Fort Scratchley

Scott-Free’s blog
Steve & Chris
Thu 28 Apr 2016 21:07

Thursday 28th April 2016


On a headland previously known as Braithwaite’s Head, Fort Scratchley stands sentinel over Newcastle harbour entrance and the town beyond.  Built in 1882 and named after British officer Lieutenant Colonel Peter Scratchley who had been sent out to advise on naval defences following fears of Russian attack, the fort was designed around a battery of three 80-pounder guns facing eastward in an arc to the ocean, with other guns covering the harbour to north and west.


The Russian attack never came, and during the 20th century both the guns and their enclosures changed as military technology developed.  Apart from occasional use to prevent unauthorised shipping entering the harbour during both world wars, the guns were fired in anger on just one occasion, on the night of 7-8th June 1942 when a Japanese submarine opened fire on Newcastle.  Fort Scratchley became the only coastal fortification to fire on an enemy Naval vessel.


The guns were decommissioned in 1962 and the fort closed in 1972.  Today it stands as a historic site and home to the Military Museum/Fort Scratchley Historical Society.  We spent a very enjoyable couple of hours looking around the site, browsing in the museum rooms and taking a guided tour of the tunnels.


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Fort Scratchley stands on a headland overlooking Nobby’s Head and the ocean around the entrance to Newcastle harbour,.


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Two 6-inch Mark VII breech-loading guns stand atop the fort, installed in 1911 and the fort’s most powerful and accurate weapons.



The lookout tower, centre top of the fort.


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A very knowledgeable and interesting volunteer guide took us through the tunnels.  This is an 80-pounder RML gun, built England 1872.



3 x Nordenfelt 1 and ½ inch guns replaced the 80-pounder muzzle-loaded guns in 1898.


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This gun was fired at 1 o’clock – unfortunately the time ball on the top of the old Customs House building was not working, so the officer in charge used his wristwatch.


After the tour we stayed a while, taking in the views of the city and watching a ship being met by tugboats which then guided it safely into the harbour.


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Christ Church Cathedral stands tall above the Newcastle skyline.               The Hunter River winds its way through Newcastle.


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Four tugboats came out to meet this empty cargo ship and to steer her safely into the harbour to collect her load of coal.  As can be seen, with no load onboard, she sits high in the water and her propeller is visible above the surface.  This reduces its effectiveness and thus her manoeuvrability, both in terms of speed and direction.  On her way out, with her load of coal, the prop will be able to do its work efficiently and she will need far less help.


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An old sketch showing Nobby’s Head when it was still a tall island, before it was joined to land by the breakwater and had its top removed.  The sailing ship below the arrow is at a crucial point as it loses the wind in the lee of the island and as a result its speed.  In big seas, this is when ships were lost as they were washed onto the shallow oyster shoals beyond. No tugboats to help them in those days.


It was interesting to contemplate that, over a hundred years and countless technological advances later, cargo ships today still have their problems collecting coal from Newcastle!