Historical Significance or Value
Blackett’s Lighthouse is one of only a small number of remaining timber lighthouses in New Zealand. It has historical value from its associations with the early development of Timaru Harbour and its close connection with notable marine engineer, John Blackett.
Blackett’s Lighthouse is historically significant as a prominent reminder of the role that shipping and coastal transport has played in the social and economic development of New Zealand. The lighthouse also has historical value for its association with the improvement of maritime safety in New Zealand waters. It was part of a programme of a major expansion of lighthouse provision from the 1860s to early 1880s. It is a reminder of the dangers faced by sailors and passengers during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The twice relocation of Blackett’s Lighthouse reflects a moving trend seen especially with a number of lighthouses around the country.
Aesthetic Significance or Value:
Blackett’s Lighthouse has aesthetic significance as a place that holds strong community meaning due to the physical and cultural qualities it possesses. Despite being relocated twice, in 1980 and 2010, its present and most recent relocation allows the form, scale, texture and material of this landmark feature in its seaside setting to be appreciated in a way similar to a work of art or sculpture.
Technological Significance or Value:
Blackett’s Lighthouse has technological value as it demonstrates the technical skill of the designer, John Blackett. As a structure, the lighthouse illustrates the pivotal function lighthouses have played in the history of New Zealand.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:
Blackett’s Lighthouse reflects an important aspect of New Zealand history, the safety provisions that were developed for vessels journeying around the coast. With the enormous seaboard and numerous capes and headlands, provision of navigation lights was vital to New Zealand's coastal shipping.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:
The lighthouse is associated with a major programme of lighthouse construction around New Zealand's shores during the 1860s, 1870s and early 1880s. It is closely linked with John Blackett, a prominent contributor to New Zealand's engineering history.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history:
Blackett’s Lighthouse has the potential to provide knowledge of shipping and coastal safety history in Timaru. It also has the potential to provide information about the design and function of timber lighthouses from the 1870s. It also has the potential to supply insights into the design work of engineer John Blackett.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for the place:
Both in its original position high on the cliff face of The Terrace in the centre of town, and later in its prominent relocated positions, Blackett’s Lighthouse has made a considerable contribution to the streetscape. The community has retained its strong sense of association with the place.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place:
The lighthouse has technical and design value as a specifically New Zealand response to an international building type. The structure’s design has value as a simple timber example of the tapering lighthouse form, enlivened by the decorated windows.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places:
Very few timber lighthouses survive in New Zealand, and even fewer on their original site. It is believed that seven of Blackett's 14 timber lighthouses survive on their original sites, with at least two others having been relocated. Blackett’s Lighthouse in Timaru is one of the relocated ones designed by John Blackett.
Summary of Significance or Values:
This place was assessed against, and found it to qualify under the following criteria: a, b, c, e, g, j.
It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.
At the time of first European contact, the area now known as Timaru was only sparsely populated. An early traveller noted Maori ‘plantations at the most valuable part of the bay [Caroline Bay]’ in 1848. Archaeological evidence places a small kainga on the northern headland of Caroline Bay (NZAA site K39/1). There were four headlands and three bays (Taitarakihi, Waimataitai, Caroline) providing a haven for waka travelling up and down the coast. Indeed the name Timaru is most likely a corruption of Te Maru, meaning a place of shelter. Shelter was needed in waters without any other safe landfall: Tuhawaiki for instance drowned in the vicinity of Timaru while on a sea journey north.
Following colonial settlement, under the terms of Kemp’s Deed, one of the reserves set aside for South Canterbury Maori in 1848-49 was a 20-acre site near Caroline Bay. Known as Reserve 884 (Opukuorakaitauheke or Upoko-o-Rakai-tauheke), a small area of this block was taken back in the early 1870s for the railway, and in the 1920s the Timaru Borough Council purchased the remainder. The main part of the former reserve, as purchased in the 1920s, was renamed Ataahua (beautiful place) by the borough, and the park there is known as Maori Park.
In 1856 the colonial Government established a town south of Caroline Bay at Timaru, as did members of the Rhodes family who bought parcels of land from hapu of Ngai Tahu in the early 1850s. These were combined into the borough of Timaru in 1868, which started developing the port and hinterland industries.
Timaru’s port has been an important aspect of the area’s development. Initially ships anchored off shore and unloaded cargoes directly onto the beach. In the 1870s steps were taken to create an artificial harbour by building breakwaters which created a deep water area for the wharves while sand was swept north to form the beach at Caroline Bay. A significant feature from the early days of port activity is the lighthouse.
The Timaru lighthouse is one of at least 14 lighthouses erected in New Zealand to the designs of John Blackett, the government’s Marine Engineer. The first ‘lighthouse’ in the port of Timaru was a tar barrel set alight when a ship was expected. This primitive device was replaced in 1863 by permanent lights erected on the cliff above the landing service building, but after ten years of operation these lights were publicly condemned and a third lighthouse was called for. In the following year the Canterbury Provincial Council voted £1,000 for the erection of a lighthouse and following some controversy it was decided to site the lighthouse near the harbour on Le Cren Terrace (later known as The Terrace).
In 1876 Blackett designed the lighthouse and while the Timaru Harbour Board favoured a stone structure, timber was eventually decided on for financial reasons. The lighthouse first came into use on 1 July 1878. It was fitted with a kerosene light, replaced by gas in 1890, then by an electric light in 1920. In 1948 a flashing light was installed, guiding ships entering the port until March 1970 when new port lights were erected above Dashing Rocks.
Blackett’s Lighthouse was moved to a new site at Maori Park in 1980 after ten years of disuse. When it was moved to Maori Park it became the rear lead beacon for a navigational system which had been erected above the Benvenue Cliffs in 1907.
In November 2010 the Blackett’s Lighthouse was again moved, this time several hundred metres away, down the street, across the rail track and closer to the sea at a site on the Benvenue Cliffs. While the new site means that the lighthouse is no longer at Maori Park, the land it has been relocated to is a parcel of Railway land, part of the original Native Reserve 884. The 2010 relocation was deemed necessary as a new Caroline Bay Aquatic Centre is being built close to the site where the lighthouse had stood since 1980. NZHPT supported the move.
Contextual Analysis: Early New Zealand Lighthouses :
The history of lit navigational aids in New Zealand began in the early 1830s, when a beacon was erected at Maketu in the Bay of Plenty. In the early years of the colony, inbound vessels frequently had difficulty in identifying ports due to a lack of navigational aids, and shipwrecks were common. During the 1850s and early 1860s, permanent lighthouses were erected by the Wellington and Nelson Provincial Councils, including an imported cast iron structure at Pencarrow in 1858-59 - the earliest permanent lighthouse in New Zealand. In 1861, a countrywide approach was outlined to provide the coast with thirteen structures, together with five lights at other harbour entrances. This plan was adopted after responsibility for navigational aids was given to a national body, the newly-appointed Chief Marine Board (later the Marine Board of New Zealand), in 1862. The Board completed the construction of several new lighthouses, including the earliest stone examples, before becoming the Marine Department in 1866.
James Balfour, who had designed the stone lighthouse at Dog Island, was appointed Marine Engineer for the new department. He set about reforming the lighthouse service following the Scottish model with which he was familiar. In the interests of speed and efficiency, Balfour adopted a policy of erecting lighthouses in timber wherever possible. After his death in 1869, this policy was continued through the 1870s and into the early 1880s by John Blackett and Captain Robert Johnson. Blackett was responsible for engineering and technical duties, while Johnson, who had instigated the 1861 plan to provide national lighthouse coverage, was head of the department. Under their stewardship, the 1870s proved to be the peak decade of lighthouse construction in New Zealand, and by 1879 there were some 25 lighthouses guiding vessels around the waters surrounding New Zealand. A further six were erected in the early 1880s before economic depression contributed to a decline in construction activity. The last of the lighthouses completed during this period was the Kaipara North Head light.
Designed by Marine Engineer John Blackett (1818-93) in 1876 but construction deferred to 1877-8; Katherine W. Orr. 'Blackett, John - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10.
Physical Description and Analysis:
Blackett’s Lighthouse is situated in a coastal location near the edge of the Benvenue Cliffs, alongside a walkway 20 metres above sea level at Caroline Bay. It sits at the eastern end of Benvenue Avenue and has around half a dozen trees partly shielding the lighthouse from the ocean view. The GPS coordinates of the lighthouse are E146 0306 N50 83895.
The lighthouse is constructed in timber, clad with narrow kauri weather boards. The division of the two lower sections is indicated by a wide encircling board and then an x-braced timber balcony surrounds the upper section. The octagonal copper-clad lantern atop the structure has a metal handrail around its platform. The sash windows are decorated with pediments. In its present location it sits on a concrete pad.
This lighthouse houses a rear lead beacon.
1877 - 1878
Light fuelled by gas rather than kerosene.
Light changed to electricity.
Lighthouse relocated to Maori Park and used as rear lead beacon to guide ships into port
Lighthouse again relocated some 100 metres away from previous position, closer to the Benvenue Cliffs.
Timber, concrete, copper, glass
29th March 2011
Report Written By
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Dictionary of New Zealand Biography
Orr, Katherine W, 'Blackett, John - Biography', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 1-Sep-10.
Te Wai Pounamu, The Greenstone Island, Wellington, Aoraki Press
Oliver A. Gillespie, South Canterbury: A Record of Settlement, 2nd edn., Timaru, 1971
Charles E. Hassall, 'A Short History of the Port of Timaru, 1852-1955, Timaru, 1955
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
Registration Report Blackett’s Lighthouse, 2003 (File 12016-004).
New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
No.10, September, 1985.
New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA)
New Zealand Archaeological Association
New Zealand Archaeological Association Newsletter Vol 6 No 2, 1963, p95, ‘Dashing Rocks, Timaru’.
W A Taylor, Lore and History of the South Island Maori, Christchurch, 1952
759351 Notice declaring part Lot 2 DP 9031 herein (13a 1r 6p) to be a public reserve for the purpose of public recreation under the Public reserves, Domains and National Parks Act 1928 - 4.3.1969 at 2.30 pm.
Plans of the building are held by Port of Timaru Ltd.
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Southern Region Office.
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.