Monday, May 16, 2011

Rifles and Targets: the origins of Point Chevalier

The following is mostly an article I pulled together for the latest issue of the Point Chevalier Times and has been something I've chewed over for some time now: the military history of Point Chevalier. I think what I chew over most is that there is no recognition of the main rifle range site at Western Springs. No pamphlets, no signage, no recognition on the Cultural Heritage Index or NZ Archaeological Association register. Well, none that I've found to date, anyway. Readers are most welcome to contact me and show me where someone has taken notice. I'd be thrilled to know.

Oh, and I've agreed to give a talk on this at Pt Chevalier Library on 28 September this year, as part of Heritage Festival. That might help raise awareness ...

This post last revised 23 January 2021.

 SO 1236, Crown copyright, LINZ records

In 1923, when an issue was raised as to whether Point Chevalier district was to retain the name or not, a number of people wrote letters to newspaper editors, defending the old name, and rekindling the meaning behind it from the previous century for that of the 20th.

To quote an old resident of the district who lived there during the Maori War:- “This place was named,” she said, “after Captain Chevalier, who commanded British troops during the Maori War. I myself met him. He was of French descent. I well remember the troops in this district and how Captain Chevalier had plans made of it, and the higher part of the place was known as Chevalier’s Mount.” 
Elspeth Hankin, Pt Chevalier, 14 November 1923, Auckland Star

My childhood was spent at Point Chevalier, and I well remember the 18th Royal Irish regiment being camped on the rocky peninsula between Meola and Motion creeks. When the troops were camped on Dignan’s Point, there was also a large Maori settlement there, with grass and peach trees in the gullies. The old potato pits may still be seen. 
T Smith, 27 November 1923, Auckland Star

Mrs Richard Walker, still living at Point Chevalier, settled there with her husband and young family in 1861. About the same year, Captain Chevalier under General Cameron with 2000 men camped on the plateau just above the beach, since known as Dignans. Mrs Walker, whose memory is very clear, gives a graphic description of what took place 60 odd years ago. She says the Point was a busy place then, with its population of 2000, and Captain Chevalier (whose mother was Irish and father French) was a gallant and popular officer. Chevalier would ride with an orderly to Walker’s homestead for eggs, and milk from the first and only cow in the district.
W.M.F., Whangarei, 22 November 1923, NZ Herald

In 1860-61 the 65th (The 2nd Yorkshire N. Riding Regiment of foot) was stationed in Auckland. George Robert Chevalier was a Lieutenant in that regiment. He was also musketry instructor and established a rifle range on the peninsula, now named Point Chevalier. He was camped there for some months prior to the regiment leaving for Taranaki in 1861 to take part in that war with the natives. The regiment used to march out in companies for rifle practice and the point was named after Lieutenant Chevalier. My uncle, James Barton, was a captain in the same regiment and as a boy I have often met Lieutenant Chevalier at my uncle’s house.
C J W Barton, Hamilton, 21 November 1923 (published 23 November, NZ Herald)

I have had a lifelong acquaintance with the district and the following was told to me not only by old residents but by men who had been encamped with the 65th regiment on the Point.

Lieutenant Chevalier paid his first visit to the district in company with the late Hon. Patrick Dignan, MLC. The visit was made for the purpose of selecting a camping ground for the 65th regiment. The site chosen was near the end of the point on the land now partly occupied by the reserve. Other regiments were also encamped in the district at that time. Captain Mercer and a battery of six field guns were stationed just about where Mr Matson’s house now stands. From here firing practice took place, the targets being erected on the cliffs at the western end of the main beach. Rifle ranges were on the reef and on the Melanesian Trust property on the western side of the point at the foot of Target Street, where the old rifle butt is still to be seen.

It was on the latter range that the incident which gave the district its name took place. There was, among the soldiers, a man named either Lieutenant or Captain Tucker, who was a noted marksman. Lieutenant Chevalier had also gained fame as a rifle shot before coming to New Zealand. Accordingly a match was arranged between the two, the firing taking place from what is now Miss Hill’s property [Misses Ivy and May Hill had property bounded by Pt Chevalier Road, Walker Road and Neville Street until 1931]. The match created great interest among the soldiers who were present in large numbers to witness the contest. Lieutenant Chevalier proved the victor and in honour of this victory the district was given the name of Point Chevalier. This is the story as told me by old soldiers who claimed to have witnessed the match, and I think it may be accepted as being correct. I have never heard it being contradicted in any way or any version offered in its place. 
Charles Walker, New Lynn, 30 November 1923, NZ Herald

The rifle match mentioned by your correspondent, Chas. Walker, took place between Lieutenant Chevalier and Lieut. Arthur Branthways Toker (not Tucker), both of the 65th Regiment. Now it is brought to my mind I can remember the incident distinctly. It was the talk of the regiment before the match and after, and a certain amount of the pay of the admirers of Lieut. Toker was transferred to the pockets of the followers of Lieut. Chevalier. 
C J W Barton, Hamilton, 30 November 1923 (published 4 December, NZ Herald)

The story of how the name Point Chevalier came about, and the link with the rifle range down at the end of Target Street, has been passed down, and cemented by Alex Walker’s book published 50 years ago this year, Rangi-Mata-Rau, Pt Chevalier Centennial, in 1961. He wrote, about George Robert Chevalier:

He became a musketry instructor to the troops stationed at Auckland in the Albert Barracks, at the time when the soldiers were marched for rifle practice to a range which had been established on the present site of Selwyn Village in Target Street, hence the name of the street.

Here Chevalier won the rifle championship of the camp defeating Lieutenant Toker also of the 65ths. He obviously became something of a hero to the soldiers who called the place “Chevalier Point” in his honour.
I believe that a number of pieces of the story were passed down from those who were around in the 1860s (Mrs Walker would have been one of them), somewhat muddled in memory, and then became Point’s own legend of origin. There is still quite a bit yet to discover about what was happening at Point Chevalier and Western Springs in the late 1850s and into the 1860s. This is what I’ve been able to deduce so far.

Target Street may not have been the site of the challenge between Chevalier and Toker.

First, Lt. Toker cannot have been the one Ensign Chevalier took on in a shooting match at what was to become Point Chevalier. At the time of the first newspaper advertisement for firewood tenders for the camp there, January 1859 -- Toker was in Melbourne, on his way from England to Wellington. He wouldn't be in Auckland until mid 1861 at the earliest.

While Target Street is one of Pt Chevalier’s oldest streets, shown in a plan from 1898 (DP 1994), it wasn’t around in 1859 when “Point Chevalier” camp was first noted as a name in the newspapers (Southern Cross, 15 January). It would have resulted from the subdivision of Allotment 20 by Joseph Wright, from 1863. From 1867 the land at the end of Target Street, on the right hand side facing toward the harbour, was owned by the Melanesian Mission Trust Board, and the letters from 1923 describe the remains of targets still there amongst the market gardens.

There was apparently some sort of firing ground on land owned by Joseph Wright, and a solicitor named Anderton, the latter part of a partnership named Kenny and Anderton who were dealing with the sale of two five acre allotments which appear to have been close to the line of Target Road today (Southern Cross, 16 May 1865). In December 1865, on Wright's and Anderton's land, Maj Michael Tighe described an "original butt" of a 280 yard range still standing, but a considerable amount of the earth had fallen away from it. (Letter, 18 December 1865). Perhaps this was linked to nearby military barracks said to have been on Dignan's farm.

The main range though was one specially set aside by the government for that purpose, and it was a massive one – a 127-acre chunk of what is now Western Springs, beside the Meola Creek, and stretching out beneath old quarry lands from Old Mill Road out towards the Meola Reef Reserve. (Part can be seen in the survey plan above, from the 1870s). The quarrying, the establishment of the zoo and the rubbish dump, and later works setting up the reef reserve have most likely completely obliterated any remains of where a suburb first gained a name, and where part of Auckland’s early military history was played out. Which is a great shame, but sadly that’s what happens with history all too often.

The camp itself may have been on the Point Chevalier peninsula itself – why else would the main road along it be dubbed Barracks Road until early in the 20th century, when it was renamed Point Chevalier Road?  (There is another possible reason, immigrant barracks set up near the end of Oliver Street for workers in 1864-1865). But that seems a long way for men to have marched. Not to mention the fact that William Edgecombe, taking up an opportunity, set up his Great Northern Hotel immediately across the road from the prrsent-day end of Motions Road (opening in July 1859, which almost immediately became associated with the regiments at the time). I suspect that he wasn’t just providing a service to passing traffic, but to the hundreds of men encamped each year in the middle of virtually nowhere.

T Smith’s and Charles Walker’s recollections (above), making references to the camp on the rocky peninsula between Meola and Motion’s Creeks, backs this up. 

Charles Walker had an intriguing reference to another rifle range “just about where Mr Matson’s house now stands”, which would put it closer to Oakley Creek, involving Captain Mercer (who died in 1863 at the Battle of Rangiriri) and a battery of field artillery. This land, in the late 1850s to 1863, was owned by a Mr Hamilton, and then Alexander Cromwell of Epsom, so it may have been leased by the government for target practice. However, as the land is angled towards Waterview rather than the harbour, a rifle range there is uncertain. Again most traces will have, by now, been well erased.

Captain Mercer’s field artillery wasn’t a legend, though: see timeline below.

The G R Chevalier connection with the Point

In late October 1858, Ensign G R Chevalier (not a lieutenant at that stage) arrived in Auckland from Wellington on the Emily Alison. In January 1859, we see the first documented use of the name “Point Chevalier”, in a tender advertisement for cartage to and from the camp. This left very little time during which Ensign Chevalier could have challenged anyone to that notable target competition. So many memories associated Ensign Chevalier, who definitely was a crack marksman in his own right, with the suburb’s name; it is difficult to prise him away from that association. There is simply, at the moment, neither documentation proving the story, nor anything disproving it.

Most of the personal recollections of Ensign, later Lieutenant, Chevalier in connection with the Point come from those who were children at the time of the early 1860s – apart from those recalling what Mrs Walker apparently told them. In her case, the Walker family arrived at the eastern edge of Western Springs in 1861, Richard Walker working initially at the Low & Motion mill, before possibly taking up land on lease at Point Chevalier itself later in the decade. In February 1861, Lieutenant Chevalier was in Taranaki. He arrived back in Auckland in June that year, attended a levee for Governor Sir George Grey in October in the city, and left again in February 1862. From December 1861, troops were leaving both Pt Chevalier and Otahuhu camps to head towards Maungatawhiri. Whether he was ever at Camp Point Chevalier long enough, if at all that year, to “ride with an orderly to Walker’s homestead for eggs, and milk from the first and only cow in the district” remains unknown.

A timeline for Point Chevalier’s rifle ranges and military camps, 1859-1871

First known documented use of the name “Point Chevalier”, in a government tender notice for cartage to the site.

William Edgecombe completes his Great Northern Hotel (site of the Auckland Horticultural Society rooms today).

At this point, the camp at Pt Chevalier appears to be one which remains in place all year. Tender notices for cartage and firewood are issued in January, July and October.

Drafts of men, trained at the Pt Chevalier Camp and other camps, leave for Maungatawhiri.

June & October 
A land advertisement, possibly for the Westmere area (3 miles from Auckland) refers to the encampment at Pt Chevalier, “being the place chosen for the Barracks and Garrison Buildings.”

Around 700 men are gathered at the Pt Chevalier camp for rifle practice.
On Saturday last, a number of officers and soldiers were marched to Point Chevalier, for musketry instruction, and a second body are to be moved thither on the 6th November. The number of officers and men told off for instruction in the various regiments is as follows — 14th Regiment, 4 officers, 250 men ; 40th, 7 officers, 180 men; 60th, 3 officers, 194 men ; and 70th regiment, 7 officers and 141 men ; making a total of 23 officers and 705 men. (Southern Cross, 3 November 1862)

The camp at that stage included a company mess.

A fortnight of practice with shot and shell at Point Chevalier Camp, including practice by the Royal Artillery, under Captain Henry Mercer, using Armstrong guns at a maximum range of 1600 yards. The target were two model pa constructed to determine how much damage the Armstrong guns could do to Maori defences in the Waikato. The distance required for the firing points to Western Springs as the site used.

It was intended that all troops in Auckland at this point, both Imperial regiment and conscripted militia, were to be “under canvas at Point Chevalier for a portion of the year.” Commissariat tenders appear for bread and firewood for the Pt Chevalier camp.

Over this period, tender advertisements for supply to the camp at Point Chevalier cease. It is likely that the summer season of 1865-1866 is the last one for an encampment of troops in the area. The last known advertisement for firewood there is in September 1865.

Target Street is first recorded in an advertisement for subdivided sections, August 1864. Barrack Street is referred to in June 1865. But when the volunteer riflemen had to shift from their Mt Eden range on John Kelly's land near the gaol to Point Chevalier, the old Imperial range was the one chosen, and remained as their main range through to 1872. This may have irritated Valentine Blagrove, inheritor of the Wright estate, who probably hoped for rental income from a rifle range on his property. Instead, the range was oriented north-to-south, facing the Waitemata Harbour, on Meola Reef. In 1867, Blagrove,  complained to the newspapers about stray shots as he passed by in his boat.  (Southern Cross, 11 February 1867)

The old rifle range at Western Springs is offered for lease at public auction. William Motion obtains the lease, at £20 per annum, but would have been sharing use with the volunteers until 1872. The northern-most 75 acres (including Meola Reef) was gazetted in 1874 as a Lunatic Asylum reserve, and would have been leased out to both local farmers and for quarrying (the Auckland Harbour Board quarried there from 1873). In 1941, it became a municipal quarry reserve. From 1875, the dominant land user in the area became Auckland City Council.

After a number of years of use by volunteer corps, complaints about distance, inconvenience, and the weather at Point Chevalier, the rifle range is abandoned, save for one remaining set of targets for a 300-yard range.

Meola Reef Reserve, February 2011


  1. a beautiful piece of work. Awesome research. We are a recreated 1860s rifle volunteer company with an interest,as can be imagined, in early Auckland history. You have done a wonderful job here.

    Dave Simmonds
    Mangatawhiri Rifle Volunteers.

  2. Thanks very much, Dave. Let me know if there's anything I can do to promote the Mangatawhiri Rifle Volunteers via the blog.

  3. There are some references to the surrounding sites in NZAA site R11/2424, for the military camp at the tip of Pt Chev.

  4. George Robert CHEVALIER was not of french descent but was baptised Jersey, Channel Islands in 1832.

    1. You're about 93 years too late with your comment -- which was the opinion of a lady who lived in the area, and was going by what she knew. Yes, you are correct -- but Miss Hannken is long dead.

    2. Anndd ... why are you posting without your name? Are you worried about something?

  5. Where can i find more history of Meola Reef?

    1. I don't think anyone has done a comprehensive study of the reef. Unless you try taking a look at what's available in the Auckland University library catalogue, perhaps? Someone may have done a thesis at some point.