The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 11 (January 1, 1939)
New Zealand Place Names — Wellington Once Named Britannia
Every schoolboy knows why this country is named “New Zealand,” but perhaps the fact has been forgotten that about a hundred years ago it was seriously proposed that the name should be changed. One reason advanced was that Tasman did not land in New Zealand, and therefore could not have taken possession of it in the name of his country.
It was also argued that the Dutch did not follow up the discovery, and that in any case it was doubtful whether Tasman was the first white explorer to discover New Zealand. Though the evidence to support the claim is far from conclusive, it is possible that Portuguese navigators knew of the existence of this country long before the time of Tasman.
However, the crowning reason was that a British colony ought to have a British name. Various names were suggested, including New Britain, but no official notice was taken of the proposal, and in time it was forgotten.
The names, North, Middle, and South Islands persisted for a long time. As J. A. Bathgate says in his book, “Colonial Experiences,” “The individual who first gave the names … must have possessed a mind somewhat resembling that of the worthy minister of the Cumbraes (two small islands in the Firth of Clyde) who used to pray for a blessing on the Great Cumbrae, and the Little Cumbrae, and the adjacent islands of Great Britain and Ireland.”
Naming of Dunedin.
Dunedin has been Dunedin ever since the first settlers arrived there from Scotland, but the name of the town when it was only a plan on paper was New Edinburgh. This was chosen after such names as New Reekie, Edina, Ossian, Bruce, Burns, Duncan-town, Napiertown, Holyroodtown, and Wallacetown had been rejected.
In 1843 William Chambers, one of the editors of the well-known “Chambers Journal,” wrote to the “New Zealand Journal” (a paper published in London for the purpose of promoting interest in emigration to New Zealand) and suggested that the old Celtic name, Dunedin, was infinitely superior to New Edinburgh. This happy suggestion was adopted, but it was not until 1846 that the projected settlement became known officially as Dunedin. The same idea was used when the river Clutha was named. Clutha is the ancient name of the Clyde.
The “New” Abomination.
A year or two before this the country had been officially saddled with three “news.” The charter for erecting “The Colony of New Zealand,” signed by Queen Victoria on November 16th, 1840, declared that the three principal islands should be known respectively as New Ulster, New Munster, and New Leinster. Governor Hobson, who was an Irishman, is said to have been responsible for these names. Happily they were soon discarded.
Port Chalmers was to have been called either New Leith or New Musselburgh. Perhaps Chambers’ hint led the Scottish Free Church founders of the settlement in Otago to name the port after Thomas Chalmers, one of the leaders of the Free Church at the time of the Great Disruption in 1843.
Objection to “Invercargill.”
Invercargill was named after Captain Cargill, one of the leaders of the Otago pioneers. The name was suggested by Colonel Thomas Gore Browne, Governor of New Zealand from 1855 to 1861. He also suggested the name Southland, neither a happy nor a brilliant idea, considering that the beautiful Maori name, Murihiku, might have been used.
When Southland separated from Otago in 1861 some of the southern settlers who had no great love for Cargill, suggested that the name of their principal town should be changed to Clinton, the family name of the Duke of Newcastle, who had taken a great interest in the welfare of New Zealand. However, the suggestion was vetoed on the ground that Invercargill was a very suitable name for a Scottish settlement.
Wellington Supersedes Britannia.
The name of Wellington before the town was moved from Petone to its present site was Britannia. The following from the “New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator” of November 28th, 1840, explains why the change was made: “The directors of the New Zealand Company always contemplated calling the town of their principal settlement after the illustrious warrior of modern times. This intention was entertained in gratitude for his having given life to the great principle of colonization, which they are extending to the best of their abilities, by advocating the enactment of the South Australian Bill. Had a proper spirit animated those in power, Adelaide would have enjoyed a name which must live through all the ages, but they sought profit by pleasing the King rather than honour by paying an honest debt.” Adelaide, of course, was named after Queen Adelaide, consort of William IV.
In view of this enthusiasm for the name Wellington, it is rather amusing to find that the same journal only a few months previously had highly commended Britannia as “a good name because till now unappropriated by any town and therefore distinctive in its character.”
Wanganui was first named Petre, after Lord Petre, one of the directors of the New Zealand Company. The name was officially proclaimed in November, 1842, but it did not appeal, and in 1854 it was changed to the more melodious Maori name.page break page break