Albert Park

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Albert Park


From Archaeological assessment Prepared by Rod Clough (PhD) 6 December 1996

Albert Park is situated on the remains of Ranipuke, a volcanic cone overlooking the centre of the city. It covers approximately half of the area formerly defined by the walls of Albert Barracks (Figure 1), which is recorded as archaeological site R11/*33 on the New Zealand Archaeological Association's Site Record File. Prior to the construction of the Barracks, little is known of the area. There is no indication that it was one of Auckland's pa sites, although it is a short distance from Te Reuroa ('the long outer palisade'), a pa where the High Court now stands. It is also on the ridge, which runs down to the former Point Britomart, where a pa known as Tangihanga Pukeaa ('the sound of the war Trumpet') was recorded. <googlemap lat="-36.849269" lon="174.767761" zoom="14" width="200" height="200" selector="no" controls="small">-36.85078, 174.767246, Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand</googlemap>


With its solid bluestone basalt perimeter wall Albert Barracks was a prominent and impressive construction: a visual focus in addition to being a centre of military and social activities for the growing town of Auckland.

Using basalt from the Mt Eden quarry, construction began in late 1846 to early 1847. Construction of buildings continued for over a decade (Figures 3 and 4) and the wall was completed sometime around 1852. Maori stonemasons and builders were used extensively in the construction of the walls, wells and buildings of the Barracks (Coates 1990:6-9).

With the removal of the military threat, the seat of government shifted to Wellington in 1865, the cost of maintaining the regiments was reviewed and a decision was taken to abandon the Barracks. During 1871 and 1872 the walls and many of the buildings were removed or demolished and the materials used in other constructions around the city. However, some of the buildings remained on the site for many years and were used variously for police or educational purposes. None exist today and of the barracks wall only 85m of an original 1300m still remain in the grounds of Auckland University.

Excavation for air raid shelters at the beginning of the WWII, with deep tunnels driven in from the Art Gallery, stuck a well wall estimated to be some 27m (90ft) deep. The water, which still filled the shaft, was described as clear and sweet. A drain was installed to remove the water to the main drain in Wellesley St.

The air raid shelter tunnels have been largely infilled. An account of their construction and a modern exploration can be read here.

Archaeological investigations

Small areas of Albert Barracks have been the subjects of archaeological investigation on a number of occasions:

The purpose of both investigations was interpretation and presentation of aspects of the park's history, in particular the period when it was the military barracks.

Nichol excavated the remains and surrounds of one of the early wells (adjacent to the Barracks goal, presumably constructed c.1846) and recovered evidence, which revealed a sequence of events and enabled a reconstruction of the well. The well was associated with a path which must have been laid after the arrival of the 50th regiment in November 1863, since military artefacts relating to the 50th were found within it. The path was rich in artefacts including knives; scissors; razors; clay pipes (from Britain, Europe, Australia and America) (Figure 7); eating utensils carved with the initials of soldiers; and many objects from popular games; marbles, dice, dominos and chess. All these provided insights into the individuals and the life they lived within the barracks, while faunal remains provided information on diet. Large assemblages of military insignia including shako plates, cap badges, and brass and pewter buttons unravelled aspects of the military history. The units identified from the artefacts included: the 12th, 40th, 50th, 57th, 58th, and 65th regiments, Royal Artillery, Royal Marines, Royal Sappers and Miners, Royal Engineers, Military Train and Commissariat staff.

Coates' investigation of the guardhouse and northern gate considered the possibility of public presentation of part of the wall and the northern gate as a symbol of it's former function (Coates 1990:1)

"At last the fiat has gone forth, and the old and well remembered Barracks wall is to be ruthlessly destroyed – the monument to the Maori's industry is to be taken away on the shortest notice and the north gate, bearing a Maori inscription, alone left to tell the tale of the former use of these defensive stoneworks." NZ Herald 6th March 1873.

Both investigations confirmed that there still exists considerable stratigraphic and material remains from the latter half of the 19th century. Although outside the boundaries of the park, Bulmer's investigation (1979) had also confirmed this and it was noted that the topsoil over the entire area (between 9 and 11 Symonds Street) still contained material relating to the Barracks. Hence considerable archaeological potential still exists within the park. This potential is increased by the detailed information existing in Frissell's survey notebook (Figure 8), which provides evidence not only of the exact location of individual structures in the Barracks, but also of their function and construction materials. Hence, it is possible to fine tune archaeological interpretation by correlating the excavated materials with the information regarding function and construction methods contained in the notebook.



Management Plan at Auckland City Council - Appendix 2 summarising the history

Published Papers

Pilkington, Scott 2008: Heritage values of the Albert Park air raid shelters. Archaeology in New Zealand 51(2):106-117.