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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.



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Settlement and Growth

The birth of Wellington was the result of the efforts of Edward Gibbon Wakefield to promote planned colonisation through the auspices of the New Zealand Company. Wakefield had observed the hardships and deplorable results elsewhere of unplanned colonisation and the Wellington colony was the outcome of his planning of a model settlement by a careful selection of suitable emigrants and by provision for the orderly social, economic, and political development of the settlement. As a result, the Wellington venture, though not free from certain hardships, was a vast improvement upon earlier examples of haphazard colonisation and made an important contribution to the extension of British trade and influence overseas. The site was chosen in 1839 by the New Zealand Company's agent, Colonel William Wakefield, because of the excellence of its harbour and the perfect deep-water anchorage near the shore. Although the advance party came in September 1839 in the Tory to negotiate land acquisition from the native population, the main body of immigrants arrived in the Aurora on 22 January 1840. The city's founders set up the colony of Britannia at Pito-one, now Petone, but moved after several months to the more sheltered bay of Lambton Harbour in a southern arm of the port. This site was less subject to flooding and more easily defended against the rather hostile natives. The settlement was later renamed Wellington to perpetuate the “association of the Mother Country with the future of the town” and as a commemoration of the support given by the Duke of Wellington for the principles of Wakefield's colonisation scheme.

The city became a municipality in 1853 and, until 1905, consisted of several wards which shared the responsibility of local development. In 1865 the city became the capital of New Zealand, the seat of government being transferred from Auckland. At certain times the city has been enlarged by the addition of adjoining boroughs, Melrose, Onslow, Miramar, and Karori, and the district of Johnsonville. Since 1905 the city has remained undivided with full municipal status. Today the Wellington City Council exercises jurisdiction over an area of 18,249 acres, a municipality with a capital value of £162 million. This controlling authority comprises a mayor and 15 councillors who are elected every three years. Many of Wellington's services are operated by the city corporation. These include the airport, municipal transport, electricity supply, gas manufacture and supply, drainage and water supply, refuse collection and street cleaning, milk treatment and supply, traffic control, public libraries, and the morgue, cemetery, and crematorium.

Although Wellington is the centre of business and commercial affairs, some large residential areas, part of Greater Wellington, lie 12 miles to the north, one area, the Porirua Basin, being recently developed. It is forecast that the future population of the basin will be 80,000. To cater for its needs, a new town centre is at present being constructed there. It allows for 120 business sites, civic and Government buildings. Population growth within the area has been so rapid that in 1965 Porirua reached city status. From the early 1950s extensive areas of farm lands have been taken over for State housing, not only there but also at Tawa, Linden, and Titahi Bay. Situated on the northern shore of Porirua Harbour is Plimmerton, named after the Plimmer family, well-known early residents of Wellington. In the Ngatitoa Domain are the remains of the Paremata Redoubt, barracks built as a base for military operations against hostile Maoris who were threatening the Hutt Valley. Today the only remaining Maori pa is at Takapuwahia, between Porirua and Titahi Bay. Titahi Bay in the early days was a Maori settlement and a whaling station. The name means “one cabbage tree”, or possibly is a corruption of “te tahi” – “the one”, signifying one of the four forts which Te Rauparaha established in the locality. Tawa (formerly Tawa Flat because of the forest of tawa trees which covered the floor of the valley) was one of the areas subdivided into 100-acre sections by the New Zealand Company in 1841 in accordance with its settlement schemes.

Rapid urban growth in Wellington is fast depriving the city of its historic places. The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, consecrated in June 1866, is among the few buildings of historical and aesthetic significance which have endured. A new Cathedral, however, has in part been constructed to replace it. The Thistle Inn in Mulgrave Street has survived from early colonial days, as has the Plimmer House in Boulcott Street, an interesting example of an early colonial cottage. The Dominion Museum and National Art Gallery are situated on a site in Buckle Street overlooking the city and are part of a striking group of buildings of modern architecture which include the National War Memorial, Carillon Tower (49 bells), and Hall of Memories. Scattered throughout the city are numerous memorials in the form of reserves, fountains, plaques, and civic amenities. Chief among these are the Otari native plant reserve, the Katherine Mansfield memorial and garden, the Lady Norwood Memorial rose garden and begonia house, the Citizens' War Memorial (Cenotaph), and the Bandsmen's War Memorial sound shell in the Botanical Gardens.

POPULATION (urban area): 1951 census, 133,414; 1956 census, 138,297; 1961 census, 150,544.

by Richard Gregory Heerdegen, M.A., L.R.S.M., Junior Lecturer in Geography, Massey University of Manawatu.

The City of the Strait, Mulgan, A. (1939).