The Presence of War

Heritage Highlight


Research is a large part of the work we do at Hiamo, and the Heritage Highlights series exists to share a few of the stories we find. Some objects which we have researched extensively in our ongoing quest to accurately recreate historic objects in augmented reality are the 4-inch guns New Zealand used in its coastal defence.

Built around 1910 Aotearoa’s 4-inch guns, named due to the width of the shells they fired[1], had a rich history even before they reached our shores. The weapons were originally used on the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand, a warship which the New Zealand government paid for Britain to build to help defend our shores[2].

Despite this initial plan, the HMS New Zealand only went to its namesake country twice. Almost half a million people went to see the ship when it first visited in 1913, just under half the country’s population at the time.

During this visit, the captain was gifted a piupiu (flax skirt) and a greenstone hei-tiki (pendant) by the Ngāti Raukawa iwi (tribe) to protect the ship and its crew[3]. “As to these garments,” one of their chiefs, Rere Nikitini, said, “let them be as sails for your ship, carrying you to distant shores, and even to the presence of war if that should happen.” This proved to be true, a war did occur and the vessel would see it.

HMS New Zealand fought in multiple major battles in World War One, including the last and largest battleship-focussed engagement in history. Despite these battles, the ship only got hit by fire once and suffered no major damage or injury[2]. The crew credited this incredible luck to the gifted piupiu and hei-tiki which the captain wore during battle.

The HMS New Zealand was scrapped in 1922, only 10 years after entering service and 23 years before the New Zealand government would finish paying back the purchase in 1945[4]. The 4-inch secondary guns were brought to Aotearoa for the final time, where theywere used as saluting guns in Auckland and Wellington for over 10 years.

Eventually, the 4-inch guns were placed in coastal defence roles around the country[5]. Four were used in Wellington, and these are the ones we have focussed on the most. They were first emplaced inside the Oruaiti reserve at Fort Dorset’s Gap Battery, where the original emplacements can still be seen[5][6]. These were intended to guard the harbour entrance but, luckily, they never had to.

Over time the 4-inch guns were modified in numerous ways, receiving better sights to aim and shields to protect the crews operating them. Seatoun residents had to put up with multiple test firings of the guns for training during the Second World War, something which is surely not missed now. Two of the guns were moved to Fort Ballance above Scorching Bay[6], but the threat of invasion had already decreased.

After the war ended the 4-inch guns had lost their purpose, and most of them were scrapped during the 1950s-60s. Two examples remain outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum, although they have lost many pieces over time[7].

Recreating Objects

When we at Hiamo set about recreating these historic items we faced many problems sourcing the information, getting consistent reference photographs, and finding out exactly what Oruaiti / Fort Dorset’s guns looked like. To learn more about how we are overcoming these issues and using exciting new technologies to accurately reconstruct these 100-year-old machines, keep an eye out for our next blog on our recreation process!


[1] (2017) 4”/50 (10.2 cm) bl mark vii. NavWeaps. [Online]. Available:

[2] (2006) A Nation's Gift - The HMS New Zealand Story. New Zealand Defence Force, Scoop. [Online]. Available:

[3] (1913) Māori Chiefs Visit Warship. Evening Post. [Online]. Available:

[4] HMS New Zealand: ‘A Grim and Formidable Fighting Machine’. Te Papa Tongarewa. [Online]. Available: htps://

[5] P. Cooke, Defending New Zealand: Ramparts on the Sea 1840-1950s. Defence of New Zealand Study Group, 2010.

[6] Fort dorset. NZ Coastal Defences. [Online]. Available:

[7] V. Yakubov. British bl 4-inch mk vii naval gun, auckland war memorial museum, auckland, nz. [Online]. Available: