Alfred Domett's 1855 town planning map of Napier set aside 14 acres (5.7ha) as a lighthouse and signal station reserve on what he named Scinde Island after the province of Sindh, once in India, but now Pakistan.
This was in accordance with the nomenclature of naming British involvement in locations and military men in India during the 19th century.
Captain Cook in 1769 had named it Bluff Head.
The location of the former lighthouse and signal station reserve has been commonly known as Bluff Hill.
The Napier Harbour Board Act 1876 secured the 14 acre (5.7ha) lighthouse and signal station reserve "for the use, benefit and endowment of the Harbour of Napier". This area was previously a Crown reserve.
However, if the Crown needed the reserve for any purpose, it could take back the land at a month's notice.
A lighthouse was never established on the reserve, but on Coote Rd instead in 1874 (demolished 1948).
However, a manned signal station, comprising a cottage, was established on the reserve in 1901.
It had previously been at the old barracks site on Hospital Hill (part of Scinde Island next to Bluff Hill). Signal stations send messages to ships from shore, giving them instructions such as entering port. By the time of World War II, no signalling station appeared to be operating at the reserve, likely being replaced by radio technology at the port.
The Napier Thirty Thousand Club had urged the Napier Borough Council in 1929 to get the reserve vested to them as a public reserve, but this did not occur. They had the vision of the views of a lookout.
In 1937, following a request to give part of this land for a bowling club, the Napier Harbour Board gave permission for a lease for the Bluff Hill Bowling Club, who had been formed in 1894, to re-establish their club on a portion of the reserve.
In September 1938, the control of the Napier Harbour Board of the reserve was taken back by the Crown (as permitted) and gazetted as such.
However, The Reserves and other Lands Disposal Act 1939 outlined that an area on .25 acre (.1ha) should remain vested in the Napier Harbour Board as a signal station reserve.
On the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, a coast-watching station was established at the reserve above the harbour. They would watch out for enemy sea craft.
It had been decided in 1941 to build on the reserve two concrete emplacements each containing 6 inch, mark 7 coast guns and were manned by the 77 Battery 10th Heavy (Coast) Regiment. The men manning the guns would also take over the tasks of coast watchers in the lookout tower established next to the gun emplacements.
Large searchlights were installed on the reserve during 1942.
A battery camp was also established on the reserve to house armed personnel.
There was no need to fire the guns at any enemy invasion, and by the end of 1944 the threat had passed.
The Postal and Telegraph Department received permission from the New Zealand Defence Department in 1949 to put up a VHF radio mast.
Napier Borough Council began to display interest in the Bluff Hill site as a lookout and requested permission for a tea kiosk with operator accommodation. While this was agreed to by the Crown, it never occurred.
By 1950 the guns had been removed from the emplacements, and the battery camp was occupied by married military personnel.
Two members of the Napier branch of the Amateur Radio Emergency Corps were allowed to use the lookout tower in the 1950s between the gun emplacements to conduct experimental VHF radio transmissions.
With the now Napier City Council pressing to have the reserve area for a lookout, the New Zealand Defence Department in 1956 stated it now longer had any need to occupy the land and sold or removed all of the army battery buildings on site.
They, however, stated that the two concrete gun emplacements should not be demolished.
In 1956 the Crown wrote to Napier City Council offering to give 5.5 acres (2.2ha) of the reserve designated as a defence area to them, but only around 2.5 acres (1ha) was eventually given in 1958 to form the Bluff Hill Lookout Reserve.
The Napier Harbour Board was given around 5.5 acres (2.2ha) on the northern side of the council's reserve to be used as a quarry to remove spoil for reclamation purposes. The board would pay the Crown £100 (2020: $5300) for this, with the money being passed on to the council to be used as upkeep for the Bluff Hill Lookout Reserve.
By 1972 the gun emplacements were covered in graffiti and a common place of unsociable behaviour.
Under some pressure from its citizens to clean up the area, the Napier Borough Council approached and received permission in 1973 from the Crown to have the balance of the reserve land transferred to them.
The gun emplacement buildings were partly on the .25 acre (.1ha) piece of land owned by the Napier Harbour Board which had been a signal reserve, and partly on the Crown land now given to the council.
With the Defence Department no longer needing the gun emplacements, the Napier City Council approached the Napier Harbour Board to buy their land so they could demolish them.
Napier City Council offered such a low price of $50 ($2667) against the board's valuation of $1500 ($80,000) to purchase the land-locked area ‒ the Napier Harbour Board agreed to give the land to the council at no cost.
Demolition of the gun emplacements took place in June 1974.
A beautification plan for the Bluff Hill Lookout Reserve was then prepared.
In 1988 the Napier City Council decided to make further improvements at the Bluff Hill Lookout.
As part of this, F B and L W Eastwood made a generous donation to enable the present lookout structure to be built on the foundations of the former gun emplacements.
The area of the Bluff Hill Domain, including the lookout, now under the Napier's City Council's control is about six hectares.
Once included in the Lighthouse and Signal Station Reserve, the Bluff Hill Bowling Club site is now administered by the Department of Conservation.
- Michael Fowler (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contract researcher and commercial business writer of Hawke's Bay history. Follow him on facebook.com/michaelfowlerhistory