The Armstrong disappearing gun and fort is an excellent example of Colonial defence at its best. In 1864, the lighthouse was built, and as a result of the ‘Russian Threat’ the fort was constructed using hard labour in 1885. The ‘Threat’ occurred because England declared war on Russia in 1873 and the Russian warship Kaskowiski (with more firepower than the entire New Zealand coastal defence system) sailed into Auckland Harbour. According to the Southern Cross newspaper this “954-man Russian vessel obviously meant business, with a dozen 30-ton guns as well as a remarkably new advance in warfare, a paralysing and deadly "water-gas" that could be injected into enemy ships from a great distance.”
The Armstrong gun, which was never actually fired in anger, arrived in 1889. It took months to be installed as there was no heavy machinery to move it into place. Tramlines form Dunedin were brought out and installed and the gun finally found a home. It took over a decade to ‘protect’ the harbour after the ‘Threat’ due to the debacle created when communicating with Mother England on the other side of the world. A game of Chinese whispers via ocean going vessel anyone?
W. G. Armstrong designed and built the gun in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. With its 6 inch breech and hdyro-pneumatic carriage. It was aimed and loaded below ground. A hand pumped water and air system raised the gun into firing position and the recoil after firing returned the gun underground. Sadly, the technology was virtually obsolete by 1912.
The tour through the tunnels takes about forty-five minutes and includes museum like displays of the Fort which was also manned during WWI and WWII. Combined with the Albatross tour and lunch at Portobello, it makes an intriguing afternoon adventure out on the Otago Peninsula.