Fort Glanville stands as a monument to Australia’s colonial defence strategies. In the 1870's, fearing sea-based threats from Russia due to potential conflict between Britain and Russia, the Australian colonies planned coastal fortifications to protect major ports and coastal cities.
Three forts were planned for South Australia: Glanville (opened in 1880), Largs (opened in 1884) and Glenelg. The forts were to be connected by a road built behind the coastal dunes for military use - hence the name Military Road. A heavily armed gunboat (HMCS Protector), a torpedo station on Port River and signalling stations completed the plan.
Fort Glenelg was never built and within twenty years Fort Largs was upgraded, resulting in Fort Glanville becoming less important. Following Federation, Fort Glanville ceased to be operational. Since that time, Fort Glanville has served as a military detention centre, depression era accommodation, Boy Scout headquarters and, following its sale to the government, a caravan park. In the 1970s, its important heritage value was recognised. Once the caravan park was relocated, restoration work began and continues today.
Fort Glanville was constructed during the period 1878-80. It is a 'luntte' or crescent-shaped earthwork, reinforced by 160 cm of concrete and 60 cm brick retaining walls, affording both camouflage and protection. The front and sides of the fort were defended by a ditch, which was itself defended by a caponier (musketry gallery) at the north-east corner. The rear and southern walls were defended by the loopholed rear defence wall, barracks and stockade.
Ammunition for the 64 pounder guns was located in the expense store near each gun. Battery Two 10-inch guns provided the fort with formidable fire power, having a maximum of 6500 yards (6014 metres). The smaller 64 pounder guns, located on each flank, could engage targets 5000 yards (4550 metres) away, and supported the larger guns. By 1889 however, the battery was superseded by the more modern breech-loading artillery installed at Fort Largs. The southern 10-inch gun carriage has been re-created.
With their large carriages, the 10-inch guns were able to swivel, making it possible to load them in two minutes under the protection of the loading gallery. Ammunition in the form of 400 lb (182 kg) projectiles and 130 lb (60 kg) charges of gunpowder were raised to the loading gallery above the magazine by hoists. From here they were rammed by a mechanical loading system into the muzzles. The complete loading system has been re-created for the southern gun.
The magazine provided storage for gunpowder and shells for the 10-inch guns.
The caponier served as an important defensive feature. Its covered passage gave access to the supplementary gunpowder stores and the side-arm and tackle store.
Between 1880 and 1882, the fort was staffed on weekends on a temporary basis by the South Australian Volunteer Artillery ‘B’ battery. In 1882, the South Australian Permanent Artillery became the colony’s first home recruited ‘regular’ force. With Fort Glanville as their base, their prime purpose was to defend the colony. Officers’ quarters were separated from the enlisted men in the barracks, as were their mess facilities. Accommodation was limited, and tents for volunteers were pitched outside the fort for weekend training camps.