Early Auckland History

This site is on the early history of Auckland and is specifically dedicated to those early Auckland settlers and pioneers who made the dangerous voyage from the other side of the world to settle in Auckland, New Zealand. In particular it is dedicated to my own ancestors who were early settlers in Auckland and helped create the early history of Auckland.


Auckland had a substantial Maori history and settlement prior to white settlement. Just walking around the many volcanic cones of the city one can see the many kumura pits, terracing and other signs of what were once temporary hill pahs (forts). By 1840 these no longer existed and the area was relatively vacant. In fact some local Maori invited and sold land to Europeans in the hope of obtaining protection from further violent wars from tribes of the North. The crown would later overturn these land deals for its own benefit. Prior to 1840 most Europeans settling in New Zealand lived in the Wellington area (approx. 1600) where a settlement was established by the New Zealand Company and in Northland at Russell (about 600) and around the Bay of Islands. Few would have predicted that Auckland would have become the pre-emienant city in New Zealand with only 2 white settlers in the Waitemata at this time.

Hobson's Choice.

All that was to change when in 1840 Governor Lt. William Hobson chose the isthmus as the site of his future capital. With fertile volcanic soils, twin habours, rivers to the North and South and a good climate it was an inspired choice. 3000 acres were brought from the local Maori chiefs – the Ngati Whatua. The Crown paid £ 341 for the original land handed over for the settlement (3000 acres). Six months later, just 44 acres of that land was resold by the Government to settlers for £ 24,275. (not a bad profit and this same 'crown / state' expects the tax payer today to fork out to settle Maori land claims, the irony is not lost on this writer). Shortly the first ship the Platina arrived from Wellington with Hobsons pre-fab. house (Manning Frame House) and 3 days later the Anna Watson from the Bay of Islands arrived with the first group of internal settlers. At 1:00 pm on Friday 18th day of September 1840 Captain Symonds, also a chief Magistrate raised the Union Jack, both ships fired their guns and Auckland was founded.
At first living in raupo huts and tents these 'mechanics' (tradesmen) and officials (government bureaucrats) began to build the beginnings of a town.

The other side of the world.

Imagine now if you will be on the other side of the world. You decide you are sick of living in crowded impovised conditions in Scotland. Thanks to the combination of many factors including industrialization, the throwing of people off lands, and increasing birth rate, there are now large overcrowded slums. You hear of the opportunities that exist on the other side of the world, new lands with man eating natives. To get there you will have to spend at least 3 months on a sailing ship and you have no guarantee you will get there. Ships sunk on a regular basis and even if the vovage was without incident you had a 1 in 15 chance of not making it to your destination (given on average on a ship of 300 persons approximately 20 died on the way, I do not think many of us would get on a 747 if given those odds). Perhaps now we should have a greater respect for those early white settlers. Not only would the trip be dangerous, on arrival only hard work awaited.

This particular 306 settlers got onto the Duchess of Argyle and 255 onto the Jane Gifford and left Greenock Scotland for Auckland and an uncertain future. They arrived in Auckland 16 weeks later on the October 8th 1842. The Duchess of Argyle arrived first but got stuck on a sandbank and the Jane Gifford sailed past, it was not until the following day with the high tide that the Duchess of Argyle's passengers made landfall. With the arrival of the first overseas immigration ship the settlement really took off. Since Sir Logan Campbells view that these new arrivals with not of the rich capitalist class Auckland needed for investment, in truth these were just the kind of people Auckland needed, average plebs, hard working tradesman, farmers, labourers and artisans, people with the necessary skills to create a useful economy. (On the Duchess of Argyle a young 10 year old Robert Laing had arrived with his mother Anne McDonell Laing COX and his step-father to begin a new life and so one of my ancestors became a first settler and helped build Auckland. in 1925 aged 92 during which time he had lived to see Auckland became New Zealand's major city.)
These were the first of many more overseas immigrants who would help swell Aucklands population, along with the fact these early immigrants themselves had large families.

What was early Auckland like?

By 1852 Auckland was a town with its own society. A population of 4,500 in the town itself and another 3,500 listed in the borough in surrounding farmlands.

Despite its relatively small size it considered itself as having a respected society. As the seat of government it had numerous government officials as well as the seat of most of the churches, including Bishopricks of NZ (Church of England) and of Rome (Catholic) and the Seat of the Missionary society's pacific operations & the Wesleyan Mission as well. One should remember at this time in history churches still had a tremendious influence over the lifes of people and had large resources at their disposal to support missionary work through the pacific.

As well as these there was the army with its officers, artillery, engineers. At this time the New Zealand fencible settlers were coming in Auckland bringing in another 2,500 settlers between 1847 – 1852 (these were retired soldiers (721 in total) who volunteered for New Zealand on the condition they had a part-time army service in return for a 2 room cottage and an acre of land, they are now estimated to have over a quarter of a million descendants). They were brought to Auckland to help defend it against a possible Maori invasion from the strong Waikato tribes. Fencible villages included Howick, Onehunga, Panmure, and Otahuhu.

(On the Inchinnan which arrived on 27th May 1852 was a John McNeil and his family who settled in Howick, Auckland and so began another branch of my family tree, one of his sons would follow the solider tradition and fight in the Waikato War).

In this small society there were many comings and goings. Soliders posted to elsewhere in the British empire, new settlers, others who 'cleared out' deciding Auckland was not for them, visiting ships and sailors, merchants and others who travelled the world. There was no landed gentry, not a lot of old persons, and no old settled families and less formality as had been in England. In fact there was the beginning of a new society, a classless society that the whole of New Zealand was growing into, not they had fully realized this yet. Consider this quote from the New Zealander "Pretension and assumption are quickly seen through, and valued at their worth. Rank, station, fortune, family connection, unless supported by character, ability, public spirit or liberalality, receive but small respect." This was going to be a city where who you were and what you did and achieved mattered more than inherited wealth and titles. Despite this servants were in great demand. One of the problems for 'ladies' was the difficulty in getting and retaining trained servants. One of the problems being with the lack of females in the colony they were consistently poached away by getting married and taking on new domestic duties.

Auckland was said to have no religious or political bickering, and that any dispute could be aired in the two local newspapers, the New Zealander and the Southern Cross, which were published twice weekly.

Fashion was very much as it was in England though 'delayed' somewhere, and the clothes whilst the same designs tended to be made out of lighter fabrics like cotton due to New Zealand's warm climate (remember most of these people had come from England, Ireland and Scotland), with other changes like straw hats. It must have been difficult to keep clean with all the roads being dirt. Houses were small wooden cottages, or raupo huts. Few stone buildings of note yet existed and transport was by boat or horse.

Aucklanders did not see a great city taking shape before them at this stage, Auckland only 12 years old and was seen as a watering hole to replenish ships, supplies, people, etc.

In such a small town one of the greatest activities was 'gossip' as this quote from the New Zealander 2/6/1852 states "New comers, especially those who have had no experience of the" tittle-tattle ", common, all the world over, in small communities, are stuck with the prevalence of "gossip." But finding that it is "neighbor's fare" – that it is no respacter of persons – thats its equal pressure in all directions destroys its force – they soon become almost as unconscious of its existence as of the air they breath ".

In Summer once a week the Regimental Band played on the well kept laws of government house (now site of Auckland University) for a couple of hours. Society had 3 to 4 balls. And once a year to celebrate the Queens Birthday (Victoria), the Governor would throw a ball and invite 200 of the most important people. Families went on picnics, with boating, bush walking, horse riding being the favorite outdoor activities, and for the more adventures trips to the Island of Kawau, or to the waikato and the lakes of Rotorua awaited. Also popular were school feasts, lectures, and stitcheries. For the sporting mind there was an annual race meeting and cricket matches. Of great importance was the Auckland Regatta (still going strong) in which sailing craft of all types took part, there was even a races for native canoes, one for no more than 12 natives, and one for unlimited numbers.

Regarding living standards Auckland was considered an expense place to live with rents being double of a similar sized place in England. However wages were somewhat better, particularly servants wages which were double. There were no rates, taxes or dues of any kind (what happened ?!). Clothing was more expensive, but wine, spirits and groceries were cheaper. Fish was plentiful and cheap, (although they complained about the quality, not having refined their english tastes to our local varieties yet). Bread and Butchers meat were about the same price as in England. Vegetables were abundant and Maori Natives welcomed in huge quantities of produce via canoe – 20 tons of onions, over 100 tons of potatoes, as well as corn, cabbages, kumera and peaches. (This trade was brought to a crushing halt by the Waikato wars). For the gardener peaches, strawberry, apples and figs, melons, plums, pears, gooseberries and cherries could be grown easily.

Living in the countryside was considered cheap, but living standards were basic, a raupo hut (bought for 10 pounds), a couple of pigs and chickens, wheat, potatoes, pumpkins and a house cow were considered sufficient to live on.

In fact Auckland was considered a good place to live with no beggars and the average citizen eating meat at least twice a day. For the average settler, life had become much better than back 'home'. If accident befell them their neighbors would pitch in to help.

Crime was considered rare and on reading the papers that they regularly published the results of 'police court', eg two persons charged with being drunk, one for swearing, one for parking their cart as to block a road, would be a standard weeks matters. Capital punishment was still available but rarely needed.

Local relations with the Maori were considered excellent at this stage, being a healthy trade between the two peoples, food as mention before bought from Maori farmers (normally communal farms), and horses, boats, imported goods, flour mills being brought in turn by the Maori. Further they provided a source of cheap labor. It was not uncommon to see numerous maori canoes in either habour. Maori were seen to be "Good humored, ever ready to enjoy a joke, and a laugh, and always appearing self satisfied and contented." (THE NEW ZEALANDER). Past battles and deaths were seen as a thing of the past (how wrong they were).

One of the most important events was the arrival of a ship. Auckland habour was a center of trade and of vital importance to the growth of the city. With the coming of a ship came the much appreciated letters from home and news of the world (abet already 3-6 months old). Such was this anticipated that a large crowd would wait outside the post office for it to open. Further with the ships came necessary imported goods and in turn goods were exported to the world, in particular wheat and wood to Sydney, Tin and whale products.

With the arrival of further immigrants Auckland continued to grow. From the original settlers by 1860 there were 8,000 in the city and 14,000 in the surroundings, by 1880 both those numbers had doubled, by the turn of the century those numbers had doubled again to 38,000 in the city and 68,000 in the metropolitan area. Merchants grew and with the finding of Gold in Victoria and then in Thames wealth was brought into the region and back by gold miners. Imports and exports continued to grow as did the importance of the habour and surrounding industries.

Sailing ships of all sorts, brigs, barques, clippers and even the new steam ships made regular calls to Auckland.

Most internal transport was on dirt or metaled roads via horse and cart, although historically railways and tramways were laid.

Important structures like the customs house, post office and others were made of stone and were multi-storied and gave Auckland the feel of a large town.

Merchants such as Samuel Cochrane who had immigrated from the United States of S.Cochrane and sons build up business and spread into auctioneering, boat transport, mining and much more. (Another early ancestor of mine).

As Auckland continued to grow a multitude of problems emerged. As can be seen in the above picture roads were dirt. Ineffective local government, funding problems and a lack of basic planning mean some of the basics we take for granted today were not available. Early water came from what is now the duck ponds in the Auckland Domain and then western springs, but it was not until the first dam was established in the Waitakere's in 1907 that the first reliable and quality water began to flow though the pipes. Likewise electricity began in 1908.

Soon would come motor cars would come and they would change the face of Auckland. Roads and Motorways would turn Auckland from a city into an urban spawl, particularly after the second world war.

Old Auckland continued to grow and change over the years, old businesses went and new ones started. In fact much of old Auckland would be unrerecognizable to the modern Aucklander. Take this view of Queen Street with the Town Hall taken in 1923. Everything else in the picture has changed very much. The Aotea square now fills most of this picture and the street going up the other side of the town hall is gone. Buildings such as the town hall and the customs house make more sense in their original context for which they were built.

One should remember for the much of the last century much of Auckland was farmland. As seen from this 1912 view from One Tree Hill passed Manukau Road towards Hillsborough. This same scene now would be a mass of houses. What will it look like in another hundred years time? (see original webpage)

Short bio on some of my early Auckland ancestors and pioneers –

Robert James LAING – arrived on the first immigrant ship The Duchess of Argyle, became a sailor, ropemaker, Justice of the Peace, Lay preacher and 'gentleman'. Buried amongst the earliest settlers in the Symonds Street Cementary.

John McNEIL – He was enrolled in 1823 at Inverness into the 91st Reg. at the age of 17yrs (underage) for one year without pay. From 1824-1831 the reg. served in Jamaica, the conditions resulting in constant deaths from yellow fever. The reg. was relieved and returned to England months before the slave rebellion in 1831. On the 5th Jan 1835 John married Catherine ColCLOUGH nee McGRATH. He was either Corporal or Sergeant at this time. After another move to St. Louis Helena he was promoted to Corporal but was court marshalled and reduced to the ranks. The charge was over charging in the companys account book. In 1842 the reg. served time at the cape of good Hope but John was unfit on account of his rheumatism and respiratory problems, so his return to England was recommended and he was duly discharged. Age. 39yrs his heigh 5'7 ", dark hair, gray eyes and sallow complexion. The couple settle in New Ross, Wexford, Ireland where two children were born, Eliza.b.1839, Alexander b.1847 In 1851 they arrived in NZ with baby John b. 1849 and settled in Howick in Waterloo Road. John was granted his land in 1858 at Howick, which he transferred to his widowed daughter Eliza STUART in 1879. John also purchase 6 arces near pigeon mountain which he later sold. went to live with her sons at Coromandel until 1886 when she passed away.


Samuel COCHRANE's Obituary

On Sunday Morning at 3 o'clock 'Mr Samuel Cochrane, the well known auctioneer breathed his last at his son's residence, Remuera. Although not believing to what may be regarded as the old identities the founders of Auckland, Mr Cochrane was a very old resident in the Auckland District. He has stayed amongst us about 21 years, and during that time has been an active and useful man of business. He was born in New York in the year 1815 during a short residence of his parents in that city and was then in the 6th year of age. On the return of his parents to Ireland he was brought up in the vicinity of Londonderry and was there engaged in the linen-trade. He subsequently settled in Montreal and there carried on business for a number of years. Hearing of the more genial climate of Auckland from some relatives of his who had settled here Mr. Cochrane was induced to cast in his lot among us in the year 1858. During the greater part of his residence here he has earned on the business of auctioneer and land agent, and collected an extensive business, which his sons carry on still.

From 1860 to 1863 Cochrane took a very active part in developing the mineral resources of the Coromandel district, in connection with Mr Keven, Michael Wood and others. With this object in view he purchased from the government the steamer sandfly, after better known by the name of the Tasman Maid, which he ran in the coromandel trade for a number of years. He was also the principal owner of the steamer Waitemata now known as the enterprise no. 2, which was at first intended for the purpose of opening up regular steam communication with the North shore, whau, hobsonville, etc. His other and last enterprise in connection with steam was the SS Jane, in the early days of the Thames Goldfields. Mr Concrane's object in these various ventures was the advancement of the Auckland district and to secure fast and regular steam communication between this city and the various districts. In political life Mr Cochrane took little part. For a short time he ahd the hnour of a seat in the Provincial council, but he seemed to delight in more practical work than conducting discussions in the council chamber. On one occasion we think in 1863 he received a special vote of thanks from the provincial council for his offer to provide them with accommodation in which to carry on the business of the province. He was chosen in connection with Mr. T. Cheeseman as a commissioner to settle the compensation claims which arose in regard to the auckland and drury railway.

In reference to the political which Mr. Cochrane employed it may be meintioned that he was a member of the first harbor board that was selected for Auckland. Advance of the Drury Coal mines. He also started a wool-scouring establishment at the whan and he owned the prince alfed battery, grahamstown. During a short visit back to Ireland he was granted the post of NZ immigration agent for the north of Ireland. He selected many colonists for NZ. He died of cancer of the bladder. The great fund of humor which he possessed was often times exhibited while discharging his duties as an auctioneer. He was identical an exemplary and energetic citizen.

Source by Alastair Harris

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