Heritage

Ben Buckler Gun Battery 1893, 9.2" Disappearing Gun

Item details

Name of item: Ben Buckler Gun Battery 1893, 9.2" Disappearing Gun
Other name/s: Bondi Battery
Type of item: Archaeological-Terrestrial
Group/Collection: Defence
Category: Battery
Location: Lat: -33.8839558495 Long: 151.2843691450
Primary address: , North Bondi, NSW 2024
Local govt. area: Waverley
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
 North BondiWaverley  Primary Address

Owner/s

Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Waverley CouncilLocal Government 

Statement of significance:

The Ben Buckler (Bondi) battery site survives as a unique coastal defence battery of the late-Victorian period. Apart from comprising a rare intact concrete 1890's emplacement specifically developed for the then new 'disappearing guns' common to the period, the site retains significant archaeological potential due to the probable retention of the original 9.2-inch naval gun and mounting the only complete 9.2-inch example to exist in Australia. The gun battery was one of three large coastal batteries installed in NSW, and demonstrates a change in technologies associated with the advent of fast, powerful armoured ships capable of bombarding coastal centres such as Sydney. The 1890s fortifications along Sydney's eastern suburbs were the culmination of a long period of harbour defence installations reflecting changing policy to meet new technologies, threats and styles of warfare.
Date significance updated: 16 Feb 09
Note: There are incomplete details for a number of items listed in NSW. The Heritage Branch intends to develop or upgrade statements of significance and other information for these items as resources become available.

Description

Designer/Maker: NSW Colonial Government
Construction years: 1893-1893
Physical description: The Ben Buckler gun battery site comprises a rare example of a reinforced concrete gun emplacement, substantially constructed below ground. The gun pit held a Mark '6' 9.2" (234mm) British-made breech-loading 'counter bombardment' British Armstrong 'disappearing' gun. The concrete enclosure was revealed by earthworks in 1984 that revealed a circular concrete rim of the 'pit' and internal iron casing cover with slot that allowed for the passing of the gun and its recoil. The overall dimensions of the gun pit and associated store rooms, ammunition bunkers, etc,have yet to be sourced through Commonwealth archives.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
The 1984 exposure of the top level of the site suggested that the wholly buried structure has retained a significant level of integrity. Annecdotal evidence suggests that the entire concrete casemate, gun and hydraulic mount were left in situ and buried by landfill during the 1950's for the creation of the public open space, the Hugh Bramford reserve (oval). The site therefore has the potential to retain significant structural remains and fittings associated with the 1893-built structure and later modifications.
Date condition updated:20 Apr 05
Modifications and dates: Conbstructed 1893. Possible modifications throughout the use of the site culminating in its retention in reserve during World War Two.
Further information: The Ben Buckler site is the only one of three 9.2-inch coatal batteries established in Sydney with disappearing guns in the late 1890's. It is the only one to have retained signiifant elements, the others being stripped of armaments and fittings.
Current use: Recreational uses as public open space.
Former use: Military coastal gun battery - defence. Restricted to military personnel.

History

Historical notes: Development of coastal defence fortifications
The initial fortifications of Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) were initiated following the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788. The initial batteries were established at Dawes Point, Fort Macquarie and Fort Phillip. Their aim was to defend the colony from vessels that had already entered the harbour. Fears by Britain that its colony could be invaded during the Napoleonic wars led to improvements to the harbour defences. A battery was established at Georges Head around 1801. Following the surprise visit of American warships in 1839, further defences were constructed at Kirribilli, Pinchgut and Bradleys Head. As a consequence of the Crimean War, further improvements were made to Bradleys Head, Middle Head and South Head (1854).

1870 saw the removal of British forces from Australia (the Cardwell reforms), putting the onus on wealthy colonies like NSW and Victoria to assist with defence arrangements. In 1871 a string of works were undertaken at outer and inner Middle Head, Georges Head, South Head, Steele Point and Bradleys Head. However, improvements in armaments led to continual redundancy of the fortifications by the 1880's. Fortifications such as Bare Island (1885 onwards) were a feature of this period. Military advisors such as Scratchley and Jervois advocated new defence priorities which led to the 1890's construction of outer defences in Sydney's eastern suburbs.

The guns established here, including Ben Buckler, were aimed to maximise the new gun technologies of the era, and as a deterant to hostile attack by increasingly efficient naval vessels. The coastal guns were used in a 'counter-bombardment' role - to repel armed ships approaching, passing or bombarding population centres like Sydney. They had to be equal to the power of ship-mounted guns, and were used in association with smaller guns aimed at attacking vessels entering port, and with other harbour defence systems such as mines and torpedo boats. The 9.2 inch breech-loading gun types were originally designed for the Royal Navy. An 1879 British Ordinance Committee had earlier identified the need for Britain and its colonies to be able to match arms developments such as those of the German Imperial Army and Navy (Krupp guns).

The Ben Buckler ('Bondi') Battery - specifics
The three guns that formed the outer defensive circle of Eastern Sydney in the late 1890s were established at Signal Hill, Vaucluse, Ben Buckler, Bondi, and Shark Point, Clovelly. The single batteries consisted of a gun pit that incorporated a Mark '6' 9.2" (234mm) British-made breech-loading Armstrong 'disappearing' gun. The disappearing guns were prevalent at the end of the nineteenth century throughout Britain, its colonies and the United States. They were chosen because of their range and power, and upon firing and recoil, the gun retracted into its concealed pit and was therefore a lesser target to attacking naval vessels. The domed metal shield that covered the gun pit was devised to deflect incoming shells striking the battery.

During the late nineteenth century, ten (10) 9.2" breech-loading 'counter bombardment' guns of this type were established in Australia. These comprised three (3) at Sydney's eastern suburb batteries, plus a spare barrel; four (4) in Victoria at Fort Nepean and Queenscliff, and two (2) in South Australia (purchased in 1888). The Adelaide guns were never established into Fort Glenelg but were bought back by the British government in 1915.

The Sydney guns were purchased with three (3) hydro-pnuematic mounts and had the following serial numbers: Shark Point: #7317; Signal Hill: #7318; Bondi: #7319, and the spare: #7320. Of these guns, only the Signal Hill, Vaucluse barrel survives on public display at the Royal Australian Artillery Museum at North Fort, North Head.

The Armstrong Foundry gun at Ben Buckler was cast in 1891 and established within its concrete casemate in 1893. The casemate allegedly had ten-metre (10m) thick concrete walls. Transportation of the gun from the Victoria Barracks, Sydney, involved a team of thirty-six horses and took three (3) weeks. The gun weighed 22 tons and was installed on an EOC Hydro-pneumatic Mark '1' disappearing mount, operated by hydraulic power. The gun was fired through a slot in the iron 'top' shield and could fire a 172-kilogram armour piecing projectile to a range of 8200 metres (8.2 kilometres).

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald of April 1908 reported the findings of a Board of Enquiry into the premature firing of the Ben Buckler gun - illustrative of the dangers associated with this technology.

It was not until the 1920s that Australian coastal defence sites began to be re-equipped with modern breech-loading 9.2" naval guns. These comprised the seven two-gun 'Mark 10' 9.2" batteries completed by World War Two. The new Sydney batteries comprised North Fort at North Head, and the Banks Battery at La Perouse. These sites still exist (minus the guns).

Military ordinance disposal
The Ben Buckler gun site has survived today through a series of unique events. Obsolete by the outbreak of World War Two, the gun was held in reserve. With the Federal military disposal program after the war, the majority of coastal gun fortifications were dismantled.

The Australian coastal defence guns were generally offered for sale to be cut up for scrap value. No buyer was obtained for the Ben Buckler gun so it was allegedly buried under direction of Waverley Council in the 1950's, complete with its hydraulic raising mechanism and concrete emplacement works. The work allegedly involved the dumping of five feet of sand into and over the emplacement which was then incorporated into public grasslands.

Uncovered briefly in 1984
The gun's existence was forgotten until disturbance by excavation trench works associated with the Bondi sewerage treatment works in 1984. The exposed top of the concrete casemate was uncovered by mechanical diggers, photographed and surveyed by the (then) Waterboard Authority. The existence of the fortification led to its inclusion in the Waverley Heritage Study commissioned by council in 1990. At that time, the approximate location of the site was added to a modern plan of the Hugh Bamford Reserve. The gun is believed to have been retained within the below-ground level emplacement, although its existence has not been confirmed.

The Ben Buckler gun site survives as a buried archaeological feature.

Heritage Office site survey 2005
The Heritage Office became aware of the gun's existence through a published Information Sheet developed by Waverley Council and Waverley Library for Heritage Week in 1985. Based on the surviving records, the Heritage Office led a remote magnetometer search of the site on 6 April 2005. The site visit involved discussion with Sydney Water who provided modern survey drawings of the oval with an overlay of the suggested location of the gun pit based on the previous exposure of the site in 1984. The survey was assisted by heritage staff at Waverley Council and Rod Caldwell, Project Officer, from the Fort Scratchley Historical Society, Newcastle.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Defending the homeland-
7. Governing-Governing Defence-Activities associated with defending places from hostile takeover and occupation Building Peace time healing and understanding between cultures-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Ben Buckler gun site is important for its potential to document a phase in the continual evolution of harbour and coastal defences of Sydney. The 1893 emplacement was devised to provide protection from attacking naval vessels by employing state-of-the-art armaments within defensive structures, then available. The site forms a later link to the original defensive policies of colonial Sydney, initially centred on harbour defence batteries, culminating in the significant coastal batteries as armaments allowed for greater range, firepower and pre-emptive attacks on invading forces.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The Ben Buckler site retains a close bond to the artillery units of colonial NSW who manned and trained at the site. The battery is a reflection of the policies put in place by the NSW colonial authorities following the determination of the British Government to upgrade the colonial defences of the empire post 1870's. The battery's form and armament is a culmination of current military wisdom, based on the advice of leading military British advisors such as Scratchley and Jervois. Their advice and directives led to the continual advancement of the defensive capability of Sydney and its rival colonies, based on the best options to fortify Australian ports in an era of increasing mechanisation and military threat (real or implied).
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The Battery, if found to retain its original 9.2" gun, hydraulic mount, associated movable items, and ancillary rooms and quarters, provides a unique opportunity to document 1890's military technology and defence fortification systems. The potential integrity of these elements is unique in the Australian context and would provide one of the few opportunities for detailed scientific analysis of such a large coastal naval fortification system (9.2") in the world.
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
Due to the presumed integrity of the reinforced concrete gun pit, associated rooms, and the probability of the entire gun and mechanism being extant, the Ben Buckler battery site has the potential to provide significant insights into late-Victorian defence technologies. The value of the site lies in its burial and retention, in comparison to the two (2) other NSW sites, and those in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, that have more commonly been decommissioned and stripped of armaments and fittings. In world terms, the Ben Buckler site is important as a comparative example to other British defence facilities established throughout its colonies in the late 1870's - turn of the century.
SHR Criteria f)
[Rarity]
Due to the presumed integrity of the reinforced concrete gun pit, associated rooms, and the probability of the entire gun and mechanism being extant, the Ben Buckler battery site has the potential to provide significant insights into late-Victorian defence technologies.
Integrity/Intactness: The Ben Buckler gun is held in high esteem by military experts as perhaps the best extant example in Australia. It retains the potential to showcase late nineteenth century disappearing gun technology and associated emplacement designs. The battery site has the ability to interpret the changing policy of harbour and coastal defence planning at key centres such as Sydney, reflecting changing technologies, methods of warfare (eg attack by armed, armoured cruisers), and changing military doctrine. As only three of these large 9.2-inch disappearing guns were established in NSW, the Ben Buckler site has the potential to document the principal characteristics of the important class of coastal fortifications of this type.
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Recommendations

Management CategoryDescriptionDate Updated
Statutory InstrumentNominate for State Heritage Register (SHR) 

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
HERITAGE ACT 1977
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

FRANK SARTOR
Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval

Listings

Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0174215 Dec 06 18311041

References, internet links & images

None

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5056455
File number: H05/00100/1


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