You can’t always trust the names of the 14 islands in Sydney Harbour. There aren’t many bucks or does on Goat Island, and Jaws isn’t circling Shark Island. Birds didn’t flock to Cockatoo Island when the British turned it into a colonial convict prison and then a quarry in the 19th Century, and good luck finding any fruit on Berry Island. But the place they call ‘Pinchgut’? That moniker gives you an accurate glimpse of the horrifying history of Fort Denison, the tiny island just off Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Sydney Opera House that bears a spine-chilling past.
Towering 20m above the water, the rocky outcrop was historically called Mat-te-wan-ye by the local indigenous population before New South Wales’ Governor Arthur Phillip renamed it Rock Island when the British colonised the territory in 1788. It didn’t take long before the island took on a more sinister name, however, when convict Thomas Hill was sentenced to a week in iron chains with nothing but bread and water to fill his stomach — so little nourishment that the conditions literally pinched his gut. Starting to see where the ominous nickname comes from?
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
The British then quarried the sandstone and levelled Pinchgut in the 1790s, and installed a gibbet — or a hanging gallows — in 1796. And they didn’t waste any time before before using their new torture device. Francis Morgan was transported to NSW in 1793 to serve a life sentence in the penal colony for murder, but leopards don’t change their spots and nor do murderers — Morgan committed another brutal killing in October 1796 and was hung in chains on Pinchgut the following month.
The Irishman didn’t lose his sense of humour, though, using his last words to tell the hangman about the picturesque water views he was missing out on. Gibbeted for all of Sydney to see from the middle of the Harbour, Morgan’s body (soon to become his skeleton) was left dangling in the breeze for four years as a savage warning against other ne’er-do-wells in the nascent city — his rotting corpse perhaps one of the few ways to ruin those sparkling Harbour vistas.
Pinchgut took on a new role — and name — in 1857, when the British completed construction of Australia’s first and only Martello Tower, the style of squat defensive fort more often spotted on the Caribbean and Mediterranean coast. Renamed after the then Governor of NSW, Fort Denison’s 8000 tonnes of sandstone had room for 24 soldiers and 12 cannons and was designed to shore up Sydney Harbour’s defences during the Crimean War. The only problem? By the time the Brits finished construction, their beef with Russia had been over for two years.
Fort Denison was called into action during World War II when it found itself caught up in a skirmish between an American ship and midget Japanese submarines in 1942. The USS Chicago misfired a shell that damaged Fort Denison (oops) before one Japanese sub torpedoed the HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 Allied naval personnel, then made its escape through the heads of the Harbour. While two wrecked subs were recovered, the fate of the third invader remained a mystery until 2006, when its wreckage was discovered just off the Northern Beaches.
These days, now that convict hangings and wartime torpedoes are a distant memory, you can catch the hourly ferry from Circular Quay to Fort Denison and not worry about bumping into a rotting corpse when you hop off. Explore the fortress’ museum, Martello tower, gun powder store and artillery in your own time or on a tour organised through the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service Guides. Don’t miss the daily cannon firing at 1pm, a tradition established between 1906 to 1942 to help sailors set their ship’s clocks accurately. Just make sure to pack lunch unless you want to pinch your own gut — the resident cafe and restaurant closed in June 2017.
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Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
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