Fort Jervois

Ripapa Island, Ripapa Island

  • Fort Jervois. Image courtesy of
    Copyright: Megan Hieatt - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Megan Hieatt. Date: 4/02/2009.
  • Fort Jervois. Ripapa Island. Image courtesy of .
    Copyright: Schwede66 - Wikimedia Commons. Taken By: Schwede66. Date: 22/04/2011.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 5306 Date Entered 22nd August 1991 Date of Effect 22nd August 1991


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

Gaz 46-1241 Res 109 Blk I Pigeon Bay SD



The earliest known occupants of Ripapa Island were the Ngati Mamoe who were supplanted by the Ngai Tahu within Lyttelton Harbour in the late eighteenth century. The warrior chief Taununu subsequently built a refuge pa on the island which has been described as the first pa in the South Island "specifically designed for the musket warfare era" [Brailsford, 1981, p.160]. The pa was sacked, however, during the Kai huanga [eat relations] feud in the mid 1820s and when Frederick Strouts surveyed the island in 1872 all that remained of the pa were remnants of its defensive earthworks.

Strouts was the designer of the quarantine station that was erected on Ripapa in 1872 and officially opened in June of the following year. This station replaced an earlier one at Camp Bay and it served the province until 1885 when most of the barracks were re-erected on Quail Island. Five years earlier the quarantine station had been used as a temporary prison for over one hundred and fifty of Te Whiti's followers from Taranaki.

Following the 'Russian Scare' of 1885 the decision was made to include Ripapa Island in a nationwide coastal defence scheme. Construction of the fort began in 1886 and at the same time a submarine mining depot was erected on the island. At first 'unemployed' and military labour was used to build the fort but in April 1888 convicts from Lyttelton Gaol replaced the original labour force. Initially the convicts were transported to and from Ripapa every day but in 1889 the mining depot buildings were altered to provide living accommodation for the men, who were then quartered on the island for six days each week.

The fort was not rendered fully operational until 1895 but the four 'disappearing' guns ordered from England ten years earlier had been mounted by early 1889. Two quick-firing Nordenfaldt guns were also mounted on the island which was occupied during the First and Second World Wars in spite of its defects as a defensive batter. In the early years of this century the island was also used again as a prison for ninety-seven defaulters of Compulsory Military Training in 1913, and for Lieutenant Commander Count Graf Felix von Luckner and Lieutenant Kircheiss, from the German raider 'Seeadler', between January and May of 1918.

The army finally abandoned Fort Jervois in 1945 and the island was then taken over by the Lyttelton Harbour Board. It was held in trust by the board until 1958 when the Navy League of New Zealand was appointed to control and manage it. Since then Sea Cadet training camps have been held regularly on the island and more recently guided tours for the public has renewed interest in Ripapa's history.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

As a former pa site and quarantine station Ripapa Island has secured a place within the history of Canterbury, but it is as a coastal defence batter with 'disappearing' gun emplacements that the island achieves international significance. In addition to Ripapa Island's value and interest as a coastal fortification its use as a prison for Maori from Parihaka, Compulsory Military Training defaulters and the flamboyant Count von Luckner enhances its historical significance within New Zealand and widens the appeal of the island's history.


A well preserved example of a 'Russian Scare' fort and one of the last of its kind in the Commonwealth, Fort Jervois is particularly significant because it boasts two breech-loading guns mounted on extremely rare hydro-pneumatic carriages which are still in reasonable condition. Installed on Ripapa at the suggestion of Sir William Jervois, who was "the most experienced, [and perhaps the finest] military engineer of his time" [Honman, 1986, p.13], these guns "were for many years the largest and most powerful pieces of ordnance in the colony" [Barratt, 1981, p.86]. The extensive use of concrete throughout the fort is also of great interest.


Lying just off the eastern headland of Purau Bay, Ripapa Island is a distinctive feature within Lyttelton Harbour, although the full extent of the island's fortifications cannot be appreciated without first going ashore.


Construction Professionalsopen/close

Boddam, Lieutenant Colonel E M Tudor

Engineer for Defence

Lieutenant Colonel Boddam drew up the original plans for Fort Jervois following recommendations made by Lieutenant Colonel Scratchley and Sir William Jervois, and with the aid of drawings provided by the manufacturer of the 'disappearing' guns to be mounted on the island. He also designed the submarine mining depot buildings, erected in 1886, which are still extant.

Bell, Arthur Wilbraham Dillon

Engineer for Defence

Arthur Bell (1856-1943) succeeded Colonel Boddam on his retirement in December 1887, having been involved with the design of Fort Jervois since 1885 [A.D. Series 33/10 & 57/1]. Bell was born in New Zealand and served his articles with Sir John Hawkshaw in England (1874-9). In 1880 he took up a position as Assistant Engineer with the Public Works Department in Dunedin, and from 1884 on he specialised in defence works. In the following year he was appointed Resident Engineer for defence works and harbour fortifications in Wellington and in 1888 he became Engineer for Defence in New Zealand. In 1889 he was also appointed Engineer-in-Charge of Public Buildings for a year in order to reorganise that branch of the Public Works Department. In 1893 the engineer left the country to work in Western Australia, and he lived in that state until his requirement to Auckland in 1907. He died in Melbourne where he has lived since 1921.

Additional informationopen/close

Physical Description


A bluestone masonry seawall encircles the island and a second wall of the same material retains the embankment which surrounds the parade ground and outbuildings. This wall is pierced by a single entrance at the west end of the island which opens off a drawbridge and jetty.

On the northern half of the island four gun pits built to house two eight inch and two six inch breech-loading hydro-pneumatic guns encompass an underground magazine and an upper level observation post. The gun pits are circular concrete structures with diameters of 12.2 and 10.5 metres respectively, which includes the thickness of the concrete walls around each gun. Recesses in each pit are for the placement of ammunition and the handling of ram rods and steps from each lead down into the magazine which is a largely symmetrical structure built of brick and concrete. Old railway iron dated 1874 reinforces the concrete ceilings within the fort.

Narrow lamp passages and small lamp rooms, designed to safeguard against the possibility of fire and explosion, flank the rooms in which the various components of the shells were stored. A gallery along the front of the magazine provides access to the central passage and to the six inch gun pits. The fort entrance opens into this gallery which is lined with red volcanic scoria. This local igneous rock is also used for the voussoirs of the arched door openings within the fort and the quoins and battlement copings of the external fort wall. The latter has shuttered windows and concrete loopholes set within a cladding of local bluestone. The entire magazine is covered with 4.5 metres of soil and both the concrete observation post and the gun pits are shielded by steel plates. Access to the observation post is provided by three steel ladders within the gallery and main passage of the magazine.

A watch-tower, built in the 1970s, stands to the east of the entrance gate. Next to it is a test pit, built as part of the submarine mining depot in 1886. An underground concrete and brick structure with a roof of concrete and railway iron, this small building was used for testing torpedo primers. A toilet block, also dating from the 1970s, is adjacent to the test pit on the east side of island. It was built by the Navy League to replace an ablution block built during the Second World War. Next to the toilets is a dormitory, moved from Godley Head by the Sea Cadets in 1961, which stands on top of the cable tank built for the mining depot. The building is a wooden structure, clad in horizontally laid corrugated iron with an iron roof. The cable tank is now used as a water reservoir and is covered with sheets of corrugated iron. Decking from the wharf rests between the tank and the dormitory on top of a brick rim around the former.

The former Whitehead torpedo store, also built in 1886, was converted to accommodate prisoners in 1889 and at that time the boiler and engine which stood upon a concrete floor in one half of the building were removed and the floor lined. This building is also clad in corrugated iron, and like the dormitory and former mine store building it has small, multi-panned windows covered with wire mesh grilles. Three-quarters of the shell traveller which was suspended from the ceiling in this building remains, although that in the mine store would appear to have been removed.

Adjoining the former torpedo store is the former mine store which is now used by the Navy League as an Officers' Club. Also converted in 1889, this building has a lower stud than the former but is of the same construction. The former mine store now connects with the mining depot workshop and officer building by way of an ante room built by the Navy League. The workshop is now used as a mess room and it runs perpendicular to the other mining depot buildings. Originally the office was a lean-to extension of the workshop, standing between the latter and the mine store building, but it has since been enlarged by the Navy League and an internal chimney has been removed to provide a communicating hatch between the two buildings. The office is the only building to have a weatherboard exterior and the former workshop is interesting for the fretted ventilation holes in the ceiling and the random rubble external chimney along one wall. Finally a second toilet block, built during the First World War with a modern addition, lies between the fort and the former workshop. Again corrugated iron is the principal construction material.


1889 Submarine mining depot building converted for use as prisoner accommodation.

Notable Features

Sir W C Armstrong and Co's hydro-pneumatic or 'disappearing' gun carriage, in which the energy of the gun's recoil is used to return the gun to the firing position, was first manufactured in 1883. Mounted with a heavy breech-loading gun, this carriage offered cheap and effective protection for the gun and its crew, and the two carriages which remain on Ripapa Island are the most valuable fittings on it.

Construction Dates

Original Construction
1886 - 1895

1889 -
Submarine mining depot building converted for use as prisoner accommodation

Construction Details

Bluestone, volcanic scoria, concrete, railway iron, brick, corrugated iron and timber.

Information Sources

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR)

Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives

Extracts taken from 1880, 1883-1890, 1893, 1895

Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)

Archives New Zealand (Wellington)

Army Department Series 33/10: Harbour Defence - General Memorandum upon the Defence Works as at date 31 July 1881

Army Department Series 33/11: Annual Report 31 March 1892 by Engineer for Defence, Arthur Bell

Army Department Series 33/6: Harbour Defences - Inspectors' Reports, Lyttelton 1892-3

Army Department Series 57/1: Correspondence to Resident Engineer

Public Works Department Series 1 23/31, part 1:

Memoranda for Under-Secretary, Public Works Department, Wellington from Major-General, Commanding NZ Military Forces - 24 February 1914 and 11 April 1918

Memoranda from Resident Engineer to Officer-in-Command, NZ Defence Forces - 4 July 1924 and 23 January 1926, etc

Memorandum for Headquarters, Southern Military District, Christchurch from District Engineer - 21 February 1941

Public Works Department Series 17/36: Ripapa Island - Conversion of Sheds into Temporary [Gaol]

Public Works Department Series 32(i): New Zealand Defences - Fort Ripapa (Lyttelton Harbour) Magazine and Barracks Contract - General Specifications.

Barrett, 1981

G Barrett, 'Russophobia in New Zealand 1838-1908', Palmerston North, 1981

Cyclopedia of New Zealand, 1897

Cyclopedia Company, Industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Wellington, N.Z, 1897-1908, Vol.1, Wellington, 1897

Furkert, 1953

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

Lyttelton Times

Lyttelton Times

11 January 1884, p.5

27 April 1885, p.5

1 May 1885, p.5

23 January 1886, p.6

4 October 1886, p.5

13 September 1886, p.6

31 January 1889, p.5

1 July 1889, p.4

12 September 1889, p.3

New Zealand Gazette

New Zealand Gazette

14 August 1873, p.463



10 June 1895, p.17


Architectural Drawings/Plans

New Zealand Defences Lyttelton Harbour Fort Jervois, Ripapa Island; Drawing of Loopholes. Date 4 April 1887. Peter Wilkins, Christchurch.

New Zealand Defences - Lyttelton Harbour, Plan Shewing [sic] Position of Guns. Dated 6 July 1886. Public Works Department Series 15, No. 14084; National Archives, Wellington.

New Zealand Defences - Port Lyttelton, Quarantine Station Removal and Erection of New Buildings Contract. Public Works Department Series 15, No. 14145; National Archives, Wellington.

Ripapa Island: Fortifications, Buildings, Power, and Water Supply, etc 36 Army Troops Co. July 1945. Department of Conservation, Christchurch.


The Press

28 May 1872, p.1

Press, 30 April 1873, p.3

Press, 6 June 1873, p.3

Press, 19 August 1936, p.10

Press, 6 September 1945, p.6

Press, 12 May 1958, p.7

Press, 29 July 1961, p.13

Press, 28 October 1961, p.10

Scotter, 1968

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

Allison, 1974

Padre L F Allison, An Introduction to Ripapa (Rhodes) Island, Christchurch, 1974

Brailsford, 1981

B Brailsford, The Tattooed Land - The Southern Frontiers of the Pa Maori, A H & A W Reed, Wellington 1981

Elderd-Grigg, 1982

S Eldred-Grigg, A New History of Canterbury, John McIndoe, Dunedin, 1982

Hogg, 1981

I Hogg, The History of Fortification, Orbis Publishing, London, 1981

Ogilvie, 1970

E Ogilvie, Purau, Caxton Press, Christchurch, 1970

New Zealand Military Journal

New Zealand Military Journal

Colonel H Slater, 'The Fall of the Canterbury Pas', July 1912, pp. 214-219

Other Information

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1980. The following text is 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.