Sydney Architecture Images- Circular Quay and area

Fort Denison (Pinchgut Island) 


1841: 1855-57 George Barney (RE)


Sydney Harbour, off Circular Quay




Old Colonial Georgian




One of the last Martello Towers to be built in the world, following their proliferation in southern England after the design's defensive capabilities had been proven at Cap Mortella, Corsica, in 1794.

The tower was built to defend Sydney against a possible attack by Russian warships, which never eventuated. Built from 8,000 tonnes of sandstone quarried near Kurraba Point, Neutral Bay, it was named after Sir William Denison, then Governor of New South Wales. By the time the fort was completed, it was redundant.

The tower's gunroom still has three 8-inch muzzle-loading cannons positioned before the stonework was completed in 1857. Due to the narrow passages leading to the gun room, the cannons cannot be removed without dismantling the stone work. The tower is serviced by supply rooms and ordnance stores.

When a Japanese submarine entered the harbour in May 1942 (passing through the anti-submarine nets) it was fired upon by the American cruiser USS Chicago. A secondary salvo hit the Martello tower, causing minor, but still visible damage.

Information appearing in this section is reproduced from Sydney Architecture, with the kind permission of the author, Graham Jahn, Sydney architect and former City of Sydney Councillor.

One of the most popular islands in Sydney Harbour is Fort Denison, sometimes known as ‘Pinchgut’ or ‘Rock Island’. 
The island has a fascinating convict past, being originally used as a place of punishment for the more difficult convicts. It was the convicts who named it ‘Pinchgut’ after the starvation rations they had to face. In 1788 a convict named Thomas Hill was sentenced to a week on bread and water in irons on what was then referred to as ‘the small white rocky Island adjacent to this Cove’. By 1796 a gibbet was constructed and convicts who were sentenced to death were left to hang until their bones turned white. The most famous convict to be sentenced to death here is Francis Morgan, who arrived in the colony in 1793 on the Sugar Cane from Ireland. He had been tried for the murder of a man at Glassneven in Co Dublin, and was caught wearing the murdered man’s watch. Convicted, his sentence was commuted to transportation for life. After his arrival in Sydney, he was again charged with murder, after bashing a man named Simon Raven to death on the north side of the harbour on 18 October 1796.

By the 1840s the colony, fearing invasion from the Russians, had converted the island into a fort and by 1857 the fort was manned, including two ten inch guns and twelve 32 pounders. The guns have only been fired during ceremonies and on special occasions.

Fort Denison is designed in the Martello style and one of the few intact examples surviving in the world. Martello Tower* (a circular masonry fort for coastal defence). You can climb Australia’s only Martello Tower and then lunch in the island café gazing at bustling harbour traffic and a view most Sydney-siders never get to see.

There are guided tours of the fort’s tunnels and cannons. Bookings can be arranged through the Sydney Harbour National Park Information Centre (The Rocks) and access can be made via water taxis. 


During the day Fort Denison is open for NPWS guided tours. It can be hired exclusively for evening special events. Contact Blue Rock Catering for information and bookings.