NZHPT Information release
4 March 2011
Lyttelton Timeball Station
The New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) confirmed today that the Timeball Station in Lyttelton is to be dismantled.
One of 48 properties nationwide cared for by the NZHPT, Timeball Station is a Category I historic place and internationally significant because of its maritime history.
“It is with enormous regret that we must take this step, but public safety is paramount. People around the world have seen images of the extensive damage caused by the quake on 22 February, which has compounded damage sustained in the earthquake on 4 September last year,” said Chief Executive, Bruce Chapman.
“Our decision is based on specialist engineering information and guidance, as any decision about heritage buildings damaged in the quake should be.
“The Timeball Station is too damaged and too dangerous for us to consider anything other than dismantling, but this work will pose problems.
“This is an extremely difficult site. It was chosen as a building site over 135 years ago for the Timeball Station because of its elevated position, allowing ships to see it clearly from the harbour. That’s now working against us.
“The steep site means there’s no way to drive on and the potential to position a crane, below or above it is very limited. We are constrained not only by issues of access, but also by the risk of injury to any personnel who will need to be involved with this work. We are not prepared to put anyone’s life at risk.
“That said, if we can find a way to dismantle the Timeball Station that allows us to retain as much of the building’s materials as possible, we will do so. This site remains significant and we would hope that in future we can do justice to this important building.”
Plans for the dismantling process are under development and the NZHPT remains hopeful that the Timeball mechanism can be recovered.
“NZHPT is looking at all possible options for the reconstruction of the tower. But it may be some time for that decision to be made.”
For more information:
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
tel: 04 470 8066 or 027 683 9065
About the Timeball Station
From 1876 to 1934 a ball dropped from the Timeball Station’s mast on its stone tower, signalling the time to ships in Lyttelton Harbour. Visual time signals were important features of many of the world's ports, being necessary to correct ships' chronometers and ensure accurate navigation.
The timeball apparatus came from the well-known German firm Siemens Bros, and the astronomical clock from Edward Dent & Co. of London, who had made the Big Ben clock.
Use of the timeball was discontinued in 1934 when it was replaced by radio signals, though flag signals continued until 1941. The flags, which predated the Timeball Station, were used on the flagstaff nearby to signal to ships and to communicate shipping advice to the town.
After the dropping of the timeball and flag signalling ceased due to the increasing reliance on radio communications, the Lyttelton Timeball Station was occupied by the New Zealand Army in 1942-43. It was then inhabited by various staff members (and their families) of the Lyttelton Harbour Board until 1969 when the Harbour Board began to question its continued ownership of the station. The Lyttelton Maritime Association leased the Timeball Station from the Harbour Board, and began to restore it.
By 1973, it became obvious that the task of maintaining and restoring the property was too great for a volunteer organisation and it was agreed that it would be gifted to the NZHPT. The Ministry of Works and Development took over the restoration of the station, the timeball and its mechanism in 1975, working with the NZHPT. The restoration project was completed by the end of 1978 when the Timeball Station was officially reopened.
A fine example of Victorian technology, until the earthquake the Timeball Station was one of only five in the world known to be still in working order – making it a rare piece of maritime history.
Find out more about the Timeball Station on the Register Online