Prospective locations for the Auckland CBD

The location and naming of Auckland was determined by Irish sailor Captain William Hobson. Hobson had arrived in New Zealand as Lieutenant-Governor on 29 January 1840 aboard the HMS Herald. After the successful signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands on 6 February, Hobson set about determining the location for the new capital of the colony.

On visiting the Waitematā harbour on the invitation of Ngāti Whatua, Hobson was very taken with a prospective location in the upper harbour in the vicinity of what is now called Hobsonville. But he suffered a crippling stroke, and returned to the Bay of Islands, before confirming a location for the capital.

Vessels moored near Herald Island
Hobson was very enamoured with the upper Waitematā harbour as the location for New Zealand’s first capital, with its sheltered deep water. The area was subsequently named Hobsonville. Herald Island (shown on the left of this image) was named after the vessel on which Hobson visited the area, the HMS Herald.

Surveyor-General Felton Mathew was then instructed by Hobson to undertake another voyage to investigate prospective locations. Mathew was very enamoured with the Panmure Basin as the location for the new capital due to the low-lying and fertile volcanic soil, an abundance of freshwater draining from Maungarei (Mount Wellington), and proximity to the Manukau Harbour portage.

Panmure Basin Auckland
The Panmure Basin was another prospective location for the Auckland CBD due to its fertile, undulating land and ample freshwater.

When Hobson returned to the Waitematā on 6 July 1840 Hobson revisited the Hobsonville and Panmure locations but concluded that neither were suitable. The land at Hobsonville had poor fertility (evidenced by the stunted ferns growing in the area), little drainage and no obvious water supply. There was also very shallow water near the shore. The one significant downside for the Panmure option was the sand bar across the mouth of the Tāmaki River which made access by large vessels difficult.

The Watchman or Sentinal Island Herne Bay
It was whilst anchored near Watchman Island (the Sentinal) that Hobson’s doctor noted the promising look of the land on the southern shore near Herne Bay. This lead to further investigation and the ultimate establishment of Auckland on the Tāmaki isthmus on 18 September 1840.

Whilst the HMS Herald was anchored in the vicinity of Herne Bay near Watchman Island, Hobson’s physician Dr Johnson commented on the inviting appearance of the land on the southern shore. After closer investigation it was determined that the land looked promising and there was a deep anchorage close by. Hobson named the new settlement Auckland in honour of his benefactor Lord Auckland who had given Hobson command of a ship after six years of being stranded ashore.

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