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Fort Phillip Magazine

Fort Phillip was located on Windmill (later Observatory) Hill in Sydney, where the Sydney Observatory is now located. According to Peter Oppenheim, Windmill Hill was:

"... the site of a small battery of four 6-pounder guns and a powder magazine which were erected in 1794."

This battery was still in use in 1801. (Peter Oppenheim, The Fragile Forts, 2004, pp. 8, 10)

Construction of Fort Phillip was commenced in 1804, and the Fort was designed as a citadel, to be used as a place of retreat in the event of a convict insurrection. It was never completed, but from at latest 1815 to 1832 the adjoining magazine were used, under the superintendence in later years of the Ordnance Sergeant, for the storage of gunpowder. The majority of the structure was demolished when the Observatory was built in the 1850s. Archaeological investigation of the site has been undertaken in recent years.

A magazine, designed by Francis Greenway, was constructed immediately outside the walls of the fort, which was not a fully enclosed structure, in 1815. It's possible that there was an earlier magazine inside the eastern fort wall, or that a structure within the walls of the fort referred to as a "bomb proof chamber" was used for gunpowder storage before 1815.

According to one account, the 1815 magazine at the Fort was large enough to hold 200 barrels of gunpowder. (Peter Oppenheim, The Fragile Forts, 2004, p.22)

Another account says that the "the magazine had a bomb proof, 4 feet thick, arched stone vault and was to have side passages and a roofed upper storey."(Source: Kerr, JS, Sydney Observatory: a Conservation Plan for the Site and Structures, 2002)

Governor Macquarie referred to the magazine as "41. A large stone-built bomb-proof Powder-magazine at Fort Phillip, inclosed with a high stone wall." (Appendix to the Report of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, late Governor of the Colony of New South Wales; being, a List and Schedules of Public Buildings and Works erected, and other useful Improvements made in the Territory of New South Wales, and its Dependencies, at the expense of the Crown, from the 1st of January, 1810, to the 30th of November, 1821, both inclusive;(Reprinted in The Colonist of 2 April 1835.))

Francis Greenway mentioned the magazine in self-justifying letters written to newspapers in 1825 and 1834:

"... I was then desired to lay down a plan of an arsenal with proper magazines, and a place of security for arms and ordnance stores, to be considered as part of an intended fort; part of the magazine was begun at Fort Philip, and as soon as that part of it, which is now used as a magazine, was arched in bomb-proof, before the side passages were finished and the story above carried into effect and covered in as intended, powder and other stores were placed in it by the engineer, notwithstanding my remonstrances, and stating that it would be spoiled, which proved to be the case, to a considerable amount, and instead of securing it effectually after this mischief, as I wished, which would have been done in the same time they were about roofing it in over the arch by the engineer's order, in the elegant and consistent manner it now remains, to be the subject of ridicule to every man of common sense. ..." (The Australian, 28 April 1825)
"... At that time there was no magazine for powder, and what powder was then in the country was kept in a very loose way in the stores, with necessary food and articles to a great amount for the use of the colony. The guns at Dawes' Battery were perfectly useless, so that any speculator of any of the nations we were at war with, might have entered our harbour, destroyed our infant town, blowed up the stores, and left us in a woeful condition, or have laid us under contribution, as no Man-of-war was on the station. In this dilemma I formed a half-moon battery with a glacis, and built a small station for a guard at Dawes' Battery - put the guns to right as well as circumstances would allow, began also an arsenal of an intended fort at Fort Phillip; there was, however, nothing more done to it than erecting part of a powder magazine, to which place the powder from the stores was removed before it was made secure - the authorities were so alarmed, fearing an explosion. ..." (The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, 13 September 1834)

There is a reference in 1821 to the use of the Fort Phillip as a public magazine - it appears in a Government notice published in the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser of 12 May 1821. This notice, issued by the Colonial Secretary, specifies the conditions under which persons may lodge gunpowder at "His Majesty's Magazines, at Fort Phillip".

Order for issue of gunpowder from Fort Phillip

Order for Issue of Gunpowder from the Fort Phillip Magazine

According to the Sydney Herald of 16 July 1832:

"The whole of the powder has been taken from Fort Phillip, and placed in the Floating Magazine; the former place is to be pulled down. We would suggest that a more convenient Telegraph House be there erected."

The floating magazine was the ex-government brig, the "Mary Elizabeth".

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Robert Curran
borclaud @ tpg.com.au