Fort Dorset

Dorset Point, Seatoun
  • Fort Dorset Heritage Area is the name given to the collection of defence related structures on a coastal escarpment that sits at right angles around Point Dorset. It was on this well positioned natural feature that Maori built Oruaiti Pa in the 17th century.

    From 1908, a succession of gun batteries and associated structures were constructed on and around this site by the New Zealand government to protect Wellington from a potential seaborne attack. Over time, a considerable infrastructure – including accommodation and administration buildings and a parade ground – was built to house the many personnel needed to run the defences. Post-World War II Fort Dorset was used by the New Zealand Army and was Wellington’s only army camp. However, as the army consolidated its facilities towards the end of the century, most of the land was sold and the timber camp buildings demolished by 2001. Today the Oruaiti Recreation Reserve, which covers the flanking hills, is owned by the Port Nicholson Block Settlement Trust and administered by the Wellington City Council. The reserve is a place that is well visited by the public.

    The heritage area occupies a rugged and frequently windswept area of considerable natural beauty, overlooking Cook Strait and the harbour entrance. The terrain is dramatic, with high escarpments rising sharply up from the foreshore, softened somewhat by regenerating native scrub; the remnant defence works are distributed around the area, with a concentration along the ridgelines. The various structures, well weathered over time, have an unmistakable military provenance and a blunt and uncompromising aesthetic that fits well into this setting.

  • close Physical Description
    • Setting close
      Point Dorset sits on the hills behind Seatoun, overlooking Breaker Bay to the south and the harbour heads and passage to the east. The terrain, frequently windswept, is rugged and dramatic and has a relatively unspoiled natural beauty; the land is largely covered in regenerating native coastal scrub. The reserve land takes in the majority of the L-shaped ridgeline and escarpment that cups around and shelters the south and east sides of Seatoun, rising sharply from the beaches on the seaward side. The defence structures lie within the reserve land, the great majority positioned along or near to the ridgeline, and a few down at the beaches. The various structures are time-worn and weathered and have a distinctive military aesthetic, blunt and uncompromising; these qualities help them fit into this striking setting.
    • Streetscape or Landscape close

      Not available

    • Contents and Extent close

      Not available

    • Buildings close

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    • Structures and Features close
      Surviving structures or identifiable remnant parts of major structures within the heritage area include:

       Remnant parts of demolished 6-inch battery (1908)
       Original 6-inch Battery Observation Post (1910)
       Gap Battery (1936 (2 emplacements), 1939 (2 emplacements)
       Gap Battery Observation Post (c.1936)
       Gap Battery Magazine (c.1937)
       War shelter, for Gap Battery (presumably c. 1937, but perhaps much older)
       Second 6-inch BOP (1937)
       Radar building (c.1942)
       Beach Battery (1942)
       Searchlight emplacements – remnants of 2 identified
       Ridgeline access road, c.1942
       Beach access road, n.d.

      There are other remnant structures, including a pillbox at the foot of the escarpment at Breaker Bay, and a variety of concrete plinths and mountings, of unclear purpose around the beach, remnant parts of foundations – and rubble – from the Steeple Battery, as well as a wide range of partially uncovered remains scattered around the hillside. Some of these are identified in the archaeological assessment.

    • Other Features close

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  • close Historic Context
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  • close Cultural Value
    • Significance Summary close
      Fort Dorset Heritage Area is the former site of both an important pre-European pa and what was arguably the most important of the city’s coastal defences during the 20th century.
      It retains an extensive collection of defensive installations from the early 20th century to World War II.
      It remained in use for training purpose post-World War II and use of the associated camp only concluded at the end of the century.
      The extant remains occupy dramatic cliff top and sea-side locations that were ideal for their purpose of defending the approaches to Wellington Harbour.

    • Aesthetic Valueclose
      The various remaining defence structures, all well weathered by the passage of time, have an unmistakable military provenance and a blunt and uncompromising aesthetic that fits well into their dramatic coastal setting The occupation of Point Dorset for defence purposes by Maori and Pakeha over many centuries makes this an historic landmark and a place of lingering importance to Wellington. The Fort Dorset Heritage Area is a place containing a broad variety of structures, mostly built of reinforced concrete, all quite plain and utilitarian and entirely suited to their purpose. All were built during the first half of the 20th century and are largely typical of that period of military construction, with the earlier structures exhibiting a more careful quality of design and better finishes than the later structures.
    • Historic Valueclose
      Fort Dorset was built by the Public Works Department for the New Zealand Army, two pivotal state organisations. They had a particularly close collaboration from the1880s to the end of World War II, a period when New Zealand, at great cost in men and resources, was building coastal defences and fighting major wars. Fort Dorset was the first of two new coastal batteries built in the early 20th century and demonstrated the government’s renewed efforts to modernise and upgrade the country’s coastal defence capabilities. Although Fort Dorset was largely built during peacetime, its history of use is mostly associated with the two world wars. It was during those relatively brief periods that activity was at its most intense and the number of personnel based at Fort Dorset (particularly during World War II) was at its highest. Fort Dorset was Wellington’s primary defence against sea attack during World War I and during World War II was second only to Palmer Head’s counter-bombardment battery in terms of its importance to the city’s defences.
    • Scientific Valueclose
      The use of archaeological methods could reveal information that would add an additional level of understanding to the history of the use of Fort Dorset. The surviving structures are open to the public and, if properly interpreted, could offer much educational value. The surviving military structures are of technological interest, in particular for the design principles underlying their forms, the various structural systems employed and the methods used in their construction. The level of craftsmanship on the pre-WWII structures is notably high, even though these are all essentially utilitarian structures.
    • Social Valueclose
      Fort Dorset is well known to the public and a popular and well visited recreational area. Tangata whenua and related iwi have a strong connection with the area, primarily through the historical use of the point for Maori occupation, particularly Oruaiti Pa, which was built in the 17th century. The erection of the memorial to pre-European use of the point in 2012 is evidence of that connection.
    • Level Of Cultural Heritage Significanceclose
      The original 6-inch BOP is an unusual design and possibly unique in that there do not appear to be any other examples still extant in New Zealand. It was built at a time (pre-World War I) when little coastal defence construction was taking place and may have had little precedent. Otherwise the structures at Fort Dorset are typical of their time. The area retains, at the least, elements from most periods of its use for coastal defence purposes, albeit that most buildings are now bare concrete shells or emplacements.
    • New Zealand Heritage Listclose
      Not assessed
  • close New Zealand Heritage List
  • close Additional Information

Last updated: 3/19/2020 3:15:14 AM