Wellingtonian Editorial: Wellington's early days

Last updated 11:38 18/01/2013

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OPINION: Here's hoping everyone enjoys Wellington Anniversary Day on Monday.

But while you're having fun in the sun and considering the joys of a work week reduced to four days, spare a thought for the hardy individuals whose activities 173 years ago led to us enjoying a holiday now.

The New Zealand Company's first ship, the Aurora, landed on the Petone foreshore on January 22, 1840, after a hellish four-month journey across the world. It brought with it 150 settlers, whose dreams of a new life were shattered even before they reached land.

Contemporary accounts indicate that the immigrants looked out with dismay as they entered what is now Wellington Harbour.

The problem was that none of the New Zealand Company's principals had ever been to New Zealand.

They had planned a settlement with 1100 one-acre allotments in a nice, orderly grid pattern that took no account of the challenging terrain.

There were other problems.

Only two months after first arrival, the Hutt Valley was flooded, washing away the first tentative settlement.

It was then decided to relocate across the harbour, to where Te Aro and Thorndon are now found. That wasn't ideal either, but the New Zealand Company persevered.

By the end of 1840, there were 1200 settlers in the area. That number had increased to 5479 by 1850.

Wellington was named in honour of Arthur Wellesley, the first Duke of Wellington.

What a strong, tough bunch those pioneering settlers must have been.

Wellington suffered massive earthquakes in 1848 and 1855, which changed the topography of the region. For example, where the Basin Reserve is now was once a shallow harbour. The second earthquake lifted the land so much it became a park.

We know what impact the Christchurch earthquake had. Imagine what newly-arrived immigrants thought when they experienced two within a few years.

Even in the face of repeated flooding and the earthquakes, still they persevered, which indicates that the life they had left behind in Britain was far from idyllic.

New Zealand was split into provinces until 1876 and the Wellington province - roughly the area which still celebrates Wellington Anniversary Day - stretched to Woodville in southern Hawke's Bay, Waverley in south Taranaki and Turangi in central North Island.

Today that area has a population of about 650,000.

The province had two superintendents in the period from 1853 till 1877, Isaac Featherston and William Fitzherbert.

But things changed quickly. Wellington became the capital in 1865 and a central government was established in 1876.

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It didn't take long for life to take on a semblance of normality. A horse race was held on Te Aro Flat in 1841 to mark the first Anniversary Day and after that horse racing was held all around the province.

Other forms of sport were soon being played, newspapers were established and businesses sprang up.

Those of us celebrating Anniversary Day this year are the beneficiaries of the industry and energy of our forefathers.

Life is a lot easier these days, but it doesn't hurt to reflect on the Wellington of 1840 and the bustling, busy, colourful, exciting city it has become.

- The Wellingtonian

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