Pre-European Settlement - 1865

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

According to Maori tradition, Whatonga, a chief of the Kurahaupo waka was the first person to settle the lands at the tip of the North Island. The area was known as Te Upoko-o-te-Ika - 'the head of the fish'.

Whatonga's son Tara is said to have been enamoured with the deep and beautiful harbour 'at the very nostrils of the island'. Whatonga named the harbour Whanganui-a-tara, after his son.

The region was slowly populated with the arrival of a number of peoples of Kurahaupo descent, including Ngai Tara, Mua-upoko, Ngati Apa, Ngati Rangitane, and Ngati Tu-mata-kokiri.

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

Māori dwellings and chapel with whalers' lookout Tutaewera near Kaiwharawhara, Wellington, irca 1842

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1800-1830s: Migration south

Over the centuries, hilltop pa (fortresses) were established on strategic and sheltered sites around Wellington harbour. Peoples associated with Ngati Ira also later migrated here, establishing distinct coastal sites of their own.

In the 1820s, as tribes from the Taranaki region moved south the original inhabitants were slowly pushed out. By the 1830s, the Ngati Ira had mostly left.

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

Settlement of Wellington by the New Zealand Company

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1839: Sale of land to the New Zealand Company

The London-based New Zealand Company ship, Tory, arrived in Tara's harbour in September 1839. Aboard the Tory, the Port Nicholson Purchase deed was signed by 16 Maori chiefs and New Zealand Company representatives, led by Colonel William Wakefield.

The deed allocated one-tenth of the purchased land to the signatory chiefs and their families. The rest was to be sold to British settlers, including those who, at the time, were already sailing through the Pacific en route to New Zealand.

At the time the deed was signed, Waiwhetu chief Wiremu Puwhakaawe (Puakawa) warned "What will you say when many, many white men come here and drive you all away into the mountains?".

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

Buildings on the corner of Cuba and Ghuznee Streets, Wellington, circa 1860s

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1840: European settlement begins

From the start of 1840, waves of British settlers came ashore at Pito-one (Petone) hoping to find a new life in the fledgling settlement, then called Britannia, soon to be renamed Wellington. The town then relocated to the south-western end of the harbour.

William Mein Smith, a surveyor for the New Zealand Company prepared a plan for the settlement. Town acres were drawn up and allocated to settlers by lottery. The settlers moved onto their land, evicting the former Maori inhabitants.

As the new arrivals set about constructing dwellings, churches and pubs the frontier town of Wellington began to take shape.

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

Landslip caused by earthquake near Wellington, 1855

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1855: Earthquake alters Wellington landscape

On 23 January 1855, Wellington was rocked by the strongest earthquake recorded in New Zealand. The 8.2 magnitude quake was centred 25 kilometres from the city - it was felt as far away as Canterbury in the South Island.

The earthquake caused widespread damage in Wellington. Timber houses collapsed, the Government Offices were levelled, and large waves pounded the Wellington shoreline.

The Wellington landscape had been altered. The coastline, in places, had risen 1.5 metres; shore platforms now encircled the harbour, creating natural routes for road and rail.

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

Basin Reserve, Wellington, 1888

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1855: The end of the Basin Lake

A canal running from the waterfront to the Basin Lake at the end of Kent Terrace was intended for barges to deliver goods to Newtown warehouses. Wellington's miniature Venice vanished, however, when the 1855 earthquake struck.

The earthquake had raised the lake and prisoners were sent to work to turn the land into a public park. The Basin Reserve soon became the home of Wellington cricket.