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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.




Early settler, businessman.

John Plimmer was born on 28 June 1812 at Upton-under-Amon, near Shrewsbury, Shropshire, the youngest but one of the 12 children of Isaac Plimmer, a builder and timber merchant, and of Mary, née Roden. He was educated at the local parish school and intended for the teaching profession; however, he preferred to train as a master builder and plasterer. When his father moved to Willenhall, Staffordshire, Plimmer plied his trade there until he was attracted by the colonising activities of the New Zealand Company. On 31 October 1841 he arrived at Port Nicholson in the Gertrude and settled at Te Aro, Wellington, where he commenced a prosperous timber and charcoal-burning business and a small limeworks. In 1850 he purchased the Inconstant (586 tons), which had been wrecked at Pencarrow Head. After towing the hull to Lambton foreshore, to a point opposite the present Barrett's Hotel, he converted it into a wharf, business offices, and a bonded warehouse. Plimmer's wharf or “Noah's Ark”, as it became popularly known, proved a most profitable concern and continued to be used until 1883. Over the years Plimmer invested much of the money he made from the “Ark” in various local public companies. After the 1855 earthquake he devoted himself to his building and contracting business, became a foundation member of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce, and was elected to the first Town Board (1867–71). He represented Wellington City in the Provincial Council (1856–57) and opposed the sale of the city's reserved lands. During his term he introduced, and successfully piloted through the Council, a Bill to vest these in the city authorities. Possessing keen business foresight, Plimmer became a strong advocate of railways, the reclamation of portions of Wellington's waterfront, and improved harbour facilities. For many years he urged the construction of the North Island Main Trunk railway and was prominent in the agitation which preceded the formation of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Co. Plimmer was a foundation member of the company, remaining on its board until 1900. He was also a director of the New Zealand Times Co. for many years and contributed many letters and articles on current topics to that and other Wellington newspapers. During the Boer War he conducted vigorous press campaigns to aid the patriotic funds. In 1901 the Government appointed him one of the Wellington Commissioners to welcome the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York.

Partly because of his extreme longevity and partly because his firm was responsible for erecting many of the well-known commercial buildings in the city, John Plimmer has been called “the Father of Wellington”. More justly, perhaps, this title should belong to Colonel Wakefield.

Plimmer was twice married: first, in 1833, at Birmingham, to Mary Roden, who was probably a cousin; and, secondly, in 1864, at Wellington, to Janet, a sister of John Anderson, editor of the Wellington Independent. He died at his home at Plimmer's Steps, Wellington, on 5 January 1905, survived by four sons and three daughters of his first marriage and a son of his second. One of his sons, Isaac Plimmer (1834–1908), was associated with his father in business and represented Wellington in the Provincial Council (1869–71). A grandson, William Harcus Plimmer (1874–1959), was the musical and dramatic critic on the Dominion for many years; and a great-grandson, Clifford Ulric Plimmer, was a member of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the State Services of New Zealand (1962).

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Life of John Plimmer, Young, J. (1901)
  • The Merchants Paved the Way, Millar, J. H. (1956)
  • Evening Post, 5 Jan 1905 (Obit)
  • New Zealand Times, 6 Jan 1905 (Obit).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.