Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wellington – first ruled by a Committee?

The Muttonbirds’ ‘I wish I was in Wellington’ was first thing on the radio when I tuned in on Wellington Anniversary day.

BUT - 'You can't beat Wellington on a good day.'
I wish I was in Wellington, the weather's not so good.
The wind it cuts right through you ...
Yes, it does, or did that morning anyway. Fortunately, for me, I was back in Wellington. I hadn’t needed my grey fleecy jacket for the previous three weeks up north (Auckland and Northland), but I did need it back home. Though to be fair, the weather was ‘not so good’ for most of the country.

I wish I was in Wellington - the bureaucracy ...
Ummm – yes. And Aucklanders might take some delight in learning that Wellington was ruled by a Committee before the township even got started, though it hardly had time to get its boots on.

Delving into The Making of Wellington 1800-19141 for Anniversary Day, I was interested to discover that the first European institution to become established for Wellington was indeed a ‘Committee’.2 It was set-up in Britain in September 1939 by the New Zealand Company to maintain law and order among new arrivals the company was sending here. Membership was drawn from the (male) emigrants on the first three ships about to depart for New Zealand. The Committee and accompanying Constitution were according to Beaglehole ‘greeted with enthusiasm and cheers and unanimously endorsed by the men on all three vessels’.

The Committee (soon renamed a Council) was shortlived. It was deemed illegal by the British government and superseded by the impact of the Treaty of Waitangi in February 1840. When Governor William Hobson heard of the Wellington Committee-cum-Council on 21 May, he immediately proclaimed sovereignty over all of New Zealand and dispatched his Colonial Secretary Willoughby Shortland (with soldiers) to disband the Council – which he did on 4 June. It led to lingering resentment with the northern-based administration.

The problem is the gap - between us on the map
And there's no easy way to reconcile it

It seems most of those early Councillors didn’t have the same desire for Wellington as the Muttonbirds. Of the 15 appointed, nine left Wellington within the first decade, seven ultimately left the country, and only three remained in the city until their death. But for me:

I'd be there tomorrow, if I only could.

1 David Hamer & Roberta Nicholls (eds), Victoria University Press, 1990.

2 Diana Beaglehole, ‘Political Leadership in Wellington: 1839-1853’.

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