New Zealand Maritime Index

Source: New Zealand Marine News
Reference ID:47030087
Publisher:New Zealand Ship and Marine Society
Title: Nautical News: Lyttelton Drydock's New Caisson
Author: Amodeo, Colin
Abstract: A new caisson for the Lyttelton drydock has been built. The following article was originally written by the author for the "Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser".

Port chalmers had opened its graving dock in Jan 1872 in response to the demand for ship repair work in gold-rich Otago. The Canterbury Provincial Council also came under pressure to provide docking facilities at Lyttelton, but nothing was done.

Then in 1878 the newly-formed Lyttelton Harbour Board considered that a dock would help the port's flagging economy and had its Engineer C. Napier Bell, investigate the project. Draughtsman Louis Neville drew up the plans and in Oct 1879 the contract was awarded to Ware & Jones who had built the original Auckland Graving Dock at the end of Hobson Street. Some 300 men excavated and lined the Lyttelton dock site as well as cutting away part of the Naval Point hill spur to make a reclamation with the spoil. By Feb 1982 the masonry was laid but the dock gate had to be imported.

Built in Glasgow, the 62-foot dock gate or caisson had been taken in prefabricated sections to Liverpool. Over 900 "packages and pieces of dock material" were loaded aboard the 580-ton barque PAMPERO along with cargo destined for Port Chalmers and Lyttelton. The ship was unlucky enough to be dismasted off the Cornish coast and put back to Swansea. After a long delay, PAMPERO finally berthed at Gladstone Pier in early Aug 1882. Christchurch contractors McKay & Stephenson then began assembling something that looked like a ship's hull. The caisson took some 25 tons of pig iron ballast with provision for extra water ballast in separate sections when required. All was ready by mid-December, the caisson "fitting admirably". The first entry of water was celebrated by a private Harbour Board luncheon party which "wet the dock in time-honoured fashion", and 3 Jan 1883 was scheduled for the official opening. The ceremony was an elaborate and expensive affair. The paddle tug LYTTELTON conveyed the ladies across the harbour. Acting-Governor Sir James Prendergast, and the official party were rowed across to the site by the Lyttelton Naval Brigade crew, and the New Zealand Shipping Company's HURUNUI waited to break the ribbon at the dock entrance. She had arrived at Lyttelton on 20 Dec 1882.

In early 1998 the new dock gate was floated into place and the valves opened to flood it to the required level in its bed. Everything fitted and shortly afterwards a Russian vessel was the first to test the new equipment.

The old caisson, which seen end-on looked rather like an old-time warship without her superstructure, was later cut apart in Jun 1998 by cutting torches in the very drydock it had guarded for so long. The old wrought iron dock gate had never been far away from the drydock, but this was the first (and last) time that it had actually been in it. Not all disappeared however, and a seven metre by three metre cross section was retained for display somewhere near Lyttelton Museum, together with interpretative signage. The original winch from the gate is to be mounted on the Sutton Reserve, a small park being developed by the District Council and Port Lyttelton Ltd., opposite the port company building. [Complete transcript]

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