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Early Wellington



The writer has been informed that more than one person claims the right to be considered the pioneer of reclamation in Wellington. He recalls his boyhood days, and his mind's eye visualises the scenes graphically recounted by his father, when in a reminiscent mood, that occurred in the early days of Wellington, and remembers being told that George Bennet, much to everyone's amusement, bought a hilly section at Windy, or Clay Point (now Stewart Dawson's Corner), and commenced, with pick-axe, shovel and barrow, to excavate and dump the refuse on the beach. On referring to the Christmas number of the “Post” (1903, p. 2), the incident is described thus:

“Between the precipice at Clay Point and the water there was just a narrow road, and Willis Street was sharply cut off from Lambton Quay. The corner was held in little esteem, and was purchased by the late Mr. G. Bennett (Mr. W. H. Bennett's father), who came out in the “Berenicia”
Fig. 283.—A Reclamation Pioneer. Mr. George Bennett.

Fig. 283.—A Reclamation Pioneer. Mr. George Bennett.

in 1848, and who thought he saw possibilities in the section. When he first set to work with a pick-axe to cut away the point, his neighbours asked him if he was going mad. He threw the “spoil” into the harbour, widening and improving the roadway. In after years he asserted that his patch was the first piece of reclamation attempted in Wellington Harbour. “Windy Point” is page 454 now one of the most valuable corner sites in the city. Wellington early gained a reputation for wind. “No one,” said Bishop Selwyn, writing in the early forties, “can speak of the healthfulness of New Zealand until he has been ventilated by the restless breezes of Port Nicholson, where malaria is no more to be feared than on the top of Chimborazo, and where active habits of industry and enterprise are evidently favoured by the elastic tone and perpetual motion of the atmosphere. If I am not mistaken, no fog can ever linger long over Wellington to deaden the intellectual faculties of its inhabitants.” The “Post” continues: “Our city has not so far inspired much immortal verse. Kipling has spoken for the Northern City in a quatrain which every Aucklander wears as a frontlet between his eyes; to Wellington he has devoted just half of one characteristic line: ‘Broom behind the windy town: pollen o' the pine.’”

Mr. Herbert Baillie, in a pamphlet on the “Early Reclamations and Harbour-works of Wellington” (Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. 55, pp. 700-720) mentions that in 1847 tenders were called by the General Government for the construction of a timber breastwork along part of Lambton Quay (Beach Road). In the supplement of the Evening “Post” of 27th Aug., 1927, a sketch may be seen of the reclamations from 1852 to 1927. The reclamation made by the new Munster Government in the year 1852 being approximately 3 roods adjacent to Willis Street and Old Customhouse Street. This sketch is reproduced from the Wellington Harbour Board's map of 1927.

Although the City of Wellington, with the exception of the land that has been reclaimed, was laid out in the first instance by the surveyors employed by the New Zealand Company, the principal part of the settlement was along what is now known as Lambton Quay and Thorndon. The curve of the first-named thoroughfare pretty accurately indicates what was then the beach, the water coming up to the base of the hill behind the old Supreme Court (Bank N.S.W.), thence to the site occupied by the New Zealand “Times” newspaper office, Lambton Quay. A portion of the old wooden breastwork which kept back the tide in those days, was exposed when the workmen were engaged in the excavation of a trench in which to lay the pipes from the new Wainui-o-mata water supply. The first attempt at reclamation was from the back of Barber's butchery, at the junction of Old Customhouse Street and Willis Street (Shortt's Theatre), as far as Pearce's store, and the next reclamation extended as far as Harbour Street. Next, the area was extended up to Mills' Foundry. After this the Government reclaimed the land upon which the Government Buildings now stand. (The writer was told that some of the Government officials helped in the good work by throwing “dead marines,” in the shape of beer and ink bottles, out of the windows into the sea.) Later on a contract was let for the reclamation of forty-nine and a half acres extending from Mills' Foundry to Pipitea Point, which included the site of the present railway station. The material for the forty-nine acres was obtained from the face of a hill on the Hutt Road, close to Pipitea Point. Some of the land realised handsome prices when submitted to sale by auction, the highest price paid being £154 per foot (Bishop's “Guide to Wellington,” 1883, p. 6).

A chronological list of reclamations, giving locality and approximate areas, is as follows:—

1852—Willis Street, Mercer Street, Chew's Lane, Bonds. 1857-63—Bank N.Z., corner Willis Street and Lambton Quay (Noah's Ark site), Harris Street to Grey Street, 7 acres. 1859—Oddfellows' Hall site. 1864—Foresters' Lodge site. 1865—Messrs. Jacob Joseph, between Waring Tay- page 455 lor and Stout Streets and Lambton Quay (total of last three, 2 rods). 1866–67—Panama, Brandon, Johnston and Waring Taylor Streets, pts. Featherston Street and Customhouse Quay, 12 acres. 1875—Government Building site, 2 acres. 1876—Railway station (Lambton) and lines, Featherston Street extension, Ballance, Stout, Bunny and Whitmore Streets, Govt. Printing Office and “Shacks” (this was extended to Pipitea Point), 46 acres. 1882—Thorndon Railway Station, and lines, 29 acres. 1882—Railway Wharf, 1 rod. 1884—Davis Street Extension. 1886—Hunter Street endowment, Customhouse Quay and Hunter Street, 3 rods. 1886—Victoria and Wakefield Streets, 22 acres. 1889—Jervois Quay, 17 acres. 1893—Harbour Board store, and track for Te Aro railway, Customhouse Quay and Jervois Quay, 1 acre. 1893–1901—Waterloo Quay and Glasgow wharves, 3 acres. 1895—Council's yards, near Oriental Parade, 1 acre. 1901–03—From near Queen's Wharf to the Lyttelton Ferry Wharf, and site of Customhouse, 2 1/2 acres. 1901–1914—Barnet, Cable and Chaffers Street, 18 acres. 1902–1925—Clyde Quay widening, 4 acres. 1904—Hutt Road locality. 1904–1916—Waterloo and near Fryatt Quays, Hinemoa and Cornwall Streets, 34 acres. 1906—Waterloo Quay completion, 34 1/2 acres. 1906—Oriental Parade and boat shed sites, 1 acre. 1910–1913—Davis Street extension, near Cornwall Street, 4 acres. 1924–1927—Thorndon Esplanade and Hutt railway lines areas, vested in the Harbour Board and Railway Department. The total area reclaimed and being reclaimed (1927) is 293 acres 0 rd, 21.5 perches, of which the Wellington Harbour Board has reclaimed, or is reclaiming, a total of 130 acres 1 rd, 21.8 perches (for Govt. Depts., 57 acres 0 rd, 27.8 perches; for harbour purposes, 73 acres, 0 rd, 34 perches).—(Extract Evening “Post,” 27/8/1927).