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The Spike: or, Victoria University College Review October 1911

As it was in the Beginning

page 17

As it was in the Beginning.

The Parish Pump in 1841, and Other Ancient History.

Here we have it: "Papers. || New Zealand. || (With plans.) || Ordered, by the House of Commons, to be Printed, || 12 August 1842 || [Price 6s. 6d] || 569 . . . Under 32oz.—" And at that time Auckland was Auckland and Port Nicholson was Wellington and the pot's indictment of the kettle was a mild circumstance by comparison with the opinion held by either village of the other. In short, in 1841 the chief problem exercising the minds of New Zealand's truly great, seemed to be whether Auckland was better fitted to be the New Zealand Company, the founders of Port Nicholson, prophesying falsely on the 7th September 1841 when he speaks of:—"The mischiefs that must be expected to result from the factitious support of as seat of government not recommended by any great natural advantages, situated almost at one extremity of the long narrow islands subjected to its authority, and not at present or likely to be the residence of the principal or of any considerable population nor the emporium of the trade of the colony."

But the prophet business was not all so badly conducted:—"It appears but probable," runs a letter dated 3rd April, "that there would grow up a feeling of bitter rivalry and hostility between the owners of land at the seat of Government and the owners of land in the Company's settlements"; such no doubt, as may now be seen at any Auckland-Wellington football match. Aucklanders did not by any means endorse the statements made by the residents of Port Nicholson and their advocates. But they seem to have lacked the ingenuity of the latter. For example, when in May 1841 Captain Hobson assumed office as Governor of New Zealand on its separation from New South Wales, the magistrates of Wellington, six in number, hastened to forward to him a congratulatory address. The congratulation appeared in the first few lines, while the remainder, that is nineteen-twentieths of the address, set forth at length and with much repetition the advantages which would page 18 derive from the removal of the seat of Government to Wellington. Governor Hobson, in his reply, was brief and pointed: "I should hold it to be inexpedient and improper for me to enter into any discussion with you on suggestions you have thought fit to offer on the future government of this colony."

But Wellington's greatest effort was made in November, 1841, when the residents forwarded an "Address Gracious Majesty the Queen. The matter for congratulation was the birth of a Princess Royal and then, by an easy logical step, Her Majesty's humble subject proceeded to put forward a number of arguments in favour of removing the seat of Government to Wellington. These congratulations and entreaties were humbly submitted to Her majesty by some one hundred and thirty signatories, the most interesting of whom appears to have been the gentleman who, in his moment of exceeding loyalty, signed himself: "D. Donald for myself on 45 Saternnion on the Parmma Road."

It was left to an Aucklander, however, to sing most loudly the praises of Wellington. This fall from grace was performed by the then Surveyor-General, who, on his return to Auckland after his inspection of Wellington, reported to his Excellency. This is what he was moved to say of Wellington: "A more beautiful and romantic spot it would be difficult to conceive; a finer harbour could not be desired."

After which it is only fair to set forth the true Auckland opinion. This is contained in a letter of 20th September, 1841, from an English firm writing on behalf of several settlers at Auckland. That the Wellingtonians had very capable rivals in their obstinate partiality, is well shown by the extracts from the letter which follow:

"Auckland has the extraordinary and uncommon advantage of having two ports communicating with opposite coasts. Vessels of the largest size can enter either harbour and lay in safety."

"Port Nicholson," on the other hand, "is very fine unquestionably. When a ship is inside it, but it is most difficult of access, owing to the perpetual violent winds that always rush directly through Cook's Straits."

Then again: "Auckland is placed to receive the agricultural produce of the extensive and fertile districts page 19 to the south, by means of the great rivers which diverge from this point."

"Port Nicholson is singularly defective in reference to its communications with agricultural districts. It has no river; the Hutt is called a river, but is only a streamlet, and not navigable."

And furthermore: "The position of Auckland cannot be surpassed by any in the island for excellence of climate, wholesome, healthy air, and good water; and the climate is peculiarly suitable for the growth of flax and wheat."

While on the contrary: "The violent winds almost daily blowing at Port Nicholson must necessarily make agricultural operations, especially in the growing of wheat, uncertain, and this is an injurious circumstance, in respect to the climate at Port Nicholson, not existing at Auckland. That violent winds are painfully prevalent at Port Nicholson is an undoubted fact, and all parties returning from it have certified to their strength being such, that it is unsafe to build houses of more than one story high."

But the local partisanship did not end in such delicate compliments as those quoted above. Writing under date of 26th May, 1841, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Governor Hobson relates that the settlers at Port Nicholson have drawn up and signed a petition or his removal "on the grounds of partisanship, neglect of public duty, etc." This was followed by a counter petition from Auckland. "It is quite evident," comments Hobson, "notwithstanding the extraneous matters introduced into the Port Nicholson petition, that the whole matter resolves itself into the simple fact, that I have not studied the exclusive advantage of the Company by fixing the seat of Government at Port Nicholson; and it is equally certain, that the counter petition must be attributed to my having chosen my position on the Waitemata." And, perhaps, after all Governor Hobson was correct.

The book does not, however, deal solely with this aspect of the history of those days. There is an interesting series of correspondence passing between the Directors of the New Zealand Company and Downing Street on a projected agreement to sell the Chatham Islands to a German Syndicate formed at Hamburg. A Colonization Company had been formed at Hamburg, and page 20 an agreement entered into between J. Ward, acting on behalf of the New Zealand Company, and a Herr Sieve-king, on behalf of the German syndicate. When the arrangements came to the knowledge of Downing Street, the Secretary of State of the Colonies interfered, and the Chatham Islands remain a part of the British Empire.

There are also several letters relating to the history of the settlement of Akaroa, telling how Captain W.M. Stanley, in Her Majesty's sloop "Britomart," arrived in Akaroa, hoisted the British flag and held a court, some five days before the French Frigate "L'Aube," and six days before the French whaler "Comte de Paris," with 57 French emigrants aboard, arrived; also the arrangements that were entered into by which the French authorities assisted in the keeping of order in the settlement. Here was the entente cordiale a fact in being in 1840. There is an interesting letter written in 1841 by Capt. Lavaud, of "L'Aube," relating what he was doing to preserve order, assuring the Governor that he was not in any way prejudicing Britain's influence, and deprecating any suggestion that he should be called on to withdraw at least before he had received from France "l'order de reconnaitre la souveraineté de l'Angleterre." He pointed out what would be the result of such a withdrawal: "De cet état de choses, il resulterait de grands maux, et avant peu, soyez en assuré et croyez en l'expérience que me donnent 14 mois de sejour ici, la consternation et le dégout s'empareraient des colons; plus de travaux; l'ivresse sur tous les points de la colonie, aussi que le désordre le plus complet." Governor Hobson agreed to continue to give countenance and support to measures which have so essentially contributed to the tranquility of this community."

Of much interest is a map of the settlement of Port Nicholson in 1841, as also are the remarks thereon by the Surveyor-General. His scatching denunciation of town planning as practiced here should be of interest to-day: "I consider it a magnificent site completely destroyed, and I appears to have been sacrified to the absurdity of laying out a plan on a sheet of paper, and restricting the size of allotments to an acre, an extent which is far too large for the purpose required, and is calculated only to promote that greedy spirit of speculation in town allotments with which most new colonies are unfortunately rife." The price paid for sections in Wellington by the page 21 N.Z. Co. was one pound per acre; which, from the purchaser's point of view, compares very favourably with the price recently paid for a few perches in Willis Street, at the rate of over a quarter of a million pounds per acre.

One more quotation—from a letter of Governor Hobson's on 5th August, 1841—should be of interest to our Auckland University friends in their battle for a site:—"The position of Government House is well adapted to the convenience of the public and may be considered in all respects eligible for present purposes; but the ground will I a few years become too valuable to reserve for that purpose, and then the house I now occupy may with advantage be converted into public offices, and a new Government house be built on a piece of ground that I have reserved about a mile and a half on the east side of the town."

Even a collection of official papers can provide a wealth of interesting information.