Point Halswell, Wellington
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Able to Visit
22nd November 1984
The Massey Memorial is located on Point Halswell, which is accessed via Massey Road, Wellington.
From its prominent position overlooking Wellington Harbour, the Massey Memorial has, since 1930, served as a unique reminder of Prime Minister William Ferguson Massey (1856-1925).
The memorial is located on Point Halswell, a site long associated with defence. Point Halswell, initially known as Rukutoa, was originally occupied by a Maori pa named 'Kai-tawharo'. The land was taken by the Crown in 1841 for 'public purposes' and renamed after Judge Edmond Halswell who had arrived in New Zealand that same year. From 1885 the site was used for the Halswell Battery and barracks, one of a number of coastal defence forts built to protect Wellington after the Crimean War from the threat of a Russian sea borne invasion. The battery was built and maintained by prison labour. In 1913 the site was leased by the Justice Department for use as a women's prison. The fort remained armed until the First World War when it was converted into a magazine.
Massey was New Zealand's Prime Minister throughout the First World War, and the only leader in the commonwealth who retained his position after the war. On Massey's death in 1925 Parliament passed the Massey Burial-ground Act, which allocated 0.8 hectares (two acres) of land for use as a burial ground for Massey and his widow, Christina Massey. The fort, which had remained unused for over eleven years, was converted into a crypt. The original gun-pit was lined with marble to serve as a vault for Massey and his wife. A temporary marble obelisk was erected over the gun-pit roof to mark the grave above ground until the present memorial was completed in 1930.
The Massey Memorial, visible from many parts of the city, is an outstanding feature of Wellington Harbour. The grand, classically influenced, marble structure was designed by Samuel Hurst Seager in conjunction with Auckland architects Gummer and Ford. It cost over £15,000, much of which was contributed by public donations. Seager was well known as a designer of memorials and was responsible for the design of the famous Chunuk Bair War Memorial. Following the completion of the Massey Memorial, Gummer and Ford were commissioned to complete numerous war memorials around New Zealand, including the National War Memorial in Wellington.
The main feature of the Massey Memorial is seven columns arranged in a semi-circle, topped by a curved marble block. A long paved marble walk leads back to the entrance of the crypt where an inscription lists the names of Massey and his wife. The memorial was originally to have been made entirely of Italian marble but, following protests from nationalistic members of Parliament, the architects settled on a base of Coromandel granite with the remaining structure composed of Kairuru marble from the Takaka quarry. Built by the firm of Hansford and Mills, the memorial traces the design of the original fort. The paved walkway marks the location of the underground magazine area that is now used as a passageway to reach the vault. The dome in the centre of the curved end marks the position of the 8 inch disappearing gun pit. The lower level of the fort, once used for shell and cartridge storage, remain intact under the memorial. During the Second World War the site was re-commissioned for defence purposes and the remains of an observation post can be seen on the terraces behind the Memorial.
The Massey Memorial has national significance as a memorial to William Ferguson Massey, a Prime Minister remembered for his staunch imperialism and governance of New Zealand throughout the First World War. It has great historical significance and potential educational value through its association with part of an early coastal defence system for Wellington Harbour. It is also an illustration of the pre-occupation with the virtues of the empire and the fashion for building elaborate and prominent memorials that characterised the early part of the twenty-first century. As a prominent Wellington landmark and an excellent example of the work of Samuel Hurst Seager, the Memorial also has great architectural significance. It demonstrates the careful siting and austere simplicity that characterised his work as New Zealand's official architect of war memorials. As an unusual conversion a former battery into a crypt, the Memorial has both rarity and technological value. Immaculately maintained, the highly visible landmark is an integral part of New Zealand's national defence and governance history.
Historical Significance or Value
The Massey Memorial has national significance as a memorial to William Ferguson Massey, a Prime Minister remembered for his staunch imperialism and governance of New Zealand throughout the First World War. It has great historical significance through its association with part of an early coastal defence system for Wellington Harbour.
As a prominent Wellington landmark and an excellent example of the work of Samuel Hurst Seager, the Memorial also has great architectural significance. It demonstrates the careful siting and austere simplicity that characterised his work as New Zealand's official architect of battle memorials. As an unusual conversion of a former battery into a crypt, the Memorial has both rarity and technological value.
The Massey Memorial has cultural significance as a testimony to public and governmental respect for their Prime Minister, William Massey, and as an example of the importance placed on New Zealand's link to the King and British Empire during the early twentieth century. Also significant is the fashion for the erection of elaborate memorials erected in New Zealand and around the world after the First World War to esteemed dead which influenced both the creation and design of the Massey Memorial.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of NZ history
The Memorial reflects the fashion for erecting elaborate permanent and highly visible monuments to New Zealand's honoured dead that was prevalent following the First World War. The Memorial reflects the strong links that were felt by many New Zealanders, including Massey, with the British Empire and the King during the early twentieth century.
(b) Association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
A number of prominent New Zealanders are associated with the Massey Memorial. The Memorial was built in honour of William Ferguson Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912 to 1925. Also buried on the site is his wife, Christina Massey, who was appointed a CBE in 1918 in recognition of her services to the empire. Architects well known for their skill in designing monuments and memorials, Samuel Hurst Seager and Gummer & Ford, were responsible for the memorial's design.
(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history
The Memorial is an important physical reminder of the Prime Minister William Massey and demonstrates the strong link to the King and Empire that was felt by many New Zealanders during the early twentieth century. The Memorial reminds New Zealanders that Massey continued to feel this link after the war, when many were weighing up the cost of loyalty in terms of their war dead. The location of the site, the remnants of fortifications, and the manner in which the memorial mirrors the battery below provide valuable insight into New Zealand defence history.
(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place
The Memorial, partially paid for by donations from the public, continues to hold a significant place in the public esteem. Long recognised as a site of great historic and heritage significance, the Memorial is listed on the Wellington City Council District Plan.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
Visited by a large number of people each year, the Memorial is a prominent landmark. The strong links to New Zealand's governmental, wartime and defence history make the site an interesting and valuable educational resource.
(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place
The Memorial has rarity and interest value through the incorporation of a nineteenth century battery into its design. The fort has been successfully converted to its new purpose without damaging the original materials or compromising the grandeur of the final monument.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
The Memorial has high symbolic and commemorative value as a monument built in honour of one of New Zealand's longest serving Prime Ministers.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement.
The Memorial structure covering the crypt was not completed until 1930. The fort over which it was built was constructed in 1886, and is an important link in understanding early concepts behind the defence of the Wellington coast.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The Memorial is the only known example in which a fort has been converted into a crypt.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The Memorial is an integral part of a wider historical landscape of New Zealand defence both as a monument to the Prime Minister responsible for governing New Zealand throughout the first World War, and through the continuing links of the site to Wellington's coastal defence network from the late 1880s through to the close of the Second World War. Designed by architects responsible for a number of memorials in New Zealand and around the world, the Memorial can be considered part of the trend prevalent in the western world after the First World War for erecting permanent stone monuments to esteemed dead.
Gummer & Ford
The architectural partnership of Gummer and Ford was established in 1923, and became one of national importance.
William Henry Gummer (1884-1966) was articled to W.A. Holman, an Auckland architect, and was elected as an Associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1910. In the period 1908-1913 he travelled in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States. During this time he worked for Sir Edwin Lutyens, leading English architect of the time, and for Daniel Burnham in Chicago. Burnham was a major American architect and one of the founders of the influential Chicago School of Architecture. Gummer joined the firm of Hoggard and Prouse of Auckland and Wellington in 1913. In 1914 he was elected a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Architects, was president of the Institute from 1933-34 and was later elected a life member.
Charles Reginald Ford (1880- 1972) was born in England and served in the Royal Navy. He was later with Captain Scott's 1901-1904 expedition to Antarctica. He trained as an architect working in Wanganui as an engineer. In 1926 he wrote the first treatise on earthquake and
building construction in the English language. Ford was president of the New Zealand Institute of Architects from 1921-22.
Buildings designed by the partnership include the State Insurance Building Wellington, (1940) the Dilworth Building (1926), the Guardian Trust Building and the Domain Wintergardens (1921 and 1928), all in Auckland, and the Dominion Museum (1936) in Wellington. Gummer and Ford were awarded Gold Medals from the New Zealand Institute of Architects for the designs of Auckland Railway Station and Remuera Library.
Gummer was one of the most outstanding architects working in New Zealand in the first half of this century and was responsible for the stylistically and structurally advanced Tauroa (1916), Craggy Range (1919), Arden (1926), and Te Mata (1935) homesteads at Havelock North.
Seager, Samuel Hurst
Seager (1855-1933) studied at Canterbury College between 1880-82. He trained in Christchurch in the offices of Benjamin Woolfield Mountfort (1825-1898) and Alfred William Simpson before completing his qualifications in London in 1884. In 1885, shortly after his return to Christchurch, he won a competition for the design of the new Municipal Chambers, and this launched his career.
Seager achieved renown for his domestic architecture. He was one of the earliest New Zealand architects to move away from historical styles and seek design with a New Zealand character. The Sign of the Kiwi, Christchurch (1917) illustrates this aspect of his work. He is also known for his larger Arts and Crafts style houses such as Daresbury, Christchurch (1899).
Between 1893 and 1903 Seager taught architecture and design at the Canterbury University College School of Art. He was a pioneer in town planning, having a particular interest in the "garden city" concept. Some of these ideas were expressed in a group of houses designed as a unified and landscaped precinct on Sumner Spur (1902-14). He became an authority on the lighting of art galleries. After World War I he was appointed by the Imperial War Graves Commission to design war memorials in Gallipoli, Belgium and France. In New Zealand he designed the Massey Memorial, Point Halswell, Wellington (1925).
Hansford and Mills Construction
No biography is currently available for this construction professional
The Massey Memorial is reached via a dirt track that winds up from Shelly Bay road to the top of Point Halswell. This track was originally cut in 1925 in preparation for the funeral of William Ferguson Massey. The entrance is marked with a small, easily missed, white sign. The memorial is located at the northern end of Point Halswell.
Spectacular harbour views can be seen to the west and south. Originally bare, the hillside around the memorial is now covered with native bush which frames the memorial but partially obscures it from the city and harbour. The caretakers' cottage and barracks that existed to serve the fort have been demolished and a grass lawn now covers their former sites. Terracing to the south of the memorial extends half way up the hill. The remains of a World War Two observation post can be found on one of these terraces.
The memorial has been impeccably maintained throughout its history and is in its original condition. In 1932 Massey's wife, Dame Christina Massey, was interred with her husband. Marble blocks above the entrance to the crypt were inscribed with their names and dates. While the Memorial and surrounding area are immaculately kept, the hill behind has become overgrown and is difficult to access.
Built on a base of granite approximately half a metre in height, the majority of the visible structure is composed entirely of marble. The first part of the Memorial approached by the visitor is the large marble block above the doorway to the crypt bearing the names of Massey and his wife. The doors were originally used to block the entrance to the fort.
Staircases on both sides of the doors lead the visitor to a long paved walkway formally decorated with native plants. At the end of the walkway are nine columns shaped in a semi-circle decorated with raised marble impressions. The central columns support a curved marble block. A copper impression of Massey is located on the central column underneath the words 'A Memorial of Loyal and Faithful Service to King and Country'. At the end of the paved walk, mirroring the circular shape of the columns, is a dome decorated with raised vine leaves.
The remains of the original fort and the foundations of buildings dating to the Second World War are valuable archaeological features, and add greatly to the historic and physical significance of the site. The conversion of the fort to the crypt was completed in preparation for Massey's burial in 1925. Although not accessible to the public, the crypt can be reached via the upper level passage ways of the original fort.
The tramway, used to transfer ammunition to the magazine, and the original defence doors still remain. The gun pit was lined with brown marble. Horizontal lines of white marble on the walls echo the lines that relieve the starkness of the marble sarcophagus, which is placed in the centre of the chamber. The lower level was formerly used as a shell and cartridge store and, although abandoned, remains intact. The lower level can be reached via a cartridge lift.
The registration covers the marble memorial above ground and the vault located in the former gun-pit.
The structure is associated with buried archaeolgical features from the nineteenth century defence fort and partially covered foundations and terraces from use of the site in the Second World War.
Halswell Battery and Barracks operational
Gun pit converted into a crypt
Temporary pyramidal marker erected
1941 - 1945
Fort recommissioned for military use
5th October 2002
Report Written By
P. Cooke, Defending New Zealand; Ramparts on the Sea 1840-1950s, Wellington, 2000
W. Gardner, William Massey, Wellington, 1969
L. Ward, Early Wellington, Wellington, 1928
New Zealand Statute
New Zealand Statute
Massey Burial Ground Act, 1925
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.