22 January 2014

Wellington's first settler ship

Today is the 174th anniversary of Wellington's first settler ship. On 22 January 1840 the first New Zealand Company settler ship, the Aurora, arrived at Petone. The Aurora, a vessel of 550 tons under the command of Captain Heale, carried 58 male passengers and 90 females, having left London on 18 September 1839 – a lengthy passage of 4 months and 4 days. It was hardly an auspicious start to the colonial adventure: the final location of the first colony had yet to be chosen when the Aurora departed, preliminary land purchases that the Company was supposed to have made from local Maori were far from kosher, and the temporary accommodation that the migrants expected was not ready. Indeed, as NZHistory notes, 'one settler recalled that when his ship entered Wellington Harbour, ‘disappointment was visible on the countenance of everyone’'.

The plan was originally for a settlement known as Britannia at Petone, with 1100 'town acre' sections forming the main settlement and each settler also expected to take possession of 100 'country acres' to farm nearby. The reality was drastically different, and in the initial weeks of the settlement the Aurora passengers struggled to stay dry and feed themselves; the assistance of local Maori was essential. In March 1840 the Hutt River flooded its banks, which was the final straw - the settlers decamped for less soggy terrain on the southwestern shores of the harbour, which is where the settlement of Wellington finally took hold. (Here's the well-known revised settlement plan for Wellington from August 1840).

The Company's plans had sounded so grand back in England. While the strong reassurance of the maintenance of the existing English class system luckily didn't eventuate in New Zealand, it's certainly a pity Wellington never ended up with any of the Company's grand squares! Both of the quotes below are taken from Speeches and Documents on New Zealand History, W. David McIntyre & W.J. Gardner (eds.), Oxford, 1971.

The object of the Company will be so to determine the place of their first Settlement, as to insure its becoming the commercial capital of New Zealand, and, therefore, the situation where land will soonest acquire the highest value by means of colonization. Within this district, the site of the Company's chief town will be carefully selected; after which, out of the whole territory there acquired, a further selection will be made of the most valuable portion as respects fertility, river frontage, and vicinity to the town. The site of the town will consist of 1100 acres, exclusive of portions marked out for general use, such as quays, streets, squares, and public gardens. The selected country lands will comprise 110,000 acres. The situation of the whole quantity of acres constituting the first settlement will, accordingly, be determined by a double selection: - first, of the best position with reference to all the rest of New Zealand; and secondly, of the most valuable portion of the land acquired by the Company in that position, including the site of the first town. The lands of this first and principal settlement, therefore, if both selections are properly made, will be more valuable, and will sooner possess the highest value than any other like extent of land in the Islands.
First report of the Directors of the New Zealand Company

The aim of the Directors is not confined to mere emigration, but is directed to colonization in its ancient and systematic form. Their object is to transplant English society with its various gradations in due proportions, carrying out our laws, customs, associations, habits, manners, feelings - everything of England, in short, but the soil. They desire so now to cast the foundations of the colony, that in a few generations New Zealand shall offer the world a counterpart to our country, in all the cherished peculiarities of our own social system and national character, as well as in wealth and power.
- From a New Zealand Company advertisement

See also:
HistoryThe Battle of Featherston Street, 1913, 5 November 2013
History: The great fire of Raetihi, 11 January 2012
History: The oldest building in New Zealand, 29 August 2011
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