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Sound: transport for MPs

Drawing of MP on broomstick
Audio file

There were rocky trips galore for these early politicians. In 1856 William Fox described sailing to Auckland along with about 150 sheep and 'wading through mud-flat or carried on boatmen's backs' at Onehunga. In 1861 Parliament was delayed by several days because the Wellington Members of Parliament (MPs) had not arrived. Their trip was miserable and overcrowded. One had to sleep in a small cabin used as a pantry, while another slept in the hold. A whopping roll from a wave sent unwashed plates and cutlery and a bottle of beer crashing down on the head of one of them.

Moving Parliament to Wellington made things easier only for the Wellington MPs. The Worsley brought the southern MPs a day after the session was due to begin. On the way down from Auckland, Premier Fox, his Cabinet and Auckland politicians were shipwrecked when the White Swan hit rocks off the Wairarapa coast. The Harrier, carrying Governor Grey arrived days later, having been blown virtually to the Chatham Islands.

This audio is a documentary excerpt from The wreck of the White Swan. It tells the story of the wreck of the ship carrying the government to Wellington in 1862. This episode provided a convenient excuse thenceforth for the loss of government papers.


It is always pleasant to hear of shipwrecks in which there was no loss of life. No one was lost in the wreck of the White Swan on June 29th 1862, and yet that mishap is much better remembered even today than many more serious wrecks. The White Swan was a small steamer of 300 tons and was in poor condition long before she was run ashore near Castlepoint, on the east coast. There was a certain glamour about this particular voyage. It had been proposed again and again about 1860 that the next session of Parliament should be held in Wellington. After the session of 1861 the newspapers became impatient and insisted that the experiment should be made forthwith. The removal of the seat of government to Wellington was already a vital question upon which public opinion was becoming vocal. Though Mr Fox of Wellington was premier, there were four Aucklanders in the ministry and Wellingtonians were afraid that their influence would prevent the session being held away from the northern city. Already there had been six prorogations when, at last, Parliament was summoned to meet for the dispatch of business, as the saying is, at Wellington, on June 30th 1862. It was generally understood that the governor would not be present. Actually on the 30th there were present only four members of the Upper House and eight of the Lower and both adjourned for want of a quorum.

Meanwhile at Auckland, matters moved tardily. The White Swan was to have sailed on the 26th but owing to the non arrival of the mail she was detained until the following day. Next day there was a fog. Again she was put off. Besides the premier, the Auckland Members and their wives, the chief justice, Sir George Arney, had to attend as a Member of the Legislative Council. At length all of these and some departmental officers were on board making a total passenger list of 65. In the hold were six cases of departmental papers and other official records which were required for the session. Up to the moment of sailing the engineers were having some difficulty with a suction pipe that fed the boiler.

The White Swan eventually got to sea. On Saturday at midday she reached Napier. There she took on some more passengers and in the evening proceeded on her voyage. Before daylight next morning, there was a bump, which the captain believed was caused by striking a log of wood. Almost immediately the forepart of the ship began to fill and her head was turned straight inshore. A heavy surf was running, but the beach was safe enough and all on board were landed not far from the wreck. Soon some employees from George Moore station appeared and the castaways were taken to the homestead and made comfortable. A day or two later they were picked up by the Stormbird and landed in Wellington, late once more, for the opening of Parliament.

Drawing of MP on broomstick

This was the suggested method of transport for William Cargill, Member for Dunedin Country in the 1850s. Otago Members especially had trouble getting to Auckland for sessions of Parliament.


Radio New Zealand Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Any re-use of this audio is a breach of copyright. To request a copy of the recording, contact Sound Archives Ngā Taonga Kōrero. Today in NZ history, 29 June 1862. Reference no: D2426.

Cartoon by James Brown, around 1854
Hocken Library, Uare Taoka o Hakena, University of Otago, Dunedin.

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Sound: transport for MPs, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated