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Fort Denison / Pinchgut / Rock Island

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Fort Denison / Pinchgut / Rock Island
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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.

Fort Denison - Pinchgut IslandThe 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 - Sydney HarbourFort 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.

In addition to our listed online travel guide information, contact the local tourism visitor centre for your destination for more attractions, tours, local maps and other information.

Information Centre

Sydney Visitor Centre The Rocks

Sydney Harbour National Park Information Centre Cadmans Cottage

National Parks Centre The Rocks

* From Webster's 1913 Dictionary, Martello Tower: the name was originally given to towers erected on the coasts of Sicily and Sardinia for protection against the pirates in the time of Charles the Fifth, which probably originally contained an alarm bell to be struck with a hammer. These forts were buildings of masonry, normally circular, usually erected on the seacoast, with a gun mounted on the summit to be fired in any direction. The English borrowed the name ‘Martello Tower’ from Corsica’s Martello Fortress, which during the Napoleonic Wars proved to be very hard to conquer.

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