New Zealand Company surveyors arrive in Port Nicholson

3 January 1840

Charles Heaphy painting of Wellington, 1841 (Alexander Turnbull Library, C-025-010)

Surveyors arrived in Port Nicholson to lay out the proposed New Zealand Company settlement of Britannia at Pito-one (Petone). When this site proved unsuitable, the town was relocated across the harbour. It would be called Wellington in honour of the victor in the Battle of Waterloo.

The survey party, led by Captain William Mein Smith, arrived on the Cuba, a name that would become a familiar part of the region’s landscape, with Cuba Streets in both Petone and central Wellington. A map for the new settlement had been prepared in England by Samuel Cobham. Its main purpose was to encourage investors to support the venture. The orderly grid pattern contained familiar names to remind settlers of England – though Covent Garden, Soames Square and Billingsgate Fish Market did not materialise in the final settlement.

The New Zealand Company and its model of systematic colonisation was the brainchild of Edward Gibbon Wakefield. Central to his scheme were packages of land consisting of a town acre (0.4 ha) and an accompanying 100 country acres (40 ha). There were 1100 one-acre town sections in the plan for Port Nicholson, which Mein Smith struggled to reproduce on the ground.

Time was also against Mein Smith. The Company was desperate to move before the British government intervened in New Zealand. As a result, an impossible timeframe was set for the Company surveyors. When the first settler ship arrived on 22 January, there was no grid pattern laid out at Petone.