In 1840 New Zealand became British territory, under the governorship of Captain William Hobson. He based his government in Auckland.
This did not please the New Zealand Company, which had been set up in England to promote British immigration to the colony. Wellington was its first organised settlement, and had been administered through a Wellington Council of Colonists, led by William Wakefield. In 1842 Hobson allowed the town's residents a degree of local government. George Hunter became Wellington’s first mayor, the head of an elected local council.
In 1852 a system of provincial government divided New Zealand into six autonomous areas. Dr Isaac Featherston became the first superintendent of Wellington Province, a post he held until 1870.
A false start
Wellington’s self-government was short-lived. While Wellingtonians were delighted when Governor Hobson granted them some autonomy, the British government was not impressed. London overruled Hobson. After less than a year, Wellington’s local council disbanded.
Wellington becomes the capital
The transfer of the capital to Wellington in 1865 helped guarantee its survival. After the provinces were abolished in 1876, government became more centralised in Wellington, boosting the city’s growth.
Since 1871 Wellington has been run by a city council. The Hutt County Council governed the rest of the region, which for many years extended from Wellington’s south coast up to Waikanae.
As the region grew, urban parts of the Hutt and Makara counties became autonomous boroughs: Petone in 1888, Lower Hutt in 1891, Eastbourne in 1906, Johnsonville in 1908 and Upper Hutt in 1926. At the same time, boroughs close to Wellington – Melrose, Onslow, Karori and Miramar – gradually joined the city. The last areas to become self-governing were Porirua in 1962 and Kapiti in 1974. Ōtaki has since joined the Kapiti coast. Lower Hutt took the name Hutt City in 1989, after taking over Petone, Eastbourne and Wainuiomata.
The Hutt County Council was abolished in 1988. The following year the Wellington Regional Council was established. Now known as the Greater Wellington Regional Council – it includes southern Wairarapa – its responsibilities include biosecurity, environmental management, flood protection, pest control, transport and water supply.
The Wellington region is represented by 10 members of Parliament: there are seven electorates, and three of the country’s Māori electorate seats also include parts of the region.