Sir John Logan Campbell was a canny character who successfully predicted where New Zealand's newborn government would want to plant its capital.

Although the seat of power is now Wellington, it was at first, briefly, at Kororareka/Russell in the Bay of Islands, before shifting to the beach that became the City of Auckland.

Campbell, the Scottish immigrant, doctor and apprentice businessman who in later life would be dubbed a Founding Father of Auckland, had landed at the Coromandel Harbour and began to scout for opportunities.

It was 1840, soon after William Hobson had signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and only his government was permitted to buy Maori-owned land.

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This didn't deter Campbell and his associates.

Their Coromandel host, William Webster, told them of the "charmed" Waitemata Harbour some 60km to the west, according to a new and richly-illustrated book of Campbell's story, told mainly in his own words, Reminiscences of a Long Life.

The new book of Campbell's writings. The painting is John Hoyte's 1873 "View of Auckland", Auckland Art Gallery

"Then, out of this prospect grew the grand and very wild idea of what a splendid speculation it would be - given that fine harbour Webster had spoken about - to purchase the land on its shore, lay off a township there and then sell its allotments," Campbell wrote.

"Admittedly, there was Hobson's proclamation staring us in the face. But subsequently we talked ourselves around into the belief that if that could be got over somehow or other and if our town lots sold well, out of the multitude of claimants there might come safety."

Their bid to buy the Orakei area from the Ngati Whatua chief Te Kawau was rejected. Campbell and Scottish lawyer William Brown bought Motukorea (Browns Island) from another tribal group, where they bided their time.

Official Bay (near today's Tinley St, Auckland), the first Government settlement in the Waitemata Harbour, October 1840. Watercolour by John Johnson. Alexander Turnbull Library
Official Bay (near today's Tinley St, Auckland), the first Government settlement in the Waitemata Harbour, October 1840. Watercolour by John Johnson. Alexander Turnbull Library

After the declaration of Auckland as the capital, Campbell took up land as a squatter in the new town until he and Brown could buy a section in Shortland St, at the first crown auction, on which they established a trading business.

Campbell became a merchant, farm owner, timber mill owner and brewer, establishing a Newmarket beer business that was a predecessor of the Lion empire. He served as Auckland provincial superintendent, briefly as a government minister, and for an even shorter term as temporary mayor of the city during a Royal visit, despite generally eschewing politics.

But It was mainly through a long life, his many roles on boards and trusts, and especially his gift of Cornwall Park to the people of New Zealand that he came to be seen as the patriarch of Auckland.

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Freeman's Bay (today's Victoria Park) on the Auckland city waterfront in 1840, in a later watercolour by John Kinder. Auckland Art Gallery
Freeman's Bay (today's Victoria Park) on the Auckland city waterfront in 1840, in a later watercolour by John Kinder. Auckland Art Gallery

"He had a finger in every pie, so to speak. He was a prominent person at the age of 23 and by the time he was 83 he was still prominent," says historian and Campbell scholar Professor Russell Stone. "There was a sense he was always about. He was just as much a stable feature of the landscape as Mt Eden."

Campbell died in 1912, aged 94.

The new book, to be launched next Friday, marks the 200th anniversary of Campbell's birth on November 3, 1817. Edited by Stone, and comprising Campbell's memoirs and other writings, it is billed as the first complete account of his life in his own words.

The following are extracts from the book.

The purchase of Motukorea/Browns Island

About a week later, at this small native village of Waiomu on the shores of the Hauraki, an old chief of calm and dignified aspect was to be seen affixing his signature (22 May 1840) to a document in the Maori language in the presence of other chiefs, members of the same tribe, and also in the presence of "we twa" [Campbell and Brown], and Webster and another Pakeha named James Palmer. Two more chiefs also signed their names followed by "we twa" and lastly Webster and Palmer (Maori name, unsurprisingly, 'Hemi Pama'). The two last signatures were those of witnesses to the Deed which transferred the island of Motukorea from the chiefs Taitika (sometimes called Kanini), Katikati and Ngatai to its new owners, William Brown and John Logan Campbell. The presentation of a double-barrelled gun to Taitika constituted the earnest in the transaction and from that moment Motukorea was tabooed to the Taitika's Pakehas...

John Logan Campbell and his associate William Brown bought Motukorea/Browns Island and lived there before shifting into the new capital, Auckland. Map / Google Maps

DEED OF SALE of Island of Motu Koreh New Zealand in favour of William Brown. Dated 22nd May 1840.
Know all men by these presents that We whose names are hereunto subscribed, Native chiefs of New Zealand and owners of the Island aftermentioned IN CONSIDERATION of two double barrelled guns, ten blankets, two coats, four casks of gunpowder of twenty five pounds each, four pieces of print, twelve shirts and four pairs of Trousers paid to us by William Brown late of Edinburgh North Britain now residing at Waiomu on the Firth of Thames in New Zealand aforesaid, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged We by these presents do grant, bargain, sell and convey unto the said William Brown and his heirs and assigns that Island called Motu Koreh situated at the entrance of the River Tamaki at its confluence with Prince Regents Inlet [Tamaki Strait] in New Zealand aforesaid Together with all ways, water, watercourses, tabooed grounds, trees and other vegetable productions, mines, metals and other minerals together also with the right of fishing and the fishes in the creeks and bays of said Island TO HAVE and TO HOLD the said Island with the appurtenances thereunto belonging to him the said William Brown his heirs and assigns and to the only proper use and behoof of them for ever; And We the said chiefs hereby bind ourselves and our successors to warrant the said Island, hereby said, and its appurtenances, to the said William Brown and his heirs and assigns, and will for ever defend the same against all persons having or pretending to have any interest or title therefor. IN WITNESS WHEREOF these presents (after having been duly read over and explained to us by James Palmer residing at Waiomu aforesaid) are subscribed by us Kanini Kati Kati and Ngatai at Waiomu aforesaid this twenty second day of May in the year Eighteen hundred and Forty before these witnesses the said James Palmer and Dr. John Logan Campbell also at present residing at Waiomu.

Rumour of Government purchase in Waitemata Harbour

... Palmer brought us news cheering and startling, and of a kind which promised ere long to rob our little island of any claim to be a solitary place far from the haunts of men. For he told us that in the near future our island was to lie on the very threshold of a populous neighbourhood. The Government had discovered the harbour of the Waitemata, and had determined to fix the Capital on its shores! "We twa" shouted a wild hurrah when told this, and began enacting something very like the "Hielan' fling" on the spot.

Yes, the panorama from the Remuera crater had been gazed upon by eyes other than ours since we stood on that fateful spot last autumn! The Governor of the Colony himself had stood there and it was to become Mount Hobson forever afterwards. He had looked down upon the Isthmus stretching from sea to sea and it only became a question of a mile or two higher up or lower down the shore of the Waitemata harbour where the capital was yet to be fixed.

Away back at the time when we had been busy hollowing out our canoe in the Waiomu forest, we had little expected that the future of the Isthmus would be so speedily realized. While we had been hard at work, a surveying cutter had been quietly at anchor in the Waitemata and a survey of the harbour completed. Continuing with his intelligence, Palmer went on to state that the very land on which the future capital was to be built had already been purchased from the Ngatiwhatuas and that, shortly, the survey of the town would begin...

Great was our suspense until Palmer returned. But greater still was the disappointing news he brought. For alas! The Natives knew nothing whatsoever about the capital. No purchase of land, they said, had been made. Nor had the Natives heard anything about where the town was to be located.

Commercial Bay (near today's Gore St), Auckland city waterfront, 1852, from a drawing by Patrick Joseph Hogan. Alexander Turnbull Library.
Commercial Bay (near today's Gore St), Auckland city waterfront, 1852, from a drawing by Patrick Joseph Hogan. Alexander Turnbull Library.

Te Kawau confirms Waitemata land has been sold

It was quickly made known that we had come to "hoko" or barter for pigs, with whom I wanted to stock Motukorea, and that I would also be glad to buy a small supply of potatoes and kumaras for our own consumption. (I say we, because beside me was the Pakeha-Maori commander of the Dart who was to act as my interpreter.) And so spreading out on the ground my blankets and prints and calico, my spades and tobacco and tomahawks I sat me down and began to whistle - taihoa - secretly invoking the shades of Job to my side, having had drilled into me that "taihoa" translated into scriptural language, meant "hurry no man's cattle"!

I was somewhat startled, nevertheless, to find that there was to be no taihoa about it for the Maoris, as a most startling rush was made to tapu everything, right, left and centre. All proceeded after the following fashion. The Chiefs and Chieftainesses had a prior monopoly before the smaller fry were allowed to take part. When any article was fancied, the intended buyer took a thrum from the fringe of his flax mat and fastened it onto the chosen article. If the buyer happened to be wearing a blanket, or shirt, or nothing at all, as was sometimes the case, and could not detach any distinguishing tapu-ing mark, then a neighbouring flax bush, or a piece from a flax kit supplied a substitute. Once this had been done, no one would ever dream of disturbing far less disputing a choice so made. Although I saw all my trade being most rapidly labelled tapu, there was not the least sight or sound of any forthcoming grunter.

At last the head chief Apihai Te Kawau came near and squatting down beside me propounded the question: "Ehiai te tara mo tenei paraikete?" (How many dollars for this blanket?) This question I repeated back with an enquiring stare at my interrogator, saying in confidence to myself "what the mischief does the old fellow mean?" "Ehiai?" repeated he with the most perfect sang-froid.

"Why, what have dollars to do with pigs?" said I in the vernacular quite forgetting my question was quite lost upon my listener.

All this time the chief had been fumbling with a corner of his blanket. At last when he succeeded in untying the knot, and a small shower of glittering sovereigns had fallen into his lap, he again repeated in the most mellifluous tone - "Ehiai te tara?" - his countenance breaking into a benign smile that made the tattooed wave line at the corners of his mouth curl upwards even higher.

"Why, the old fellow means what he says after all!" said I to myself. "But where has all the money come from?" That question must have been so plainly written on my face as I stared at the chief that he said, "Te utu mo te whenua" - "the payment for the land". "Hallo!" said I to the captain of the Dart who, as my interpreter, was sitting hard by. "The Government has been buying land here - look, here is the gold they paid for it." "What land? What land?" we both asked breathlessly. "For this land - the Waitemata land", was the chief's reply. "We have been up to Te Tokerau to the Bay of Islands to get the utu, and this is part of the money."

"Hurrah!" I shouted. "'The Isthmus has been bought, the future Capital is fixed - Hurrah! Hurrah!" Here at last we had the explanation of the little topsail schooner we had seen from our Island slipping in and out of Orakei Bay. The chiefs had obviously been taken up to the Governor to sign, seal, and deliver the deeds and get their money. And here was some of that money shining before my very eyes.

"But Orakei, have you sold that?" I asked!

"Kahore! Kahore!" - "No! No!" said he, his refusal being chorused by members of the tribe standing around.

No indeed - catch them selling their own good Orakei land? They had sold only a small tract of good land with a large tract of most execrable land which had, however, the required frontage to the harbour that the governor wanted. All the splendid land that stretched from Orakei Bay through to Onehunga still remained in Native hands. Old Kawau had been equal to the occasion, after all. (And give me the name of a chief that hadn't been!) Kawau had kept all the cream of the land. It was only the skimmed milk he had sold.

Wynyard Pier in Official Bay (near today's Tinley St) on the Auckland city waterfront, in the 1860s. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library
Wynyard Pier in Official Bay (near today's Tinley St) on the Auckland city waterfront, in the 1860s. Auckland War Memorial Museum Library

The gift of Cornwall Park

And now I have arrived at the great Royalty episode, in which I became a prominent personage. In anticipation of the event I made up my mind that it would become a truly historical event were I to present the gift of Corinth Park through the hands of the Duke of Cornwall and York [the future King George V]. But it seemed to me that it would assume almost the appearance of a slight were I to ask the Prince to present and name the park and ignore the name of the presenter. I therefore consulted our governor, Lord Ranfurly, and it was arranged in Sydney, before the Duke came to New Zealand, that the presentation of the park would constitute a part of the Royal Programme and that the park would be named Cornwall. That is why the name of Corinth given in my bequest of 1881 became changed to Cornwall twenty years later. But while these alterations were being made, the public knew nought of the gift or of the name I intended that it should have. It was only with the publication of the official programme on the day before Royalty arrived that it became known that I was going to make the gift of the great recreation ground of Cornwall Park...

Sir John Logan Campbell with One Tree Hill in the background, early 1900s. Photo / Auckland Weekly News.
Sir John Logan Campbell with One Tree Hill in the background, early 1900s. Photo / Auckland Weekly News.

In the Free Public Library there now hangs the framed title deed of Cornwall Park, as the conveyance in trust for the People of New Zealand. I think I may justly quote the language in which I made the gift as it sums up multum in parvo and tells what a young Scotchman adventurer experienced before Auckland existed, and how he came to see it exist, and how in this day and age it has become a city of no mean importance, known throughout the Empire. Little wonder now, when I am jostled as I thread my way along the crowded thoroughfare, I ask myself am I really alive, do all these surroundings really exist or is it not all a dream?