The excavation of the ‘Deptford Dockyard’, Horeke

Why excavate?

One hundred and ninety years ago when the shipyard was established at Horeke, New Zealand was outside the formal control of any European power. The first permanent European settlement in New Zealand was established in 1814 by missionaries at Hohi in the Bay of Islands; but even in 1826 the Hokianga Harbour was still almost completely unknown to Pākehā (the Māori name for Europeans).  Journals and letters that have survived the almost two centuries to date, as well as newspaper reports published in Sydney, provide fascinating glimpses into the lives of these early Pākehā settlers. However, these records are both incomplete, biased and sometimes downright racist!

The Australian Friday 1 June 1827, page 3.jpg
Excerpt from The Australian (1 June 1827 p.3) showing one individual’s thoughts about Māori at this time.

The archaeological excavation of the shipyard at Horeke will provide physical evidence not only of how ships were being built at the site, but also what it was actually like living and working at the shipyard for both Pākehā and Māori.

What we know

In June 2015, in conjunction with Dr. Hans-Dieter Bader of Archaeology Solutions Ltd, a geomagnetic and total station survey of the site was undertaken in order to investigate whether archaeological evidence of shipbuilding activities might remain. This survey revealed numerous magnetic anomalies, which suggested intensive activity had taken place within those areas surveyed.

The geomagnetic survey overlaid on a Google earth map of the area, showing the anomalies across the survey area.

As no historical evidence for such concentrated activity in the survey area has been found for activities of the recent past, these anomalies are believed to be associated with the shipbuilding and timber milling activities previously documented to have taken place at this location. However, there is no way of proving this until we start excavating!

The excavation

Between the 10th and 23rd of January 2016 the First Ships Project will undertake an excavation of the shipbuilding yard and will focus on finding evidence of slipways and other areas of ship construction, as well as artefacts relating to the day to day living and working conditions at the shipbuilding yard. People wanting to see what the team of 20 archaeologists have unearthed during the excavation will be able to attend an on-site open day on the 16th of January, 10 am – 2 pm.