Kau Point Battery

Kau Point, Miramar Peninsula, Wellington

  • Kau Point Battery.
    Copyright: New Zealand Defence Force. Date: 1/01/2002.
  • .
    Copyright: New Zealand Defence Force.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7542 Date Entered 25th June 2004

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City/District Council

Wellington City

Region

Wellington Region

Legal description

Pt Sec 2 District Watts Peninsular, Wellington Land District

Location description

Note: Miramar Peninsula was formerly known as Watts Peninsula.

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Constructed in 1891 to support Wellington's main coastal defence site at Fort Ballance, the Kau Point Battery is a rare remaining example of an unmodified battery constructed to protect New Zealand from attack after the second Russian scare of 1885.

In the 1870s and 1880s, prompted by growing fears of a Russian invasion, and the increasing realisation that New Zealand could no longer rely solely on either the British navy or the country's isolation for protection, the New Zealand Government purchased long-range weapons and began implementing the construction of coastal defences. The battery at Kau Point was constructed in 1891 to support Fort Ballance, then the primary point of defence against attack in Wellington's inner harbour. The battery consisted of a single, circular gun emplacement with an 8-inch, 13 ton BL disappearing gun mounted on a MkII HP mount. It was supported by a brick magazine store for ammunition, and a semi-circular pit that served as an observation post, and a telephone room. The telephone room allowed the battery to function as Wellington's first military site to coordinate the communication of its Fire Command Officer via telephone.

During the first World War, Fort Dorset became Wellington's main bastion of defence against attack. Despite this, Fort Ballance and its supporting batteries remained operational throughout the War. In 1922 the gun at Kau Point was decommissioned and removed. The site was then used solely as an ammunition store, and from 1942 served the new emplacement at Mount Crawford Anti Aircraft Battery on the next promontory of the peninsula. The fort fell into disuse after the Second World War and, now surplus to army requirements, is not maintained.

Kau Point is of national historical importance. Identified by experts as one of 21 sites thought to be the most significant or best representative examples of New Zealand's coastal defence sites not already registered, the battery is a relatively intact example of a gun emplacement constructed to house 8-inch guns in preparation for a Russian naval invasion in the late nineteenth-century. It is part of a wider network of coastal defences erected during this period and its construction reflects a move towards New Zealand independence from the Crown. It is one of the three original Fire Command Posts used in New Zealand to coordinate communication between coastal defences via the newly invented telephone. It has archaeological significance and considerable potential to educate the public on New Zealand's defence history.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

Kau Point Battery is a highly significant historical site. It was designed and constructed in the late nineteenth-century when the New Zealand Government finally came to terms with the fact that, as an independent colony, it could not rely solely on Britain for protection. As such it is tangible evidence of New Zealand's first step towards independence from the British Crown. It was one of a number of defences constructed during of period of intense 'Russophobia'. This affliction had infected the British colonies of Australia and New Zealand from the 1860s onwards, causing their governments to fear an impending attack by Russia. It became particularly virulent in 1876 and 1885 when the threat of a war between Britain and Russia appeared imminent. The time and money poured into the construction forts such as Kau Point bears testimony to the strength of the fear generated by this perceived threat.

Kau Point Battery is also historically significant as one of the three original Fire Command Posts used in New Zealand to coordinate communication between coastal defences via the newly invented telephone. The use of ten telephones rather than one provides insight into the state of the technology at the time. It was Wellington's first Fire Command Post and functioned in this capacity until 1899. As such the Kau Point Observation Post Telephone Room stands as a marker in New Zealand's history of communication.

As a well-preserved example of one of New Zealand's fortifications from the period of the 'Russian scares' the Kau Point Battery has great physical significance. Described as the 'most important single defensive structure' on the Miramar Peninsula, the 1891 layout of the fort is largely unaltered and a good impression of the original, nineteenth century fort remains. The care taken with the sign-writing in the telephone room is an unusual decorative feature.

The site is of considerable archaeological interest and its value and has been acknowledged by the New Zealand Archaeological Association (NZAA). The gun pit and entrance to the underground installation (magazine), which were and remain partially covered over, were assessed by archaeologist Tony Walton on 4 December 1989. As the battery was constructed prior to 1900, the whole of the area covered by this registration qualifies as an archaeological site under the Historic Places Act 1993. Of particular archaeological interest is the embankment at the front of the gun pit where the original 8-inch gun was buried.

Kau Point Battery was not assessed for social, spiritual, traditional and/or cultural significance or value.

a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history

The Kau Point Battery is one of just 14 sites in New Zealand selected by experts for registration following a national thematic study of New Zealand's coastal defence networks. The 14 sites selected were considered to be the most significant or the best representative examples of the country's heritage of coastal defence sites. Kau Point was considered to be important both as a representative site and as a rare example of a Fire Command Post. It is a representative example of the gun emplacements constructed to house Jervois' 8-inch guns during preparations for a Russian naval invasion in the late nineteenth-century. Still relatively intact, the site is suitable for study, and continues to convey a clear picture of the way the fort functioned during its operational period. The history of the site, and its use as a storage facility for ammunition, is representative of the fate of many of the earlier coastal defence sites. The Kau Point Battery also has intrinsic significance as one of the first three Fire Command Centres in New Zealand in which communication with other bases was made via the telephone.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history

The Kau Point Battery is associated with the 'Russophobia' that spread among British colonies in the late nineteenth-century, and reflects the strength and impact of this phenomenon in New Zealand. The Battery also reflects the impact of Lieutenant-General William Jervois (1821-1897) on the development of New Zealand's coastal defence. Jervois was responsible for the country's adoption of both the 6 and 8-inch disappearing guns, which were not standard issue and were generally not used outside areas of Jervois' influence. The Kau Point Battery was one of three sites specifically designed to hold the three 8-inch disappearing guns ordered on his recommendation after the second Russian Scare in 1885.

(c) The potential of the place to provide knowledge of New Zealand history

The Kau Point Battery retains the potential to provide knowledge of New Zealand history. The original gun was buried on the site in 1922. The gun emplacement was partially buried in the 1950s, and the whole site has remained largely undisturbed in recent years. Archaeologically the site remains, for future generations, an irreplaceable source of information on New Zealand coastal defence in both the late nineteenth, and the first half of the twentieth-century.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The Kau Point Battery has considerable educational potential. The preservation of the majority of the defences, the magazines the military road, and the observation post provides a clear picture of the role of the various structures and how they worked together to form an operational fortification. The careful planning and detail evident at Kau Point is a powerful and tangible lesson in the history of New Zealand coastal defence. In addition, the telephone room provides a rare illustration of the New Zealand response to the rapid and continuing developments in military technology that characterised the first half of the twentieth century.

(g) The technical accomplishment or value, or design of the place

Although based on plans similar to that used on batteries defending Auckland's North Head, the Kau Point Battery is of value for its design. It is relatively intact and the construction of the brick magazine within the hills on the site, and the early use of reinforced concrete as a building material at the Kau Point Battery provide insight into the strength of the firepower the battery was designed to withstand.

(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places

The Kau Point Battery was one of the first three Fire Command Posts to use telephone communications in New Zealand after the telephone was introduced in the early 1890s. The Observation Post, which contains the telephone room and is the only post to have survived on the Miramar peninsula, is in tact. On its walls the trompe l'oeil signs bearing the names of the other forts in Wellington provide physical evidence and insight into the use of the room and the operation of the post.

(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape

The Battery at Kau point is part of the nationwide landscape of coastal defence sites. It was one of a number of forts erected in the late nineteenth-century to defend New Zealand's main ports from naval attack by Russian invaders. The fort is also an integral part of the landscape of coastal defences constructed around Wellington harbour during this period. In use for over 60 years, it was one of two forts erected to assist Fort Ballance in defending Wellington's inner harbour from a naval attack and was connected to both sites via a military road. From 1893 to 1899, the site was the Fire Command Officer's central communications centre, and was connected to each of Wellington's coastal defence sites via what appears be a purpose built room designed to house that new piece of technology - the telephone. Separate telephones on the wall of the structure allowed direct contact with each fort. The Kau Point Battery remained an integral part of the coastal defence network during World War II, when its magazine was used to store extra ammunition for the newly constructed Anti-Aircraft Battery at Mount Crawford.

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Historical Narrative

Two scares of war between Russia and Britain, in 1876 and again in 1885, prompted British colonial governments to prepare for the possibility of a Russian invasion. In New Zealand, the scares forced the government to acknowledge that they could not rely solely on either British troops or the country's isolation for protection. Following discussions with the British government, a number of Rifle Muzzle Loading (RML) guns were purchased. The guns arrived in the country in 1878.

Four years later, in 1880, Colonel Scratchley of the Australian armed forces recommended the construction of a system of coastal defences to protect New Zealand's main ports from a naval attack. In 1883 Lieutenant-General William Jervois (1821-1897) was appointed governor of New Zealand. An acknowledged expert on coastal defences, Jervois recommended that New Zealand supplement the ordnance acquired in 1878 with non-standard, modern six-inch and eight-inch guns. In 1884 Major Henry Cautley was commissioned to design fortifications to house both the R.M.L guns purchased in 1878, and the 6 and 8 inch guns recommended by Jervois, which were purchased the following year in 1885.

In accordance with Cautley's recommendations, Wellington's primary point of defence was constructed in 1885 on the former site of Te Mahanga Pa and named Fort Ballance after John Ballance, the then Minister of Defence. In the event of war Fort Ballance was to prevent enemy ships entering the inner harbour and provide covering fire for the minefield between Gordon Point and Ward Island. It was to be supported by nearby positions at Kau Point and Point Halswell and was connected to both via a military road. The outer harbour was protected by another series of forts including Fort Kelburne near Ngauranga, Fort Buckley at Kaiwharawhara, and Fort Thorndon at Pipitea Point.

Construction of the battery at Kau Point commenced in 1891. At that time civilian engineer Arthur Dillon Bell was responsible for coastal defences and it is likely that he oversaw the construction of the site. Just who was responsible for constructing Kau Point remains unclear. However, shortages of funds meant that the majority of batteries were constructed using unemployed labour relief and prison labour.

The battery at Kau Point was designed to house one of a number of the eight-inch guns ordered on Jervois' recommendation, and the emplacement was loosely based on plans used for the batteries defending Auckland's North Head. The gun was installed in May 1891 and its ammunition was stored in a brick magazine connected to the pit via a passageway. Approximately 35 metres away from the emplacement, an observation post was erected. This area featured a semi-circular emplacement and magazine store that was originally intended to house two guns that would 'deny beach landings, as well as fire on ships'.

To the rear of the emplacement is a telephone room. Telephones were available in New Zealand from the early 1890s and, replacing the flag, semaphore and signal gun methods, allowed for direct and rapid communication between military bases. According to historian Peter Corbett, centralised Fire Command Posts, which coordinated communications, were in existence in Auckland, Wellington and Lyttleton from 1893. The presence of the telephone room at Kau Point lends support to the theory that it was the first Fire Commander's Post for Wellington's defence sites. On the wall of the room are the names of each of the batteries around the harbour, under which telephones connecting the sites were originally located. If Kau Point was in fact the Fire Commander's Post, it functioned in this capacity no later than 1899, when a purpose-built post with 10 communication lines was completed at Fort Ballance.

In June 1891 the keys were officially handed over to the Permanent Artillery forces that manned the site. Although the main defence site at Fort Ballance was continually upgraded to keep abreast of artillery technology, by 1910 the increased firing range of enemy guns meant that defence of the coast, rather than the inner harbour became the primary concern. While Fort Ballance and its supporting batteries at Kau Point and Point Halswell remained operational throughout World War One, the newly constructed Fort Dorset became the bastion of Wellington's coastal defence.

In 1922 the gun at Kau Point was decommissioned and was dumped unceremoniously over the bank, where it remains buried. The site was then used solely as an ammunition store, and from 1942 served the new emplacement at Mount Crawford Anti Aircraft Battery on the next promontory of the peninsula. In 1943 a contact was let to roof the gun-pit to create extra storage space but this was never carried out. The fort fell into disuse after the Second World War and, now surplus to army requirements, is not maintained. The gun emplacement has been partially filled in with earth. Vandals have attacked the magazine, which remains accessible to the public. The observation post, hidden from view, has survived in relatively good condition.

Physical Description

Located on the cliffs above Kau Bay, the remains of the Kau Point Battery and Observation Post Disappearing Gun Fortification are hidden from public view, and are accessible via a steep climb from Massey Road.

Constructed in 1891 as one of a series of three 8-inch breach loading hydro-pneumatic installations designed to defend Wellington city, the site is similar in design to the North and South Batteries, North Head, Auckland, and consists of a number of remaining structures.

The central gun pit at the Kau Point Battery is a circular structure made from concrete. It was designed to house an 8-inch, 13 ton BL disappearing gun mounted on a MkII HP mount. The gun has now been removed and the emplacement partially filled in. The 8-Inch gun was tipped over the bank, and remains buried.

In front of the gun pit are the remains of the original military road that connected the site to Fort Ballance and Point Halswell. It is a dirt 'cut and fill' road.

Behind the gun pit is a passageway that links it to a brick magazine capable of storing up to 100 rounds of ammunition. Built into the hillside for protection from assault, the rectangular magazine contains the former artillery store, the casement store, shell store, and lamp room. In the ceiling the bricks are arranged to form arches between the railway lines that were used to reinforce the structure.

An observation post is located approximately thirty-five metres behind the battery and is hidden from public view. To the rear of this post is a telephone room. The telephone room features a vaulted ceiling. Painted on the rear wall of this room are the names of the other defensive positions on the peninsula. These names were painted with trompe l'oeil' technique to resemble marbled plaques hanging from the wall. Originally, below each name was a mounted telephone (now removed), which allowed for direct communication with each of the positions from the post. The post also features a half-round pit and small concrete chamber, which suggest the site was built to accommodate two guns, possibly Quick Fire Hotchkisses or Nordenfelts. It is unknown whether these guns were installed.

The caretaker's house / gunner's cottage that was originally attached to the emplacement has been destroyed.

Notable Features

The battery is a relatively intact example of a gun emplacement constructed to house 8-inch guns in preparation for a Russian naval invasion in the late nineteenth-century.

A semi-circular pit served as an observation post, and a telephone room. The telephone room allowed the battery to function as Wellington's first military site to coordinate the communication of its Fire Command Officer via telephone. It is one of the three original Fire Command Posts used in New Zealand to coordinate communication between coastal defences via the newly invented telephone.

Construction Dates

Other
1945 -
Abandoned

Other
1950 -
Filled in

Original Construction
1891 -

Other
1922 -
Eight inch gun decommissioned

Construction Details

With the exception of the magazine, which is made from brick reinforced with steel railway lines, the primary material used on the structures at the Kau Point Battery is reinforced concrete.

Completion Date

31st August 2004

Report Written By

Rebecca O'Brien

Information Sources

Adkin, 1959

GL Adkin, 'The Great Harbour of Tara', Wellington, 1959

Archaeology in New Zealand

Archaeology in New Zealand

No.33, Vol. 2 (1990), pp. 87-99; No.37, Vol. 2 (1994), pp. 111-131

Barrett, 1981

G Barrett, 'Russophobia in New Zealand 1838-1908', Palmerston North, 1981

Cooke, 2000

P. Cooke, Defending New Zealand; Ramparts on the Sea 1840-1950s, Wellington, 2000

Corbett, 1996 (2)

P. Corbett, 'Coast Defences in New Zealand 1876-1958; An historical overview', 1996 (copy held by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust)

Fox, 1893

Lieutenant-Colonel F J Fox, 'Report on The New Zealand Defence Works and Armaments', Part II, Wellington, 1893

Kelly, 1998

M. Kelly, 'Kau Point Battery', papers and photographs prepared for the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, 1998

McGibbon, 2000

I McGibbon, 'The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History', Oxford, 2000

Mitchell, 1995

J Mitchell, 'The Disappearing Guns of Auckland: The History and Archaeology of the forts of Auckland Harbour', Thesis in fulfilment of Doctor of Philosophy in Anthropology, Auckland University, 1995

Mitchell, 1997

J Mitchell, 'Coastal Fortifications In New Zealand 1840-1925', A paper given at the Department of Conservation for the New Zealand Coast Defence Heritage National Workshop, Wellington, 12-13 April 1997 (copy held by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust)

New Zealand Mail

New Zealand Mail

'The Defences of the Colony, Colonel Scratchley's Report', 17 July 1880, p.18; 'Visit to the Defence Works', 5 March 1886, p.15.

Wellington City Magazine

Wellington City Magazine

Walzl, T., 'Fortified Wellington; The Guns that Never Spoke in Anger', November 1986, pp.40-49

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central Region office

Kau Point was named after a kainga located in Kau Bay, to the immediate northwest of Kau Point, named Kau-whakaara-waru. The kainga was shown on Elsdon Best's 1916 map of Maori sites and was recorded by S. Percy Smith as a kumera plantation site. Traces of the kainga (in the form of a midden) were still visible in 1955. The gun emplacement is some distance from the site of the kainga and the kainga is not included in the land area covered in this 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.