Breakwater category 1 recommendation

The Oamaru Harbour breakwater while under construction in the 1870s. Photo: Waitaki District...
The Oamaru Harbour breakwater while under construction in the 1870s. Photo: Waitaki District Archive 4035p
A Heritage New Zealand review report has recommended the Oamaru Harbour breakwater be upgraded to a category 1 historic place.

The retired Oamaru man who prompted the review, Bruce Comfort, a self-described "engineering heritage advocate",  has pursued an amateur study of the 1872 breakwater for the past six years,  even self-publishing a booklet on its history, which is available to visitors at the entrance to the breakwater area.

  He said he was surprised when he was recently contacted by Heritage New Zealand Otago-Southland area manager Jonathan Howard with the news, as he had forgotten he made the request for its category 2 review.

Mr Comfort said he was "pleased" the breakwater seemed poised to receive greater historical recognition, but had hoped the 42-page report, by Heritage New Zealand Otago historian Heather Bauchop, would include some of the information he had dug up in his inquiries, "I believe it [the breakwater] was a leading-edge piece of civil engineering, well up there with anything else made in the world at the time," Mr Comfort said.

"It’s probably a worldwide internationally significant piece of concrete work [and] almost certainly one of the biggest hunks of concrete in the world at the time."

The Heritage New Zealand review report details the effort that went into creating the breakwater and its importance for the town and in shaping the district.

"Oamaru’s coast was notorious for drownings and shipwrecks," it reads.

"In one storm in July 1867 three ships were wrecked on the shore. McLean [historian Gavin McLean] writes that three ships resting unhappily on the beaches was a bad advertisement for Oamaru. Two weeks later the schooner Banshee was driven ashore, joining the other three ships.

"Locals demanded their own port, rejecting the provincial harbourmaster’s proposal to link, by rail, Oamaru and his preferred port of Moeraki ...

"The advance of the breakwater allowed for the construction of wharves behind its protective walls. The first was the 46m Macandrew Wharf, completed against the landward end of the breakwater in 1875. The wharf meant passengers could disembark on solid ground rather than into a surfboat. Normanby Wharf was completed in 1878 and Cross Wharf in 1879. The wharves gave Oamaru 370m of sheltered berths. Shipping accidents virtually ended."

Waitaki District Council assets group manager Neil Jorgensen said he did not expect the council to submit on the proposal. The only practical change a re-categorisation of the breakwater would have would be its consequent likely change in the council’s district plan to greater protection, which would disallow its demolition or removal.

Either way, the council had no plans to demolish the "significant asset".

The council put away $100,000 a year to maintain the breakwater and every two or three years work was done to maintain it. The replacement cost in 1992 was determined to be $23,713,719 but that  would probably have risen significantly since.

Submissions on the Heritage New Zealand review close on February 20.

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