10 Waterloo Quay, Whitmore Street, Customhouse Quay, Ballance Street, Waring Taylor Street, Queens Wharf, Hunter Street, Taranaki Street Wharf, Wellington
Historical Significance or Value
As the organisation responsible for Wellington’s port activities, the Wellington Harbour Board was an incredibly important part of Wellington’s, and New Zealand’s, development and economy for over a century from 1880. The gates and fences the WHB constructed between 1899 and 1922 were more than simple definers of its waterfront domain; they also symbolised its wealth and, particularly during waterfront strikes, its strength and authority.
The Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings are strongly associated with several important industrial disputes in New Zealand’s history, serving as barriers to lock out striking workers.
The gradual removal of large sections of the gates and fences in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, and the permanent opening of remaining gates, has historical significance as it marked the disbanding of New Zealand’s Harbour Boards and the changing focus of Wellington’s waterfront.
The construction of significant portions of the Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings is directly associated with prominent Wellington businessman William Cable, who was also a long standing member of the WHB and chairman in the early twentieth century.
Aesthetic Significance or Value
The ornamental Art Nouveau-inspired Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings have aesthetic significance as they introduced decorative elements, softening the public face of what was an industrial space. While no longer contiguous, the pockets of gates, posts and fencing visually unite Wellington’s waterfront, all the way from the north to south of Lambton Harbour along consecutive quays and roads.
Social Significance or Value
Because the port was the main entry point for people and goods into Wellington in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the WHB’s gates were socially important as the capital’s entrances. The Queens Wharf gates are particularly associated with civic occasions welcoming and farewelling dignitaries and troops.
Wellingtonians have a history of feeling entitled to frequent the city’s waterfront, which made the area around Lambton Harbour an ambiguous space, being public in perception but functioning as an industrial space. The Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings are socially important because they represent the WHB’s contentious attempts to close-off and define much of Wellington’s waterfront as a private industrial space.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
As a country with a long coastline, shipping and ports have been economically and socially important in New Zealand. The Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings are a vestige of the century-long existence of the Wellington Harbour Board, which was responsible for one of the most lucrative and busy ports in New Zealand.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Queens Wharf gates are associated with important events such as the departure of troops partaking in the South African War. This first overseas deployment of New Zealand soldiers left from Wellington, with the Queens Wharf gates being erected in time for the send-off of the second contingent.
The Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings are also closely connected with two of New Zealand’s biggest and most bitter industrial disputes as a means of barring striking workers from the port during the 1913 and 1951 waterfront strikes.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place
Because of a love of the waterfront, from the outset Wellingtonians have had an association with the Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings. Formerly contentious as barriers to community use of the waterfront, the remaining pockets of gates, posts and fences now herald the transition from the central business district to a space which is more focused on leisure.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings define the landside edge of the former WHB land around much of Lambton Harbour. As such they are part of a wider historical complex of former port buildings and structures, which are included in the Wellington Harbour Board Historic Area.
Settlement of Wellington and development of the port
Maori tradition tells of Wellington harbour and its entrances being formed by two taniwha, Ngake and Whataitai, who lived in the harbour when it was an enclosed lake. The harbour has been known by a variety of names, the earliest known being Te Upoko o te Ika a Maui (the head of Maui’s fish). It refers to the fish caught by the Polynesian navigator, Maui, which became the North Island.
The first Polynesian navigators were Kupe and Ngahue, who camped on the southern end of the harbour at Seatoun around 925. Sometime after Kupe, Tara and Tautoki, the sons of Whatonga from the Mahia Peninsula, visited the harbour and were so impressed with the place that Whatonga decided to establish a settlement around Wellington Harbour, which he named Te Whanganui-a-Tara (the great harbour of Tara) after his son.
Iwi who settled around Wellington’s inner harbour, as well as the Miramar Peninsular, and the south coast, included Ngai Tara, Ngati Ira, Ngati Kahungunu, Ngai Tahu and Ngati Mamoe. By 1819 when a war party comprising Taranaki, Te Atiawa, Ngati Toa, Nga Puhi and Ngati Whatua attacked the Wellington area it was mainly occupied by Ngati Ira who were driven out to the eastern side of the harbour and to the Wairarapa. By 1840, as the Waitangi Tribunal found, those Maori having rights in Wellington Harbour and its foreshore were Te Atiawa, Ngati Tama, Taranaki, and Ngati Ruanui.
The first European name given to Te Whanganui-a-Tara was Port Nicholson, after Captain J. Nicholson the harbour master at Sydney in 1826. In 1839 the Tory sailed into Port Nicholson. Aboard the ship of Captain E. M. Chaffers were Edward Jerningham Wakefield (1820-1879) and his uncle Colonel William Wakefield (1803-1848). William Wakefield was charged with selecting the spot ‘which he should deem most eligible as the site of a considerable colony to make preparations for the arrival and settlement of the emigrants.’ Wakefield noted: ‘the harbour is the only one into which a vessel of more than 100 tons can enter with safety on a line of coast of 600 miles in extent, from Manukau to the Thames, and must become the depot of the interior of this line, to be supplied by coasting trade, and all of the country on both sides of Cook’s Strait, for the importation of foreign and exportation to other countries of native produce.’
It was in 1839 that Wakefield named the inner harbour Lambton Harbour, after the Earl of Durham, Governor of the New Zealand Company.
The harbour was a key factor in the New Zealand Company choosing Wellington as its first organised settlement, as well as the new colony’s capital city, a position it was not to achieve until 1865. When Wakefield arrived in 1839 he intended the settlement to be laid out around Lambton Harbour. However the New Zealand Company’s chief surveyor, William Mein Smith (1798-1869), had other plans and in Wakefield’s absence laid out the town near the mouth of the Hutt (Heretaunga) River. This Britannia settlement was short-lived due to flooding and the settlers moved across to Lambton Harbour.
It was to be a number of years after European settlement before a public wharf was built in Wellington. The first recorded substantial wharf was, according to Elsdon Best, built in 1840 on Thorndon Beach for J. H. Wallace. The first officially recorded wharf was the Rhodes Wharf built the next year, and over the next 12 years there were a number of wharves built along the waterfront. These early wharves were serviced by lighters operated by licensed watermen who transported goods between the ships and the wharves for set fees.
Until 1853 the development of the port area was generally left to private individuals. In that year the newly created Wellington Provincial Council was empowered under the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 to undertake necessary harbour developments, including construction of wharves and reclamations. The first major reclamation undertaken by the Provincial Council involved the area between Clay Point and Panama Street, over the period 1857 to 1863. Over the next 40 years several further reclamations were made.
The second major undertaking of the Provincial Council was the construction of a new deepwater wharf. By this time the port’s trade had increased significantly and was beyond the capacity of the lighter service. The new wharf was built in the shape of a double ‘T’ in 1862. Within a few years this wharf became known as Queens Wharf and it was necessary to extended it to cater for increased demand from a rapidly expanding port town. It was nearly 20 years until a second deepwater wharf was constructed. Railway Wharf was built in 1880 as a joint venture between the Provincial Council and the newly formed Wellington Harbour Board (WHB). Within three years the newly appointed WHB Chief Engineer, William Ferguson (1852-1935), laid out a comprehensive plan for harbour improvements.
Gates and fences
The WHB iron gates and fences were constructed around the waterfront from Waterloo Quay to Taranaki Street between 1899 and 1922, and later along Aotea Quay (now removed). The large cast iron gates and posts with lamps and decorative orbs marked the entrances to each of the wharves, while fences filled in the gaps between the buildings which abutted the Quays. Despite being constructed over a number of years the gates and fences were all of a similar design to the initial ones at Queens Wharf which have been described as: ‘fine specimens of late Victorian wrought ironwork, with their cast-iron spandrels and ornaments and matching cast-iron pillars.’ The Queens Wharf gates were cast by Bayliss, Jones & Bayliss. The fact that gates and fences were being erected at all caused comment as they were seen as a threat to ‘public liberty,’ but the use of a London firm instead of a New Zealand one also made the WHB’s action unpopular among some Wellingtonians.
Because sea transport was a key means of travel, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Wellington’s port was essentially the main entrance to the city. Therefore, the Queens Wharf gate could be considered the city’s gateway during this period. As such, the Queens Wharf gates were often the focus of major civic events when important dignitaries were welcomed or farewelled, for example during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall in June 1901. Indeed they were erected ‘in time to mark the departure of the second New Zealand contingent to the Boer War. Prior to this the wharf was guarded with a small wooden stockade-like arrangement, with two sentry posts.’ The South African War was the first instance of New Zealand troops being deployed overseas, beginning in late 1899.
Within a few years of the construction of the Queens Wharf gates, others followed. The fencing flanking the wharf was probably constructed at the same time as it was made by the same company. However, all of remaining the boundary markers, erected between 1901 and 1922, were made by J. W. Faulkner & Co. Ltd. of Dunedin, W. Cable & Co, Wellington, or were cast by Cable & Co for Faulkners. Cable’s was a sizeable and well-established Wellington engineering firm and foundry. The company specialised in the fabrication of parts for, and the repair of, large marine engines. The company’s director was also a member of the WHB.
The right of public access to the waterfront was a long held belief by the citizens of Wellington, and when the first gates went up on Queens Wharf in 1899 the public were more or less excluded from one of their favourite promenades. Conversely, the fences and gates were seen by the WHB as a means of protecting the public from the workings of a busy port. Johnson states that Wellingtonians felt aggrieved for decades and in March 1945, following access restrictions imposed during World War Two, the WHB again came under public pressure to open up the wharves. The result was that soon after ‘the War Cabinet agreed to the area from the Jervois Quay gate near the Star Boating Club to the Lyttelton Wharf being opened up, but there was to be no loitering, no fishing, and no entry to Queens Wharf.’
Day-to-day operations of the port were controlled by the wharfingers, who were WHB employees, and were in charge of a particular wharf, or wharf shed, and responsible for cargo-handling activity. They also determined which watersiders or ‘wharfies’ would work the ships moored nearby. The wharfies belonged to the Wellington Waterside Workers’ Union which ‘was central in defining the old waterfront industrial culture in Wellington, a key element of which was loyalty and solidarity during strikes and employer lockouts. The union was at the centre of two major industrial disputes, in 1913 and 1951, which led to nationwide industrial upheaval.
The October 1913 strike involved 1600 wharfies who supported shipwrights denied paid travel time to the Evans Bay Patent Slip. What began as a simple matter of principle resulted in the worst industrial confrontation in the country’s history, enflamed by the Massey Government enlisting farmers as special mounted police, or ‘Massey’s Cossacks’ as well as troops. The WHB gates were closed to the strikers and guarded. Some of the most iconic images of the industrial dispute are those showing huge crowds of workers gathered outside of the Queens Wharf entrance, climbing the fences and pushing the gates open. In the end the whole matter was uneasily settled after a month of bitter dispute.
The 1951 strike began in February of that year. It began when ‘watersiders banned overtime, both in support of a 40-hour week and after employers refused to pass on a full five per cent wage increase, as granted by the Arbitration Court. The Harbour Board refused to let the watersiders on the wharves and a five month standoff began. Again troops were used to load ships and there was a heavy police presence. Under enormous pressure from the Government the union finally capitulated in July that year.’ The WHB closed its gates to the unionised workers again. The strike divided opinion across the country and resulted in militant unionism being crushed, with many watersiders being banned from working on the wharves for years afterwards.
The WHB gates and fences became identified with political unrest especially during the waterfront strikes of 1913 and 1951 where they were used to control access to the wharves both by the police and the unionists. In the early 1990s Taranaki Street Wharf was proposed for a new service - the shipment of live sheep. This was to prove not only controversial but also short-lived, at least as far as Taranaki Street Wharf was concerned. On 16 April 1992 the first shipment of livestock on the Straitsman was blocked by a picket of seamen and watersiders who were opposed to the use of non-union seamen. Presumably the picketers were not able to be locked out of Taranaki Street Wharf as on other occasions, because the WHB fencing in the area had been removed, with the exception of the main gates. Within two days the service moved to Glasgow Wharf, where any protests could be better controlled by police.
Activities on the waterfront, particularly in the south of Queens Wharf, began to change in the closing decades of the twentieth century, accelerating after the disbandment of the WHB in 1989. This changing face of the waterfront was reflected in the removal of WHB boundary markers. Most of the gates and railings along Jervois Quay were taken down, along with the Jervois Quay Sheds, during the mid-1970s as part of further harbour reclamation and the development of Frank Kitts Park. Similarly most of the fences and gates further north along Waterloo Quay have also been removed as the port has been developed in this area for both port and non-port related activities. However, fencing and gates mainly focused around Queens Wharf were retained as well as the gate to the Taranaki Street Wharf, which was still a working wharf into the 1990s.
The Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings were fabricated and installed in stages between 1899 and 1922. The first set constructed were the Queens Wharf gates and fences, with the last contract being awarded in 1921 to Faulkner’s for iron gates and fencing on Waterloo Quay. Once a contiguous series of fences and gates, the boundary they created was only interrupted when WHB buildings served as definers of the WHB port’s limits. Only pockets of gates, posts and fences remain, running along the east side of Waterloo, Customhouse, and Jervois Quays, beginning immediately north of Wellington Harbour Board Shed 21 and ending with the southern, and relatively isolated, Taranaki Street Wharf gates.
Although not as elaborate as some late Victorian and Edwardian residential ironwork gates and fencing, the Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Gates, Posts and Railings strike a balance between these and the much more utilitarian form of their Auckland Harbour Board counterparts. Despite decorative aspects the WHB gates and fences are substantial, solid structures. The combination of strength and ornament seem to symbolise the authority and wealth of the institution which constructed them.
Despite being cast in iron by various companies, the iron posts and railings for the fences and gates are all of a design similar to the originals created by Bayliss, Jones & Bayliss of London. Generally, the posts are differently scaled versions, depending on their purpose, of a square post column that peaks with a decorative orb. The transition from the angular to spherical is broached through an inverse fluted pedestal for the orb, and is intersected by tri-petal gable shapes on each of the four sides. The cornice at the top of the post column features a zig-zag pattern.
The smallest size posts seem to have been used for the majority of the fence posts and are present flanking some of the secondary gates. The middle size was that most commonly used for gate posts. On main gates the largest of these posts were used in tandem with similar sized posts that had lamps, then lights, instead of an orb. In 1934 the lantern style centre light was installed at Queens Wharf, and it is likely that other examples of this type of light at other key entrances were also created around this time using the existing posts.
The upper band of the gate and fence railing’s decorative ironwork features Art Nouveau flower and stem forms that are a contrast to the shapes, reminiscent of electricity transformer bushings, beneath the interspersing triplets of short vertical pickets. A wing impression is created between the posts of the gates and fences through the concave top railing and the convex formed by the slightly in-filled sections between the pickets directly beneath the top decorative band. The concave and convex curves meet at the centre of the railings. In the spandrel of the concave are scroll shapes. The line of the pickets is carried through to finials along the concave, alternating between longer straight, pyramid tipped, finials and shorter waved ones, and in the centre is a large Art Nouveau leaf motif. A lower ornamental section completes the railings. Each pattern is five pickets wide and features an inward facing semi circle whose ends become scrolls and are joined to their opposing shape through a top and bottom horizontal rail.
Removal of large sections of the fencing and gates increased in the closing decades of the twentieth century and seems to have been particularly intensive in the 1990s and early 2000s. A large collection of removed posts and railings are currently stored, by Wellington Waterfront Limited, on former WHB land in Seaview. The pockets of gates, railings and posts that remain form the historic place and are detailed below.
Note: the names here attributed to the sets of gates, post and railings primarily serve as a consistent way to identify and discuss the various groupings within this report.
Shed 21 posts and gates
There are seven middle sized orb-topped posts wrapping around the long east and south sides of Wellington Harbour Board Shed 21 beginning from former gate posts facing Waterloo Quay to the north of the building. The northern-most gate post has a lantern light. All of these posts were either made by J. & W. Faulkner Co Ltd, or cast by W. Cable and Co for the aforementioned company. The set of gates, immediately south of Shed 21 on Waterloo Quay, is flanked by simple metal picket fencing between the building, and also between the southern WHB gatepost and the flanking WHB fence post. This is not WHB fencing and is therefore not included in the extent of registration.
Ferry Wharf posts and railings
Located at the intersection of Waterloo and Customhouse Quay, this set of posts demonstrates the range of post sizes used by the WHB. The large gate posts (gates now removed) indicate that this was a main entrance point to the port. The gate posts are in two tiers, now standing on traffic islands diagonal to the main thoroughfare. The foremost each have lantern lights and the others are orb-topped. To the north side of the entrance is a solitary lantern light post. The southern corner of the entrance along Customhouse Quay is defined by three bays of fence railings. Unlike most of the other WHB gates, posts and railings these fence railings have not been treated or newly coated to remove or protect against corrosion.
Shed 13 gates and Customhouse Quay gates
These sets of gates are immediately to the north of Wellington Harbour Board Shed 13, and between it and Wellington Harbour Board Shed 11. Each set of gates has six medium-sized posts, with two sections of railings in a permanently open/perpendicular position to Customhouse Quay, with the exception of the flanking posts. The flanking posts have sections of glass sandwiched between the railings which are the side panels for pedestrian shelters. The posts are elevated on concrete plinths. These sections of posts and railings were made by Faulkners.
Shed 11 gates and railings
The Shed 11 gates and railings span the distance between Wellington Harbour Board Shed 11 and the Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Office Building (Shed 7). Because these gates and railings are made by Bayliss, Jones & Bayliss they are most likely among the oldest remaining and would have been constructed at the same time, or soon after, the Queens Wharf gates in 1899. The gates consist of three medium-sized orb-topped posts, flanked by a small equivalent on each side. Being close to Shed 11 there is only a small section of railing between the outer post and the building, while the southern section is considerably longer. These gates are currently padlocked open.
Queens Wharf entrance gates
The Bayliss, Jones & Bayliss design and construction of these gate and their railings became the standard for all the other WHB boundary markers. There are five large posts of which all but the north have lantern lights. Flanking these are sets of medium sized orb-topped posts. The outer posts abut the Wellington Harbour Board Wharf Office building (Shed 7) and Wellington Harbour Board Head Office and Bond Store, to the north and south respectively. All of the gates open inwards/towards the water, with the exception of those attached to the southern pair of posts which are opened towards Jervois Quay. The central grouping of posts has apparently been reconfigured at some stage, therefore so have the positioning of gates and fences. Reuse and repositioning of railings perhaps explains why the section of fence between the northern lantern light post and its orb-topped partner is approximately half a metre off of the ground, much higher than all the other railings.
A key difference between the Queens Wharf gates and the rest is the presence of the WHB insignia on each gate railing. The inclusion of the insignia at the Queens Wharf gates seems to have been prompted because the gates were the prime entrance to the WHB’s main wharf, which was also its administrative centre. The railings are also slightly different in that the small sections of fencing are topped with trident finals whereas the other examples have straight finals instead.
Jervois Quay posts and railings
Immediately south of the Wellington Harbour Board Head Office and Bond Store is a relatively long stretch of fencing and then a group of six gateposts in a similar configuration to the Ferry Wharf posts. The fence is interspersed between small posts, and is showing signs of corrosion towards the base of the railings. All of the former gateposts were cast by W. Cable & Co and form the Jervois Quay entrance to the TSB Arena underground carpark and north Frank Kitts Park.
Taranaki Street Wharf gates
The location of the Taranaki Street Wharf gates is relatively remote corresponding to the location of the wharf, which, excluding Clyde Quay Wharf, was the only one on the southern side of Lambton Harbour. The gates define the northernmost end of Taranaki Street and are between Shed 22 and Circa Theatre. There are three gateposts across the width of the road, with the gates opening away from the wharf. Smaller, pedestrian gates flank this vehicle gateway. The gates are no longer used as barriers; instead electronic bollards are positioned across its centre to regulate vehicle traffic. The Taranaki Street Wharf gates were cast by W. Cable & Co. in 1907.
Queens Wharf gates and fencing constructed
Shed 21 posts and gates constructed
Taranaki Street Wharf gates constructed
Waterloo Quay gates and fencing constructed
Lantern style lights fitted to some gate posts
Portions of gates and railings removed to storage facility
20th June 2012
Report Written By
Karen Astwood, Barbara Fill
Grahame Anderson, Fresh about Cook Strait, an appreciation of Wellington Harbour, Wellington, 1984
Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897
Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.1, Wellington, 1897
16 April 1992, 20 April 1992
David Johnson, Wellington Harbour, Wellington, 1996
Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
Te Whanganui a Tara me ona takiwa: Report on the Wellington District, WAI 145, Wellington, 2003
W L Newnham. Learning Service Achievement: Fifty Years of Engineering in New Zealand, New Zealand Institute of Engineers, Wellington, 1971
Wellington Harbour Board, 1923
Wellington Harbour Board, Wellington Harbour Board Handbook, Wellington, 1923
A fully referenced registration report is available from the Central Region of NZHPT, on request.
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.