The Port of Napier might run like clockwork now, but trying to decide where to put it caused serious conflict within the Napier community, says Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery collection assistant Evan Greensides.
The choice was between expanding the dredging of Ahuriri Lagoon or building a breakwater port near Bluff Hill, both at considerable expense.
"The lengthy conflict, which divided the growing town of Napier, is well documented within our collection through detailed maps and heated opinion pieces. In the end the issue was resolved by natural forces," said Mr Greensides.
In the late 1800s, Napier had a choice: A suitable coastline for a breakwater harbour, and a sheltered natural harbour away from the open ocean.
A public vote taken in 1885 showed 96 percent of ratepayers favoured borrowing money to build a breakwater harbour.
"While those ships [too big to] enter the inner harbour unloaded from the roadstead quite safely, the need for a deep water harbour had been highlighted in 1887 by the fatal beaching of the Northumberland and Boojum while unloading goods near Westshore.
"While work was undertaken after this tragedy, storms in 1894 and 1896 lashed the partially completed breakwater harbour causing considerable damage and forcing the harbour board to redirect what little money it had left to repairing the damage."
By 1905 a report by Charles Ellison showed public opinion had swayed towards developing the inner harbour, as the breakwater costs continued to spiral.
"The [interim] fate of it was determined by regional poll in February 1909, with a slim majority voting against accepting a new loan to complete the work."
An entirely new plan submitted by George Nelson utilised only the inner harbour. It envisaged dredging more than 1.5 million yards of material from the area.
Reclaimed harbour board land would be sold to finance the work.
Although the new concept appeared favourable, it was not long before furious debate ensued.
Engineers contracted in by the board to assess the feasibility of plans led the opposition.
They claimed Mr Nelson had manipulated data, claiming that the inner harbour bottom was soft ground that could be easily dredged when in reality it was hard rock that would cost three times that estimated by Nelson to move.
Friends and enemies were said to be made throughout the town depending on an individual's preference for one plan or another.
"However, where the citizens and harbour board could not decide, Mother Nature intervened decisively," Mr Greensides said.
The February 1931 Hawke's Bay earthquake raised the inner harbour bed to a point where draining and reclaiming the land for alternative uses was more feasible than dredging the hard bottom to turn it into a port.
"The inner harbour idea was finally shelved and construction of the breakwater port continued apace.
"The area that was once such a contentious issue for the people of Napier is now home to flocks of grazing sheep and a more modern form of transport, the aeroplane."
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