Fort Denison has been at the heart of Sydney Harbour for over 150 years and over that time has had a varied past – it has been used as a fishing spot, defence structure, navigational guide, tide gauge station, weather station, time marker and now a restaurant, events space and historic museum.
Fort Denison was once a small, rocky island referred to by the local Aboriginal people as Mat-te-wan-ye, also spelt Muttewai.
After the First Fleet arrived in 1788, Governor Phillip renamed the land Rock Island, but it was informally known to locals as Pinchgut, as it was believed convicts were sentenced to weeks at a time isolation on the island with little bread and water.
The island was flattened and quarried for sandstone, which was used in the building of Bennelong Point, where the Opera House now stands. Once flattened, the fortification was completed in 1857. Built from 8000 tonnes of sandstone, quarried near Kurraba Point, Neutral Bay, the island was named Fort Denison after Sir William Thomas Denison who was the Governor of New South Wales at the time.
The fort features the only Martello Tower to be built in Australia, and the final one ever constructed in the British Empire.
From 1906 to 1942, the 1 o’clock cannon was fired each day to enable sailors to correctly set their ship’s chronometer to the local time. The firing of the cannon was stopped during World War II to avoid terrifying Sydney-siders and was later resumed in 1986. Still to this day the cannon is fired at 1 o'clock by the National Parks Guide.
The island has been managed by various organisations over time, including the Naval Brigade in 1869, and the Sydney Harbour Trust in 1900. Fort Denison became part of Sydney Harbour National Park in 1992, managed by the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service.
DINING - EVENTS - WEDDINGS
Fort Denison houses a restaurant and events space, as well as being part of National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Currently only open at lunch time, the restaurant is now able to cater for larger groups and weddings during the day.
The island offers popular day time dining from 11.30am with last bookings at 2.15pm, as well as being a favourite with corporate events and weddings in the evening. It also offers the best vantage point for the various festivals in and around Sydney Harbour.
After a quick five-minute ferry ride from Circular Quay or a scenic trip down from Manly Pier, visitors can wander around the island in a self-guided tour at their leisure, or enjoy morning or afternoon tea, or lunch in the restaurant.
Guided tours can be booked through National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Here are some of the ways you can experience Fort Denison: