It was to be many years before Europeans discovered Wellington harbour. Captain Cook came close to doing so on his second voyage, but the first recorded entry of Wellington harbour is by Captain James Herd in the barque Rosanna in 1826, accompanied by Captain Barnett in the cutter Lambton. The ships carried Scottish emigrants sent out by a Company that had similar aims to those later incorporated in those of the New Zealand Company. However, the project failed, and little was achieved except the charting of the harbour. In 1832 Herd published a description of the harbour in The Nautical Almanac as a place where 'all the navies of Europe might ride in perfect security'. Either Herd or Barnett was responsible for naming the harbour Port Nicholson, after a Captain John Nicholson formerly of the Royal Navy and harbour master in Sydney for 21 years. Nicholson had visited New Zealand in the brig Haweis in 1820, and knew both Herd and Barnett personally.
Between the departure of Herd and Barnett and the arrival of the New Zealand Company's emigrants a small number of Europeans had visited Wellington harbour or settled along its shores. These men were traders, whalers or missionaries for the most part. David Scott came from Sydney in 1834 to buy flax from the Maoris, and lived in a hut on the waterfront. In 1834-35 a whaler named George Young lived on the same beach and the famous, or infamous, Dicky Barrett, also a whaler, had been to the harbour prior to piloting the Tory into port in 1839. The same year two Methodist missionaries, the Rev J.H. Bumby and the Rev John Hobbs, entered the harbour in the schooner Hokianga. They held religious services at Pipitea and Te Aro where there was a congregation of over 100 Maoris. When they left some 30 Maori teachers and preachers, who had arrived with the missionaries, remained behind continuing to conduct services and classes for the Maori people.
This visit was shortly afterwards followed by that of another Methodist minister, the Rev James Buller, who walked from Kaipara to Wellington to meet the emigrants arriving on the Aurora. His timing was excellent if fortuitous: for his 'walk' consisted of a 500 mile hike through trackless country and various tribal districts. He arrived the day before the Aurora, and preached a sermon on board that vessel on Sunday, 26 January 1840.
- G.M. Betts, 'The First Wellingtonians', in N.L. McLeod & B.H. Farland (eds.), Wellington Prospect: Survey of a City 1840-1970, Wellington, 1970, p.53-4.
History: Map of pre-European Wellington, 8 February 2016
History: Wellington 150, a capital anniversary, 26 July 2015
History: Wellington's first settler ship, 22 January 2014