Massey Memorial

Point Halswell, WELLINGTON

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From its prominent position overlooking Wellington Harbour, the Massey Memorial has, since 1930, served as a unique reminder of Prime Minister William Ferguson Massey (1856-1925). The memorial is located on Point Halswell, a site long associated with defence. Point Halswell, initially known as Rukutoa, was originally occupied by a Maori pa named 'Kai-tawharo'. The land was taken by the Crown in 1841 for 'public purposes' and renamed after Judge Edmond Halswell who had arrived in New Zealand that same year. From 1885 the site was used for the Halswell Battery and barracks, one of a number of coastal defence forts built to protect Wellington after the Crimean War from the threat of a Russian sea borne invasion. The battery was built and maintained by prison labour. In 1913 the site was leased by the Justice Department for use as a women's prison. The fort remained armed until the First World War when it was converted into a magazine. Massey was New Zealand's Prime Minister throughout the First World War, and the only leader in the commonwealth who retained his position after the war. On Massey's death in 1925 Parliament passed the Massey Burial-ground Act, which allocated 0.8 hectares (two acres) of land for use as a burial ground for Massey and his widow, Christina Massey. The fort, which had remained unused for over eleven years, was converted into a crypt. The original gun-pit was lined with marble to serve as a vault for Massey and his wife. A temporary marble obelisk was erected over the gun-pit roof to mark the grave above ground until the present memorial was completed in 1930. The Massey Memorial, visible from many parts of the city, is an outstanding feature of Wellington Harbour. The grand, classically influenced, marble structure was designed by Samuel Hurst Seager in conjunction with Auckland architects Gummer and Ford. It cost over £15,000, much of which was contributed by public donations. Seager was well known as a designer of memorials and was responsible for the design of the famous Chunuk Bair War Memorial. Following the completion of the Massey Memorial, Gummer and Ford were commissioned to complete numerous war memorials around New Zealand, including the National War Memorial in Wellington. The main feature of the Massey Memorial is seven columns arranged in a semi-circle, topped by a curved marble block. A long paved marble walk leads back to the entrance of the crypt where an inscription lists the names of Massey and his wife. The memorial was originally to have been made entirely of Italian marble but, following protests from nationalistic members of Parliament, the architects settled on a base of Coromandel granite with the remaining structure composed of Kairuru marble from the Takaka quarry. Built by the firm of Hansford and Mills, the memorial traces the design of the original fort. The paved walkway marks the location of the underground magazine area that is now used as a passageway to reach the vault. The dome in the centre of the curved end marks the position of the 8 inch disappearing gun pit. The lower level of the fort, once used for shell and cartridge storage, remain intact under the memorial. During the Second World War the site was re-commissioned for defence purposes and the remains of an observation post can be seen on the terraces behind the Memorial. The Massey Memorial has national significance as a memorial to William Ferguson Massey, a Prime Minister remembered for his staunch imperialism and governance of New Zealand throughout the First World War. It has great historical significance and potential educational value through its association with part of an early coastal defence system for Wellington Harbour. It is also an illustration of the pre-occupation with the virtues of the empire and the fashion for building elaborate and prominent memorials that characterised the early part of the twenty-first century. As a prominent Wellington landmark and an excellent example of the work of Samuel Hurst Seager, the Memorial also has great architectural significance. It demonstrates the careful siting and austere simplicity that characterised his work as New Zealand's official architect of war memorials. As an unusual conversion a former battery into a crypt, the Memorial has both rarity and technological value. Immaculately maintained, the highly visible landmark is an integral part of New Zealand's national defence and governance history.

Massey Memorial, Point Halswell, Wellington. Image courtesy of | PhilBee NZ - Phil Braithwaite | 09/12/2012 | Phil Braithwaite
Massey Memorial, Point Halswell, Wellington | R O'Brien | 20/09/2002 | Heritage New Zealand
Massey Memorial, Point Halswell, Wellington | R O'Brien | 20/09/2002 | Heritage New Zealand
Massey Memorial, Point Halswell, Wellington | R O'Brien | 20/09/2002 | Heritage New Zealand
Massey Memorial. Unveiling of the Massey memorial, Point Halswell, Wellington, 19 Sep 1930. Reference Number: 1/1-000711-F. Unveiling of the Massey memorial, Point Halswell, Miramar Peninsula, Wellington, 19 September, 1930. Photographer unidentified. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library must be obtained before reuse of this image | Alexander Turnbull Library



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

11th November 1984

Date of Effect

11th November 1984

City/District Council

Wellington City


Wellington Region

Location Description

The Massey Memorial is located on Point Halswell, which is accessed via Massey Road, Wellington.

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