The Auckland Harbour Board Memorial Beacon
In 1915, the Auckland Harbour Board erected a memorial beacon to commemorate 40 of its employees who had enlisted in the First World War. Years later, the beacon was dismantled, put into storage, and eventually moved to a new location. Today, the memorial is still a poignant reminder of how the event of war was to disrupt and affect the lives of so many. There have been various changes to the memorial in relation to its location, ownership, structure and composition. These changes reflect on the history of two organisations and reveal the development of a city.
First lit in December 1915, the memorial was unusual in that it was functional. Initially sited on the waterfront, it was an impressive sight (above and below image). During daylight, it operated as a beacon for launches, indicating the approach to the landing and keeping them clear of ferries. At night, the orb would glow red and act as a guiding light.
Over time, the Downtown area of Auckland city changed considerably as a result of reclamation (first image below). In 1970, the memorial was removed when construction began on a Travel Lodge (now Copthorne Hotel), Downtown Shopping Mall and Carpark (second image below). Thirty years later, the beacon was ‘re-discovered’ – still in storage, but with a number of components missing. The New Zealand Herald reported that an anonymous benefactor would fund the Memorial’s restoration; he is described on one of the plaques, as “a grateful refugee”. Apparently, he and his mother were assisted by a New Zealand soldier with their immigration from Germany to New Zealand.
In its current configuration and placement on Quay St, adjacent the entrance to Princes Wharf (images below), the memorial has been somewhat truncated and no longer has a sightline to the water. The twisted ironwork above the granite obelisk is gone and the orb has been replaced by a stone ball. The plaques now contain the names of 116 men and lists the locations where New Zealand troops were stationed or fought in World War I. There is also mention of The Treaty of Versailles, the document which officially ended the war in 1919.
By 1988, all the Harbour Boards around New Zealand were disestablished. The New Zealand Maritime Museum was gifted a large amount of objects and the institutional archives of the Auckland Harbour Board – including the plaques from the memorial beacon. In 2014, the beacon was registered by Heritage New Zealand as having historical or cultural significance or value. It now enjoys “category 2” status.
Written by Jaqui Knowles