Kyle Dalton’s first view of the museum’s diorama of the Rutland Stockade that once stood on Queen’s Park hill was a crucial moment. He can, in fact, trace his lifelong interest in military history back to that time.
Part of that interest led him to learn about the Rutland Stockade itself; “At 60 by 30 metres it was the largest stockade in New Zealand,” he says. “At the time it was built it was one of eight in the country and four of those were here [in Wanganui].”
Kyle arrived in Wanganui from Marton in 1997. He was a policeman and had, before that, transferred from Auckland to Marton in 1991. From 1994 he had been coming over to Wanganui as part of 5 Battalion, the next stage of his career.
“I left the police, started a couple of security businesses; bought and sold, bought and sold them and then joined the army in `94. One day when I was over here I came in [to the museum] and saw the diorama.”
His curiosity piqued, Kyle visited Queens Park to see where it was. Of course there are no obvious signs of its former location but it got him interested.
The stockade stood for 40 years, dominating the town with more than just its rudimentary architecture. Building on it started in 1846 and finished in April 1847.
“Conveniently, the timber was supplied by the very Maori who later attacked it,” says Kyle. “They were paid £500 for it.”
So what was in the stockade? “There was very little. There were the two main buildings of American design; that’s why they overhang. The diorama had capping on the fence but originally they were sharpened stakes.”
Sharpened – not because pointy wood deterred people from trying to climb over, but because a sharpened stake sheds water and inhibits premature rot: trivia courtesy of Kyle Dalton.
As a matter of interest, there are two lines of bricks in the path leading from the Queens Park car parking area that overlooks Ridgway St up to the cenotaph. In 2002 when the walkway was being installed, workers uncovered two old stockade fences; one in corrugated iron from when it was used as a prison, and one in wood from its days as a stockade. Those brick lines mark the locations where the fences still stand, rotting beneath the soil.
When it was in use as a stockade, it was never used as living quarters. “The officers had their own quarters where Andersons is now [on the corner of Victoria Ave and Ridgway St], which was next door to the military hospital. The soldiers would camp out in tents on the flat ground now adjacent to the Davis Library,” says Kyle.
The stockade would have been manned around the clock by a skeleton crew. The bulk of the units left in 1869, with the final soldier leaving in 1870. By 1872 it was a prison, but the untreated timbered structure, by then 20 years old, was starting to show signs of age. “Members of the town council wanted to preserve it. They saw it as a significant feature of Wanganui, but it came down to cost … the issue was raised as late as 1883 when a large part of it came down. It was taken down in stages,” says Kyle. By 1888 it was gone, with some of the wood ending up in the local Masonic Lodge as furniture.
That view of the diorama, produced by the museum’s exhibition people some time in the 1970s, has led Kyle through further education to the point where he is now studying for his Masters degree. “An examination of the role of the military in the development of Wanganui,” is his subject. At the centre of it, though long gone physically, stands the Rutland Stockade.
Article original published in Wanganui Midweek on December 19, 2012; reproduced with permission.