Historical Significance or Value
Land surveying and land surveyors had a huge impact on New Zealand, facilitating and organising European settlement of the land and asserting Crown and settler ownership over it. As standards utilised by Nelson land surveyors to check the accuracy of their chains and bands the Survey Test Marks in Albion Square are historically significant for their close connection to the land surveying and land surveyors of the Nelson district and European settlement in that area. Also, as some of the few physical reminders of land surveying remaining in the country, the Survey Test Marks are historically significant for their connection to land surveying and land surveyors in New Zealand more generally and the process of European settlement across New Zealand.
The Survey Test Marks in Albion Square have scientific value for their ability to tell how the activity of land surveying took place from the mid to late 1800s to the early 1900s. Though other artefacts, such as Gunter's chains, can tell of the methods employed by land surveyors during this period, the Survey Test Marks are among the few objects in New Zealand that tell of the standards applied to land surveying work at this time. In particular these marks tell of problems with the multitude of methods employed and groups involved in land surveying during early settlement and efforts under surveyor general, John Turnbull Thomson, in late 1870s to improve the accuracy of land surveying throughout the country by introducing a national system.
(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history
As land surveying was an activity that facilitated and organised European settlement of the land the Survey Test Marks in Albion Square, illustrative of the activity of land surveying in Nelson and, due to their rarity, in New Zealand more broadly, can be considered to reflect a representative aspect of New Zealand history.
(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history
The Survey Test Marks in Albion Square are associated with land surveyors in the Nelson district, a group of people of local and regional significance, who used the marks to check the accuracy of their chains and bands from the mid to late 1800s to the early 1900s. Their association with land surveyors in Nelson is strengthened by the fact there are few other physical reminders that tell of the day to day activities of land surveyors during this period.
(f) The potential of the place for public education
The Survey Test Marks in Albion Square have great potential for public education; set in a largely public square, there is space for interpretation and also the opportunity to link the stories of land surveying to some of the other significant elements of the Albion Square Historic Area, such as the early militia or provincial government. Some interpretation is already provided for the marks on Bridge Street.
(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place
The Survey Test Marks in Albion Square have a significant symbolic role as one of the few physical reminders of land surveying in New Zealand from the mid to late 1800s to the early 1900s. The marks were commemorated by the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors on the occasion of their centenary in 1988.
(i) The importance of identifying historic places known to date from early periods of New Zealand settlement
The mark in Bridge Street tells of significant events during the settlement of Nelson and New Zealand, in particular of efforts under John Turnbull Thomson in late 1870s to improve the accuracy of land surveying throughout the country.
(j) The importance of identifying rare types of historic places
The Survey Test Marks located within Albion Square are the only examples known to survive that can be located within the Nelson district. Though marks such as these were typical for the period they are also particularly susceptible to damage with other examples having been destroyed. Proportionate to their original number few other examples are known to remain. Interestingly the survey test marks in Bridge Street also predate the Wellington marks said to be laid down as the standard for the country.
(k) The extent to which the place forms part of a wider historical and cultural complex or historical and cultural landscape
The Survey Test Marks have been identified as significant elements of the Albion Square Historic Area. Elements within this area tell of significant events or activities during the early settlement of Nelson. Though they date from slightly after the period of Provincial Government the marks have been included recognising the significant role of land surveying during early settlement and relationship to the other elements.
Summary of significance
While survey test marks themselves do not feature prominently in histories of land surveying they were a significant tool to land surveyors during the early settlement of New Zealand and played a role in improving accuracy and confidence in the practice of land surveying in New Zealand. Those within Albion Square are largely significant for their symbolic role as one of the few physical reminders of land surveying in New Zealand from the mid to late 1800s to the early 1900s.
Land surveyors and the use of survey test marks
During the early days of New Zealand settlement land surveyors used a method known as chain surveying to survey the land. Initially this involved using a linked chain, sixty-six feet long and divided into one hundred equal links, known as the Gunter's chain . Then, in approximately 1867-1868, Edwin Fairburn is credited with introducing a steel band, which would later be wound on a drum, to replace this measure. It seems likely that both chains and bands were used in New Zealand for a time with all land surveyors unlikely to immediately be able to secure one of the new designs.
Both chains and bands were subject to wear and tear in the field; the links on Gunter's chains tended to stretch and steel bands were easily broken. Brian Coutts, a Senior Lecturer from the School of Surveying at the University of Otago, reports that steel bands were often repaired if broken in the field, with a candle, solder and a 'joiner' . He also reports that they were subject to expansion and contraction due to temperature changes for which corrections needed to be applied. A chain or band that was the wrong length could significantly affect the accuracy of land surveyors' measurements and so standards were put in place for land surveyors to check their bands or chains against.
The survey test marks that can be found near Bridge Street, and the mark found nearby Hardy Street, are said to be the standards at which Nelson land surveyors checked the lengths of chains or bands during the settlement of Nelson, that on Bridge Street the earliest, dating from 1877. Similar marks were laid down in each district of the Nelson Region and across New Zealand for the same purpose.
Land surveying in New Zealand
Bar the charting of a few harbours and coastlines, little surveying took place in New Zealand prior to 1840 . It was during the mid nineteenth century as large numbers of principally British immigrants began to settle in New Zealand by way of organised resettlement schemes that the need for professional land surveyors would be felt. Land surveying, 'the practice of measuring angles and distances of land area in order to plot them accurately on a map' would play a significant role in asserting both Crown authority over, and settler ownership of land. As Lawn, the author of a history on pioneer land surveyors in New Zealand, comments 'security of title and facility of land transaction were to depend on accurate surveys and well demarcated boundaries'.
Land surveying in New Zealand was an activity dominated by Europeans largely preoccupied with European interests. Nevertheless it was also an activity that would involve contact, co operation and conflict with Maori. Maori are known to have assisted land surveyors as survey hands or as guides in difficult terrain, and to have offered land surveyors food and shelter in isolated areas. However confrontations and conflicts between land surveyors and Maori were not uncommon. Non violent means such as the pulling up of land surveyors pegs were more common than 'overt hostility' between the parties such as in the case of the Wairau Massacre touched on below. Byrnes, in her book on Land Surveying and the Colonisation of New Zealand notes that 'in almost all examples, surveyors had encroached onto Maori land without permission, or were surveying disputed or confiscated land'. Land surveying was an activity that would have significant consequences for Maori, in particular on their possession of their lands.
Land surveying in early Nelson
Nelson was among four settlements founded by the New Zealand Company, the most significant of the groups involved in organised settlement schemes (their other settlements were at Wellington, Wanganui and New Plymouth). Though Maori had a number of sites in the area of Whakatu (now Nelson city) where they lived seasonally or on a short term basis for food harvesting the area was not permanently inhabited between the late 1820s and 1830s and was not occupied when the New Zealand Company arrived to form their settlement in 1841. However, it remained an important area to Tasman Bay Maori, particularly for those living at the eastern end at Whakapuaka and other nearby settlements along the shores.
The surveying of the Nelson settlement, under the auspices of the New Zealand Company, began to take place immediately upon the arrival of the preliminary expedition to the area in 1841. Frederick Tuckett, the Principal Surveyor for the New Zealand Company, divided the settlement into eight survey districts. To speed up settlement of the land he dispensed with a triangulation survey instead using the running survey method. This required the laying of a long base line in each survey district for the purpose of bearing control and then from this bearing laying out the land in a series of rectangles measuring seventy-five by sixty nine chains. By April 1842 the New Zealand Company had completed surveying the Nelson town sections and land began to be allocated to Maori and to European settlers. The land surveyors then turned their attention to laying out the suburban and rural sections.
After surveying distant districts of the region the Company found sufficient land for the suburban sections but there was a large shortfall in land for the planned rural sections. In February 1843, on confirming that the Wairau Valley contained approximately 200,000 acres of suitable land, the New Zealand Company set out to secure it. They called for tenders for the surveying of the land in March 1843 - this 'despite the oft-repeated objections of Ngati Toa chiefs' Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata, who asserted that they were the principal owners of the Wairau. Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata made deputations to William Spain who was investigating the Company's Cook Strait claims on behalf of the Government. Ngati Toa parties also obstructed the land surveyors' work. Spain's investigation proceeded slowly. After telling Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata that he would not be able to give them an answer until July and to allow the surveying of the land to continue, Ngati Toa escorted the land surveyors from the land, removing survey poles and burning huts. The authorities in Nelson decided that action should be taken against Ngati Toa for the disruption and a party set out to arrest Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata for arson. The ensuing confrontation resulted in the deaths of a number of Maori and Europeans.
The New Zealand Company already faced, and after Wairau would continue to face, financial difficulties. Among other financial concerns they had to support labourers brought in for agricultural work for a longer period than they anticipated, there being little rural land available. The land surveyors continued to search the hinterlands for suitable agricultural land and though there were a number of expeditions none met with much success. After having to suspend its operations in 1844 the Company obtained a loan from the Government to enable it to resume its operations in 1845. It did eventually obtain rural land in Wairau, purchasing sufficient land to meet its obligations to settlers from the Crown in 1847, the Crown having subsequently 'purchased' the land. However the Company's financial problems continued. Under the terms of agreement for another loan from the Government in 1847 the Company agreed to hand over its assets and liabilities to the Government if it could not continue its operations within 3 years. The probation period expired in April 1850 and in 1851 the Company surrendered its Charter to the Government, terminating its existence.
Land surveying bodies in New Zealand
Throughout this period land surveying in New Zealand was conducted by different bodies. All land, bar that vested in the New Zealand Company, was surveyed by government agents. With the division of the colony into the two provinces New Munster and New Ulster in 1846 this was the responsibility of the surveyor-general. However, as discussed, land owned by the New Zealand Company, such as that in Nelson, was surveyed by their agents. Land surveying during the 1840s was as Byrnes, in her book on land surveying and the colonisation of New Zealand, suggests 'ad-hoc'. However differences in the bodies in charge of land surveying and the methods they employed would continue long after the termination of the New Zealand Company in 1851 with the surveyor-general responsible for all land for only a brief period with the appointment of a provincial government system in 1853. From this time each province was responsible for surveying their own lands and each had their own chief surveyor.
Confusion caused by the multitudes of bodies and methods involved in land surveying continued and by the 1860s public concern over the matter was growing. In 1873 the chief surveyors of the provinces met and recommended that a general survey system be established. The Government subsequently seized on a opportunity to gain the opinion of Major A S Palmer, an eminent English surveyor, when he visited New Zealand in late 1874 to observe the transit of Venus. Palmer's report, on the state of land surveying in the provinces, was scathing of the systems in place across the country. Only in Otago did he find a system he was satisfied with. On Nelson he commented that it had 'drifted into a greater state of confusion than in any other province'.
The plan suggested by the chief surveyors in 1873 for a general survey system was ultimately adopted in 1876 on the abolition of provincial government. A national survey system and a single body to manage it - the Lands and Survey Department - were introduced. John Turnbull Thomson was appointed as surveyor-general. On his appointment in 1876 Thomson made a tour of all the provinces to examine the state of the survey in each. In a report to Government he made recommendations on 'a better system of survey'. The new survey system, approved by Government, was based on a standardised system of triangulation that Thomson had used successfully in Otago. This was the same method originally rejected by the New Zealand Company in Nelson for expediency.
The survey test marks within Albion Square
Thomson's visit to Nelson in late 1876, and the prior criticism of the state of Nelson's survey, seems likely to have prompted the laying of the survey test marks in 1877 to assist with triangulation work in the area. The survey test marks would be laid on Section 201 and Section 203 within Albion Square. Section 203 was originally a native reserve but was exchanged for Section 733, a European section, in 1848 to enable the Nelson School Committee [Society], who ran the Matthew Campbell School, to enlarge their premises (though no reference has been found to them ever building there).
John Samuel Browning was appointed as Chief Surveyor of Nelson Land District by Nelson Provincial Council in 1876 and he would continue in the equivalent role when control passed to the Lands and Survey Department that same year. He worked to bring the survey information for the district together and to update the maps. Land surveying activity in Nelson during this time concentrated on connecting Nelson to adjoining provinces by road or rail and opening up access to the backcountry of the province. Two significant works that took place under the direction of Browning and John George Blackett, Resident Engineer, were the building of the main highways from Nelson to Lyall on the Buller River, and from Nelson to Blenheim via the Rai Valley.
Browning retired in 1896 and was succeeded by Thomas Humphries. It is likely that it was during Humphries time managing land surveying in the district that the other of the survey test marks still visible in Albion Square was laid down. The five-chain base was reportedly established in 1902 after further checks on the standard length in use revealed slight differences to the Imperial Standard. It is also reported that the standardisation or recalculation of the triangulation was completed by Messrs Humphries, Pollock Robinson, Dickie Wilson and Kelly.
Little more is known about the use of the marks by land surveyors or when they fell into disuse. However, a more recent event is associated with the marks on Bridge Street. On the 4 September 1988, on the occasion of their centenary, the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors commemorated these marks commenting that they were 'formerly the standard for Nelson land title measurement'. To the east of the marks they erected a plaque and buried a time capsule (see Appendix 4; Figure 6 of the registration report for an image of the plaque). The capsule includes contributions from the Nelson Branch of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors Nelson, the Department of Survey and Land Information, local city, borough and county councils, and a number of individuals and local schools. The capsule is due to be opened on the bicentenary of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors in 4 September 2088. Perhaps there is material buried in this capsule that will shed more light on the marks and the land surveyors that used them.
Designer/ architect/ engineer/ architectural partnership: Not applicable
Builder/ maker: Not applicable
The two sets of marks within Albion Square are thought to date from two different periods. The three marks on Bridge Street, said to be a one-chain test base, are thought to date from 1877. They were reportedly laid down for the start of triangulation work in the area. The marks, which can be found to the North of the Courthouse on the perimeter of Albion Square next to Bridge Street are set up from the road, approximately 4.5 metres from the inside edge of the Bridge Street footpath and approximately 14 metres from the boundary of The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu. The marks consist of three small bronze plaques that measure 10 centimetres by 4 centimetres, two of these marks are set into hewn granite blocks located at either end of a concrete line. At the centre of the line is another mark grouted directly into the concrete. One of the marks was reported to have been damaged in 1904 and repaired in 1905; this perhaps accounts for the different material in which this mark can be seen to be set into. The concrete line is approximately 21 metres long, 9 centimetres deep and 36 centimetres wide and is made up of separate concrete blocks of varying lengths.
Nearby to the east of these marks are plaques erected on the occasion of the New Zealand Institute of Surveyors centenary in 1988 that tell of the purpose of the marks. Further to the east is a time capsule buried at the same time. The full extent of the concrete line and these features is approximately 24 metres.
The mark nearby Hardy Street, said to be part of a five-chain test base, is thought to date from 1902. It was reportedly laid down after further checks on the standard length in use. The mark can be found in the fourth car park on the eastern side of the old Hardy Street Girls School. All that remains of this five-chain test base is one small bronze plaque that measures 8.5cm by 5.5cm. It is set directly into concrete and the number 62 can be seen in concrete below the mark. The cost of establishing this base is recorded as 9 pounds 1-6.
As outlined above similar marks were laid down in each district of the Nelson Region and across New Zealand for the same purpose, though not necessarily at the same time, as those found in Albion Square. Correspondence to the Historic Places Trust in the 1970s revealed a number of areas in which survey marks remained at that time (Appendix 5 of the registration report; Figure 2).
Three sets of marks, besides those in Albion Square, are known to remain today, one within Government Grounds, Wellington - said to be the standard for the colony laid in 1879, one within Moutua Gardens in Wanganui (Register No. 7101, Category I) said to be laid following the standard set in Wellington in 1880, and one in Christchurch near Cramner Square (not currently registered and date unknown). Interestingly the marks in Albion Square were laid following the decision to follow a national standard but predate the national standard laid in Wellington.
Other survey marks may remain but it is likely that these marks are among the few remaining. Marks can be easily destroyed; in 1999 contractors upgrading the courtyard in the Provincial Councils grounds in Christchurch destroyed marks that had been there since 1887.
Correspondence with Land Information New Zealand during the public notification of the survey test marks suggested other survey marks that could also be considered for registration. These were: baselines used in the survey for Geodetic Datum 1949, sites of early astronomical observations and origin marks for Meridional Circuits.
One submitter on the proposed registration of the survey test marks also noted that trig stations and survey pegs are more common and readily visible landmarks that represent land surveying. However it is not known if any from the mid to late 1800s to the early 1900s remain. Byrnes' book on land surveying and the colonisation of New Zealand indicates that boundary markers were made of inexpensive material such as ponga, while flags or stone cairns might act as trig stations . It is possible that early examples may not remain identifiable.
1877 - 1902
Date laid down: Bridge Street (1877); Hardy Street (1902)
1904 - 1905
Bridge Street (damaged 1904, repaired 1905)
Concrete, Bronze, Granite
5th June 2007
Report Written By
Giselle Byrnes, Boundary Markers: Land Surveying and the Colonisation of New Zealand, Wellington, Bridget Williams Books, 2001.
Wilson, 1971 (2)
Ramsay J P Wilson, Land Surveying Third Edition London: Pitman Publishing, 1971.
Holm, Janet Caught Mapping: The life and times of New Zealand's early surveyors, Christchurch, Hazard Press, 2005.
Jourdain, W R The history of land legislation and settlement in New Zealand, Wellington [N.Z.] : Govt. Printer, 1925
C.A. Lawn, 'The Pioneer Land Surveyors of New Zealand' unpublished manuscript, New Zealand Institute of Surveyors, 1977
Jim McAloon, Nelson: A Regional History, Whatamango Bay, 1997
J and H Mitchell, Te Tau Ihu o te Waka - A History of Maori of Marlborough and Nelson, Wellington, 2004
Waitangi Tribunal Report, www.waitangi-tribunal.govt.nz
Mitchell, J, and H., Wai 102 Report No 7 Losses of Nelson Lands, Mitchell Research, 1992.
Nelson Historical Society Journal
Nelson Historical Society Journal
Holcroft, K W T 'The standard survey chain test marks', Vol 3 No 6, November 1980.
A fully referenced version of the registration report is available from the Central Regional Office.
Note: Sec 203: Historic Reserve as per CT NL10B/664 - no Gazette notice but a Crown Grant dated 5 Dec 1871.
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.