|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.