I originally examined the Armstrong 80pd RML cannons at Port Fairy a year ago. Then spent 2020 making a 1:10 scale model. Now, I am completing a second model. Here is a photo of the current status of the 2nd model. And no. There will not be a third.
But this post is about my recent 2021 holiday in Port Fairy.
I spent some hours checking and getting more measurements……….
My son in law brought his drone to Port Fairy. It is a Mavic 2 Pro with a Hasselbad camera. I was sooo jealous.
And here is his footage of Battery Point. If you look carefully you can see me, my daughter, and Steve controlling the drone. This was a day after the photos above were taken, and my grand daughter was not in the video. Click on the arrow to see the 2″ video.
10 members of my family had a brief vacation in South West Victoria after Christmas. It was a nice holiday, but with three 5 year olds and an 8 year old, it was noisy.
I took the opportunity to revisit the Armstrong RML’s at Port Fairy and Warrnambool. And to visit the one at Portland for the first time.
Every time I see these cannons I learn something new about them. And I got to talk to a local historian at Port Fairy. Colonial Victoria purchased 25 or 26 of these muzzle loading rifled cannons in 1866. 10 of them are still in existence. I have now seen 5 of them. I believe that there are further barrels at Fort Queenscliff, Point Nepean, and possibly Cerberus which I have not yet seen.
“80pr” indicates that the cannons fired projectiles weighing 80 pounds. On all of these cannons the case of the elevating gears is stamped thus….
I am not sure what M2 GAR. stands for. Could it be an abbreviation of Mr WG Armstrong (later Lord Armstrong), the designer of these guns? (note 27 Jan 21. I spoke at length with Australian cannon expert Peter Webster. He said that GAR stands for “Garrison”. Not sure why, but maybe to distinguish it from naval guns.) R.M.L. will stand for “Rifled Muzzle Loader”. 80 PR will be 80 pound projectile. 6 FT PAR had me puzzled, but when I saw that the guns were designed to sit behind a 6 foot parapet I am pretty sure that will be the solution. And in a smaller font below, WD with a vertical arrow will indicate that the part has been approved by the War Department.
The Portland 80pr RML
From a distance, it looks good. The shapes in the carriage and chassis stand out with the white paint, and the assembly looks reasonably complete, except for absent winding handles and sights. Closer inspection however is disappointing. The cannon was restored in 1985 and the parts which were replaced such as the biggest gear, the elevation quadrant scale and trunnion caps, and elevation gear are significantly different from the originals on the Port Fairy and Warrnambool cannons. They appear to have been cut from mild steel in a fanciful representation of the original designs. Arc welding has been extensively used to join components. It is OK as a tourist attraction, but useless for historic study.
And instead of pointing over Portland Bay, it points at the large grain silo.
PORT FAIRY CANNONS REVISITED
Overdue for restoration works, the carriage wheels are largely crumbling into rust, and the girders have large rusted missing sections. The barrel of number 22 is elevated to a high angle which would never have been used, but is useful for firing blank charges for the entertainment of tourists, and which I enjoyed 12 months ago. Number 17 barrel rests on its parapet, at such a low angle that it too would never have used. The total lack of restoration does allow one aspect of the barrels to be visible, and that is the coil construction of the barrel segments.
I measured the widths of the strips, and found that those on the narrowest part of the barrel (the chase, near the muzzle) were the narrowest at 36mm, and those of the biggest barrel diameter, the breech, were 50mm wide.
I was also able to work out the structure of the girders on the Armstrong RML, and the reason for all of those rivets. The top and bottom pieces are T section iron, and the sides are 3/8″ (9.5mm) plate iron. There are small pieces of iron to fill the gaps at the ends, and where intermediate rivets are used in the middle sections. Using a percussion technique, taught to all medical students for diagnosing pneumonia, I could work out the locations of all of the small middle pieces.
WARRNAMBOOL ARMSTRONG RML’s
These have been expertly restored, and are the most complete examples which I have seen. They were painted entirely black which makes photographs more difficult to interpret.
Whales are commonly seen in the bay. Unfortunately none on this day.
Next post will include some interesting historical photos, and other restored cannons which were recently installed at Port Fairy.
I am home after a short holiday at Port Fairy, Victoria. Port Fairy is on the “shipwreck coast” of Victoria, labelled for the number of ships which were wrecked in the 19th century. Dozens and dozens of them, including the tragic “Loch Ard”. Port Fairy was a sealing, whaling, fishing village in the 19th century, but now survives on tourism and dairy farming. It was also the site of horrendous massacres of aboriginals.
Port Fairy was part of the coastal defences against a possible Russian invasion in the late 19th century, when Britain was the enemy of Tsarist Russia. Not that any invasion eventuated, or probably even contemplated by the Russians. But no doubt they were pretty pissed off by the defeats in the Crimea, so an invasion of a weak but gold rich British colony was not not totally ridiculous.
So Port Fairy, and nearby Warnambool and Portland were fortified with decent shore based artillery. The coast is incredibly rugged, with few landing places.
Today I saw some of the fortifications. And my next project?….
It is a muzzle loading, rifled bore, 80lb, black powder cannon (RML). The associated machinery is in poor condition, but much of it is present, and its original form can be inferred. Most of the external brass and bronze fittings such as sights and gauges have been removed, probably stolen.
The barrel itself is in good condition. It is fired to entertain the tourists every Sunday at 1200, and on New Year Day at 1400. Just a blank charge of course, about 1/8th of the charge which would have been used to fire a projectile. I was fortunate enough to be present at the January 1 firing, and it was awesome! Very loud. A sharp “crack”, and gout of flame, and air shock wave. Very impressive. Rated as an 80lb cannon. Far from the biggest ever RML, but still awesome.
And our model engineering society has a connection with the gun. One of our GSMEE members used to prepare the demonstration charge, and conduct the weekly firing. He operated a stone quarry, and was qualified to handle black powder and other explosives. He tells a story of one firing which had a funny ending. Someone else had prepared the charge, inserted it ready for firing, which was done. Unfortunately he had neglected to remove the powder container, which was a “Milo” tin. A few minutes after the firing, a very irate cop demanded to know who had fired the gun. The Milo tin had landed on his patrol car which was about 100 meters away.
No (legal) charges were laid.
And another connection… my son in law grew up in Port Fairy, and has fond memories of the town.
So I have taken many photographs of the gun and its carriage and machinery, and many measurements using a builder’s tape measure. The overall length is 4 meters plus protruding barrel, and if I use the same scale as my previous 3 cannons, 1:10, it will be about 400-500mm long. At this time I am preparing some drawings. Thinking about materials. Possibly steel. With some bronze and brass for the fittings. But I will finish the Southworth vertical steam pump first.
Found this photo of a very similar gun which was mounted at Port Jackson, NSW.
Back home now, and watching the news about Australia’s climate change fires, politicians posturing, and the president who ordered a murder. Absolutely appalled. “We got him”. WTF.