Aucklanders worried that Sir John Logan Campbell's 193ha gift of Cornwall Park will be part of the parcel of 11 major Auckland volcanoes the Government plans to hand back to descendants of previous Maori owners can relax. It isn't.

The land I'm presuming the Government is planning to give away is the next door 48.54ha Crown-owned One Tree Hill Domain, which contains the actual peak.

I say "presumably" because the Government is refusing to reveal details of its plans to give away all this public land. Ironically, the obelisk to the Maori race which Sir John funded, and his nearby summit-top grave, are unlikely to be part of the transaction.

Though well inside Domain borders, both the grave and obelisk, by special legislation, were long ago made a small island of domain land, vested in the Cornwall Park Trust Board.

But if Sir John's body and main bequest seem safe from the Maori takeover, the future of several other acts of generosity, both on One Tree Hill-Maungakiekie and assorted other maunga, is not so certain.

For example, in 1898, according to the Cornwall Park Management Plan, Sir John gave 2.55ha "comprising the northern face of the hill [One Tree Hill] to the Domain Board". This, the first of his One Tree Hill bequests, looks likely to end back in non-public hands.

Private endowments linked to the cones have enlarged and enhanced the public reserves surrounding many of Auckland's mountains. That these gifts now seem destined to pass into the private ownership of descendants of the previous vendors seems, at best, a cavalier way to treat such acts of generosity.

In the early days of European settlement, an effort was made to set aside the volcanic hills, or parts thereof, as "places of public resort". They became Crown land, administered and funded locally by, at first Domain boards and, more recently, by local councils.

A 1928 tract by the Auckland Town Planning Association, Auckland's Unique Heritage, was published as part of a campaign "to save ... 63 wonderful volcanic cones and craters". It praises and lists five major bequests related to saving the cones, including that of Sir John.

All but one relate to mountains on the Key Government's giveaway list.

Noting that such gifts "earn the undying gratitude of future citizens and visitors", the document points to a 5.3ha gift from the Dilworth Trust at Mt Hobson, a 4.04ha gift of part of the Big King, at Three Kings, from the Wesley College Trust, and a 8.08ha act of generosity at Mt Roskill by George Winstone.

The Dilworth Trust gift enlarged that domain by around 33 per cent and was, said the Town Planning Association, "a splendid example" for others to emulate, "which saved from building on or possibly scarring the beautiful green slopes on the western side ..."

Referring to Mt Roskill, "we are pleased to hear that Mr George Winstone recently intimated his intention of giving this mountain to the people of Auckland. This magnificent gift is in addition to the 5 degree (per cent) recreation reserve required by the authorities when estates are subdivided."

As for Three Kings, the authors were pleased the Wesley College Trust had indicated its intention to present the whole remaining intact cone, the Big King, as part of the reserve requirement to the public when cutting up the surrounding estate.

Recent management plans for Mt St John and Maungawhau-Mt Eden domains point to gifts and local purchases being made to enlarge these two Crown reserves over the years as well.

In the case of Mt St John, five parcels of land were acquired by the Domain Board between 1919 and 1953 and in 1981, an adjacent public reserve was, for administrative and operational convenience, incorporated into the Domain.

More recently, if memory serves me right, a residential section high up the slope was purchased by Auckland City, to prevent development.

Mt Eden records show a gift of land from Thomas Thompson in 1881 and another from the Mt Eden Borough Council in 1962. Also, in 1886, the Craig family handed over a quarry covering 3724sq m for a token 50 cents and a promise from the Crown not to prosecute for excess mining that "was endangering the western side of the mountain and the reserve".

I've already argued the cones should be treated as one heritage volcanic field, and administered by one umbrella organisation.

The risk of riding roughshod over 150 years of generosity suggests another reason for abandoning the Government's plan.