Blackett's Lighthouse

Benvenue Avenue, Timaru

  • Blackett’s Lighthouse, Timaru. After relocation.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Dave Margetts. Date: 10/01/2011.
  • Blackett's Lighthouse. Image courtesy of vallance.photography@xtra.co.nz.
    Copyright: Francis Vallance. Taken By: Francis Vallance. Date: 18/01/2012.
  • Blackett's Lighthouse. Before relocation. Original image submitted at time of registration.
    Copyright: NZHPT Field Record Form Collection. Taken By: A E McEwan. Date: 1/03/1989.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 2044 Date Entered 11th December 2003

Locationopen/close

Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Pt Opukuorakaitauheke Maori Reserve 884 (Railway NZ Gazette 1874, p282), Canterbury Land District and the structure known as Blackett's Lighthouse thereon, and its fittings and fixtures. The extent of the land included in the registration is the immediate land upon which the lighthouse sits, at the eastern end of Benvenue Avenue, with a two metre buffer in each direction around the base of the lighthouse. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Timaru District

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Opukuorakaitauheke Maori Reserve 884 (Railway NZ Gazette 1874, p282), Canterbury Land District.

Location description

Blackett’s Lighthouse has no direct street address. It is located set back towards the cliffs from the eastern end of Benvenue Avenue, Timaru.

Summaryopen/close

Blackett’s Lighthouse, relocated in November 2010 to the eastern end of Benvenue Avenue, above the Benvenue Cliffs at Caroline Bay in Timaru, was built in 1877-8 to the designs of notable engineer, John Blackett. 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.

In 1876 John Blackett designed the lighthouse and while the Timaru Harbour Board favoured a stone structure, timber was eventually decided on for financial reasons. Originally erected in Le Cren’s Terrace (later renamed The Terrace), 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. After ten years of disuse Blackett’s Lighthouse was moved to a new site at Maori Park in 1980. 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 to make way for a new Caroline Bay Aquatic Centre at Maori Park.

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.

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. As a structure, the lighthouse illustrates the pivotal function lighthouses have played in the history of New Zealand.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

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.

Conclusion:

It is considered that this place qualifies as a Category II historic place.

Linksopen/close

Construction Professionalsopen/close

Blackett, John

John Blackett (1818-93) was one of New Zealand's leading nineteenth century civil engineers and the chief designer of many of the public works undertaken during the Vogel era. Born in Newcastle-on-Tyne, he served his apprenticeship with R. & W. Hawthorne, Engineers from 1834-40, and then became a draughtsman and office engineer with the Great Western Railway Company. In 1844 Blackett was made head engineer of a London firm of ship builders and railway contractors, and from 1846 he worked for a copper mining company in Wales. Blackett established his own practice in 1849 but two years later he emigrated to New Zealand and settled near New Plymouth. In 1856 Blackett moved to Nelson where he was appointed Provincial Engineer in 1859. Six years later he became the first Commissioner for the West Coast Goldfields.

After a decade of working in the civil service at a provincial level John Blackett was appointed Marine Engineer and Acting Engineer-in-Chief for the Colony on 1 October 1870. As Marine Engineer, he was responsible for the design of twenty-five lighthouses which were erected during one of the most prolific periods of lighthouse construction in New Zealand. This achievement is considered to be his most significant contribution to engineering in this country, although his work for the Public Works Department was also very important, particularly as it related to the development of the national rail network. Engineer-in-Charge of the North Island Public Works Department from 1878, Blackett was promoted to the office of Engineer-in-Chief of New Zealand in 1884. In this capacity he ran the Engineering Branch of the Public Works Department until 1890 when he was appointed Consulting and Inspecting Engineer for the Colony, resident in London. Blackett returned to New Zealand just before his death in 1893 and he is remembered for the skill with which he realised the ambitious public works programmes fostered by Vogel and his successors.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

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.

Physical Description

Construction Professionals:

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.

Notable Features

This lighthouse houses a rear lead beacon.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1877 - 1878

Modification
1890 -
Light fuelled by gas rather than kerosene.

Modification
1920 -
Light changed to electricity.

Relocation
1980 -
Lighthouse relocated to Maori Park and used as rear lead beacon to guide ships into port

Relocation
2010 -
Lighthouse again relocated some 100 metres away from previous position, closer to the Benvenue Cliffs.

Construction Details

Timber, concrete, copper, glass

Completion Date

29th March 2011

Report Written By

Robyn Burgess

Information Sources

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.

Evison, 1993

Te Wai Pounamu, The Greenstone Island, Wellington, Aoraki Press

Gillespie, 1971

Oliver A. Gillespie, South Canterbury: A Record of Settlement, 2nd edn., Timaru, 1971

Hassall, 1955

Charles E. Hassall, 'A Short History of the Port of Timaru, 1852-1955, Timaru, 1955

pp. 61-63.

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’.

Taylor, 1952

W A Taylor, Lore and History of the South Island Maori, Christchurch, 1952

Other Information

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.