Symposium: Building a City from the Sea

SYMPOSIUM: Building a City from the Sea

Friday 20th October, 10am - 4pm 

Toitū Otago Settlers' Museum Auditorium 

Full Day $60
Concession $40
Half Day $40
Concession $20
Individual talks $10

Bookings essential, please contact (03) 4775052 or

Jonathan Howard: 'The Active Edge'

The edge of Otago Harbour is in a constant state of change. This presentation provides an overview of where and why we have shaped the shoreline and encroached into the harbour since the nineteenth century.

Shar Briden: 'Papanui Waka Site, Otago Peninsula'

Hand-adzed wooden items and other significant Taonga, including human remains, continue to become uncovered by the tide in the Papanui Inlet due to a north-trending estuary channel. Monitoring the shoreline and recovery of significant cultural heritage has been ongoing by a group of volunteers since 2006. As professional and amateur archaeologists, we educate the public by sharing the news about recent finds at Papanui. By involving local residents and iwi with recoveries, impacts to the site have reduced by discouraging fossicking, and highlighting the impacts of vehicles driving over the taonga tūturu and kōiwi tāngata (human remains) where they scatter over the shoreline. 

Seán Brosnahan: 'Before us... lay the way to Dunedin'

The talk will consider landfall and first impression for Otago's pioneer settlers after coming halfway aroundthe world. How did Otago first reveal itself to new arrivals through the harbour landscape, after an arduous journey of 18,000 kilometres and months at sea? Drawing on shipboard diaries and first-person accounts, we will consider a range of perspectives from the first Scottish arrivals in the 1820s, through the New Zealand Company settlers of the 1840s, and into the 1860s as the harbour settlements grew and developed. There will be stories of joyful reunions, nervous beginnings, false starts, disappointments and tragedy. 

Dr Peter Petchey: 'First Footsteps in a New World City'

The Dunedin Causeway was a timber corduroy path found in central Dunedin in New Zealand during an archaeological investigation ahead of a mall development in 2008. The path was probably built by the first Scottish settlers to arrive in 1848, using timber cleared from the neighbouring hills. Analysis of the timbers indicates that they were almost all waste species, and therefore ideal for use in a temporary path. This selective use suggests that the first settlers very quickly learned about certain aspects of their home, and this knowledge was probably acquired from publications and assistance from the few existing residents, both European and Maori. The causeway represents the early settlers physical efforts, their growing awareness of the landscape, the establishment of the city as an agent of colonisation, and the acquisition of knowledge from local Maori who were ironically being displaced by the same processes.

Dr Matthew Schmidt: 'Birth of City: the Victorian expansion of Dunedin's Shoreline'

When the first Pakeha settlers stepped onto land next to the Toitu Stream in 1848, they were greeted with a shoreline which quickly rose upwards towards Dunedin's hilly and forested flanks. Reclamation of Dunedin's harbour to provide more flat land for industry and government close to where ships would dock had already been planned in 1846. With the discovery of gold in Otago in 1861, the speed of harbour reclamation accelerated rapidly with the influx of people. This presentation looks at the change in Dunedin's shoreline during the 19th century and hows its remnants discovered through archaeology tell its story.

Dr Andrea Farminer: 'Friend or Foe? Defending the harbour from the unseen enemy'

Dunedin and its coastline were provided with military defences from the 1870s onwards, but who were these enemies we were defending the Empire from and how real was the threat to our city? This presentation explores some of the nineteenth-century defences focused at For Taiaroa in the context of the various threats and the ordinary people who worked and lived to defend us from any enemy that never quite set foot on our shore. 

Peter Read: 'Back to the Future'

There have been many grand visions for our harbour. Some have become reality, others have not. If more of them had made it off the drawing board the harbour could look markedly different today. Imagine if the harbour bridge proposed in the 1880s had been built; would it give our harbour iconic status akin to Auckland, Sydney or San Francisco? This presentation will look back at some innovative ideas which failed to come to fruition, ruminate on what might have been and conjure imaginings of what the future may have in store. 

Maurice Davis: 'Otago Harbour: Engineering Development' 

Otago Harbour is a substantial body of sheltered water but at the time of its first use by whalers and sealers, the approach, the entrance and the most of the Upper Harbour were severely restricted by shallow water and sandbars. To enable its use by commercial vessels, there have been significant engineering works to progressively deepen the channels and to provide berths and facilities for ships and trades which have continued to increase in size and diversity.   This process has continued for more than 150 years and is still in progress today.  This presentation briefly describes the scope of these engineering works which have developed and maintain Otago Harbour as the country's deepest export port.