1890 - 1918

Plan illustrating some of the bad features of the current drainage of Newtown, 1885.

Plan illustrating some of the bad features of the current drainage of Newtown, 1885

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1890-1904: Sewerage system construction

In 1892, construction began on Wellington's city-wide sewerage system, the first of its kind in New Zealand. Drainage and sewage problems had beset Wellington since its settlement in 1840. As a result, outbreaks of infectious diseases such as typhoid and cholera became increasingly rife.

Councillors and ratepayers were initially opposed to a sewerage system due to the high cost. Yet the number of cases of infectious disease continued to rise and, in 1890, 77 Wellingtonians died of diseases linked to sewage-soaked backyards.

In light of such outbreaks councillors accepted an engineer's proposal for a proper sewerage system. Construction was finally completed in 1904, and the system was to meet the city's needs for a century.

The entire parade took fifty minutes to pass.

1890: First half century celebrations

In 1890, Wellington celebrated its first half century. On 22 January 1890, to mark the arrival of the first settlers at Petone on the same day in 1840, the city put on a parade of ten thousand people.

The parade was lead by groups of schoolchildren, fife-and-drum bands, and a team of maypole dancers. The parade also included carriages of notable citizens including former Mayors, original settlers and Maori dignitaries.

Fire brigades and soldiers also marched. The entire parade took fifty minutes to pass.

Source: Alexander Turnbull Library. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

Town Hall and band rotunda, 1904. Source: Alexander Turnbull Library.

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1904: Town Hall built

Construction of Wellington's Town Hall was completed in 1904. The building, although exceeding budget, and going through many design changes along the way, was opened on 7 December.

A public meeting place was a long sought-after amenity for Wellington and this late-Victorian style building was well received. Acoustic experts have ranked its auditorium among the top ten in the world.

Its 177 foot high clock tower was later removed due to fears of its possible collapse during an earthquake.


On 29 October 1913, more than a thousand strikers broke through the gates of the Basin Reserve, where they held a protest meeting.

1913: 'The great strike'

Disagreements between unionists and politicians sparked many industrial struggles in Wellington through the 20th century. The general strike of 1913 was of such magnitude that it was dubbed 'the great strike.'

The great strike remains the largest outbreak of civil unrest ever seen in New Zealand. Lasting three weeks, it sparked major clashes between workers and police on the streets of Wellington.

On 29 October 1913, more than a thousand strikers broke through the gates of the Basin Reserve, where they held a protest meeting.

In an unpopular move, hundreds of civilians, many from outlying districts, were sworn in as 'special constables' to quell the strikers. After the arrests of many of the union leaders, the great strike came to an end.