The early days

The first European soldier-settler Fencibles arriving at Waipaparoa-Howick Beach being welcomed by Tara Te Irirangi and Wiremu Te Wheoro on 15th November 1847. Painting by Alan La Roche

Grey summoned enforcements

After the wars in Northland, in 1845 Governor George Grey wanted protection for the capital of New Zealand and European settlers in Auckland.

He asked Earl Grey, the Minister for the Colonies in the British Parliament, for 2500 troops.

To avoid the expense, he sent army pensioners who had served for about 20 years in the British Army or Royal Marines in China, Afghanistan or India and other areas, who were “men of good character and industrious habits, of robust frame and fit for occasional military duties” for a seven-year term of service.

They could be married and bring their children. Ten percent were unmarried. Many were worn out after harsh army life and suffered war wounds. Most had war medals.

After the seven years, providing they had obeyed all orders, including attending church parade every Sunday morning, they were given their acre of land allotment and cottage.

If they missed church parade twice, “it was a mutinous act”, resulting in losing their cottage and acre and repayment of the passage cost for them, their wife and family from Britain, which was taken out of their pensions.

Harsh reality upon arrival

The first Howick European-settler Fencibles and their families arrived at Waipaparoa Howick Beach in 1847 after a long sea voyage from Britain.

They were told that “a two roomed cottage would be ready on arrival”.

But there was almost no preparation. A few weeks earlier a few carpenters and some labourers quickly erected temporary sheds on the foreshore by the Uxbridge Road creek.

The immigrants were not impressed. Fencible James White called them “an apology for a pigsty”.

His senior Major General Pitt said: “They are totally unfit to be uninhabitable during heavy rains.”

But being mostly Irish, they put up with yet another inconvenient discrimination.

Welcome party, eventually

The first European Howick settler-Fencible families, soon after arriving, demanded “abandon Howick”.

Because they arrived in November 1847 it was too late in the season to clear the land to plant wheat, oats or even potatoes.

Soon many were starving. Captain Smith was able to find a few potatoes for the list of “destitute families of Howick”.

The senior officers had Captain Smith court martialled for being generous. Fortunately, within a month, some potatoes were ready to be harvested, and Smith was acquitted.

The Fencibles and their families from the ships Minerva and Sir Robert Sale had to wait for five weeks before the Governor decided to place them at Howick.

Fortunately, the wife of the Governor, Mrs Grey; the wife of the Bishop, Mrs Selwyn; and the wife of the judge, Mrs Martin, wanted to welcome the new arrivals and entertain them at St John’s College at Kohimarama.

The college vessels Marian and Undine collected the new immigrants in the Auckland harbour and brought them up the Purewa Creek where the Bishop’s tent that could hold 300 people was erected with tables of fresh meat and puddings, all from the college farm “flowing with milk and honey”.

After games they sang Rule Britannia and God Save Our Queen, then were returned to their ships.

By Alan La Roche, MBE, Howick Historian


Significant European settlement dates in 1847

8 October: The first Fencible families assigned to Howick arrived in Tamaki Makaurau Auckland’s Waitemata Harbour on the ship Minerva.

18 October: Governor George Grey, Bishop George Selwyn (the first Anglican Bishop of New Zealand), Major Richmond and Felton Mathew (New Zealand’s first Surveyor General) visited and selected a site known as Owairoa Paparoa for settlement.

27 October: A reception for Fencibles and their families was held at St Johns Anglican College at Kohimarama.

28 October: Four carpenters and nine labourers off the ships Minerva and Sir Robert Sale were taken to Owairoa to build two sheds to house new settlers.

15 November: The brigantine Victoria transported the families off the Minerva and Sir Robert Sale to Howick Beach. They were welcomed by Maori iwi chiefs, Wiremu Te Wheoro (Ngati Naho and Ngai Tai), and Tara Te Irirangi (Ngai Tai). November 15 is recognised as Howick’s birthday/anniversary day.

21 November: The first Christian religious service was held at All Saints Church.

2 January, 1848: Father Antonie Marie Garin, a French Roman Catholic priest, arrived with two assistants, built a raupo chapel school and church, and Catholic religious services started.

Read: Life for the Fencibles