Fort Ballance

Heritage object, Te Mahanga

Fort Ballance Road, Point Gordon, Maupuia
Map
  • Constructed

    1885 - 1941

  • Builder(s)

    Unknown

  • Fort Ballance is the largest of the military installations and is an excellent representative of the coastal fortifications that were constructed in the 1880s.  Fort Ballance has architectural value as an example of the types of coastal defences that were constructed in the 1880s in Wellington. The remains of this fort are the most significant of any built in and around Wellington at this time. 

    Fort Ballance, and the associated positions on Point Gordon, has historic significance resulting from their role in coastal defence. It was the city’s principal coastal defence in the period between 1885 and 1911. It was built in a time of rapid change in armaments and coastal artillery, and remained in use through World War One and saw ‘active’ duty again in World War Two.  

    Fort Ballance has some rarity value as the principal coastal defence work in the period 1885-1911 and for its intact state, and the ‘see-saw’ light emplacement is the only one still existing in New Zealand.

  • close History
    • Fort Ballance, situated on Point Gordon, is Wellington’s most historic coastal fortification, constructed as the city’s principal coastal defence in the period 1885-1911. The Fort remained in use up until the end of World War I and saw active duty during the Second World War when it was rearmed.

      During the first Russian Scare (1878) the New Zealand Government had been forced to acknowledge that they could not rely upon the British alone for protection, and an ambitious programme of battery construction in and around the country’s main ports ensued. 22 Rifle Muzzle Loading (RML) guns were purchased but not emplaced at this time and spent the next seven years in storage. In 1880, Colonel Scratchley, who had recently returned from Australia, recommended the construction of a system of coastal defences to protect New Zealand ports from a sea-bourne attack. 

      In 1884, tensions between Britain and Russia escalated, and Major Henry Cautley was commissioned to design fortifications. Initially the emplacements were constructed with great haste, but upon the realisation that the threat had receded, with more leisure. By 1898 Wellington boasted four fortresses, Ballance, Buckley, Gordon, and Kelburne, as well as batteries at the Botanic Gardens, Halswell, and Kau Point.

      Fort Ballance, named after then Minister of Defence John Ballance (1839-1893), was built on the site of the Mahanga Pa, later known as Point Gordon. It was built in 1885 as a response to fears of an impending war with Russia by the Armed Constabulary, day labourers, and prison inmates; Fort Ballance was to prevent enemy ships entering the harbour and provide covering fire for the minefield between Gordon Point and Ward Island. Work had begun in 1885 on an emergency timber built emplacement with two RMLs separated by an open gallery. The timber fort, gradually, was augmented with more permanent brick, concrete, and plaster between 1886 and 1888.

      The initial design was by Major Henry Cautley, who designed most of the country’s first forts. The work was continued by Lieutenant Colonel Tudor-Boddam, who incorporated the existing works and completed the remaining structures. In all, it took over a decade for the structures to be completed. When it was fully armed, the Fort had more guns than any fort in the country, and although the Russian attack never eventuated, it remained active for some years.

      The fort was criticised for being too prominent but it changed little after construction although some work was carried out to the southern RML pit to take another 6 inch breech loading gun after 1896. A ‘see-saw’ searchlight was also added, which although innovative, was not very successful. Attempts to blow it up in 1899 resulted in the deaths of three engineers. A separate one gun battery – Fort Gordon – was built near the searchlight emplacement between 1893 and 1896, and another emplacement – Low Battery – was constructed further down the hill.

      The key role that Fort Ballance had played was assumed by Fort Dorset in 1910-11, and although the fort was armed throughout World War One, it was thereafter used mainly for storage. The guns were declared obsolete in 1925 and the fort abandoned. It was briefly revived during World War Two when army housing was built at the rear of the fort and two 4 inch guns were emplaced in front. After the war the gun puts were filled in and part of the defence wall was demolished.

      Fort Ballance continued to be used for army accommodation following the war but the accommodation proved to be too damp for comfortable use, and in1946 three four man huts were built behind the fort. This continued utility saved the fort from being demolished during the 1960s and 1970s when similar coastal defences around New Zealand were being destroyed.

      In the 1990s, retired soldiers led efforts to have the earth removed and the fort’s importance recognised. Some minor vandalism has occurred at the fort, and apart from the affects of age and rampant plant growth, the fort is essentially intact although the army houses have been removed.

      Fort Ballance is an impressive collection of largely intact late 19th century military structures arranged around the site. It is a highly significant historic site, designed and built by the New Zealand Government; it is a tangible reminder of New Zealand’s first step towards independence from the British Crown. Fort Ballance was the first fort built in Wellington and remained the primary protection for the capital city between 1885 and 1911. It is a site of great physical significance and as it is largely unaltered gives a good impression of the defence strategies employed in the nineteenth century. Although no longer used as a fort, Fort Ballance retains its links with the Defence force and is one of few military sites in New Zealand that has been continually associated with it. Fort Ballance has immense educational value as a rare illustration of New Zealand’s response to wartime threats, and the responses that were made to the developments in military technology that characterised the first half of the twentieth century.   

    • Modifications close
      • 1886 - 1892
      • Construction
      • 1886
      • Construction begins on emplacement for) Armstrong Vickers disappearing gun
      • 1891
      • Low Battery constructed
      • 1892
      • Installation of two Nordenfelt quick-firing 6-pounder guns
      • 1924
      • Removal of disappearing guns, gunpits roofed and converted to magazine storage
      • 1941
      • Reoccupied for coastal defence, installation of two 4-inchMkVII guns
      • 1942
      • Installation of two 75mm guns
    • Occupation History close
      • unknown
      • New Zealand Army/ Ministry of Defence
  • close Architectural Information
    • Building Classification(s) close

      Not assessed

    • Architecture close

      Fort Ballance itself is located at the eastern edge of the flattened ridge while the extended battery structures run for some distance down the slope towards the sea to the north, east, and south. A large flat area is all that remains of the army houses that previously stood on the site – a rough track runs down from this level to the lower battery on the south western slope.

      At the rear of the fort is a high cavalier incorporating what were the battery observation post, command post, and communications post. There is a bomb proof casement below for the engine room, along with rooms for accommodating personnel. There is a rear trace formed by a wall of loop holed casement and continued by freestanding, corrugated iron framed walls filled with rudimentary concrete also with loopholes.

      The fort walls are generally constructed of brick or concrete (of varying quality) and rendered with cement plaster. No ordnance remains on site but there are three emplacements for heavy for 6 pounder guns, quick firing guns on either side. The magazine, sited between one of the BL guns and the RML gun, is sunken and there is an artillery store above it.    

    • Materials close
      • Brick
      • Concrete  
      • Rendered with cement plaster.
    • Setting close

      Fort Ballance is the largest of the military installations located on the spur between Mahanga Bay and Scorching Bay. The fort has a dramatic setting atop a flattened ridge at Point Gordon on the Miramar Peninsula. The elevated position gives it sweeping views out to sea past the South Wairarapa coast, around Wellington, and to the Hutt Valley and beyond. Much of this peninsula is reserve land (most for military purposes) and the Fort sits at the centre of a substantial area of open space that protects views from and to it from land and sea.    

  • close Cultural Value
    Fort Ballance is the largest of the military installations and is an excellent representative of the coastal fortifications that were constructed in the 1880s.  Fort Ballance has architectural value as an example of the types of coastal defences that were constructed in the 1880s in Wellington. The remains of this fort are the most significant of any built in and around Wellington at this time. 

    Fort Ballance, and the associated positions on Point Gordon, has historic significance resulting from their role in coastal defence. It was the city’s principal coastal defence in the period between 1885 and 1911. It was built in a time of rapid change in armaments and coastal artillery, and remained in use through World War One and saw ‘active’ duty again in World War Two.  

    Fort Ballance has some rarity value as the principal coastal defence work in the period 1885-1911 and for its intact state, and the ‘see-saw’ light emplacement is the only one still existing in New Zealand.
    • Aesthetic Value close
      • Architectural

        Does the item have architectural or artistic value for characteristics that may include its design, style, era, form, scale, materials, colour, texture, patina of age, quality of space, craftsmanship, smells, and sounds?

        Fort Ballance has architectural value as an example of the types of coastal defences that were constructed in the 1880s in Wellington. The remains of this fort are the most significant of any built in and around Wellington at this time. 

      • Group

        Is the item part of a group of buildings, structures, or sites that taken together have coherence because of their age, history, style, scale, materials, or use?

        Fort Ballance is one of a group of forts constructed in the 1880s as part of a coastal defence network. . By 1898 Wellington boasted four fortresses, Ballance, Buckley, Gordon, and Kelburne, as well as batteries at the Botanic Gardens, Halswell, and Kau Point. 

    • Historic Value close
      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important historic event, theme, pattern, phase, or activity?

        Fort Ballance, and the associated positions on Point Gordon, has historic significance resulting from their role in coastal defence. It was the city’s principal coastal defence in the period between 1885 and 1911. It was built in a time of rapid change in armaments and coastal artillery, and remained in use through World War One and saw ‘active’ duty again in World War Two.  

      • Association

        Is the item associated with an important person, group, or organisation?

        Fort Ballance is primarily associated with the New Zealand Government, the early Defence forces, and its designers Major Henry Cautley and Lieutenant Colonel Tudor-Boddam. 

    • Scientific Value close
      • Archaeological

        Does the item have archaeological value for its ability to provide scientific information about past human activity?

        Fort Ballance has archaeological value as it is known to have been associated with pre-European occupation and was constructed pre-1900. 

      • Educational

        Does the item have educational value for what it can demonstrate about aspects of the past?

        Fort Ballance has immense educational value as a rare illustration of New Zealand’s response to wartime threats, and the responses that were made to the developments in military technology that characterised the first half of the twentieth century.   

      • Technological

        Does the item have technological value for its innovative or important construction methods or use of materials?

        Fort Ballance has technical value for its structural integrity; many of its key features remain and it offers a comprehensive guide to the typical 19th century New Zealand fort. The emplacements and mountings are still in place and remain in good order. 

    • Social Value close
      • Public Esteem

        Is the item held in high public esteem?

        The fort is held in high public esteem and the uncovering of the gun pits and tunnels which had previously been filled in by the army have greatly raised the fort’s profile. Retired soldiers led efforts to have the earth removed and the fort’s importance recognised in the 1990s. 

      • Identity - Sense of Place - Continuity

        Is the item a focus of community, regional, or national identity? Does the item contribute to sense of place or continuity?

        Fort Ballance is a focus of community, regional, and national identity and is a highly significant site. Constructed by the New Zealand Government in response to the ‘Russian Scare’ and as an acknowledgement that the British could not be relied upon for protection, it is the among the first movement towards a more independent New Zealand.

    • Level of Cultural Heritage Significance close
      • Rare

        Is the item rare, unique, unusual, seminal, influential, or outstanding?

        Fort Ballance has some rarity value as the principal coastal defence work in the period 1885-1911 and for its intact state, and the ‘see-saw’ light emplacement is the only one still existing in New Zealand. 

      • Representative

        Is the item a good example of the class it represents?

        Fort Ballance is the largest of the military installations and is an excellent representative of the coastal fortifications that were constructed in the 1880s.

      • Authentic

        Does the item have authenticity or integrity because it retains significant fabric from the time of its construction or from later periods when important additions or modifications were carried out?

        Fort Ballance retains a high level of authenticity and integrity and is the largest example of a coastal fortification found in Wellington. It has authenticity of materials, design, craftsmanship, and setting. 

      • Importance

        Is the item important at a local, regional, national, or international level?

        This site has national significance. Fort Ballance is Wellington’s most historic coastal fortification and marks the beginning of a period of rapid change in armaments and coastal artillery. It was designed to address the threat of war and as a response to the realisation that acknowledgement that the British could not be relied upon for protection, so is associated with early nation building in New Zealand. It has high levels of architectural, group, historic, archaeological, educational, technical, and social values, as well as being associated with the military for over 100 years. The majority of the site is intact and retains some now rare features.     

    • Local / Regional / National / International Importance close

      Not assessed

  • close Site Detail
    • District Plan Number

      13/49

    • Legal Description

      Pt Sec 2 Watts Peninsula District

    • Heritage New Zealand Listed

      1/Historic place 5074

    • Archaeological Site

      Pre 1900 activity associated with site

    • Current Uses

      unknown

    • Former Uses

      unknown

    • Has building been funded

      No

    • Funding Amount

      Not applicable

    • Earthquake Prone Status

      Unknown

  • close Additional Information

Last updated: 28/09/2017 4:12:41 a.m.