Drill Hall

56 Coote Road And Breakwater Road, Bluff Hill, Napier

  • Drill Hall, Napier.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Blyss Wagstaff. Date: 21/01/2020.
  • Drill Hall, Napier. Looking south along section of stone rubble wall on Breakwater Road.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: J Barnes-Wylie. Date: 5/08/2020.
  • Drill Hall, Napier. Interior.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: J Barnes-Wylie. Date: 5/08/2020.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 1134 Date Entered 8th April 2021 Date of Effect 29th April 2021 Date of Last Review 8th April 2021


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes the land described as Town Sec 713 Napier (NZ Gazette 2000, p.3301), Town Sec 714 Napier (RT HBF3/1440; NZ Gazette 2002, pp.844-845), part of the land described as Pt Napier Harbour Board Foreshore Reserve (RT HB42/3), Hawkes Bay Land District, and the building known as Drill Hall thereon. Extent includes the associated concrete shed to the east of the Drill Hall, the adjacent Centennial Gardens carpark, and the stone rubble wall along Breakwater Road and partially along Coote Road, but excludes the two timber buildings at the southern end of the carpark.

City/District Council

Napier City


Hawke's Bay Region

Legal description

Town Sec 713 Napier (NZ Gazette 2000, p.3301), Town Sec 714 Napier (RT HBF3/1440; NZ Gazette 2002, pp.844-845) and Pt Napier Harbour Board Foreshore Reserve (RT HB42/3), Hawkes Bay Land District.

Location description

NZTM E 2847093.43, N 6183824.09 (marker location for this land parcel in QuickMap)

NZTM E 1937184; N 5622233 +/- 4m (northern end of stone rubble wall on Breakwater Road)

E 1937168; N 5622160 +/- 4m (southern end of stone rubble wall on Breakwater Road)

E: 1937143; N 5622177 +/- 3m (western end of stone rubble wall on Coote Road)


Napier’s Drill Hall was originally constructed in 1886-1887 as a drill-shed for the Napier Naval Brigade, but was relocated from Port Ahuriri to Coote Road on Bluff Hill in 1889, where it has remained in use as a military training centre and community venue to this day. There is a strong community association with the Drill Hall, and it has high historic value for its long connection with New Zealand’s armed forces and the training thereof, particularly the Volunteer forces responsible for its original construction and subsequent relocation to Coote Road. The hall is also associated with key events in our military history such as the deployment of troops for the South African War and First and Second World Wars.

The Māori name for Bluff Hill is Hukarere, and it is a place of cultural and spiritual significance to Māori. There was a whare wānanga (house of learning) in this area and it was also the site of Tūhinapō, a tapu place where only tohunga would approach to offer the ‘first fruits of the season’ at the altar. The Drill Hall site itself was the location of a freshwater spring associated with the famed sea maiden Pānia. Hukarere was part of the 265 000 acre Ahuriri Block purchased in 1851 and a decade later the land on which the Drill Hall is now located was granted to Thomas Fitzgerald, the first Superintendent of the Hawke’s Bay province. Fitzgerald was granted the land in trust as a site for an ‘emigration barracks and for a native hostelry’, and the buildings were erected shortly thereafter. Twenty-five years later the site was set apart as a drill-shed site, as had been long desired by Napier’s burgeoning Volunteer forces.

As events transpired, Napier’s first drill-shed was actually constructed elsewhere as the newly established Napier Naval Brigade built their own drill-shed to the rear of Messrs Kinross and Co’s store at Port Ahuriri, on land granted by the Harbour Board. The Naval Brigade’s drill-shed was a ‘very large’ timber building designed by Napier architect Walter Phillip Finch (1860-1943) and constructed by Mr E. Walker, with work commencing in late 1886. It officially opened in March 1887 and was described as a ‘splendid’ building and the best in Napier for holding a ball, whilst also proving equally convenient for its intended purpose as a drill-shed. Noted features of the new hall, which had been elaborately decorated for the occasion, included its high ceiling and stage with proscenium arch.

In late 1889 the drill-shed was relocated to the Coote Road site and by March 1890 it had been re-erected with lean-to additions designed by Napier architect Walter Arthur Dugleby (1845–1922). From this point the drill-shed became more commonly known as the ‘Garrison Hall’ or ‘Drill Hall’. In 1901 a parade ground was completed on the telegraph reserve to the east of the Drill Hall, and during the South African War the hall served as a testing and selection centre for recruits. The Defence Department took over the hall in late 1911 and it operated as a collection centre for goods and a muster point following the outbreak of the First World War, and as an administration and records centre during the Second World War. During the 1951 waterfront dispute the hall was urgently converted into military barracks to house Defence Force personnel acting as ‘strike breakers’, and other changes were made throughout the 20th century, resulting in the building as it appears today. The hall is currently used by three local New Zealand Cadet Force units, and remains a popular community venue for hire.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Napier Drill Hall has high historical significance for its long association with New Zealand’s armed forces and the evolution thereof, most notably the establishment of Volunteer forces in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Drills were central to Volunteer training, leading to the construction of numerous drill halls or ‘sheds’ across the country, very few of which remain today. The hall is also connected with the expansion of the armed forces during the First and Second World Wars, resulting in direct physical changes to the building. It has additional significance through its close association with the training of New Zealand Cadet Forces; it has been used by the Air Training Corps since their inception in 1941, and all three branches of the Cadet Forces currently use the hall for training.

Archaeological Significance or Value

There is the potential for archaeological methods, particularly standing building recording, to reveal significant information about the evolution of the Drill Hall building and its immediate setting following the building’s relocation to Coote Road in 1889. There is also the potential for archaeological investigation to reveal important information about the earlier use of the Drill Hall site, both by Māori and during the initial period of European settlement when an immigration barracks and native hostelry were constructed there. This information has the potential to add significantly to our understanding of Napier’s early history.

Cultural Significance or Value

The Drill Hall was constructed on Hukarere (Bluff Hill), a site of cultural significance to Māori at the north-eastern end of Mataruahou (Napier Hill), as referenced in various kōrero. There was a whare wānanga (house of learning) at Hukarere and it was the site of Tūhinapō, a tapu place where only the tohunga approached to offer the first fruits and catches of the season at the altar. Oral traditions also record that there was a freshwater spring on the Drill Hall site associated with the beautiful sea maiden Pānia. An information board to the north of the Drill Hall documents the important Māori history of the immediate area.

Social Significance or Value

The Drill Hall has been an important community asset since it was first constructed at Port Ahuriri in 1887, with the building drawing people together for a wide range of events beyond military training, particularly fundraising balls, shows and community classes. The community of Cadet Forces which currently use the hall do so because of the building’s lengthy association with military training. The ongoing maintenance and use of the hall demonstrate the value in which it is held by the community.

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

The Napier Drill Hall reflects the development and history of Volunteer forces in New Zealand and their need for purpose-built halls or ‘sheds’ in which to practise their drills. Volunteering was very popular and the various Volunteer corps made a significant contribution to New Zealand’s regional network of armed forces from the mid-nineteenth century through to the early twentieth century. The Drill Hall is a rare remaining example of a nineteenth century drill hall, and its significance is further enhanced by the continuity of its association with military training to this day. It also reflects the use of prison labour to help built public facilities, with prisoners from Napier Prison preparing the Coote Road site for the hall’s relocation and re-erection, and later creating the adjacent parade ground with associated stone rubble wall.

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

The Drill Hall is associated with several key events of importance in New Zealand history, particularly the deployment of troops to serve in theatres of war. The hall became a testing and selection centre during the South African War, was a collection centre for goods and a muster point throughout the First World War, and an administration and records centre during the Second World War. In the time of the 1951 waterfront dispute, which became New Zealand’s largest ever industrial conflict, the hall was hurriedly converted to a military barracks to accommodate Defence Force personnel who were brought in to act as ‘strike breakers’ at the port.

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

There is the strong potential for the Drill Hall to contain original fabric which can provide information about the construction of New Zealand’s nineteenth century drill halls, particular given that few survive today. There is additional potential for the wider site to reveal significant information about the early Māori history of this part of Hukarere/Bluff Hill, and the formative years of European settlement in Napier, during which key public facilities such as the immigration barracks and native hostelry were constructed.

d) The importance of the place to tangata whenua

The Drill Hall site is valued by tangata whenua as this area of Hukarere (Bluff Hill) has a significant Māori history which predates the construction of the hall, and includes the sacred site of Tūhinapō, associated with tapu cultural practises such as the offering of the first fruits and catches of the season to the atua (deities). In addition, the Drill Hall is recognised as the site of Pania’s Spring, where the famous sea maiden Pānia returned to each evening from the reef world she inhabited during the day. The important of this site to tangata whenua is reflected by its earmarking as a property for cultural redress under the Ahuriri Hapū Claims Settlement agreement.

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

The Napier community has been closely associated with the Drill Hall since its opening at Port Ahuriri in 1887. The hall has been available to hire as a community venue since this time, and has hosted thousands of community events from fundraising balls to dog shows and community classes. Within the Napier community, it has a particularly special association with the three local Cadet Forces (New Zealand Cadet Corps, TS Ahuriri Navy Corps and Air Training Corps) who currently use the hall for training purposes.

Summary of Significance or Values

The Drill Hall is historically significant for its association with the growth of New Zealand’s Volunteer forces in the mid to late nineteenth century, and the consequent requirement for purpose-built halls in which the Volunteers could practise their military drills. It additionally reflects other key events in New Zealand’s military history, such as the deployment of troops for the South African War and First and Second World Wars. The hall and its site have archaeological value on account of their potential to reveal important information about the evolution of the Drill Hall site over time, as well as the important history of the site prior to the building’s relocation there in 1889, the latter reflecting its cultural significance to tangata whenua. Since its construction the hall has been closely associated with the Napier community, as a venue available for hire for community events such as balls, local shows and community classes. It is of particular value to the three Napier Cadet Forces, who use it as a training base, thereby enabling the building to fulfil its original purpose to this day.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Natusch, Charles Tilliard (1859-1951)

Natusch founded his practice in Wellington in 1886, having completed his architectural studies in England in 1882. He immigrated to New Zealand in 1886 after spending the intervening time in the United States, Canada and working in town planning in England. Over the years, Natusch was based in Wellington, Masterton, Pahiatua and finally Napier. When he was commissioned to work on the Feilding Club, his three sons had joined the practice and the firm had offices in Wellington, Pahiatua, Napier, Gisborne and Palmerston North. Natusch is particularly well known for his residential buildings, which include Bushy Park (Register Number 157), Gwavas (Register Number 173) Matapiro (Register Number 171), Maungaraupi (4916) and Wharerata (Register Number 1188).

Finch, Walter Phillip (1860-1943)

Walter Phillip Finch was born in Dunedin in 1860. He received his education in the area and was articled to his profession under Mr James Johnston of Oamaru. Finch moved to Napier in 1883, entering into a partnership with Mr T R Cooper. In 1891 Cooper withdrew from the practice and Finch practised alone. He was appointed architect to the Hawkes Bay Education Board in 1895 and was also architect for some time to the original Napier Hospital and Charitable Aid Board. In approximately 1903/1904, while continuing to operate on his own account in Napier, Finch entered into a partnership with Mr Sholto Douglas Lamb in order to establish an office in Dannevirke. Among the buildings Finch designed in Napier during this period were the Hawkes Bay Club, 1906 (Category I historic place, Register No 180) and the Hawkes Bay County Council Offices, 1910 (Category II historic place, Register no 4820). In 1929 Finch designed the Waiapu Diocesan Office Building and Synod Hall and in 1930 designed the St Paul's Presbyterian Church with Louis Hay which had only just been completed at the time of the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake. Finch entered into partnership with Herbert A Westerholm in approximately 1931. Finch and Westerholm are credited with designing more buildings than any other during the reconstruction. Finch died in 1943. (Registration Report for the Waiapu Diocesan Office Building and Synod Hall, 2008).

Dugleby, Walter Arthur (1845–1922)

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Mr E Walker

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Mr Harold Bey

No biography is currently available for this construction professional

Additional informationopen/close

Historical and associated iwi/hapu/whanau

Rangitane (North Island)

Ngati Awa

Ngati Kahungunu ki Heretaunga

Historical Narrative

Early Māori History

Tribal traditions, whakapapa and archaeological evidence all indicate many centuries of Māori occupation in Ahuriri (Napier), centrally located within the wider area of Te Matau-a-Māui (Hawke’s Bay). Te Matau-a-Māui translates to the ‘fish hook of Māui’ and is an allegorical reference to the legendary explorer and ancestor Māui who fished up Te Ika-a-Maui (the North Island). Early Māori tribes in the region descended from Māui and down through Toi-kai-rākau, and included Ngāti Hotu, Ngāti Mahu and Whatumamoa. When Ngāti Kahungunu arrived in the region in the sixteenth century, Whatumamoa, Rangitāne, Ngāti Awa and elements of Ngāti Tara were living in Pētane, Te Whanganui-a-Orotū (the Napier Inner Harbour, also known as Ahuriri Harbour) and Waiohiki. These groups are all ancestors of the current hapū within Te Matau-a-Māui.

Ngāti Kahungunu became the dominant tribal group in the region through both warfare and strategic marriage though large numbers left the area in the 1820s due to armed raids from both the west and north, and most sought refuge at Māhia. They started ‘filtering back’ to Ahuriri-Heretaunga in the 1830s and 1840s with the Treaty of Waitangi providing the prospect of ‘being able to return to their ancestral lands in peace’. European traders, whalers and missionaries were living in the region by this time, and by 1851 small beach communities had taken up residence on both sides of Te Whanganui-a-Orutū (at Onepoto and on the western spit). That same year Land Commissioner Donald McLean negotiated the purchase of the circa 265 000 acre Ahuriri Block which included Mataruahou (Napier Hill, formerly Scinde Island).

Mataruahou referred to the mirror images of faces which appeared in the pools alongside the tracks over what was effectively an island. Mataruahou and other smaller islands surrounded Te Whanganui-a-Orutū which was highly prized by Māori for its plentiful resources including fish, shellfish and birds, making it an attractive place for early settlement. A number of whare wānanga (houses of learning) were established on Mataruahou such as at Hukarere (Bluff Hill) at the north-eastern end. Hukarare was also the site of Tūhinapō, ‘the most sacred spot in the district for here stood the altar at which were offered the first fruits of the season. None but the tohunga himself dared approach the spot’.

Mataruahou was additionally a tapu place in that it housed the caves of Io Pikopiko, an important atua (god) for maintaining the mauri ora (life force) of Hawke’s Bay Māori. It is known that there were pā and kāinga on the hill, such as Matapane Pā, Hukarere Pā and Pukemokimoki Pā (since destroyed by quarrying), and several midden have been recorded. There was also a freshwater spring on the site of the Drill Hall which was associated with the famous sea maiden Pānia.

Laying out of Napier Township and Reservation of Suburban Section 96

Whilst it was not considered an ‘attractive or healthy site’ for a township, Mataruahou was the perfect location for a port, and three years after the Ahuriri Block purchase, newly appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands and Resident Magistrate Alfred Domett laid out the first plan of the township known as Napier. Domett’s 1855 plan included ‘reserves and sites’ for various public facilities and to that end, on 1 February 1861 the Crown granted Suburban Section 96 on the corner of Coote Road and Marine Parade to Thomas Fitzgerald, the first Superintendent of the Hawke’s Bay province. Fitzgerald was granted the land ‘in trust’ as a site for an emigration barracks and native hostelry.

Establishment of Napier’s Volunteer Corps

Volunteer forces were first established in New Zealand in the 1840s in response to settlers’ fear of conflict with Māori, but were only formally provided for under the 1858 Militia Act, which set out appropriate approvals and regulations. They were a key part of the regional system that made up New Zealand’s armed forces and were involved alongside British forces in the various campaigns of the New Zealand Wars. Napier’s Volunteer movement has its origins in the early days of the second Taranaki war (1863-1866), when the conflict reportedly ‘caused a stir in Napier and the Hawke’s Bay’, leading to the formation of a local military organisation. The Napier Rifles were the first Volunteer corps to form in 1863, and three companies of militia were also established, with military training commencing, including morning and evening drills.

In 1869 the Napier Rifle Corps was joined by the F Battery of Field Artillery (‘Artillery Volunteers’). Volunteering interest waned after the New Zealand Wars and the original Napier Rifles disbanded in 1874. However, the Napier Engineers Corps was formed in March 1878, later changing into a rifle company known as the Napier Rifle Volunteers (the ‘Rifles’) which earned a reputation as a leader among the North Island companies, with a ‘strong and welldrilled [sic] force’. The Napier Naval Brigade (also known as the Naval Artillery Volunteers Corps or ‘Naval Volunteers’) was established in late 1884.

Reservation of the Napier Drill-Shed Site (1886)

‘Without a proper drill-hall we cannot have properly drilled men’.

Local Volunteer forces needed their own headquarters at which to meet and drill, and a ‘proper drill-shed’ had long been desired in Napier. Discussions continued with the government throughout the early 1880s, during which time a temporary drill shed was established for a period on ‘Mr Tiffin’s grounds’ in Tennyson Street, with outdoor drills also held during the summer months. Meanwhile, in November 1884 Dransfield’s store at ‘the Spit’ was placed at the disposal of the newly formed Naval Brigade for their drill-shed.

A permanent drill-shed was still greatly desired though and in 1885 the local Napier Volunteers drafted a petition to government to try and obtain one for the town. In April 1886 the Defence Department wrote to the government suggesting a Coote Road site for the drill-shed – a site which had the advantage of being further away from the centre of town. Whilst Napier was proud of its Volunteer garrison and wanted its members to have an ‘ample’ drill-shed, there was also a desire to see the parades held anywhere else than in the public streets where they could be an ‘unmitigated nuisance’. The Coote Road site was subsequently set apart in August 1886 and vested in Trustees for ‘the use of Volunteers in the Hawke’s Bay Provincial District’.

Construction of Naval Drill-Shed, Port Ahuriri

Despite progress with the Coote Road site, the Naval Volunteers subsequently decided to construct their own drill-shed on the section to the rear of Messrs Kinross and Co.’s store at Port Ahuriri, which had been granted to them by the Harbour Board. It seems in fact that the Naval Volunteers had already taken steps towards the construction of their own drill-shed, commissioning architect Walter Phillip Finch (1860-1943) to prepare plans ‘some months ago’. They were also determined to independently fund the drill-shed’s construction without recourse to any financial assistance, including the government subsidy, thereby ‘showing the true spirit of volunteering, and setting an example that is without precedent in New Zealand’.

In late September 1886, tenders were invited for the construction of a ‘large drill-shed’ and builders Messrs Davis and Ruston were the successful tenderers. By November 1886 contractor Mr E. Walker was making good progress – the frame was up and it was expected that the ‘very large’ shed measuring 54 feet (16.45 metres) by 92 feet (28.04 metres) would be weather-tight within the next fortnight. The drill-shed was officially opened at a celebratory ball on 3 March 1887, for which it was lavishly decorated with shrubs, flowers, bunting and Chinese lanterns. It was described as a splendid building ‘and certainly the best in Napier in which to hold a ball, while it should prove equally as convenient for the purposes for which it is intended – a drill-hall’. Particular features were noted such as its high ceiling and stage with proscenium arch. Indeed, the drill-shed was regularly used for drills, balls and other social events such as concerts and exhibitions over the next two years.

Relocation of the Navals’ Drill-Shed to Coote Road

By August 1889 a decision had been made to relocate the Navals’ existing drill-shed to the Coote Road site, instead of the Artillery and Rifle Volunteers building their own drill-shed. The ‘main portion’ of the Navals’ building would be purchased for £432, with lean-tos to be added upon re-erection on Coote Road, with a total estimated project cost of £750. The three Napier Volunteer corps had already raised a sum of £500 towards this cost and also received a £300 government subsidy. Staff-Sergeant Major Huddleston was apparently instrumental in persuading the different Volunteer companies to buy the Navals’ drill-shed and remove it to town, as part of his efforts to ‘promote harmony and emulation’ between them. Architect Walter Arthur Dugleby (1845–1922) was entrusted to drawn up designs for the lean-to additions and tenders were called for the building’s removal and re-erection.

By mid-October 1889, prisoners from the Napier Prison on Coote Road had made ‘considerable progress’ in preparing the drill-shed site for the building’s arrival. By 21 November 1889 contractor Harold Bey had shifted the whole building to Coote Road and walls were up, with other parts of the building being prepared for placing into position. An arrangement had been made to acquire a 16 foot strip of land of the telegraph reserve to the east, as the drill-shed site was not going to be sufficiently large enough to accommodate the enlarged building.

On 1 December 1889, a heavy gust of wind caused the total collapse of the partially erected drill-shed - a large portion of the building including all the principal rafters was apparently ‘destroyed’. The Garrison officers subsequently decided to have the plans altered slightly, and called for new tenders for the work. The new tenders received were all too high to be accepted though, and the Garrison officers decided to carry out the work using ‘day labor [sic]’, so far as their funds would permit, though they did also subsequently seek further funds to enable completion of the work. There was an ensuing civil court case over the collapse of the drill-shed, as Bey had ‘cleared out’.

The re-erection of the drill-shed was completed by 12 March 1890, when the Garrison corps paraded for inspection. From this time it seems to also have become known as the ‘Garrison Hall’ or ‘Drill Hall’. In April 1891, six gentlemen were appointed as Trustees of the hall in accordance with the relevant legislation. An 1891 description of the building gives an insight into its layout at that time, which was as follows: ‘Drill Hall 50 x 90, 3 Orderly Rooms, 1 Band Room, 1 Cloak room, 1 Morris Tube Gallery, 1 Gun Room, 1 Retiring Room, 1 Lecture Room, 1 Detached iron building’.

The Drill Hall was used throughout the 1890s for weekly drills and parades; meetings of the various Volunteer corps; numerous social and fundraising balls; concerts; and community events such as Mr Thomson’s bicycle riding school and flower shows. The regular holding of ‘Cinderella dances’ in the hall was a cause for some criticism though, with one correspondent noting that the floor was now ‘holy ground, and must not be trodden on, because instead of being devoted to drill purposes the hall is chiefly kept for dancing’.

In 1895 a caretaker was appointed to live on-site at the hall and the Napier Garrison Drill Shed Committee (‘the Committee’) agreed to undertake renovations to create a Military and Volunteers District Office in the hall by partitioning off a small room towards the front where the ‘supper room’ was, with a door connecting to the main hall. The following year a military ball was held to raise funds to help improve the hall and secure proper ventilation and the Committee also successfully applied for a government pound for pound grant (up to £100). The improvement works were underway by July 1896 and appear to have been completed by a ‘Mr Ward’ by September 1896.

In 1900 the land to the seaward side of the Drill Hall was granted for a parade ground. The following year the Volunteers applied to the government to have Napier Prison inmates erect a stone rubble wall along the seaward side of the telegraph reserve, as part of preparations to create a ‘proper’ parade ground – this was urgently needed as the Drill Hall was not large enough accommodate Battalion drill with three companies of the 3rd Battalion of the East Coast Rifle Volunteers (formed in 1898) now garrisoned in Napier. The Volunteer’s application was successful and the parade ground was completed in December 1901, with prisoners undertaking the initial levelling work and surface tarring, as well as construction of the stone rubble wall.

Use of the Drill Hall and Subsequent Improvements and Repairs (1900s-1950s)

The hall itself continued to be used throughout the early 1900s for regular military drills and training as well as a variety of balls and other community events. During the South African War (1899-1902) the hall was the venue for celebratory events for men departing, or returning again, from the war, and also served as a testing and selection centre for recruits on occasion. The South African War was really the first chance for many local Rifle Volunteers to get involved with active service, and it is reported that more men were sent to South Africa from the Hawke’s Bay than from any other district (in relation to population).

In 1906 Napier architect Charles Tilleard Natusch (1859-1951) drew up plans for improvements to repair and extend the Drill Hall. The Napier Volunteers raised £650 towards the work (with a further £50 donation promised) and also applied for a £600 grant from the Defence Department. The grant was not approved but the Napier Volunteers pressed on with the improvements anyway, and they were completed in 1907, comprising repairs to the hall’s roof and interior and exterior painting, as well as the addition of lecture and social rooms, a gymnasium and miniature rifle range.

The 1909 Defence Act saw the introduction of compulsory military training for teenage males and this training largely took place in the country’s drill halls, including Napier’s Drill Hall. Two years later the Napier Drill Hall trustees resigned to allow the Defence Department to take over the building in accordance with the Defence Amendment Act 1912, which saw the ‘property and liabilities’ of Volunteer forces transferred to the Crown. In 1912 internal alterations were undertaken to create additional storerooms in the eastern lean-to of the building and roofing repairs (including re-roofing of the main hall) were also undertaken following a rather damning report by architect D.B. Frame on the ‘unsanitary’ and poor condition of the building.

During the First World War, Napier men of the 9th regiment (infantry) ‘assembled in full force’ at the Drill Hall on 16 August 1914 to receive the war kits that had been assembled by local women. The following morning, after a short service, they marched from the Drill Hall with men from Gisborne through Napier to the train station. The hall continued to be a collection centre for goods and a muster point throughout the war.

In 1920 the Drill Hall’s failing gas lighting system was replaced with electric lighting and other repairs and additions were undertaken throughout the 1920s, as funds allowed in such fiscally restrained times. The Drill Hall reportedly suffered only minor damage during the devastating February 1931 Napier earthquake, a lucky escape given its position beneath a large cliff which caused a substantial slip into Breakwater Road. The neighbouring parade ground/telegraph reserve did not fare so well though - its ‘store-garage-workshop building’ suffered ‘serious damage’ and most of it was subsequently dismantled and re-erected elsewhere. In late 1931, the first of many wool sales commenced in the Drill Hall – these were soon to become a regular occurrence.

In 1935 outstanding matters concerning the status of the land occupied by the Drill Hall were finally resolved in the Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Act 1935 – essentially ‘washing up’ legislation. This enabled the appropriate area of land to be formally reserved at last for a drill-shed site. Changes to the Drill Hall during the later 1930s and 1940s included relaying of the main hall floor with heart mataī in 1938, as the original floor had worn down to the tongues, and had 62 patches. In 1941 the No 13 (City of Napier) Squadron formed as one of New Zealand’s earliest Air Training Corps, and commenced parades at the Drill Hall. During the Second World War the Drill Hall also served as an administration and records centre for both the Air Force and Army, storing documents such as ballot papers.

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, alterations and renovations were undertaken to accommodate the Army’s Area 7 Headquarters within the hall, including removal of the miniature rifle range along its western side. During the 1951 waterfront dispute, the Drill Hall was urgently converted into a miniature barracks in preparation for 60 Air Force personnel who were brought in to undertake emergency work at the port, later joined by 20 sailors and 50 soldiers.

Subsequent History

Discussions about the Army’s future at the Coote Road site commenced in 1961 and continued through until the 1970s, and during this time many different community organisations and groups hired the hall under casual letting arrangements, using the space for everything from darts to marching, yoga and indoor basketball. Meanwhile, the former telegraph reserve had been purchased by the Napier City Council and developed as a carpark in association with the Centennial Gardens to the west of the Drill Hall (the former prison quarry). The Drill Hall had apparently looked ‘cheery enough’ beside the former quarry but was now outclassed by its new neighbour, Centennial Gardens.

Ultimately, the Army remained in residence at the Drill Hall until shifting to the Defence Force office in Faraday Street, and a Royal New Zealand Air Force recruiting office was housed in the hall until the 1990s. In 2001 the City of Napier Cadet Unit took on a lease for the hall, which was also still being used by the No. 13 (City of Napier) Squadron) for training and related events. In early 2019 they were joined by the Sea Cadets, now known as the TS Ahuriri Naval Cadets. Today, around 80-90 cadets from across the three units use the Drill Hall - each unit has its own office space and stores but they share the main hall space, classrooms and service areas, and parade outside in the adjacent Centennial Gardens carpark as required. The hall is additionally available for hire by community groups and clubs.

Physical Description

Current Description


The Drill Hall is situated on Hukarere/Bluff Hill at the north-east end of Mataruahou/Napier Hill. It is located at the bottom of Coote Road, one of Napier’s early roads, and there are a number of worker’s cottages, bungalows and villas further up from the Drill Hall, with the former Napier Prison directly opposite. The sacred Māori site of Tūhinapō was located in this area in earlier times and there was also a freshwater spring associated with the sea maiden Pānia at the Drill Hall site. A well (V21/155) has been recorded too under the south-east corner of the Drill Hall, likely associated with the immigration barracks and native hostelry that were located in the area prior to its construction.

The Drill Hall is bounded to the north and west by the Centennial Gardens complex, and the gardens carpark is located to the east, on the site of the former telegraph reserve and parade ground. A small ivy-clad concrete shed (possibly reinforced) is located between the Drill Hall and carpark – this is understood to have been built in association with the Drill Hall and is currently used by Napier City Council gardening staff for storing fuel and machinery. There are two small timber weatherboard buildings with corrugated iron roofs at the southern end of the carpark which are also used by Napier City Council gardening staff – the eastern one is modern (post-1992) and the western one pre-dates 1992 and may be associated with the Public Work Department’s use of the former telegraph reserve. The western shed was extended in 1992. The carpark itself is bounded along Breakwater Road and partially along Coote Road by the stone rubble wall constructed in association with the parade ground. There is a small asphalted area for car-parking in front of the Drill Hall, which is included as part the Cadet Corps’ current lease arrangement.

Drill Hall - Exterior

The Drill Hall comprises a broad main gable hall area with central gabled front porch on the southern elevation, and lean-to sections of varying heights to the east, west and north. The lean-to roofs have a low pitch in comparison to the main hall roof, and were originally flat with a timber baluster railing. The hall is constructed of timber weatherboards and the roof is clad in corrugated iron, with three skylights along the eastern half of the main hall roof, and two on the western side.

There is narrow corrugated iron garage door in the front porch which provides vehicle access into the hall – the main pedestrian entrance to the hall is via the double timber doors in the lean-to addition to the east (the former side entrance). The southern elevation facing Coote Road has a series of aluminium windows – two vertical, three pane windows flanking either side of the front porch, with a vertical double pane window in the western lean-to, and three small single windows in the eastern lean-to, one above the double doors and two with louvres. There is also a ventilated louvre just beneath the apex of the main hall’s gable at each end and the hall also originally featured signage below the louvre at the southern end. Some of the windows in the southern elevation have frosted glass, such as the louvre windows at the end of eastern lean-to.

There are nine windows of different configurations along the eastern elevation, mostly double awning windows with a central fixed pane of glass. The window joinery along this elevation has undergone quite substantive change as offices along this side of the building were reconfigured multiple times in response to the evolving needs of its occupants, especially in the first half of the twentieth century. The northern elevation includes two further additions to the lean-to at its eastern end – the larger of which houses the kitchen and has an external door. The smaller addition comprises a toilet. The rest of the northern elevation has just a single double awning window – this elevation has also undergone considerable change when compared to drawings completed in 1979. The western elevation adjoining Centennial Gardens has four double awning windows.

Drill Hall – Interior

Upon entering the Drill Hall through the double doors in the eastern lean-to, toilets are located to the right, with double entrance doors into the main hall on the left. These timber doors have full length panes of Georgian wired glass. The main hall has largely retained its original form, though the fabric been repaired and replaced over time. It has a timber floor and a striking timber ceiling that has been raised in the centre with the sides following the natural pitch of the roof.

The ceiling features alternating sections of diagonal boarding and on the flat central slope of the ceiling, there are thin strips of decorative moulding covering the joins between the different sections of boarding. Bosses have been placed at the intersections of the diagonal and horizontal strips of moulding, and there are three perforated timber ceiling roses with turned outer rings running along the centre of the flat section of the ceiling. These originally connected to roof ventilators to enable ventilation due to the original gas lighting. The sloping sides of the ceiling side are supported by eight steel beams; these have a strip of decorative moulding along their exposed edge and there are also ventilation panels with timber fretwork where the central portion of the ceiling joins the eastern and western slopes. The ceiling is additionally supported by a series of six metal tie-rods as well as three timber roof brackets at the northern end of the hall, above the stage.

The walls of the main hall are lined with panel boards with PVC joints, with horizontal timber boards above the lining at each end of the hall, where the ceiling rises in height. The northern end of the hall comprises the original stage area which retains its proscenium arch with Corinthian pilasters, but has been subsequently enclosed to provide additional office and storage space. Today this area is occupied by the Air Training Corp, with an office and store at either end of the former stage area. To the east of the former stage is a door leading out to the toilets, kitchen and a storeroom in the lean-to additions.

The lean-to addition on the eastern side of the hall comprises five rooms currently set up as classrooms, offices for the Air Cadets and Army Cadets, and an Army museum. A set of double doors connects the two offices at the southern end, whilst there is single door connecting the museum to the classroom to the south. These rooms have undergone considerable change over time and feature building materials such as textured acoustic ceiling tiles and Formica board dados with wallpaper above. The western lean-to addition similarly contains five rooms currently used as a classroom, office for the Napier Sea Cadets, store rooms and Quartermaster’s store. There is an opening in the wall connecting the Quartermaster’s store to the store room to the south. The room in the western lean-to addition are similarly decorated to those in the eastern lean-to addition in terms of their ceiling and wall linings and flooring.

Comparative Analysis

Drill halls are an example of a building type that was once common, but is now rare. Every small town in New Zealand had one, and larger cities had several drill halls. There has been no systematic survey of drill halls remaining, but it is understood that few have survived. Of the drill halls in larger cities, the only remaining example is Dunedin’s Garrison Drill Hall (List No. 3176, Category 1 historic place, constructed 1879), an imposing basalt building designed in the Scottish Baronial style. The Auckland City Drill Hall was demolished in 1969, and Wellington’s Volunteer Drill Hall on Buckle Street has also been demolished, as has King Edward Barracks in Christchurch (demolished in the 1990s).

Drill halls in smaller centres were built in a variety of styles, the most interesting of which featured prominent castellation and battlements. One such hall was the Marton Drill Hall (c.1872) which burnt down in 1926, with further notable examples in Paeroa and Onehunga, and Hāwera. The Hāwera drill hall survives today in a modified form. Other extant drill halls from smaller centres include the Harding Army Hall in Whangārei (List No. 7473, Category 2, constructed 1890), the Spring Grove Drill Hall, Nelson (constructed 1900) and the former Army Drill Hall in Thames (constructed 1915). The first two examples are clad in corrugated iron but are generally similar in appearance to the original section of Napier’s Drill Hall, being utilitarian halls with a high roof. The latter Thames example bears a striking resemblance to Napier’s Drill Hall with respect to its timber construction and front façade with main hall and lean to additions either side. It is no longer used for military training purposes though, with the Thames-Hauraki Rail Trail headquarters current sited there.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1886 - 1887
Navals’ drill shed, Port Ahuriri

1889 - 1890
Dismantled then re-erected and expanded on Coote Road site

1911 -
Repairs after quarry accident and internal alterations to lean-to sections

1895 - 1896
including creation of a Military and Volunteers District Office inside the hall and other alterations to interior arrangements of hall; ventilation changes

Original Construction
1901 -
completion of parade ground and associated stone rubble wall to east of Drill Hall

1907 -
repairs and changes including addition of lecture and social rooms, a gymnasium and miniature rifle range

1911 - 1912
internal alterations to lean-to additions; re-roofing of main hall; repair of skylights and lean-to roofs

1920 -
gas lighting replaced with electric lighting

1925 - 1927
included lean-to addition (housing bathroom and porch) for the caretakers’ quarters; match lining of interior walls; erection of flag pole in front of hall and partitioning of the miniature rifle range from the main hall

1938 -
replacement of main hall floor with heart mataī; replacement of store room floors along the western side of the hall

1945 -
alterations and renovations to accommodate Area 7 Headquarters

roofing repairs to lean-to additions, including replacement of iron with bituminous felt

1971 -
re-roofing of lean-to additions with corrugated iron

1978 -
re-roofing of main hall

1980 - 1981
Re-piling of hall

2016 -
New high-bay lights added to ceiling of main hall

Construction Details

Corrugated iron, timber (heart mataī flooring), stone

Public NZAA Number



Completion Date

8th January 2021

Report Written By

Joanna Barnes-Wylie

Information Sources

Campbell, 1975

M. D. N. Campbell, Story of Napier, 1874-1974; Footprints Along the Shore

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1908

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol. 6, Taranaki, Hawke's Bay, Wellington, 1908

Crawford, 1966

J.A.B. Crawford, ‘The Role and Structure of the New Zealand Volunteer Force 1885-1910’, MA Thesis, University of Canterbury, 1966.

Foote, 2016

Ken Foote, ‘Hawke’s Bay Battalion RNZIR’, Landmarks Talk 10 May 2016, Knowledge Bank Hawke’s Bay Digital Archives Trust, https://knowledgebank.org.nz/audio/ken-foote-hawkes-bay-battalion-rnzir/.

Other Information

Other Heritage Recognition

A site of interest to Māori has been recorded in the vicinity of the Drill Hall (Pania’s Springs).

A fully referenced proposal summary report is available on request from the Central Regional Office of Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.


Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero 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.

Archaeological sites are protected by the Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga Act 2014, regardless of whether they are entered on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rārangi Kōrero or not. Archaeological sites include ‘places associated with pre-1900 human activity, where there may be evidence relating to the history of New Zealand’. This List entry report should not be read as a statement on whether or not the archaeological provisions of the Act apply to the property (s) concerned. Please contact your local Heritage New Zealand office for archaeological advice.