The day commemorates the anniversary of the arrival in Wellington of the vessel Aurora, on 22 January 1840. The Aurora brought some 150 New Zealand Company settlers, who had made the four-month voyage from Gravesend, near London.
The highlight of the first Anniversary Day, in 1841, was a horse race on Te Aro Flat. According to The Streets of My City, a profile of Wellington by Fannie Irvine-Smith, this was reputedly the first organised race meeting in New Zealand.
She wrote that the racehorses were imported from Australia. The feature race was won by a horse called Calmuk Tartar, ridden by Henry Petre, for a purse of 15 guineas.
From 1842, races were also run on Petone beach, Burnham Water (now Miramar), Hutt Park and at Island Bay.
Large Anniversary Day sailing and rowing regattas were also held on the harbour for many years while 'rural sports', fetes and fireworks displays were also popular.
Wellington Anniversary Day is, in theory, observed within the boundaries of the former Wellington Province which stretched north to Woodville in southern Hawkes Bay, Waverley in south Taranaki and Owhango and Turangi in the central North Island.