You can’t beat Wellington on a good day…in 1924

A remarkable photograph captures our city basking in the sun on a calm summer’s day nearly a century ago.

Click on the photo twice to enlarge it to full size or see this link to view it at full resolution.

This photo appeared in 1928 in one of the first significant local history books to be published, Early Wellington by Louis Ward. Photographed from the slopes of Te Ahumairangi (Tinakori Hill) the image was credited to the Government Publicity Office, an early marketing department that operated as a branch of Internal Affairs to promote New Zealand to tourists and potential migrants. Ward included it as one of the last illustrations in his hefty 500+ page volume to show what the city looked like ‘today’ for his then-readers and the extent of reclamation that had occurred to that point. Much of his original research material was deposited with the Central Library after he completed his work so it’s possible that this is the actual photo which was reproduced in the book.  However, photo-lithographic techniques were still quite basic in the 1920s and printers weren’t yet able to reproduce the fine details of photographs and illustrations on a commercial scale so it appears as a somewhat unremarkable picture at the end of the book. On the other hand, the original print is crisp, clear and incredibly detailed indicating that it could be a contact print taken from a glass-plate negative. The large size of plate negatives coupled with their very slow film speed and the fine grain of vintage photographic paper meant that incredible detail can be captured. However, it is often only when images like this are digitally scanned that one can truly appreciate the level of historic visual information they contain.

What makes the photo so striking is just how developed Wellington appears to be in a photograph taken some 96 years ago. The 1920s were a period of tremendous economic growth as the country shrugged off the privations of World War I and moved into the ‘Jazz Age’. Wellington’s population grew rapidly as migrants from the UK continued to arrive in increasing numbers while rural labourers shifted to the city seeking new work opportunities. Technology made huge advances over this period; regular radio broadcasts began and radio and gramophone shops were soon dotted across the inner-city.  Horses & carts which were commonplace on the city’s streets in 1920 were starting to become a rarity by 1925.  The electricity network was revolutionised when Wellington abandoned the old 110 volt system it had been using since the late 1880s and adopted its current 230 volt AC system. Previously used mostly only for lighting, electric power was now a serious alternative to steam driven machinery in factories and a viable replacement for coal to heat homes, offices and for providing hot water.

The Braemar apartments under construction at 32 The Terrace

Though the photograph is dated 1928 in Ward’s book, it was almost certainly taken four years earlier with visual clues present in the form of two construction sites. The first is Braemar, a distinctive building next to St Andrew’s on The Terrace which appears in the photo surrounded with scaffolding as it nears completion. Begun in 1924 as a property development on former Presbyterian church land, it opened in early 1925 as one of the first examples of an inner-city apartment building in Wellington.

Druids’ Chambers under construction in Woodward Street

The second is the Druids’ Chambers where the steel girders which make up the internal  frame of the building can be seen  being assembled on the corner of Woodward Street and Lambton Quay. Work on this began in 1924 and it opened as an office building for the financial and benevolent services branch of the masonic Order of Druids in June 1925.  Remarkably, both of these buildings survive to this day.  Another pair of buildings shown in the image which are still standing are the Old Government Buildings (the birthplace of the ‘modern’ civil service in NZ and once the largest wooden building in the world) and Shed 21 which appears above it. The exterior appearance of these is largely unchanged but between them lies Waterloo Quay where railyards can be seen extending further south than they do today while the blurred shapes of motor vehicles can be seen moving on the road. However, the lack of traffic or pedestrians on other roads indicates that the photo was probably taken in the mid-late afternoon during a weekend or possibly during the summer holiday period.

In the centre-right foreground south of the Bolton Street Cemetery, a new residential subdivision is being formed. This is the Easdale St / Kinross St area which was developed from land once owned by the infamous former Chief Justice James Prendergast who had died in 1921.  After basic roads had been installed, sections were sold off to members of a new generation of middle-class professionals who employed some of the country’s best architects to design their dream homes. Meanwhile in the lower-left corner, Bowen Street ends abruptly just past the Congregational Church on the corner of The Terrace which is today the site of the Reserve Bank.

One central building that really stands out in the photo because of its deep-set verandas is the Hotel Arcadia.  Located on the corner of Lambton Quay and Stout Street opposite the Public Trust Building, it opened in late 1905 having been constructed to an ornate design that wouldn’t have looked out of place in central Paris. It promoted itself as being Wellington finest hotel and featured plush dining and function rooms which were regularly used for balls, formal dinners and receptions for visiting dignitaries. Despite its grandeur, the hotel barely lasted 30 years after it was purchased by the Department of Internal Affairs in late 1938 and demolished the following year to clear the site for the construction of the State Fire Insurance Building, one of the first early-modernist buildings to be constructed in Wellington. This photo and many more like it can be seen on our Recollect site here.

 

When Post Office Square was the centre of town

He roamed from Post Office Square to the wharves, where black mysterious little waves suck under sea-rotted, weed-twined piles, from the wharves back again to various haunts of publicans and sinners.

Passport to Hell, by Robin Hyde (1936)

Many an overseas tourist has headed to Post Office Square on Customhouse Quay hoping (as the name might suggest) to buy a stamp to send a postcard back home…only to find themselves walking around in circles in a state of confusion. It’s been well over a decade since the last actual post office near the ‘square’ ceased operating, a small Postshop which was located in a retail tenancy on the corner of Grey Street. However, for generations of Wellingtonians, Post Office Square and the General Post Office next to it (or the GPO as it was commonly called) was regarded as the centre of town.  It was a place for protest meetings, receptions for visiting royals and where crowds of people would gather on New Year’s Eve to hear the bells in the GPO clock tower chime midnight.

Indicated with an arrow is the first Post Office building on the site in Grey Street. The buildings in the foreground are fronting onto Lambton Quay.

Though a post office had operated in various buildings across Wellington since 1840 (often connected with the functions of the Magistrate’s Court), the first near the square that would take its name was a small building erected in the late 1850s in Grey Street. It operated for only three years before being replaced with a larger building fronting Customhouse Quay which was to become Wellington’s first true GPO. Its location was selected by the Provincial Government because of its proximity to Queens Wharf which was then under construction. The area soon became the city’s principal transport and communications hub in an era before rail links had been established and shipping was the way people and goods moved across the country.

The first GPO with its time ball, c. 1870 as seen from Queens Wharf

The  distinguishing feature of this GPO was the time ball located on its roof. This was raised up a sliding pole just before midday (excluding Sundays) and then dropped at 12-noon precisely. Its main purpose was to allow ships in the harbour to synchronise their marine chronometers (extremely accurate on-board clocks) which were vital to calculate longitude when navigating the oceans. The signal to drop the ball came over telegraph wires which ran up to an observatory located at the top of the Bolton Street Cemetery. Celestial observations were carried out regularly on clear evenings and these were used to set NZ’s official standard time which was kept on a series of precision pendulum clocks.

A rapidly growing population and the advent of a telegram service saw Post and Telegraph  (‘P&T’) Department outgrow this building and it was replaced after 20 years with what was then one of the largest buildings in Wellington. Opening in 1884, it was barely three years old before it was almost completely destroyed by fire in late April 1887. Its rapidly constructed replacement which opened at the end of the following year appears at a glance to be an identical twin to the earlier building but featured many structural and layout improvements.

Post Office Square in the 1920s with the 1888 GPO on the right. The pedestrian-only section of the square was reduced in size in 1911 in an effort to improve traffic flows.
The 1912 GPO with its main entrance fronting on to Featherston Street

Further technological developments (namely the widespread introduction of the telephone) and the P&T Department being given the responsibility for the administration and distribution of the old age pension, saw the construction of yet another building, a ‘new’ GPO which fronted on to Featherston Street. This massive building adjoined the 1888 structure so that the P&T Department now covered the entire block. Opening in 1912, this imposing granite-clad building featured the latest in earthquake-resistant engineering, a large internal public office naturally lit with a huge stained-glass skylight, a pneumatic tube  ‘Lamson’ system for transporting documents & cash throughout the building, over 1500 private ‘P.O’ boxes and dozens of phone and telegraph operators. By the 1960s, the former 1888 GPO was still standing but was a shadow of its former self with many of its distinguishing features such as the clock tower having been removed.

In the early 1970s, the Post Office decided that it once again needed a new GPO better suited to the modern age.  Sadly,  despite not being particularly earthquake prone, the 1912 GPO and its older sister from 1888 were both demolished in 1974, reflecting an era when anything ‘modern’ was seen as exciting and little regard was given to the heritage value of such buildings. The site was excavated and foundations were poured for the new GPO. However, the project stuttered for many years, in part because of the NZ Post Office’s poor financial situation as they lost money on their mail service and were slow to adopt many of the efficient new communication technologies which were commonplace overseas. After a large building was constructed for the Post Office further down Customhouse Quay next to the Waterloo Hotel, the project to construct a replacement GPO next to Post Office Square was abandoned. The site was left as an empty pit for over a decade, often filling with a couple of feet of stagnant water during the winter months.

In 1988, work finally re-started on the site with a major new building being constructed on the foundations which had been poured over ten years earlier.  The resulting IBM building and the Park Royal Hotel (since renamed the ANZ and the Hotel Intercontinental) added a splash of mirrored-glass glamour to the inner-city when they opened in 1990. Only the name of the neighbouring square gives an indication of the institution which dominated the site for over a century and which employed thousands of people over that time.

You can read more about the history of Wellington’s Post Office in this souvenir booklet published to mark the opening of the fourth GPO building in 1912 which is now digitised on Wellington City Recollect  

The 1912 GPO on the left as photographed in 1950 from the Featherston St / Panama St intersection and the same view in 2020 below

Tapa Whenua: Naming the Land

Tēnā koutou katoa, e te whānau! Matariki is a time for recollection and remembering, as well as hope for the new year. In this post, Ann Reweti, our Māori Customer Specialist, brings together a range of resources that outline the history of place names here in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and farther afield.

As Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand has it:

“The adage ‘to name is to claim’ has been central to discovery and exploration since time immemorial – Māori call it tapa whenua, whakaingoa whenua or whakahau whenua

Naming places involved a number of customs, including:

  • transplanting Polynesian ancestral names and symbolism to New Zealand places
  • taunaha (naming after body parts) to emphasise personal claims to land
  • naming places according to their features
  • naming places after people
  • naming for historical or spiritual reasons
  • naming to celebrate cultural icons.”

Ngā Ingoa Peka Māori: Our Māori Branch Names

Our whare pukapuka each have a Māori name. The stories of these names, and the places they relate to can be found on our branch names page.

Online Kōrero


“Taunaha Whenua: Naming the Land”
This Matariki, Wellington City Libraries were proud to tautoko a kōrero by Honiana Love, Tumu Whakarae of Ngā Taonga, called “Taunaha Whenua: Naming the Land”. Honiana spoke about history of place names used by mana whenua in this rohe, packing out the National Library Auditorium.

“Memorials, Names and Ethical Remembering”
The day before, the National Library also held their first Public History talk for the year, “Memorials, Names and Ethical Remembering”, with Morrie Love, Nicky Karu and Ewan Morris.

We’re glad to be able to share links to recordings of both those kōrero.

Books


Illustrated Maori place names / Reed, A. W.
“Many Maori place names date back to the very earliest days of habitation in Aotearoa New Zealand. Some, in fact, originated in the Hawaiki homeland and were adapted to the new land. Whatever their origin, most reflect the Maori’s closeness to the forces of nature and incorporate common words for everyday things. Lavishly illustrated, this dictionary explains and interprets over 1500 place names as well as providing a guide to pronunciation.” (Catalogue)

Making our place : exploring land-use tensions in Aotearoa New Zealand
“Fascination with the interplay of people and place inspired the editors to bring together New Zealanders from different backgrounds and disciplines to explore some of the stories and sites of conflict and change to be found amongst our sacred, historic, rural, urban and coastal landscapes.” (Catalogue)

Exploring Aotearoa : short walks to reveal the Māori landscape / Janssen, Peter
“Take a short walk with this book and see the Maori landscape through fresh eyes. Maori culture has close ties with the landscape, in pa and early battle sites, and in myths and legends. From north to south, nearly 200 of the most accessible and memorable landmarks can be visited including volcanic summits, headlands, lakes and islands as well as pa sites urupa (graveyards), and hunting and fishing grounds.” (Catalogue)

Boundary markers : land surveying and the colonisation of New Zealand / Byrnes, Giselle
“In a country where land disputes were the chief cause of conflict between the coloniser and the colonised, surveying could never be a neutral, depoliticised pastime. In a groundbreaking piece of scholarship, Giselle Byrnes examines the way surveyors became figuratively and literally ‘the cutting edge of colonisation’. Clearing New Zealand’s vast forests, laying out town plans and deciding on place names, they were at every moment asserting British power. Boundary Markers also shows how the surveyors’ ‘commercial gaze’, a view of the countryside coloured by the desire for profit, put them at odds with the Māori view of land.” (Publisher’s Description).

Online Resources


The Great Harbour of Tara, by G. L. Adkin.
This work details the traditional Māori place-names and sites of Wellington. It is available in full through Wellington City Libraries’ Recollect site.

Te Ara o nga Tupuna: The path of our ancestors.
“Te Ara o nga Tupuna: The path of our ancestors” is a trail around Te Whanganui-a-Tara which takes in many traditional sites. The trail description on our website contains many kōrero about these places, and the history of their names.

Nga Tupuna o Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Vol. 1).
The Nga Tupuna project was initiated by Wellington City Libraries working in collaboration with the Wellington Tenth’s Trust. While the history of Maori ownership of land around the Wellington area was being researched as part of various Treaty of Waitangi claims, it was felt that not enough emphasis was being given to the biographies of the individuals being named in those claims. This document is the first of four volumes of collected biographies. (WCL Recollect).

He Korero Purakau mo nga taunahanahatanga a nga tupuna: Place names of the ancestors, a Māori oral history atlas.
This title collects oral histories of place names from around Aotearoa, and is available as a digital resource, from LINZ, as well as in our library collection.

The Pukeahu Anthology.
“Pukeahu: An Exploratory Anthology” is a place-based anthology of waiata, poems, essays, and fiction about Pukeahu / Mt Cook, a small hill in Wellington, Aotearoa-New Zealand that rises between two streams.

Kā Huru Manu : the Ngāi Tahu cultural mapping project.
Kā Huru Manu is dedicated to recording and mapping the traditional Māori place names and associated histories in the Kāi Tahu rohe.

To learn more about place names, or any other of ngā mea Māori, you can email Ann Reweti here.

Dining out in Wellington during the era of shrimp cocktails and deep-fried camembert

Today Wellingtonians are spoilt  for choice when it comes to dining out in the city with a huge range of different cuisines to try and restaurants which cover every  budget. But what was the restaurant scene like nearly 40 years ago? This booklet now on Wellington City Recollect gives you some idea as to what going out for dinner in Wellington was like in the early-mid 1980s.

Menu for ‘Camelot’

Called The Menu Guide,  it was published in late 1982 by Henry Newrick and his firm Newrick Associates Ltd. Its cover price of $4.95 was relatively high for the time (approximately $18 in 2020 terms) but the booklet also included a set of discount coupons for diners to use at a selection of restaurants, one of the first times that a hospitality discount coupon scheme had been used in Wellington. A full and complete listing of almost every restaurant operating at the time was included in the introduction but establishments could pay to have a larger advertisement placed in the main body of the booklet in the form of a menu and it is these which offer a fascinating insight into our dining-out past.

Menu for ‘Bacchus’

This was at a time when traditional ‘family’ and ‘fine dining’ establishments started to be joined by new ‘ethnic’ restaurants as Wellingtonians’ culinary tastes expanded. Most of the fine dining restaurants were of course, French, while family restaurants all shared the common dominant theme of steak and chips.

Although the prices listed appear ridiculously low by today’s standards, how do they compare when inflation adjusted? The menu for Camelot, a popular family restaurant in Brandon Street which sported a ‘Ye Olde King Arthur’ theme, indicates that average prices were probably a bit higher than today; their $9.70 T-bone steak served with a mushroom sauce would be hitting $34 in 2020. Meanwhile, Des Britten’s legendary The Coachman offered grilled prawns at the eye-watering equivalent of $63. The Bacchus restaurant seemed to take the approach that if you needed to know their prices, you probably couldn’t afford to eat there (suffice to say that deep pockets were needed).

Though new ethnic cuisine restaurants were starting to appear, choice was still limited. Chinese restaurants serving a ‘Kiwi-fied’ version of Chinese food had been part of the city’s dining scene for generations, but these were now joined by Greek and Indian restaurants reflecting the long-standing presence of these ethnic communities in Wellington. South-east Asian eateries were virtually non-existent (the long-standing Indonesian restaurant Toko Baru being one of the few exceptions), middle-eastern restaurants were yet to be seen and it would be another decade before the doner kebab made its first appearance.

Menu for the ‘Mexican Cantina’

However, one new ethnic restaurant is included which really shook up the local scene; the Mexican Cantina in Edward Street. This gave many Wellingtonians their first taste of guacamole and nachos at a time when it wasn’t yet possible to buy corn chips or taco shells at the supermarket.  The ‘Mex’ took the approach of keeping their prices low, the food simple (though exotic to most taste-buds) and packing customers in. Popular with students, waiting crowds would often be spilling out the door while chugging on their B.Y.O supplies (alcohol licences were difficult and expensive to obtain for most restaurants). With no reservation system in place, groups would have to write their details on a blackboard and wait until their listing got to the top at which point their name would be yelled out over the noise of diners indicating their table was ready.

Possibly influenced by the success of the ‘Mex’, Manuel’s  — which operated out of the Broderick Inn in Johnsonville — also adopted a Mexican theme, but amusingly kept their menu as ‘family’ orientated as possible with not a pinch of cumin, dollop of sour cream or a kidney bean to be seen…

Menu for ‘Manuel’s Family Restaurant’

“Taunaha Whenua: Naming the Land”, a Matariki Kōrero from Honiana Love

Tēnā koutou katoa e te whānau! Nau mai, haere mai ki te whakarongo ki tēnei kōrero. This matariki, we are proud to present a kōrero from Honiana Love about the significance of place names around Pōneke.

Honiana Love, Kaiāwhina Tumu Whakarae, Ngā Taonga Sound. Photo credit: Stephen A’Court.

Matariki is a powerful time of reflection, and there’s no better time than now to learn more about the history of Aotearoa.

Ngā Taonga, The National Library and Wellington City Libraries are proud to present Honiana Love’s kōrero “Taunaha Whēnua: Naming the Land”, at the National Library, on 16 July at 1230pm.

Honiana is Tumu Whakarae / Chief Executive of Ngā Taonga, and she will be discussing how names like Owhiro, Pipitea and Kaitoa have much to tell us about the gardens, swamps and food-gathering areas which have stood where we stand today.

This event is a free presentation of Ngā Taonga, The National Library of New Zealand and Wellington City Libraries. All are welcome, and the event will be recorded and shared at a later date.

“Taunaha Whēnua: Naming the Land” is part of Wellington City Libraries’ #purapurawhetu Matariki festival. You can learn more here about our other events, for tamariki and their whānau, these school holidays.

The day the Empress came to town

In late 1937, an exciting news announcement quickly spread across Wellington; the RMS Empress of Britain was going to visit the city the following year. Launched in 1930, she was one of the largest, fastest and most luxurious ocean liners of the period.

Only slightly smaller than the Titanic, her design incorporated lessons learnt from the tragic sinking of that ship and included double-steel plating to deal with the ice-infested waters which were common on her main Atlantic run between England and Canada.  As trans-Atlantic passenger numbers would fall dramatically each winter and the freezing of the St Lawrence River made Canadian port access difficult, towards the end of each year she would be seasonally converted into a luxury cruise liner and it was in this capacity that she visited New Zealand.

She first visited Sydney and Melbourne where hundreds of thousands of spectators turned out to see the ship. Then on 6th April 1938 she crossed the Tasman Sea, heading first for Milford Sound which had been promoted to passengers as the highlight of the cruise, before coming to Wellington. As the vessel approached NZ, much was made of her size and technology. Readers of newspapers were advised of how passengers could make a ship-to-shore phone call to London if they wished…at a cost of £3/12 for a three-minute conversation, the equivalent today of around NZ $400! Features included a regulation size tennis court, picture theatres and a ‘country fair’ with a coconut shy, hoopla stalls and a fortune teller. There were 390 staff employed in the catering department alone, while the ship’s three great white funnels could be used as a beacon in emergencies; when illuminated by powerful flood lamps they could be seen by other vessels 50km away. When she arrived in Wellington on the morning of Sunday 10th April 1938 (thankfully a calm sunny day) excitement was at a fever-pitch. A live radio commentary from Mt Victoria commenced on Radio 2YA as soon as she was spotted off the Wellington heads and thousands of people lined the shore and hillsides to catch a glimpse of what was then the largest passenger vessel ever to enter the harbour. That afternoon there was a radio broadcast of a live concert given by the ship’s orchestra, while what was said to be “the wealthiest and most distinguished aggregation of passengers ever to visit Wellington” toured the city. Car-owning locals picked up random passengers from Pipitea Wharf, inviting them to their homes and driving them all over the region to show them the sights. When she departed that evening just after 11pm, songs were sung, thousands of streamers were thrown from the deck by passengers and Oriental Bay was jammed with cars lined up nose-to-bumper with all of them sounding their horns to echo the horn blasts coming from the ship.

After being converted into a troop carrier for World War II, she made another brief visit to Wellington in May 1940 to transport New Zealand soldiers to the UK. Unlike her visit two years earlier, wartime restrictions meant that this time there was no public announcement, no media coverage and not even a simple listing in the Evening Post’s daily ‘shipping news’ column. With all of the secretive war-related shipping activity that was happening in the harbour at the time, many in the city may have been unaware that the great ship had returned.  However, five months later came some shocking news that was reported and which likely would have had some people in the city in tears; on 26th October 1940 the Empress of Britain was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German U-Boat. She was the largest passenger vessel lost during the war and the largest vessel of any kind to be sunk by a U-Boat. 

The hand-tinted photo above captures the ship tied up at Pipitea Wharf on the evening of 10th April 1938 shortly before its departure to Auckland (by coincidence, this was 30 years to the day before the storm that resulted in the sinking of the TSS Wahine).  Pipitea wharf no longer exists after it was demolished for the construction of the container wharf in the late 1960s but it was located just north of the Wellington Railway Station. You can see the photo in full detail and read more about the port’s activities during this period in this Handbook of the Wellington Harbour Board which has been digitised on our Recollect site.

 

How Crofton Downs got its name

Crofton before restoration in 1978. Photo by Charles Fearnley

The Wellington suburb of Crofton Downs is known for its steep hills, shopping centre and how several of its streets are named after Winston Churchill (e.g. Winston Street, Churchill Drive, Spencer Street and Downing Street). However, the origin of the suburb’s name can be found in neighbouring Ngaio. Tucked away at the back of a section on the eastern side of Kenya Street lies a house (once part of a larger estate) called ‘Crofton’.  Seen today from the street, at a glance you could be forgiven for thinking that it is an example of a 1970s or 1980s faux-colonial cottage, the style of which was popular with house builders during that period. In fact Crofton is one of the oldest surviving houses in Wellington and its early history is connected with some of New Zealand’s most significant figures from the Victorian period.

The house was built in 1857 for William Fox, one of the most polarising NZ politicians of the 19th century. Born in 1812 in County Durham, he started his working life in the UK as a lawyer, moved into journalism, immigrated in 1842 to Wellington where he helped manage the New Zealand Company and finally drifted into politics. As an indication of how tumultuous the political scene was the time, Fox became Premier (i.e. Prime Minister) on four separate occasions between 1856 and 1873. His longest period as ‘PM’ was just over three years but his shortest was only two weeks! Crofton may have been used by Fox and his family as a weekend retreat when they were in Wellington (his parliamentary seat was actually Rangitikei and the town of Foxton is named after him).

Letter from Octavius Hadfield to his sister Octavia dated 1866 mentioning his son Henry attending Crofton School

In 1864 the house and land was sold to the first Bishop of Wellington, Charles Abraham. He established a ‘grammar’ boarding school on the site, essentially one of the first serious attempts of an institution providing formal secondary education to teenage boys in Wellington. One of its pupils was Henry Hadfield, the first-born son of the missionary Octavius Hadfield. We recently discovered several references to Henry’s education at Crofton in the letters Octavius wrote to his family back in England. These were later repatriated back to NZ, gifted to Wellington City Libraries by Henry’s sister in 1951 and have now been digitised on our Recollect site (click on the caption to see more). Little snippets include how Henry grew quickly and was physically strong for a boy of his age but took a while to find his feet academically and socially. Meanwhile, his father often wondered how he was going to pay his son’s school fees on a reverend’s salary. It is likely that Octavius would have made the journey to Crofton with his son many times via the tortuously steep Old Porirua Road, especially when his friend Rev. Henry Woodford St. Hill purchased the school and became its headmaster.  The school closed in 1875 after Wellington College opened on its current site with much better facilities and easier access. The original 14 acres of land which surrounded the house was gradually sub-divided and sold off and the house became a normal residential property.

Its location was originally called Upper Kaiwarra (a corruption of Kaiwharawhara) but in the 1870s the suburb took on the name of the house and the whole area became known as Crofton. Confusingly, around this time William Fox created another estate also called Crofton not far from Marton in Rangitikei which he hoped to develop into a ‘temperance’ (i.e. alcohol free) township. With mailed letters continually ending up in the wrong place, in 1908 the suburb changed its name to Ngaio after the species of tree which are abundant in the area and ‘Crofton’ fell into disuse. Then in the 1950s, a neighbouring semi-rural area was developed after the addition of a train stop to help make it attractive to commuters and the name re-emerged as the suburb of Crofton Downs. As to the source of the original name that William Fox gave his property, the most likely explanation is that it came from the small village of Crofton in Wiltshire where his wife Sarah Halcomb was possibly born or her family may have owned land. As village lacked a church, she was christened in the neighbouring town of Marlborough only a few kilometres away in 1816.

The Octavius Hadfield Collection

Wellington City Libraries is proud to launch an online, digitised collection of correspondence from one of New Zealand’s most significant missionaries and supporters of Māori rights, Octavius Hadfield.

Octavius Hadfield Papers on Recollect

These original letters and diary extracts were gifted to Wellington City Libraries by his daughter, Amelia Caroline Hadfield, in 1951 and are now easily available to read for the first time as part of our heritage database, Wellington City Recollect.

Hadfield arrived in New Zealand shortly before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and soon made his way to Kāpiti. There he befriended Te Rauparaha and was able to prevent the great warrior making a retalitory attack on Wellington following the Wairau ‘Affray’ of 1843. Te Rauparaha and his son Tāmihana later encouraged Hadfield to establish the Rangiātea church in Otaki. He worked closely with Māori communities, introducing them to farming to allow them to engage with the settler economy and became a fierce critic of the NZ Government because of their actions in causing the NZ Wars. Despite many Europeans turning against him and even accusing him of treason, in 1870 Hadfield became the second Bishop of Wellington and then in 1890 he was elected to head the Anglican Church as Primate of New Zealand.

These letters are amoung our most valuable taonga and offer a fascinating insight into the mind and thinking of one of the greatest New Zealanders of the colonial period. Each document includes a full transcription.

Discover these taonga and more on Recollect .

Khandallah Heritage Night this week

Come along to the Khandallah Library this Thursday evening (7th November) from 6pm where we will be celebrating the heritage of the greater Onslow area with the rededication  of a memorial scroll in honour of F.L (‘Fanny Louise’) Irvine-Smith.

Born in 1878, Irvine-Smith was a pioneering educationalist who lectured at the Wellington Teachers College and had a notable role in first introducing Māoritanga and NZ History to the primary school curriculum. She is best known for her work as a historian and her book The Streets of my CityFirst published in 1948, her book presented Wellington’s past through a tour of its streets and how they had been named. It was a radical departure from the dry, pedestrian works of local history which had been published to that time and it went on to be re-printed multiple times. However, we remember her for her extraordinary efforts over many years to establish the Khandallah Library. A strong believer in the importance of libraries to the social health of a community, she lobbied the council and walked the streets of the suburb to gather nearly 1300 signatures on a petition supporting the library’s establishment.

As well as unveiling the memorial scroll we are going to take the opportunity to launch a digitised collection of a historic local magazine, The Ngaio and Khandallah Review and its follow-up publication, The Social Review which were published in the early-mid 1930s. Drawn from the collection of the Onslow Historical Society, we worked collaboratively with the society to allow these  extremely rare copies to be made available to the general public for the first time on our digital heritage platform, Wellington City Recollect. They offer a fascinating insight into the local community 85 years ago and will become an invaluable source of local history and genealogical information. Once launched, the digitised magazines will be fully key-word searchable.

Come along to the Khandallah Library on Thursday evening from 6pm to share your memories of the library and the greater area. Light refreshments will be served. There is no need to R.S.V.P but space will be limited. 

The Levin House of Hobson Street

Completed  in 1904, the Levin House was one of the most extravagant houses ever constructed in Wellington to that time.

It was built at 72 Hobson Street in Thorndon for Robert Lionel Levin, the son of the wealthy businessman and  philanthropist William Hort Levin for whom the Horowhenua township of Levin is named. W.H. Levin was also regarded as the ‘founder’ of Wellington City Libraries through his large donation of funds which enabled the city’s first municipal library to be constructed in the early 1890s.

Following his father’s death in 1893, Robert Levin decided against taking a partnership in the family firm of Levin & Co (he went sheep farming in the Manawatu) but used a proportion of his considerable inheritance to construct this house which soon became the talk of the town.  It was designed by the notable architect John Sydney Swan who was also responsible for St Gerard’s Church and Monastery, the Backbencher Pub, The Erskine Chapel, the Iko Iko building in Cuba Mall and many others.

The house featured central heating, 100 volt DC electric lighting (230 volt AC mains power did not arrive in Wellington until the mid 1920s) and a “telephonette” intercom system which allowed servants to be summoned from any room.  Located on two acres of land, rather than facing the street which was the norm at the time, the architect orientated the house away from the road so that it received all-day sun and had views out over Wellington Harbour. It was built before the major reclamation that created the railyards and Aotea Quay had taken place so the shoreline would have been substantially closer to the house than it is today.

By the early 1970s the house had fallen into disrepair and ownership of the property had long since passed from the Levin family. It was purchased by the Australian Government and then demolished in 1975 to become the site of the Australian High Commission.

Click here to see the house on our Recollect page which also includes a link to a digitised copy of the vintage NZ architecture magazine Progress which published a glowing review of the house in 1906.