Quarantine Barracks

Ōtamahua / Quail Island, Lyttelton Harbour / Whakaraupō

  • Quarantine Barracks. Edmund Wheeler & Son, fl 1872-1914 :Quarantine Station, Quail Island, Lyttelton Harbour [ca 1890]. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.
    Copyright: Alexander Turnbull Library.

List Entry Information

List Entry Status Listed List Entry Type Historic Place Category 1 Public Access Private/No Public Access
List Number 7408 Date Entered 12th December 1997 Date of Effect 12th December 1997


City/District Council

Christchurch City


Canterbury Region

Legal description

part of Rural Sec. 40620 Blk IV, Halswell SD (recreational Reserve)

Location description

Quail Island is located in Charteris Bay, Lyttelton Harbour.


The single storeyed Quarantine Barracks building has a simple rectangular plan, 24 metres by 7 metres. It is of balloon frame construction, with ship-lap weatherboard cladding on the exterior and match-lined timber on the interior. Fixed windows are on the north and south elevations and the entrance door is at the western end. The building sits on basalt piles and has corrugated steel roofing.

The interior originally had six rooms on each side of a central corridor, but these were mostly stripped out, probably around the late 1940s. It is now a large interior space, with a room reinstated at the south-east end for interpretation and public viewing. At the east end of the building is a toilet block addition, built in 1985 in place of an earlier kitchen/dining room extension. The building was restored and repiled in 1997. Further repair work was undertaken in circa 2013 following damage from the Canterbury earthquakes.

Assessment criteriaopen/close

Historical Significance or Value

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Historical: Canterbury's early facilities for migrants were barracks buildings at Lyttelton and Christchurch, supplemented by an outlying depot at Rangiora. The first quarantine site was Camp Bay, which had just four tents in 1863. More substantial housing was provided that year, but the buildings were badly weather damaged by 1865, requiring rebuilding. In 1873 the provincial government built five quarantine buildings on Ripapa Island. Ripapa Island, known as 'Humanity Island' to the hundreds of migrants who spent their first weeks in Canterbury there, functioned as a quarantine station until 1885, when the island was taken over for the construction of Fort Jervois. The quarantine buildings were dismantled and most were transferred to Quail Island, which had been used to quarantine healthy migrants since 1874. That year the building now known as the Quail Island Quarantine Barracks building was constructed on land acquired from James Potts. Built to house single men, it was the first of a complex of several buildings. Stations such as Quail Island met legislative requirements dating back to 1851 for authorities to quarantine ships which arrived carrying sick passengers and crew. Lyttelton was one of the principal ports of arrival for migrants. Use of the Quail Island buildings declined after the mid 1880s when the introduction of steamers to the United Kingdom - New Zealand route drastically reduced voyage times and therefore the risk of disease. In later years the former single men's barracks was put to other uses and served as a convalescent hospital during the 1918 influenza epidemic. In more recent decades, cadets, sea scouts and school groups used the building, the first of the quarantine complex and now the only Survivor. It is owned by the Department of Conservation.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

Architectural: The Quail Island Quarantine Barracks building was designed as a simple, functional, utilitarian rectangular box building. The design was standard for military and civilian uses alike, and continued in use with very little modification from Victorian times right up until the Second World War. Design indicators are:

- Rectangular gable ended plan.

- Narrow casement windows.

- Timber balloon framing.

- Ship-lap weatherboard cladding.

- Match lined interior.

- Large interior space often partitioned off.

This historic place was registered under the Historic Places Act 1993. The following text is from the original Historic Place Assessment Under Section 23 Criteria report considered by the NZHPT Board at the time of registration.

(a) The extent to which the place reflects important or representative aspects of New Zealand history:

The Quail Island Quarantine Barracks is associated with the seminal event in the 19th century history of New Zealand, its systematic colonisation by people of primarily European descent. The migration route, at 12,000 miles, was one of the longest in the world and voyage times ranged from 100 days to over six months. Canterbury, one of the more successful of the Wakefield Settlements, began receiving colonists in large numbers from 1850. Early facilities for processing migrants were poor, but by the time that the Canterbury Provincial Government was undertaking its immigration drives during the early 1870s, the need for improved standards and facilities had been

accepted. Three commissioners met each ship and passengers were sent to barracks or quarantine facilities depending upon the state of the ship's health; they no longer had to be confined to the ships.

The barracks building, the sole survivor of two complexes established on Ripapa and Quail islands during the mid 1870s, demonstrates that new concern with the welfare of new arrivals. Although built simply, largely because the land had not yet been acquired, the single men's barracks demonstrated the authorities' concern for physical and moral welfare, by separating the infectious from those convalescing and by

separating people on the basis of their gender and marital status. Use of quarantine barracks declined from the mid 1880s when steamers began to displace sailing vessels from the migrant trade, and Quail Island was never as important as Ripapa Island, which handled most of the quarantine work, but the island remained a quarantine station and the building was used temporarily by orphans, occasional patients such as the smallpox carrier brought by the Knight of the Garter in 1910 and as a convalescent facility during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

(b) The association of the place with events, persons, or ideas of importance in New Zealand history:

Events: The quarantine barracks is associated with one of the most important events in New Zealand's 19th century, the mass migration of European settlers to the colony. Lyttelton harbour served one of New Zealand's principal provinces, Canterbury. This building was part of the infrastructure of port works and facilities created to service that system. It also served as a convalescent hospital during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Persons: The building was built on land purchased by James Potts, but there is insufficient research to determine whether any people of historical significance used it. It is a tangible symbol of the Canterbury Provincial Government's immigration programmes.

Ideas: The building is associated with one of the key ideas in New Zealand's 19th century history, systematic colonisation.

RECOMMENDATION: The Trust's Register does not appear to include any places (either buildings or wharves) directly associated with 19th century immigration. A large building remains on Otago's Quarantine Island and the foundations of the Cape Wanbrow barracks has been an interpreted site for several decades; other buildings may exist elsewhere. However, in view of the importance of systematic colonisation to the history of New Zealand and this building's association with Lyttelton Harbour, one of the colony's main ports of arrival, Category I registration is appropriate.

Additional informationopen/close

Construction Dates

Public NZAA Number


Completion Date

9th October 1997

Report Written By

Gavin McLean

Other Information

A copy of the original report is available from the NZHPT Southern region office

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.