Aerial photo 2006, Auckland Council website. Overlay is approximate layout of Fort Ligar, based on "Rediscovering Fort Ligar: Archaeology at R11/1656, Auckland", Ian Smith, Internal Report No. 40, Department of Conservation, 1989.
You've heard of the phrase about "giving them bread and circuses", or thereabouts? In the panic immediately after the sack of Kororareka in Northland in 1845, it was more "give 'em a redoubt and the shovels to dig it!" The result was the forgotten Fort Ligar, a political short-term solution to the concerns of 3,000 people, giving them something else to think about while times and nerves were strained.
In anticipation of Heki's visit to this district, we are most happy to witness the great activity of the Government in adopting measures on an extensive scale for the defence and protection of the town. The works commenced on the high ground at the back of the Court House, will be of great service: they are to be surrounded by a stone wall and deep ditch, with a Martelo (sic) tower of stone in the centre, on which will be mounted a piece of ordnance, that will embrace within its range, a considerable distance. The interior will be capable of affording shelter, in case of an attack on the town, to considerable numbers; and the militia could well defend such works from any attacks of the Natives. Another block-house is to be erected on the hill beyond Albert-street, so as to command that entrance into the town. With these and the previous defences, in addition to correct intelligence of every movement of the Natives, so as to prevent sudden surprise, we consider the Town now perfectly secure.
Southern Cross 19 April 1845
A Martello Tower would have been an interesting part of our skyline, had the plans actually gone ahead toward completion. If it had also remained, undemolished, not following the fate of Partington's Mill. It would have been dwarfed today, of course, by the Skytower just to the north on the same block, of course, but an intriguing notion, all the same.
There is an archaeological report online, entitled Rediscovering Fort Ligar: Archaeology at R11/1656, Auckland, by Ian Smith, Internal Report No. 40, Department of Conservation, 1989. It's in two parts, part 1, and part 2. (Both .pdf) In it, the archaeological examination of a site between Federal, Wellesley, Hobson and Victoria Streets is described. At the time (1987), the site was owned by Auckland City Council, and there was a proposal to erect a Western Bus Terminal there.
Back in 1845, though, it was a mix of private land and Crown holdings. The Crown took back portions, for the purpose of the planned fortification ... but even the defensive ditches, so it seems, were never really completed. This was a still-born redoubt.
To the Editor of the New Zealander. Sir,-— Some few months back, when the cry was the "Maories are coming," all hands were set to work with great haste to erect a fortification on Albert hill. So fierce were the proceedings carried on, that the authorities could not even wait the necessary time to enquire whether they were building on their, own ground, or that of private individuals. It so turned out that the ground was private property, and the owner or owners of the particular site of which Government had taken such forcible possession, claimed compensation and insisted justly on being remunerated. It is unnecessary now to say at what price,— circumstances perhaps justified the appropriation of the land for such a purpose, although I am not one of those who will generally admit the power of the Executive to interfere with the vested rights of the owners of land. However, justice was awarded to the proprietors in this instance, and the site for the erection of Fort Ligar has again become the property of the Crown.
And what then ? Numbers of men were put on the work, and all seemed going on swimmingly. However, "a change came o'er the spirit of the dream," and this same Fort Ligar after being the pet hobby, delight, and amusement of the officials, who had planned and set it going, is suddenly dropped; the workmen are withdrawn, the incipient fortifications left to go to ruin, — and all that the citizens of Auckland and the colonists generally can comfort themselves in will be that they have spent a sum of money, to purchase land for the erection of works, which they will never see carried out, and that the annual budget will be consequently increased, to gratify the vanity of some parties who chose to begin what they had not energy enough to complete. Truly matters are queerly managed in New Zealand ! I am, Sir, Yours, &c. CIVIS.
New Zealander 26 July 1845
To the foregoing account of fortifications in various parts of the world in progress, we may add that of this colony. New Zealand —Fort Ligar — Original estimate, unknown, — and period of completion, as well as amount of expense, uncertain.
New Zealander 16 August 1845
From the Smith report:
The irregular U-shaped profiles and relatively shallow depths recorded here suggest that digging of the Fort Ligar ditch was never completed …
Confirmation of these inferences was subsequently found in two documents amongst the Colonial Secretaries Inward Correspondence (1A 1/45 - 1829) held in the National Archives, Wellington. The first was a note from Governor Fitzroy to Dr Sinclair, the Colonial Secretary, dated 29 October 1845, requesting the Superintendent of Works "to estimate the expense of completing the earthwork of Fort Ligar". The second, dated the following day, outlines the work needing to be done. This involved completing formation of the embankment and glacies (a smooth slope leading up to the defenses) using "surplus earth to be dug from the ditch", cutting a drain to let off water from the ditch, and cutting clover turf to face the embankment. Fred Thatcher, Superintendent of Works, estimated that this would require the employment of 10 men for 117 days. Along with the construction of a drawbridge and gate the total cost was estimated at £102.16.8. This report was annotated the following day by Fitzroy with the words "To lie over", presumably indicating that the work was not to proceed, at least until his replacement, George Grey, assumed office the following month. No evidence has been found that the new Governor ordered completion of the work.
"Looking west from the vicinity of Princes Street and Bowen Avenue showing Kitchener Street, (left to right), Courthouse Lane, (centre), Methodist Church, Mechanics Institute, (right), Victoria Street West (centre left), Wyndham Street (far right) and St Patrick's Cathedral (extreme right)", reference 4/1040, Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries
Detail from above image, showing where the report team believe that Fort Ligar was located.
Just about the only times Fort Ligar was mentioned as part of Auckland's lively fabric was either as a handy navigation landmark, there on the other now-unknown place name of Albert Hill, indicating to readers of advertisements just where sites were for sale, "near Fort Ligar"; and as part of a mini-controversy over Frederuck Whitaker and his Kawau Island land.
THE KAWAU BUSINESS.
To the Editor of the Southern Cross. Sir,— Mr. Whitaker stated on the hustings— "This Kawau business had been made a political matter, but it was, in reality, a purely personal one. It so happened that the facts were very simple. He held a certain allotment in Auckland; the Government took it without asking his leave; he demanded compensation, and got it."
Now, in self-justification— to show that the transaction referred to was a political matter, permit me to make, through your columns, the following statement, the correctness of which is well known, and can, if necessary, be fully substantiated. The allotment called " Fort Ligar" belonged to the Old New Zealand Banking Company. In April 1845, at the time of the Maori war, the Government took that land to build a fort for public safety. Mr. Ligar afterwards agreed to purchase the land from the Bank; the bargain was completed, the money paid, and the original Crown grant was delivered up to the Government. In August (the same year) Mr. Whitaker, Bank Solicitor, offered to buy the same land from the Bank. The Bank said they had nothing to do with the dispute, and would do nothing in the matter without consent of the Government. Mr. Whitaker said he would soon get that, and brought Mr. Ligar with him— and they said the Manager should undo the first affair and sell to Mr. Whitaker. Mr. Whitaker then went to Governor FitzRoy, and said he would give the Fort to the Government if a piece of land were given to him where he asked. This was agreed to, and Mr Whitaker chose the Seashore in front of the Kawau Copper Mine. I think the facts speak for themselves." Yours. &c, W. C. Daldy. P.S. I shall publish extracts from the Affidavits made in the Supreme Court on this subject.
Southern Cross 23 October 1855
The Smith report advises that it seems that the site, a grammar school endowment by the 1850s, was built over with what remained of the fort-that-never-was erased beneath residences by around 1859. These days, it's part of the SkyCity site, and the Inter City bus terminal. Next time I'm heading out of town, I'll know now just what was near where I wait.
Ah, well. Yet another probably interesting 21st century tourist attraction gone before the marketing people could even be born.