Story: Auckland region

Page 7. The founding of Auckland: 1840–1869

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Hobson’s choice

In 1840 New Zealand’s first governor, William Hobson, chose the Auckland isthmus (Tāmaki) as the site for his capital. He was attracted by the fertile soil, the waterways and the large Māori populations close by. Hobson renamed the place after his patron, Lord Auckland, first Lord of the Admiralty.

His decision was encouraged by the local tribe, Ngāti Whātua, who expected that Pākehā settlement would bring trade, and protection from hostile tribes. In 1840 they sold the Crown a wedge of the central isthmus and a block stretching north to Kaipara Harbour. By the early 1850s the tribe retained only the slopes above the Ōrākei foreshore and land at Māngere.

Competing claims

In 2003 the Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei people sought compensation for the unfair alienation of its Tāmaki lands. In 2006 a draft settlement gave the tribe stewardship over three Auckland volcanoes, the right to buy $80 million worth of Crown land, and $10 million in cash. Other Auckland tribes protested that their claims had not been given due consideration, and the independent Waitangi Tribunal agreed. A settlement with Ngāti Whātua-o-Ōrākei was finally agreed in 2011,

Rush for riches

In 1841 Hobson resold land purchased from Māori to settlers, reaping an average of £555 an acre – a very high price. The sales brought an influx of newcomers, including officials, soldiers and merchants, all keen to make their fortune. Other arrivals included 128 reformatory boys (known as ‘the Parkhurst boys’) from the Isle of Wight. About half of the new immigrants came from Australia. Many were Irish. Church missions, aiming to convert Māori to Christianity, established their headquarters in Auckland because of the strong Māori presence.

Going it alone

In its early years Auckland was a government town, cut off from the rest of New Zealand because of poor transport. There was little love lost between Auckland and rival settlements such as Wellington, whose residents claimed that the colonial government supported Auckland at their expense, and lobbied for the nation’s capital to be moved further south.

Grounds for growth

With the establishment of provinces in 1853, Auckland became the centre of a huge hinterland from Northland to Gisborne. Auckland was the only province to offer free grants of land to encourage immigration – 40 acres (16 hectares) per adult. But many found their land inferior and too difficult to work.

North Shore nightmare

Major Collings de Jersey Grut and his wife Ann were among those who received a land block on the North Shore. They arrived with five servants, three children, livestock, farm equipment and a piano. But clearing the bush was tough, and the servants left. The cows wandered away or were poisoned by tutu berries. When their two-year-old daughter was suffocated by smoke from mānuka tree burn-off, the couple abandoned the block.

Falling Māori trade

During the 1840s and 1850s Māori owned a third of Auckland’s shipping fleet. They were the life-blood of the town, providing timber, labour, food, and a high proportion of exports.

Relationships soured as Europeans grew envious of Māori success, and the settlers’ access to cheap land dried up. Māori traders began to face increased competition. Their grip on trade was further loosened with the advent of steamships, which were too expensive for most Māori to buy. By 1860 growing anxiety about colonisation led some to abandon trading. Those who remained saw their share of trade decline.

War in Waikato

In the 1860s, Māori resentment over land losses and Auckland’s growth led to Pākehā fears that Auckland was vulnerable to attack from Waikato, to the south. Thousands of British troops were sent to the city. Preparations for war began with the construction of the Great South Road and a chain of military redoubts through Franklin – later the basis for farming communities. General Duncan Cameron led the defeat of Waikato Māori in 1863–64.

Fragile prosperity

Auckland’s fortunes had risen with the influx of soldiers, but declined when the troops left from 1864 and the capital was moved to Wellington a year later. But the discovery of gold at Thames in 1868 brought a new influx of wealth.

How to cite this page:

Margaret McClure, 'Auckland region - The founding of Auckland: 1840–1869', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 1 December 2021)

Story by Margaret McClure, published 6 Dec 2007, updated 1 Aug 2016