Torpedo Bay History

Torpedo Bay and North Head, 1973

Torpedo Bay is a site that has attracted many people through time and it’s no wonder why. Its position at the mouth of the Waitemata Harbour and was long ago recognised as an excellent vantage point for defence. It also provides spectacular views for modern day café patrons and picnickers. Tucked in the South West base of North Head, Torpedo Bay offers shelter, both from prospective enemy fire as well as from winds off the harbour. The fertile, free draining volcanic soil was as attractive to the first settlers from Polynesia as it is to the modern inhabitants of Devonport’s waterfront villas. The following is a very brief history of Torpedo Bay.

Early History

Tradition tells us Kupe, the great navigator, landed here in 950. He gave it the name Te Haukapua (cloud carried along by wind).

1150  Toi Te Hautahi came to Te Haukapua. His grandson, Uika, settled on the hill above, so giving it the name Maungauika (Uika’s hill). It would later become known as North Head.

1350  Chief Hoturoa landed here in the Tainui Waka, part of the Great Fleet of seven waka.
A hundred years later there were four volcanic cone pa sites in the area.
For the next 300 years, Ngati Paoa and Ngapuhi inhabited the area at different times.

19th Century

1827  Dumont D’urville landed L’Astrolabe in the bay. He wrote “disappointed in finding the area unpopulated.”

1835  Descendants of the Takapuna people came back to live in the area.

1858  George Beddoes established a shipbuilding yard under North Head.

1860  A Naval Artillery Volunteer Corps with responsibility for harbour defence was established at Devonport.

1863  Outbreak of war in the Waikato saw the people of Te Haukapua leave Haukapua by waka overnight.

1867  The New Zealand Torpedo Corps formed No. 2 Company of the Permanent Militia. They had the responsibility for construction and maintenance of harbour mine defences.

1878  First of the ‘Russian Scares.’ There was a real and present fear of the invasion and dominance of the Imperial Russian Navy.

Torpedo Defence

“A field of submarine mines should be laid across the harbour in the most convenient situation to prevent an enemy running at full speed past the batteries and up the harbour, to a position out of range of our guns whence he could fire into Auckland.”
Sir William Jervois, (then) Governor of New Zealand

1885  The submarine mining station at Torpedo Bay – so named because mines were called torpedoes then – was designed by Lt. Col. Tudor Boddam. A small section (0.06 ha) of land at the South West base of North Head was deemed the perfect location for a mining station.

20th Century

1904 – 1907  The Torpedo Bay depot was operational for a mere three years. Three strings of electro-contact mines were able to be deployed across the harbour, however it is not believed any mines were laid during this time.

1904-1905  The Russo-Japanese War saw the total defeat of the Russian Navy in the Pacific thus ending any naval threat to New Zealand by Russia.

1907  The submarine mining programme was abandoned and all equipment that was salvable was disposed of. The mining cable became used for telephone cable in Auckland.

1914-1918  The yard was used as accommodation and some of the buildings converted into detention cells. The most famous prisoner was Count Felix von Luckner who was held in a cell for one night after his recapture in 1917.

1920s  The wharf was rebuilt and buildings refurbished. The site was used for Army stores and unloading ammunition for North Head. In 1926 the main building was refurbished as a drill hall.

1930s  The last of the mines and guncotton were disposed of.

1939-1945  The yard remained in use as an Army store. The Army launch Bombardier was based here and used to supply personnel and stores to and from the various islands.

1958  The site was officially handed over to the RNZN.

1963  With the relocation of HMNZS Tamaki to Narrow Neck from Motuihe Island the sail training whalers were moored at the wharf at Torpedo Bay.

1960-2009  Torpedo Bay was used by the Sea Cadets, the RNZN Sailing Club and the RNZN Band.

2010  The site becomes the new home of the Navy Museum.