• AWNS-19000511-3-3, courtesy of Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections. Captain Parker is seated in the middle of the photograph, with a grey beard. He is surrounded by his Officers.
Tags: History

Military engineers and their contribution to Devonport

I recently read Peter Cooke’s book ‘War by the spade; how the Royal New Zealand Engineers built a nation’, which is really a history of military engineering in New Zealand and of course includes pa sites. Cooke notes there are nearly 7,400 pa sites across New Zealand.
In the nineteenth century, Pakeha military engineers supervised the building of roads, barracks, blockhouses, redoubts and other fortifications, along with artillery batteries and similar. During the 1880s there was a fear of Russian invasion, so Major Henry Cautley of the Royal Engineers was seconded from the United Kingdom War Office. He arrived in New Zealand in December 1883 to initiate the construction of forts and other facilities at major ports in New Zealand. Locally, Fort Cautley is named after him.
From 1885, six guns and searchlights (in three batteries) were installed at North Head, along with two guns at Fort Takapuna and one gun on Mount Victoria. Submarine mining facilities were built at Torpedo Bay. These installations were matched on the other side of the harbour entrance at both Bastion Point (two guns and searchlights and some submarine mining facilities) and Resolution Point (two guns). There were similar installations at the entrances of Wellington Harbour, Lyttelton Harbour and at Port Chalmers.
The ‘submarine mining facilities’ are of particular local interest. This was to include torpedo boats, searchlights and submarine sea mines stretching across the Auckland harbour entrance between North Head and Bastion Point. The New Zealand Torpedo Corps dated from 1879 and from 1886 became part of the New Zealand Permanent Militia, along with other corps for the army, artillery and engineers. In 1896 the Torpedo Corps was briefly renamed the Militia’s Submarine Mining branch, and in 1897 was renamed the Militia’s Second Service Company. In 1902, there were 25 permanent officers and ratings at Devonport. The Royal New Zealand Engineers were formed on 15 October 1902, from the Second Service Company, while the First Service Company (the artillery) became the Royal New Zealand Artillery.
The Devonport Torpedo Volunteers was formed on 7 July 1894, and from 9 March 1895, they became the Devonport Naval Artillery Volunteers (also known as the Devonport Navals) helping the Permanent Militia man the coastal gun batteries. From 25 May 1900 the Devonport Naval Submarine Mining Volunteers became responsible for the mine fields, and from 26 January 1903 they became the Third Company of the New Zealand Engineer Volunteers Regiment (there were six Companies across New Zealand). In 1904, no member of the Third Company passed the written examination for their efficiency badge, and that was attributed to a lack of suitable instruction and having no regular officer to ensure standards.
However, the torpedo boat technology was obsolete from their introduction to New Zealand in 1884 and the ‘Waitemata’ which was allocated to Auckland was disposed of in 1902. It had originally been located at Windsor Reserve, then by the Masonic Hotel and by the 1890s was at Torpedo Bay. The stringing of electro-contact mines across harbour entrances was in place in the early 1900s, and only at Auckland and Wellington.
At best, only one string of mines was ever trialled across the harbour in Auckland and the Auckland minefields were abandoned in 1905 at the latest. Those were remotely detonated from a bunker near the boatshed. The Third (Devonport) Company was wound up on 8 July 1908, along with the Volunteers Regiment. The remaining assets were transferred to the Navy.
Henry Parker, who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in August 1905, was from July 1894 the Captain of the Devonport Naval Artillery Volunteers and then the Devonport Submarine Miners Volunteers. He had previously been Captain of the Auckland Naval Artillery Volunteers from 1889. Parker had worked for a long time for the Customs Office and died 10 October 1920.

My thanks to Michael Wynd from the Navy Museum for his advice and assistance.

By David Verran

Issue 101 August 2019