26 Jul 2015

RIP Capital City Auckland, 1841 - 1865

10:30 pm on 26 July 2015

While Wellingtonians have been celebrating 150 years since becoming the capital, many Aucklanders are unaware of the status torn from them in 1865.

Sky Tower. Auckland CBD

Auckland's Sky Tower in the CBD Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

For just 24 years, Auckland enjoyed the status of being not only the biggest province, with the lion's share of the colony's revenue, but also its capital.

All this until three Australian-based commissioners, tasked with finding the ideal capital, spurned Auckland for Wellington, due to its more central location, and safe harbour.

Maybe Auckland hadn't endeared itself to the British Government, having lodged petitions three times seeking to break away and become its own colony.

"The British wisely just ignored it, they didn't reply at all," said writer Gordon McLauchlan, who authored 'The Life and Times of Auckland'.

"Wellington and South Island people regarded Auckland as quite an alien place.

"William Fox, who was later premier in the 1850s, said that when they took the soldiers away, it would melt away like a dream, and New Plymouth would become a very important city."

Wellington's ambitions had always been clear,

"When the first Government House was shipped to New Zealand as a kitset, it stopped in Wellington Harbour and the unions tried to get the kitset off the ship - they tried to confiscate Government House."

"The belief was that Auckland wasn't capable of running the country. They in Wellington were educated middle-class people, and Auckland was a bunch of riff-raff."

So, should Auckland become the capital again? Former mayor of West Auckland's Waitakere City Sir Bob Harvey thinks so. Bigger is best, by his book.

Auckland Domain

Auckland's Domain - a better location for New Zealand's Parliament? Photo: 123rf

"We should never have lost it, of course. I can't imagine a better place for Parliament than sitting up in the Domain," he said.

"I honestly believe we sent it to a very dangerous part of New Zealand - earthquake prone - and our national treasures are also there, on a very dangerous fault-line."

Chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association Kim Campbell said from a business perspective, Auckland was already the commercial capital.

Mr Campbell sees Wellington as almost neutral territory - a capital city built on bare land, like Canberra or Brasilia.

"In some respects, because there isn't a lot of industry in Wellington, we kind of have the view that Wellington is about Government, it is central," he said.

Wellington, minus its capital city status, is an idea that has fleeting appeal to Auckland comedian Michele A'Court.

beehive light shoq

The Beehive lit up for Wellington's 150th birthday over the weekend. Photo: RNZ/Alex Robertson

"I would love it, because we would suddenly just have actors, musicians, film-makers and writers, so it'd be this bohemian Shangri-La, a total hipster capital."

"There wouldn't be a man without a beard, and in a southerly gale they'd get stuck together like they had velcro on their chins," she said.

Nonetheless, she is happy for Wellington to remain the capital, even though there would be upsides to a move to Auckland.

Caucus run 21/07/15

Transport Minister Simon Bridges Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

"I do think that if the politicians all lived here we'd get a second harbour crossing more quickly. In fact, I think we'd get two new bridges, and they'd be the twin Simon Bridges. That's what we'd call them."

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