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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Wellington Earthquakes

Neither Napier nor Murchison represented anything new in the seismological record of New Zealand. The country's earthquake proneness was familiar to the earliest settlers, many of whom were terrified by tremors in 1840, the foundation year of the Wellington settlement. Since then the record of the middle districts of the country—the south of the North Island and the north of the South Island-has been an unenviable one. In 1848 many colonists turned their backs permanently on Wellington when the new settlement was more than half destroyed, and those who stayed suffered again in 1855 when a disastrous earthquake rocked both sides of Cook Strait, causing a dozen deaths, Maori and Pakeha. The shocks caused heavy loss and great discouragement in many pioneer localities still struggling to establish them selves. At regular intervals in later years, 1868, 1890, 1897, 1904, 1913, and 1914, major earthquake disturbances were experienced over a wide territory stretching from Wanganui in the north to Banks Peninsula in the south.

Then, in June 1942, Wellington, the Hutt Valley, North and South Wairarapa, and the Manawatu bore the brunt of another series of violent earthquakes which destroyed hundreds and damaged thousands of houses and large public and private buildings. The devastation was widespread, but with the experts still trying to assess losses and estimate the extent of necessary demolitions, another series began. On 1 and 2 August in the same year, the greater part of the southern end of the North Island experienced the impact of further major shakes which added noticeably to the desolation still unrepaired. Wellington, Carterton, Masterton, Eketahuna, Pahiatua, and Palmerston North all suffered structural losses in greater or less degree. In the Wairarapa the cost was estimated at £500,000, and it was officially stated that the damage in the whole area as a result of the two disasters-in June and August—was in excess of £2,000,000. Fortunately, the loss of life in each case was small, the total not exceeding half a dozen persons.

by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.