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Island Bay Local History

What will I find on this page?

Wondering about the local history of Island Bay? On this page we aim to collect relevant library resources and interesting local history websites about Island Bay, as well as highlight notable persons and organisations long established in Island Bay that have a strong community link.

Origins of Name

The suburb shares its name with the bay, called this because the island Tapu Te Ranga Motu sits across its mouth, and shelters it from the Cook Strait.

Features Historical & Current

Erskine College

Originally named Convent of the Sacred Heart, Erskine College was built 1905-6 to serve as a Catholic boarding school for girls. The name was changed in the 1960s to Erskine College and the boarding school was closed 1985. It is now used as an art school and function centre. Here are some links with information about Erskine College:

Erskine Chapel

Built between 1929-1930 and designed by John Sydney Swan in the French Gothic Style. Refurbished in 2003, Erskine Chapel is one of the finest chapel interiors in New Zealand, not only for its beautiful interior, but also for its superb acoustics.

Erskine Chapel on Wellington City Council's Heritage Buildings Inventory (see page 6).

Home of Compassion

The Home of Compassion was founded by Mother Mary Joseph Aubert. Home to the incurables and terminally ill, it closed at the end of June 2002.

Photo of the old Home of Compassion (Sisters of Compassion website).

Memorial Rotunda

"1914-1918. Erected by the residents to gratefully commemorate the services rendered to their King and country by those who enlisted from the Island Bay, Houghton Bay and Happy Valley districts" (plaque).

Visit NZHistory.net's Island Bay war memorial page for photos of the Memorial Rotunda and names recorded there.

South Coast Marine Reserve & Red Rocks

Located in Owhiro Bay. The red boulders are a product of undersea volcanic activity. A very good coastal walk through the Owhiro Bay Quarry to see the fur seal colony. In winter many seals can be found around Sinclair Head. Some early Wellington baches still exist beside the quarry, these are designated as a historic reserve.

Taputeranga Marine Reserve (Department of Conservation website)

Tapu Te Ranga

A pa of refuge, surrounded by a stone wall. Tamairangi (the wife of Ngati Ira chief Whanake) sought refuge here, when Ngati Ira were attacked in the tribe's final battle.

Notable persons

(Please note, this list does not include people who are still alive.)

Rita Angus, (1908-1970)

Artist - realist painter of landscapes, particularly of Otago and Christchurch, and portraits. She lived in Wellington from the 50s until her death. One of her best known works is a painting of fishing boats at Island Bay.

Suzanne Aubert, (1835-1926)

Founded The Home of Compassion. She came to NZ in 1861 from Lyons, France. She studied Botany and established patent native plant medicines.

Alan Brunton, (1946-2002)

Poet and dramatist. Founded the Auckland Freed Magazine (1969-1972). He had a modernist view of poetry not following the traditional verse forms. His poetry work started with 'Messengers in Blackface' in 1973, his last work was the play 'Goin' to Djibouti' (1996).

Robin Hyde, (1906-1939)

Born Iris Wilkinson. Journalist, novelist and poet. Her first poetic work was 'The Desolate Star' (1929) and first prose 'Journalese' (1943). Her best work is 'The Godwits Fly' (1938). She wrote a poem called 'The beaches' featuring Island Bay.

More biographies?

For more notable New Zealanders, visit The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.



The images below have been sourced from Wellington City Libraries' Postcard Collection, and Wellington City Archives. Click for a larger version.

Permission to use the beautiful images of Island Bay in the header of this page was kindly given by the photographer, Joy Andersen.

  • Island Bay, between 1900-1920, from the library's Postcard Collection
  • Breakers at Island Bay, ca. 1905, from the library's Postcard Collection
  • Island Bay, ca. 1905, from the library's Postcard Collection

Library Online

Here are some electronic resources to help you in researching Island Bay's history:

  • The Wellington Local History Database
    This is an index database based around a collection of newspaper articles dating back to the 1940s when the clipping and indexing of local newspapers first began at the Central Library. The complete article can be viewed by either requesting the listed WVF subject file from library staff at Central Library, or requesting to see a microfilmed copy of the original newspaper.
  • The Evening Post Clippings Collection
    The Evening Post Clippings Collection contains several hundred thousand newspaper clippings collected between 1927 and 1977. It was originally assembled and maintained by Evening Post library staff as a reference collection by newspaper journalists and editors and is now housed on the 2nd Floor of the Central Library in 30 filing cabinets. A database search will result in a list of subject envelopes with each envelope containing up to 50+ clippings. A search on a suburb's name will bring up all those envelopes with the term in their subject heading though other subjects (such as the zoo or Wellington Hospital) may require more specific searches.
  • Index New Zealand (INNZ)
    Index New Zealand (INNZ) is an index with abstracts from selected New Zealand serial publications, including newspapers, and nearly 300 journals about New Zealand and the South Pacific. INNZ is updated daily and approximately 2,000 documents are added monthly. Subjects covered include general interest material, social research, current affairs, the arts and humanities. Comprehensive coverage of titles extends from 1987 onwards. Many New Zealand titles have also been retrospectively indexed. Try an advanced search for "Island Bay" as a phrase.
  • The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre
    The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre contains several heritage digitised books which contain a wealth of information about early Wellington suburbs (including the Cyclopedia of New Zealand). Run a simple keyword search and see happens!
  • Wellington City Archives
    Located near the Basin Reserve, the Wellington City Archives is one of the first places to visit if you wish to engage in primary historical research into Wellington's suburbs. The manner in which material is arranged at the archive means that you will need to approach your research with an interest in a specific street, building or institution rather than the suburb as a whole. There is an on-line database on their website which will enable you to see what files and other information is held, but you will have to visit the archive itself to view the material. Note that file retrievals normally take one working day to process from the time they are requested but requests can be made by phone or email.
  • Papers Past
    Provided by the National Library, Papers Past showcases selected 19th century New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The site currently contains digital images of over one million pages from more than 40 publications.
  • DigitalNZ
    Also from the National Library. This is is an initiative that aims to make New Zealand digital content easy to find, share and use. It includes content from government departments, publicly funded organisations, the private sector, community groups, and even social networking sites like Flickr. You can search across all available sources of information at once, or select your preferrred sources, and it's possible to refine your results by format, e.g. newspapers, images, manuscripts, digitised books, etc.

General community websites

Contact us

This page is written and maintained by our Local History Librarian, Gabor Toth. Our aim is to collect in one place useful sites and library resources for discovering historical content about Island Bay. We'd be pleased to hear from you about this page - you can email us with any feedback.

Heritage Links (Local History)