Planning and Construction
In the early years of colonial South Australia, the colonists saw themselves as part of the British Empire and external defence as an Imperial responsibility. Great Britain had undisputed military predominance and she was expected by all to protect her colonies, even one as distant. At the time of the Forts construction, South Australia’s defence was solely dependent on the volunteer military, and a few artillery pieces purchased during earlier war scares.
In 1876 the South Australian government, along with those from New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland requested from the War Office that Major-General Sir William Jervois, a noted coastal fortification expert, be appointed to advise on defence needs. The 1877 report, delivered after he became South Australian Governor, called for three batteries, at Largs Bay, Semaphore and Glenelg, connected by a military road and supported by field gun emplacements, naval elements and mobile forces.
The first fort; Fort Glanville, was erected to guard both the entrance to Port Adelaide and the anchorage at Semaphore. It was built on sand hills near Glanville Hall at Semaphore, on a promontory called “Point Malcolm,” chosen so as to best guard shipping sailing to both the Port River and the Outer Harbour. At the time of its construction, it was seen as a defence against foreign threats, mainly Russian. Construction began in 1878 and though completed by 1882 the fort was operational in 1880. At the time of its construction, it was at the forefront of such fortification design and was considered state of the art.
In 1882 South Australia’s first permanent military force was formed. The fort became the headquarters for the South Australian Permanent Military Force, then the state’s entire standing army of one officer and eighteen other ranks. Though some of the gunners served in the Second Boer War, the unit itself never saw action. As early as 1888 the emphasis for the defence of the Adelaide coast had already shifted to Fort Largs. From this point, Fort Glanville’s significance declined rapidly. Fort Largs was equipped in 1889 with two 6 inch breech-loading disappearing guns which outranged Glanville’s armament.
Shortly after the Federation of Australia, a regiment of the Royal Australian Artillery (RAA) was formed and what had been the Permanent Artillery became No.10 Company RAA. Though both infantry and artillery units were housed at the site on occasion, by 1903 there was no longer a permanent military presence at the fort. For most of the 20th century, the site was neglected and largely vacated.
During World War I, the Fort was partly revived for a former use, with ammunition stored on site. During the same period however the military used it as a detention barracks. The fort was leased for private accommodation during the great depression. During the 1930s the magazine was again used, this time to store small arms ammunition and later the site housed a Sea Scout detachment, and was used as a district camp-site for the Boy Scouts. In 1937 The Department of Defense sold the mountings and carriages for the 10-inch guns were removed and as scrap.
During World War II the fort again attracted military related use. After the war, the State Government negotiated with their federal counterpart to gain control of Fort Glanville. This eventuated in the 1951 sale of the site, which was subsequently administered by the State Tourist Department as a caravan and camping park. In 1972 Control of the park was moved to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), and the fort and surrounds became designated as Fort Glanville Conservation Park. The National Estate Grants Program provided funds in 1975 for conservation work; NPWS began this work during which much of the stockade was replaced and the 64-pounder guns returned to the site.
In 1980 the Fort Glanville Historical Association was formed taking over responsibility for the maintenance and preservation of the site, and the Fort opened to public visitation. Since then the Historical Association has maintained and restored the site with the addition of the visitors’ centre which was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1986. Australian Citizenship ceremonies commenced at Fort Glanville in 1981 presided over by the Worshipful Mayor on behalf of the Commonwealth. Her Excellency, Majorie Jackson-Nelson, the Governor of South Australia, attended the 2002 ceremony as an official representative of Queen Elizabeth II.
Today the Fort retains its original guns and comprises gun emplacements, magazines, guard room, barracks, gunner’s mess, officer’s quarters, stores and more, serving as a reminder of our colonial heritage.