The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]
By 1850, the discovery of gold in Australia had created a demand for farm produce of all kinds, and Taranaki, with the other settlements in New Zealand, profited by the increase of trade. In this year, too, the New Zealand Company, finding itself unable to meet its liabilities—amounting to over a quarter of a million sterling—surrendered its charter and its lands to the Crown. Thus Taranaki came under the authority of the central Government; and it soon began to recover from the evil effects of the New Zealand Company's mismanagement, and the difficulties that had arisen with the natives. The successful settlement of Otago (1848) and Canterbury (1850) gave a new impetus to colonisation in these islands, and during 1850 the ship “Pekin,” and the barques “Berkshire,” “Kelso,” “Mariner” “Eden,” and “Phoebe Dunbar” arrived at New Plymouth, with settlers intending to make their home in Taranaki. During 1851, Governor Grey proposed to reduce the size of New Plymouth by one half, and to introduce Imperial military pensioners, with their families, into the district. These suggestions, though they met with the approval of the settlers, were never carried into effect; but the little colony still continued to progress in wealth and in all the essentials of civilisation. In 1851, through the energy of Mr. William Collins, the first paper in the district, the “Taranaki Herald,” was published. Mr. Collins, with the help of his partner, Mr. Woon, brought the type and printing press from Auckland, via Onehunga and the West Coast; and on the 4th of August the first number of the paper was given to the world. One interesting feature of the first issue is the prospectus, in which the editor explains that the object of the paper is “to collect and disseminate local information and suggestions; to be the medium of discussing questions more immediately interesting to the inhabitants of this part of New Zealand; to be the organ of their claims upon the attention of the Government here, as well as the public and the Government in England; and, on the other hand, to present a concise view of the progress of events abroad.” A reference to “the gross and wilful misrepresentation of interested parties in Auckland” points to the development of provincial jealousies at this early stage of the colony's growth; and the congratulations offered by the editor to the settlers on the fact that “men of talent and integrity aspire to the honour of representing them in the Provincial Assembly,” indicates the interest already taken by the colonists in the political questions of the day.
The necessity for forming, and acting upon, political opinions had already been forced upon the young colony. By an ordinance of the Legislative Council in 1851, New Zealand was divided into two provinces—New Ulster and New Munster, with a Lieutenant-Governor and a Provincial Assembly in each. Each Assembly was to consist of not less than nine members, of whom one-third were to be nominees, and two-thirds elected. Taranaki was divided into two electorates—the country districts, and the town of New Plymouth. The electoral qualification was a £50 freehold or a £5 house-rental, with six months' residence. There were 105 voters in New Plymouth, and 175 in the Taranaki district; and the first election was held on the 31st of August, 1852. Mr. Charles Brown was returned for New Plymonth town without opposition, a “non-resident” candidate who had aspired to nomination having failed to put in an appearance. For the country districts there were three candidates—Mr. J. F. Wicksteed, Mr. J. C. Richmond, and Mr. H. Scotland; and at the election the votes recorded were: Wicksteed 108, Richmond 30, Scotland 6. Mr. Wicksteed, “the lion of Taranaki,” was therefore elected; but the constitution of the colony was soon radically altered, and the work of election had to be done again.
Among other evidences of progress that belong to this period, may be noted the establishment of a Mechanics' Institute in New Plymouth, in 1851. This institution was, from its formation, a great success, and many interesting lectures on science, philosophy and literature were delivered in it by Mr. Charles Brown, Mr. Isaac Watt, and other prominent citizens.
Early in 1852 the Taranaki Agricultural Society was formed, and at once began to consider the necessity for memorialising the Governor for funds, to keep in regular repair the roads and bridges in the district, and to prevent the spread of disease among the sheep. In page 28 the same year, it may be worthy to record, the little town of New Plymouth was visited by Lord Robert Cecil, afterwards the Marquis of Salisbury, for many years Premier of England, and one of England's most distinguished Foreign Ministers. Lord Robert Cecil was then a young man about twenty-five years old, and, having gone out to Australia just after the gold discoveries had made the new land famous, was led by curiosity to visit New Zealand. Lord Salisbury always expressed a strong interest in these colonies, and what he saw of Taranaki in 1852 must certainly have served to impress him with a belief of the possibilities of the country.
By the end of 1852, about 90,000 acres out of the 2,500,000 acres composing the province, were in possession of the Europeans. The village capital, “snugly planted on the margin of the beach, embosomed amid gently rising hills,” contained a stone church, several chapels, mills and breweries, stores, hotels, and shops. A writer of those days has said that Taranaki “was famed throughout the colony for its troops of happy, rosycheeked children, pretty women, honey, fine mutton, and dairies of Devonshire cream.” Another writer, dealing with the aspects of the settlement about the same date, says: “The appearance of the settlement from the sea is varied and beautiful. The taste for sylvan scenery and quiet rustic beauty is gratified by the combination of stream and forest, glade and valley, whilst there is the snow-crested Apollo of mountains showing up from the sea of forest, 8000 feet into the brilliant sky.” Such was New Plymouth when the colony obtained its long-desired Constitution, and just before the outbreak of the ten years' disastrous war with the natives.