Aurora Terrace, Port Chalmers

  • Flagstaff, Port Chalmers.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: Sarah Gallagher. Date: 19/12/2021.
  • Flagstaff, Port Chalmers. CC BY-SA 3.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Benchill - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Benchill. Date: 18/08/2009.
  • Flagstaff, Port Chalmers. CC BY-SA 3.0 Image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org.
    Copyright: Benchill -Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Benchill. Date: 18/08/2009.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 2 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 2319 Date Entered 2nd July 1982 Date of Effect 2nd July 1982


Extent of List Entry

Extent includes part of the land described as Legal Road, Otago Land District, and the structure known as Flagstaff thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List/ Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 30 January 2020.

City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Legal Road, Otago Land District


Constructed from the mast of a condemned pirate ship, the Flagstaff on Observation Point in Port Chalmers, was the home of the first publically funded timeball in the South Island. Flagstaff stands in the cul-de-sac of Aurora Terrace with open views to the east, towards Taiaroa Head, and West, towards the city of Dunedin. It began operation as a signal station for Port Chalmers in 1864. In 1867 a timeball was added to the mast of the flagstaff. It finally ceased operation in 1931 after periods of time where it was not regularly serviced. The Flagstaff was one of three signal stations which controlled shipping in the Otago Harbour. The other stations were at Taiaroa Head and Signal Hill, overlooking Dunedin. Timeballs in New Zealand were situated in Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton, Timaru and Port Chalmers. The Flagstaff’s historical significance recalls the maritime history of the area, mass immigration to Dunedin, and the importance and scale of Port Chalmers as a large shipping port serving the surrounding Otago area.

Following Gabriel Read’s discovery of gold in 1861, thousands of people were attracted to Otago to seek their fortunes. In 1860 there were 69 ship arrivals at Port Chalmers, the following year there were 256. In 1864, the year the Flagstaff was raised, there were 865 arrivals. The Flagstaff was a signal station and used coloured flags to notify ships of the depth of the upper harbour and to warn ships of vessels approaching from Dunedin. Within a few years it also employed a timeball. The daily service of the Port Chalmers timeball was instituted on Saturday 1 June 1867 and every day but Sunday, the ball was raised at 12.45pm and was dropped at 1pm mean time “corresponding with 1h. 37m 23.5s Greenwich mean time.” This preceeded the official establishment of NZ Mean Time.

The structure is comprised of a mast with yard arms and a crows nest, stabilised by guy wires that decend and anchor the Flagstaff to the ground in six places. The original mast of the Flagstaff was the mizzen mast claimed from the condemned clipper “Cincinatti” which arrived in Port in 1862. This was eventually erected at Observation Point in June 1864, it’s purpose “to get more ready communication with the Heads ...” and a house was intended to be erected on the contiguous reserve. A report from the Harbour Office to the Provincial Council in April 1864 notes the appointment of a signal master. In 1866 a Mr MacAndrew presented a petition to the Provincial Council on behalf of a number of shipowners, shipmasters and agents, praying, “that a Time Ball be erected at Port Chalmers.” This request was granted. By April 1867 the timeball was complete. Otago Harbour Board minutes reveal the Harbourmaster was concerned about the signal station and timeball being left without an operator when Captain John Robertson was examining shipmasters and masters in Dunedin. By December of 1880 the timeball was discontinued. However a petition was sent to the Harbour Board signed by eleven shipsmasters on 26 Jan 1881 requesting a “competent person to work the ball and otherwise attend to the duties of the signal station.” A weekly service was reestablished in April 1882. The Otago Harbour Board took over the timeball station in 1885 and service was dropped to twice a week. By 1909 the service had been permanently withdrawn, the timeball had fallen into disrepair and with fewer vessels visiting port the need for its service was waning.

On 21 June 1910 a new “ironbark flagstaff was fitted.” This replaced the original which had rotted and was found to be unsafe. Signals clearing Captain Scott’s expedition to the South Pole were hung from the flagstaff’s halyards in 1910. Around 1970 the Flagstaff came under threat, being considered an impediment to traffic. A group of local people banded together and formed the Port Chalmers Flagstaff Appeal Committee. This group was responsible for the restoration and repositioning of the Flagstaff 50-100 yards closer to Port Chalmers under the guidance of J.R.G Hanlon, Structural Engineer. The Flagstaff was recommisisoned on Wednesday 29 September 1971 and was handed over to the Port Chalmers Borough Council by the Minister of Lands, Hon. Duncan McIntyre. The Dunedin City Council officially accepted ownership of the Flagstaff from the Borough of Port Chalmers on 4 October 1971. By the 1990s the Flagstaff had become a site of protest and was used to “mount banners for campaigns against the Aramoana smelter and the Observation Point excavation by Port Otago”. It was badly damaged in March 1994 when the guy ropes were loosened during the removal of the “pier masters house” by Maxwell Bros; it was reinstated at a cost of $15,000.

The Flagstaff has social and historical significance as a visual reminder of the important role shipping has played in the establishment and development of Dunedin and Otago during the last two centuries. It is a symbol of the historical significance of Port Chalmers, the development of industry, immigration, and the importance of signalling stations in maritime communications. The Port Chalmers Historical Society is currently fundraising to restore a time-ball to the Flagstaff.

[The timeball was reinstated and a ceremony held on Saturday 5 October 2020].


Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1910 -
Pole replaced ‘ironbark’

1864 -
Original Flagstaff erected

1867 -
Timeball added

1971 -
Flagstaff restored, relocated and recommissioned

1994 -
Flagstaff damaged and re-erected

2019 -
Yard arm replaced

Completion Date

11th December 2019

Report Written By

Sarah Gallagher

Information Sources

McLean, 1985

Gavin McLean, Otago Harbour: Currents of Controversy, Otago Harbour Board Dunedin, 1985

Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage

Roger Kinns., The Principal Time Balls of New Zealand. Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage 20(1) 2017, pp. 69-94

Morris, 2019

Gerard Morris., Time and the Making of New Zealand: a theme in the development of a settler society 1840-1868. A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Mast of Arts in History. University of Canterbury, 2012 URL http://hdl.handle.net/10092/7084 accessed 26 August 2019.

Other Information

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.

A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand.