Chathams Radio 1912-1913: Construction

There are three mysteries on this page. Can you help solve them?

The first of two radio masts in position at the Chatham Islands. Photo undated, but probably 1913.

One of two original radio towers at the Chatham Islands. Photo undated, but probably 1913.

Mystery 1: How was the first tower raised?

From the photos below, it appears that each side of the first tower was raised separately, implying that the sides were then linked to each other while vertical. This could mean that four sides were raised, then joined along their vertical edges. Or perhaps only two opposite sides were prefabricated and raised, and then bracing between these two sides formed sides 3 and 4. This does seems like an odd way to go about it – and quite different to how the second tower was raised – so if you have another explanation please get in touch.

Raising a radio mast at the Chatham Islands. Photo is undated, but probably 1913.

Raising a radio tower at the Chatham Islands. Photo undated, but probably 1913.

Raising a radio mast at the Chatham Islands. Photo is undated, but probably 1913.

Another view of raising a radio tower at the Chatham Islands. The men at left appear to be pulling on a halyard leading from the top of the gin pole via a turning block at the bottom. Photo undated, but probably 1913.

The rigging pole used to raise the radio masts at the Chatham Islands. Photo undated, but probably 1913.

The rigging pole used to raise the radio towers at the Chatham Islands. Photo undated, but probably 1913.

This image, taken from a postcard of photos relating to the building of the station, appears to show one side of the first tower raised to vertical position using a gin pole seen to the left.

This image, taken from a postcard of photos relating to the building of the station, appears to show one side of the first tower raised to vertical position using a gin pole seen to the left.

What seems clear, is that these towers were lightly built (possibly of timber) and quite flexible. It is thought that they were replaced fairly quickly with sturdier towers seen in later photos.

Mystery 2: Going up or coming down?

The photo below shows the first tower has been raised, and its topmast is partially raised. But what is happening to the second tower? The photo below is from a Chatham Islands postcard and captioned “Raising a mast”. The reasons for uncertainty are:

  1. This is quite different to how the first tower was erected (or maybe the riggers weren’t happy with the first one).
  2. If the tower is being pulled up, where is it being pulled from?
Mystery photo, undated, but no later than 1916, which is the date of a message written on the back of the postcard.

Mystery photo, undated, but no later than 1916, which is the date of a message written on the back of the postcard.

My theory is that this is indeed the raising of the second tower, as the photo appears to have been taken during construction of the station (the first tower’s top mast is not raised, and there is no evidence of replacement antennas having been erected in preparation for existing structures being decommissioned). As well, the two stacks of material (shipping crates perhaps) look they were used to raise the tower enough for the lifting ropes to get a proper angle from which to pull. There is no rigging pole in sight, but there appear to be lines connecting the two towers, suggesting the first tower was being used to raise the second.

That would then offer a solution to Mystery 1: the first tower had to be put up “in pieces” because there was nowhere from which to pull it up. The gin pole might have been adequate to lift one side of a tower, but not the whole structure.

And, if the photo above really shows a tower being decommissioned, why didn’t they just knock it down?

SOLVED!

Raising the second tower at Chatham Islands wireless station

This photo, found strangely enough at Te Ahu Museum in Kaitaia, is labelled “A postcard of the wireless station before the second mast was raised – 1918”. The photo was obviously taken at Chatham Islands and the date is assumed to be wrong. The photo appears to confirm the theory that the mast was initially propped up on packing cases or similar, before being pulled into place with ropes from the first tower.

An enlarged view of the Chatham Islands wireless station building and onlookers during the raising of the second tower in 1913.

An enlarged view of the Chatham Islands wireless station building and onlookers during the raising of the second tower in 1913.

Mystery 3: The second tower on the ground

The photo below, of the second tower, has no caption. It could be (a) the tower before it was erected (but it doesn’t look like a clean new mast), (b) the tower after being lowered (but there is a lot of debris around it, which looks more like a construction site), or (c) the tower having been blown over (we have evidence that the original towers didn’t last long, but the tower in the photo does not appear to be damaged from falling – it looks intact, just slightly warped).

If this is a new tower about to be raised, then the photo is inconsistent with the photo above, because it shows the top mast of the first tower fully extended.

Mystery photo.

Mystery photo.

Mast at Chathams Islands wireless station in 1913

Tower at Chathams Islands wireless station in 1913. Courtesy: Chris Underwood

Chatham Islands wireless station in 1913

The completed aerial system at the Chatham Islands wireless station in 1913. Courtesy: Chris Underwood

» 1913-1929