted the state of decay the existing fortresses had reached. Another Commission was carried out, and it was decided the Mulgrave, Prince of Wales and Prince Albert Batteries were inadequate for the defence of the town. By 1878, both had been condemned, and were dismantled by 1880. In 1882, the sites were handed over to Hobart City Council for use as public space, although the tunnels and subterranean magazines remain. Most of the stonework was removed and reused in the construction of the Alexandra Battery further to the south.

Following the closures, the tunnels soon became a popular place for children to play, and at night, the underground magazine rooms often became a meeting place for men to drink and play cards, until they were closed and kept permanently locked by the council in 1934.
To this day, the park in which the Mulgrave, Prince of Wales and Albert Batteries had been located remains a popular public park, and is named Princes Park in honour of the men who served in the batteries there, and as a reminder of the heritage of the site. The iron gate sealing the entrance to the tunnels and underground magazine rooms can still be seen at the base of the park.