Wellington In History
Of all the European ships known to have come here, the first and earliest are Abel Tasman’s vessels ‘Heemskerck’ and ‘Zeehaen’ and with these on 13th December 1642, Tasman touched New Zealand off the coast of Westland, anchored in Massacre (now Golden Bay) and sailed away north hugging the coast, missed Cook Strait, and said farewell to this new “Staaten Land” as he called it, but did not lay a claim to this new land nor planted a Dutch flag. In short, the great navigator Tasman never actually set foot upon our shores.
In his equally famous craft “Endeavour”, James Cook (1728-1779), the greatest navigator of the Seven Seas charted in 1769, almost entirely accurately, the complete coastline of both the North and South Islands of New Zealand and planted the British flag here and elsewhere.
The two flats of Thorndon and Te Aro were linked by a narrow foreshore following the line of the harbour, today the heart of Wellington, and as Te Aro Flat was the larger, it became the business end of Thorndon Flat and the official end of the settlement.
In his diary entry in 1842 Bishop Selwyn wrote: “No one can speak of the healthfulness of New Zealand until he has been ventilated by the restless breezes of Port Nicholson, here habits of industry and enterprise are favoured by the perpetual motion of the atmosphere.”
In 1841 a cricket club was established in Wellington and early Wellington became a stronghold of the game to be followed later by rugby as the national winter pastime.
Despite “the breezes”, gardens as well as settlers took root, and flowers flourished, hence a meeting was held to form a Port Nicholson Horticultural Society. The meeting was held at Barrett’s Hotel, the most important building of the settlement in the earliest days where every incident of importance took place. Dicky Barrett, who had accompanied the “Tory” as interpreter from her first anchorage in the Sounds to Port Nicholson, opened a public house on the site of Hotel Cecil. Barrett’s Hotel in early days was the centre of social life of the settlement for everything from balls and banquets to meetings, performances and political gatherings.
The first school mistress arrived by the “Adelaide” early in 1840 and the first school building (a clay-built room with thatched roof) was erected near the corner of Mulgrave and Pipitea Streets. The first schoolmaster arrived in the “Lady Lilford” on 16th March 1840 and his brick-built academy was situated at the corner of Woodward Street and Lambton Quay, then known as Kumutoto Corner (Lindsay’s Corner).
The sea in those days was at the door with Kumutoto Stream (long since covered in) running down what is now Woodward Street. On its banks where now stands Wellington Club was Kumutoto Pa, and further back was hilly ground covered with manuka scrub.
On the very last day of 1840 a meeting was held to establish a library - “A wooden building of some pretensions in point of architecture was erected at Te Aro in 1841 and used as an Exchange and a Library” (New Zealand Gazette April 1841) - and our very first library was quickly opened.
The first issue of the “New Zealand Gazette” was made from London on 6th September 1839. The editor, Samuel Revans, came out in the “Adelaide” and the second issue appeared soon after the landing of the plant he brought with him, and for almost 90 years a street in Wellington bore the name of Revans Street, until it was swallowed up in Riddiford Street, off Adelaide Road.
The Pickwick Club, the first social club to be formed was confined to members only who met every Tuesday at the Commercial Inn on Willis Street (now the Grand Hotel).
Another social club founded in 1840 was the Wakefield Club, so called in honour of the leader of the settlement.
This was at first situated in a building in Lambton Quay, almost opposite the present Government Buildings, but in the 70’s a choice site was secured on The Terrace and in 1877 the present building was opened.
The club retained its original name until 1862 when it was changed to the Wellington Club.
Racing stock was imported from Australia in 1841 and in 1842 races were run on the Pito-one (Petone) Beach on days when the low tide would leave the hard sandy surface uncovered. The favourite locations for racing were Burnham Water, Hutt Park and Island Bay. Burnham Water was an area occupied by a lagoon of some 200 acres. The lagoon was drained by means of a tunnel constructed into Evans Bay, a grandstand was erected and Burnham Water became what was probably the first racecourse proper in the colony. Burnham Water was named by Wakefield after his English home Burnham Hall in Essex.
Island Bay Racecourse was in time cut up for building purposes and Hutt Park was granted as a reserve for racing purposes in 1854. In 1994 the property at Trentham was secured and on 20th January 1906 with an attendance of nearly 9,000 people, the new and up-to-date Trentham Racecourse began its career and is still going strong.
The first European to sight our shores, Abel Tasman (1642) is commemorated in Tasman Street, while the rising ground to the west of Tasman Street, known as Mount Cook, perpetuates the name of our re-discoverer, Captain James Cook. Looking out upon the blue waters of Cook Strait through which “the greatest of all sailors” more than once made his way but never entered Port Nicholson, are two newer streets in the Lyall Bay area: Endeavour Street (formerly Cook Street) and Resolution Street, named after Cook’s two vessels of that name.
In 1853 New Zealand’s Crown Colony period came to an end, henceforth power was to be in the hands of a Parliament.
Lambton Quay was unofficially called “The Beach” by the early settlers because before any Wellington reclamations were made, this thoroughfare was merely the high-water line of the foreshore. The sea lapped up to the shore edge of the street and sometimes rolled across the road and entered the shops on the opposite side. Lambton Quay still retains its two sweeping curves fretted out by the waves, as the pioneers first saw it. It’s hard to imagine that only over a century ago, dense bush in many parts covered the hillsides to the water’s edge.
Though never a seashore road like Lambton Quay, it was likewise the line of the harbour edge that gave the curved shape to the seaward side of Courtenay Place.
In the 40s and 50s the southern end of Lambton Quay, now commonly referred to as “Stewart Dawson’s Corner”, was known as “Clay Point” or “Windy Point” as it was one of early Wellington’s most exposed corners around which in a tearing northerly or high sea it was often impossible to pass. Between this corner and Plimmers Steps stood Wellington’s earliest brickfield. The first Wellington Post Office, burnt down in 1842, stood where the citizen’s memorial now stands, and the first daily mail from Thorndon to Pito-one was inaugurated on 11th July 1840.
The highlight of Lambton Quay, one of the finest structures in the Dominion, must be the Government Buildings. Erected in 1876 this beautifully proportioned block standing in grounds which serve to enhance not only the building they surround but the whole northern end of Lambton Quay. The building is constructed entirely of wood and forms the largest permanent wooden structure in the world.
The architect employed, William Clayton, also built himself a modern home in Hobson Street which was the first residence to have hot and cold water laid on. This residence is now Queen Margaret College. Clayton is also remembered as the architect of the second Government House which occupies part of the site of the Dominion Houses of Parliament, and when Parliament Buildings were burnt down in 1907 it was decided to use the site of the old Mount View Mental Hospital. The first governor to occupy the third Government House was Lord Islington, who arrived in Wellington in 1910.
Wellington Terrace, now called “The Terrace”, runs along the ridge of the hills at the back of Lambton Quay. The southern end, formerly called Woolcombe Street, is now included in Wellington Terrace, and contained until recently two of Wellington’s most historic homes, “Dalmuir” and “St Ruadhan” surrounded by the last two original town acres to be found in Wellington. Before the advent of the motorcar and the consequent development of the outlying suburbs, The Terrace was one of the favourite residential parts of Wellington, but following the usual transition, it is now largely a street of office buildings and apartments. A Synagogue was erected on The Terrace in 1870 and the first Jewish service ever held in Wellington took place on Saturday 7th January 1843.
The Wellington Club (1877), St Andrew’s Church (1879) and the Congregational Church (1888) have long been located on The Terrace.
The usual way of reaching the hill suburb of Kelburn is by Cable Car, starting from Kelburn Avenue, an offshoot of Lambton Quay, but on foot it may best be reached from Wellington Terrace via Mount Street. The view from the top is breathtaking – a panoramic sweep of the whole of Port Nicholson, encircled by hills that melt in the north into the snow-crested peaks of the Tararua ranges, and in the south the snow-topped Kaikouras of the South Island, crowned with their loftiest and loveliest peak – Tapuaenuku, “Footsteps of the Rainbow”.
Climbing the surrounding harbour hills rises the city that year by year has grown greater and nearer to the hearts of its makers, its ships gliding into busy wharves like homing pigeons, its houses nesting and perching in every gully and hill-face, and its waterfronts pulsing with life and trade.
Kiwi Words and Phrases (Campbell, 1999) defines ‘Māori’ as "indigenous people of New Zealand", and when the “Tory” arrived in 1839 there were six pas (Māori village or settlement) – in Pito-one, Ngahauranga, Kaiwharawhara, Pipitea, Kumitoto and Te Aro.
The most important of these pas was Pito-one (the edge of the sand), situated at the western end of the sandy Petone Beach.
Ngahauranga (the landing place) was the residence of the great fighting chief Ngatiawa who died in 1841 and was buried at Ngahauranga where his tomb, an upright half-buried canoe, long a landmark, was finally removed to the native cemetery in Te Puni Street, Petone.
Kaiwharawhara (named after a native lily) was inhabited by Ngati-tama.
Pipitea Pa, which took its name from the plentiful supply of pipis (shellfish), was situated about the site of the Railway Hotel on Thorndon Quay. This was where the Ngatiawas resided, in housing superior to the other pas.
Kumutoto, the smallest pa, occupied the site of the Wellington Club. Soon after the arrival of the white settlers, the Kumutoto natives removed to Ngahauranga, and their chief Wi Tako lived to become a member of the Legislative Council.
When Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) began to settle in numbers in Wellington in 1840, Te Aro Pa was situated where the modern 9-storey A. Levy Ltd building later stood, occupied partly by permanent Awas and partly by visiting Taranakis.
The Māori trail, Te Ara o nga Tupuna (The path of our ancestors) takes 4 hours to drive and view at an easy pace and includes Pipitea Marae and Tapu Te Ranga Marae. The trail starts at the Pipitea Marae in Thorndon Quay, opposite the Railway Station and finishes at Owhiro Bay on the often wild, southern coast of Wellington. While not all of the old pa, kainga, cultivation and burial sites of Wellington have been included in this trail, the sites included are ones that have been selected for their importance to the history of Wellington, their accessibility to the public, and their viewing interest. Although essentially a driving trail, there are several scenic walks included that take in some of Wellington's most breathtaking scenery, (particularly of the harbour and of Wellington's southern coast).
Visit Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
Visit Petone Settlers Museum
Visit Museum of Wellington City & Sea
Wellington TodayWellington is known as New Zealand’s arts and culture capital, with its heritage buildings, museums and galleries, fine food and live entertainment opportunities, all of which make Wellington today a great place to live and visit any time of the year. The city centre is just two kilometres wide. Nestled between a beautiful harbour and bush-clad hills, the city also boasts regional parks, ocean beaches, seaside villages and wildlife sanctuaries.
In Thorndon, still the official end of the city, stands New Zealand's Parliament buildings located just to the north of the centre of Wellington. These buildings consist of the stately old wing of Parliament Buildings, the executive offices in the "Beehive", and the nearby office complex of Bowen House.
Thorndon is also home to the National Library and Archives New Zealand, both of which hold exhibitions as well as valuable documents and collections. Archives houses the Treaty of Waitangi (New Zealand's founding document).
Visitors to Wellington can choose to base themselves in the inner city within walking distance to boutique shops, art galleries, trendy cafés and restaurants, or take advantage of the vast range of accommodation on offer from five-star hotels to backpackers lodges, motels and B&B’s to home-stays, and experience the warm welcome and friendly hospitality that all Kiwis are renowned for.
Te Papa Tongrewa, Museum of New Zealand dominates Wellington’s spectacular waterfront, and by night, the city stays up late to enjoy live theatre, music and dance performances.
Allow at least a couple of days in Wellington to get an insight into New Zealand’s history, contemporary culture and creativity and experience the helpful friendliness that will greet you everywhere you go. Wellingtonians love their Harbour City and welcome visitors from all four corners of the globe.
"Harbour city, you're a friend of mine; there's no better place to be."
Please explore this website when planning your trip to our wonderful city of Wellington, New Zealand. With the cooperation of the busy but always gung-ho natives of Wellington, we will continue to grow this website for your use and enjoyment.
Kia ora from the team at Wow Wellington