News | 23 September 2020
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Council turns 150 and the rest is history

Wellington City Council is turning the big 150 this month, and we’re celebrating with a walk down memory lane – and everyone can come along.

A historical photograph of Wellington harbour, with small settlements around the shoreline.

On 28 September 1870 the Wellington City Council met for the first time after succeeding the Town Board. Since then it has had 36 Mayors and hundreds of Councillors.

The first Mayor was Joseph Dransfield previously chair of the Town Board. The 1870s and 1880s were a period of rapid immigration, it was also a time of significant reclamation into the harbour. The 1870s also saw Wellington’s first reticulated water supply with the completion of the Lower Karori Reservoir.

At that time, Wellington only went from Thorndon Quay to Berhampore. Surrounding boroughs amalgamated with Wellington: Melrose 1903; Onslow 1919; Karori 1920; Miramar 1921; Johnsonville 1953; and Tawa 1989.

Regulations governing the burial of dead horses in back yards and the tipping of toilet waste onto streets were the Council affairs in the early days. As the city grew so did its responsibility for the introduction of fresh drinking water, the sewage system, social housing, libraries, swimming pools and a host of amenities. Today the Council manages over 400 different services and facilities.

Mayor Andy Foster says this anniversary is a great opportunity to reflect on the history and heritage of the city – and consider what the future will look like too. He’s also looking forward to announcing a 150th anniversary project for aspiring creatives in the near future.  

“Since 1865 when the population was just 4,900, the newly minted capital moved from a pioneer settlement to become New Zealand’s political and creative capital of 210,000,” says the Mayor.

“Wellington City Council manages and supports projects, programmes and initiatives that will continue to ensure our city is one of the best places in the world to live with its Town Belt, parks, coastline and attractions like Te Papa, our festivals and markets. This is the story of Wellington 2020, a city nourished from its environment and empowered by its people who are embracing the future.”

This anniversary also celebrates the Wellington City Archives as a primary information resource for the history of Wellington. Established in 1994, the Archives holds physical and digitised records dating back to 1842 when Wellington became the first site of local government in New Zealand.


Wellington City Council will be marking the start of the anniversary year with a series of videos, images, creative design and activities on social media channels.


Some key dates of Wellington City Council over 150 years:


  • 1870s early investment the city’s first reticulated water supply – the Karori Reservoir
  • 1889 Wellington’s streets were first lit by electricity
  • 1891 Karori Cemetery was established
  • 1892 WCC built its first public library
  • 1904 first electric trams start
  • 1904 Town Hall opens
  • 1906 Wellington Zoo opens
  • 1910 inaugural concert of the Wellington Municipal Orchestra
  • 1912-1970 WCC issues driver licenses
  • 1915 A Municipal Golf Course opens in Berhampore
  • 1918 WCC the first local authority in the world to establish a Municipal Milk Department
  • 1921 WCC first female Councillor Annie McVicar
  • 1926 Otari-Wilton Bush reserve officially opened
  • 1929 Rongotai Aerodrome Opens
  • 1946 WCC buys the Cable Car
  • 1954 Queen Elizabeth visits – the royal limousine was bedecked with a million begonias grown in City Council nurseries especially for the occasion
  • 1959 New airport in Rongotai opens 24 October
  • 1963 Freyberg Pool opens
  • 1964 The Beatles play two concerts at the Town Hall
  • 1968 The milk department starts selling yoghurt
  • 1969 Cuba Mall opens
  • 1971 The 1st computer bought by WCC was an IBM 360 Model 20 with a 4K memory
  • 1990 Sesqui celebrated 150 years of signing of Treaty of Waitangi

  • 1992 Civic Centre/Square formally opened
  • 2002 WCC produces its first olive oil from French Verdale trees planted in Mount Victoria in the 1980s – winning gold award at international competition
  • 2006 Waitangi Park opened
  • 2008 Housing Upgrade Project commenced
  • 2014 Commemorations for WW1 centenary
  • 2015 Pukeahu National War Memorial Park created
  • 2016 Let’s Get Wellington Moving initiated