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Mount Cook Defence reserve Profile

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- 1840's-1960's -

Defence Reserve.
in Mount Cook, Wellington , New Zealand.

© Darcy Waters 1999  

      Mount Cook in Wellington - while not as high as neighbouring Mount Victoria provides a commanding view over the Te Aro area.
      Back in the early 19th century Mount Cook was higher than it is today. The summit was lowered about the 1840's when barracks for the 65th Regiment of Foot were built on the hill top and in 1847 the Wellington Powder Magazine was built on the eastern side of the hill. Also a military stores department was established in 1856.

      1870 was the beginning of a decade that was to see dramatic changes to the skyline of Mount Cook. That year the Imperial Troops left and their barracks were used as temporary quarters for immigrants.
      The Following year work started on a large imposing prison. This prison was to have six wings - each of three stories plus basement. The wings were to meet at a central tower and there was also to be an administration wing. The prison was to have a 20 foot high wall surrounding it and the hill slopes were to be terraced and planted.
     By 1874 one wing of the prison was completed and the basement of a second nearly built. Public feeling was against the prison - an ugly edifice on a prominent location.
     I have seen photos of the interior of this prison. Walls of brick, Lit by Gaslight. The cell wing had three levels with the cells on the upper two levels opening onto catwalks that surrounded a central ‘atrium'. Rather a grim place indeed. To picture it imagine San Francisco's Alcatraz prison plonked where the old Dominion museum was.
     This prison never had any permanent inmates although on one occasion a number of people sentenced to imprisonment were there for a short time. Even the Premier Mr Seddon stated that it would never be used as a prison

In 1877 the military property on Mount Cook increased with land on the north side of Buckle Street added for use for an artillery drill shed. This shed got built either late 1870 or during 1880.

The Chamber of commerce was complaining about explosives being carted through the town's busy streets en-route to the Magazine on Mount Cook. So a new magazine was to be built with the work starting in 1879 at Kaiwarra (lower Ngaio Gorge) and was completed the following year.

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     Before the Boer War the front wing of the prison building became the Defence Headquarters.

     As the military entered the 20th century . The Army was occupying all of the old Prison Building and the military's presence was still growing with the establishment of a sergeant Armourer and two assistants at Mount Cook in 1902 and at the end of the Boer War the Artificers and Armourers returned to improved conditions. Also by 1907 approval was given for construction of workshops for the Armourers.

     A new drill hall was needed. So on the 1st of June 1907 the foundation stone for the new hall was laid. The new hall was located on the north corner of Buckle Street and Taranaki Street. It's basement contained among other rooms three 25 yard firing ranges. During the 1913 Maritime strike the hall was used as a dormitory with people sleeping on straw
     Even more buildings appeared in 1916. A building for the Defence Stores was built across from the drill hall on the southern corner of Buckle Street while further along the new store in the Ordnance yard was completed. Also the Te Aro railway station was taken over by Defence for storage of bulk supplies.

     Sometime during the 1920's two muzzle-loading guns were shifted from Pipitea Point to Mount Cook. They were used as a saluting battery. This battery was later relocated to Point Jerningham where they used 25pdr guns.

     The convicts from the Terrace Gaol (today's Te Aro school) worked at the brick works on Mount Cook (today's High School sports field) and they were producing bricks up until about 1920. Among the buildings built with these bricks were the Mount Cook Police Station and the Drill Hall.

     By now the military occupied a considerable area on mount Cook and its presence was at it's peak. And yet the Ordnance workshops still had dirt floors. And the former gunpowder magazine was being used as an artillery training shed.
     Due to the state of these workshops in 1921 additional staff and equipment were approved while the capability to repair wheels and instruments were added.

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     The 1920's saw the beginning of a decline of military presence which has continued through to the present day.  The only exception was during World War 2.

     Defence Headquarters shifted from the Alexander barracks to the Defence Stores building late in the 1920's. This was to free the Alexander barracks up to be demolished to make way for a new spacious building to house the Dominion Museum and Art Gallery. The Evening Post newspaper took photos of the demolition in progress and these photos were dated March 1931.

     In 1929 although the Public Works Department submitted plans for new workshops at Trentham as early as 1921 GHQ decided that the staff of the workshops should shift the buildings across to Trentham themselves. This shift of the Ordnance workshops was undertaken in 1930.

     The 1930's saw more changes. The Defence Headquarters was shifted across to Featherston Street to occupy the old New Zealand Railways Headquarters building (NZR shifted to the new railway station where they are still - although now known as Transrail). And Headquarters of the Central Military District (HQ CMD) was shifted from Palmerston North to Mount Cook.
     The main building for HQ CMD was rebuilt on old foundations in 1941.

     During World War 2 a combined forces headquarters was set up on Mount Cook. The Dominion Museum building was taken over for use by this headquarters which was altered and a camp erected in it's grounds. Also air-raid shelter tunnels were driven within Mount Cook
     Behind the museum building construction of a two-storey building to be built underground by the "cut and cover" method started in August 1942. This was to house a ‘Fighter Sector Control' centre. However as it was nearing completion in March 1943 a decision to not install furnishings/fittings was made due to the improving was situation. This underground building was classified until the 1950's when the Department of Lands and Survey took it over and converted it into a centre for storing maps.

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Proceed to the 1970's-today

© Darcy Waters 2000





 © copyright Darcy Waters 1999-2003