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Shot tower Shot tower

The Shot Tower

Today, it rates among Tasmania's top visitor attractions, but its original function was industrial, turning a hazardous mix of hot lead, arsenic and antimony into ammunition. 

The Shot Tower, eleven kilometres south of Hobart in Taroona, furnishes a rare window into manufacturing history and at the same time rewards visitors with remarkable views at the top of over 300 wooden steps.

It also offers a few little mysteries including the claim by its builder, Joseph Moir, that his massive circular sandstone block tower was constructed in less than a year. His sign remains for all to see:

"This shot tower was built by the proprietor, Joseph Moir, in the year 1870. In its erection he acted as Engineer, Architect, Carpenter and Overseer. With merely the assistance of two masons it was completed in 8 months, when the secrets of shotmaking had to be discovered. After many persevering efforts the first shot was dropped on the 8th of September 1870."

In fact, it's certain the Shot Tower took eight years to build, not eight months as Moir claimed. But it was – it is – a remarkable construction: tapered and nearly 60 metres tall, the tower's base is 10 metres in diameter and the walls a metre thick; at the top, where it tapers to 3.9 metres, the walls thin to about half a metre. While shot towers were once common, this is the world's last tower of its type.

The original complex also included a gunpowder magazine, the furnace for shot preparation and a three level stone factory. Moir's precise – if dangerous – metallic stew was prepared in the furnace, brought as ingots to the top of the tower, resmelted and poured through a colander, a steel plate with holes drilled through it. 

The lead droplets became spherical as they fell into cooling water at the base. The shot was then checked for roundness, polished and graded before being bagged and sold for the muzzle-loading sporting guns of the late 19th century.

As a business, the Shot Tower struggled. Largely through competition from shot manufacturers elsewhere in Ausralia, his business lasted just 35 years, until 1905. But as a landmark, Joseph Moir's Shot Tower is already a century old and as a tourist attraction, it's a favourite.

For those climbing the wooden stairs to the top, there's another little mystery to consider. The tower is widely, even officially, reported to be 48 metres tall. That's incorrect: it's 58.7 metres high, and that additional ten metres of climb makes a signficant difference, especially if you're on the stairs at the time!

The Shot Tower is at 318 Channel Highway, just south of Taroona, and open daily from 9.00 am.