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Wellington, New Zealand

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Wellington has a long and colourful history. Maori legends date back as far as 950 AD when Kupe first discovered Wellington.

In the 1840s european settlers began to arrive and colonise the region.

Later the seat of government of New Zealand would move from Auckland to Wellington, to become the capital city as it remains today.

Naming of Wellington

The harbour that surrounds Wellington city, and the greater Wellington region, have been known by several names throughout history. Maori legends name the greater Wellington region as "Te Upoko o Te Ika a Maui" or "the Head of Maui's fish".

Kupe is believed to be the first Polynesian explorer to come to Wellington in 950 AD. He was followed by Tara, who named the area "Whanganui-a-Tara" or "the great harbour of Tara".

In 1773 Captain Cook sighted Wellington harbour, but never entered or named it. The harbour was later charted in 1826 by Captain Herd who named it Port Nicholson, in honour of John Nicholson, a harbour-master of Port Jackson, New South Wales.

In 1840 the directors of the New Zealand Company settled on the name Wellington. The name was chosen in order to express their gratitude to the Duke of Wellington, a supporter of the company in England.

Early Settlement

On August 17 1839, the sailing ship Tory dropped anchor in Queen Charlotte Sound, to pick up fresh water, food and wood before proceeding to Port Nicholson (Wellington Harbour). On board were representatives of the New Zealand Company, sent to smooth the way for organised settlement.

Their objectives were threefold: purchase land, acquire information about the country, and prepare settlements for the emigrants the Company was recruiting.

The party was led by Colonel William Wakefield, brother of the Company’s leading figure, Edward Gibbon Wakefield. He was joined by his brother’s son, Edward Jerningham Wakefield, naturalist Ernst Dieffenbach, draughtsman Charles Heaphy and interpreter Nahiti, a young Māori who had been conned by a whaling captain into working his passage to France. Dr John Dorset had the title Colonial Surgeon and Captain E.M. Chaffers was the ship’s master. Passengers brought over from Queen Charlotte Sound included Richard (Dickey) Barrett, his wife and children. On September 20 1839 the 'Tory' arrived at Port Nicholson and was piloted to Pito-one (Petone) by Dicky Barrett. The survey ship 'Cuba' arrived on January 3 1840, followed by 148 settlers on the Aurora on January 22 1840.

During the year a further ten ships arrived with settlers and supplies :

Wakefield originally planned for the Wellington settlement to be where Petone is now situated. However when the Hutt River burst its banks and flooded the area, the site was shifted to its current location. The Settlers were allocated two property lots: an acre in the township, and a back-country block worth £1 per acre. Plan of the Town of Wellington, 1840 (Archives New Zealand)

A New Capital

In 1865 the seat of government in New Zealand was moved from Auckland to Wellington, largely on the basis of Wellington's central geographical position. This gave the city a secure future.

Mayors of Wellington

  • George Hunter 1842–1843
  • William Guyton 1843
  • Joseph Dransfield 1870–1873
  • Charles Borlase 1874
  • William Sefton Moorhouse 1875
  • William Hutchison 1876–1877
  • Joseph Dransfield, 2nd time 1878–1879
  • George Allen 1879
  • William Hutchison, 2nd time 1879–1881
  • George Fisher 1882–1885
  • Arthur Winton Brown 1886
  • Samuel Brown 1887–1888
  • John Duthie 1889
  • Charles Johnston 1890
  • Arthur Winton Brown, 2nd time 1891
  • Francis Bell 1892–1893
  • Alfred Brandon 1894
  • Charles Luke 1895  
  • George Fisher, 2nd time 1896  
  • Francis Bell, 2nd time 1897
  • John Blair 1898–1899
  • John Aitken 1900–1904
  • Thomas William Hislop 1905–1908
  • Alfred Newman 1909
  • Thomas Wilford 1910–1911  
  • David McLaren 1912  
  • John Luke 1913–1921  
  • Robert Wright 1921–1925
  • Charles Norwood 1925–1927
  • George Troup 1927–1931  
  • Thomas Hislop 1931–1944  
  • Sir William Appleton 1944–1950
  • Robert Macalister 1950–1956
  • Sir Frank Kitts 1956–1974
  • Sir Michael Fowler 1974–1983
  • Ian Lawrence 1983–1986
  • Sir James Belich 1986–1992  
  • Fran Wilde 1992–1995  
  • Mark Blumsky 1995–2001
  • Kerry Prendergast 2001–2010  
  • Celia Wade-Brown 2010–present

Notable people from Wellington

The Arts


  • Russell Crowe - Oscar-winning actor
  • Anna Paquin - Oscar-winning actress
  • Antonia Prebble - actress
  • Emmett Skilton - actor
  • Karl Urban - actor Film
  • Costa Botes - film-maker
  • Jane Campion - Oscar winning film-maker
  • Peter Jackson - Oscar-winning film-maker
  • Richard Taylor - head of film prop and special effects company Weta Workshop. Multiple Oscar winner.
  • Fran Walsh - Oscar-winning screenwriter Music
  • Jemaine Clement - musician, member of Flight of the Conchords
  • Brooke Fraser - multi-platinum selling singer
  • Andy Kent - bass player for You Am I
  • Ben Lummis - singer, 2004 New Zealand Idol winner
  • Tina Matthews - musician (The Crocodiles), puppeteer, writer
  • Bret McKenzie - musician, member of Flight of the Conchords
  • John Psathas - composer
  • Eddie Rayner - musician - Crowded House, Split Enz
  • Frankie Stevens - entertainer, singer and judge of New Zealand Idol
  • Jon Toogood - singer and guitarist for the rock band Shihad
  • Rosita Vai - singer, 2005 New Zealand Idol winner Visual arts
  • Tom Scott - cartoonist, political commentator Writing
  • Ivan Bootham - novelist, short story writer, poet and composer
  • Neil Cross - writer
  • Richard Curtis - movie & TV writer and director
  • Lauris Edmond (dec.) - poet
  • Patricia Grace - writer
  • Lloyd Jones - award winning writer
  • Elizabeth Knox - celebrated author
  • Katherine Mansfield (dec.) - writer
  • Christopher Pugsley - writer


  • John Campbell - broadcaster and news journalist
  • Selwyn Toogood (dec) - broadcaster


  • Sam Morgan - founder of online auction site TradeMe
  • Peter Vincent - entrepreneur, founder/CEO of Vincent Aviation
  • Jack Yan - publisher and graphic designer
  • Politics and public service[edit]
  • Lettie Annie Allen - Public servant and political activist
  • Robin Cooke, Baron Cooke of Thorndon (dec) - barrister and jurist
  • Bill Hastings - lawyer, Chief Censor
  • Jack Marshall (dec) - former Prime Minister
  • Nancy Wake (dec) - World War II British agent

Science and technology

  • Rod Drury - technology entrepreneur
  • Alan MacDiarmid (dec) - scientist
  • William Hayward Pickering (dec) - electrical engineer, former head of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California


  • Leo Bertos - footballer
  • Russell Coutts - professional sailor
  • Simon Elliott - footballer
  • Chris Killen - footballer
  • Melissa Moon - two-time world mountain running champion
  • Wynton Rufer - footballer
  • Jonathan Sarfati - chess master and author, raised in Wellington
  • Ross Taylor - cricketer
  • Tana Umaga - former captain of the All Blacks
  • Dylan Anderson - Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter