Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

Search options

 The Old Waterfront, p 48 The Streets of my city, Wellington New Zealand,
by F. L. Irvine-Smith. (1948).

Part Two : Chapter Six
Provinces and Politics

Contents: a letter | Part One chapters: 1 | 2 | Part Two chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
Part Three chapters: Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Appendix

They were leaders of men and they had men to lead.
W.P. Reeves
History is the essence of innumerable biographies.

IN 1853 New Zealand's Crown Colony Period came to an end. Henceforward power was to be in the hands of a Parliament elected by the Pakeha throughout the land. No longer was the Governor to be the autocratic ruler of the Colony. As well as a Central Parliament meeting at Auckland, as yet the capital, each province by the new constitution was provided with a virtual parliament of its own in the form of a Provincial Council presided over by an elected Superintendent and Councillors. To discuss the pros and cons of the Provincial system is outside the scope of the present task. Suffice to say, the system drew forth the ablest men of every province, and nowhere more than in Wellington where attainments, to say nothing of I.Q., were second to none. It likewise added to the list some of the most honoured names of the city streets.

It is of interest to note that the Great Founder, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, to whom we owe the names of Wakefield Street, Wakefield Park and Mount Wakefield, had at last decided to make his home in New Zealand, and reached Wellington (February, 1853) in time to be elected for the Hutt Electorate to the Central Parliament, as well as to the Wellington Provincial Council. He threw himself at once into the battle for complete responsible government. But his days of action were numbered. Ill health and disillusionment overtook him. Lonely of heart - one of the loneliest figures in the records of history -he withdrew after a single session into complete retirement, and on May 16th, 1862, death closed the greatest colonising career of all time.

The outstanding figure of Wellington's Provincial Period must ever remain Isaac Earl Featherston, M.D. (1813-1876), a man who combined the highest ability with the purest devotion to service. Having accepted for health reasons the post of ship's surgeon to the New Zealand Company's vessel "Olympus," he reached Wellington, May, 1841, and as well as the practice of his profession, was soon drawn into the current of public affairs. For fifteen years he represented the city continuously in the Central Parliament, and during the whole of the Provincial Period, escept for a spell at the end, when he accepted the post of Agent-General in London, the first to hold it, he was the Superintendent of Wellington Province, honoured and esteemed by all, poor in worldly wealth, but rich beyond the telling in the confidence and affection of his fellow citizens. He died at his post in London. Let us tread in grateful memory the busy thoroughfare, Featherston Street, which bears his name.

The constant lieutenant of Featherston, his 'fidus Achates,' was Sir William Fitzherbert (1810-1891), who with Dr. Featherston and Sir William Fox (1812-1893) made up the redoubtable "Three F's" of early Wellington. Sir William was another M.D., as well as a classical scholar of remarkable brilliance, and in his Cambridge days, a leading athlete and fellow student of Bishop Selwyn. Of Fitzherbert, Gisborne says: "Able and astute, he was the Ulysses of Statesmen. No one could fail to recognise his intellectual power and the sagacity of his counsel." On the departure of Dr. Featherston for London, William Fitzherbert was elected Superintendent of the Province.<> His name is perpetuated in Fitzherbert Termce, one of the city's most sylvan residential retreats, and also in Herbert Street, a small business street off Manners Street, on land which he owned and cut up. His own business premises (he never practised medicine in New Zealand) were situated in Farish Street, which he is said to have named after a son of Professor Farish with whom he was at Cambridge.

One of the finest of early pioneers was Alfred de Bathe Brandon (1809-1886), commemorated in Brandon Street (C.1). He arrived in the "London" in August, 1840, and commenced practice at "Brandon's Corner," opposite the Government Buildings, in a building demolished in 1929 to make way for the war memorial. After Provincial Councils were set up, Mr. Brandon was made Provincial Solicitor and for the whole of the Council's existence, from 1853 to 1876, remained a member. He took a keen interest in education and was the first Chairman of the Wellington College Board of Governors. His son, Alfred de Bathe Brandon (1854-1938) followed in the father's legal footsteps and in 1893 was Mayor of the City.

Bunny Street commemorates another Provincial Councillor, Henry Bunny (1823-1891) English solicitor, who reached Wellington in 1853. He took an active interest in public affairs, and as well as being a member of the Central Parliament, was Secretary and Treasurer of the Provincial Council.

Mr. Bunny lived for a while in the frame house brought out by Dr. Evans in 1840 and erected by him on Golders Hill, but this, being of wood, has gone the way of all early colonial homes. The same house was occupied at one time by James Coutts Crawford, who as a middy on the H.M.S. "Regent," had had his first glimpse of New Zealand before 1840. Another tenant was Major Heaphy, V.C., a "Tory" arrival of 1839, who loved the natural beauties of his new environment and painted and wrote about them with infinite charm.

Another English solicitor who reached Wellington in 1850 was Charles Bonython Borlase (1820-1875), a former friend and neighbour in Cornwall of the Molesworth family. He gave his talents generously in his new sphere, was member of the Central Parliament, Mayor of the city and solicitor of the Provincial Council. Borlase Street (S. W. 1.) is named after him.

Yet another Wellington Provincial Councillor was John Fortescue Evelyn Wright (1827-1891) who cut up the property and gave his name to Wright Street and to Evelyn Terrace. He owned a considerable amount of land around Wellington, and in 1878 laid off part of it as Vogeltown.

A contemporary of Mr. Wright was George Allen who reached Wellington in 1841 by the "Catherine Stuart Forbes" and gives his name to Allen Street. He was a competent boatsbuilder, building boats of all kinds, but principally for the whaling community. As well as representing the city of Wellington on the Provincial Council (1856-1861), Mr. Allen was for many years on the City Council where his advice was much sought in all nautical matters. From the photo the 25th of May, 1879, in the interim between the resignation of Mr. Dransfield and the election of Mr. Hutchison, he occupied the mayoral chair. His son, W. B. Allen, (1) who celebrated his ninetyninth anniversary in August, 1946, and his daughter Miss Caroline Allen, aged 95, were in that year the two eldest living members of our pioneer families.

Waring Taylor (1819-1903) gives his name to Waring Taylor Street. He reached Wellington in 1842, followed later by his sister Mary (q.v.). Entering keenly into the life of the settlement, he became M.H.R. for Wellington city, as well as Speaker of the Provincial Council, but in the eighties suffered eclipse and passed out of public life.

Mr. John Johnston, merchant (1809-1887), reached Wellington in 1841 by the "Prince of Wales" and subsequently represented the Wellington country districts in the Provincial Council. In 1857he was called to the Legislative Council (New Zealand's "House of Lords") and in 1878 retired from his business, leaving it to his two sons, the Hon. Walter Johnston and Sir Charles Johnston, later a city mayor (1890). Johnston Street recalls the name of Johnston pere.

Mr. John Plimmer (1812-1905) gave early Wellington one of its colourful touches when he purchased in 1850 the hull of the wrecked "Inconstant" which ran aground at Barrett Reef, towed it to the shore, and converted it into a warehouse (Noah's Ark) with a wharf for a front path, was a useful and practical member of the Provincial Council. He resided at the head of Plimmer's Steps, where he held sway until an advanced age as "The Father of Wellington." His son, Isaac Plimmer (1834-1908), was also a Provincial Council member. Mr. John Plimmer was keenly interested in the Wellington-Manawatu Railway Company's line to Longburn (84 miles) opened in 1886. Plimmerton is called after him. Another son, J. A. Plimmer, was in partnership with Edward Reeves in the Wellington Tinware Co., whose premises were in Featherston and Waring Taylor Streets. They made a specialty of tin trunks. What traveller was not provided with a "Rotomahana" trunk?

One of the most interesting buildings erected by Mr. John Plimmer was the Albert Hotel, built in 1877 at the south corner of Boulcott and Manners Streets. It was generally known as the Old Identities Hotel, as the upper portion was adorned with carved figure-heads of prominent Wellingtonians, the chief being that of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. It was demolished in 1929.

Jonas Woodward (1810-1881), a pioneer of the forties and Treasurer of the Provincial Council (see Chapter 3), gives his name to Woodward Street and Alfred Ludlam, the first Speaker of the Provincial Council, to Ludlam Street.

Wellington was faithful to its first choice of superintendents for almost the whole duration of the Provincial system, but in the other provinces superintendents came and went, and we find commemorated in our Wellington street names no fewer than three past: superintendents of Canterbury Province - Moorhouse, Rolleston and Fitzgerald. Two of these, however, ultimately became residents of Wellington.

The name of William Sefton Moorhouse (1825-1881) will always be inseparably associated among Canterbury people with that of his pet project, the Lyttelton Tunnel, completed in 1867, though support towards founding the Canterbury Museum (2) while superintendent must also be conceded to him. Arriving in Canterbury in 1851 he occupied the position of Superintendent of the Provincial Council no less than four times, as well as representing various districts from time to time in the Central Parliament. Later he came to Wellington and for a short spell in 1875 was Mayor of the city. Enterprising, but lacking in caution, honest and courageous but possessed at times of insufficient sticking power, he was nevertheless a valuable ingredient in the amalgam that helped to lay the foundations of the Colony. In Wadestown (N.2) we have Sefton Street and Moorhouse Street.

Christchurch in 1885 erected a Moorhouse statue, unveiled by Sir William Jervois, inside the gates leading into the public gardens from Hereford Street, and facing, as nearly as possible, the tunnel which is still a standing memorial to his memory.

The career of William Rolleston(1831-1903) also belongs more particularly to Canterbury where he was either superintendent or member during the whole of the Provincial period, but in addition to provincial duties, the entire colony benefited from his able administration in the Central Parliament of the portfolios of Lands, Immigration and Education. Education, however, was his dearest delight. He himself had amassed a fine classical record at Cambridge, and from the founding of the New Zealand University in 1871 to his death, was a valued and informed member of the Senate. Fate has dealt kindly with his memory. Rolleston Street keeps it alive for busy Wellingtonians, and in his own city of Christchurch there is no lovelier thoroughfare in the whole Colony than that of Rob leston Avenue - not a street, say some, but a benediction.

Another Provincial Superintendent commemorated in our city streets is Sir Frederick Whitaker (1812,1891) who arrived in the Colony in 1840. He gives his name to Whittaker Street (wrongly spelt for Whitaker) off Ghuznee Street. Sir Frederick, as well as being Premier of the Colony in 1863, was also elected in 1865 as Superintendent of Auckland Province. Like many who have followed a political career, he had received a legal training, and was at one time AttorneyGeneral.

A very different personality from that of Rolleston was that of James Edward FitzGerald (1818-1896) an English.born Irishman, a descendant of the Desmond FitzGeralds, impulsive, witty and versatile, with all an Irishman's alluring gift of speech. He had graduated at Cambridge, and becoming keenly interested in Wakefield's colonisation scheme, set sail in one of the "first ships," the "Charlotte Jane," for Canterbury. Here he quickly founded and brilliantly edited the "Lyttelton Times" (1851) and later, the "Christchurch Press" (1861). On the departure of Godley in 1852, FitzGerald became the leader of the Canterbury settlement, and was elected the first superintendent, a member of the Central Parliament, and in a manner its earliest premier. For the last thirty years of his life, during which he held the position of Auditor-General, he made his home in Wellington at FitzGerald Point, a familiar figure in his phaeton, frequently driven by his daughter, Miss Geraldine FitzGerald, who in 1918 founded Chilton St. James School at Lower Hutt. FitzGerald's parliamentary oratory, if equalled, has never in New Zealand been excelled.

Those were indeed "speaking" days. Early Wellingtonians had something to say and they said it. In the fifties political feeling ran high, and supporters were sharply divided into Sir George Grey's party, which upheld the nominee Legislative Council then in operation, and the Settlers' Party, headed by Featherston, Fox and Fitzherbert, who contended for self-government as the inalienable right of every British subject. The latter party had been formed in 1848 with Dr. Dorset as Chairman and Dr. Featherston as Secretary, and rendered great service by helping to secure the constitution of 1852 for the colony. J. H. Marriott was the rhymester of the party. Parliament when it came must have been a veritable Garden of Oratory. The most eloquent speaker of all, as noted, was James FitzGerald, intended by nature physically and mentally to be an orator, whose great speeches in 1862, on behalf of the Maori, still remain the high water-mark of the Dominion's forensic power.

Dr. Featherston, in spite of a naturally weak voice, which at times rendered his remarks almost inaudible, was nevertheless a compelling speaker, with all the conviction that comes from moral earnestness and belief in his cause. Sir William Fox, a tall powerfully built man, had a voice to match, and seasoned his speeches with racy quips and anecdotes. He was very strong physically, ascended Mount Egmont when over eighty years of age, never missed a daily swim and looked the embodiment of a bluff, hale country squire. What he said, went. But Sir William Fitzherbert had more shots in his locker than any of them. Rather somnolent in appearance, with a grim, somewhat tuataran aloofness, there was little indication, as he sat slumbrously through an opponent's speech, that he was taking anything in. But once on his feet brought all his weapons into play - a clear, ringing voice, forcible and convincing language, a special vein of sarcastic humour and, above all, dramatic power of the fittest. He acted his speeches, gesticulated, leered, smiled, apostrophised, exulted, condemned to the intense interest of every listener and the intense satisfaction of every supporter. At times he indulged in a penchant for comparing persons to animate or inanimate objects, and one of his speeches was long known as "The Great Zoological Speech."

It is possible that we may not yet have lost all our feeling for the beauty of the well.spoken word. Lord Bledisloe, speaking at Palmerston North not long before his departure, remarked: "I want to go Home where we have a number of dialects, and tell the people that if they want to hear the beautiful English language spoken in all its purity, they should go to New Zealand." But he also said that New Zealand boys and girls were not speaking as good English as their parents. G.B.S. too confessed that in New Zealand he had discovered the Victorian Englishman, who is, held to have been a much better speaker than the Georgian of today. Let us live up to such encomiums.

Turnbull Street commemorates the name of Walter Turnbull (1823-1897), merchant, a member of the Wellington Provincial Council from 1865 to 1869. He reached New Zealand in the "John McVicar" in 1857. Mr. Turnbull was one of the first members of the Board of Governors of Wellington College, and on the opening day, 1874, donated one thousand pounds for scholarships and prizes. He was the father of Alexander Turnbull, one of Wellington's most princely benefactors. The old Turnbull home, "Elibank," now a nurses' home, is still standing behind the Bowen Street Hospital.

John Howard Wallace (1816-1891) gives his name to no fewer than three early streets - John Street, Howard Street and Wallace Street. He reached Port Nicholson by the "Aurora" in January 1840, and with his friend and fellow passenger, S. White, entered into business as general merchants. Until his death in 1891 he was a most active and useful member of the settlement, keenly interested in every civic project, but especially concerned with education and transport development. He held office on the Town Board during the seven years of its existence (1863-1870), the City Council later, and in 1861 the Provincial Council. Inheriting literary tastes from his father, he not only collaborated with R. A. Sherrin in the wellknown "Brett's History of New Zealand," but, wrote a short New Zealand History of his own. His father, John Wallace, Senr., who died in Wellington in 1880, aged 92, was an artist of repute, whose water-colours were highly esteemed in England. John Howard Wallace, Junr., lived to see the Jubilee of the Colonisation of Wellington, January 22nd, 1890, and in the procession occupied a worthy place in the first carriage of old identities.

The first Wellington wharf was erected by J. H. Wallace at Thorndon, off Bowen Street. To construct it, an empty dry goods hogshead was carried out as far as possible below low water mark, and this filled with stones, made the outer pier. Between this and the shore rough trestles were placed, and on these logs laid lengthwise, roughly squared with an adze. Life was simple in those days.

Mr. Wallace left two sons, and one daughter, Mrs. J. B. Harcourt. Old Wellingtonians may know the Wallace tomb in Bolton Street Cemetery to the memory of six of his family who died of a scarlet fever epidemic in 1863. It bears the words of Longfellow's poem, "The Reaper and the Flowers."

William Barnard Rhodes (1807,1878), the eldest son of William Rhodes of Epworth, Yorkshire, after an early seaafaring life, took up pastoral interests, first in Australia and later in New Zealand, where in 1839 he established the first cattle station in the South Island. In 1840 he settled in Wellington, purchasing from the New Zealand Company, on the Te Aro Flat a quarter-acre section near the Te Aro Pa, and erecting a house and store and also the first deep water wharf in Wellington (four feet at low and nine feet at high water). In 1843 three of his brothers arrived from England, one soon to return, and in 1850 the fifth brother, Joseph Rhodes, came over from Australia. All of these settled on numerous and extensive tracts of land, principally in South Canterbury and Hawkes Bay. Their policy was largely directed from Wellington by W.B. who himself was an immense landowner in both islands, including large areas in and around Wellington city. Since their arrival in Nev Zealand the family has continued to flourish, displaying gifts of farsightedness and self-reliance that have tended to consolidate the family fortunes.

As a Wellington pioneer W. B. Rhodes was interested in all financial city projects, and took a keen interest in its administration, being at various times M.H.R. for that city, Provincial Councillor from 1861 to 1869 and Member of the Legislative Council. He left one daughter who married and went to England. Rhodes Street (S.1) and Barnard Street (N.2) bear his name.
1. W. B. Allen died at Masterton, February 28th, 1947.
2. The magnum opus of Sir Julius von Haast (1822-1887).
Part Two : Chapter Seven : City Fathers

Heritage Links (Local History)