1852 - Swainson, William. Auckland and its Neighbourhood - CHAPTER I, p 1-10

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  1852 - Swainson, William. Auckland and its Neighbourhood - CHAPTER I, p 1-10
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GOVERNOR Hobson's description of the position of Auckland, and his reasons for selecting it as the site for the Capital of New Zealand --Nature of the country, and character of the soil--The position of its two Harbours--The extent of its water communication with the Interior--Governor Grey's description of the available character of the Land in the neighbourhood--Resemblance to the Site of Corinth--Reasons for which it was determined by the British Government, that Auckland should be the Seat of the Government of the Colony.

WITHOUT the aid of a map it is difficult to convey anything like a distinct impression of the position of Auckland, begirt as it is by harbours, and forming a centre from which water-communication radiates, inland, in every direction.

This spot was fixed upon by Captain Hobson, as the site of the Seat of Government of New Zealand, on account of its central position--its great facility of internal water-communication--the facility and safety of its port--the proximity of several smaller ports abounding with valuable timber--and by the fertility of the soil. And further experience appears to have satisfied him of the wisdom of his choice. "I trust," he says, addressing the Secretary of State, "from the documents now in your Lordship's possession shewing the site of Auckland to be on the shores of a harbour, safe and commodious, and easy of access, and within five miles of Manukau, certainly the best harbour on the whole of the Western Coast of New Zealand--within fifteen miles of the harbour of Kaipara, into which four considerable rivers discharge themselves--at no great distance from the Waikato, which waters the fertile and extensive plains of the Waipa, on the western side of the Island--and the fertile valley of the Thames on

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the east; having, too, in its immediate neighbourhood some hundreds of thousands of acres of level, open, fertile land, possessing abundant means of water-communication, and being in the centre of the bulk of a native population, now British subjects, rapidly assuming European habits, and acquiring a taste for our manufactures, your Lordship will be satisfied that this neighbourhood has been well chosen for the site of the Seat of Government of New Zealand, and that it combines advantages for a large and prosperous agricultural and commercial settlement not elsewhere to be found in this Colony." * * * "With my present knowledge of New Zealand," he adds, "having for some time resided at the Bay of Islands--having visited Cook's Straits and Banks's Peninsula--and after seeing the Company's Settlement formed at Port Nicholson, I do not hesitate to state my opinion that the neighbourhood of Auckland combines advantages for a very extensive and prosperous Settlement not to be found in any other part of this colony."

In the First Report of the "Auckland Agricultural Society," published not long after Captain Hobson's death, is to be found a somewhat similar description of the surrounding country. The Committee of that body describe this district as presenting "a more eligible field for agricultural operations than any other part of the colony, including, as it does, the two great basins of the Thames and the Waikato, which are occupied by plains of vast extent;" but it also possesses, they add, "a most extraordinary facility for internal communication by means of the harbours, estuaries, and rivers, which radiate from Auckland, the capital, as a centre; and all of which may be navigated, either by boats or canoes, to near their sources; and between most of which very short portages intervene, over which, from time immemorial, the natives have dragged their canoes without difficulty."

But these general descriptions, though drawn by competent and independent authorities, will convey to the mind little more than a vague general impression. Imagine, then, the island to be not unlike the figure of a wasp, with its small waist almost cut in two in the middle. This waist, or isthmus, is formed by a deep indentation on the Eastern Coast, known as the Gulf or Frith of the Thames; and by the extensive harbour of Manukau on the Western Coast, exactly opposite. For an extent of several miles the waters of these

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harbours are separated only by a narrow strip of land or isthmus about five miles broad. The Gulf of the Thames is protected from the sea by the "Barrier" Islands; and it affords anchorage throughout its whole extent; and in ordinary weather, forms a vast harbour. But it also comprises within its limits several inner harbours, easily accessible, commodious, and safe in all weathers. Coromandel Harbour, the Great Barrier, Matakana, Kawau, Mahurangi, Waiheki, and the Waitemata, afford safe anchorage to vessels of any size, in all weathers. Towards the south-western extremity of the Gulf lie a group of ten or twelve islands: these islands stretch along in a south-east direction for nearly twenty miles, and shut in a long narrow estuary--the Waitemata--in which shelter and anchorage may at all times be found.

On the south shore of the western extremity of the Waitemata-- being the north shore of the isthmus--stands the Town of Auckland. So great is the extent of water-communication that this isthmus is all but an island: for, some four or five miles to the west of the town, a branch of the Waitemata bends southwards until it reaches within little more than a mile of the Manukau; and about the same distance to the cast of the town, the creek or river Tamaki penetrates in a southerly direction until it reaches within less than a mile of a branch of the Manukau at Otahuhu. Twice in the twenty-four hours the numerous ramifications of the Tamaki afford water-carriage to the town to almost every settler in the district.

Ten or twelve miles to the eastward of the Tamaki Heads is the River Wairoa--navigable for about fifteen miles by barges and canoes, and having well-wooded, good land upon its banks. A few miles still further to the eastward, and at the extremity of the group of islands before referred to, and taking a southerly direction, you reach the southern extremity of the Gulf, bounded by the plain or Valley of the Thames. This plain is upwards of sixty miles in length, by about sixteen or twenty miles in breadth; and is watered throughout its whole, extent by two winding rivers--the Thames and the Piako, running parallel to each other, and discharging themselves into the Gulf at its southern extremity. Both rivers are navigable for barges or small steamers for a distance of 50 miles at least, and are accessible from Auckland by canoes and open boats, in fine weather. With its numerous harbours, estuaries,

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rivers, islands, forests, and plains, the Gulf of the Thames itself comprises a commercial world in miniature. The wooded rivers to the westward of the town are clothed with Kauri timber; whence spars are floated down by the tide. A small steamer has recently been built to convey the farm produce of the Tamaki to the Auckland market. The island of Waiheki supplies Kauri timber, timber for ship-building, firewood, manganese, pigs, potatoes, and Indian corn. The Thames supplies flax and sawn timber; Coromandel Harbour, native produce of every description; the Great Barrier Island, copper ore; the Island of Kawau, copper ore and limestone; and Mahurangi, firewood and sawn timber.

As a harbour, in the opinion of the many naval officers who have visited New Zealand, Auckland has no equal in the colony, excepting the Bay of Islands. Of the thousands of vessels of all sizes which have entered and left the port in the course of the last twelve years, not one has been totally wrecked in, near, or within 50 miles of it.

And yet, with all this, the position of Auckland is but half described. Six miles to the south of the town, across the isthmus, and indenting the West Coast, is the harbour of Manukau. This harbour bears some resemblance to a man's right hand, pointed eastward --the wrist representing the entrance--the thumb, that branch of it which runs up to Onehunga, the nearest point to Auckland-and the middle fingers, the creeks or branches which penetrate into the Papakura district--and the little finger, stretched out, Representing the Waihuku branch which runs in a southerly direction until it reaches within less than a mile and a half (2300 yards) of the head of the Awaroa Creek, which runs into the Waikato River. The Waikato is navigable for canoes for not less than one hundred miles.

About sixty or seventy miles from the sea the Waiheki is joined by the Waipa River, navigable for canoes for upwards of fifty miles. The delta formed by these two rivers is a tract of rich level land, and they water an extensive plain only separated from the plain of the Thames by a broken range of low hills. Thus it will be seen that these distant plains have water communication with Auckland with but two short interruptions, --the portage of 2300 yards, which divides the head of the Awaroa from the head of the Waihuku,

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and the isthmus of six miles dividing Onehunga from Auckland. Native grown wheat and flour, flax, pigs, and Indian corn are brought down the Waikato in canoes, carried over the portage, conveyed across Manukau in canoes or small craft to Onehunga, and carted, by a good road, from Onehunga to Auckland.

Although the best on the West Coast of New Zealand, the harbour of Manukau is far inferior to that of the Waitemata; but it adds not a little to the value of the site of Auckland. Of all the ports in New Zealand, Manakau is the nearest to, being exactly opposite in a straight line, to the capital of the Australian colonies. From Auckland round the North Cape, the voyage to Taranaki occupies six days. But from Manukau, the coasters which trade between the two places not unfrequently perform the voyage in 24 hours. By way of the North Cape, too, Nelson is distant eight or ten days-- but by way of Manukau the voyage may be accomplished in less than half the time; and, by the same route, the voyage to Fort Nicholson is shorter by almost a half than from the Waitemata by way of the East Cape. Well might the Bishop of New Zealand describe Auckland as being admirably fitted for a maritime nation, almost every settler having, as he observes, "the sea brought conveniently to his door, or at least close to him, by one or other of those long fingers of the great estuaries which almost isolate the town and its suburban districts." No one has travelled more extensively throughout the length and breadth of the islands of New Zealand than the Bishop: no one has a higher estimate of, or a more familiar personal acquaintance with their capabilities, than himself. Yet, "no one," he says, "can speak of the internal capabilities of New Zealand till he has seen the useful rivers which converge upon Auckland and its landlocked sea, branching into innumerable bays and creeks, from which the multitude of small vessels in its harbours have drawn their various cargoes of native produce."

There are numerous fair harbours in New Zealand, --many districts abounding in rich and fertile land--and not a few where facilities of internal water-communication are considerable. But the difficulty has been to find these natural advantages in combination. Referring to the districts already settled, the Bay of Islands, as a harbour, is second to none; but the country in the immediate neighbourhood is hilly and broken, with but a limited extent of open country available

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for agricultural purposes. Taranaki has a large extent of excellent land, well watered and beautifully wooded, but it has no harbour, and abuts upon an open roadstead. Wellington has a spacious harbour, surrounded by beautiful scenery--but owing to the broken and hilly character of the surrounding country, there is but little available land within a radius of seven or eight miles of the town. The harbour of Nelson is of but a second-rate character; and there, also, the available land about the Settlement is of limited extent; and in order to obtain their suburban and country land, the settlers have been compelled to resort to various and distant localities: and both at Wellington and Nelson the facilities of internal water-communication are inconsiderable. At Canterbury, the harbour is not of first-rate character; but the district possesses a vast extent of open available fertile land--covered throughout its whole extent with fine natural grass. But, although at no great distance from the port, these open plains are separated from it by a lofty ridge, which renders the inland communication somewhat difficult and laborious. The Otago district comprises a large extent of fine open grassy country, but its harbour, although sufficiently good for the purposes of the Settlement, is not by any means of a first-rate character. But Auckland, in addition to its excellent harbour-- with a second port within six miles on the opposite coast, and the extensive natural facilities of internal communication, which has already been described--has its town, suburban, and country lands in one compact area, and in unbroken continuity.

The available character of the land in immediate proximity to the town cannot better be illustrated than by Sir George Grey's description of the Borough, comprising the isthmus on which Auckland stands. "Thus defined," says the Governor-in-Chief, "the Borough of Auckland comprises within its limits, two large harbours, one on either side--and one of which (Auckland) is of a most superior description; --a river--the Tamaki--navigable for small craft, which nearly intersects the Borough, --a water frontage, not including the Tamaki, with its numerous creeks, of not less than forty miles, having shelter and anchorage for shipping throughout the greater part of its extent; and an area of about 58,000 acres, the whole of which, with the exception of about 2000 acres, is available for cultivation, and is generally of very superior quality." This 58,000 acres,

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too, is not an isolated tract of country, but simply so much of an extensive district of level open country as is included within the artificial boundaries of the Borough.

To a knowledge of the nature and quality of soils I have no pretension: on this subject I shall quote from the Reports of the Agricultural Society. If I knew of any better authority, I would avail myself of it. The Committee, in their First Report published in 1843, speaking of the nature of the soil, say--

" About one-half of this district, consisting of undulating ground, is covered with fern and various shrubs, chiefly the Tupaki, and possess a soil of a rich yellow clay, mixed with sand and charred vegetable matter, owing to the frequent burning of the fern, which, when broken up and exposed to the air, soon pulverises into a fine rich loam, varying in depth from one to two feet, easily laboured, but from the excellency of the subsoil it may be cultivated to any depth required. The subsoil consists of a red and yellow clay, mixed with ferruginous sand. The substance is formed of a soft blue and yellow argillaceous sand-stone.

"One-fourth of the district presents a more level surface, being covered with dwarf Manuka, fern, and a variety of small shrubs and tufts of grass. Its soil consists of a whitish clay, mixed with sand, more adhesive than the former, yet when broken up and exposed soon pulverises: the subsoil, white clay, and red ferruginous sand; substratum, the same as the former. It is not so rich as the first-mentioned soil.

"The remaining fourth may be considered different from either of the former, being generally situated near the volcanic hills, of a varied surface, the hilly portion being covered with fern and grass. The soil consisting of a dry red volcanic formation to a great depth, the greater part covered with scoria; and, where it is only on the surface, the soil is a rich red loam, very fertile: another portion, covered with trees and shrubs, shows a rich mould of a volcanic nature to a depth of several feet, mixed with red sand and small calcined stones, resting upon a substratum of concrete. Another small portion lying along the banks of fresh water creeks, covered with evergreens and tree ferns, affording a rich pliable clay, mixed with ferruginous sand, resting on a substratum of a soft

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yellow and red ferruginous sandstone. It is thus seen what a variety of soils are offered to the agriculturist, each adapted to sonic particular production, and favourable to some peculiar mode of agriculture."

Further experience confirmed the Society in their opinion of the capabilities of the soil. In their Second Report, the Committee say that "they have much pleasure in being able to state that their anticipations of the capabilities of both the soil and climate have been fully realised. The samples of grain produced at the Agricultural Show of last February were of the finest description, and the appearance of the crops at present in the ground, in every variety of soil, gives promise of an abundant harvest."

After the experience afforded by the six succeeding years, the Committee, in their Report for 1850, express themselves to be "satisfied that the aspect of the country around Auckland warrants the praises which have been bestowed on New Zealand as an eligible colony for our countrymen at home to select as a productive field for their energy and enterprise: the pasture lands," says that Report, "have this year produced heavy crops of hay, and the appearance of the grain and potatoe crops is very promising. The quantity of stock which a pasture-field, in proportion to its average will maintain throughout the year, is equal if not greater than in England."

It may be remembered that, about fifteen years ago, a number of enterprising men associated themselves together for the purpose of carrying out a great scheme of colonisation. Imperfectly as they were then known, and distant as they were from England, the Islands of New Zealand appeared to them to present the most promising field in which to try their great experiment. Anxious to secure the success of their project, they carefully instructed the leader of the enterprise, if possible, to secure that site which should be best adapted for a great and prosperous settlement. The working members of the body were shrewd, experienced, able men. Guided by the light of history, and with their own personal knowledge, they carefully traced out for the guidance of their agent their ideal of the site for a Commercial Metropolis. "Of merely fertile lands," they say, "there exists so great an abundance, that its possession, however useful and valuable, would not be peculiarly

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advantageous. Mere fertility of soil, therefore, though not to be overlooked, is a far less important consideration than natural facilities of communication and transport. There is probably some one part of the islands better suited than any other to become the centre of their trade, or Commercial Metropolis, when they shall be more fully inhabited by Englishmen; and there must be many other spots peculiarly eligible for the sites of secondary towns. The shores of safe and commodious harbours--the sheltered embrochures of extensive rivers communicating with a fertile country--the immediate neighbourhood of powerful falls of water which might be expected to become the seats of manufactures--these are the situations in which it is most to be desired that you should make purchases of land: and especially you should endeavour to make an extensive purchase on the shores of that harbour which, all things considered, shall appear to offer the greatest facilities as a general trading depot and port of export and import for all parts of the islands--as a centre of commerce for collecting and exporting the produce of the islands and for the reception and distribution of foreign goods."

Unfortunately for their colonizing operations, the shores of THAT ONE HARBOUR--which fulfilled all the conditions of their ideal of perfection--were already claimed by previous land-purchasers: it remained, however, for the sagacity of Captain Hobson to discover, and, on the part of the Crown, to appropriate a position so well calculated to become the seat of a great Commercial Metropolis, and to fix upon it as the site of the capital of New Zealand. There is, I believe, but one other such position in the world--turn to a map of Southern Greece, and look at the site of the City of Corinth. Placed in the sheltered extremity of the Corinthian Gulf, built upon a narrow isthmus, where the Corinthian and Soronic Gulfs almost meet. Having two harbours--occupying a position between two seas, and enjoying the facilities afforded by the isthmus for carrying goods from sea to sea, it is not difficult to discover the origin of its early commercial greatness. It may not be easy to convey a clear impression of the topography of the land-locked estuaries and harbour-locked shores of the capital of New Zealand; but seen from the summit of Mount Eden, the value of its position is discovered at a glance. With a bird's-eye view of the reality lying before him, glittering in all the brightness of a genial sum-

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mer's sun, who would not echo the exclamation of the Bishop, "Look at the position of Auckland, and judge whether it may not justly be called the Corinth of the South."

"In reference to your selection of Auckland in preference to Port Nicholson as the site of the Capital of New Zealand, I a happy to acknowledge," writes Lord STANLEY, "that the grounds on which you proceeded, appear to me satisfactory. On a subject so peculiarly local, and to the right understanding of which so much exact topographical knowledge is essential, my opinion must of course be guided by the comparison of the statements transmitted to me, and by balancing the weight of conflicting authorities. Approaching the question in that manner, and unaided by any personal acquaintance with the localities, I have thought that there is such a clear preponderance of motives in favour of your choice as to justify me in advising the Queen to direct that Auckland should be the Seat of Government of the new colony: and I have received Her Majesty's commands to acquaint you that such is Her Majesty's pleasure."

Time, experience, and personal acquaintance with the capabilities of the country have now confirmed the wisdom of that choice. "Without wishing to depreciate any of the numerous points of emigration to America, Australia, or Africa, my own choice," writes the Rev. WALTER LAWRY, the Superintendent of the Wesleyan Missions of the South Seas, "would most certainly fall on the Northern Island of New Zealand, and within about sixty miles of Auckland, the Seat of the Colonial Government."

It would have cheered Captain Hobson in the closing struggles of his life to have received the Royal confirmation of his choice, but the despatch which conveyed it did not reach New Zealand until some weeks after his decease. Governor Hobson received but scant justice while living, and since his death no public monument has been erected to his memory; but there is rapidly springing up around his grave, in the infant capital of New Zealand, a living monument, which more worthily and more durably than records of brass or pillars of marble will do justice to his memory and perpetuate his fame.

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