Lyttelton Graving Dock and Pump House

Godley Quay, Lyttelton

  • Lyttelton Graving Dock and Pump House. 2009 (Left) Wellington floating crane HIKITIA was towed to Lyttelton for underwater work. (Right) HIKITIA and old tug LYTTELTON 2 on the blocks in graving/dry dock. Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: New Zealand Ship and Marine Society. Taken By: Mike Newland.
  • Lyttelton Graving Dock and Pump House.
    Copyright: Taken By: Alan Wylde.
  • Lyttelton Graving Dock and Pump House. Pump House.
    Copyright: Heritage New Zealand. Taken By: B Carr. Date: 13/01/2011.
  • Lyttelton Graving Dock and Pump House. The 'HURUNUI', the first ship in the Lyttelton Graving Dock, shortly after it was opened by the acting Governor of New Zealand, Sir James Prendergast. Ref: 1/2-032410-F .
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Taken By: Unknown. Date: 3/01/1883.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 4389 Date Entered 16th November 1989 Date of Effect 16th November 1989


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Pt Lot 7 DP 67082 (RT CB42D/881), Canterbury Land District


The idea of building a graving dock at Lyttelton originated with the Provincial Council in 1875 in response to the increasing number of shipping accidents involving vessels using the port.

Construction eventually went ahead under the jurisdiction of the newly-constituted Lyttelton Harbour Board (1877), when in October 1879 the successful tenderers, Ware & Jones, were awarded the contract and work began. In July of the following year the Board decided to increase the length of the proposed dock by fifteen metres, and in February 1882 the structure was completed. With the iron caisson finally installed, the graving dock was officially opened by the Acting Governor, Sir James Prendergast, on January 3 1883 when the Hurunui entered into the dock.

The dock was used to repair and maintain Scott's Discovery and Terra Nova in the early years of this century, and as such serves as a reminder of Lyttleton's significant link with Antarctica from the earliest days of polar exploration. Although many modern ships are too large to fit into the graving dock today, it continues to serve an important function within the port.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

The Lyttelton graving dock and pumphouse are examples of important public works initiated by Provincial Governments in New Zealand. The 110 year old dock was an ancillary facility essential for the maritime trade on which New Zealand's commercial prosperity in the late 19th and the 20th century depended. It is still in use today.


The graving dock is a remarkable feat of Victorian marine engineering. Three hundred men spent over two years carrying out the excavation, reclamation and construction necessary to fulfil the contract, although in the event the official opening was delayed nearly a year because the caisson, built by Messrs McKay and Stephenson, had not arrived from Glasgow. The engines and

pumps were imported from the English firm of Easton and Anderson and they make it possible to empty the dock in about four and a half hours.

The contractors, Ware and Jones, who had recently constructed the graving dock at Auckland, used 2500 tons of cement and 660 tons of stone during the course of construction. The use of concrete for a major part of the construction is of considerable technological importance.

The pumphouse is a well-proportioned and detailed example of nineteenth century design and construction in brick. The blind arches imbue the building with an architectural sophistication uncommon in utilitarian maritime structures.


The pumphouse chimney must have once been a port landmark but it was demolished in 1931 and the dock now nestles unobtrusively into the hill behind Naval Point. However, it makes a strong visual impact when viewed from Brittan Street.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Bell, Charles Napier

Bell (1835-1906) was one of New Zealand's foremost civil engineers during the late nineteenth century. English by birth Bell received his training with Bell and Miller, Engineers of Glasgow, and in the late 1850s he worked on the Edinburgh sewerage system and the Glasgow graving dock. During the 1860s he worked in South America and Europe planning railways systems, water and harbourworks, and in 1867 he became an Associate Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

In 1871, working for the English railway contractors J. Brogden and Sons, Bell arrived in New Zealand to advise on the siting of the Rangitata railway bridge and the development of the harbour in Timaru. Five years later he was appointed engineer to the Christchurch Drainage Board and in February 1873 Bell began a seven year association with the Lyttelton Harbour Board. He acted as the Board's first consulting engineer until his resignation in December 1885 when he took up the position of engineer with the Westport Harbour Board. Until his death in Tasmania in 1906 Bell undertook engineering work throughout New Zealand and Australia.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


Part of the inner harbour developments at Lyttelton, the dock and pumphouse lie on the western side of the harbour, opposite the Timeball Station.

The dock is a purely utilitarian structure which achieves a level of monumental grandeur with the symmetry of its massive altars, or steps. To the south of the dock entrance stands the pumphouse which is more architecturally pretentious. Here the engineer has set the windows within blind arches the simple shapes of which complement the exposed brickwork of which they are formed. The cubic forms of the adjoining machine rooms which comprise the pumphouse are topped by pitched roofs of slightly different heights and the overall effect is one of careful styling which goes beyond the realm of the purely functional.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1882 -

1924 - 1926
Electrification of pump house machinery

Demolished - Other
1931 -
Pump house chimney demolished

Construction Details

Basalt, from Port Chalmers and Melbourne, sealed with cement. Upper four altars are concrete. Iron caisson made in Glasgow. The pumphouse is a brick structure with a pitched iron roof.

Information Sources

Furkert, 1953

Frederick William Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers, Wellington, 1953



The Press

January 2 1883 p2

Clibborn, 1940

C.H. Clibborn, Port of Lyttelton, New Zealand, Lyttelton Harbour Board, Christchurch, 1940

pp. 4, 7 & 37

Scotter, 1968

W.H. Scotter, A History of Port Lyttelton, Lyttelton Harbour Board, Christchurch, 1968

pp132, 136-8 & 142

Porter, 1983

Frances Porter (ed), Historic Buildings of Dunedin, South Island, Methuen, Auckland, 1983.

Wilson, 1984

J Wilson (compiler), AA Book of New Zealand Historic Places, Lansdowner Press, Auckland 1984

p. 180-1

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. This report includes the text from the original Building Classification Committee report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

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.