'Advantages beyond all others'

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

Fort Britomart in 1863 by Sam Stuart. Photo / Auckland City Art Gallery.
Fort Britomart in 1863 by Sam Stuart. Photo / Auckland City Art Gallery.

William Hobson, the Royal Navy officer carrying instructions for the colonisation of New Zealand in 1840, arrived in the Bay of Islands on his ship HMS Herald on January 29, the date that became Auckland's anniversary.

The next day must have been busy. Hobson spent much of it with the official British representative, James Busby, and several senior missionaries.

They helped him issue invitations to northern Maori chiefs to a meeting on Busby's lawn at Waitangi. There, in accordance with his instructions,
he wanted their consent to be ruled by British law and government.

At some time during that day he asked the missionary Henry Williams whether the Bay of Islands was the best place for the government to
be based. Williams told him it was not. There was not enough vacant land in the district and it was too far from southern settlements.

He told of him of a place called Tamaki on the Waitemata that was not at that stage occupied by Maori or Europeans and possessed advantages
"beyond all other places".

It had, "convenient access by the river Thames to the interior of the country; the river Kaipara to the North, through extensive kauri forests; also by Manukau to the river Waikato which takes its ise in Taupo lake in the centre of the island ...

"There was a vast extent of fine country without an inhabitant," said Williams, adding, "the island of Waiheke and other islands form safe roadsteads with their numberless small bays for vessels of all sizes."

Hobson was soon to hear more of this place Tamaki. On February 14 he returned from the Hokianga, where he had been collecting more signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi, and was met by a delegation from Ngati Whatua of Tamaki.

They offered him land on the Waitemata if he would establish his capital there.

A week later, when Hobson sailed for the Hauraki Gulf to seek more signatures, the Ngati Whatua delegation accompanied him on the Herald.

Also on board was a Pakeha who knew Tamaki well. William Cornwallis Symonds, a captain in the British Army, had been investigating a prospective settlement on the Manukau near the spot that now bears his middle name.

The young officer quickly impressed those who met him. By the time Hobson had completed his first inspection of the Waitemata he had added Captain Symonds to his official retinue.

The Herald arrived in the Gulf on February 22. It spent the next gitoto
and Motutapu and the following day anchored in the Waitemata off a point that would soon be named Britomart.

The Herald's commander, Captain Nias, refused to take his ship further into the uncharted harbour so Hobson hired a schooner that happened to be nearby, carrying a cargo of pigs. After a day sailing the upper harbour in the company of pigs Hobson and his officials preferred to explore the area by small boat and excursions ashore, which they did for a week.

Williams would later recall Hobson picking out the precise site of Auckland. But in his dispatch to London Hobson prevaricated. More exploration would be needed, he said, to decide where the settlement should be.

The following month Hobson sent the surveyor Felton Mathew south as far as the Firth of Thames to investigate alternative sites. Mathew pronounced Tamaki "the most desirable spot that can be selected".

He was referring to the Tamaki inlet and the place he thought best for settlement was the site that today is Panmure. Maori called it Mokoia. He knew it lacked an anchorage for large ships but he envisaged a port on the Waitemata with lighter services up the inlet.

Hobson was unimpressed. He decided to visit the Waitemata again and did so at the end of June. He found navigation of the inlet too difficult and favoured the upper reaches of the Waitemata.

But while he was scouting the upper harbour in a cutter another official, Captain David Rough, had gone ashore at what was to become St Mary's Bay. Rough has left a vivid description of the isthmus at that time:

"Just as the sun rose I climbed up the cliffs to where Ponsonby now is and beheld a vast expanse of undulating country, mostly covered with fern and manuka scrub; several volcanic hills in sight and, near the shore, valleys and ravines in which many species of native trees were growing, whilst the projecting cliffs and headlands were crowned with
pohutukawa trees ...

"But there was no sign of cultivation nor of human habitation, the nearest native village being out of sight. The cutter had sailed up the harbour and not even a canoe was to be seen on the spacious surface of the Waitemata."

When the cutter picked him up Rough found Hobson disappointed with the upper harbour and very interested in his report on the depth of water around the southern shore.

But again Hobson returned to the Bay of Islands without announcing a decision. There he had more pressing problems: apparent French colonisation plans in the South Island and an unauthorised local government set up by New Zealand Company settlers at Port Nicholson.

Once he had dealt with those, he turned his attention back to the location of a capital. By early September he had decided.

A ship, the 310-ton barque Anna Watson, which had relieved the Herald, was loaded with materials to build the settlement that Hobson had already resolved to call "Auckland".

On board the Anna Watson when she sailed from the Bay of Islands were Captain Symonds, Felton Mathew and David Rough among other officials, along with carpenters and other workmen.

Around noon on Tuesday, September 15, the ship anchored off Freemans Bay where another barque, the Platina, chartered by the New Zealand Company, had arrived three days before.

The next day the Anna Watson was moved to a deeper anchorage in Commercial Bay, roughly where the Ferry Building stands on reclaimed land today.

The ship was approached by a waka bearing Ngati Whatua from Orakei and negotiations for land began between Captain Symonds, assisted by a son of Henry Williams, and chiefs led by Te Reweti.

Their talks went on for two days. At the end of the negotiations Ngati Whatua had given the Government a triangular piece of land fronting the harbour. It extended from modern day Cox's Creek to Hobson Bay with its
apex at Maungawhau, or Mt Eden as Hobson would name it.

By Friday September 18 the official party was ready to raise a fl ag over Pt Britomart.

At 1pm that day Symonds, in the presence of Ngati Whatua chiefs, read out the agreement they had reached.

Te Rewiti then made an angry speech in which he said a Pakeha had told him the Queen would take all Maori land and they would have none left to live on.

He was assured that would not happen.

The flag of St George was run up a kauri mast to the cheers of the official party. In the bay the Anna Watson gave a 21-gun salute, followed by 15 guns from the Platina.

They toasted the Queen, gave three more cheers, to which the Anna Watson replied with seven more gunbursts, before the party went back to the ship for a celebratory lunch.That afternoon the sailors organised a regatta with races between the ships' boats and another for the Ngati Whatua waka.

That is how Auckland was born.

Reference: From Tamaki Makau-Rau to Auckland, RC.J. Stone, AUP, 2001.

- NZ Herald

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