FLOOD, FIRE AND FEVER
A History of Elwood
War in Elwood
Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
The Charge of the Light Brigade by Lord Alfred Tennyson
Tennyson Street, Elwood celebrates the romantic poet who wrote the Charge of the Light Brigade describing a bungled advance during the Crimean War in 1854. Elwood is a long way from Crimea but this war heightened fears by the colony of Victoria about their ability to repel invasions from the sea while Britain’s attention was elsewhere. As a result, by 1859 there were three rifle butts on the beach between Elwood and St Kilda. Eleven acres were allocated to a rifle range with the targets near Head Street.
A volunteer artillery regiment was recruited and in 1860 build fortifications north of Point Ormond using earthworks and sandbags to set up a field battery of 32-pound muzzle loading guns. To simulate wartime conditions, the men slept on Elwood beach. For a decade, the commanding officer was Captain Sargood, later the Minister of Defence and owner of Ripponlea mansion. His men joked that the SK (St Kilda) on their shoulder stands stood for ‘Sargood’s Kids’. Sargood was heavily criticised for cutting down the tea tree while constructing the military butts. A positive outcome, however, was one of Melbourne’s earliest conservation initiatives when the council was moved to fence the reserve and increased plantings on the foreshore.
On 2 July 1862, up to 1800 militia and troops engaged in military manoeuvres at Point Ormond, with 20,000 onlookers. The Point was ‘attacked’ by a party disembarking from the warship Victoria which was then repulsed by troops using a bridge built by artillery engineers over the Elster creek (Elwood Canal). The only casualty was horse accidentally shot as a result of the worn muzzles typical of surplus British rifles.
In 1867 it was recommended that submarine obstructions be placed in the shoal water west of Point Ormond under the guard of sixty-pounder guns. In 1871, in ‘an atmosphere of great excitement’, Armstrong forty-pounder breech loading guns were located at Point Ormond to practice firing into the bay.
In 1874, there were complaints to the council when one shell badly frightened people on the main road. It may have been the same or separate occasion that a field gun swung on its moorings from Point Ormond and fire a small cannon ball that fell through a washhouse roof in Acland Street into the copper of local Councillor Lord. Major Moule, the battery officer, later explained to a Royal Commission that ‘the volunteer has never been trained to fire a shot at an object in motion’.
Much of the military strategy in Victoria was based on a fear of an attack by the Russian forces. The ‘Russian scare’ had other influences on foreshore development of Elwood. In 1887 Mayor Wimpole of St Kilda, lobbied the government for a Military Road on the foreshore from Point Ormond to Port Melbourne to enable artillery to be moved rapidly from battery to battery if engaged in fighting invading ships. It remains today as Beaconsfield Parade and Marine Parade. The project hastened the reclaiming of the Elwood swampland to recover the cost of roadworks.
By the end of the century, fears of invasion appeared to have abated. Or perhaps the public had tired of being targets. In any case, the artillery was disbanded while the range was closed and converted to the far more peaceful Elwood Park. The removal of the range was a victory for early settlers like John and Mary Broadbent who had speculated on land in Elwood and had fought vigorously for half a century to bring improvements.
The local militia - St Kilda Rifle Corps
(Cooper, History of St Kilda, Volume 1, 1931)