Auckland’s ‘Birthday’ Isn’t Historically accurate – But It Fits Perfectly!

Auckland Anniversary was a greatly celebrated event on January 29th. But what does this date really mean? Very little apparently. It was the day in 1840 when the warship HMS Herald first dropped anchor in the Bay of Islands, carrying Captain William Hobson, the governor-to-be, charged with persuading Maori chiefs to place their lands under British jurisdiction. Yes the date signifies a lot in the story of New Zealand. But it doesn’t have much to do with Auckland’s foundation.

Let’s consider the two possible dates that could be said to qualify as marking the founding of Auckland. The first is in September 1840, the second in March of the following year.

According to The NZ Herald, On September 16, 1840, the barque Anna Watson arrived in the Waitemata Harbour bearing an advance party which Hobson had sent under a deputy-governor, a retired army officer, Captain William Cornwallis Symonds. This party was made up of officials and mechanics, the term then used to describe tradesmen such as carpenters, pit-sawyers, stonemasons and the like. Two officials, the surveyor-general and the harbourmaster, quickly selected as the heart of the new settlement a small bay at what is now the foot of modern Queen St. This they named Commercial Bay.

A case can equally be made for moving the day forward to March 9, 1841, when Hobson came to live in Auckland, thus converting it into the colony’s capital.

The governor, his wife and family arrived at Commercial Bay on the barque Chelydra whose guns honoured the occasion by firing a salute. Accompanied by his officials, Hobson thereupon marched up Shortland St, then the main thoroughfare of Auckland, to the recently assembled Government House. He was escorted, as Dr John Logan Campbell, a bystander, ironically pointed out, by two soldiers playing a single fife and a drum.

Does this mean Auckland Anniversary day should be changed? No – January 29 has served us well ever since 1876. It falls conveniently in midsummer, provides an ideal holiday break and has built up a wonderful tradition. One need think only of the Anniversary Regatta.

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Jason Duop

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