Rocks Road Chain Fence

Rocks Road and Wakefield Quay, NELSON

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Since 1898 the Rocks Road Chain Fence has marked the perimeter of Rocks Road from the Nelson Harbour, and served as a symbol of the practical generosity of Nelson settlers John Tinline and Thomas Cawthron. The Rocks Road Chain Fence was an integral part of a project to construct a road between the city of Nelson and the nearby settlement of Tahunanui. According to the local newspaper, 'the fear of the sea encroaching as well as the inconvenience of the hills had made the work necessary'. Prior to the road's construction, travellers had been forced to take the dangerous route around the rocks below the cliff face at low tide. The project was first mooted in 1876. Local councils formed a road committee in 1891 and the surveyor and engineer Sam Jickell was commissioned to construct a concrete seawall. The wall was built by prisoners from the Nelson Gaol and completed in 1897. The Chain Fence was erected along part of the wall in 1898 to protect the public from the vertical drop into the sea below. Suggested and funded by Nelson settler John Tinline, the concept was inspired by the fences lining seafronts in England. Rocks Road was constructed between the wall and the cliff face. Built of materials excavated from the cliffs, it was completed at the cost of almost £12,000, and officially opened by Premier Richard John Seddon [1845-1906] in 1899. The sturdy Rocks Road Chain Fence highlights the curving nature of the seawall and cliff face of the road. It is composed of a double row of chains strung between stanchions placed 3.2 metres apart. The elaborate stanchions are made of cast iron and cost £140. Perched on top of a raised concrete curb, the stanchions stand on short, square bases and taper towards the top. The chains cost £400. They are hung from spheres at the middle and top of each stanchion. Driven into the chains at regular intervals are short, iron spikes. The fence, which originally covered just 1.1 kilometres, now protects almost two kilometres of the road. In 1912 Thomas Cawthron [1833?-1915], a prominent Nelson businessman and noted philanthropist, offered to pay for the fence to be extended along unprotected parts of the road after a cyclist was killed falling from the road onto the rocks below the seawall. The fence was extended by 784 metres [39 chains] under the supervision of city engineer J. G. Littlejohn for £218, leaving the eastern end of the road exposed. The stanchions for the fence extension were forged in Nelson at the Anchor Shipping and Foundry Company and the chains were imported from England. Cawthron advocated for the completion of the work until his death in 1915. The fence was finally extended towards the east after another serious accident later that year. It was paid for out of Cawthron's estate. Despite minor changes prompted by the reinforcement of the seawall in 1958, and the replacement of chains and stanchions due to rust, the Rocks Road Chain Fence remains a prominent and practical feature of Rocks Road. The Rocks Road Chain Fence has national significance as an example of Victorian street furniture. The imported chains and the English-inspired design provide insight into the aspirations of the growing city of Nelson in the late nineteenth century. The fence has considerable historical importance. As Rocks Road and the original seawall were extensively altered in the second half of the twentieth century, the fence is one of the last original, visible reminders of the development and spread of Nelson City towards Tahunanui. The length of the fence draws attention to the seawall, which has technological interest, and the line reflects the original curves of Rocks Road as designed by Sam Jickell. Funded by two prominent Nelson settlers, the fence is evidence of their practical generosity to the city and serves as a memorial to them. The Chain Fence has considerable aesthetic value and is an outstanding feature of the Nelson waterfront and the Rocks Road streetscape.

Rocks Road Chain Fence, Nelson. CC BY-SA 2.0 Image courtesy of | Mike Locke | 10/05/2008 | Mike Locke
Rocks Road Chain Fence, Nelson. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Image courtesy of | Meghan Deutscher | 04/03/2012 | Meghan Deutscher
Rocks Road Chain Fence. 'The fence shortly after it was erected in 1898. Rocks Road was officially opened by Premier Richard John Seddon in 1899 | Copy Collection, Nelson Provincial Museum, C3539
Rocks Road Chain Fence, Nelson. c.1900s Port of Nelson, NZ. Image courtesy of Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa photography collection. Reg. No PS. 003129 | F. N. Jones Photographs, Nelson, NZ Series | No Known Copyright Restrictions



List Entry Information


Detailed List Entry



List Entry Status

Historic Place Category 1


Able to Visit

List Number


Date Entered

11th November 1989

Date of Effect

11th November 1989

City/District Council

Nelson City


Nelson Region

Location Description

The fence runs for almost 2 kilometres from the carpark at Tahunanui Beach to the Iron Duke Boatclub Hall.

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