Crimean guns in Australia

I have unearthed information about Melbourne’s Crimean War trophy guns currently located outside Victoria Barracks on St Kilda Road.
Upon searching the State Library of Victoria’s catalogue I found a photo of two Crimean guns on cast iron Venglov carriages surrounded by a wooden chevaux de frise. Initially I thought that the photo was of Adelaide’s Botanical Gardens guns because of the layout and the wooden chevaux de frise, but when I delved further into the State Library’s holdings I found two wood engravings of the same spot, complete with a bandstand of a type Adelaide never had.

One of these engravings appears in R.T.M. Pescott’s book The Royal Botanical Gardens, Melbourne: A History 1845-1970. The image originated in the Illustrated Melbourne Post of 25 April 1862. The other engraving is in The Australian News for Home Readers of 15 January1865. Pescott’s history includes maps, which show the location of the guns. When the plot for the two guns is compared with the plot of similar style appearing in Barbara Best’s book George William Francis, first Director of the Adelaide Botanical Gardens there is a remarkable similarity. In both plans the rectangle represents the chevaux de frise or limit of the plot or platform. What is of particular interest is that both Botanical Gardens adopted a layout and chevaux de frise of virtually identical design.

Further delving has found that two captains of the Royal Engineers were probably involved. In Adelaide it was Arthur Henry Freeling RE the Surveyor General, and in Melbourne it was Charles Pasley RE, the Commissioner of Public Works. Both of these men had a similar function regarding government works, and they had much to do with local defences. It would be interesting to know if these men were in the same class or year at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and whether they actually liaised on the subject, either by letter or telegraph in Australia. No such evidence exists in SA to prove this, but Freeling certainly was in touch with the Director of the Adelaide Botanical Gardens on the subject. And from the obituary of Captain Pasley (Institution of Civil Engineers Vol.103, 1890-91) it appears that as Commissioner of Public Works in Victoria he ‘took great interest in the Melbourne Botanical Gardens’, and may well have been responsible for the design of the Russian guns layout in Melbourne.

A letter exists under Freeling’s hand together with a sketch of the SA layout: the two guns on Venglov carriages mounted upon stone bases 9 feet apart (centre to centre), central within a platform 46 feet square, and surrounded with a wooden chevaux de frise. Both sites were on rising ground. Adelaide’s guns were emplaced in January 1860, a year after Melbourne’s. Adelaide’s plot no longer exists, but the stone slabs might!

Additionally, it is interesting to note that Sydney’s two guns were configured differently. And my contacts in the UK Crimean War Research Society are unaware of plots elsewhere that are similar to those in Victoria and South Australia.

The only image which I have found of Adelaide’s plot is in the SA State Library as image entitled “City Rifles”. This is essentially a group photo of Volunteers, but at the left and right hand side of the photo can be seen a Russian gun and parts of the chevaux de frise.

Adelaide’s guns, complete with new wooden carriages, were removed from their garden home for the purpose of adding to the salutes upon the arrival of the Duke of Edinburgh in the city of Adelaide on 31 October 1867. Afterwards they were used for drill purposes. It was many years later that they were remounted on their Venglov carriages in front of the Armoury, later still at the northern side of the new military parade ground, and finally at the eastern side of that site’s drill hall complex-cum SA History Centre.

More remains to be discovered about Pasley’s involvement with the Melbourne guns, including his possible role in the movement of the guns to Victoria Barracks. This was way before the Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to Melbourne, but may have had a connection with it.

In Pescott’s book (p. 61) he stated that, ‘In April 1867 as a result of a general policy inaugurated throughout Great Britain for the “annihilation of the trophy guns” [they] were removed to the entrance doorway of the Department of Defence at Victoria Barracks, St.Kilda Road, Melbourne.’ Pescott did not note the source of this claim and I have never come across such a claim elsewhere. Indeed, the UK Crimean War Research Society has also never heard of such an ‘outlandish claim.’ I wonder if Pescott inherited a popular rumour or myth? Perhaps someone can track down the source of this claim? Perhaps something was said in parliament, a government department or other institution? This mystery remains to be solved.

Contact Frank Garie about this article.

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