Friday, 25 February 2011

Antarctic history damaged in epicentre town, Lyttelton

The iconic Timeball Station in Lyttleton was destroyed in the earthquake

Shackleton, Scott and Mawson set their  chronometres by the time ball machine at Lyttelton before departing for Antartica.  After the earthquake, the ball remains on top of the tower at the world-famous Timeball Station, one of only five left in the world, but the rest of the treasured navigation landmark is a wreck.

Sledging in Winchester St, Lyttelton, prior to the departure of the Terra Nova on its second voyage, 1910.

Port of Lyttelton

Eamous Antarctic explorers and  sailors Scott, Shackleton and Mawson  chose the Port of Lyttelton as the New Zealand base for their Discovery, Nimrod and Terra Nova expeditions. Scott was reportedly given two choices of base for his first expedition: Melbourne and Christchurch - each of which had a magnetic observatory. He may have chosen Christchurch simply because it was closer to the Antarctic, but the presence of his cousin, R.J. Scott, a Professor of Engineering at the University of Canterbury, may also have had an influence. As in Port Chalmers, there were generous offers of goods and services from the Harbour Board and local businesses. Scott and Shackleton were rewarded with similar generosity on their subsequent expeditions, as was the Australasian Antarctic Expedition when its ship the Aurora called at Lyttelton in 1912.

It was a town where my granfather was a publican and fisherman and served Antarctic sailors such as Tom Crean, Lashley, Frank Wild  and Edgar Evans at his bar, said my Father, who was born there in 1910.
Petty Officer Edgar Evans had once more been enjoying a drink ashore in Lyttelton  and when he returned to the ship, he fell off the gangplank just as the Bishop of Christchurch was about to go aboard to bless the ship and her crew.
Morning, Discovery and Terra Nova at the Port of Lyttelton during the British Antarctic Expedition, 1901-1904.

Today, 4 days after the tragic Christcurch earthquake,  from a distance it looks deceptively tranquil.
But the town was the closest to the epicentre of Tuesday's quake.

Normally the port is reached from Christchurch by a tunnel that goes beneath the mountain range, but it has been closed to traffic all week because of damage from rockfalls.

Instead, we reached Lyttelton along the road that snakes through the valleys and follows the coastline of this beautiful natural harbour.

Just outside the port we saw one of the more startling sights of the Christchurch quake - a bungalow with a gaping hole through its middle that looked as if it had been hit by a missile rather than an earthquake.

At first glance, it was hard to make sense of what could have happened. But then, about 50m (164ft) further down the hill, we saw the massive boulder that had come hurtling down the escarpment and crashed through the core of the property.

It was the size of a small car, and had seemingly hopped over the road like a bouncing bomb. Most remarkable of all, perhaps, it had not killed anybody.

'Violent shaking'
As we drove into Lyttelton, we saw that parts of its were in ruins. Many of its Victorian heritage buildings are so badly damaged they will have to be demolished.

From near Sugarloaf, a view down to Lyttelton and the entrance at Godley Head. It was from this port, the gateway to Antarctica, that Scott, Shackelton and Mawson left for Antarctica. Photo: Bob McKerrow

“It was just like an avalanche, everywhere I looked just rockfalls”
Alex Herbert Lttleton resident

Its historic Time Ball building, among the last remaining in the world, was wrecked. So, too, was the Volcano Cafe in the main street, along with the Lava Bar next door.

As is the case everywhere in the quake zone, its churches have been badly damaged.

That said, given the scale of the quake, its proximity to the surface and the simple fact that Lyttelton spans the epicentre, its surprising how much of the port is still standing.
Still more amazing it that nobody was killed in the town itself, although two local residents lost their lives walking in the hills. One man was discovered by his daughter, and had been felled by falling rocks.

The inside one of the cafes on the main street run by Dave Radzner is strewn with broken coffee cups and plates, rubble from the fallen brick work and splintered tables and chairs.

The quake hit at lunchtime, and the cafe was full. Half-eaten sandwiches remain on the tables.

Historic buildings have suffered severe damage in Lyttelton Dave has vivid memories of the moment, at 1251 local time, when the quake hit.

"This was just a bang, and then, you know, carnage, just violent shaking," he said.

"There was a lot of screaming and 'get the hell out of here'. I was one of the first people out of the door, and I didn't stick around.

"My children are up at the school 100 metres away and I don't think I turned around. I just grabbed the kids and took them off home. As long as I have my wife and two children within arms reach of me that's all I need to operate."

Only one person was injured in the wrecked cafe, a waiter burnt by boiling water from a toppled urn.

Historic buildings have suffered severe damage in Lyttelton

Over the way, Alex Herbert had just finished repairing his family home from the damage caused by last September's earthquake. It had cost him $NZ140,000 ($105,000, £65,000), but the brick walls had fallen down again.

He was surfing at the time when the quake hit, and thought that his board had been bitten by a shark.

"All of a sudden I got this jerking feeling. I thought a shark was biting my board. I honestly thought I was being attacked by a shark," he said.

"I turned around and there was no shark there. But the water started doing these bizarre patterns. There was a change in air pressure. Up and down motions, and then I looked at Sumner and all the cliffs were falling down.

"It was just like an avalanche. Everywhere I looked, just rockfalls."

Lois Olgivie has run the Volcano Cafe and Lava Bar for 23 years, but fears that she will not be able to rebuild because no insurance company will offer cover.

"Its means a lot. We've had a fantastic time. It's been a very community thing. A lot of people come in here for a meal and drink. It's going to be sad to see that go," she said.

"That's what we're looking at. I can't see insurers are going to insure brick or stone buildings."

Lyttelton's war memorial was also badly damaged. But the Anzac spirit it represents is about resilience and battling against the odds - and that is still intact.

I just heard that Robert Falcon Scott's statue in Christchurch was badly damaged also. The famous statue is at the left.

Thanks to the BBC Nick Bryant for permission to run part of his article.


The historic Timeball Station in Lyttelton will be dismantled.

The 1876 building was badly damaged in the September quake and sustained even more damage during last Tuesday's 6.3 magnitude earthquake.

New Zealand Historic Places Trust (NZHPT) chief executive Bruce Chapman said it was too hard to save the category one landmark.

"It is with enormous regret that we must take this step, but public safety is paramount,'' he said.

"Our decision is based on specialist engineering information and guidance, as any decision about heritage buildings damaged in the quake should be.''

''The Timeball Station is too damaged and too dangerous for us to consider anything other than dismantling, but this work will pose problems.''

Chapman said the steep, secluded site will make it difficult to save the building.

"This is an extremely difficult site. The steep site means there's no way to drive on and the potential to position a crane, below or above it is very limited. We are constrained not only by issues of access, but also by the risk of injury to any personnel who will need to be involved with this work. We are not prepared to put anyone's life at risk.''

Lyttelton's Timeball Station, photographed in December 2008.

But he said there could be hope for rebuilding the tower.

"If we can find a way to dismantle the Timeball Station that allows us to retain as much of the building's materials as possible, we will do so. This site remains significant and we would hope that in future we can do justice to this important building,'' he said.

"NZHPT is looking at all possible options for the reconstruction of the tower. But it may be some time for that decision to be made."

The decision has been met with sadness by local leaders.

Bank Peninsula councillor Claudia Reid said the station was Lyttelton's Christ Church Cathedral.

"The Timeball is every bit a landmark for this place and for its harbour and all who come here as Christ Church Cathedral is for Christchurch. That tells you something about how significant it is to us all,'' she said.

"The fact that the NZHPT want to find a way to dismantle it gives us some hope for some form of restoration or partial reconstruction or partial rebuild at some time in the future.''

Lyttelton-Mount Herbert Community board chairwoman Paula Smith said it would be a "big loss''.

 "I think it is sad news, but most people in the community would be philosophical and we are all accepting that some of our category one structures are not going to survive this process,'' she said.

"It is a significant Lyttelton landmark visible from all around the harbour and it will be a big loss.''

The timeball station was one of five working timeball stations in the world.

The station was built in 1876 as a navigation aid for ships. A large ball dropped down a mast on top of the building at a given time so ships could ensure their clocks were running to time.

A property on Reserve Terrace was evacuated this week over fears high winds could topple the building.

Lyttelton chief fire officer Mark Buckley said the building was being monitored as it was in a "precarious position''.

"We are trying to get the right resources and specialists we need to do that [demolition] and it is taking a bit of time,'' he said.

"At the moment we are just monitoring it. It is a very precarious sort of position that it is in


Marja said...

Hi Bob Lyttelton is one of our favourite places. I can't believe that so much of it is gone. Thinking of you and your loss. The young man staying here has lost his aunt. Thank you very much for your kind words. I haven't done much though. I feel unreal but I am good and very blessed to stil have everything.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

Dear Marja

Pleased to read you are well and feel blessed After such a shettering event, you appreciate the small things.

It seems as if Ch Ch is lowly recovering but so many people have lost so much.

Bob McKerrow - Wayfarer said...

David Harrowfield is an Antartc author and historian. He sent me this email:

Bob thank you for the excellent albeit sad, photographic record of Lyttelton. I am sure all your readers will very much appreciate seeing this on Wayfarer.

As a Cantabrian who has spent 60 years in Christchurch and its environs, I am deeply saddened at the events of September (which I experienced) and more so of last week. My thoughts are with those who had loved ones suddenly snatched away by this evil aspect of nature. People are however resilient and while businesses and livelihoods have been severely impacted, these can be rejuvenated. As one passionate about heritage preservation I am speechless for what has happened to key buildings in Lyttelton and over the Port Hills in Christchurch City. It is a great relief to know Canterbury Museum has come through relatively unscathed and that the collections are according to director Anthony Wright are reasonably intact. Both Lyttelton and Christchurch have an Antarctic association spanning over 100 years. Many of the stone Gothic Revival and other buildings are associated with this. Who would have expected to see Capt. R.F.Scott toppled? I have a sister who works in the Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital. She has told me of the horrific situation she was confronted last week. If that was not enough, their home on Clifton Hill at Sumner, also near Kinsey's property (expedition agent for Scott), has been badly damaged and they have been ordered to leave. Oamaru 150 miles south of Christchurch, which has its own significant link with Scott's last expedition and perhaps the best collection of late Victorian-era buildings in New Zealand, is in marked contrast very peaceful. Compared to three hours drive north, life continues to progress here as it has done for decades.

David L.Harrowfield
----- Original Message -----
From: bob mckerrow
To: David Harrowfield
- Show quoted text -
Sent: Sunday, February 27, 2011 5:49 PMSubject: Re: Lyttelton
Dear David Pleased ro read you are fine. Sorry to read of your sister. I am sure she will recover well. No, your comments did not come through on my blog. I would be happy to insert them for you. Shame about the time ball machine. It had huge significance for mariners. Warm regards Bob.

On Sun, Feb 27, 2011 at 6:50 AM, David Harrowfield wrote:
BobI posted a copy on your blog but uncertain if you received it. If not let me know and I will send a note you can insert.Thank you for what you have done.Now five days later still unable to contact elderly family. My sister at ED in the hospital said it has been horrific there but is now easing. Their home at Clifton Terrace did not come out very well.CheersDavid ----- Original Message ----- From: bob mckerrow To: David Harrowfield ; Technical Support Ltd. Sent: Saturday, February 26, 2011 2:35 PMSubject: Lyttelton
A traguc week in Christchurch, I thought this little article on Lyttelton might cheer you up a bit.
David Harrowfield

Anonymous said...

I am from Italy and was part of the Italian Research program in Antarctica.
I know very well CHC and Lyttelton... I arrived here just searching for picture of the damaged timeball station.
It's a big loss for everybody!


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