“Lyttelton Timeball Station rebuild receives ‘Landmark’ $1 million donation” N.Z.H.P.T. Media Release

The text of the Media Release is as follows:
NZHPT Information release
25 May 2013

Landmark Incorporated has become the founder donor for the rebuild of the Lyttelton Timeball Station, presenting a cheque for $1 million to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust today.

“We are extremely pleased to make this gift, from the people of Auckland to the people of Canterbury, knowing it will help to restore a significant landmark to an area that has lost so much of its heritage,” said David Chandler, President of Landmark Inc., a charitable organisation established in 1972 with the vision of preserving New Zealand’s heritage landmarks.

“Our focus has been on New Zealand’s heritage places and landmarks and the Timeball Station was one of New Zealand’s most significant places. It was a Category 1 historic place and one of just a handful of working Timeball Stations in the world, so along with having a clear place in the community’s heart, it was internationally significant.

“To be able to provide this gift, and help ensure the Timeball can rise again is strongly aligned with Landmark’s purpose.”

NZHPT Chief Executive, Bruce Chapman, said the importance of this donation goes beyond its dollar value.

“In a sense this donation is the most important one because it makes the project a reality. When we sought the views of the Lyttelton community at the end of last year they gave us a very clear message that some form of rebuild is important to them. Landmark’s vision and generosity means the rebuild project has a firm foundation, and it has captured the community’s imagination.”

Chairperson of the NZHPT’s Board, Shonagh Kenderdine, said that before the Landmark offer the organisation had been hoping to find a way reinstate the timeball mechanism on Lyttelton’s skyline.

“The Board has approved in principle the rebuild of the tower and reinstatement of the flagpole, and the NZHPT is now exploring what else is feasible. The potential for a larger rebuild is there, which is exciting, but we are clear that regardless of what is the final outcome, this is just the start of an extended period of fundraising.”

The NZHPT is currently undertaking a study to determine what would be the most appropriate structure both for the site and to meet the needs and hopes of the community. No decisions are expected until later this year.

Mrs Kenderdine said the Timeball, like New Zealand’s other historic places, is an important reminder of our unique and complex history, and our global connections.

“After the building was lost we had messages of sympathy and sorrow from people around the country, and around the world. Today we can join in celebrating a bright future for this site.”

After the earthquake of 4 September 2010 damaged the Timeball Station, the NZHPT had planned to complete strengthening work and restore the building. The 22 February 2011 quake caused irreparable damage and the decision was made to carefully deconstruct the building, increasing the likelihood of salvaging building materials to help with any potential rebuild.

Another major quake on 13 June 2011 saw the building’s tower collapse, however a large amount of the building’s fabric has been recovered and remains in storage.

For more information

Jeff Bell
Media Advisor
New Zealand Historic Places Trust
tel: 027 683 9065



What has been done on the site since the deconstruction was completed?

With the site cleared, some landscaping was done, which enables the site to be maintained. A geotechnical survey was also completed to ensure the site is stable and that a future rebuild is feasible.

What was the Timeball Station built to do?

The Timeball Station signalled the time to ships in Lyttelton Harbour from 1876 to 1934 by dropping the ball from its mast on its stone tower. Originally, Lyttelton’s timeball would drop at 1:00pm, a tradition that was carried on as much as possible by the NZHPT during the years it cared for the site.

Visual time signals were important features of many of the world's ports, a necessary way of ensuring ships' chronometers were correct, allowing for increased accuracy in navigation. The Lyttelton Timeball tower was purpose built to house the timeball mechanism.

Where did the timeball mechanism come from?

The timeball mechanism came from the well-known German firm Siemens Bros, and the astronomical clock from Edward Dent & Co. of London, who had made the clock known as Big Ben.

In 1934 use of the timeball was discontinued when it was replaced by radio signals, although use of flag signals continued until 1941. The flags, which pre-dated the Timeball Station, were used on the flagstaff nearby to signal to ships and to communicate shipping advice to the town.

How big is the timeball mechanism?

The working timeball mechanism was 15 metres high. At 1.5 metres in diameter, the ball weighed over 100 kilograms, even though it was a hollow sphere made from a wooden frame covered with thin sheets of painted zinc. Although heavily damaged in the collapse of the tower on 13 June 2011, the four-storey drop could have completely destroyed the timeball.

How did the timeball drop?

An Oregon pine mast was threaded through a hole in the centre of the ball, which was hoisted by a hand wheel to the top of the mast where it rested on a catch. The catch was released through an electromagnet, operated by an electric current controlled by the astronomical clock. Using a number of levers to complete the current’s circuit resulted in the release of the catch. The speed of the ball’s drop was controlled by a piston.

Navigators would take their readings at the instant the timeball left the top of the mast.


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