St Heliers Bay

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Originally written in 2007.

St. Heliers Bay, Auckland



Archaeology and History of St Heliers, Auckland. Source of information is:

Felgate, M. 2007. Archaeological Assessment Lot 1, DP 27794, 40 Rarangi Road St Heliers, Auckland City. Unpublished Report for Wayne and Susan Basant.

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A compilation of Maori traditional history of the area from secondary sources is given by Sewell (1984: 5-9). Substantial revision of the Auckland prehistoric sequence from Maori accounts has been published more recently by Stone (2001). A summary of this information is presented here. The Tamaki area has been occupied by Maori since 1300AD, or possibly slightly earlier. The area generally, the cliff frontage between Achilles point and West Tamaki Head is referred to as having beeen named “Te Pane o Horoiwi” by one of the chiefs of the Tainui canoe; this naming occurred relatively early in the period of Maori occupation, and presumably predates any Pa constructed in the area subsequently, and is a general geographic naming rather than a name pertaining to any specific archaeological site record. Some crew of the Tainui canoe are reputed to have left the canoe and settled among the then tangata whenua of the lower Tamaki Estuary, from whom Ngai Tai at Umupuia are descended. Around 1750AD, from genealogical dating, there is an account of an attack led by Te Wahaakiaki, of Ngati Whatua, on several small Pa of the Tamaki isthmus, avoiding larger fortifications, and eventually attacking and capturing the Pa “Taurere” killing the chief Takapunga. There is substantial confusion and conflicting locations of place names in the secondary sources, no doubt arising partly from extensive dislocation from the area of the people bearing these traditions during the musket wars of the 1820s and 1830s, when the area was largely abandoned due to Ngapuhi raiding from the North. Stone (2001) places the main battle at Taylor’s Hill, to the South of the assessment area.

According to Sewell there are no accounts of occupation of Pa on the Tamaki Heads by Ngati Whatua or others, and Sewell regards it as possible that recorded Pa were built and occupied prior to Ngati Whatua presence in the area. Cruise’s journal from the “Dromedary” voyage of 1820 records that the Tamaki River area was well populated, prior to the Musket wars. 1821- 1836 saw decimation of the Ngati Paoa population of the Tamaki area, and virtual desertion of the area until the late 1830’s when a balance of power was restored to some extent by the more widespread distribution of firearms.

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed by local chiefs at Karaka Bay in 1840. The specifics of acquisition of the area by the Crown are unclear. Jackson (1976:45) states that the land was acquired from Ngati Paoa as part of the Kohimaramara Block in 1841. Some secondary sources have this block extending from Mission Bay to the Tamaki Estuary, while others exclude the St Heliers area from the Kohimaramara block. Primary information to clarify this was not found.


A summary of site recording history to 1984 is given by Sewell (1984: 11-12). She regarded this part of the isthmus as “not well known archaeologically” and noted that there may have been many more archaeological sites in the area prior to intensive urban development in the 20th century. Taylor’s Hill , a large Pa to the south, noted as the site of a major prehistoric battle by Stone (2001) and others was excavated by Jack Golson in 1955 prior to destruction of part of the cone for quarrying. This revealed “a complex sequence of levelling of slopes and building and refilling of large rectangular storage pits” (Sewell cites Davidson 1978:6). Adzes, bone needles, tattooing implements and other artefacts of worked bone were recovered. This excavation was reported in more detail by Anne Leahy in the Records of the Auckland Institute and Museum (Janet Davidson, Pers. Comm.). This report has not been accessed due to time constraints. An MA thesis by Brown (1954) recorded large areas of the St Heliers crater rim as a single archaeological site. NZAA records pertaining to Brown’s site are listed below, with notes. R11/676, recorded as a findspot (adze working floor) collected by G.F. Neville and presented to Auckland Museum from Ladies Bay beach, and reported to the NZAA by Janet Davidson in 1978. This site was searched for by Brenda Sewell in 1982, and was not relocated. R11/94 is a pa reported by Brenda Sewell on Achilles Point in 1982. It was first recorded in the NZAA site record files by Brown in 1961 as a headland ridge Pa on the crest of the seaward side of the crater rim, overlooking the playing field in what is now Glover Park. A note on the site record form by Lady Aileen Fox adds that there were possible terracing and gardens here, and at the time of her examination (of aerial photographs?) that the site was already built over. Additional notes by Brenda Sewell in 1978 concern the possible name of the Pa. An additional note by Louise Furey in 1999 drew attention to early photographs of the point by Winklemann in the late 19th century, showing possible terracing.

Felgate st heliers.jpg

An archaeological survey of a proposed new walkway from Achilles Point around the clifftop to Glover Park was conducted around the northern rim of the crater in 1996 (Clough and Prince 1996). Clough found no trace of R11/94 and concluded that this site was allocated incorrect map coordinates and was in fact the same site as R11/357 (discussed separately below). Russell Foster supervised replacement of a fence on the cliff edge in 1998 to the West of Achilles point, noting shell midden present in the postholes and much disturbed shell at Number 67 Cliff Road. Geometria recorded shell in this general vicinity as R11/2256 in 2003 as part of an archaeological assessment for an upgrade of the Ladies Bay walkway Geometria 2003).

R11/95 is a headland Pa recorded early in the history of the site recording scheme, with a not e concerning the area in square yards covered by the pa , presumably by Les Groube, who was interested in this measure (25,410 square yards) and a statement that it was “already destroyed (unknown author). A note by Sue Bulmer in 1978 describes it as a small headland Pa off Riddell Road. Additional information by Sewell (1982) records no visible signs of occupation. Sewell noted midden in the gardens of many of the houses on the clifftop above Karaka bay.

R11/288 is an area of shell midden exposed beneath an elevated strip of lawn just to the west of the piped stream outlet at the eastern end of St Heliers beach, stratified, with evidence of possible pit and postholes, recorded by Davidson in 1974. The record was updated by Sewell in 1982, when she relocated the midden and noted that it was covered in scrub at that time. R11/296 is a shell midden located in Churchill Park, Glendowie reported initially by Mr P. I. Pearce in 1974 as 10 metres of midden visible in a new road cutting off Abingdon Place. There was not much information given on the specific location of the midden: Brenda Sewell was unable to relocate it in 1982, and the current park management plan notes that no archaeological sites are recorded in the park. An approximate location is shown in Figures 9 & 10 derived from the grid references of the original site record form, but the actual location is uncertain.

R11/355 is recorded as “Terraces with pits” on the eastern part of the crater rim, east of Waitara Avenue, by Agnes Sullivan from 1940 air photographs in 1977, located “just west of R11/95” , forming part of Brown’s “Te Pane o Horoiwi”. Sue Bulmer visited the site in 1978, reporting nothing visible from the road front.

She reported that in personal communication with Brown, previously, he had recollected a man telling him of filling in a ditch in the vicinity. A brief visit by Gardner and Kay in 1982 included information, from the then owner of 7 Waitara Road, that the principal terraces and pits had been bulldozed away many years ago. Gardner and Kay noted that some terraces were visible in the back gardens of 1-9 Waitara Road, and also that there was midden throughout most of the gardens of Waitara Road. Historic research by Jennifer Lowe reported by Felgate (Bioresearches 2007) notes that Trevarthen , on the rim of the crater above Waitara Road“had burnt off and terraced his land and laid out lawns and paved paths” according to Jackson (1978). Comparison of 1940s and 1956 aerial photography shows that a large complex of housing had been constructed on the large ridge-top property comprising the bulk of this site (743 Riddell Road) by 1956. Substantial additional works have been carried out on the same property by the time the 2001 air photo series was taken. Mosen (Bioresearches 1995) surveyed 27 Waitara Road in 1995, and a further assessment was carried out by Felgate in 2007 (Bioresearches 2007) which concurred with Mosen in interpreting the shell as modern, based on size distribution of the cockle, and a radiocarbon date. Wk 21100 (449 ±35 BP) yielded a calibrated age of 1721AD to modern at 95% confidence limits.

R11/356: This site was reported in 1977 by Agnes Sullivan from 1940 aerial photographs, located to the north-east of the water tower, on the southern rim of the crater, along and to the south of Glover Road. She recorded it as a terraced hilltop site on the tuff ring (a small Pa?), with most terraces on the north and northeast slopes of the tuff ridge. Sue Bulmer visited on foot in 1978 and noted that the site was largely built over, but that many of the houses may be positioned on prehistoric terraces. Brenda Sewell noted in 1982 that midden could be seen in most of the back gardens, but that most of the recorded terraces were not visible. A terrace was noted in the garden of number 43 Glover road, with reference to “a fine dark agricultural soil”, and a note to the effect that artefacts had been found at 44 Waimarie Street circa 1950.

R11/357: - lies slightly to the west of the boundary of “Te Pane o Horoiwi” defined by Brown in 1954. A small portion of the southern ditch was excavated by L. and H. Birks in 1959 prior to its destruction during subdivision (Sewell 1984: 12). The site was mapped in 1963 by Brown. Brown’s sketch map shows a site profile drawn from the east from the 1899 photograph, and is described as a “small defensive Pa, ditched on two sides, west and south; fronting on a 45 metre high cliff; east side formed by the inner side of the tuff ring; artificially scarped on this side”. Additional information by Aileen Fox and Sue Bulmer, in 1978, notes that the western ditch was still in good condition at that time, seven foot deep. The southern ditch was not visible. Terraces on the east side were still visible, and terraces on the southern side had been partly bulldozed for a house site. A more detailed map was prepared in 1979 by L. Diamond, preparatory to a subsurface archaeological investigation by the Historic Places Trust (Brenda Sewell) in 1984.

Sewell’s report details early features such as palisade posts associated with the defensive earthworks, and a drain complex subsequently covered by earth from levelling of the platform to extend it as far as the top of the bank. The drains beneath the fill were truncated by later pit construction cutting through the levelling fill. After levelling, a sequence of four superimposed pits was dug. The earliest of these had a drainage channel alongside at least the western wall. Pits 2 and 3 formed an alignment adjacent to each other and both had edge drains and at least one posthole to support a roof. Pit 4 was similar.

These pits follow a pattern recorded elsewhere for the Auckland region and the Coromandel, being relatively small, with side-drains, in some cases leading to a separate dug sump. Sewell noted the similarity to pits at Hamlins Hill (Nichol 1980:216) and Alberton (Law 1970:97). None of these pits have been dated. The author has recorded similar pits at Whangapoua (T11/ 981) and at Clevedon (S11/989). These pits differ in form from the buttressed pits recorded on Motutapu (Davidson 1970) and at Mt Roskill (Fox 1980:49). In the case of Clevedon, nine radiocarbon dates yielded a chronological model of settlement of a lightly defended hilltop site in the early seventeenth century, and the date from Whangapoua correponds closely with this model. In the absence of any better information, I would hazard a guess that the pit complex at R11/357 is of similar age, i.e. early seventeenth century, although this is a model clearly in need of further testing. Sewell concluded that R11/357 was occupied prior to Ngati Whatua presence in the Auckland isthmus, ie mid-eighteenth century or older, due to lack of any tradition of occupation associated with the Pa. Clough and Prince revisited the Pa during survey for the Ladies Bay walkway upgrade in 1996, noting its condition at that time, and noted midden to the west at the Waitara Road end of Glover Park, and more at the northern end of R11/355, in the vicinity of the 1995 earthworks for 27 Waitara road, being the northern edge of R11/355. They suggested these midden were probably contemporaneous with the Pa R11/357.

R11/863: This is a Pa recorded by Lady Aileen Fox in 1979, in the course of a brief visit. It is located at number 9 Peacock street, Glendowie and was recorded as “destroyed” as the site was levelled for a house in 1949-1950. There is some conflicting information over the name of this Pa, Taurere /Ohuirangi. Stone(2001) refers to Taylor’s Hill as the scene of a significant Ngati Whatua victory, rather than this pa. Photographs (poor copies in the SRF) reportedly show a row of 3 pits bulldozed in 1950, and Brenda Sewell provided a sketch map on the basis of this information in 1982, which is approximately located in Figures 9 & 10. A copy of a handwritten letter from George Graham is included in the SRF:

“I am given to understand that it is Ohuirangi – named after Huirangi, an ancient chieftainess, wife of Toi-Kai-… (1125 AD about)…she was a daughter of Tamaki, chief of the Local people…”

There is additional description of a canoe landing place in the gully below. R11/1166 is a record by Joan Maingay in 1981 of midden eroding down the slope, and in-situ along the beach below this Pa, and R11/1167 is a record of shell midden and an artefact findspot in the grounds of 16 Peacock Street, where there used to be a waterhole or water filled pit according to a local resident (Mrs Lush)(Record also submitted by Joan Maingay in 1981?). R11/1165 is a shell midden located on the bank of the creek draining the St Heliers crater, briefly visited by an archaeologist in the early 1980s (either Brenda Sewell or Joan Maingay) . According to local hearsay this creek used to have burials or Ko-Iwi . There were a few shells visible in the garden at the time of the visit, but reportedly much shell was found beneath the house during excavation of a basement.


Published Sources

  • Jackson, E.T. 1977. Delving into the Past of Auckland’s Eastern Suburbs. Section 6, St Heliers Bay.
  • Reed, A.W. 1954. Auckland, City of the Seas. Wellington, A.H. & A.W. Reed.
  • Sewell, B. 1986. Excavations at Te Pane o Horoiwi (N42/365), St Heliers, Auckland. Record of the Auckland Institute and Museum 23: 25-44.
  • Simmons, D. 1987. Maori Auckland, including the Maori Place Names of Auckland collected by George Graham. Auckland: The Bush Press.
  • Whakamuhu Excavation NZHPT Prehistory in Auckland No. 6.

Unpublished Sources

  • Clough, R., and D. Prince. 1996a. Achilles Point Walkway, Glendowie: Archaeological Survey. Prepared for Auckland City Council.
  • Clough, R., and D. Prince. 1996b. Achilles Point Viewing Platform and Barrier Upgrade, St Heliers. Auckland City Council (City Design): Archaeological Assessment for an Authority to Modify R11/357. Prepared for Auckland City Council.
  • Felgate. M. (Bioresearches Ltd) 2007a. Archaeological Assessment Lot 1, DP 187283, 27 Waitara Road St Heliers, Auckland City. Unpublished Report for RMS Ltd.
  • Felgate, M. 2007b. Archaeological Assessment Lot 1, DP 27794, 40 Rarangi Road St Heliers, Auckland City. Unpublished Report for Wayne and Susan Basant.
  • Geometria Ltd. 2003. Ladies Bay Walkway Upgrade: Archaeological Assessment. Unpublished report for Auckland City Council.
  • Haworth, D. and V. Williams, 1982. St Heliers Bay Centennial 1882-1982. Auckland, Courier Newspapers Ltd.