At the first mention of the word “Denison” we immediately think of Fort Denison. I am sure that the builders of our complex had a former governor in mind when naming the building.
William Thomas Denison was born in London on May 3, 1804. He was sent to Eton for his education and at age 15 entered the Royal Military Academy. He received his commission in the Royal Engineers in 1826. From 1827 to 1846 he served with the Royal Engineers in Canada and England. During this period he won the Telford Medal and became an Associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers.
William Denison was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen’s Land in 1846 and that same year he was knighted.
On January 20, 1855 he was appointed Governor of New South Wales. This appointment also made him Governor General of all the colonies in Australia. The following year, 1856, he was awarded the K C B.
London gave him the unenviable task of preparing the colony for responsible self government. Slowly the colony of NSW started to administer its own affairs. This left time for Denison to concentrate on public works such as roads, bridges and defence. Of particular interest was fortification work on an island in the harbour that was started then postponed during the Crimean war.
The island was first used by the local aboriginals. It was then only a large rock, standing 40 m above sea level. In 1788 the First Fleet used the small island, called Rock Island, as a punishment for the most troublesome prisoners. The first use of the island as a prison was on February 8, 1788 when Thomas Hill was sentenced to a week on short rations for theft of food.
William Denison restarted the old fortification work. Many thousands of tons of stone were transported to build the Martello Tower. Such a tower was then state-of-the-art of defence. The fort was completed in 1857. However, the fort was never used to protect the colony and was used only as a store. Denison was appointed Governor of Madras in 1860 and left NSW on January 22, 1861.
He held this appointment until 1866. Sir William Denison was married with 13 children. He died on January 19, 1871 in London.
The seafaring fraternity of Sydney who pass by this imposing piece of 1800 circa stone work have Sir William Denison to thank for one of Sydney’s best recognised landmarks.
This is the final excerpt from Abbotsford Cove Community Centre website, written by Don Coulter. Special thanks to his wife for allowing us to publish these interesting articles.