Belgrove Railway Windmill
State Highway 6, Belgrove
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Private/No Public Access
28th June 1990
Historic Reserve NZ Gazette 1990 p.2314
The Belgrove Railway Windmill is a rare example of a once common feature on New Zealand's railways.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, tanks were strategically placed along New Zealand's railway lines to supply steam trains with the vast amount of water required to power the engines. Where the only water available was below ground, windmills were built to pump water the water up and into the waiting tanks. Dozens were erected at railway stations throughout the country.
The Belgrove Windmill was built in 1898. When the line connecting Belgrove to Nelson was first opened in 1881, locomotives were supplied with water pumped from a spring by steam engine. In 1895 the Railway Department began extending the line through to Motupiko, and in 1897 the Department relocated the Belgrove Station to bring it into alignment with the extended railway. To obtain water at the new site the Department erected the Belgrove Windmill the following year, a 'massive structure' that was large enough to supply the steam engines and the entire town with water.
The Belgrove Windmill is based on a standard plan designed in 1892 by the Railways Department Acting Resident Engineer Daniel McIntosh (1860-1926), and draughtsman George Alexander Troup (1863-1941). The Belgrove Windmill structure is simply, yet ingeniously designed. It consists of a 4.8 metre (16 foot) wooden sail that was set on a 12 metre (40 foot) wooden tower. The sail powered a pump at the bottom of the tower which drew water up from an aquifer two metres below ground into two large holding tanks at each end of the railway yard.
The mill's operation was controlled by valves fitted to pipes that were connected to the holding tanks. Hollow metal balls, which rose with the water level, blocked the valves off when the tanks were full, preventing water from entering. The overflow of water then poured into a wooden bucket connected to the sail. When the bucket was full its weight pulled the sail out of the wind, effectively stopping the mill. The bucket emptied after an hour through a small tap and, once empty, it would rise up the tower, moving the sail back into the wind. If the tanks remained full, the bucket would refill and stop the mill. The system required little maintenance and was protected from damage by a governing plane that turned the sail out of high winds.
In the 1920s, the transition from steam to electric trains rendered the railway mills obsolete, and the Belgrove Windmill is now one of just two in existence. In 1922 the Belgrove Station was closed, despite local opposition, but as the line remained open the windmill continued to function. When the Belgrove line, also known as the Midland railway, was closed 33 years later in 1955, most of its associated railway buildings and structures were dismantled. The Belgrove Windmill was retained because it was used for domestic water supply. The mill ceased operating prior to 1969 and was leased from the Crown by the Nelson Historical Society. The mill was restored in 1978, and again in 1992, and is now actively managed as an historic asset by the Department of Conservation.
The Belgrove Windmill has national significance as a rare relic of a once common system of water supply on New Zealand railways. It is a visible link with the steam locomotive and provides physical insight into their operation. As such, the windmill reflects an important aspect of New Zealand history. The windmill has architectural importance as an early example of the work of Troup, who later became Chief Draughtsman for the New Zealand Railway Department. The windmill's simple, effective design has technological interest. As one of the few remaining relics of the Midland Railway, the windmill is of local significance. The highly visible structure is a landmark in the Belgrove area and it is held in high esteem by the public.
Historical Significance or Value
Belgrove was the terminus of the Nelson Railway Line from 1881 to 1899. Road transport continued from there to the West Coast. Belgrove was an important station until the closure of the line in 1955.
Windmills were once a common feature of the railway landscape and those remaining are visible links with the age of steam locomotives. The Nelson railway line was an important focus for the development of the province and the Belgrove windmill is one of only two such structures remaining in New Zealand.
Railway windmills such as this at Belgrove were of a simple yet ingenious design. The windmill was virtually automatic in operation as the speed and orientation of the sail was controlled mechanically in response to wind direction and force, and to the level of water in the tank. Although railway windmills of this design were once common they are now rare, with the only other known surviving example being at Willobank, Southland. The Belgrove windmill has a somewhat rustic appearance indicative of its importance as a relic of the railway in Nelson province.
The windmill, standing alongside State Highway 6, is a focal point in the rural landscape.
Troup, George Alexander
G A Troup (1863-1941) was born in London in 1863 and educated in Scotland. He trained as an architect and engineer under C E Calvert of Edinburgh and came to New Zealand in 1884. After a short time with the Survey Department in Otago he became a draughtsman for New Zealand Railways in Dunedin and then, from 1888, in Wellington. Troup became Chief Draughtsman in 1894. He designed many station buildings throughout the county, some of which are still in use today; these buildings form an important part of New Zealand's landscape. His best known building is the Dunedin Railway Station (1904-07). He also designed the head office building in Wellington for Railways (1901, now demolished).
Troup became a Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1907. After World War I he was promoted to head the newly established Architectural Branch of New Zealand Railways. On retirement from Railways in 1925 he entered local body politics and was Mayor of Wellington from 1927 to 1931. Troup was prominent in the Presbyterian Church and founded the Presbyterian Young Men's Bible Class Union. He was an elder of the church for 47 years and also served on the governing bodies of several Wellington secondary schools. Education was a life-long interest and he was keenly involved in the training of engineering cadets in New Zealand Railways. Troup was knighted in 1937 and died in 1941.
Last updated 1 October 2014
It is widely believed that the Belgrove Railway windmill was erected in 1898, but no documentary confirmation for this is available. It pumped water from an aquifer two metres below ground level into two sets of holding tanks, one at each end of the station platform. The windmill required very little maintenance and seldom gave any trouble throughout its working life. When the nearby Brightwater windmill was dismantled in the late 1940s several parts including the pump were transferred to the Belgrove windmill. The Nelson line was closed amid much protest in 1955 and most of the buildings and lines were dismantled soon after. The Belgrove windmill was left intact because it was also being used for domestic water supply. In 1969 the Nelson Historical Society leased the windmill from New Zealand Railways and major restoration was completed in 1978. After storm damage in 1983 the Department of Lands and Survey completely rebuilt the sail.
The 12 metre windmill tower is square in plan and tapers towards its apex. Four main timber members are bolted to the hardwood base plates with metal straps, and form the corners of the tower to its apex. Three tiers of scissor bracing to each side strengthen the tower. A slender timber pump rod runs down the centre of the tower from the crankshaft and windwheel mechanism at the apex to the well head at ground level. Black plastic piping is now connected to the pump. A short ladder and maintenance platform are attached to the tower just below the clearance point of the 4.8 metre diameter sail. The wooden water tank is still in its guides at the base of the tower. This was once part of an ingenious system which controlled the vane so that the sail turned out of the wind when the station water tanks were full. The mechanism at the top of the windmill also includes a governing vane which pushed the sail out of the wind in heavy gusts or strong winds.
Date unknown: Replacement of some cross braces
1978: Restored to working order
Its size and rarity
Pump replaced with material from the dismantled Brightwater mill
Part of sail restored
Restored to working order
Department of Lands and Survey completely rebuilt the sail after storm damage
The tower stands 12 metres high and has a square base that tapers towards its apex. Built of a variety of timbers, including Australian hardwood, kauri and pine, the tower's four main timber members are bolted to the hardwood base plates with metal straps and form the corners of the tower to its apex. Three tiers of scissor bracing on each side strengthen the tower. A short ladder and maintenance platform are attached to the tower just below the clearance point of the 4.8 metre diameter sail
Constructed from wooden slats with cast iron mechanisms, the sail is 4.8 metres in diameter and includes a governing plane.
28th February 2003
Report Written By
Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)
Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
Department of Conservation
Department of Conservation
Files MR 160, RES:232
Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
NZHPT File 8/33/4
Nelson, 31 July 1897
Geoffrey G. Thornton, New Zealand's Industrial Heritage, A.H. & A.W. Reed, Wellington, 1982
G. Troup, George Troup: Architect and Engineer, Palmerston North, 1982
L. Voller, Rails to Nowhere, The History of the Nelson Railway, Nelson, 1991
Nelson Historical Society Journal
Nelson Historical Society Journal
J N W Newport, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1978. p41
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office
This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.