His­toric Pare­mata bar­racks


Not much re­mains of the Pare­mata Bar­racks these days, but nev­er­the­less, the relic is the only re­main­ing ex­am­ple of a colo­nial stone-built mil­i­tary fort in New Zealand.

The bar­racks were built in 1846, at a time of un­rest be­tween Pakeha and Maori.

Now a fenced- off jumble of bricks, the bar­racks once cut an im­pos­ing fig­ure look­ing out to Porirua Har­bour.

The site was of great sig­nif­i­cance to Maori.

The fort, po­si­tioned at the head of the har­bour, was in­tended to be the cen­tre of a mil­i­tary en­camp­ment that would counter any at­tack on Welling­ton by war­riors Te Rau­paraha and Te Rangi­haeata.

Al­though the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Maori and the ear­li­est Euro­pean set­tlers in Porirua had been gen­er­ally peace­ful, the in­volve­ment of the New Zealand Com­pany led to some vi­o­lent dis­putes.

Gover­nor Ge­orge Grey ar­rived in Welling­ton in 1846.

His troops be­gan to con­struct for­ti­fi­ca­tions in strate­gic po­si­tions around Porirua. He soon had his eye on the Pare­mata site, be­cause it would give the soldiers a di­rect view of any­one mak­ing their way into the har­bour.

Soldiers ar­rived at the site on April 29, 1846, af­ter a week-long boat trip from Welling­ton, and were wel­comed by cold, wet con­di­tions.

The weather, along with rot­ting tents and poor ra­tions, led to a threat of mutiny.

This dis­ap­peared, how­ever, when Grey de­cided he wanted to make the bar­racks a per­ma­nent struc­ture, say­ing: ‘‘A good bar­rack for 50 men . . . I think it had bet­ter be a com­fort­able brick bar­rack and not block house.’’

Builders ini­tially had trou­ble be­cause they couldn’t find firm ground on which to build the foun­da­tions.

There was also dif­fi­culty lo­cat­ing bricks – the ones made in Porirua didn’t last – and tak­ing them across the har­bour was time-con­sum­ing.

By the time the bar­racks were com­pleted, Te Rau­paraha had been taken pris­oner, and the war had moved out of Welling­ton.

The type of build­ing cho­sen was over-am­bi­tious.

It took so long to com­plete that it was of lit­tle use in the war, and cost the colo­nial govern­ment a small for­tune.

The top floor of the build­ing, with two tur­rets at op­po­site cor­ners, was oc­cu­pied by troops.

The ground floor was di­vided into four main rooms – three for of­fi­cers and a kitchen for the troops – and there was also a store room that held two cells.

In the years fol­low­ing, an of­fi­cers’ kitchen and guard­house were built.

Ac­cord­ing to Rev Richard Tay­lor, a writer and mis­sion­ary with the Church Mis­sion So­ci­ety, the build­ing was very beau­ti­ful, and re­minded him of ‘‘the cas­tle of Chilon on the lake of Geneva’’.

A town­ship was formed just north of the bar­racks, with a gro­cery, butcher, iron­mon­ger and inn. The school was the first in the district, and the largest out­side cen­tral Welling­ton.

Sev­eral earthquakes took their toll on the bar­racks in Oc­to­ber 1848, and a crack formed from the bot­tom to the top of the build­ing.

It was evac­u­ated, and men were forced back into makeshift huts, but fi­nally left in 1852. An­other ma­jor quake caused fur­ther dam­age in 1855.

It was said that Maori be­lieved the de­struc­tion caused by the earthquake was the re­sult of a tapu im­posed on the area by Te Rangi­haeata.

Af­ter the troops left, the vil­lage lost cus­tomers and fell into de­cay.

The inn was turned into a res­i­dence by the Walker fam­ily, who re­paired the di­lap­i­dated bar­racks. The top floor be­came a hay loft, and the ground floor was used as a barn.

One of James Walker’s sons built a wooden slide from the top of the east tur­ret wall to the ground, and greased it with but­ter so he and the vil­lage chil­dren could to­bog­gan down.

Walker, who was pa­tron of the Plim­mer­ton Foot­ball Club, agreed to goal­posts be­ing built on the flat land op­po­site the bar­racks.

A foot­ball team called the Mag­pies was formed. They wore black and white jer­seys.

The Walk­ers moved to Plim­mer­ton in 1910, and the bar­racks fell into fur­ther dis­re­pair.

It wasn’t un­til 1959 that a se­ri­ous ef­fort was made to un­cover the site, which had been largely grown over.

In 1959, 20 ar­chae­ol­o­gists, backed by the Do­min­ion Mu­seum and the Na­tional His­toric Places Trust, spent about a year ex­ca­vat­ing the site and re­veal­ing the orig­i­nal struc­ture.

They were up­set when van­dals scat­tered the brick­work of the orig­i­nal en­trance over the 12-me­tre by 11-me­tre ex­ca­va­tion site.

The area has suf­fered more dam­age since, in­clud­ing more re­cently by van­dals who took stones from the struc­ture and cre­ated a large hole in one of the re­main­ing walls. In 2004 a chain link fence was put up to dis­cour­age fur­ther van­dal­ism.

The site is reg­is­tered by Her­itage New Zealand (for­merly the His­toric Places Trust).


Now: What’s left of Pare­mata Bar­racks, af­ter nearly 150 years.

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