Lyttelton Timeball Station

The Lyttelton Timeball Station is a heritage-registered time ball station and prominent local landmark in Lyttelton, New Zealand. The original station was significantly damaged by a series of earthquakes and aftershocks in 2010 and 2011, and finally collapsed on 13 June 2011 after a magnitude 6.4 aftershock. The tower was subsequently reconstructed, reopening in November 2018.[1]

Lyttelton Timeball Station in November 2009
The rebuilt Lyttelton Timeball Station in November 2018


A time ball is a large painted wooden or metal ball that drops at a predetermined time, principally to enable sailors to check their marine chronometers from their boats offshore. While latitude has long been easily determined first using an astrolabe and later a sextant, timekeeping is one way of enabling mariners to determine their longitude at sea. The key to this was accuracy, as an error of four seconds translates into 6,000 feet (1,800 m) of actual distance at the equator, and 3,000 feet (910 m) at latitude 60 degrees.[2]


John Thomas Peacock, a businessman and politician, first came to Lyttelton in 1844. He built the first substantial wharf and was well established by the time large numbers of settlers started arriving six years later with the First Four Ships.[3] Peacock first promoted the erection of a time ball station in Lyttelton as a Member of the House of Representatives, but his suggestion was rejected. He was also a Member of the Canterbury Provincial Council, and his suggestion in 1870 for a Lyttelton time ball found support.[4] It was the third time ball in New Zealand, after Wellington (1864) and Dunedin (1868).[2]

The station, which was designed by local architect Thomas Cane, was completed in 1876.[2] The castle-like complex initially comprised an octagonal tower supporting the time ball and a three-storey building which provided accommodation, work areas as well as housing the clock.[2] The materials used were local scoria and contrasting lighter coloured Oamaru stone.[2] Additions were made to the building between 1877 and 1878 and again in 1912. The astronomical clock originated from Britain and the time ball was supplied by Siemens Brothers of Germany.

The tower was damaged during the 2010 Canterbury earthquake and the operation of the time ball stopped.[5] The buildings were significantly damaged during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake.[6] The New Zealand Heritage Trust decided that it would be dismantled after engineering advice indicated that the building could not be saved due to public safety concerns, though they hoped to salvage the time ball mechanism and were investigating whether reconstruction was a viable option.[6] The tower collapsed during an aftershock on 13 June 2011.[7]

On 25 May 2013, it was announced that the tower and ball would be restored, and that funds were to be sought from the community to rebuild the rest of the station.[8][9]

The tower rebuild took place between July 2017 and November 2018, and the area has since reopened to the public.[1]

Heritage listingEdit

On 7 April 1983, the building was registered as a Category I heritage item, with the registration number being 43. Including Lyttelton, there were only five time ball stations in working order worldwide at the time, and the one in Lyttelton was the only one remaining in New Zealand.[2][5]

The heritage listing was withdrawn following the station's destruction in the Canterbury earthquakes.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Lyttelton Timeball". Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 18 November 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Timeball Station". The Register. New Zealand Historic PlacesTrust. Archived from the original on 10 June 2012. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  3. ^ "Obituary". The Star (8451). 20 October 1905. p. 3. Retrieved 15 April 2010.
  4. ^ "Provincial Council". The Star (740). 6 October 1870. p. 2. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  5. ^ a b Gates, Charlie (4 March 2011). "Timeball Station to be demolished". The Press. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  6. ^ a b "Historic Timeball Station to be dismantled". New Zealand Historic Places Trust. Archived from the original on 2 April 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  7. ^ "Timeball Station collapses in quake". The New Zealand Herald. 2 March 2011. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  8. ^ Lee, Francesca (25 May 2013). "Million dollar donation to rebuild Lyttelton Timeball". Stuff. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  9. ^ "$1m donation to rebuild timeball". Radio New Zealand. 25 May 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  10. ^ "Lost heritage Christchurch City Q-Z". Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 18 November 2018.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 43°36′23″S 172°43′36″E / 43.606449°S 172.726765°E / -43.606449; 172.726765