I always had this thought in mind where Fort Denison was used as a filming location for action movies where the fort itself either serves as an underwater prison or an underwater research lab. So, I was always eager to check out what the fort is all about. Thanks to Myer and Tourism NSW, as a MYER one member, I get to take a guest along for free to a selection of Sydney’s finest attraction, including Fort Denison.
Fort Denison, a small island in Sydney Harbour, New South Wales, houses the last Martello tower built during the British Empire. Its tower is also one of only two surviving Martello Towers in the Southern hemisphere. It was built to protect Sydney against the threat of a naval attack by the Russians during the Crimean War of the 1850s. However, construction was completed in 1857, well after the war had ended. Fort Denison is currently well preserved and is now a popular tourist attraction.
Situated in the middle of Sydney Harbour, Fort Denison provides visitors a fascinating link with Sydney's convict past and is an amazing lunch venue with stunning harbour views from the island Cafe. In order to get to Fort Denison to join the heritage tour, we had to buy our ferry tickets from Captain Cook Cruises at Darling Harbour.
Matilda Cruises Ferries (now operated by Captain Cook Cruises) at Darling Harbour
We then boarded the ferry to Fort Denison passing by some of the highlights of Sydney Harbour, such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Luna Park.
Views around the harbour, cruising from Darling Harbour to Luna Park
Our first stop was at Luna Park where the ferry dropped a few passengers while also picking up several more.
We then cruise below the Harbour Bridge passing by The Rocks and Sydney Opera House into Circular Quay where the ferry again picked up and dropped off some passengers.
More views around the harbour, cruising from Luna Park to Circular Quay
Again passing by the Sydney Opera House, we finally arrived at our destination, Fort Denison, part of the Sydney Harbour National Park.
Arriving into Fort Denison
Nice view from the fort
Our national park ranger met us at the jetty before commencing on our heritage tour of the Martello Tower.
Entrance to the Martello Tower
Fort Denison is one of the last Martello Towers to be built in the world, following their proliferation in southern England after the design's defensive capabilities had been proven at Cap Mortella, Corsica, in 1794. The tower was built to defend Sydney against a possible attack by Russian warships, which never eventuated. Built from 8,000 tonnes of sandstone quarried near Kurraba Point, Neutral Bay, it was named after Sir William Denison, then Governor of New South Wales. By the time the fort was completed, it was redundant.
The common interior of the Martello Tower
The interior of a Martello tower was divided into three stories. The ground floor and/or basement served as the magazine and storerooms, where ammunition, stores and provisions were kept. A well or cistern within the fort was also used to supply the garrison with water. An internal drainage system linked to the roof enabled rainwater to refill the cistern.
Starting off with the basement, we were shown the storerooms and also the traditional lightings used in the tower.
The ammo room
Going up to the next level, …
… we arrived at the gunroom. In a typical Martello tower, the garrison of 24 men and one officer lived in a casemate on the first floor, which was divided into several rooms and had fireplaces built into the walls for cooking and heating. The officer and men lived in separate rooms of almost equal size. However, in this case, the first floor has three 8-inch muzzle-loading cannons positioned before the stonework was completed in 1857.
The gun room
Due to the narrow passages leading to the gun room, the cannons cannot be removed without dismantling the stone work, which may be the reason why the cannons were still in there. We then moved up to the roof level.
Views from the roof level
In a typical tower, the roof or terreplein was surmounted with one or two cannon on a central pivot that enabled the guns to rotate up to 360 degrees. In this case, the roof level is quite empty without any cannons but spectacular harbour views.
Going back down to the lawn outside the tower, we realised that they did built several rotatable cannons around the fort, differing from the conventional cannons on the roof.
Views around the lawn area
After the tour ended, we went back to the jetty to wait for our return ferry back to Darling Harbour.
Back at the jetty
While waiting, we were invited to have some coffee at the cafe or visit the little information centre/museum that shows some interesting exhibits.
The other interesting thing about Fort Denison are the toilets that were renovated from inside the existing building.
Male toilet with a fireplace-behind-glass decoration
Finally, our ferry arrived and we boarded it all the way back to Darling Harbour, while capturing in the spectacular harbour views.