by John

“The Artillerist”, Peter Webster is a Sydney based expert on historic Australian artillery. So I contacted Peter to see if he could explain how the 4 ton barrel of the Armstrong 80pr was elevated when it was mounted on the wooden carriage and slide.

Peter explained in detail that there was a screw sitting in a gunmetal nut which raised an iron bar on which the breech of the barrel rested. If more depression of the barrel was required, a wooden wedge (quoin) was inserted between the barrel and the iron bar. Peter had seen this arrangement on a cannon at Fort Queenscliff.

Several other readers have sent me diagrams from old publications of the setup, and I sincerely thank those readers for their help. Here is one of the diagrams.

Even though the barrel is different from my Armstrong 80pr, the dimensions of the platform match precisely. And the elevating screw and the quoin show as dotted lines fairly clearly.

I could have made the model screw and quoin from these details, but I decided to visit the Queenscliff Fort to see them for myself. Queenscliff is only a 30″ drive away. It has been Covid closed to visitors for almost 2 years, but had reopened very recently. So off I went today.

The fort was built in the second half of the 19th century to guard Port Phillip Bay heads from the French, the Russians, and even the Americans(!). At that time Victoria was wealthy from the gold rush, and the authorities were worried about a raid to steal gold which was stored in Melbourne banks and the Treasury. The land walls of the fort were surrounded by a deep dry moat. The large black powder guns faced the sea.
The big guns were fired in anger only twice. First at the Pfalz, German steamer trying to escape Port Phillip Bay at the declaration of WW1. The “warning shot” almost hit the bow of the ship. Then there was a confrontation between the Australian pilot and the German captain. And the ship turned around, was commandeered, and was later used as a troop transport to take Australian soldiers to Gallipoli. The German crew were interned for the duration of the war. Astoundingly, the same gun was the first one to fire a shot in WW2, at least by Australians. But that was at an Australian ship which did not identify itself properly, so was a bit less glorious.

The 1.5 hr tour included the cells, the magazines, the remaining guns, the lighthouses, the museum.

Another interesting story which I had never previously heard, was from WW2, 1942. An aeroplane was launched from a Japanese submarine in Bass Strait. The plane flew around Port Phillip Bay, taking aerial reconnaisance photographs. It was spotted from Fort Queenscliff, but by the time it was realised to be the enemy, it had gone. Telephone calls to the Laverton airforce base were similarly unsuccessful in raising a response in time. The plane completed its mission and was picked up by the submarine. The pilot visited Australia after the war and related the story, and showed photographs. Needless to say, the Australian population was not informed until many years later. Google showed this article…

This lighthouse is still in use. Lighthouses are usually painted white, but this is one of only 3 black lighthouses in the world (?). Wonderfull stone masonry. Basalt.
The unusual “disappearing” gun. An Armstrong 8″ RBL. Manually loaded, it could fire 3 rounds per minute!
Similar mechanism, smaller gun.
The museum had many interesting pictures and exhibits. This one is the gunners loading a 10″ rifled muzzle loader. Taken in 1880.
Do you recognise the young lieutenant sitting right front? It is Australia’s most famous soldier. The son of German Jewish immigrants. He was the only soldier knighted by a British monarch on the battlefield, in 200 years. Later General Sir John Monash. He was in charge of the Queenscliff artillery in the 1890’s.
A famous rifle. Lee Enfield.
This had particular interest to me.

After the tour had finished I was quite disappointed not to have seen the gun and wooden carriage indicated by Peter Webster. So I asked the volunteer guide about it. She kindly introduced me to the gun expert at the museum. He took me to the only gun which matched the description, away from the tourist areas.

That’s me, next to the 80pr Armstrong rifled muzzle loader on a wooden carriage and slide.

Bummer! The elevating mechanism is missing, replaced by a wooden prop which was used when the gun was not in use.

Oh well. The tour was enjoyable.