Built as one of a complex of installations to protect the Marlborough Sounds, Blumine Island Battery sits in the middle of Queen Charlotte Sound and its guns cover the northern entrance. The Battery was built by the Public Works Department, with a scow delivering the cement directly from the Tarakohe Cement Works to the site. After World War II the island was farmed until the 1960s.
The historic area encompasses the northern half of Blumine Island where the northern battery and associated features were concentrated.
The battery can be divided into four distinct components:
1) Wharf and associated accommodation camp;
2) Number One Gun Emplacement and associated buildings and features (comprising magazine, observation post, concrete water tank and the gun emplacement with a short entry tunnel on the western side;
3) Number Two Gun Emplacement and associated buildings and features (comprising observation post, gun emplacement with entry tunnel in the eastern side and magazine); and
4) Second accommodation camp comprising approximately 217 concrete steps, 20-30 concrete foundations of accommodation and ablution buildings, and two large water tanks)
This part of the island was included in the lower island Scenic Reserve in 1950 and again in 1985. The whole area is owned by the Crown and actively managed by the Department of Conservation
Historical Significance or Value
During World War II New Zealand made provision for the defence of a great range of places and Blumine Island is representative of the kind of close defence batteries requested for shipping channels anchorages, as well as ports . “This relatively remote site was erected to defend the outer portion of Queen Charlotte Sound and was the key defensive installation for the Sound. The two emplacements were augmented with magazines, engine room and observation posts, and there were two accommodation camps, water reticulation, roads and a wharf. Although a number of the buildings have gone, the island illustrates the kind of the complex needed for a remote location defence installation” .The batteries on Blumine Island are the most extensive of the Marlborough Sounds Coastal Batteries and they are regarded as the best in terms of their integrity .
This battery was to be the key defence for Queen Charlotte Sound. The technology used at Blumine Island is not exceptional but it remains very significant for its integrity and condition. Although some associated buildings have gone, all the concrete buildings, including the emplacements, are intact and in reasonable condition. There also remains a remarkable set of concrete steps, approximately 217 steps high, which climbs to the site of the second accommodation camp. The walls of some of the remaining buildings contain graffiti, some contemporary and including, interestingly, sketches of the above-mentioned steps. The amount of graffiti has been restricted due to the remote location of the batteries remote location. Of added significance is the manner in which the battery was vacated by the army. It carefully capped the gun mountings, in contrast to a number of other sites around the country where it simply removed the guns and abandoned the site .
“Although remote, Blumine Island - a scenic reserve - is visited occasionally by the public and is relatively well known in the region. In recognition of its significance the Department of Conservation maintains this site and intends to protect the structures against further degradation” .DoC has an information sheet available to the public. Yacht charter companies have information for visitors on how to moor and visit the island and its historic features. Punga Lodge, Endeavour Inlet has information on the island on its notice board.
Background to military use of the Marlborough Sounds
The British military recommended establishing major coastal defences in the Marlborough Sounds in late 1941. Plans to provide a secure anchorage for the US navy in Queen Charlotte Sound began after Japan entered the war in December 1941 . It was also contemplated for training allied forces in marine operations for further campaigns . These batteries are part of New Zealand's military history and exemplify how provisions were made for the defence of a great range of places. Blumine Island is representative of the kind of close defence batteries requested for shipping channels, anchorages and ports.
The batteries were to play purely an anti-invasion role: to deny to the enemy the use of the sheltered waters as anchorages. The War Cabinet approved a provisional estimate of £220,000 in February 1942 for the work. This was for two 6-inch guns each covering the Pelorus and Queen Charlotte Sounds and Tory Channel. Each site chosen was to have a camp for 31 men, a BOP, a command post and a war shelter . The final figure varies between accounts. Cooke in his book on defence sites in the Sounds puts the cost to build all the sites in 1942 to be £450,150 . However, the military history of New Zealand defence force records the amount for the total cost for these coastal batteries to be £230,150 .
A wide range of underwater defences - minefields, booms and submarine detection devices - were added to the scheme from April 1942. No searchlights were intended and originally some anti-aircraft guns were allotted, but soon withdrawn. These were to be twelve 40mm Bofors guns and were allocated in July. A reconnaissance of the Sounds was carried out in December 1942 to site them but the number available was thought to be inadequate. They were also later deemed unnecessary, as camouflage was good at 1.219km (4000ft) and LMG AA guns were issued instead .
Blumine Island in 1942 was farmed and had little tree cover. Consequently, particular attention was paid to camouflage for air defence. “Past experience has shown that little or no attempt has been made to disguise the fact that work of a special nature is proceeding,” the QMG quibbled in February 1942 . After the war, it was decided that Queen Charlotte Sound was to be regarded as an extension of Wellington Harbour in wartime. The Chiefs of Staff concurred with the Defence of Bases Committee and gave the Sounds a Category 'C' rating, meaning only mobile defences would cover the anchorage .
The defence service describes the construction of the gun emplacements and accommodation buildings in the Marlborough Sounds as one of the “most difficult defence works undertaken in the northern portion of the South Island” . This was due to their remoteness and inaccessibility. For example, all materials for Blumine Island had to be delivered by sea. The Defence Department hired two scows and a number of punts for this purpose . However, the island's very steep slopes and soft rock caused delay in the construction of the batteries.
The buildings of the batteries in the Sounds was authorised in February 1942 and work on the gun emplacements began immediately. The building work was carried out by the Defence Department's own forces and was not finished until December 1942 . The guns had been mounted on 17th and 19th June 1942 and were test fired on 8th March 1943. The guns and concrete foundations were recorded to stand up to the proofing range 14.63km (16,000yds) satisfactorily. The Blumine emplacements each had a 6-inch BL MkVII gun on a naval P.III mount, 156-160 ft ASL, range c13.5km .
The nature of the work commissioned for two sites on Blumine Island was the construction of gun emplacements (and associated buildings) and the provision of accommodation for the battery personnel. The two on Blumine Island were built as part of series of coastal batteries in the Marlborough Sounds. The others were Maud Island and Post Office Point, Pelorus Sound, Tory Channel and Maraetai .
The jetties and roads constructed during the work improved access to the island. Other services for the forces positioned at the batteries were also built - water supplies, sewerage, drainage and electricity from generating sets. By October 1942 the erection of accommodation buildings was able to proceed. Most of this was undertaken by contract, under the master schedule system and the work was completed by February 1943 .
Life on Blumine Island
The photo (p7a) shows the difficulties of building the battery at Blumine Island East. When this photograph was taken, 8 November 1942, the gunners of 84 Hy Bty had to be ready to use the gun at any time, even though the protective overhead cover was still in the process of being built. Also visible is rudimentary camouflage and the steep terrain . The site now looks very different from its original context as it is surrounded by native bush. On a site visit by the Trust in April 2003 it was noted that three of the soldiers who had assisted building the second gun emplacement had inscribed their names in the cement on the gun mount. A diary of the installation of equipment describes the difficulties of delivering gun 1438 to Blumine Island. The tides did not allow the scow to go along side the breastwork so it had to be returned to Picton. The following day the gun was able to be unloaded but unable to be mounted as it had no pedestal, which was brought the following day. The gun placed at the eastern emplacement was number 1770 .
The 84 Heavy Battery had its headquarters in Broadway Street, Picton. Captain H.G. Thomas was in charge of overseeing the military input into the public works construction of the permanent emplacements . Two officers and up to 20 men of the 84 battery usually were stationed on Blumine Island. From late 1943 the number dropped to one non-commissioned officer and seven other ranks as most of the day to day work was the monitoring of ship movements .
Abandonment of site
After the Battle of Midway in June 1942 the government decided that the threat of enemy invasion had declined and from September 1943, the battery was designated as for “care and maintenance'. On October 21st 1943 the both guns at Blumine Island were dismounted and sent to Picton where they were later shipped to Auckland Naval Reserve . The War Assets Realisation Board removed most of the structures during 1944-45 and Blumine and the other batteries were formally disestablished in December 1945 .
Blumine Island had been declared a Pilot and Signal Station Reserve in 1865 but thereafter used for sheep farming . In 1912 a 113-acre scenic reserve was established at the southern end of the island (not the area in which the defence batteries were built). After World War II and the batteries had been disestablished the army passed the land to the Department of Lands and Survey. It is now administered as a Scenic Reserve by the Department of Conservation . As part of its active management DoC organised specifications for the repair and maintenance work to be carried out at the two observation posts, magazine and gun emplacement .
5th July 2004
Report Written By
Ian Bowman, 'Specifications on work for Gun Emplacement No. 2 Observation Post No 2 at Blumine Island, Marlborough Sounds' Department of Conservation, 2001
P. Cooke, Defending New Zealand; Ramparts on the Sea 1840-1950s, Wellington, 2000
Land Information New Zealand (LINZ)
Land Information New Zealand
1981, 'Scenic Reserves of Marlborough: Compiled from Reports prepared by L W McCaskill.' P.38 (No. 79)
Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan, 2003
Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan, 2003
Marlborough Sounds Resource Management Plan Vol. 2 Rules, February 2003.
Kerry Neal, Nola Leov, 1999, The Price of Vigilance: the building of Gun Emplacements in the Marlborough Sounds, 1942, Privately Printed: Nelson.
T. Nightingale, Blumine Island Gun Battery, Science and Research Unit, Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2003
A fully referenced version of this report is available from the NZHPT Central 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.
Historic Area Place Name
No. 1 Gun Emplacement and associated buildings and features
No. 2 gun emplacement and associated buildings and features
Second accommodation camp
Wharf and associated accommodation camp