The Eye of the Fish

December 5, 2013


The Hutt is an extraordinary place when you think about it. An alien settlement on a far corner of the earth. Started by Colonel Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a chap not entirely free from avarice, under the guise of the New Zealand Company. A grand idea for settlement when you think about it, pushing the British Government’s hand into doing something it did not plan to do. Without any real idea of what lay ahead, the New Zealand Company “proceeded at once to offer for sale by lottery in England, the right of selection amongst the lands thus anticipated to be acquired by them; and though the country was at that time almost a byword for barbarism – without law or government – and inhabited by a wild and warlike native race; and although officially warned that their proceedings could not be sanctioned by Parliament, the New Zealand Company found purchasers in England to the amount of more than £100,000. Without waiting to hear what locality’s ad been procured by their agent for the site of a settlement, or whether, indeed, he had succeeded in making the purchase of a single acre of land, it sent out several ships filled with emigrants to be located on that spot, wherever it might be, which on their arrival in the country, they might find to have been procured for that purpose.” (Swainson, New Zealand, p74).

When the New Zealand Company sailed into the grand harbour of the Eye of the Fish of Maui, the ship was the Tory, the captain was Mr Chaffers (previously of the Beagle – that’s how close we are to Darwin). The pilot for the entry into the channel, was good old Dicky Barrett – a whaler – and on 20th September 1839, they sailed in to Pito-one, or End of the Sand, accompanied by two local rangatira, Te Puni and Wharepouri. These names echo through our history.

It seems that the local chiefs were well-primed, and ready to sell their land. On the 27th September, lands at the Hutt and at the site of future Wellington, are sold for:
100 red blankets,
100 muskets,
2 tierces of tobacco,
48 iron pots,
2 cases of soap,
15 fowling pieces,
21 kegs of gunpowder,
1 cask of ball cartridges,
1 keg of lead slabs,
100 cartouche boxes,
100 tomahawks,
40 pipe tomahawks,
1 case of pipes,
2 dozen spades,
50 steel axes,
1,200 fish-hooks,
12 bullet moulds,
12 dozen shirts,
20 jackets,
20 pairs of trousers,
60 red nightcaps,
300 yards of cotton duck,
200 yards of calico,
100 yards of check,
2 dozen pocket handkerchiefs,
Etc etc etc
And a dozen sticks of sealing wax.

Time moved quickly on. More ships arrived – the Aurora, the Oriental, the Duke of Roxburgh, and the Bengal Merchant. A town – a fledgling city – was built, and christened Britannia, well underway by January 1840. But on the 2nd March 1840, just before the arrival of the Cuba, the Hutt River started to overflow its banks, a premonition of events to come. The Adelaide docked soon after, full of more settlers, and then the Glenbervie. Native eyes were getting wider and wider, as this never ending flood of white folk arrived, ready to live a new life: but this was only just the beginning. Houses arrived, pre-built, as reported by Samuel Revans in August 1840:
“Our own wooden house is landing, but we are storing it away until we get the town acre. We have got a small native house called a ‘warree.'”

On the night of 25 May 1840, the Cornish Row cottages burnt down, followed shortly after by an earthquake, and then the river overflowed again. By August / September, the settlers had abandoned the Hutt, and moved to Thorndon, shipping off tents and buildings to the new site with the firmer soil foundations. If only they knew…

60 MPa
5 - 12 - 13

On an architectural note, the original church in Taita has a couple of flying buttresses on the outside.
I believe that these were built on stone cathedrals to stop the increasingly massive roofs from collapsing. Maybe the builders of this wooden church thought that it added a formal historic touch

5 - 12 - 13

60 – external buttresses are quite a common feature of churches in the Early English gothic style – not just in Taita, but many other small churches. I’m guessing there would be a bit of lateral spread on those side walls, without the benefit of internal partitions…. Only otherwise achievable by internal ceiling tie-rods or external buttresses.

5 - 12 - 13

I thought it was interesting that in your previous thread Pauline Swann lamented the placement of the Blumhardt ceramics collection at the Dowse Art Museum as somehow a loss to Wellington. I don’t have much trouble seeing Lower Hutt (and Porirua for that matter) as part of a still pretty compact Greater Wellington.

5 - 12 - 13

Interesting to read about the Hutt here, Maximus, as I’ve been doing a bit of exploration of the Hutt Valley myself. I was very disappointed to hear that the Hutt City Council is going to demolish the Town Hall and Horticultural Hall and replace them with a conference centre, rather than spend $6.3m on earthquake strengthening – to my mind, that cluster of 1950s council buildings is one of the more interesting and attractive parts of the Hutt. A stark contrast with the $43m Wellington City Council is spending on earthquake strengthening its town hall.

6 - 12 - 13

Carringtonia – that’s what I set out to write about yesterday, and where I hope to actually end up – but I got sidetracked by events historic, as you do…..

6 - 12 - 13

Glad to hear that, I’ll be interested to read your take on this. Easy to get side-tracked though, there’s some interesting history in the Hutt. Reading your post, I remembered that Errol Braithwaite, in his 1970 ‘Companion Guide to New Zealand’ described the goods that European settlers exchanged for land in Wellington as ‘pitiful bric-a-brac’, which I rather like.

6 - 12 - 13

This gives an insight into what the land in the Hutt was like, I guess with it being flat it was just too tempting to settle and they ignored that it was flood prone, and that Petone was practically a swamp – prime spot for liquefaction.

I also think its a bit weird that the europeans seemed happy to live temporarily in a “whare”, in what I would have thought would be seen as primitive accomodation. Why not a tent?

7 - 12 - 13

Sav – I’m not 100% sure, but I think that a lot of the passengers were rather unprepared for living here, having believed the illustrations of the NZ Company. Some of the illustrations gave the impression that things were already going on in NZ, whereas in reality the land had not even been purchased, let alone roads laid out and houses built. Many did bring tents out – but you know what Wellington weather is like – and tents can be pretty horrible in our weather. On the other hand, hire a few of the native lads for a few days, and they’d build you something with a nice wind proof and waterproof raupo roof. I’m sure there were some people who were pretty horrified at the conditions – on the other hand, sod walls and thatched roofs were still common dwelling types (out of London).

7 - 12 - 13

Whoops, have only just now clicked on that link, and yes, it says more or less what I just noted above. What it doesn’t note, and what I only found out when researching this, is that Wakefield had always intended the city to be at Wellington, and not at Petone / the Hutt. But he wasn’t on board the ship – he was left behind in England to drum up some more business – and it was his nephew, another Wakefield, who sailed into town. It was therefore his nephew who decided to ignore orders, and ignore Wellington, and to go and have a crack at this Pito-one place instead. Evidently, over the few months noted above, and seeing as the deed of purchase made with the chief Te Puni included both ends of the harbour, then people began to dribble across, just a few at first, and then the whole town.

John H
10 - 12 - 13

Re: Hutt City Council. As an institution they continue to strive to make the Lower Hutt CBD the ugliest town centre possible. There seems to be some sort of race on to build the greatest number of crap big-box / tilt-slab buildings and the HCC don’t seem to be remotely interested in regulating affairs. The Laing’s Road Methodist Church fiasco from about 10 years ago (now Rebel Sport) is a case in point.

11 - 12 - 13

John H – i certainly don’t disagree that Lower Hutt is taking awards on the Ugliest City front, but i believe this is coming at the behest of the council “being too scared to say No.” It’s quite a simple word, one of the smallest in the English language, and they should practice it more often. But small councils (and this reveals the Hutt’s essentially parochial nature) feel that if someone comes to them and says “I wanna build here, but only on the provision that I get to do what I want”, then all they can do is roll over and say Yes.
Hutt City: Just Say No.

11 - 12 - 13

I didn’t know about that Methodist Church, thanks John for highlighting it. It’s decisions like that, that end up eroding a city literally without you knowing it. I’ve never known that site to be anything other than a blank commercial building, but now I know different, I feel like something has been taken from me.

I don’t know how anyone could think its okay to shaft the city for short-term profit and why we haven’t got proper regulations to stop long-term damage to a place is beyond me.

Eye of the Fish | A wide-angle view of architecture, urban design and life in Wellington
13 - 12 - 13

[…] Conference Centre there instead. I feel for the Huttites, I really do. On the one hand, as we have seen in a recent post, it is the centre of everything, the starting place of Wellington, and the logical place for the […]

Seamonkey Madness
13 - 12 - 13

Re: historic Hutt, have a butchers at this.

Just checked out the Methodist Church – what a shame.A bit of urban greenery by the looks of it too.

27 - 01 - 14

And if you want to read more, the excellent Rising to Gale blog site has a very good article on the local history :
As it is just page 1, expect more…