Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 55, 1924
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The first signal-station was erected on Mount Albert, the peak to the south of Newtown Park, in 1844. The first signalman was Robert Houghton, a master mariner, who was also gazetted as keeper of the powder - magazine. The signals used in those days were the same as now used at the Mount Victoria Signal-station, though some of them have fallen into disuse. One that would be frequently used in the “forties” and “fifties”—the circle, for a brig—has probably not been used for many years. Until the days of regular steam communication with the Home-country the square, the signal for a ship, was an important signal to those who were expecting friends or important cargo, and they anxiously awaited the hoist of flags denoting the particular ship signalled. Cases were known, however, of vessels, though signalled, being delayed for days by adverse winds and weather. From the 13th September, 1849, the signals from Mount Albert were repeated on the flagstaff* which had been erected in front of the old Government House at a cost of about £100. In February, 1863, Mr. John T. Platt offered to repeat the signals on a flagstaff that he had erected at the foot of Tory Street. His letter, published in the Provincial Gazette, stated that the staff was erected on his premises known as the “Brick House,” and that “the signals would be repeated with accuracy and regularity. The signals would be of sufficient size and would be placed at sufficient height as to enable them to be seen clearly by the greater portion of the inhabitants of Te Aro.” Apparently the service was not satisfactory, as a petition was presented asking the Council to provide a station for Te Aro, or improve Platt's. The change to Mount Victoria rendered any repeating within the town unnecessary.

While the signal-station was on Mount Albert the outside pilot-station was in a small cove a little to the west of Palmer Head, Tarakena Bay. On the 26th December, 1858, the Consulting Engineer, Mr. Carter, reported that the signal-station was in such a bad state as to remind one of the celebrated gun that needed a new lock, stock, and barrel. In 1866 it was decided that the pilot service should be located within the Heads, Worser Bay being the position selected. Land was purchased and buildings erected, some of which are still in existence. A signal-station and a dwelling for the signalman were erected on Beacon Hill, and the signal staff was removed from Mount Albert to Mount Victoria, to which the signals were repeated from the outer station. Code-flags, both Commercial Code and Marryatt's, had been supplied, and by their means messages could be sent from town to vessels, the pilot-station, or the light-house at Pencarrow, or vice versa, by way of Mount Victoria. Later,

[Footnote] * An illustration of the first Government House, with flagstaff before it, appears at p. 21 of the Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Wellington Provincial District, 1897.

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Fig. 1.—Signal-station on Mount Albert (from print in Alexander Turnbull Library). No. 1 denotes a ship, 2 a barque, 3 a brig, 4 a schooner, 5 a cutter, 6 a steamer.

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Fig. 2.—First lighthouse at Pencarrow Head. (Original sketch in possession of Mr. F. J. Halse.)

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Beacon Hill became what was known as a learners' station, with a Morse telegraph-set connection with the Wellington Telegraph Office, a cadet being stationed there. Still later, a telephone was installed between the pilot-station and Beacon Hill, one of the first telephone circuits in New Zealand.

The first pilot appointed by the Government, in 1842, was D. McCarthy. James Hebberley had been appointed by the New Zealand Company in 1840. McCarthy was succeeded by R. Calder, who retired in 1848. He was succeeded by James Ames (father of the present City Valuer), who filled the position temporarily. In 1849 Captain Daniel Dougherty, an American whaling captain, was appointed, and he held the position until his death in 1856.

It should be mentioned that Heaphy records (8) that “E'Warri, one of the young chiefs of Port Nicholson, had, with a boat's crew of Natives, gone off to the “Olympus,” immigrant ship, in the strait during a gale, and piloted her with safety into the harbour, and to an anchorage, for which service the company awarded him £5.

Time-signals were given daily from H.M. Surveying Ship “Acheron,” Captain J. L. Stokes, while in port towards the end of 1849. On the 9th March, 1864, a time-ball service was instituted. A mast was raised above the Customhouse, on which a large black ball was raised daily, half-mast at ten minutes to 12, mast-head at five minutes to 12, and dropped at noon, Wellington mean time. The cost of the astronomical clock ordered in connection with the time-ball, with the other necessary apparatus and fittings, amounted to £941 12s. 7d. The first observer was the Rev. Arthur Stock, of St. Peter's Church.