First World War Memorial Beacon

Quay Street, Auckland

  • First World War Memorial Beacon.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 29/10/2013.
  • First World War Memorial Beacon. Detail.
    Copyright: Hertiage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 29/10/2013.
  • First World War Memorial Beacon. Bronze plaque on south face of base.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Martin Jones. Date: 29/10/2013.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 9652 Date Entered 26th June 2014


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Quay Street road reserve, North Auckland Land District, and the structure known as First World War Memorial Beacon thereon. (Refer to map in Appendix 1 of the registration report for further information).

City/District Council

Auckland Council (Auckland City Council)


Auckland Council

Legal description

Quay Street road reserve, North Auckland Land District

Location description

Located immediately beside the entrance to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum, at the western end of the Quay Street road reserve, at the latter’s junction with the northern end of Lower Hobson Street.


The First World War Memorial Beacon on Auckland’s waterfront is the earliest known built monument to the Great War erected in New Zealand. Initially built in late 1915, it is the only such memorial known to have been created while New Zealand forces were in battle at Gallipoli. The monument was erected by the Auckland Harbour Board (AHB) to commemorate its enlisted employees, and also as a beacon for private vessels approaching landings on Quay Street. It is a rare example of a monument to the Great War (1914-18) created by an employer, and unusual in remembering all those who served rather than just those who did not return.

The memorial was erected in Commercial Bay, which had been subject to successive reclamation in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1915, the AHB (formed in 1871) commenced the Quay Street West extension scheme, which involved construction of a new harbour wall, launch landings and shelter sheds on the Quay Street waterfront. In September 1915, the AHB decided to erect a memorial beacon beside the launch landings. The AHB was an important local body, responsible for managing one of New Zealand’s largest ports.

The memorial beacon was designed by the AHB’s engineer, W.H. Hamer, notable for also overseeing a major expansion of Auckland’s port facilities. The monument comprised an obelisk made of Coromandel granite surmounted by decorative ironwork and an electric lamp. It displayed inscribed shields and other symbols emphasising ties with the British Empire, and brass plates listed the names of AHB staff who served. It was first lit on 17 December 1915, while troops were being evacuated from Gallipoli. As well as functioning as a beacon, the monument can be seen to have symbolised a shining example, a beacon of hope and also a safe return home.

A later shield inscription commemorates the Treaty of Versailles, signed in July 1919. When peace celebrations were held the following month, the monument was draped with festoons of lights.

In 1922-3, when the foreshore reclamation was extended to the north, the memorial beacon was incorporated into a triangular block to the south of the waterfront. The monument remained on the site until the late 1960s or early 1970s when the AHB erected the Downtown Shopping Complex, generating revenue for necessary changes to the wharves to accommodate container ships. At this time, the memorial was dismantled and placed in storage.

In 1999, the obelisk was re-discovered in one of the Ports of Auckland (previously AHB) sheds. Some associated attachments, notably its surmounting ironwork and orb, were never found. An anonymous Jewish German immigrant funded the restoration of the memorial. In 2000, Auckland City Council re-instated the memorial on its current site, beside the historic Launch Offices (now part of Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum), some 150 metres from its original site.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The monument has historical significance for the strength of its connections with the First World War, a conflict in which New Zealand lost a high percentage of military aged men. It reflects New Zealand’s involvement in the war from an early stage, being conceived and created just over a year after the conflict began. It demonstrates the strong ties that bound New Zealand to Great Britain in the early twentieth century, and the commitment of both organisations and individuals to the British Empire.

The First World War Memorial Beacon has particular importance for reflecting the first known occasion that the war was formally marked by the erection of a built monument. It is also of value for its connections with New Zealand involvement at Gallipoli – regarded as a defining event in the development of this country’s national identity. It is the only currently known war memorial to have been designed and built during the Gallipoli campaign; and it was first lit whilst New Zealand troops were being evacuated from the peninsula. The monument is also significant for its associations with the end of war. It commemorates the Treaty of Versailles, which took place in July 1919, and was festooned with lights during peace celebrations the following month.

The First World War Memorial Beacon is additionally significant as a rare example of an occupational monument erected to the conflict. It has historical significance for its close connections with the Auckland Harbour Board (AHB), an important Auckland institution. The AHB managed the ports on which the city depended for its economic well-being. The monument is a rare example in New Zealand of an occupational memorial erected during the Great War. It particularly reflects the AHB’s close connections with, and support for, Great Britain and the British Empire.

Initially created in conjunction with AHB improvements to harbour facilities in 1915, the relocated memorial remains on land created and used by the AHB.

Architectural Significance or Value

The place has architectural significance for containing the first built monument to the Great War currently known to have been created in New Zealand. The monument represents an important initial stage in the development of such memorials, combining features that became uncommon due to the high death toll - notably in its commemoration of all serving personnel and its dual ornamental and functional purpose - with aspects that were to remain more typical, such as its Imperial iconography and adoption of the obelisk form.

Although missing some of its 1915 elements and re-erected in 2000, the most commemorative parts of the original structure survive.

Social Significance or Value

The place has social significance as a public monument. It commemorates an event that retains strong public interest. Dedicated to local men, its re-erection in 2000 demonstrates on-going interest in remembering those who served and suffered in overseas conflict.

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

The First World War Memorial Beacon has significance for reflecting the first occasion that the First World War was commemorated by a built monument in New Zealand. Commemoration of the conflict through construction of built memorials became an important and widespread practice throughout the country. The monument directly reflects other important aspects of the national experience of the Great War, including the high proportion of deaths for men of military age. The number of servicemen commemorated on the memorial who did not return is broadly comparable with the national proportion. A greater percentage of New Zealand men of eligible age died in the conflict than from any other British Dominion.

The place demonstrates the strength of connections that bound New Zealand to the British Empire in the early twentieth century, including through a shared ideology and extensive commercial ties.

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

The place has significance for its strong associations with the First World War, and particularly the Gallipoli campaign - a major event in the development of New Zealand’s national identity. The monument is the only built war memorial currently believed to have been conceived and erected during the course of warfare at Gallipoli, and was first used in the same week that New Zealand troops were evacuated from the battlefield. The place also has associations with the commemoration of peace, including the Treaty of Versailles.

The First World War Memorial Beacon is important as a rare example of an occupational monument erected to the conflict. It is significant for the strength of its connections with the Auckland Harbour Board, an important local institution. Both the land that the structure was originally built on, and that on which it is currently situated, was reclaimed and used by the AHB. The monument is also significant for its close associations with W.H. Hamer, a notable engineer who created the scheme for developing the Auckland waterfront in 1904 - a remodelling that still substantially survives.

The place has some significance for its connections with John Bouskill, who had previously erected a memorial to the New Zealand Wars at Pokeno which has been regarded as ‘a foretaste of a new era in monument-building’.

(f) The potential of the place for public education

Located in a popular public place beside the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum and connected to events that retain strong public interest, the place has strong potential for public education about the First World War; imperial ties; the Auckland Harbour Board; and the development of Auckland’s waterfront.

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

The place is significant for demonstrating an early stage in First World War memorial design. Some features, notably its use of the obelisk form and incorporation of wreaths, were to become typical of many First World War monuments, in spite of being infrequently used for war commemoration earlier in the twentieth century.. Other aspects, such as its functional use and its reference to all men who served, were not commonly retained in subsequent memorials to the Great War. Use of the monument as a beacon, in particular, is believed to be unique amongst war memorials in New Zealand, and also appears to have been rare internationally.

(h) The symbolic or commemorative value of the place

The First World War Memorial Beacon has commemorative value as the first built monument to remember the service and sacrifice of many ordinary New Zealanders in the Great War. Many of these people did not return. The monument was first lit as a beacon while New Zealand troops were being evacuated from Gallipoli. It also commemorates other battles in the First World War, and the Treaty of Versailles.

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

The place is significant for its contribution to an important wider landscape that demonstrates the development of the Auckland waterfront in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although not located on its original site, the memorial remains closely connected to the historical landscape that it initially formed part of. Elements of a similar age - and with which it was closely associated - such as two wharf pavilions, remain in existence a short distance away.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Hamer, W.H

W.H. Hamer (c.1869-1940) was educated at Rugby, England, and in the mechanical workshops at King’s College. He was subsequently articled to E.G. Mawbey, the waterworks engineer at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, who was also President of the County Engineers and Surveyors’ Association. By the early 1900s, Hamer occupied the post of Resident Engineer of the Victoria and Albert Docks in London, said at the time to be ‘unsurpassed in the completeness of its arrangements by any other docks in the world.’ Employed by the London and India Dock Company during this period, Hamer worked in a department with an expenditure of more than £200,000 and was in charge of over a thousand workmen.

In January 1903, Hamer was appointed Engineer to the Auckland Harbour Board and arrived in New Zealand a few months later. In July 1904, he produced his blueprint for the modernisation of Auckland’s port facilities, involving a radical reorganisation of the waterfront using innovative aspects such as ferro-concrete wharves. Work was undertaken on the Railway (later Kings) Wharf extension in 1904-8, the Ferry Jetty in 1907, and the Queens Wharf in 1907-13, although it was not until the 1920s that some elements of his scheme such as the Princes Wharf (1921-4) were completed. Hamer is said to have overseen construction of parts of the Queens Wharf himself.

Hamer’s opinion was evidently sought for other harbour-related projects including at Thames and Whakatane. In 1907, he also produced a set of plans for a canal between the Waitemata and Manukau harbours, although this was never built. Keeping up-to-date with methods of wharf construction and new machinery, he undertook tours of inquiry to Australia (1914), Canada and the United States (1918), and the ports of Great Britain (1920).

Hamer resigned from his post with the Auckland Harbour Board in December 1924.

Source: Registration Report for First World War Memorial (Register No. 9652), May 2014

Bouskill, John

John Bouskill (c.1854-1933) was born in Westmorland, in northwest England. He emigrated with his family to New Zealand in 1883. After spending a year in Dunedin, Bouskill moved to Auckland where he initially worked as a building contractor with his brother William. In 1888, John Bouskill was responsible for the masonry of the Governor Browne Hotel in Hobson Street. The following year, he successfully tendered for the creation of a memorial tablet for the Auckland Free Library.

By 1891, Bouskill was in partnership with Peter McNab. Advertising as monumental masons, the firm was based in premises close to Symonds Street cemetery. As well as making and selling funerary monuments, Bouskill and McNab undertook general masonry work. Memorial tablets of their making included one in St Patrick’s Cathedral to commemorate Bishop Luck (1896). In 1899, they were awarded a gold medal and three first awards at the Auckland Industrial and Mining Exhibition. The partnership was dissolved in 1902, after which Bouskill operated on his own account.

As well as being a stonemason, Bouskill was a member of the Newton Borough Council; a chairman of the Mount Albert Road Board; and the second vice-president of the Auckland Bowling Centre. He died in 1933. Bouskill’s son, John Bouskill junior, also operated as monumental mason.

Additional informationopen/close

Historical Narrative

The First World War Memorial Beacon, erected in 1915, served as a memorial for staff of the Auckland Harbour Board who enlisted in the First World War (1914-18) and as a beacon for private vessels approaching the launch landings on Quay Street. The memorial, now located on the corner of Quay and Hobson Streets, was originally situated further southeast on Quay Street, between Queens Wharf and Princes Wharf.

Early History of the Site

Prior to European colonisation, the bay which now borders Auckland’s commercial centre was linked with settlement in the Waihorotiu Valley and its adjoining headlands, which has traditionally been associated with Ngati Haurere, Te Waiohua and Ngati Whatua. Following European settlement in 1840, the waters between Point Britomart and Smales Point were renamed Commercial Bay and served as the main landing point for goods and settlers. Successive reclamations were carried out to improve port facilities and expand commercial land as the town’s economy developed. In the late nineteenth century, the current site lay on or close a timber wharf at the north end of Hobson Street. At this time, Auckland was one of the ‘big four’ ports of New Zealand, which collectively handled three-quarters of the colony’s import and export business.

From 1871, all activity connected with Auckland’s harbours was controlled by the Auckland Harbour Board (AHB), which had been founded in the same year. The AHB managed a large area, extending from the Tamaki River south of the nineteenth-century city, to Rangitoto and the North Shore further north. Traditionally, the organization was dominated by members with strong mercantile connections. Its board was made up of individuals that were appointed or elected by the government, city council, adjoining Highway Boards, the Chamber of Commerce, and the payers of Harbour dues.

In 1903, following a rapid increase in trading activity, the AHB employed engineer, W. H. Hamer (1869-1940) to prepare plans and oversee works for further extensions to the port facilities. Hamer had previously occupied the important role of Resident Engineer of the London and India Dock Company, based at the Royal Victoria and Albert Docks in London. His innovative 1904 plan for Auckland included the construction of a network of reinforced concrete finger-wharves at right angles or inclined from the Quay Street frontage.

By 1908, the current site was affected by works that extended Hobson Street and created a finger wharf at its north end. Larger ferro-concrete wharves were constructed further east at Railway (later Kings) Wharf in 1904-8, and Queens Wharf in 1907-13. In 1913, vehicular ferry landings were created immediately to the northwest of the current site.

Imperial ties and the outbreak of war

This general expansion of facilities under Hamer prefaced what has been termed ‘The Queen City’s reign’. Between 1911 and 1930, Auckland increased its share of New Zealand’s import and export trade from a quarter to a third. As a major entrepot dealing with overseas trade, the port’s ties with the other parts of the British Empire were strong. This was particularly true after the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, when British cargo was increasingly shipped directly to the city.

The port’s connections with Great Britain were mirrored by sentiment in broader society. When Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914, a large number of New Zealanders volunteered for military service immediately. The AHB quickly demonstrated its support for the military cause by donating the considerable sum of $1000 to the Auckland Patriotic Fund, stating that there was ‘no body more interested in maritime affairs than the Auckland Harbour Board’. The AHB was heavily involved in the preparations for conflict, providing storage space for cargo on Queens Wharf and organising the departure of the troops from the Auckland wharves. In late September 1914, 2000 troops marched through the city to the wharves to board the troop ships, cheered by large crowds.

Construction of the Memorial Beacon (1915)

Many of those who volunteered to serve were AHB employees, causing a serious reduction in the organisation’s personnel. In spite of this, however, the AHB initially continued to develop its waterfront facilities. In 1915, it commenced the Quay Street West extension scheme, which involved lengthening Quay Street to Hobson Wharf and providing the extension with a new harbour wall. Five launch landings and two shelter sheds were also erected in association with this work.

On 13 September 1915 - just over a year after the declaration of war - the Auckland Harbour Board resolved to erect a memorial obelisk to remember its employees who had enlisted. The obelisk was to be erected beside the new launch landings on Quay Street, and to simultaneously function as a daylight beacon and a guiding light at night. The decision to create the memorial was accompanied by an AHB resolution to grant its permanent officers on active service further leave of absence on half pay. The Board rescinded its prior decision to erect a roll of honour in the Board’s public office.

The AHB memorial is considered to have been the first built monument to the Great War erected in New Zealand. It was created while local troops were fighting at Gallipoli (April-December 1915), a landmark event in the development of New Zealand’s national identity. Soon after the Gallipoli campaign began, memorial services were widely held to collectively remember the fallen and injured. The number of honour boards placed in sports clubs, schools and churches throughout the country increased. By July 1915, calls for permanent, built war memorials emerged, most prominently by the mayor of Auckland, J.H. Gunson, who favoured the construction of a utilitarian monument that would include a roll of honour. Memorial trees were also planted in the same month, including two pohutukawa at Eastbourne.

The AHB memorial conformed to Gunson’s suggestion in its inclusion of a roll of honour and functionality. The nineteen-foot (5.8 metres) high structure was designed by W.H. Hamer, who initially prepared two proposals for consideration. The chosen design comprised a stone obelisk, surmounted by decorative ironwork and an electric lamp. The memorial was constructed by John Bouskill, a monumental mason, who won the tender with an estimate of £187. Bouskill had previously created a monument to the New Zealand Wars at Pokeno (1898), the imaginative concept of which has been described as ‘a foretaste of a new era in monument-building’. Bouskill’s firm went on to erect eleven First World War monuments by 1925.

The AHB memorial beacon was first lit on 17 December 1915, in the same week that New Zealand troops were being withdrawn from Gallipoli (15-20 December). The monument was completed in less than the estimated time, despite waterfront strikes in October and November that year. It was placed on a prominent site between the two recently-built shelter sheds at the launch landings, beside the busy intersection of Quay, Sturdee and Albert Streets. This location formed a gathering place for those arriving or departing by sea, and was also close to the AHB’s offices.

The completion of the monument was reported in the Auckland Star as follows:

‘Workmen were engaged putting the finishing touches this morning to the new beacon erected in Quay Street, near the launch landings, opposite the Sailors' Home. This, besides being a guide for launch vessels, will also serve the important purpose of bearing the roll of honour of employees of the Harbour Board who have gone to the front. The list of names inscribed already totals 40, and there is another plate left vacant for those who are yet to go in the future. The beacon takes the form of an obelisk erected on a base of five tiers of steps of unpolished Coromandel granite. This is surmounted by a square, solid block of granite, polished, and above is a shaft of the same material beautifully finished. Above this is an artistic twisted metal support, on top of which is a red globe, which at night time will show a light. Under the regulations of the Harbour Board, launches coming to the landings have to sight this beacon and get in line with a white diamond affixed to the front of the Sailors' Home before they turn to run in…’

Hamer’s specifications included a three-quarter inch iron pipe through the middle of the obelisk ‘as a duct for the Board’s electric cables’. Auckland had begun to convert to electrical lighting in 1900, and with the establishment of a thermal electricity plant at the Patteson Street rubbish destructor in 1908 and the Kings Wharf coal-powered Thermal Station in 1913, electricity had been extended to much of the central city by 1915. The specifications also included tablets and shields for each face of the monument, but not all of these appear to have been attached when it was first erected. Brass name tablets were placed on two faces of the main obelisk, and on the base there were at least two attached shields. One of the latter was inscribed with the words, ‘This beacon was erected by the Auckland Harbour Board to record the services of those members of its staff whose names are inscribed above, who voluntarily gave their all in the cause of liberty and freedom at the call of the Mother Country in the Great World War of 1914’. A second shield listed the names of the current members of the Auckland Harbour Board. The Latin words ‘Qui moruit ferat palmam’ (let him who has won his laurels wear them) were also inscribed around the monument. The most public side, facing Quay Street, featured the roll of honour; the shield outlining the purpose of the memorial; the word ‘palmam’; and the date ‘1914’ inside an attached metal wreath.

Several aspects of the design emphasised the importance of ties with Great Britain, and the AHB’s support for the British Empire. Imperialist sentiments were common on earlier monuments to the South African War (1899-1902) and remained typical for the large number of First World War memorials later built around New Zealand. Announcing the monument’s completion, the chairman of the AHB, H.D. Heather emphasised the resilience of such notions, stating that ‘…we can and shall stand as an Empire, like the beacon we have now erected, “Four square to every wind that blows”.

Other aspects of the monument’s design continued earlier traditions, but did not find common currency as the Great War wore on. For example, it named all of those who served in the war rather than only those who had been killed. New Zealand was to lose 18,166 men and women during the war, encompassing the highest percentage of military aged men in the British Dominion per head of population. Two-thirds of them died during the Western Front campaign (1916-18), after the erection of the memorial beacon. As casualties mounted, an increasing emphasis emerged to commemorate those who would not return.

This shift in perspective may also explain why the use of a beacon as a visual and functional form was also not widely adopted for further war memorials, but remained unique. Its evident symbolism as a shining example, a beacon of hope and a guiding light to ensure safe passage was superseded. Soon after the war it was additionally felt that memorials should be purely ornamental rather than having a practical function. The beacon’s incorporation of an obelisk - an ambiguous symbol of both life and death, frequently associated with funerary commemoration - was, however, widely utilised: approximately one third of surviving monuments to the Great War in New Zealand have this form. This appears to have marked a departure from monuments to the earlier, South African War, very few of which were of obelisk type.

The memorial beacon was to be one of few occupational monuments erected during the First World War. Most were organised by local communities, churches and schools. Consequently, the process of the design and installation of this memorial differed to that of many other First World War monuments. Unlike most monuments erected, there was no public involvement in the selection of the design or location, no fundraising, and no opening ceremony.

The monument was, however, intended to be very publicly visible. In January 1916, the AHB asked to install a bright light on the side of the street opposite the beacon ‘to set off the roll of honour at night’, a request that was acceded to.

Subsequent modification and removal (1916-68)

Throughout the First World War, troopships and warships continued to arrive and depart from the Auckland wharves, and from 1917 the wharves were put under military control and manned with armed guards. The harbour fortifications on North Head were also manned and an examination anchorage off the head was brought into operation, which monitored vessels coming and going from the port.

Subsequent to the memorial beacon’s erection, the second attached tablet was inscribed with 40 names; a third plate was added with the names of another 36 men; and the notation ‘Killed’, or ‘Died’ was inscribed alongside fifteen of the names on the tablets. These plaques may have been altered or added as men enrolled during the remainder of the war, although a newspaper article at the end of 1918 suggested that the roll of honour was still incomplete at that time.

Two further bronze shields were also subsequently inscribed or added to the monument, one of which listed the places New Zealand soldiers fought or were stationed during the war and the other of which was inscribed with the words: ‘War Declared 4th August 1914. Victorious Peace signed at Versailles 26th June 1919’. During the peace celebration in 1919, the memorial beacon was draped in festoons of lights.

From 1915, members of the AHB proposed turning a vacant block to the south of the beacon into a larger ‘peace memorial’. After the war, the Board drew up plans for the proposed memorial park which included a Corinthian column and war trophies on each apex of the triangle. Auckland City Council initially supported the scheme as well as plans to erect the Auckland War Memorial Museum in the Auckland Domain. However, in 1920 it withdrew its support for the park due to a lack of public support.

In 1922-3, Quay Street was straightened with further reclamation of the harbour, slightly distancing the memorial from the waterfront and possibly removing or modifying its need as a beacon. The memorial appears to have remained on its original site, but was now incorporated into the triangular block that had previously been located exclusively to the south. During the same period Hobson Wharf was replaced, and renamed Princes Wharf (1921-4). In 1924, the Launch Offices (also known as Launchmans Building, or shed 110) was erected beside the vehicular ferry landing. When the ferry landing was dismantled and the eastern viaduct was constructed in 1930, the Launch Offices were moved to an adjacent jetty close to its original location.

By 1933, a small garden had been planted around the monument. During the Second World War (1939-45), the Public Works Department constructed a large concrete warehouse on the associated block, to store supplies for the US forces and to house the United States Joint Purchasing Board staff stationed in Auckland. The memorial was still on the same site in 1968, when detailed photographs of the structure were taken. At that time, there were three rolls of honour in place, and four shields - one of which was blank. The latter appears to have replaced the original shield which listed names of the AHB members.

Removal of the memorial from its original site occurred when the AHB undertook substantial changes to the organisation of the port. The memorial was taken from the site sometime between 1968 and 1973, when the Travelodge (now Copthorne Hotel) and Downtown car park were constructed. This development was part of the AHB’s ‘Downtown scheme’, which included office space, retail shops, and a pedestrian square on seven acre block between Queen and Hobson Streets. The scheme was intended to revitalise the waterfront area, providing income for port operations and developments that included redesigning the wharves to accommodate container ships. According to former Auckland Harbour Board chief executive Bob Lorimer, the memorial had been placed in storage in 1969 during the development of the area, with the intention of eventually reinstating it elsewhere. In 1988, Ports of Auckland Limited replaced the AHB.

Restoration and Re-siting (1999-2000)

On 24 April 1999, on the eve of Anzac Day, the New Zealand Herald reported that the dismantled obelisk and associated rolls of honour had been discovered in Shed 51 on Bledisloe Wharf. The shields were later found in the New Zealand Maritime Museum, but the iron railing, orb and wreaths were not recovered. Since the 1980s, Anzac Day had undergone a renaissance, with an increased number of young people attending the service that commemorated New Zealanders killed in war and returned service men and women and had also become associated with the emergence of a distinct New Zealand identity.

The Council approved of the restoration and re-installation of the memorial beacon after an anonymous Jewish German benefactor, who had immigrated to New Zealand prior to the Second World War, offered to fund it. The monument was restored in early 2000, with the plaques and new wreaths re-attached to the obelisk and a new stone ball placed on top of the obelisk to replace the original ironwork and orb. On 20 April 2000, just before Anzac Day, the monument was re-installed on the corner of Quay and Hobson Streets, outside the entrance to the Launch Offices (also known as Launchmans building). The Launch Offices had been leased by various shipping companies since 1930, but became part of the New Zealand National Maritime Museum (now Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum) when the museum opened in 1993. The memorial was officially unveiled shortly after Anzac Day in 2000.

Physical Description

Current Description


The First World War Memorial Beacon is located in Auckland’s Central Business District (CBD), close to the waterfront. It is situated at the western end of the Quay Street road reserve, at the latter’s junction with the northern end of Lower Hobson Street. The structure lies within a popular, pedestrianised area that forms part of the Viaduct Harbour and Princes Wharf precinct. It sits in a paved area immediately beside the Launch Offices (Register No. 608; Category 2 historic place), which currently form the entrance to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum. The memorial is approximately 150 metres northwest of its 1915 location.

The site lies within the Harbour Historic Area (Register No. 7158). The historic area is important for reflecting developments to the Auckland waterfront at a time when it became New Zealand’s pre-eminent port. It contains a number of significant buildings and structures, including several that are also individually registered as historic places, such as the Ferry Building (Register No.102; Category 1 historic place); the Wharf Pavilions (Register No.670; Category 2 historic place); and the former Auckland Harbour Board Workshops (Register No.2649; Category 2 historic place). The latter are located on the southwest corner of the junction that the memorial beacon occupies. The Wharf Pavilions were initially created at the same time as the 1915 memorial, and flanked the monument when it was constructed. Remaining parts of the Harbour Board fence adjoin the current memorial site.

The Harbour Historic Area itself forms part of a broader waterfront landscape that reflects Auckland’s historical evolution and importance as a commercial entrepot during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This is recognised through other registrations in the immediate vicinity such as the Quay Street Historic Area (Register No.7159) and the Customs Street Historic Area (Register No.7160).

Site and structure

The site encompasses a stone memorial and land extending one metre beyond the base of the memorial on all sides. The memorial structure comprises two stone steps; a square, stone base; a stone obelisk; and a surmounting stone ball. Several metal plates, shields and other ornamental elements are attached to the stonework.

The structure incorporates much of the memorial created in 1915, but with some modifications: its base consists of modern stone and is two rather than five steps high; it is surmounted by a polished stone ball rather than by twisted ironwork and a beacon; and some of the metal attachments (notably near the top of the obelisk) are modern additions or reproductions.

The large, square base is of polished Coromandel granite. It contains bronze tablets on all four faces. Those on the south, east and west faces are of identical, scrolled design.

That on the south face states:

‘This beacon was erected by the Auckland Harbour Board to record the services of those members of its staff whose names are inscribed above, who voluntarily gave their all in the cause of liberty and freedom at the call of the Mother Country in the Great World War of 1914’. And also a quote: ‘”A country which defends its liberties in the face of tyranny, commands the respect of all; such a country does not perish” (King Albert of Belgium to his people)’.

The shield on the east face is inscribed:

‘Battle Honours. Samoa Egypt. Gallipoli. France. Belgium. Palestine. Mesopotamia German E. & W. Africa. Italy. Russia. Austria. The Balkan States. The Occupation of Germany. And the Seven Seas.’

The shield on the west face states:

‘War declared 4th August 1914. Victorious peace signed at Versailles 26th June 1919’ [n.b. peace was actually signed on the 28th June 1919]

The shield on the north face is of simpler design and bears the words:

‘Restored and re-erected in the year 2000 by a grateful refugee from Nazi Germany’

A projecting cornice on top of the base contains a Latin inscription, which is picked out in gold. This incorporates a word on each face, running from east, to south, to west, to north. The inscription states: ‘Qui meruit ferat palmam’ (let him who has won his laurels wear them).

The overlying obelisk is of polished Coromandel granite, like the base, and contains long, tall brass plates on all faces except on its north side. Each plate is prefaced by the words ‘Roll of Honour’. Those on the south and east faces have 40 names each, and that on the west has 36. The names are not arranged in alphabetical order. Some contain the words ‘Killed’ or ‘Died’ against them. No military ranks are given.

At the top of the obelisk, on the same three sides as the name plates, are large bronze wreaths. These are modern replicas. The one on the south face encloses the date 1914. That on the west face contains holes in the stonework that appear to have been created to take four numbers, possibly the date marking the end of the First World War, 1918. Marks near the top of the north face of the obelisk may suggest that another wreath or similar attachment once existed here.

The obelisk is surmounted by a small, plain cornice, supporting a round polished stone ball of modern creation.


Hundreds of monuments to the First World War were erected throughout New Zealand. At least 453 surviving war memorials have been recorded. The First World War Memorial Beacon is the earliest monument currently known to have been built, and the only one initially erected while New Zealand troops were serving at Gallipoli.

A slightly later memorial was erected at Kaitaia (Register No. 10015, Category 1 historic place), which was commissioned before 24 December 1915 and unveiled in March 1916. This monument was relocated in the 1960s to be placed alongside a Second World War memorial. In 1993, both memorials were relocated to their present position in Remembrance Park, Kaitaia. The Kaitaia monument has been recognised as a Category 1 historic place because of its very early date for a First World War memorial; its poetic, bilingual text; its origination by Maori and concern for both Maori and Pakeha; and the prominence given to it both by the local community and by scholars of New Zealand War memorials.

The First World War Memorial Beacon in Auckland represents an important initial stage in the development of built monuments to the Great War, combining features that became uncommon due to the high death toll - notably in its commemoration of all serving personnel and its dual ornamental and functional purpose - with aspects that were to remain more typical, such as its Imperial iconography and adoption of the obelisk form. The obelisk was rarely used for monuments to the South African War, but became commonplace in memorials to the First World War.

The memorial beacon is also a rare example of an occupational monument erected to the conflict. Occupational monuments are much more uncommon in New Zealand than in Great Britain. This may be due to the comparatively small scale of employment in this country. The few occupational monuments that do exist are connected with large institutions, including banks, government departments and - in the case of the First World War Memorial Beacon - a major civic body.

The use of the Auckland Harbour Board memorial as a beacon is believed to be unique amongst war memorials in New Zealand, and appears to be one of only a few built internationally. Analysis in 1990 of a full but not complete sample of New Zealand memorials concluded that the vast majority were purely ornamental. Of the relatively few functional monuments, 23 were halls, seven were libraries and several were bridges. The Auckland War Memorial Museum (1924-9; Register No. 94, Category 1 historic place) was purpose-built as a museum to commemorate those who had fallen in the First World War, although it also included a separate cenotaph monument (1929; Register No. 122, Category 1 historic place) in front of the main structure.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1915 -

1916 - 1918
Additional name plate added to the obelisk

1919 -
Additional inscriptions added to the base

1969 -
Memorial dismantled and removed to AHB storage sheds

2000 -
Memorial restored and re-installed in its current location

Construction Details

Stone, with brass plaques and bronze shields

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

27th May 2014

Report Written By

Lucy Mackintosh and Martin Jones

Information Sources

Barr, 1926

John Barr, The Ports of Auckland, New Zealand: A History of the Discovery and Development of the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours, Auckland, 1926

Phillips & Maclean, 1990.

Phillips, Jock and Chris Maclean, The Sorrow and the Pride: New Zealand War Memorials, Department of Internal Affairs, Historical Branch, Wellington, 1990.

Other Information

A fully referenced report is available from the Mid-Northern Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.

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.