Timeball return holds a special place in her heart

DESCENDANT: Maryanne Jackson with a painting of the Timeball Station which belonged to her mother.

Maryanne Jackson survived the tragedy of the CTV building collapse in the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

The site will forever hold emotional memories for the Mt Pleasant woman.

Today another quake-devasted site also held special memories when the rebuilt Lyttelton Timeball tower was reopened.

Her grandmother Gertrude was born there in 1889 while her great-grandfather John Richard Toomey was the flag-signalman.

“We were always told about it and we often went there,” Ms Jackson said.

“It was like our castle on the hill . . . it was close to our heart. A great connection that we are very proud of.”

Former Timeball Station flag-signalman John Richard Toomey.

Ms Jackson and her brother John McKenna, a Lyttelton-based ship’s captain, would attend the opening ceremony.

The tower was almost completely destroyed along with the station building during the February 22 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

Only the tower section of the 1876-built structure could be saved, the $3 million restoration project began in July last year. Work on the tower and flagpole finished in June, while landscaping work finished this week.

Ms Jackson was the only CTV employee in the building to escape when the magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck.

She ran from her ground-floor desk when the shaking began. The building collapsed behind her claiming 16 of her colleagues.

In total, 115 people were killed in the central city building, the Madras St site of which is now a memorial to those who died.

Ms Jackson said her mother Hilary would be very upset to know the fate of the Timeball Station.

“I would like to see it all rebuilt, but it’s great to see it back up on the side of the hill.”

Ms Jackson said seeing the tower restored returned “a bit of normalcy” to the port.

The years where the iconic structure was not visible on the hill had been “upsetting,” she said.

Ms Jackson’s great-grandfather John Richard Toomey was the first flag-signalman to live in the Timeball Station, taking the post in 1879 at the age of 15.

Signalmen used coloured flags to communicate between ships and the port.

Mr Toomey taught himself both local and international flag signals as well as Morse code and other tools of the signalman’s trade.

“Quite clever really, but he would have learned a lot from his father Peter Michael Toomey who was a sea captain,” Ms Jackson said.

Signalmen worked from the tower until 1934, when they were replaced by radio.

Mr Toomey later moved his family to Adderley Heads where he held another signalman’s position, before moving back to Lyttelton itself.

“Our family has always lived in Lyttelton,” Ms Jackson said.