Ross Creek Valve Tower

Off Burma Rd, Ross Creek Water Reserve, Dunedin

  • Ross Creek Valve Tower.
    Copyright: NZ Historic Places Trust. Taken By: Derek Smith. Date: 5/07/2002.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Able to Visit
List Number 4722 Date Entered 27th July 1988 Date of Effect 27th July 1988


City/District Council

Dunedin City


Otago Region

Legal description

Lots 49-52 Deeds plan 143 pts 43-47 R blk V etc Upper Kaikorai SD

Assessment criteriaopen/close

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 This type of manual valve tower has been superseded by other mechanisms and though towers such as this were once common on public reservoirs many, with the exception of Karori, Wellington, have been demolished.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.

Architectural Significance:

The tower is a well detailed Victorian industrial structure.

Townscape/Landmark Significance:

This is a pleasant addition to a favourite walking ad jogging area close to Dunedin suburbs.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Donkin, Ralph

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.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description

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.

Notable Features

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.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1865 - 1867
Judging from the drawings in the City archives, The tower was built in 1865-76 when the dam was built.

Construction Details

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.

Information Sources

Dunedin City Council

Dunedin City Council, Building Records

Archives Ref 13/12/1. Plan 33

McDonald, 1965

K C McDonald, City of Dunedin: A Century of Civic Enterprise, Dunedin City Corporation, Dunedin, 1965

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.