The Bay of Islands
The historical events associated with the establishment of British sovereignty in New Zealand occurred in the Bay of Islands and its adjacent districts. Captain Cook landed there in 1769; it was the site of the first mission stations, the first civil town, and the first national capital and administrative centre. Fortunately, from a historical point of view, many of the buildings associated with these events still survive, and selected examples are being preserved as part of the national record. Their survival is due to the early movement of the centre of government to the south, where other settlements were being established in areas now occupied by the country's largest cities. For 100 years or more, the Bay of Islands area remained remote, almost forgotten by districts engrossed in commercial and industrial expansion. Consequently the Bay of Islands escaped the inevitable destruction of early historic buildings which occurred in rapidly developing city areas. But today the district is changing rapidly. In recent years communications have been greatly improved and large areas of rural land have been brought into production. The sporting and holiday attractions have increased in popularity and the towns together with their associated industries are growing larger.
It is fortunate that the local residents are keenly interested in preserving their early buildings of historic interest. At Kerikeri, New Zealand's oldest extant house is still occupied and zealously preserved by descendants of James Kemp who accompanied Samuel Marsden in 1819 to found the mission station of which the house is a part. Close by is the “Stone Store” erected in 1833 for the mission: it was built of Sydney sandstone to withstand fire and hostile attack. In the troubled days of the 1840s, Bishop Selwyn kept his library in an upstairs room for safety and quite cheerfully walked the 10 miles from his Waimate residence to consult it.
Lord Bledisloe's gift of the Waitangi estate, already referred to, is probably the most important historic place in New Zealand because it is the site of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi–an agreement which established the basis of the understanding and mutual respect between Maoris and Europeans which this country now enjoys.
In the township of Russell the Government bought and restored “Pompallier House”, built in 1842 by the first Roman Catholic Bishop and used as a rest home for priests. It played an important part in the exciting events of the forties when Hone Heke cut down the flagstaff and burnt most of the town. At Waimate North the National Historic Places Trust has purchased the “Mission House” which was built in 1834 as part of the first inland mission station founded by Samuel Marsden in 1830. From 1842 to 1844 it was the home of George Selwyn, the first Anglican Bishop, and, in association with the adjacent church, it formed the first Anglican Cathedral centre. It was here the famous Bishop founded St. John's College, now located in Auckland It had political importance, too, because it was visited by many famous people and was used as the venue of political and ecclesiastical conferences. Both Pompallier House and the Waimate Mission House are excellent examples of early colonial architecture but they differ fundamentally in construction. The former was built of rammed earth technically known as “pise de terre”, a variation of the cob construction used in Canterbury and Otago. The latter followed the more usual timber construction planned symmetrically about a central stairhall. Both were surrounded by lovely trees and gardens which have in large measure been preserved.
The township of Russell has many relics of its early history. Originally called Kororareka, it adopted the name of New Zealand's first capital city when the site for it at nearby Okiato was abandoned. Kororareka was founded many years before official colonisation began, and in those days was a wild undisciplined centre for whaling and island trading. New Zealand's first bank building still stands on the waterfront but must soon disappear as the town develops. More enduring is Christ Church, the oldest church in the Dominion. Governor Hobson read his proclamation of appointment in this church in 1840. It was unmolested during the Maori war except for some accidental bullet holes which are still to be seen. Throughout the countryside, many private houses associated with early history still exist. At Pakaraka the residence of the Rev. Henry Williams still stands; at a rather inaccessible place by the Hokianga harbour, Judge Maning's home is still occupied, and near Opononi the house of Captain Martin, the first harbour master of Hokianga harbour, is inhabited and preserved by one of his descendants.
The Bay of Islands and its environs is today a unique repository of early buildings of historic interest; many of them must disappear in the course of time, but it is gratifying to record the national and local interest in preserving outstanding examples.