Hopes timeball can be reinstated

Wanting to bring back the Port Chalmers timeball are (from left) Port Chalmers Maritime Museum...
Wanting to bring back the Port Chalmers timeball are (from left) Port Chalmers Maritime Museum curator Norman Ledgerwood, nautical historian Garry Bain and Port Chalmers Historical Society president Brian McCormack. Photo: Christine O'Connor
The historic timeball that once enabled shipmasters to set their chronometers and later warned sailors of rough weather at Taiaroa Head may soon return to Port Chalmers.

The Port Chalmers Historical Society plans to return the timeball, similar to one reopened in Lyttelton late last week, to its spot on the township’s flagstaff.

Research by Port Chalmers Maritime Museum curator Norman Ledgerwood showed the timeball began service on June 1, 1867.

At 12.45pm each day, apart from Sunday, it was hoisted at the yard-arm on the flagstaff.

Navigating officers would stand by their chronometers —  used for navigation and determination of longitude — and an apprentice would stand outside watching the timeball.

At 1pm the ball would drop, the apprentice would yell " stop", and the officer would check the accuracy of the time-piece.

Once wireless radio became common the system was no longer required.

The timeball circa 1905. Photo: Te Papa
The timeball circa 1905. Photo: Te Papa
The Port Chalmers service appears to have continued on and off until 1931, and the timeball itself stayed on the flagstaff until the early 1970s, being used to warn sailors of rough seas at Taiaroa Head or of ships heading up the channel.

Mr Ledgerwood said he wanted the service to begin again " because it’s part of our history".

It was the first timeball in New Zealand, and it was appropriate it should return.

He said it would be popular with the likes of cruise ship visitors, tourists and those who flocked to the flagstaff to watch ships arrive.

Nautical historian Garry Bain said the flagstaff area was a focal point for the township, and the timeball had served a critical function when it was in place.

Mr Ledgerwood said an accurate estimate of the cost would be worked out, and a public fundraising campaign started.

He hoped that could start early next year.The timeball would have to be rebuilt, as the original had not been kept.

The Lyttelton timeball was reinstated last Friday after it was put out of action by the September 2010 earthquake.

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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