Sir John Logan Campbell should be pushed off his pedestal as the Father of Auckland and replaced by the chief who invited the British to settle in the area, a historian argues.

New Zealand's first governor, William Hobson, established Auckland in 1840 and shifted the capital there from the Bay of Islands. He was invited to the southern shoreline of the Waitematā Harbour by the Ngāti Whātua chief Apihai Te Kawau.

"I don't like the term 'founding father' - for one thing it's very patriarchal," said historian Dr Vincent O'Malley.

"If you had to have one, I think Apihai Te Kawau has a far better case for that nomination for Auckland than the likes of John Logan Campbell," O'Malley told the Herald in an interview about this Friday's 40th anniversary of the end of the Bastion Point occupation.

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However, another historian, Professor Emeritus Russell Stone, an expert on Campbell and Auckland, dismissed O'Malley's idea.

"I see no reason why, for reasons of political correctness, we should convert the Pākehā father of Auckland into a Māori father of Auckland."

O'Malley said, "Auckland is founded entirely on the generosity of Ngāti Whātua and their vision for Māori and Pākehā to live together side by side, for the mutual benefit of both parties.

"That was a vision that Apihai Te Kawau led and by inviting Governor Hobson to come and settle in Auckland, that was showing their view of the kind of relationship that they wanted to have."

He noted that Hobson's infant colonial government acquired the 3000 acres (1214ha) for the original Auckland settlement for £341, and months later sold 18ha for about £24,000.

The enormous profits from that and other crown sales of land acquired from Māori owners were used to subsidise development in Auckland and nationally. "So Ngāti Whātua are really underwriting that - in a big way," O'Malley said.

Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei Trust Board member Sharon Hawke welcomed O'Malley's suggestion about her ancestor Te Kawau.

"That would be great if we were to rewrite history. We've tried to do that ourselves. We unveiled a memorial just the other week on the Ports of Auckland frontage [beside Quay St]."

The new plaque beside Quay St refers to the gifting of the site of the original Auckland settlement by the chief Apihai Te Kawau. Photo / Ports of Auckland
The new plaque beside Quay St refers to the gifting of the site of the original Auckland settlement by the chief Apihai Te Kawau. Photo / Ports of Auckland

The memorial plaque acknowledges the September 1840 agreement between Te Kawau and the crown and says, "Te Kawau gifted 3000 acres to establish the City of Auckland."

It replaces a plaque which referred to a purchase rather than a gift. The old plaque said: "Here on Point Britomart on 18 September 1840 the British flag was raised in token of the purchase of the site of Auckland from the Ngati Whatua".

The port company financed the new memorial - it refused to reveal the cost - and sought Ngāti Whātua's advice on the wording.

The old plaque, now gone, behind the red fence on Quay St referred to the
The old plaque, now gone, behind the red fence on Quay St referred to the "purchase" of the original site of Auckland from Ngāti Whātua. Photo / Ports of Auckland

Hawke said the closest concept in English for what Te Kawau did was the "sharing of the land". Alienation of the land was not intended.

But Stone said that although Ngāti Whātua held to an oral tradition that the land was gifted, no documentary proof of that had been shown.

"There's no doubt that that was a sale; it wasn't a gift," said Stone, who emphasised he was not against Ngāti Whātua. Regarding the plaque, he said: "I think the word 'purchase' should remain."

Stone said Te Kawau's motives for inviting Hobson to Auckland would have included trade, and protection from iwi to the north and southeast.

He said Campbell's claim to the title of Father of Auckland included that he arrived in the area before the settlement was founded, he was at the heart of the city's commercial growth for nearly 70 years, he was a political leader, and he made generous donations to public causes.

"His qualification as Father of Auckland in today's world has less to do with the founding of the settlement and more to do with how he devoted his commercial success to worthwhile causes that endure in our city."