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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 2, Issue 4, May 1970

Forts on Haulashore

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Forts on Haulashore

All Nelsonians know Haulashore Island. Its gleaming white stony beaches and dark pine trees make a pleasing contrast for the motorist as he speeds past. Few give it more than this passing glance and even fewer have actually walked on the island itself. It is enough to the motorist that the island is there and probably always has been, but it has its little share of history and was probably more important to Nelson when the early life of the City centred round the Port.

Its first mention is not a very pleasant one. Wakefield records in his diary that Thomas Cresswell, the first of the settlers to die, was buried there on the point of land nearest to the Port—Aglionby Point. Wakefield also has another entry in his diary—about the Whitby—which was laid on the island on a mudflat about 200 yards inside of Aglionby Point, on a spot specially adapted for a patent slip. He had visions of using the island as a place for hauling boats ashore for cleaning and refitting—hence its name—Haulashore. It was long hoped in Nelson that such an industry would develop there and it was used to some extent for some years, but early hopes were never realized.

The name of the island is also given as Fifeshire Island and strangely enough both names have been retained although Haulashore seems to be more popular today. The Fifeshire was an immigrant vessel, a barque, and went ashore on the Arrow Rock when leaving the harbour in February, 1842. She was a total loss as she broke her back and the vessel and all its gear and cargo were sold to Mr. John Poynter who had a sale of all the goods on Haulashore Island. Since then both the Arrow Rock and Haulashore Island also bear the name Fifeshire.

Some would argue that it was not an island before the new harbour entrance was cut, but it has always borne the name of island and was indeed an island at high water when it was cut off from the Boulder Bank. Old maps show a channel—the Pilot Channel—between the lighthouse and the magazine evidently used by the pilot as a short cut when going out to ships waiting outside the bar. An amusing confirmation of the island theory come from the account told by Mrs. Coleman of her life on the lighthouse as a child. Evidently her brothers liked to tease the herd of goats then living on the island by chasing them down the Boulder Bank past the lighthouse, and holding them until the tide rose and the goats could only get to Haulashore by swimming.

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Where the goats came from is not told and from old pictures there seemed to be little vegetation on the island for them to feed on. Two sketches in Broad's History, for example, show that the island was almost bare or had at the most a few scrubby bushes. Of course if you go by the engraving of Heaphy's sketch of the Haven in 1842, the island appears to be covered with green trees but it seems that these were imaginary.

There have been animals on the island at times. The Examiner records that in September, 1842, the island was to be the scene of a big auction sale of cattle, horses and sheep—part of the cargo of the ship Eagle—which had arrived from Australia. She must have been somewhat like a Noah's Ark for the items listed in the sale include cows, heifers, steers, a bull, mares, fillies, geldings, maiden ewes, fat wethers, rams as well as fowls, ducks and geese. No goats are mentioned. Later another ship. the Posthumous, used the island as an auction ground as in 1843 she arrived with 1,600 sheep on board, some of which were placed on the island, with rather disastrous results. It seems there was no water there for the sheep which drank the sea water and many died. The remainder were quickly sold at 15/- to 17/- each before anything happened to them.

Old maps of Haulashore show that four sections were surveyed there, Town Acres 1097—1100, and it would seem that the surveyors were hard pressed to obtain the 1100 Town Acres required when they had to use Haulashore, but strangely enough the Examiner records that two of these sections were among the earliest chosen. The earliest owners, according to the Crown Grants, which go back only as far as 1852, were the Hon. Tollemache (1097–8), Alfred Fell (1100), and Section 1099 was a Native Reserve, no doubt chosen by Henry Augustus Thompson in his official capacity as Protector of Aborigines. After some changes of ownership all the sections are now vested in the Mayor, Council and Citizens of Nelson to be used as a pleasure ground.

But the most interesting feature of early maps of Haulashore Island is that they show the island as heavily fortified—there were three forts or batteries sited there ready to repel any enemy that approached The forts were given special names by the Street Naming Committee in March, 1842, to commemorate engagements in which Nelson had taken part. At the south-east tip of the island was Fort Bastia, Fort Calvi guarded the south-western approach and running across the northern tip of the island was the Aboukir Battery. The earliest maps we have show these forts. No enemy was to be allowed entry to Nelson Haven or if a stray ship did manage to pass, then Fort Bastia was there inside the harbour ready to put cannon balls through its rigging. One would imagine that any near misses from page 7Fort Bastia would have caused some alarm among the early dwellers at the Port especially round about Richardson Street.

Why all these war-like preparations, you may ask? Well, apart from any other reason, the Company was obliged by the New Zealand Government of the day, to set aside a number of Government reserves before any selection of land could take place. These reserves comprised land for wharves, gaols, cemeteries, custom houses, markets, a military ground to accommodate 300 soldiers, a site for a house of correction, and forts.

The people of Nelson agreed with the Government that these reserves were necessary, especially the forts. Broad reports, in his History of Nelson, that murmurs were heard against the Government for insufficient appropriations for the defence of the place from outside attack. The Examiner too, carries alarming reports of the danger of French or Russian attack. In July, 1854, at the time of the Crimean War, both Australia and New Zealand feared attack, although they thought the French and British naval forces in the Pacific were adequate. In 1860 too, the Examiner carried reports of a big build up of French strength in the Pacific—5 French men-of-war at New Caledonia and a large force of men also. The fleet included the steam frigate Souveraine, 60 guns, the steam frigate Cossim, the steam sloop Henare Forbin, besides transports.

There was no mistaking the fact that the colonists were alarmed. Yet if you wander about Haulashore Island today among the pine trees, the little patches of grass and the innumerable rounded boulders you fail to see any signs of fortifications. Not a fragment of ruined stone wall, not a single block of masonry are to be seen anywhere. What has happened to the forts? Where have they gone? Who destroyed them? We haven't one sketch or plan to show what they looked like!

The awful thought dawns that there never were any forts.

Still, we cannot dismiss them out of hand. Let us see if there is any evidence to show that they really did exist.

First, the cannon There seems to have been no shortage of cannon to arm the forts Apart from the fact that every ship of the time was apparently armed with cannon either for protection or for signalling, there seems to have been quite a substantial number of cannon brought to the colony. The records are full of references.

We read of Wakefield placing a nine-pounder on Britannia Heights in December, 1841. The young Wakefield, Edward Jerning-ham, on a visit to Nelson in April, 1842, writes of "knots of whalers loitering on the beach at the Haven among the scattered cannon, page 8ploughs and cartwheels" and Broad reports that on the first anniversary of the founding of the colony, guns were firing both from Britannia Heights and from Church Hill. They must have brought all these cannon for some purpose.

Then, the forts themselves. What evidence have we for their existence? The first is from August, 1842, a report in the Examiner.

"On Sunday morning 31st August, 1842, a salute of guns announced the arrival of Bishop Selwyn and the Rev. Reay in Nelson. Two deputations escorted them to the town."

Some of the scattered cannon must have been lined up and made ready for firing. Where were these guns placed? In the forts? Maybe, they were on the Beach or on Britannia Heights. A signal could have been made from the hilltop to the guns on Church Hill, but at this time there was no fort and there may not have been guns, although Broad did state that they were there on Anniversary Day 1843.

The passage is not clear enough to definitely state that the forts were there. There are too many possibilities. They may even have been ship's guns. Interesting—but not conclusive.

The next extract is from Fox's Report to Colonel Wakefield written in 1844 on the occasion of the visit to Nelson of Governor Fitzroy. He writes:

"Governor Fitzroy …… did not land till the Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. On leaving the North Star (which was anchored in Bolton Roads) he was saluted by that vessel and the salute returned from the fort."

One fort at least is mentioned. Unless of course, the fort on Church Hill replied. It had been built by this time and could have replied. But it is tempting to think that there was a fort or battery at the Port. Still not conclusive but more interesting.

The next evidence is from an extract of a much later date. In August, 1857, when Nelson was in the throes of gold fever and shiploads of eager miners were sailing out of the port for Collingwood, a rumour spread among the people of Nelson that Chinese were to be allowed to land in New Zealand to go to the goldfields. They were already in Victoria in large numbers and alarm gripped the Nelsonians that they would be crowded out of their own goldfields. A public meeting was called and the courthouse was filled with excited citizens ready to condemn the Government for its weakness and to demand that no Chinese be allowed to land.

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Mr. Wrey was in the chair and in his opening remarks pointed out the serious effect the entry of the Chinese would have on the economy of the province. The Chinese were not wanted—among other things they were quite immoral in their habits and manners—why, in Victoria, there were 60,000 Chinese and only six were married. Other speakers supported the Chairman and the motion was carried unanimously that the Government prohibit the landing of Chinese in New Zealand, All was well until someone casually remarked that Governments were rather dilatory in their deliberations and that the Chinese might well be here before a law was passed. Consternation reigned again and it was resolved, among other suggestions, that the Nelson Volunteers be reconstituted to prevent any such landing. The Roll was opened at once. Mr. R—, speaking very forcibly on the subject—too forcibly in fact, as the Examiner left blanks all through his reported speech for words they dared not print—said that they should try and prevent any such immigration even if they had to load the Port guns!

What! Still there at the Port in August, 1857! Where were these guns to be seen—in a fort or on the beach?

They were still at the Port in 1858 as in that year a dreadful accident occurred to Joseph Taylor who was loading and firing the gun used for signalling. While he was cleaning the gun the charge ignited and blew off his arm.

Another gun was on Britannia Heights, for His Honour the Superintendent directed that the guns would be fired every Saturday at twelve o'clock.

In 1860 the Nelson Naval Artillery Company was formed under Captain Akersten but I have no details of their arms. They were followed some years later, in 1875, by the Nelson Naval Brigade under Captain Ralph Richardson, their main work being to establish a battery to protect Nelson at the entrance to the harbour. In 1876 the Government provided the Brigade with a boat, the Aurora, and placed on Haulashore Island two 24 pounder guns. At last! Unfortunately the Brigade was disbanded in 1881 and reformed again later as infantry. So much for the forts and guns on Haulashore!

Perhaps we should not finish without mentioning the gun emplacements built above the Cliffs on the Moncrieff's property in the Second World War. They have featured in the paper recently, with an actual photograph of one of the guns. I think they were six inch guns.

So far Nelson has survived without her forts and guns and I think the only shelling she has received came inadvertently from stray shots from her own wartime protective batteries.