Town of Wellington, Port Nicholson, from Rai - Warra - Warra Hill (From Samuel Charles Brees, Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand, John Williams and Co., London, 1848) Twelve months in Wellington / by John Wood (1843)

Introduction

Contents: preface | introduction | narrative | chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9
Title page of Twelve months in Wellington / by John Wood (1843)
Twelve Months in Wellington was published in London in 1843. At first glance the title gives the impression that the book is a guide for prospective settlers. However within the first few paragraphs it becomes apparent that the author's primary purpose was to publish a damning critique of the New Zealand Company and to warn those who were considering emigrating of the likely difficulties and hardships.

There is almost no aspect of the New Zealand Company and the Wakefield family which is immune from John Wood's invective. The directors of the company are largely portrayed as scheming speculative 'rip-off' merchants who are engaged in selling overpriced, low-quality land - much of it inaccessible and some which they did not even have the rights to sell. Local banks charge enormous fees for providing minimal service, and the Post Office is indicted by Wood for intercepting any U.K bound letter which is critical of the Company. New Zealand Company staff are portrayed as over-paid inefficient bureaucrats incapable of carrying out even the simplest task, while being extremely reluctant to assist any of their 'customers' with their complaints against the company.
The opposing political stances of the two main Wellington newspapers for the period are well illustrated through the large number of printed excerpts that Wood included. The New Zealand Gazette is accused by Wood of being a propaganda mouthpiece for the New Zealand Company which is almost always lavished in praise.


Countering that view is The Colonist, a short-lived newspaper which was set up to offer an alternative viewpoint and which Wood quotes from extensively to back up his charges against the Company.

One can but wonder how many potential settlers were turned off by the author's stinging attack on the New Zealand Company and never made their trip to the antipodes because of it.
In spite of Wood's bitter criticisms, the book offers an extraordinary window into what Wellington was like during the earliest days of colonial settlement. Not only are the physical attributes of the region described in detail, but the depiction of European society and early Pakeha interaction with Maori offer a fascinating insight into what life was like in our city over 160 years ago.

Because of the rarity and fragility of the Library's original copy, a digitisation process has allowed us to present the book in an electronic format for the first time. Note that the Victorian spelling and grammar used by the publisher has been retained in this on-line version. In the case of Maori place names, some of the spellings used were written phonetically or are based on incorrect interpretations of a spoken word. As a result, some of these may seem quite strange.
Examples include:

"Wykani" = Waikanae
"Bukarui Bay" = Pukerua Bay
"Orewenua" = Horowhenua
"Waiho" = Waikato

Twelve Months in Wellington was not an illustrated publication. All the images used in this on-line version have been sourced from Pictorial Illustrations of New Zealand by Samuel Charles Brees, and published by John Williams & Co (London) in 1848. The images are of coloured engravings based on the watercolour paintings Brees supplied to the publisher. John Wood met Brees on a number of occasions but considered him to be a 'lackey' of the New Zealand Company due to his employment by them as a surveyor. However his images make an excellent accompaniment to Wood's narrative, though there is little doubt that Brees's illustrations show Wellington to be a far more pleasant and desirable place than what was actually the case.


The Author

John Wood was born in 1812 in the town of Perth in Scotland. After attending high school at the Perth Academy, he joined the Indian Navy - a British naval force whose primary role was to protect British trade and shipping interests around the sub-continent. He soon demonstrated a flair for surveying and many of the maps he drew remained the standard authority for those regions for decades. However he was to find his fame as an explorer and adventurer. In 1835 when he was aged only 22, he commanded the first steamer to paddle up the Indus (now in Pakistan), surveying the river as he went. Four years later he led an expedition to Kabul in Afghanistan, crossed the Hindu Kush mountain range to Kunduz, and then went on to find one of the sources of the great river Oxus (today called the Amu Darya). His adventures were later published in a best-selling Victorian travelogue - Narrative of a Journey to the Source of the River Oxus.

Retiring from the Navy with a glowing reputation while still only in his late twenties, Captain Wood visited many British colonies - including New Zealand. His year-long visit to Wellington seems to have been driven mainly by his love of adventure - something at odds with most of the early European settlers who were primarily driven by the desire to build a better life and to seek their fortunes. It seems unlikely that he intended to permanently settle in New Zealand and while he did purchase some land, it was probably only as an investment. He spent most of his time in the Wellington township, but did venture to the Hutt Valley and up to the Kapiti Coast. Curiously for a man who had built a reputation as an explorer, Wood never travelled north of the Wellington region nor visited the South Island.

On returning to England he wrote and had published Twelve Months in Wellington, but soon travelled back to India where he based himself in the Sind province in Northern India (now Pakistan). In 1871 he decided to return to England where he hoped to live out the rest of his days in comfort. Shortly before embarking he made one last trip to the city of Simla in the Punjab but caught a fever en route from which he never fully recovered. Though he managed to return to England, he survived only 14 days after arriving and died in London on 14th November 1871, aged 59.

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