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Today's Lytton Hill is located near the mouth of the Brisbane River. It was initially called Signal Hill and later Reformatory Hill when the Boys Reformatory was operating on the Hill. It was later then called Lytton Hill.


Customs Station

In August 1857, surveyor James Warner carried out a preliminary survey of a site for a village at the southern head of the Brisbane River. Approval to establish the village was given in November 1858 and Tenders were called fro construction of a Customs Station nearby on the river in December 1858. Warner surveyed sections 1 to 13 of the village of Lytton, the Customs landing place and a Signal Station on Signal Hill. Few private buildings were erected at Lytton. The Crown and Anchor Hotel at Lytton held a license from 1865 to 1866. A Government wharf was erected adjacent to the Customs Reserve in 1866.

The Lytton Hotel operated from 1878 until about 1905. Following the separation from New South Wales in December 1859, the Queensland Government maintained the Customs Station facilities at Lytton.


NAA Plan

The Customs Reserve and wharf can be seen at the left of this plan just
about the Quarantine Reserve. The Boys Reformatory on Signal
Hill can be seen at the far right. This plan is dated 17 October 1916.


Lytton Telegraph Office

An electric Telegraph Line was built from Brisbane to the Lytton Customs Station in 1860-61 to communicate shipping intelligence and meteorological observations from Moreton Bay. The Lytton Telegraph Office opened on 1 June 1861. In 1864 the electric telegraph was extended from Lytton to Dunwich on Stradbroke Island and north to Cape Moreton on Moreton Island.

Signal Hill was probably used as a Signal Station from as early as 1859, semaphoring news on shipping movements to and from Moreton Bay to the Customs House near the river and from 1861 to the Lytton Telegraph Office. From 1866 Signal Hill was also used to semaphore messages to and from the prison on St. Helena Island.

The Telegraph Line was extended from the Customs Station to the top of Signal Hill in the early 1870's. In 1873 tenders were called for the construction of a Telegraph Station and residence on the top of Signal Hill. The building was a double gabled timber building which was the combined office and residence. There was a separate detached kitchen house at the rear of the main building. The main building still exists on Signal Hill but is in a very dilapidated state due to significant white ant damage and vandalism. The Lytton Telegraph Office also functioned as a Post Office from 29 April 1876.

In the 1880's, the telegraph lines were extended from Lytton to the Pile Light which was constructed in 1883 and to Fort Lytton.


NAA Plan

Front elevation of the Lytton Post and Telegraph Office


NAA Plan

Plan of the Lytton Post and Telegraph Office


Boys Reformatory

I July 1878, Colonel P. Scratchley recommended that the Boys Reformatory which had been operating in the hulk "Proserpine" since 1871, be relocated to buildings on Signal Hill as part of the defensible pots to be established on Signal Hill. The hulk "Proserpine" had previously been used as a gaol anchored in Moreton Bay.

Colonel Scratchley planned that the Reformatory buildings on Signal Hill would eventually form part of the hill's defences and that the boys would help with ground preparation and maintenance of the defence facilities on the hill. The redoubt on Signal Hill included a large single story hardwood framed, Reformatory building with chamferboard walls and a shingled roof. There was a Kitchen wing, water closets and a property fence enclosing the 2 acre property. These facilities were erected in 1880-81before work on the Redoubt had started. Dormitory accommodation was provided for 120 boys, plus a school room, workshops, store room, kitchen and other facilities.

A large vegetable garden was established and a Superintendent's cottage was erected south of the Reformatory building, beyond the fortification earthworks. This cottage may have been relocated from the Customs Reserve on the river to Signal Hill in about 1880. The 1873 Post and Telegraph Office on Signal Hill was within the Reformatory stockade and the whole complex was occupied in March 1881. From this time onwards Signal Hill became known as Reformatory Hill.

Mr James W. Wassel, Superintendent of the Industrial and Reformatory School at Lytton, described the boys he received at the Reformatory as follows:-

    "I received the neglected, the destitute, the paralysed, the semi-imbecile and the criminal, and that a large percentage when received are in a dirty and enfeebled condition through previous neglect."

The boys made, repaired and washed their own clothing.

There were 107 boys at the Reformatory during 1884 which was two higher than the previous year. One case of Typhoid was introduced to the Reformatory in 1884 by a new comer but after an illness of three weeks in isolation he fully recovered. There was one death in 1884 after an illness of 19 hours. There had only been two deaths at the Reformatory up till that time since it had started in 1871.

Mr Wassell, stated in his report on 1884, that Mr Mahon, the teacher at the Reformatory had made satisfactory progress with the boys' schoolwork. Services were held for Protestant boys and Roman Catholic boys were taught their catechism every Sunday. Rev. Mr. Creyke (Church of England) and Rev. Father Denham (Roman Catholic) visited periodically and held services for the members of their respective religions. A ladies' visiting committee and a Sunday School were started through the influence of Lady Musgrave.

The contributions from parents towards the maintenance of their sons in the report on 1884, amounted to only 82 Pounds 17 Shillings and 1 Pence which was 36 Pounds 5 Shillings and 3 Pence less than the previous year.

In his report on 1884, Mr. Wassell indicated that he had always endeavoured to trace the careers of the boys after they left the Reformatory either by correspondence or other means to confirm the success of their time in the Reformatory. he indicated that of the 235 sent out of the Reformatory only 15 had found their way back into the penal establishments.

On Saturday 30 May the Government steamer "Miner" left the Port Office Wharf in Brisbane at 1pm taking a juvenile choir to the Boys Reformatory at Lytton to entertain the boys with the compliments of the Hon. Horace Tozer, the Colonial Secretary. An hour later the steamer arrived at the Lytton wharf where transport had been arranged by the superintendent to carry the choir and the items the lady friends of the children had provided.

On arrival at the Reformatory afternoon tea was prepared which was served on the green. Shortly after 5pm the performers adjourned to the ward and prepared for the concert. Mr Tyas of Queens Street had already fixed his limelight apparatus.

The first item on the program was a part song by the pupils of the Milton School, "The Camping Party", then a skipping rope drill and "Fisher Girls" followed in rapid succession. The Junior Choir of Park Church performed the Maypole Dance and were loudly applauded.

The first session concluded with a scene "A Musical Picnic" which was received with enthusiastic applause. After a brief interval the Milton children led off with a part song "The Month of the Roses". Following that the Park Church Juniors did a dance titled the "Tea Party". Then followed "Little Chooks", Tall Top Hat" and "Queen Anne Fan Song". This completed the entertainment.

Misses Fraser and Wall provided able accompanists, with Mr. Kaye conducting throughout. Mr Wassell presided over the proceedings and he was cheered for his efforts.

On returning to the Town Wharf, hearty cheers were given by the young choristers for all who assisted in making the trip so enjoyable, especially the officers and crew of the steamer "Miner" who did every thing in their power to insure the comfort of their young passengers.


Defence Purposes 1885 - 1939

Following the "Russian Scare" of March 1885, Colonel French, the Commandant of the newly created Queensland Defence Force, completed the fortification of the Redoubt on Reformatory Hill. The Reformatory Stockade fence on the southern side was moved 20 yards closer to the Reformatory. Arrow headed demi-bastions were formed at the northeast and southwest corners, a ditch was constructed around the fortifications, the trees in front of the Redoubt were cleared, a telegraph line was installed from Reformatory Hill to Fort Lytton and ordnance were ordered. The Reformatory boys assisted with most of this work.

On Monday 6 July 1885, it was reported in the Brisbane Telegraph that 33 labourers under the charge of Captain Ackerley were using picks and shovels constructing earthworks for defence purposes on Reformatory Hill at Lytton. They were expected to complete their work 10 days later.


Photo:- State Library of Queensland Image No. 4020

Queensland Defence Force camp at Lytton in 1885


The Redoubt was completed by 1887, its armament had arrived but was never mounted in position. Colonel French now recommended that the Reformatory be removed from the site. In 1899, tenders were called for the removal of the Reformatory buildings from the hill and their re-erection, with additional buildings at Westbrook near Toowoomba. During the interim period between pulling down the Reformatory buildings at Lytton and their re-erection at Westbrook, the boys were quartered at the Diamantina Orphanage in October 1899. Mr Walter Richmond succeeded Mr. Wassell as Superintendent on probation for the Reformatory for Boys. The boys travelled by special train to Westbrook on Wednesday 2 May 1900.

The Lytton Redoubt was used as a semi-permanent military camp from 1881 until the early 1930s. The Queensland Defence Force held annual Easter Encampments at the site.

In 1887 the Lytton Defence Reserve of 120 acres was gazetted. It included Reformatory Hill, Fort Lytton and possibly part of the Customs Reserve. The Lytton Defence Reserve was enlarged to 640 acres by 1901 following the resumption of the Lytton Township (Stage 1 resumptions in 1891 and Stage 2 in 1900). In the early 1900's all this land and structures transferred to the new Commonwealth Department of Defence. The Post and Telegraph Office on Reformatory Hill was transferred to the Commonwealth Post Master General's Department.

An article in the Maryborough Chronicle of Monday 2 June 1890 contained the following statements:-

"The mounted gun was originally a field gun, but it proved so very satisfactory that it was decided by the military advisers of the Queensland Government to have guns of the same pattern and calibre, but a little heavier, mounted in the Redoubt on the Reformatory Hill."

An article in The Queenslander Saturday 29 August 1896 on page 423 mentions the following:-

Reformatory Hill Redoubt - The necessity of completing the Lytton defences by the removal of the Reformatory for Boys, and placing the redoubt, which is the key of the position, in a proper state of defence, is again brought forward.


NAA Plan

This is a Plan in the National Archives of Australia showing a 6" gun (2 off)
proposed to be installed at Reformatory Hill. They were never installed.


Apparently a 12 pounder gun and barbed wire entanglements were installed on Reformatory Hill at some stage.

An article in the Brisbane Telegraph on Saturday 23 May 1896, mentions a lookout tower located on Reformatory Hill. An article in the Courier Mail on Tuesday 21 November 1933 mentions an Artillery Camp on Reformatory Hill.

A military store was erected on Reformatory Hill in 1898. This is thought to be the brick building still located a the northern end of Reformatory Hill. It probably replaced the building marked "Store" on the 1886 plan of the Lytton Redoubt.

An undated Report in 1989 states:-

"REFORMATORY HILL - No progress to report. As this hill commands the Lytton Battery, it is desirable that it should be made secure from occupation by an enemy, but no proper steps can be taken in this direction till it is decided what is to be done about the Reformatory Buildings."

Commandant of the Queensland Defence Force , Colonel Howel Gunter, stated in his report dated 18 August 1898:-

"REFORMATORY HILL REDOUBT - The necessity of completing the Lytton defences by the removal of the Reformatory for Boys and placing the Redoubt, which is the key of the positions, in a state of defence, is again brought forward."

The fortifications on Reformatory Hill remained in use until at least the early 1900s. Queensland troops camped and trained on the slopes of Reformatory Hill for active service in the South African War 1899 - 1902. A 20 stall timber stables was erected in 1901-02. A tent store and barbed wire entanglement around the Redoubt were erected in 1903.


An extensive Camp layout is shown on this NAA Plan dated 5 - 12 April 1912.
It identifies the site as "Camp of Continuous Training, Lytton".


The site laid dormant and deteriorated somewhat prior to its reoccupation by the military during the First World War 1914-18. In 1917 a dermatological hospital of the Australian Infantry Forces was erected along with huts for the officers and men. Between 1919 and 1931, the flats adjacent to the Quarantine Station at Lytton were used a Brisbane's first airfield. Reformatory Hill may have been used as an air traffic control observation station.


Defence Purposes WWII


NAA Plan

Signal Hill is the area where the word "Signals" is shown on this plan. The Heavy
Anti-aircraft Gun Station next to Fort Lytton is also shown on this plan.


1.  Administration and Quarters - Cottage 59' x 25' and 36' 9" x 13'

2.  Latrine Showers 14' x 11' 3"

3.  Latrine 9' x 8' 9"

4.  Q Store 56' 6" x 17

5.  Workshop Receiver Building 56' 6" x 17'

6.  Butcher's Shop 24' 9" x 10'

7.  Receiver  Transmitter Centre - this is probably the old Boy's Reformatory building 41' 9" x 21' 9"

8.  Block House

9. Power House


NAA Plan

Another view of the same area on Signal Hill. This plan is dated
20 April 1947. Note the quarry is shown in this plan also.


NAA Plan

The above plan states that building numbers 9 to 13 were used by the RAAF Radar unit.


RAAF Radar Station No. 23 was formed at Signal Hill on 12 June 1942. During WWII, the Margaret Marr Memorial Home for Boys was used as barracks for the staff of No. 23 Radar Station. The Boys were relocated from their home to a disused hospital in Proston. The above plan shows Building Numbers 9 to 13 being used by the RAAF Radar Unit. The RAAF shared the site with the Australian Army.

In 1941 the Australian Army had a world wide wireless transmitter on Signal Hill which was operated by a Heavy Wireless Group of Northern Command. An Army Signals training camp was established on Signal Hill using the original 1873 Telegraph building which still exists on site. The late Jim Meehan was one of the Signallers who lived and worked at the Signals Camp on Lytton Hill.

By early 1943, the Australian Army engineers and signallers camp comprised 29 buildings constructed within the Redoubt on Signal Hill. There was one small building just outside the Redoubt. On the left hand side of the Redoubt there were another 18 buildings, mainly timber accommodation huts, a concrete generator building and a parade ground. Apparently the Army engineers may have dug some underground bunkers and/or tunnels around Signal Hill as part of their training.


NAA Plan

Another view of the same area on Signal Hill. This plan is dated
16 January 1948. Note the quarry is shown in this plan also.


Post WWII Era

After WWII finished in August 1945, Signal Hill now called Lytton Hill, was almost abandoned until a wireless station and radar were erected on the hill to facilitate pilot services for ships entering and leaving the Port of Brisbane. It was manned 24 hours a day. For a number of years the Post and Telegraph Office on Lytton Hill was used as a residence by one of the Ampol Refinery employees. The land was transferred to Ampol Refineries in 1963 for the erection of an Oil Refinery, which is now operated by Caltex.

In about 1980, the Port of Brisbane Authority erected an Observation Tower to monitor shipping in the Brisbane River and Moreton Bay. The tower was removed in the late 1990's and the section of land reverted back to Caltex.

A field survey of Lytton Hill was conducted by Austral Archaeology in 1994 which identified 50 archaeological elements visible above the 20 metre contour line.



Brisbane Telegraph Thursday 16 April 1885, page 4

Brisbane Telegraph Monday 6 July 1885, page 5

The Queenslander Saturday 3 October 1885, page 556

Darling Downs Gazette Wednesday 21 April 1886, page 3

Gympie Times and Mary River Mining Gazette Tuesday 4 May 1886, page 3

Queensland Figaro and Punch Saturday 2 July 1887, page 21

Illustrated Sydney News Thursday 26 April 1888, page 23

The Week (Brisbane) Saturday 31 May 1890, page 19

Maryborough Chronicle Monday 2 June 1890

The Brisbane Courier Thursday 22 March 1894, page 6

Brisbane Telegraph Saturday 23 May 1896, page 5

The Queenslander Saturday 30 May 1896, page 1049

The Brisbane Courier Tuesday 2 June 1896, page 4

The Queenslander Saturday 29 August 1896, page 423

The Courier Mail Monday 23 April 1900, page 5

The Brisbane Courier Wednesday 27 November 1901, page 7

The Courier Mail Tuesday 21 November 1933, page 4

Queensland WWII Historic Places, Fortress Signals Area Camp, Signal Hill



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This page first produced 29 November 2015

This page last updated 04 March 2020