Ross Creek Valve Tower
Off Burma Road, Ross Creek Water Reserve, Dunedin
List Entry Information
List Entry Status
List Entry Type
Historic Place Category 1
Able to Visit
27th July 1988
Date of Effect
27th July 1988
Extent of List Entry
Extent includes part of the land described as Sec 94 Wakari SD (RT OT301/38), Otago Land District and the building known as Ross Creek Valve Tower thereon. Refer to the extent map tabled at the Heritage List/ Rārangi Kōrero Committee meeting on 4 June 2020.
Sec 94 Wakari SD (RT OT301/38), Otago Land District
Located in a beautiful bush clad reserve in the north end of Dunedin, the Ross Creek Valve Tower is a lightly ornamented Victorian industrial structure. Designed in 1864 and completed in 1867 as part of the development of Ross Creek Reservoir, this is a rare example of a manual valve tower on a city reservoir. It is an important component of part of the oldest earth dam in New Zealand, and as the country’s first major urban water supply, it is one of Dunedin’s oldest amenity assets. The valve tower has historic and technological significance.
After settlement by the Scots in 1848, Dunedin’s population expanded rapidly. In 1859 John Turnbull Thompson, the City Engineer, believed a population of 10,000 could be serviced by the plentiful water running down from the city’s streams. By 1864 the population had expanded to over 15,000 and the need for a reliable water management system became a necessity, both for public health and the protection of property from fire. Richard Woolley an engineer with the private Water Works Company established in 1863, produced plans to use Ross Creek but the company folded before any progress was made. The reservoir was formally opened on 9 December 1867 as the Royal Albert Reservoir. The name didn’t stick however, and it eventually became known as Ross Creek Reservoir, named after Archibald Hilson Ross (1821-1900), who was Mayor of Dunedin from 1880-1881.
Ross Creek flows from the Leith Saddle towards Leith Valley and the Ross Creek Reservoir sits between two spurs, created by the Dunedin volcano, where the Ross and Sherriff Creeks meet. Ralph Donkin's undated drawing, presumably made about 1864, shows a stone hut with open classical arches on top of the pedestal. It had a corniced and pointed roof. Later, Mr David Proudfoot was contracted for the construction at a rate of £13,286 ($1,527,196 NZD in 2020). John McGregor's drawings in 1870, which appear to be of the completed structure show a wooden enclosure on top of a similar shape to Donkin's with the wide eaves replacing the cornice and a pointed roof. McGregor also drew a plan of the dam in 1870 showing the valve tower and present pipes all in place. It is unlikely that there has been any substantial change to the structure since it was built. The valves are still in place underwater.
The tower rises approximately 17 metres from a plinth of Port Chalmers breccia which is founded on the gravel of the old stream bed. The stone blocks of the plinth measure about two feet long by one foot high. The tower near its base is approximately 4 metres square reducing under water and again just above water level. Above this level it is well detailed with alternating bands of darker Leith Valley andesite and lighter Port Chalmers breccia. This part of the tower supports a wooden enclosure with closely spaced ornate wooden brackets holding up the wide eaves of the small roof which is made of flat 'pan' iron. The centre of the pyramidal roof has a cone shaped pinnacle in the centre which may once have had an ornate wrought iron finial, judging by an 1870 drawing. The valve tower houses the mechanism for manually opening and closing the outlet from the reservoir and is situated at the end of a small jetty. The hut containing the mechanism is built of overlapping weather boards and the door has a pointed top.
The valves were manually operated, likely by Mr Karl Gillies, the live-in caretaker of the Ross Creek Reservoir for many years. In 1889 alleged leaks was reported and extensive investigations were undertaken to determine the source. During the 1980s the tower was protected from public access by a fan of white wooden palings. By the time a major refurbishment was required in the 2010s, the reservoir had been decommissioned for a couple of decades. In 2010 large cracks were found in the Earth Dam (List No. 4922, Historic Place Category 1) which prompted the lowering of the water level to relieve pressure on the dam, and frequent monitoring began.
The restoration of the dam restores the City of Dunedin with a crucial back-up drinking water supply. Work began in 2016 and was expected to be completed in 2018. The cost of repairs escalated by $2 million and the project experienced delays. The completion of the refurbishment in October 2019 reopened access to the public to the area and the valve tower and jetty. While swimming is prohibited in the reservoir, access to reserve which continues to be a very popular recreation spot for Dunedinites.
Historical Significance or Value
The Ross Creek Reservoir was brought into commission in 1867, after abortive attempts by a private company to build it in 1863. A new plan, designed by the engineer Ralph Donkin, was put forward in January 1864 by another private company, The Water Works Company, which was backed by a provincial guarantee. The work was eventually begun in September 1865 and finished in 1867. (It is the oldest large earth dam still in use in New Zealand and was christened the Royal Albert Dam, a name which was promptly forgotten.) In 1870 the town engineer, John McGregor, drew the tower and its inlet and scour pipes (see DCC Archives), presumably to provide working drawings of the dam and tower as they were actually built. This type of manual valve tower has been superseded by other mechanisms and though towers such as this were once common on public reservoirs many, with the exception of Karori, Wellington, have been demolished. It is a relatively early industrial structure.
The tower is a well detailed Victorian industrial structure.
This is a pleasant addition to a favourite walking ad jogging area close to Dunedin suburbs.
Donkin (1836-1904) was born and educated in England, where he trained as a civil engineer. In 1864 he was Engineer to the Dunedin Waterworks Company having previously worked at Yan Yean Waterworks, Victoria.
Donkin favoured Ross Creek as the source of Dunedin's water supply and was responsible for the design of the Ross Creek Earth Dam (1865-67).
In 1893 he was engaged to carry out a survey for the railway to connect New Plymouth with the Main Trunk Railway. In 1894 he left New Zealand to go to Coolgardie where he practised engineering. He died in Perth.
Builder of the Ross Creek Valve Tower, Dunedin - c.1864-67.
Significance of Architect/Engineer/Designer:
The Dunedin Water Works Company employed Ralph Donkin, and engineer, to draw up the plans for the Ross Creek Reservoir.
Architectural Description (Style):
A lightly ornamented Victorian structure.
Ralph Donkin's undated drawing, presumably made about 1864, shows a stone hut with open classical arches on top of the pedestal. It had a corniced and pointed roof. John McGregor's drawings in 1870, which appear to be of the completed structure show a wooden enclosure on top of a similar shape to Donkin's with the wide eaves replacing the cornice and a pointed roof. McGregor also drew a plan of the dam in 1870 showing the valve tower and present pipes all in place. It is unlikely that there has been any substantial change to the structure since it was built. The valves are still in place underwater.
The rarity of such manual valve towers now on city reservoirs, the strong stonework and its status as part of the oldest large dam in New Zealand.
1864 - 1867
The Valve Tower was designed in 1864 and completed in 1867
Wooden hand rail and decking reinstated
Addition of safety modifications to handrail on jetty (mid rail and kick rail)
Refurbishment work began on the dam
Reservoir dam was reopened following refurbishment
The valve tower rises approximately 17 metres from a plinth of Port Chalmers breccia which is founded on the gravel of the old stream bed. The tower near its base is approximately 4 metres square on each side reducing under water and again just above water level. Above this level it is well detailed with alternating blocks of darker leith Valley andesite and lighter Port Chalmers breccia, supporting a wooden enclosure with closely spaced ornate wooden brackets holding up the wide eaves of the small roof which is made of flat 'pan' iron. The centre of the pyramidal roof has a cone shaped pinnacle in the centre which may once have had an ornate wrought iron finial, judging by an 1870 drawing. The hut containing the ends of the valve mechanism is built of overlapping weather boards and the door has a pointed top. The stone blocks of the plinth are massive, about two feet long by one foot high. The valve tower is at the end of a small jetty protected from public access by a fan of white wooden palings.
Public NZAA Number
20th April 2020
Report Written By
Dunedin City Council
Dunedin City Council, Building Records
Archives Ref 13/12/1. Plan 33
K C McDonald, City of Dunedin: A Century of Civic Enterprise, Dunedin City Corporation, Dunedin, 1965
New Zealand Historic Places
New Zealand Historic Places
Offer, Robert., New Zealand Historic Places, May 1998, no.68: 20-22.
Kurman, Sam., Ross Creek Reservoir, Dunedin. Final Monitoring Report Authority 214/742 [Draft] (Dunedin Office file: 12020.034)
Rule, Grant., A Brief History of the Ross Creek Reservoir (Dunedin Office file: 12020.034)
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.
A fully referenced upgrade report is available on request from the Otago/Southland Office of Heritage New Zealand.