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New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s


Our aim in this chapter is to portray the character of urban New Zealand of the mid 1880s, and to illustrate town relationships with country and bush, while avoiding involvement with complex details of commercial relations, communications networks and governmental administration. First we compare Nelson, Wanganui and New Plymouth, as diverse examples of local regional ‘capitals’. We use contemporary descriptions to help us envisage this diversity, and we look to their history, and especially the variations in the mix of feldon and bush settlement that formed their hinterlands, for some explanation of this diversity. We then extend our picture to examine elements of rivalry for hinterland control between New Plymouth, Wanganui, Wellington and Napier. This provides the context for discussing the 1886 New Plymouth/Hawera clash over Stratford fire relief. We see Hawera as an incipient new regional ‘capital’, and consider why New Plymouth felt threatened by this development. Finally we see what we can learn about Wellington from the Lambton Quay fire of 29 December 1885.