The 'Father of Wellington' honoured by Plimmer Steps

Plimmer steps, named after John Plimmer, are a main thoroughfare between Boulcott St and Lambton Quay.
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

Plimmer steps, named after John Plimmer, are a main thoroughfare between Boulcott St and Lambton Quay.

The bronze statue immortalising John Plimmer and his dog on Plimmer Steps has proved a magnet to tourists. 

"The Father of Wellington", John Plimmer (1812-1905), lived at the head of what is now Plimmer Steps, and his dog, Fritz, was a constant companion for many years.

The statue, erected in 1996, depicts the pair walking towards Lambton Quay in the 1900s. In 2013, the statue was voted the most popular public artwork in Wellington.

Plimmer sailed to Wellington with the New Zealand Company on the Gertrude, arriving on October 31, 1841.

His influence was spread widely around the city. He worked initially as a carpenter and a builder before shifting his focus and contributing enormously to the political and commercial development of Wellington.

Plimmer Steps, 2015, with the statue of John Plimmer and his dog, Fritz. PHOTO: MEGAN GATTLEY

Plimmer started a brickworks and a limeworks, and created Plimmer's Warehouse from the hull of the sailing ship Inconstant, which was wrecked in Wellington Harbour in 1851.

The warehouse was built on the base of the shipwreck, as part of a wharf that Plimmer was building.

The wharf was colloquially called Plimmer's Wharf, Plimmer's Ark, or Noah's Ark, and it significantly boosted the city's infrastructure and economy. 

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Plimmer was a member of the Provincial Council between 1856 and 1857, and opposed the sale of the city's reserved lands. 

He also served on the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, and in 1870 became one of the first Wellington City councillors. 

Plimmer was a foundation member of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, which opened in 1886, and remained on its board until 1900.

The Plimmerton township on the line was named after him. He was also a director of the New Zealand Times Company, and contributed many letters and columns to the newspaper. 

Plimmer erected the Albert Hotel in 1877 at the south corner of Boulcott and Manners streets. 

It was decorated with carved figureheads of prominent Wellingtonians, including Plimmer himself.

The Albert Hotel was demolished in 1929, and was replaced by the St George hotel. 

The figureheads are now held in the cellar of Wellington Central Library.  

After the magnitude 8.2 earthquake in 1855, Plimmer worked to rebuild many of Wellington's houses with wood instead of brick.  

He also contributed to the 19th century land reclamations, because he was driven to transform Wellington Harbour. 

Before the land reclamations, Lambton Quay was known as Beach Road, because it bordered the waterfront.

The reclamation work started in the 1850s, and by the 1870s, 70 acres of land past Beach Road had been reclaimed by the Government and new seawalls created. 

Wellington historian Gabor Toth learned in 2013 that Plimmer had opposed a modern sewerage system in 1879, and had played down concerns about harbour pollution. 

He convinced his fellow councillors to reject a scheme that would have taken the city's waste to Evans Bay to be spread as manure. 

The waste was instead pumped into open sewers that led to the harbour beaches, and an adequate sewerage system was not built in Wellington until 1892. 

Plimmer Steps now serves as a shortcut between Lambton Quay and Boulcott St, though a challenging one for pedestrians because of its steep paths and sharply rising steps.

Various cafes and assorted other businesses have set up beside the path. Some don't last long - the steps are so formidable that foot traffic is limited.

Plimmer Tower, one of Wellington's tallest buildings, is on the corner of Gilmer Tce and Boulcott St. 

It was originally known as the Williams Centre, because it was built by Arthur Williams in 1977. 

The centre, along with many other local businesses, took the Plimmer name because of its proximity to the steps.

The tower sold for $24 million by its Australian owners to a private investor from Singapore in February.

Plimmer planted an oak tree in his garden in the mid-1800s and it still stands, on the left near the top of the steps.

 - The Wellingtonian

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