Digging up city streets provides a great opportunity to investigate the city’s below-ground history.
Under the streets
The project employs an archaeologist to document, and where appropriate preserve, archaeological finds.
Although excavations to date have been relatively limited, they have already unearthed some of Auckland’s early utilities, providing a glimpse into how infrastructure was built in the past.
The answer, it seems, is with brick.
The most interesting piece of infrastructure unearthed thus far is a disused brick barrel drain found while excavating the construction shaft on Victoria Street to bore a new stormwater main.
When a cross-section was cut it was found that the drain had been constructed using two layers of brick to form an inverted egg shape measuring 500mm wide by 730mm tall. This shape was favoured by Victorian drainlayers as it is strong, self-cleaning (because of the relatively high flow speed at low volumes), and requires a smaller excavation width than a circular drain, which was important when being dug by hand!
Perhaps unsurprisingly it appears that the amount of excavation which was undertaken to construct the drain appears to be the least amount possible, with only 50mm of disturbed earth on either side. This is an approach modern drainlayers could do well to emulate as it reduces the amount of diesel, and associated greenhouse gases, needed to excavate and transport spoil and backfill.
Judging by the type of bricks used, and its location, the archaeologist believes the drain was probably installed around the same time as the Albert Street main drain and therefore dates after 1864/65. This would put its construction around 25 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the European settlement of Auckland, a time when the city’s population was approximately 12,000.
A smaller, but possibly older, find was a ginger beer bottle with the maker’s mark (Fowler) stamped on it, uncovered on the corner of Fort Lane and Customs Street East. The maker was Enoch Fowler, from Tyrone, Ireland, who arrived in Sydney in 1836 and employed a man and four boys to make ginger beer bottles and kitchenware.
The bottle is likely to pre-date 1865, and could possibly date to as early as the 1840s. This early date range is consistent with the 1859-61 date of the historic reclamation between Fort Street and Customs Street East – the first major reclamation to be undertaken in Auckland .
As excavations continue it is likely that more remnants from the city’s history will be uncovered, particularly around Britomart, which is on reclaimed land that could contain anything from discarded Victorian refuse to the remains of wharves and sunken vessels.
Britomart Transport Centre
The Britomart Station building was Auckland’s Chief Post Office (CPO) before being re-purposed as a train station, and is a Category 1 listed heritage building.
Construction teams are working meticulously, in association with Heritage NZ, to make sure the heritage aspects of the interior are not impacted by the work needed to modify the building from a dead-end to a through station. The original features of the building, such as the pillars, ceiling and skylights were protectively wrapped, and the entire building monitored by the cyclops system to ensure no excessive movement occurs as the building is underpinned and the tunnels built.