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Fort Lytton

  • 600248
  • 160 South Street, Lytton


Also known as
Fort Lytton National Park
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Defence: Fortification
7.6 Maintaining order: Defending the country
Stanley, Francis Drummond Greville
Watson, John
Construction periods
1903, Searchlight emplacement
unknown, Stores Building (c1880s)
unknown, Magazines (c1880s)
unknown, Casemates (c1887)
unknown, Gun emplacement (c1880-c1882)
unknown, Glacis (c1880-c1887)
unknown, Command post
unknown, Searchlight pill box
unknown, Jetty
unknown, Engine room (c1887)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


160 South Street, Lytton
Brisbane City Council
-27.41096693, 153.15168114


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

Fort Lytton, constructed 1880-82, is important in demonstrating the evolution of Queensland's history, being important evidence of the colony's response to providing for its own coastal defence needs following the withdrawal of Imperial garrisons in the 1860s. It is important for the intactness of the physical evidence of the 1870s defence scheme, and retains additions and alterations which illustrate the evolution of Queensland's defence planning and of military process and technology from the 1880s to the 1940s. The place is significant nationally as part of the first co-ordinated system of coastal defence in Australia.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

Fort Lytton provides rare surviving evidence of a late 19th century coastal fortification in Queensland, and is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of its type, with moat, glacis and gun emplacements in situ.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

Fort Lytton provides rare surviving evidence of a late 19th century coastal fortification in Queensland, and is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of its type, with moat, glacis and gun emplacements in situ. It is important also in illustrating the principal characteristics of 20th century military activity, including Second World War adaptations to accommodate new facilities.

Criterion EThe place is important because of its aesthetic significance.

The place evokes an aesthetic response, engendered by the desolate, denuded, artificial landscape of undulating earthworks and planted grasses, combined with the sense of ruin and remote setting at the mouth of the Brisbane River.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The fort has a strong association for Queenslanders as a symbol of defence and military activity in Brisbane and in Queensland. The former strong association with annual Easter encampments is now commemorated in the annual Easter displays at the fort.

Criterion HThe place has a special association with the life or work of a particular person, group or organisation of importance in Queensland’s history.

The place has a strong association with military activity in Queensland, as a site for defence, training and military support. In addition the place has a special association with the work of Col. Sir WFD Jervois, whose 1877 scheme for the defence of Queensland included recommendation that a fort be established at Lytton, and with the work of Lt-Col. PH Scratchley and Colonial Architect FDG Stanley, who, in the design and construction of Fort Lytton, implemented Jervois' ideas.


Fort Lytton, a pentagonal earthwork fortification located at the mouth of the Brisbane River, was constructed in 1880-82 by the Queensland government on advice from British military engineers Col. Sir WFD Jervois and Lt. Col. PH Scratchley. The fort contributed to the coastal defence of Queensland until the end of the Second World War. In 1990 the site was gazetted as an Historic National Park.

Prior to the 1860s, defence of the Australian colonies had been solely the responsibility of the Imperial government. Britain considered that the Imperial Navy would always provide the first line of defence in any threat to her colonial empire, but from 1863 required the Australian colonies, by then self-governing, to contribute toward the costs of maintaining Imperial garrisons on colonial soil, and encouraged the colonies to provide for their own military infrastructure such as fortifications and barracks. Queensland, which had separated from New South Wales in December 1859, could not afford to contribute to Imperial defence, and so Imperial troops were gradually withdrawn from the colony - the last had left by 1870. In the 1860s Queensland established a number of volunteer defence units, based on the British model, but their effectiveness was severely impaired by a lack of armaments and ammunition.

By the 1870s the Australian colonies were developing rapidly and were concerned with potential threats from colonial powers such as Russia and France [the latter had annexed New Caledonia in 1873]. In 1877 the colonial governments of New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia, anxious to secure the land defence of their coastlines, jointly invited British Royal Engineers Colonel Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois and Lieutenant-Colonel Peter H Scratchley, to inspect existing defence installations and make recommendations as to how these might be improved. Scratchley's particular expertise was in the design and construction of deterrent coastal fortresses.

Jervois and Scratchley identified maritime attacks as the greatest threat to Australia, and recommended that coastal defences be developed for all the mainland colonies. Despite being physically closer to the source of most threats, Queensland, with its sparse population and limited resources, was not considered to be greatly at risk. In his August 1877 preliminary report on Queensland coastal defences, Jervois identified the principal threat to Queensland security as an attack from the sea on the major ports [Brisbane, Rockhampton and Maryborough], in the form of city bombardment to secure supplies and coal, rather than for permanent occupation. Sea-power would prove the first line of defence, but recommended that Brisbane, as the capital and principal port of Queensland, be defended with the construction of a fort at Lytton, at the mouth of the Brisbane River. Moreton Bay, with its myriad of islands on which enemy forces might establish bases from which to raid the mainland, could not possibly be defended. However, sandbars at the mouth of the Brisbane River, which restricted the size of up-river vessels to a 4.8 metre draught [unarmoured gun boats], provided a natural defence which could be enhanced with the construction of a fort at the river mouth, supplemented by sub-marine mines located so as to force shipping within range of the guns located at the fort.

In late 1878, despite initial opposition to the cost of Jervois' scheme, the Queensland Parliament sanctioned the construction of Fort Lytton. Early in 1879 Scratchley fixed the position of the battery, and Colonial Architect FDG Stanley, in consultation with Scratchley, commenced work on plans for the barracks, magazines and gun emplacements, which were to be constructed in brick and concrete. Excavation and earthworks for the Lytton battery commenced in August 1880, tenders for construction of barracks, magazine, etc were called in September 1880, and the main battery was completed by mid-1882. The contractor for the whole was John Watson of Bulimba. In 1882 the firing of two 64-pounders signalled the commencement of operations at Fort Lytton.

The fort was constructed at an initial cost of £10,000, and comprised four gun emplacements protected by a closed earthwork parapet surrounded by a water-filled moat, which extended a quarter of a mile around the perimeter, enclosing some 900 square yards of ground. Within the moat was a narrow berm, beyond which was an earthen mound or parapet, turfed to reduce the risk of erosion and to improve the camouflage of the site - the object being to conceal the fort from ships entering the river. The mound formed an irregular pentagon, and within the parapet were set four gun-bays to house the larger 64-pounder RML guns. Gun positions 1 and 2 protected the seaward approach to the fort, and positions 3 and 4 covered the mined area within the river mouth. [In 1893 the 64-pounders in gun positions 3 and 4 were replaced with 6-pounder QF guns, and gun positions 5 and 6 were constructed to house the RML guns removed from positions 3 and 4.] The landward side was to be defended by field guns. Inside the fort were barracks, powder magazine and shell room, with brick-lined passages connecting the magazines to the gun emplacements. Lifting tackle was installed on rails to facilitate the handling of ammunition. Special accommodation was provided for the electrical connections associated with the submarine explosive devices which were strung across the river. The rear parapet sheltered timber buildings to house the officers, guards, cook-house and ablutions areas. The entry was provided with a timber bridge and the entry passage was reinforced with timber blocks bolted together. A wooden gate reinforced with iron sheeting protected the entry. Scratchley also arranged for prickly plants, trees and buffalo grass to be planted over the battery, to supplement the defences. In addition, a boys' reformatory was established on nearby Lytton Hill (QHR 601366) in 1880-81, the buildings to serve a dual function as part of a Redoubt commanding Fort Lytton. The Redoubt was not completed until 1885.

Even as Fort Lytton was under construction, attitudes towards colonial defence were changing. Military experts were supporting the implementation of more mobile defence forces, as opposed to fixed facilities such as the Lytton battery. Technology was changing rapidly, both for weaponry and shipping, such that techniques for defence against maritime attack were under constant review. Despite this, Fort Lytton was maintained and contributed to Queensland's defences until the mid-20th century. It also served as a semi-permanent military camp from 1881 until the early 1930s, principally during the annual Easter Encampments at which militia from all over Queensland gathered at Lytton for manoeuvres.

Following the passage of Queensland's Defence Act 1884 under which a core defence force of 150 men was established, supplemented by militia groups, "A" Battery Queensland Artillery was garrisoned at Fort Lytton. During the 'Russian scare' of March 1885 [generated by British-Russian mobilisation along the Afghanistan border], 20 men from "A" Battery, and 200 troops raised from militia units, were mobilised at Fort Lytton to defend Brisbane; the force was stood down in May when the border dispute was submitted to arbitration.

Following the 'Russian scare' a series of improvements to the Lytton battery were approved in 1887. These included the provision of casemates, and an engine shed to accommodate dynamo, two boilers, and duplicate engines. An underground tank to hold 10,000 gallons of water was also constructed. Queensland's muzzle-loading guns were sent to England for conversion to breech-loading and new hydro-pneumatic carriages were provided. The slope of the embankments at Fort Lytton was eased to provide a deflection surface or glacis for enemy shells. Further improvements occurred as funds became available.

When the Lytton Defence Reserve of 120 acres [48 hectares] was finally gazetted late in 1887, it included Reformatory Hill, Fort Lytton, and possibly part of the Customs Reserve. By 1901 the Defence Reserve had been extended to 640 acres [259 hectares] following the resumption [in two stages: 1891 and 1900] of Lytton township for defence purposes.

The severe economic depression of the early 1890s restricted expenditure on Fort Lytton, but by 1897 money was once again being spent on the facility. A shed was provided for artillery stores and a new smithy, fitters' and carpenters' workshops and a large new store were constructed. Additional storage was provided in 1900.

In 1901 the Queensland Defence Force was amalgamated into the new Commonwealth defence force, and Fort Lytton was transferred to Commonwealth ownership. Various small improvements were made to the fort during the early 1900s. In 1903 a new concrete base was provided for the search light which had been installed in 1892. Culverts, roads and wharf structures were repaired and improved. A new bridge was provided over the moat in 1907 as well as new ablutions areas, gates and kitchen facilities. In the years immediately prior to the First World War [1914-18] yards for horses were provided and major repairs were made to the wharf servicing the fort. With the outbreak of war, new barracks and cook-houses were erected [1914-15] and water supplies and drainage were improved. A new forage barn was built in 1916 and a dermatological hospital was constructed on Lytton Hill in 1917. The fort fired in anger only twice during the First World War - on both occasions a round was fired across the bows of civilian craft which ignored procedures for approaching the river mouth during war time.

In 1913-14 a quarantine station was established on land adjacent to the fort. This accommodated newly arrived immigrants and persons considered to be at risk of causing infection to the general population. The quarantine station buildings at various times also provided accommodation for persons stationed at the fort. Fort Lytton also played a role in the function of the quarantine station, controlling ships attempting to enter the Brisbane River without appropriate health clearances.

By the end of the First World War the inadequacies of Fort Lytton as a defensive base were clearly apparent. Expenditure was kept to a minimum during the interwar period and in 1932 the wharf at Fort Lytton was closed, with the battery relying on the berthing facilities at the quarantine station. In 1938 training walls and revetments were installed along the river banks to improve navigation and flood control.

The Second World War [1939-45] brought a major change in the role which Fort Lytton served in the defence of Australia. The longer-ranging capabilities of modern armaments made real the threat of shipping and aircraft strikes. In response, outer defences were established on Moreton and Bribie Islands and anti-aircraft installations were provided at Lytton, Colmslie, Hemmant, Balmoral, Hendra Park, Mount Gravatt, Archerfield, Amberley and on the islands in Moreton Bay. Fort Lytton provided an important coastal communication link and was pivotal to the coastal defence of the Brisbane River. Boom defences against submarine invasion were placed in the river at Lytton, and the fort was adapted to defend these: gun position 4 was altered to accommodate a modern 4.7 inch QF gun; gun position 7 was installed to house a 6-pounder QF gun; and a forward command post was constructed to provide a better viewing position than was available previously. A signal station was established on Lytton Hill and an anti-aircraft facility was established on land between the fort and the hill.

Fort Lytton's role as a defensive facility ceased in 1946 when all fixed coastal defensive positions in Australia were decommissioned, but military authorities maintained Fort Lytton as a communications base until the 1950s. In the early 1960s the land was acquired by Ampol for the establishment of an oil refinery. During the construction of the refinery fill was deposited in the moat, and the timber bridge across the moat, which the military had damaged by fire in the 1950s, was replaced by a permanent causeway.

By the 1970s various community-based historical groups were lobbying for the protection and restoration of the area and in 1988 the Department of Environment, Conservation and Tourism, through the National Parks and Wildlife Service, took over the management of the former fort. In 1990 Fort Lytton was declared an Historic National Park, and during the last decade of the 20th century the site was recorded and the framework of the fort restored. In 1994 minor preliminary works in anticipation of the stabilisation of some concrete roofs and retaining walls, and the restoration of existing drainage pipes, was undertaken. The bitumen roofs over the Engine Room and casemates 1 and 2 were resurfaced. In 1996 a restored hydro-pneumatic gun was installed in gun pit No. 1. A military museum has been established in a former artillery store, and various military history groups conduct annual pageants at the fort, reminiscent of the Queensland militia's annual Easter encampments. In 1999, Fort Lytton National Park was extended with the incorporation of part of the adjacent former Lytton Quarantine Station. The buildings on this site have been occupied and managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service since 1988, and serve as the administration centre for Fort Lytton National Park.

Besides its defence and communications functions, the Lytton battery also acquired a ceremonial role. In May 1901 it was the venue for His Royal Highness, the Duke of York, to present medals to Lytton-trained troops who had served in the South African War [1899-1902]. In 1963 a 21 gun salute from the Lytton guns welcomed Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II in the Britannia as she sailed up the Brisbane River. In April 1991 the muzzle-loading cannon at the fort were fired to greet soldiers returning from the Gulf War.


Fort Lytton is situated on low-lying ground at the south head of the original entrance to the Brisbane River. It is approached by land from the south, through the former Lytton Quarantine Station [established 1913-14], with entry via South Street at Lytton. Downstream from the fort is the Port of Brisbane, established in the last quarter of the 20th century on mostly reclaimed land; to the east, the land between the fort and Lytton Hill is occupied by the Lytton Oil Refinery [currently owned by Caltex Refineries (Qld) Ltd]. The fort area is defined by a wire perimeter fence.

The fort comprises the fortifications-proper at the north end of the site, and an open drill area to the south. On the eastern side of the drill area are two substantial, c1880s brick stores. These are both rectangular in form, with corrugated-iron gabled roofs, and set on concrete slabs. They have six-pane double-hung sash windows and large timber doors at the eastern ends. The building to the south has been restored and houses an interpretative display and military museum. Four concrete slabs to the west of these buildings mark the position of other structures since removed.

Beyond these buildings the fortifications are entered across a timber bridge over the moat and an open passage through the earthen embankment. The passage is lined with whitewashed concrete walls. The embankment is a high, steeply sloping, turfed glacis in the form of a pentangle which completely encloses the fort structures. The moat extends along four sides of the pentangle, but has been filled-in along the seaward wall of the fort. An arm of water extends towards the west in the direction of the old docking facilities.

The interior of the fort is an open level grassy area. Several cement slabs and foundations are located on the level ground at the base of the southern embankment. The armaments are concentrated along the northern and north western walls of the enclosure. These consist of a series of concrete casemates and gun emplacements together with ammunition storage and handling facilities. Gun pits 1 and 2 are arranged symmetrically either side of a recessed area with separate entry. Entry to the gun pits is through a central arched opening. Between these lies a recessed area roofed with an iron awning. The awning shelters two rectangular entrances into the loading gallery. The gun pits are accessed through the arched entrances and consist of a semicircular pit enclosed with concrete walls. In gun pit 1 a restored hydro-pneumatic gun mounting has been installed on which is mounted a restored Armstrong breech-loading gun. The pit is covered by a sheet of metal on which is painted a blue area indicating what was once an opening through which the disappearing gun was raised for firing. Gun pit 2 contains evidence of the location of the gun fitting. From gun pit 2 a concrete-lined passage leads to an outer gun pit which housed a twin 6-pounder during the Second World War. At the base of this, lying askew against the side of the moat, lies the concrete command post which served during the Second World War to direct fire from the twin 6-pounder. To the west of this area a T-shaped depression in the ground marks the location of the Nordenfeldt machine gun position. This lies between gun pits 1 and 2 and gun pits 3 and 4. Gun pit 3 is open to the sky, with steep steps leading from ground level to the top of the embankment. Rectangular in form, it contrasts strongly with the highly modified gun pit 4 which was altered during the Second World War. Gun pit 4 has a semicircular front allowing a 170° view of the river approaches. At the rear of this structure steps lead down to the interior of the fort.

At the south western corner of the fort a rectangular building faces the moat at ground level. This housed the engine room and coal store. Directly across the moat from here, on the western side lies the gun cotton store and on the southern side of the moat a priming pit for the submarine mines is located. Across the moat to the west of the site a low concrete wall is pierced by two semicircular enclosures which house the two original guns. In front of these is a concrete pill box which housed the searchlight which operated during the Second World War. Some distance to the rear of these structures a concrete building accommodated the searchlight facilities installed in 1903 to light the minefield. Jetty facilities lie on the banks of the river beside a man-made inlet.

The Fort Lytton complex extends well beyond the boundaries of the National Park, and includes a Second World War anti-aircraft gun emplacement between the fort and Lytton Hill; and Lytton Hill itself [6001366], which contains archaeological evidence of the 1880s Redoubt as well as remnants of the Second World War signal station established on the hill. Both these facilities are located on land currently occupied by the Lytton Oil Refinery. While Lytton Hill has a separate entry in the Queensland Heritage Register, the anti-aircraft gun emplacement does not.

Image gallery


Location of Fort Lytton within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
20 February 2022
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