How Auckland has changed over the last 100 years

Native feast held at Remuera Auckland [1]

by Guyon Lang, age 13.

Auckland used to belong to the Maori tribe of Ngati Whatua, but when the Treat of Waitangi was signed in 1840, European settlers went to Auckland but gradually Auckland has changed from a population of 1000 to at least 1.2 million people. Maori people are first thought to have settled in the Auckland region approximately 650 years ago. Auckland would seem to have been a highly sought after area due to its rich and fertile land. The name given by the early Maori for the area, ‘Tamaki’, meaning ‘battle’, would seem to confirm this. The volcanic cones that are dotted all over Auckland became natural sites for pas, or fortified Maori settlements. Several of the best-known lookout areas in Auckland, such as Mount Eden and One Tree Hill, bear the traces of these pas. Fierce inter-tribal conflict in the 1820’s led to there being little organized Maori resistance to European settlement, and by 1840 the British had either beaten or bought out (generally for a few trinkets) the Ngati Whatua tribe.

The onset of systematic European settlement can be traced to 1840. New Zealand’s first governor, Captain William Hobson, chose Auckland as the capital. Hobson decided upon the name Auckland, in honour of his patron and formed commander, Lord Auckland (at that time, the viceroy of India). Many of the other place names in Auckland bear the influence of Hobson’s patron. Lord Auckland’s family name was Eden, and a great many parts of the city bear his name. A pivotal date for Auckland is 1840. The year began with the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, commonly seen as New Zealand’s founding document. In Auckland, local chiefs gathered at Karaka Bay, Awhitu and Mangere to sign or put their marks to the document that promised protection of Maori land if the Maori recognized British sovereignty.

In this year too William Hobson, Lieutenant Governor of New Zealand, chose Auckland as the capital of the new colony, named for his naval commander George Eden, Lord Auckland. The city retained this distinction until 1865, when Wellington took over as capital. During the township’s early years relations with the Maori seemed quite cordial. Maori, in fact, supplied most of the fresh produce for the township; they traded widely and provided labour for public works and other projects. However, despite the treaty, the encroachment of European settlers on Maori land was continuous, leading to a series of skirmishes and conflicts. Barracks were built in Auckland and British troops called up. Most of the fighting took place in Waikato; some, however, occurred on the southern borders of the Auckland region, around Pukekohe and Clevedon. This had a devastating effect on local Maori and many settlers suffered heavy losses. Maori themselves refer to the land wars of the 1840s to 60’s as Te Riri Pakeha, or white man’s anger, and claim, as did some European observers of the day, that they were only defending their land and their culture. The result was massive confiscations of land, the ramifications of which are still being addressed today.



The turn of the 20th century was an ear of social and economic reform which made New Zealand a world leader in social welfare: the vote for women, the old age pension; a national child welfare program; minimum wages and a 40-hour working week were all brought in. However, the country suffered heavily in WWI with one in every three men aged between 20 and 40 killed or wounded fighting for Britain; and also during the Great Depression and WWII, when war was declared in the Pacific and New Zealand was directly threatened. The Pacific War also brought many American technicians to Auckland, whose influence remains in some quarters. Things began looking up again the post-war years, especially when Auckland hosted the Empire Games in 1950.

In the 1980’s, New Zealand declared itself a nuclear free state, causing some friction with the US, whose warships it refused entry, and the French, who were testing nuclear weapons in the Pacific. In 1985, French secret service agents sank the Greenpeace ship, Rainbow Warrior, in Auckland Harbour. The 70’s and 80’2 also saw further friction between indigenous and non-indigenous populations with resurgence of Maori consciousness.

In 1985, the Treaty of Waitangi was revisited, and while race relations remain an issue, Maori culture is now a significant part of the city’s self-image. After a few years in the doldrums, Auckland is now beginning to blossom. Perhaps the most significant event of the 1990s – at least a great cause for national celebrations – was New Zealand boat Black Magic’s historic win in the America’s Cup race in 1995. Auckland’s waterfront was give a facelift for the event in 2000, when the triumph was repeated, and the city will hold the world’s greatest yachting race again in 2003.