'Pioneer' Gun Turret and War Memorial

Roose Road And Riverbank Road, Mercer

  • 'Pioneer' Gun Turret and War Memorial.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Martin Jones.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 7647 Date Entered 24th March 2006

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Extent of List Entry

The registration includes part of the land in 'road reserve, at western end of Roose Road at junction with Riverbank Road' (as shown on Maps B and C in the Registration Report) and the gun turret, its fixtures and fittings thereon. The registered land encompasses an area measuring approximately 25 m. north-south x 12 m. east-west, and incorporates a grassed area between the southern kerb of Roose Road to the north, the base of a raised embankment to Riverbank Road to the west, and the western edge of the driveway to Mercer Fire Station to the east. The registration does not include any of the current carriageways of Roose Road and Riverbank Road, or the driveway to Mercer Fire Station.

City/District Council

Waikato District

Region

Waikato Region

Legal description

Road reserve, western end of Roose Road at junction with Riverbank Road

Location description

At the western end of Roose Road, at its southern junction with Riverbank Road. NOTE: On 1 November 2010 the boundaries of the Waikato District Council will expand to include places in Pokeno. From this date this registration should be treated as being within the Waikato District Council area.

Summaryopen/close

The Pioneer Gun Turret and War Memorial is internationally significant as one of the earliest surviving examples of revolving gun turrets in the world, and - along with its sister turret in Ngaruawahia - also the first to have been produced in the Southern Hemisphere. Located on the banks of the Waikato River in Mercer, the circular iron turret forms a major part of a memorial unveiled in 1922, to commemorate local soldiers who fell in the First World War (1914-18). The turret originally formed part of the colonial gunship Pioneer, an iron-clad sternwheel paddle steamer, built by the Sydney-based Australasian Steamship Company in 1863 for military operations in the Waikato. It was the first purpose-built warship commissioned by the colonial authorities in New Zealand, following a decision by the British naval authorities to transfer most of their New Zealand-based fleet to Sydney. The vessel is said to have been designed in Auckland, and saw important service during the Waikato - or third New Zealand - War (1863-64). This included transporting troops and supplies to the battlefields, reconnoitring enemy positions, and shelling defended pas, including during the battles of Meremere and Rangariri.

The Pioneer incorporated two revolving gun cupolas, based on a design by Captain Cowper Coles (1819-1870). Coles was a British naval officer, who is considered to have invented the spindle-less revolving gun turret in 1859. The cupola represented a major innovation in naval military technology, allowing gunships to fire in several directions without having to manoeuvre into a broadside position. The earliest vessel to use any form of revolving turret was the Monitor, used by the Union forces in the American Civil War in 1862. Coles' design was considered to be superior to that of the Monitor, and was first adopted by the Rolf Krake for the Danish Navy, followed by the Wivern for the American Confederate forces. These ships were respectively launched in Britain on 6 May and 4 July 1863, just before the Pioneer was completed in Sydney on 16 July. Other vessels were later launched for the British, Prussian and Peruvian navies, with Coles' design ultimately being superceded by those of his rival in the British admiralty, Edward Reed. Reed's designs were incorporated in the Destruction (1871), considered to be the first battleship of the modern era.

The Mercer gun turret was designed to include a 24-pound rotating artillery gun within a circular cupola measuring 3.6 m. in diameter and 2.4 m. high. Constructed of riveted iron plates, the cupola incorporated four artillery ports at regular intervals around its circumference, through which the gun could be fired. The turret also included 15 gunslits for rifle fire, believed to be a unique feature of the Pioneer. In late 1863 or early 1864, the turrets were removed from the vessel, probably to lighten its load, with that at Mercer said to have been used to incarcerate local drunks as the settlement developed into an important transport hub during the 1870s. The Pioneer itself sank on the Manukau Bar in 1866. In the early 1920s, the Mercer turret was converted into a memorial to local men who served in the First World War, and was unveiled by Lord Jellicoe on the first officially commemorated Anzac Day, in 1922. It is one of a small group of monuments created by local communities in the 1920s to also remember the New Zealand Wars. Surmounted by the figure of a soldier and placed on a concrete plinth, the memorial continued to be used for Anzac Day commemorations until the 1990s. It now incorporates a plaque remembering all those who died so that Mercer can be a place of peace.

The Pioneer Gun Turret and War Memorial is technologically important as one of the earliest surviving international examples of Cowper Coles' revolving gun cupolas, and as part of the earliest purpose-built gunboat designed for New Zealand conditions. It is the best-preserved of the two surviving turrets from the Pioneer, with the other being located at nearby Ngaruawahia. The turret is historically significant for its association with the British military conquest of the Waikato in 1863-64, and the development of the colonial New Zealand navy. The memorial has spiritual and social significance for commemorating those who served and died in the First World War and other conflicts, and as a place of annual gathering on Anzac Day for over three quarters of a century. The memorial is part of broader historical and cultural landscape that includes the Waikato River and the former military Great South Road.

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Historical Significance or Value

Context

The Pioneer Gun Turret and War Memorial is located in the western part of Mercer, close to the banks of the Waikato River. Mercer is a small township in Franklin district, some 50 km south of Auckland. The structure is situated on the southern side of Roose Road, at its junction with Riverbank Road. Roose Road formed the main street in Mercer until the town was bisected by the recent construction of dual carriageway connecting Auckland with Hamilton, and retains a small number of commercial buildings. The road was originally part of the military Great South Road, whose southern terminus at one time is likely to have been at the wharf immediately to the west of the site. Some remnants of the wharf appear to survive at river level.

The turret and memorial occupies flat ground within an unformed part of the road reserve, immediately to the northwest of a plot (Sec 56 Block III Town of Mercer) occupied by the local fire station. The monument overlooks a bend in the Waikato River, where the wharf once stood, immediately to the west of Riverbank Road. The structure is currently surrounded by flowering plants and a lawn - also largely contained within the registration - and is used as a place of contemplation. A late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century bay villa lies on an adjacent plot to the northeast.

Exterior

The gun turret is circular in plan, and sits on a low concrete plinth. The plinth is six-sided and contains a low iron chain railing close to its outer edge. There are four steps up to the monument on its eastern side, with the flat plinth top being sufficiently wide to allow full access around the outside of the turret structure. Access to the steps themselves is obstructed by a flower bed. The turret is surmounted by the near life-sized figure of a soldier.

The gun turret measures 3.6 m in diameter and is 2.4 m high. It has a circumference of approximately 11.7m. The turret has vertical sides and a slightly convex roof. It is constructed of 9mm-thick iron plates, riveted to an internal framework of narrow iron bands. The walls incorporate fifteen metal sheets and the roof ten smaller panels. The turret contains four square hinged openings near the base of the structure, on its northern, eastern, southern and western sides. These originally served as firing ports for a rotating artillery gun that was accommodated within the turret. The eastern aperture also incorporates an upper, hinged opening, allowing it to be used as a door. This was evidently part of the original design, incorporating the same heavy-duty hinges as the other apertures.

The turret further contains 15 gunslits, arranged equidistantly around the turret walls except for two closely spaced examples in the door on the eastern side of the turret. The vertical slits generally measure 150 mm wide x 610 mm high and are positioned approximately 1.2 m above floor level, at shoulder height for troops originally stationed inside the structure. All gunslits not above an artillery port have a side-hinged shutter, containing a yet narrower vertical aperture for greater protection against enemy fire, measuring 40 mm wide x 300 mm high. The shutter hinges are of the same heavy-duty type as used on the artillery ports. Gunslits above these ports are unshuttered but of the same narrower size as the shuttered examples elsewhere on the turret.

The soldier surmounting the turret faces towards the river, where the wharf was once located. Dressed in uniform with his jacket strapped on his back, the soldier stands with his feet together and his hands resting on the butt of a rifle, which stands on its end with its barrel at his feet. The soldier is supported from behind by an urn-like column with 'Mercer' inscribed on it.

There are five plaques on the turret. One lists all those from the Mercer area who died in the First World War (1914-18). A second plaque has a roll of honour, naming all those who from the area who served in the same conflict. A third plaque informs that gun turret was from the Pioneer, noting that it was built in 1873. These three plaques were attached to the turret when it was unveiled in 1922. Two plaques have been added to the turret at a later date. One of these corrects the construction date of the Pioneer, stating that it was built in 1863 and wrecked in 1866. The other commemorates all men who gave their lives to make Mercer a place of peace.

Interior

The interior of the gun turret can be seen through apertures in its side, and contains a central pole attached to top of the structure and its concrete base. Extensive rivetting used to hold separate iron plates together is clearly visible. Spots of corrosion exist on the walls, as well as graffiti.

Comparisons

The Pioneer gun turret at Mercer is one of only very few internationally remaining examples of the early 'Coles' gun turret design. The second turret from the Pioneer is located in nearby Ngaruawahia (NZHPT Registration # 756, Category II historic place) but, lacking its hinged gunslits and artillery port doors, is not as well preserved. The inclusion of gunslits on both of these turrets is unusual and appears to be internationally unique. The only other surviving naval turrets of Coles' design are likely to be on the slightly later Huascar, constructed in 1865 and converted into a museum ship in 1952. Other ships bearing turrets of Coles' design either sank (Captain 1870) or were scrapped (Arminus 1902, Rolf Krake 1907).

A few examples of early naval turrets of different design survive, including the turret from the Monitor, which sank in 1862 in the USA and was salvaged in 2002 for conservation. It housed two guns. The Cerberus, an Australian vessel built in 1867-70, was designed by Coles's contemporary, Edward Reed, with two turrets housing two guns each. The Cerberus was deliberately sunk as a breakwater in 1926 but remains visible at low tide. The Cerberus has been nominated for inclusion on Australia's National Heritage List.

The use of a remnant from the New Zealand Wars to commemorate the fallen from the First World War is extremely unusual.

The place has international technological significance as one of the earliest examples of Cowper Coles' revolving gun cupolas constructed for a naval vessel, and the best-preserved of the two earliest produced in the Southern Hemisphere. The turrets formed an important technological development in the history of modern warfare, allowing ships to fire in many directions rather than at broadside. The incorporation of gunslits on this turret and its companion at Ngaruawahia currently appears to be internationally unique.

Other than these New Zealand examples, only one other pair of Coles' turret design for naval vessels is believed to still exist above the waterline. This belongs to the slightly later Peruvian vessel, the Huascar.

The Pioneer Gun Turret and War Memorial has spiritual significance as a memorial for the fallen of the First World War, the New Zealand Wars and other conflicts. It also has social significance as the focus of Anzac Day commemorations in Mercer for approximately three quarters of a century.

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

The turret reflects important aspects of New Zealand history, including the role of military force in the colonization of New Zealand, and early steps in the formation of a colonial New Zealand navy. The place also demonstrates close links between New Zealand, Australia and Britain in the early colonial period.

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

The place is closely associated with important events, notably the New Zealand Wars and the First World War. The Pioneer was the largest and most powerful gunship in the Waikato flotilla, playing a significant role in the campaign, including transporting troops and supplies to the battlefields and being present at the battles of Meremere and Rangiriri.

The place is also significant for its association with the earliest formal commemoration of Anzac Day in New Zealand, and with Lord Jellicoe, who unveiled the monument in 1922.

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

The physical fabric of the place has the potential to provide information about the development of technology in New Zealand and the use of military hardware in the New Zealand Wars. It also has the potential to provide knowledge about the development of warships and warfare internationally.

The place also provides information about individuals who fought in the First World War, and about the appearance of military dress used at that time.

(e) The community association with, or public esteem for, the place

In 1922, members of the local community converted the turret into a war memorial to those who fought in the New Zealand Wars and World War I. The memorial was unveiled by the Governor General, Lord Jellicoe, attended by a large crowd. Until a few years ago, the memorial was the focus of annual Anzac ceremonies, which were well-attended by the local community. Members of the local community continue to visit the memorial and tend the surrounding gardens.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

The place has strong potential for public education, being located within a public road reserve, close to the main thoroughfare between Auckland and Hamilton. It has particular potential for its well-preserved nature, striking visual appearance and variety of historical associations.

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

The turret has international technical value for its innovative cupola design. The design was based on 'Coles' cupola, which became the forerunner of the modern gun turret used on warships. The place is the best-preserved of the two earliest examples of this design believed to have survived in the world. The turret is currently believed to be unique for incorporating gunslits within its design.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The place has strong commemorative value as a community memorial to the First World War, the New Zealand Wars, and to those who have died in other conflicts.

(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement

The turret dates to a very early period of Pakeha activity and settlement in the Waikato. It was placed in Mercer in late 1863 or early 1864, during the Waikato War and before Mercer became an established European settlement.

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

The place is a very rare international example of Coles' cupola design. Apart from its companion turret now located at Ngaruawahia, only one other pair is believed to survive above the waterline, on the Huascar in Peru. Very few examples of revolving cupolas of alternative design survive.

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

The place is part of a wider historical and cultural landscape, which incorporates the Waikato River, the likely remains of Mercer wharf, and the former military Great South Road, part of which is now known as Roose Road.

Summary of significance:

The Pioneer Gun Turret and War Memorial is recommended for Category I registration as a place of special or outstanding historical or cultural heritage value because:

It is the best-preserved of the two earliest revolving gun turrets of Coles design created in the Southern Hemisphere;

It is the best-preserved of the two earliest revolving gun turrets of Coles design believed to survive internationally;

It is a significant part of the first purpose-built warship commissioned by the New Zealand government;

It has important connections with the New Zealand Wars and subsequent conflicts.

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Construction Professionalsopen/close

Australasian Steam Navigation Company

Australasian Steam Navigation Company (1851-87)

The Australasian Steam Navigation Company was a large ship owning company, which was instrumental in developing early maritime trade within Australia and in the Pacific. Founded as the Hunter River Steam Navigation Company in Sydney in 1839, it initially running ships between Sydney and the Hunter River. It changed its name in 1851 and began operating in other parts of Australia. It also extended its services to the Pacific Islands and New Zealand, beginning a mail service between Melbourne and Wellington in 1858. By 1861, the ASNC had a fleet of 15 steamers. In 1887, the company changed its name again to the Australasian United Steam Navigation Company. It continued to operate a large fleet of ships until at least the Second World War (1939-1945).

Stewart, James

James Stewart

Stewart (1833-1914) was born and educated in Perthshire, where he served his engineering articles. He commenced practice in Auckland as a civil engineer in 1859, designing a water supply scheme that year that won him a £50 prize for design. In partnership with engineer Samuel Harding, Stewart surveyed the railway route from Auckland to Drury in 1862, when he was also appointed the first Engineer to Auckland City. On the outbreak of war in the Waikato in 1863, he went to Australia to purchase steamers that were to be used by the British forces as gunboats.

In 1864, he and Harding were appointed engineers for the construction of the Auckland to Drury railway. When work stopped for lack of finance in 1867, Stewart became Inspector of Steamers for the General Government. He designed the Bean Rock and Ponui Passage lighthouses before resurveying the Auckland to Drury railway in 1870. With the recommencement of construction of the railway line in 1872 and the proposed extension of the terminus to Mercer, Stewart was reappointed Resident Engineer. Within two years he was responsible for all railway works in the Auckland province and from January 1877 held responsibility for all road works north of Auckland.

Following staff retrenchments in 1881, Stewart left the Public Works Department to open a private practice in 1882 with Ashley Hunter. In this capacity, he was engineer for the company that built the Rotorua Railway, the Thames Valley Railway and Te Aroha County's tramways. In partnership with Hunter, he laid Auckland's electric tram network in 1896 and also designed the pumps for Calliope Dock.

Cowper-Coles

Cowper Coles (1819-70)

Coles was commissioned in the British Navy in 1838, rising to the rank of captain. He served in the Crimean War in the 1850s, where he developed the idea of a low-lying, shallow-draught ship designed for inshore or river combat. Coles extended his ideas after the war, and in 1859 invented the notion of shielded turntable guns for large ships. His ideas were trialled in Britain in 1860, but it was the success of the Monitor in 1861 - designed by John Ericsson but incorporating a shielded gun turret - that led to the widespread popularity of Coles' designs throughout the 1860s.

The Coles cupola, or turret, was subsequently used on warships around the world, including the Rolf Krake for the Danish Navy (1862-63), the Wivern and Scorpion (1862-63) initially for the American Confederate Navy, the Pioneer for the New Zealand colonial forces (1863), and the Prince Albert for the British Navy (1862-66). Turrets of a similar design were also used on land-based defences, such as those at Anvers, Belgium (1863).

Coles later competed with his colleague in the British Admiralty, Edward Reed, to design the best ocean-going warship bearing revolving turrets. In 1867-1870, the H.M.S. Captain was designed and built as a test platform for Coles' turret warship design. The vessel had turrets arranged on its centerline, and an exceptionally low freeboard. Also over-rigged, the vessel was blown over in a gale and sank on its maiden voyage, killing almost all the 499 men on board, including Captain Coles.

A stained glass window was erected in Westminster Abbey in 1871 to commemorate the sinking of the HMS Captain, while a brass on the floor remembers Captain Coles and his colleagues who died.

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Historical Narrative

The Waikato War and the commissioning of the Pioneer

The gun turret at Mercer is closely linked with the Waikato military campaign of 1863-64. During the campaign, British and colonial New Zealand authorities invaded an extensive area south of the colonial capital at Auckland. Tensions between settlers and Maori had increased during the 1850s, as resistance to land transfers in Taranaki and the Waikato grew. Demands for greater self-reliance by Maori led to the creation of organizations such as the Kingitanga movement in the Waikato under the leadership of Potatau Te Wherowhero. The colonial administrator, Governor Grey, began preparations for war in 1861, initially creating an efficient transport system for soldiers and supplies by constructing the Great South Road between Drury and Mercer. Consideration was also given to purchasing vessels for the Waikato River.

Until the early 1860s, the colonial authorities had received considerable support from Britain in its conflicts with Maori. However, from mid 1862 the British Government withheld financial support on the grounds that civil war in North America threatened to disrupt British interests elsewhere. Accordingly, Britain withdrew its New Zealand-based vessels (with the exception of the Fawn) to Sydney. This occurred in spite of Grey's request for an additional warship to deal with mounting tensions.

By November 1862, the New Zealand Government had commissioned the Australasian Steam Navigation Company (ASNC) to build a warship. It was the first warship ever commissioned by the New Zealand Government. It is possible that James Stewart, engineer to the Auckland City Board of Works at the time, oversaw the commissioning of the Pioneer, although his involvement remains uncertain. It is known that the following year, Stewart visited Australia to purchase two more gunboats for the Waikato Campaign. Moves to put steamers on the Waikato were met with strong protests by the Kingitanga movement, who stated they would not allow any vessels to enter the river.

The Pioneer

The Pioneer (originally named Paparata, and later Waikato) was built in Sydney in just 17 weeks, under the supervision of Tom McArthur, an ASNC staff member. The total cost for the construction of the vessel was £9,500. It was launched on 16 July and trialled in Sydney Harbour before being towed over to New Zealand, arriving at Onehunga on 2 October 1863. The vessel is said to have been specifically designed for New Zealand conditions in Auckland.

The Pioneer measured 43 metres long and 7 metres wide and was powered by two 30-hp engines through paddles that were 4 metres in diameter and a little over 2 metres wide. Created with a flat-bottomed hull that drew less than one metre, the vessel was designed to pull barges capable of carrying 300-400 men. It was fully armour-plated to withstand rifle shot and was armed with two rotating Armstrong 24-pound guns located in its cupolas fore and aft and two additional 24 pounders on its deck. An external tube, connected to the boiler, was designed to shoot out a continuous jet of hot water in the event of the enemy attempting to board the vessel.

The Pioneer was modeled on Captain Coles' design for a cupola shield gun-boat for coast defence. The design incorporated cutting-edge technology, including the steam powered low-lying hull, armour plating and a rotating gun turret, or cupola. These features represented a marked change from conventional naval vessels, which had been wooden sailing ships with one or more gun decks mounted with fixed guns that could only be fired broadside. Advancements in naval technology across the world had been widely reported in the NZ press in the early 1860s.

The Pioneer's Gun Turrets

The Pioneer was the earliest vessel in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of the earliest in the world, to use the rotating gun turret, or cupola. The two cupolas fore and aft were 12 feet in diameter and 8 feet in height. They were situated on a flush deck and were placed on revolving carriages. The cupolas were pierced for rifles and contained a 24 pound howitzers each (which were later replaced with 12 pound guns). Communication with the cupolas was from below, on the lower deck.

Cowper Coles is considered to have invented the rotating gun cupola, or turret, in 1859. The cupola represented a major innovation in naval military technology, enabling guns to fire in many directions which in turn allowed battleships to be shorter and more manoeuvrable. Coles' ideas were trialled in Britain, but the first warship to put the cupola into practice was the Monitor, a Union ship designed by the Swedish-born engineer, John Ericsson in 1861. The Monitor went into battle against the Confederate's ship, the Merrimac, in the American Civil War, in the first ever engagement between iron plated warships.

The success of the Monitor contributed considerably to the popularity of the cupola concept. Navies around the world adopted the 'Coles' cupola, which differed from Ericsson's cupola in that it rotated on a circular roller track located at the periphery of the base of turret, as opposed to resting and rotating on a central spindle, which placed considerable stress on the spindle. The first European warship equipped with Coles' cupola is thought to have been the Rolf Krake, launched for the Danish navy on 6 May 1863, only two months before the Pioneer was completed. The Wivern and Scorpion, launched on 4 July and 3 October 1863, also used the Coles' cupolas. These vessels were built for the American Confederate forces but were seized and refitted by the British Navy. A number of ships using Coles' cupola were launched later in the 1860s, including the Prince Albert, a British vessel built in 1862-6, the Arminus, a Prussian vessel built in 1863-4 and the Huascar, a Peruvian vessel built in 1865.

The Cerberus, an Australian vessel built in 1867-70, used a similar turret, but was based on a design by another British naval architect, Edward Reed. These vessels are considered to be the forerunners of modern battleships, providing the link between the traditional war vessels and the first modern battleship, the HMS Destruction in 1871. The Destruction was the first mastless, ocean-going warship to be launched, and was equipped with two gun cupolas with a 280 degree arc of fire.

The Role of the Pioneer in the Waikato War

The Pioneer played an instrumental part in the military campaign to defeat the Kingitanga forces during the Waikato Campaign. By the time the Pioneer arrived in New Zealand in October 1863, war had already begun. In July 1863, Colonial troops entered Waikato territory, occupying Koheroa (near Mercer) and Tuakau, where they built Alexandra Redoubt. The Colonial troops had hoped for a quick, decisive victory, but after their initial advance into Waikato, further engagements were delayed for three months. Constant Maori raids from the hills surrounding the Great South Road meant that three-quarters of the Colonial troops were tied up protecting supplies and transport routes, leaving a shortage of troops at the front.

Another small steamer, the Avon, had been operating on the Waikato River since the war began. The Avon had been purchased in late 1862 and had been enclosed in iron plates and fitted with sentry boxes and an Armstrong gun when the war began.

At Onehunga, the Pioneer was fitted with a paddle wheel, its three masts were replaced with two smaller masts and the 24 pound howitzers were replaced with 12 pounders. It left for Port Waikato, towing 6 flat bottomed barges, on about 24 October accompanied by the Eclipse. It was also accompanied by four armed cutters. Together with the Avon, which had been enclosed in iron and fitted with an Armstrong gun, these vessels made up the Waikato flotilla.

The arrival of the Pioneer, along with the recruiting of more British troops, freed up the Colonial troops to move along the river and to continue their campaign. A couple of days after its arrival, General Cameron traveled down the Waikato River in the Pioneer to inspect the enemy works at Meremere, accompanied by the Avon and gunboats. During this reconnaissance, the Pioneer was hit by a Maori gunner, using a 24 pound Armstrong gun. The projectile was a steelyard weight and it hulled the vessel, landing in a cask of beef.

During the Waikato Campaign, the Pioneer was used to transport troops and supplies to the battlefields, to reconnoitre enemy positions, and to shell defended pas, taking part in the battles at Meremere and Rangiriri. Its deployment for artillery fire is said to have persuaded King Tawhiao (?-1894) to abandon his gun-fighting pa and headquarters at Pikirero in Ngaruawahia, which was vulnerable to shelling from both the Waikato and Waipa Rivers. The Pioneer subsequently transported 500 British troops to Ngaruawahia on 8 December 1863, where they converted the empty pa into a redoubt and supply base for the remaining campaign.

The gun turrets were removed from the Pioneer shortly afterwards, possibly in order to lighten the vessel. One was removed in December 1863 and placed possibly in Ngaruawahia, while the other was placed at Point Russell, later known as Mercer. The guns inside each turret were removed at this time, or before.

Following the war, the Pioneer and the Rangiriri transported several thousand military settlers to Hamilton and Cambridge, as part of a plan to place armed farmers along a buffer zone between the Colonial settlers and Kingitanga forces. In August 1866, on one of its journeys to Hamilton transporting freight, the Pioneer got stuck in flood waters and sank, but was refloated. Later that same year, the Pioneer broke free from its moorings at Port Waikato with no one on board and began drifting up towards the Manukau Bar in heavy seas. Personnel eventually boarded the vessel and attempted to navigate it through the Manukau Heads. The Pioneer had to be abandoned when it began to sink in the heavy seas and it broke up shortly afterwards on a sand bank.

The Mercer Gun Turret

Mercer was an important transport hub for the Colonial authorities during the Waikato Campaign. As it marked the end of the Great South Road, Mercer was the destination for the many troops and supplies that made the two-day journey along the road, from Auckland. At the Mercer wharf, the troops and supplies were transferred on to one of the vessels to continue their journey further up the Waikato River. The town takes its name from Captain H. Mercer, of the Royal Artillery, who died at the battle of Rangiriri during the campaign.

After the war, Mercer continued to be an important transport centre, with the railway line from Auckland reaching Mercer in the mid 1870s. It remained a busy settlement until the following decade, when road and railway were extended further into the Waikato.

There are several references to the Mercer gun turret being used as an overnight lock-up for intoxicated people in the early days of Mercer when it was a busy centre, although no primary information has been located to confirm this. Heavy drinking was certainly a common problem throughout New Zealand in early colonial days.

Official records document that a new police station was built in 1889, and that 'minor repairs and alterations' were made to the 'lock-up, Mercer' in 1891. Additional rooms and new buildings were added to the police complex in the next couple of years. A new police station was erected in 1925, which was closed in 1979 at about the time the new motorway was extended through Mercer.

The gun turret has been on its current site since at least 1922, and possibly since it was removed from the Pioneer in 1863. An 1866 survey map of Mercer (Point Russell) by Charles Heaphy shows the wharf and a number of suburban sections on either side of Roose Road and the eastern side of Riverbank Road, but does not indicate the position of any buildings or similar structures. An 1877-9 survey map provides more detailed information and shows a large square structure on the road reserve in the vicinity of the current gun turret site. This could represent the turret contained within an enclosing building. The current site of the turret is appropriate, given that it sits at the intersection between the end of the Great South Road and the wharf on the Waikato River at the time of the Waikato Campaign.

Conversion into a war memorial

By 1922, the gun turret had been converted into a war memorial. The memorial was unveiled on 28 April 1922, by the Governor General, Lord Jellicoe. Lord Jellicoe was New Zealand's second Governor General (1920-24) and a distinguished naval officer, having served as First Lord, Chief of Naval Staff, and Viscount during the First World War. The memorial featured a soldier standing to attention on top of the turret, as well as two plaques attached to the side of the turret: one honouring 20 men who died and 59 who served in World War One, and another indicating that the turret was used on the Pioneer in the New Zealand Wars. Lord Jellicoe addressed a large crowd, commenting that this was an unusual memorial, because of its association with the Pioneer. He referred to the top part of the memorial (the soldier) as a tribute to 'the splendid and loyal co-operation of the great Maori race with the British race during the war' and the lower part (the gun turret) as representing 'the chivalry which distinguished the fighting in the Maori war'.

The Mercer War Memorial was one of several war memorials unveiled in Waikato within a few of days of each other, presumably all involving Anzac Day ceremonies. It was unveiled at a time when hundreds of memorials to the First World War were erected and often used as a focus for the local community's annual tribute to the dead. The monument at Mercer was unveiled in the first year that Anzac Day was formally commemorated. Unlike some other memorials, it appears to have been initiated and erected by the local community, and is also unusual in being one of a small group that - by inference or explicitly - remembers the New Zealand Wars.

Until a few years ago, the memorial was the focus of annual ANZAC day ceremonies, which were well-attended by the local community. Individuals continue to visit the memorial and tend to the surrounding gardens. The turret has been the victim of vandalism in recent years. The soldier's head has been broken off and re-attached several times - being eventually replaced in 2003 - and access to the interior has been barred due to vandalism inside the turret.

Two plaques have since been added to the turret. One corrects the construction date of the Pioneer, stating that it was built in 1863 and wrecked in 1866. The other commemorates all men who gave their lives to make Mercer a place of peace. A driveway has since been formed immediately to the east of the turret, providing access from the main carriageway to Mercer Fire Station, erected to the southeast in the 1980s.

Physical Description

Context

The Pioneer Gun Turret and War Memorial is located in the western part of Mercer, close to the banks of the Waikato River. Mercer is a small township in Franklin district, some 50 km south of Auckland. The structure is situated on the southern side of Roose Road, at its junction with Riverbank Road. Roose Road formed the main street in Mercer until the town was bisected by the recent construction of dual carriageway connecting Auckland with Hamilton, and retains a small number of commercial buildings. The road was originally part of the military Great South Road, whose southern terminus at one time is likely to have been at the wharf immediately to the west of the site. Some remnants of the wharf appear to survive at river level.

The turret and memorial occupies flat ground within an unformed part of the road reserve, immediately to the northwest of a plot (Sec 56 Block III Town of Mercer) occupied by the local fire station. The monument overlooks a bend in the Waikato River, where the wharf once stood, immediately to the west of Riverbank Road. The structure is currently surrounded by flowering plants and a lawn - also largely contained within the registration - and is used as a place of contemplation. A late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century bay villa lies on an adjacent plot to the northeast.

Exterior

The gun turret is circular in plan, and sits on a low concrete plinth. The plinth is six-sided and contains a low iron chain railing close to its outer edge. There are four steps up to the monument on its eastern side, with the flat plinth top being sufficiently wide to allow full access around the outside of the turret structure. Access to the steps themselves is obstructed by a flower bed. The turret is surmounted by the near life-sized figure of a soldier.

The gun turret measures 3.6 m in diameter and is 2.4 m high. It has a circumference of approximately 11.7m. The turret has vertical sides and a slightly convex roof. It is constructed of 9mm-thick iron plates, riveted to an internal framework of narrow iron bands. The walls incorporate fifteen metal sheets and the roof ten smaller panels. The turret contains four square hinged openings near the base of the structure, on its northern, eastern, southern and western sides. These originally served as firing ports for a rotating artillery gun that was accommodated within the turret. The eastern aperture also incorporates an upper, hinged opening, allowing it to be used as a door. This was evidently part of the original design, incorporating the same heavy-duty hinges as the other apertures.

The turret further contains 15 gunslits, arranged equidistantly around the turret walls except for two closely spaced examples in the door on the eastern side of the turret. The vertical slits generally measure 150 mm wide x 610 mm high and are positioned approximately 1.2 m above floor level, at shoulder height for troops originally stationed inside the structure. All gunslits not above an artillery port have a side-hinged shutter, containing a yet narrower vertical aperture for greater protection against enemy fire, measuring 40 mm wide x 300 mm high. The shutter hinges are of the same heavy-duty type as used on the artillery ports. Gunslits above these ports are unshuttered but of the same narrower size as the shuttered examples elsewhere on the turret.

The soldier surmounting the turret faces towards the river, where the wharf was once located. Dressed in uniform with his jacket strapped on his back, the soldier stands with his feet together and his hands resting on the butt of a rifle, which stands on its end with its barrel at his feet. The soldier is supported from behind by an urn-like column with 'Mercer' inscribed on it.

There are five plaques on the turret. One lists all those from the Mercer area who died in the First World War (1914-18). A second plaque has a roll of honour, naming all those who from the area who served in the same conflict. A third plaque informs that gun turret was from the Pioneer, noting that it was built in 1873. These three plaques were attached to the turret when it was unveiled in 1922. Two plaques have been added to the turret at a later date. One of these corrects the construction date of the Pioneer, stating that it was built in 1863 and wrecked in 1866. The other commemorates all men who gave their lives to make Mercer a place of peace.

Interior

The interior of the gun turret can be seen through apertures in its side, and contains a central pole attached to top of the structure and its concrete base. Extensive rivetting used to hold separate iron plates together is clearly visible. Spots of corrosion exist on the walls, as well as graffiti.

Comparisons

The Pioneer gun turret at Mercer is one of only very few internationally remaining examples of the early 'Coles' gun turret design. The second turret from the Pioneer is located in nearby Ngaruawahia (NZHPT Registration # 756, Category II historic place) but, lacking its hinged gunslits and artillery port doors, is not as well preserved. The inclusion of gunslits on both of these turrets is unusual and appears to be internationally unique. The only other surviving naval turrets of Coles' design are likely to be on the slightly later Huascar, constructed in 1865 and converted into a museum ship in 1952. Other ships bearing turrets of Coles' design either sank (Captain 1870) or were scrapped (Arminus 1902, Rolf Krake 1907).

A few examples of early naval turrets of different design survive, including the turret from the Monitor, which sank in 1862 in the USA and was salvaged in 2002 for conservation. It housed two guns. The Cerberus, an Australian vessel built in 1867-70, was designed by Coles's contemporary, Edward Reed, with two turrets housing two guns each. The Cerberus was deliberately sunk as a breakwater in 1926 but remains visible at low tide. The Cerberus has been nominated for inclusion on Australia's National Heritage List.

The use of a remnant from the New Zealand Wars to commemorate the fallen from the First World War is extremely unusual.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1863 -
March - July 1863.

Modification
1863 -
October 1863: 24-pound Armstrong gun inside turret replaced by 12-pound gun.

Modification
1863 - 1864
Late 1863 or early 1864: turret removed from the Pioneer at Mercer. Gun removed at the same time, or before

Modification
1922 -
1922: turret mounted on concrete base, statue attached to top of turret and three plaques attached to exterior, before unveiling as a memorial on 28 April 1922

Modification
-
Two further plaques attached to turret

Modification
2003 -
Head broken off and replaced

Construction Details

Iron-plate walls and roof, with a concrete base.

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

1862, 1863, A-6, p.4; E-3, pp.5-12; 1889 - 1906

Auckland Star

Auckland Star

Auckland Star 27 March 1922, Page 4

Auckland Weekly News

Auckland Weekly News

4 May 1922, p.22

Belich, 1986

James Belich, 'The New Zealand Wars and the Victorian Interpretation of Racial Conflict', Auckland, 1986

Chaloner, 1963

H. Chaloner, 'The Historic River Steamer 'Pioneer'', Auckland and Waikato Historical Journal 3, 1963

Howard, 1981

Grant Howard, The Navy in New Zealand: An Illustrated History, Wellington, 1981

Illustrated London News

Illustrated London News

'The War in New Zealand. The Gunboat Pioneer at Anchor on the Waikato River, Reconnoitring the Native Positions', January 1864, p.93, PUBL-0033-1864-093, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington

Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)

Land Information New Zealand

SO 2131 South Auckland Registry

MacLean, 1990

Chris MacLean and Jock Phillips, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Wellington, 1990

Ross, 1967 (8)

J. Ross, The White Ensign in Early New Zealand, Wellington, 1967

Southern Cross

Southern Cross

4 November 1862, p.4; 19 December 1862, p.4; 11 March 1863, p.5; 18 July 1863; 5 October 1863, p.3; 26 December 1866

Other Information

A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Northern 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.