stockade

The Rutland Stockade

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By Karen Wrigglesworth

The earliest colonial settlers arrived in Whanganui in1841 but land disputes meant that many who had paid the New Zealand Company prior to leaving Britain had to wait more than six years to take up the land promised to them. In 1845 there were some 200 Europeans in Whanganui, and around 60 dwellings. By comparison, the Māori population along the Whanganui River was approximately 4,000, mostly in good relationships with the newcomers, but not with the New Zealand Company.

By late 1846 local unrest led Governor Grey to establish a military post at Whanganui. In December officers and 180 men from the 58th Rutlandshire Regiment, four Royal Artillery gunners with two 12-pounder guns, and two Royal Engineers sailed from Wellington aboard the frigate HMS Calliope and the Government brig Victoria. They also brought a small gunboat with a brass swivel gun. The troops set about fortifying the new town.

Rutland Stockade was constructed on what is now generally known as Queens Park (Pukenamu or Sandfly Hill) above the Repertory Theatre, and at that time, near the northern end of the town. It is thought to have been the largest stockade erected in New Zealand at a cost of £3,500.

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Taken from Shakespeare’s Cliff looking towards the Rutland Stockade and Market Place, later Moutoa Gardens, 1870s (B-ST-029)

The stockade measured 55 by 30 metres and included two strong wooden blockhouses, one at each end of the enclosed space. Palisading consisted of rough timbers and whole trees (some more than 25 centimetres thick) set closely together, sunk over a metre into the sandy soil and standing two and a half metres high. They were braced by two inner horizontal rails. The tops of the logs were sharpened, to shed water and prevent decay, and for security. Loopholes for musket fire were cut all around, and the two 12-pounder guns landed by Calliope were mounted at each end of the stockade.

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Looking towards the corner of Drews Avenue and Ridgway Street with the Rutland Stockade on the hill behind, 1880s (B-ST-004)

Both blockhouses had upper floors that projected almost a metre beyond the lower storeys. They were the first defensive structures with overhanging upper storeys to be built in the North Island.  During the subsequent wars of the 1860s most frontier blockhouses were modelled on the Rutland blockhouse design. The larger blockhouse, designed to accommodate 80 soldiers, consisted of two buildings. The larger, 24 by 12 metres, was set at right angles to the smaller, six by six metres. The smaller blockhouse had a ground floor area of 12 by six metres and was occupied by 20 soldiers.

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Above Rutland Stockade with a view inside the fence and Shakespeare Cliff visible on the far side of the Whanganui River, 1870s (B-ST-016)

The lower walls of the blockhouses were three metres high and built from thick timbers lined inside with two and a half centimetre boards. The main uprights were almost two metres apart and 30 centimetres square, with intervening spaces filled in with horizontal planks. Smaller bullet-proof scantlings (timber pieces) were used in the upper storey, which also had a six centimetre-thick floor. The projecting part of the upper floor could be raised on hinges between each girder for musketry fire. Both storeys were had loopholes with horizontal slits, 1.2 metres long  and 15 centimetres wide, filled in with glass and shuttered outside. Māori called the large blockhouse the “peep house”, while Whanganui residents nicknamed it the “Acropolis”.

There was considerable difficulty in obtaining timber supplies for the large blockhouse, as most timber was upstream and on the opposite side of the river. In the end Māori supplied most of the timber, cutting and towing huge rafts of timber from 16 kilometres upriver (probably near Kaiwhaikī) to sell to the garrisons.

Rutland Stockade was completed by April 1847 and was garrisoned by the 58th Rutlandshire Regiment. The stockade saw action when Māori made a first determined attack on Whanganui in May. The attackers were repulsed by, but the situation was considered so serious that another stockade was erected at Patupuhou (or Patupuwhao) near where the bell tower now stands at Cooks Gardens. York Stockade was simpler in construction than Rutland Stockade, and consisted of barracks and a flat area surrounded by a high fence. It was completed by July 1847 and occupied by a detachment of officers and men from the 65th Yorkshire Regiment. York Stockade was never attacked but troops stationed there did take part in the Battle of St Johns Wood (which happened near where Collegiate now stands, on 19 July 1847).

Parade of 18th Royal Irish Regiment (2nd Battalion) and its goat mascot in front of the Rutland Stockade, January 1870, Photographer: W H Harding (M-G-40)

Parade of 18th Royal Irish Regiment (2nd Battalion) and its goat mascot in front of the Rutland Stockade, January 1870, Photographer: W H Harding (M-G-40)

Other early Whanganui defences included a Lower Stockade, which encompassed the Commercial Hotel and was built in 1846 on land now occupied by Trafalgar Square. There was also a fortified area known as the Lower Works on the corner of Ridgway and Watt Streets, below the Savage Club buildings.

York Stockade taken from Rutland Stockade with the spire of Christ Church visible, late 1860s (B-ST-021)

York Stockade taken from Rutland Stockade with the spire of Christ Church visible, late 1860s (B-ST-021)

Rutland and York Stockades were garrisoned by British Imperial soldiers until the late 1860s. Both were later used by the Armed Constabulary. Rutland Stockade was demolished in 1887.

About the author: Karen Wrigglesworth is a Whanganui engineer and writer, and a research volunteer at the Whanganui Regional Museum.

Diorama leads to Masters

Diorama

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.

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson's Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

Rutland Stockade top centre, Atkinson’s Hotel to left, Courthouse to right, Albion Hotel in centre; 1882-1883

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.