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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

The Public Works of New Zealand

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The Public Works of New Zealand.

As in most of the colonies, all the more important public works of New Zealand are in the hands of the Government and other public bodies: comparatively few have been undertaken by private enterprise.

The initiation of public works in New Zealand is coeval with the founding of the colony, and in the early days they simply kept pace with the spread of settlement. But in 1870 a great impetus was given to the progress of the whole country by the inauguration of the "public works policy," which provided for carrying out works in advance of the settlement. Numerous railways, roads, and water-races were constructed, and immigration was conducted on a large scale. As a consequence, the population increased from 267,000 in 1871 to 001,000 in 1881, and the principal branches of settlement advanced in much the same proportion.


The first public works initiated in the colony were roads, for without them no regular settlement could take place. New Zealand ft is well intersected by roads of various kinds, from bridle tracks among the mountains to macadamised roads in the older settled districts. All the main roads have been made by the General and Provincial Governments, but the maintenance is done by the counties, except in a few isolated cases where a main line of communication runs through sparsely settled districts. The district roads are under the control of small local bodies, who make and maintain them out of their own funds.

It is impossible to give even a rough estimate of the number of miles of roads and tracks constructed in New Zealand: they comprise many thousands. The portion done by the General Government since 1870 is only a fraction of the whole; yet it amounts to page 4 8,800 miles of road of all classes, and 83,800ft. of bridging over streams of a minimum width of 30ft.

Nearly all the larger rivers on the main roads in both Islands are bridged. At first the bridges were all constructed of timber, but latterly stone and iron have been extensively used, and in a few-cases the ironwork has been manufactured in the colony. There are a number of drawings and photographs in the Exhibition illustrating the different types of road bridges in New Zealand.


At the end of the last financial year, 31st March, 1889, there were 1,769 miles of Government and 140 miles of private railways in operation in New Zealand; and 164 miles of Government and 32 miles of private lines under construction. Of the Government railways in operation, 661 miles are in the North and 1,108 in the South Island.

The New Zealand railways are equipped with 272 locomotives, 512 carriages, and 8,156 wagons.

The expenditure on the 1,769 miles of Government railways open last year has been £13,472,837, or an average of £7,616 a mile: this includes all charges connected with the construction and equipment of the lines.

The revenue from the Government railways for the year 1888-89 was £997,615, and the working expenses £647,045. The balance of £350,570 is equal to a return of £2 12s. per cent, on the capital invested. Four of the principal lines, to an extent of 1,165 miles, pay interest ranging from £2 18s. 9d. to £6 12s. 6d. per cent., the average being £3 4s. 7d. on a capital of £8,675,381.

Prior to 1870, when the colonial public works scheme was initiated, 46 miles of railway had been made and worked by the provinces—17 miles in Otago and 29 miles in Canterbury. Of the remaining 1,723 miles, 1,599 miles have been set out and constructed and equipped since 1870, and 124 miles purchased from private companies.

The main lines in the South Island have ruling gradients of 1 in 50, the sharpest curves being 7½ chains radius. Some of the principal lines in the North Island have 1 in 35 gradients and 5 chain curves; and in crossing the Rimutaka Range there is an incline of 1 in 15 on the Fell central rail system, two miles and a half long. The gauge of the railways throughout is 3ft. 6in.

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Some of the formation works on the New Zealand railways are very heavy, particularly at the Rimutaka Range and in the Manawatu Gorge, in the North Island, and on the lines leading out of Dunedin and the Otago Central Railway, in the South Island. Bridging also is a large item on the Canterbury Plains, where the other works are exceedingly light. The largest single work on any of the railways is the Moorhouse Tunnel, nearly a mile and three-quarters long, between Lyttelton and Christchurch, which was carried out by the Provincial Government of Canterbury.

Most of the bridging on the railways first made was of timber, but now all the principal bridges are iron girders on masonry or iron abutments and piers. Latterly all the bridge ironwork has been manufactured in the colony, everything from heavy castings down to bolts and rivets being done locally. Since the initiation of this system in 1883 about 4,900 tons of ironwork for road and railway bridges have been manufactured in New Zealand.


Prior to 1863, when both the General and Provincial Governments began to construct telegraphs, there were three lines in operation, of the aggregate length of-10 miles—one in the Waikato for military purposes; and two private lines, one between Port Chalmers and Dunedin and the other between Lyttelton and Christchurch. In 1870 there were 1,661 miles of lines and 2,897 miles of wire, and now there are 4,790 miles of lines and 11,617 miles of wire. There are three submarine cables connecting the two islands of New Zealand, and one connecting the colony with Australia and the rest of the civilised world. Fourteen of the principal towns have the telephone exchange, the number of subscribers in April, 1889, being 2,254.

The New Zealand telegraph system up till March, 1889, had cost £574,000, and, including £23,165, the value of Government messages, the revenue for the year ending 31st December, 1888, was £129,476—1,765,860 messages having been sent.


The Government has expended about £510,000 on the construction of reservoirs, water-races, and sludge-channels on the gold-fields; and extensive works of a similar character have been carried out by private enterprise.

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All the cities and principal towns in New Zealand are supplied with water at the cost of the Corporations. Auckland, Napier, and Lyttelton have pumping schemes, but the others are supplied by gravitation. Christchurch and Blenheim have no public scheme, but each individual can have an ample supply on his own premises at a trifling cost by sinking an artesian well.


Ordinary tramways have been established in all the principal towns in New Zealand, and Dunedin has in addition two cable lines leading to high lying suburbs. The ordinary tramways are in some cases worked by steam motors, but horse power is more generally employed. The cable tramways are practically the same as those in San Francisco.

There is a horse tramway between Greymouth and Kumara, the leading feature of which is that passengers and goods are taken across the Teremakau River in a cage at a high level. The cage is suspended and steadied by wire ropes, and worked by a stationary engine.


All the principal towns in the colony have gasworks, some of them belonging to private companies, but the majority to the Corporations. The native coal from Greymouth is stated to be one of the best in the world for making gas. The streets of Wellington and Reefton, and the harbour of Lyttelton, are lighted by electricity.


All the ports in New Zealand are provided with wharves and jetties in proportion to the trade. Important works to afford shelter and increase the depth of water have been executed or are in course of construction at eight places—namely, Dunedin, Oamaru, Timaru, Lyttelton, Greymouth, Westport, New Plymouth, and Napier.

The harbours of Oamaru, Timaru, New Plymouth, and Napier are practically in the open sea. They are enclosed by concrete and rubble breakwaters. Two of these only are completed, Oamaru and Timaru. Sixty acres are enclosed at Oamaru, and fifty acres at Timaru, and vessels of large draught can be accommodated at the wharves.

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The works at Dunedin consist of dredging a channel in the Upper Harbour, so that vessels of larger draught can go right up to the city, and the construction of a mole at the Heads to increase the depth of water on the bar. The channel is finished, and the intercolonial steamers and ordinary Home ships now go right up to Dunedin. The mole at the Heads is carried out to a distance of 1,100ft., and the bar is greatly improved, so that the largest Home steamer can go up to Port Chalmers.

Lyttelton Harbour is an inner basin in a sound, which naturally was greatly exposed to certain winds. About 110 acres have been enclosed by rubble breakwaters and dredged out, so that the largest Home steamers can be accommodated.

Greymouth and Westport are coal harbours at the mouths of the Grey and Buller Rivers. The works consist of training walls and breakwaters intended to concentrate the current across the bar, and thereby increase the depth of water. The principal works at Greymouth are nearly finished, and they have proved a complete success. Steamers up to 1,345 tons burden and 16ft. draught are now trading to the port. The works at Westport are still far from completion; but they have already effected a great improvement in the harbour, and promise to be as successful as those at Greymouth, and, in consequence of the river being larger to commence with, larger vessels will be accommodated.

Models and drawings of the Greymouth and Westport Harbours are exhibited in the Public Works Court.

There are four graving-docks in New Zealand, the following being their leading dimensions:—
Length on Floor. Width of Entrance. Maximum Depth on Sill.
Ft. Ft. Ft.
Port Chalmers 330 50 21
Lyttelton 450 62 23
Auckland Old Dock 300 42 14
Auckland New Dock 500 80 33

Wellington has no dock, but there is, instead, a patent slip capable of taking up a 2,000-ton ship.

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In addition to ordinary harbour lights there are twenty-six lighthouses on the coast of New Zealand. Five are built of stone, six of iron, and fifteen of timber. The lights are of various orders and descriptions and of the most approved type. The first lighthouse in the colony, that at Pencarrow Head, was lighted in January, 1859, and the others have been added year by year as the shipping trade increased. Seventeen have been built since 1870.

Defence Works.

Prior to the war scare in March, 1885, New Zealand had no defence works, but they were begun vigorously at that time; and now the principal ports are in a good state of defence. Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton, and Dunedin have all got batteries with heavy guns of the most approved description.

W. N. Blair.

Public Works Department, Wellington,