Fort Scratchley

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales

The headland known as Fort Scratchley (formerly Flagstaff Hill) has long been associated with the history of Newcastle. Two natural features dominated early history: its height offered a prominent lookout; and seams of coal were readily accessible around the base. Both are understood to have been used by the Awabakal Aboriginal people who are the traditional custodians of the lands and waters of Newcastle. The discovery of the coal seams by Lieutenant John Shortland during his search for escaped convicts, led to the first European coal mine in Australia and probably the first coal mine of any kind in Australia.

The strategic importance of a hilltop overlooking the harbour was recognised as early as 1804 and by 1828 an earthen battery was constructed and equipped with 7 guns. In 1876, with fears of Russian attack, the British Government at the request of the NSW government sent Major General Sir William Jervois and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Scratchley to advise on naval defences. Under the direction of Jervois and Scratchley, Colonial Architect James Barnett oversaw construction of the Fort. Initially. construction works began in 1881, but trouble with old mine workings necessitated a visit by Scratchley. As a result of this visit, Mr Thomas Croudace, JP, Manager of Lambton Colliery, was appointed to superintend necessary mining engineering work at the site. Once the problem of undermining was overcome, construction continued. 4 The fort was designed around a battery of 3 guns facing eastward in an arc to the ocean, with other guns covering the harbour to north and west. The gun emplacements were cut into the top of the hill to present a low profile to attack.

The new guns were in position by 1882 and construction of accommodation for the troops followed with the Commandant’s cottage and barracks building completed in 1886.

The guns and their enclosures were changed several times during the C20th as military technology developed. They were used on several occasions during each of the world wars to halt unauthorised shipping movements through the harbour mouth.

The guns at the Fort were decommissioned in 1962 and the Fort closed in 1972. It was vacant until 1977 when Newcastle City Council entered into a lease with the Commonwealth over the site. Under Council’s control the site became home to the Newcastle Regional Maritime Museum in 1977 and the Military Museum/ Fort Scratchley Historical Society in 1982. Both of these groups took an active role in conserving the site and interpreting its history to visitors.

In January 2004, Council and the Australian Government executed an agreement whereby the Government would restore Fort Scratchley Historic Site, then transfer ownership to the Council. The Fort was closed to the public in April 2004. Restoration works were completed in 2008 enabling the transfer of the site to Council in June 2008.

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Engineering Heritage Recognition Program

Marker Type Engineering Heritage Marker (EHM)
Award Date November 2019 (from EA website)
Prominent People Sir William Jervois, Sir Peter Scratchley, Sir James Barnet
Nomination Document Available here
Ceremony Booklet MISSING
Interpretation Panel None installed.
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