Battery Point Battery Historic Area

Old Dump Road, Lyttelton

  • Battery Point Battery Historic Area. Plan of Historic Area from registration report..
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Date: 25/06/2004.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Area Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7553 Date Entered 25th June 2004

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Extent of List Entry

Battery Point Battery historic area comprises of some 20 coastal defence structures including gun emplacements, search light emplacements, battery observation posts, an engine room, magazine and war shelter.

City/District Council

Christchurch City

Region

Canterbury Region

Legal description

RS 41609 (CT CB25K/493), Pt RS 130 (CT CB782/26), RS 39684 (CT CB9A/1217), RS 41918 &RS 41877 (CT CB27F/680), RS 40209 (CT CB11K/1455). All situated in Block 1, Pigeon Bay Survey District.

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Battery Point is the only site in Canterbury where coastal defence structures were set up to protect the country against three different threats of invasion, during the 1880s Russian scare, World War I and World War II. From the 1880s this site was recognised as a key position to guard the inner approach to Lyttelton harbour, with the guns emplaced here to function in conjunction with those on Ripapa Island. Both sites were re-commissioned during the two world wars as the inner harbour's principal defence, but from 1939 a further coastal battery was located at Godley Head to protect the entrance to the harbour.

On this promontory, which slopes steeply down to the water's edge, the three layers of historical use are still discernable with structures remaining from each era, though the World War I features are minor. Mechanical components, armaments and camp buildings have all been removed and one of the 1880s RML (rifled muzzle loading) gun pits has been covered over. Some 20 specific items have been identified and they include gun emplacements, searchlight emplacements, a battery observation point, engine room, magazine and war shelter. The site was never the scene of enemy engagement. [The most notable incident occurred in October 1939 when a local fishing point, Dolphin, did not properly identify itself and the warning shot from No. I gun accidentally killed two crewmen].

Battery Point Battery is Canterbury's only example of Victorian defence structures remaining alongside those from World Wars I and II and it provides a significant demonstration of the defence measures taken during these three differing times with typical features from each.

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Historical Significance or Value

This area was used as a key defence point for the protection of Lyttelton harbour in three periods, the Victorian "Russian Scare" of the 1880s, World War I and World War II. The installations then continued in use for Compulsory Military Training purposes until 1957, with updated guns provided for the final two years.

Having been used for gunnery practice since 1865, Battery Point had an association with the military for 92 years. This gives it special significance as a coastal defence site in the context of Canterbury's and New Zealand's military history.

The remnants which remain from the World War II usage

provide a fine demonstration of the measures taken around New Zealand's coast to defend the country from invasion.

NZAA site number: S84/171. The whole of Battery Point, including both pre and post 1900 structures and sites, is recorded as an archaeological site.

Battery Point has technological significance because of the features of its military usage which have survived here. The structures and sites which remain over the area provide an illustration of the defence systems employed in the three differing periods of its use, at times when it was thought that the country's invasion was imminent.

A detailed written account of the fort's operation during World War II is provided in the Fort Record Book held at Archives New Zealand, Christchurch. It contains full technical details relating to the operation of the guns, etc. maps and photos.

An understanding of the site's past can be gained through examination of the structures remaining here and also from written records. The area illustrates the concerns felt during the three periods when the battery was in operation and the war efforts made by the government and the population at large. One aspect of the World War II history of Battery Point was the frustration felt by the young people who were stationed here. It was generally felt that though they were serving their country, they really wished to be "in action" rather than undertaking routine duties here.

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Historical Narrative

This small promontory on Lyttelton Harbour was the location for practice gunnery by local Artillery Volunteers from 1865-75 and its name came from this usage. It was identified as a suitable defence site in 1884 and two 7-inch 7-ton RML (rifled muzzle loading) guns were mounted here in barbette emplacements in 1885 in response to the scare of war with Russia. At this time the programme to defend Lyttelton Harbour also included the fortification of nearby Fort Jervois on Ripapa Island. The island, located near the southern side of the harbour, provided excellent views out to the harbour entrance and these were complemented by the views from Battery Point which projected into the harbour from its northern side. With guns placed in these two positions it was hoped that enemy ships could be prevented from reaching the harbour and gaining access to the interior.

No.1 gun was placed near the coastline 17 metres above sea level, while No.2 was some 60 metres further up the steeply sloping hillside. In this upper region were the Battery Observation Post and a magazine/store shed. Accommodation for 15 men was provided by the lower gun emplacement with a more substantial barracks block for 60 men higher on the hillside towards Lyttelton. A searchlight was considered necessary to ensure the battery could function at night and eventually one was sited below the lower gun position. (See Map, Attachment 4) Although concern over a Russian threat waned, the battery was maintained until 1910 when the guns were declared obsolete and were sold.

When World War I brought renewed concerns for the defence of the harbour Battery Point was used as a Coast Artillery Searchlight Station from 1914-18. Power was supplied by a horizontal steam engine for the two LCD lights. However, it was 1919 before two 6 pounder Nordenfelt QF guns from Fort Jervois were mounted here. They were sited above and below the lower RML pit, remaining until 1925 when they were taken to Wellington. The searchlights and the steam engine plant were also removed and the defence reserve land was leased for grazing.

In the years preceding Word War II when coastal defence plans were again in preparation, Battery Point was once more identified as a suitable site. Initially focus was on the defence of Wellington and Auckland harbours and then attention was given to the places considered of lesser significance. It was decided that two 4-inch BL Mk. VII guns be placed here and a contractor embarked on their installation and the upgrading of the site in February, 1939. Because of the difficult terrain he first built a winch and trolleyway down the 92 metre drop from the road to the two battery positions. (See map, Attachment 5) Included in the contract were a magazine, engine room and war shelter. The 4-inch guns were not ready until just a few days after the outbreak of war with the fort then promptly manned by Special Reservists, mostly young men under 21 years. Battery Point was designated as an examination battery, its role to check each vessel entering the harbour. Any vessel not observing the correct identification procedures would have a warning shot fired across its bows. Failure to respond to this warning would result in the vessel itself being fired on.

In the Fort Record Book, compiled by the Battery Commander towards the end of W.W.II it is stated, "The fort has the role of Examination Service and Close Defence and is required to prevent the entrance of raiders either surface or submerged and must be prepared to engage 'blockers'".

[On 12th October, 1939, in the early days of keeping watch on harbour activities, a local fishing boat, Dolphin, did not properly identify itself and the warning shot fired from No.1 gun accidentally killed a crewman]. This was the most notable incident of the war years.

A crew of eight was required for each gun and initially accommodation was provided for five officers and 96 other ranks. A house for the District Gunner was built in 1939-40 over the upper 1880s RML gun pit, which served as its basement. The 1880s BOP which had been enlarged for modern equipment was now in use again. Two Bren AA light machine guns were placed in a weapons pit alongside the BOP to increase the site's defence capabilities. Two searchlights were positioned by the coastline in 8ft high concrete emplacements. The 4ft 8-inch high apertures at the front were protected by 20 ft wide steel shutters. By 1942 the open gun emplacements had overhead protection provided by "Colchester" type covers.

Regimental Headquarters was at Battery Point until 1941 when it transferred to the camp at Godley Head. By September 1941, 151 people were stationed here, including 49 WAACs who undertook many of the duties. The principal camp buildings, located on the terraces which had earlier been occupied by the original battery, were officers' and sergeants' quarters, recreation rooms, cookhouses, ablutions, drying rooms and dormitories. In June 1943, with the presence of US forces in the Pacific, the immediate threat of invasion was reduced and the battery went on a "Care and Maintenance" regime with reduced staffing.

At the end of the war the guns and range finders continued to be maintained and cared for and were then used extensively as part of Compulsory Military Training activities through the 1950s. The 4-inch guns were dismantled in 1955 and more modern weapons (3.7inch guns) replaced them for the two further years of this site's usage. When the searchlights were taken away in December 1957 Battery Point's defence role, begun in the 1880s, finally ended. Although stripped of the armaments and the camp buildings, there are many solid reminders of the past. The two World War II gun emplacements remain as do the two 1880s examples. The upper one, which had the gunner's house built over it in 1939-40, is now revealed again as the house was recently destroyed as an exercise for the local fire brigade. The lower RTL gun pit is intact underground as the site has been filled in. Also surviving are the BOP, magazines, engine room, latrines and barrack terraces.

When military usage for the site had ceased ownership of the area was transferred to the Lyttelton Port Company. Quarrying of the original cliff faces provided the company with material for port improvements and created a level area now used for coal storage prior to its export.

Physical Description

From the Lyttelton/Sumner Road the land included in the historic area is a steep, rugged slope running down to the sea, with small spaces levelled out to accommodate the defence structures. Most of the coastline is rocky and inaccessible, the searchlight emplacements built into cliff faces.

In the 1880s the structures were quite widely spread with the barracks close to the Lyttelton Sumner Road and the two gun emplacements at two levels further east. (See map appendix 5.) All that remains now of the barracks is the terrace on which they were located. The upper gun RML emplacement is revealed again on the hillside since the 1939/40 gunner's house which was built over it has been demolished, while the intact lower RML emplacement was buried to provide level ground as part of the World War II upgrading of the site. The 1880s BOP, (modified in 1939) survives intact and the sites of the magazine, store and searchlight from that period are identified. In World War I minor modifications were made for mounting the 6 pr guns close to the lower RML emplacement, and then in World War II a more structures were added covering a greater proportion of the land once more.

The range of World War II camp buildings were timber with fibrolite roofs, all single storeyed except the officers' and sergeants' quarters. Local volcanic stone or concrete was used for retaining walls and the defence structures were of reinforced concrete.

Current Physical Condition:

Modifications were made to 1880s structures in W.W. II. The concrete remnants have generally survived well and as this area has not been open to public access, vandalism has been avoided.

Construction Dates

Completion Date

1st September 2004

Report Written By

Pam Wilson

Information Sources

Archives New Zealand (Chch)

Archives New Zealand (Christchurch)

Fort Record Book, Battery Point, held in Christchurch.

Buckley, 1984

D. A. Buckley (ed), 'Godley Head and Battery Point: A History of Coastal defence during World War II', Ministry of Defence, 1984

Cooke, 2000

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

Department of Conservation

Department of Conservation

Files, photos and records, conversations with DOC staff, Christchurch Office.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT)

New Zealand Historic Places Trust

Kelly, Michael, Original nomination form. 1998

Other Information

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.

Historic Area Place Name

1880's 7 inch RML emplacement
1880's 7 inch RML emplacement, buried during Second World War
1880's and Second World War Barracks Terrace (North End)
1880's and Second World War Barracks Terrace (South End)
1880's Battery Observation Post (BOP)
1880's Battery Observation Post, modified during Second World War
1880's Magazine
1880's Magazine and store
1880's Sentry Post
Second World War Barracks Terrace (North End)
Second World War Barracks Terrace (South End)
Second World War Engine Room
Second World War Gun Emplacement E 1
Second World War Gun Emplacement E 2
Second World War Latrine
Second World War Latrines
Second World War Magazine
Second World War Searchlight E 2
Second World War Shelter
Second World War Tunnel to Searchlight E 1 and SE 1