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The House of Representatives

Page 5 – First sitting, 1854

It started with a bang – 21 in fact, fired from the guns at Auckland's Fort Britomart. As soon as the smoke had cleared, New Zealand's first Parliament was under way. It was noon on Wednesday, 24 May 1854, and the venue was Auckland, the country's capital city and home to Parliament for the next 10 years. The day was wet and miserable – even if it was Queen Victoria's birthday – and the buildings were not yet ready to receive the new Parliament, but there was excitement in the air as New Zealand took an important step in its history.

The parliamentarians, all 37 of them, were sworn in, giving their oaths of allegiance to the Crown in the person of the acting governor, R.H. Wynyard. Then the Members went to a formal reception in the afternoon and a ball that evening. Three days later, there was the state opening of the General Assembly with all the pomp and ceremony that could be mustered, which was a great treat for the locals who turned out to watch.

Getting there

Getting the politicians to Auckland was a big task. Shipping services from one end of the country to the other were few and far between, and, in the end, the government had to hire ships to pick up the Members of Parliament (MPs). It took some of the politicians two months to get to Auckland by sail and 12 days by steamer. Once there, the problems were not necessarily over. One ship anchored a mile offshore, and small boats ferried in the parliamentarians who were set down close to the beach and had to wade through mud and stones to reach land. Then they had to carry their bags for half a mile along the beach until they were met by carriages to take them to their accommodation, six miles away in town.

Happy birthday, Parliament

Parliament has celebrated its special birthdays: 100 years since the first sitting, 100 years since sitting in Wellington and the 150th anniversary of the first sitting.

The centennial in 1954 was commemorated by a memorial on the original site of Parliament in Auckland – a grassed area behind the Supreme Court bounded by Anzac Avenue and Parliament Street where two old pohutukawa trees stood. Parliament travelled to Auckland for a state luncheon in the Auckland Town Hall on 24 May 1954, and there was a ball that evening. Two years later, a bronze plaque was unveiled. The trees grew into magnificent specimens, but the commemorative memorial all but disappeared over time. On 24 May 2004 the historic site was landscaped again and rededicated, and the footprint of the original buildings was recreated in a low basalt wall.

Did you know?

In the first elections, held in 1853, only male British subjects who were 21 years of age and over and owned property or occupied a house of a certain value could vote. Not many people were interested in voting: candidates were elected without opposition in 13 of the 24 electorates, which meant that 20 of the 37 MPs in the first Parliament got in simply by putting their names forward.

In 1965 it was Wellington's turn. By then, Parliament had sat there for 100 years. A postage stamp depicting the original Wellington Provincial Council Buildings was issued, television documentaries were made, and a school bulletin about Parliament was published. On 26 July the Speaker unveiled a commemorative plaque.

Parliament turned 150 in 2004, and a variety of official events was organised to mark this. There was an official celebration on 24 May in Auckland, a special anniversary sitting of the House, commemorative stamps, a Youth Parliament, an exhibition of portraits of and by politicians, and the first full history of New Zealand's Parliament.

How to cite this page

First sitting, 1854, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated