Heritage & Local History
Interested in local history? Have an assignment to do on the Springbok Tour? You're in the right place! This page was prepared by Gabor Toth, our Local and New Zealand History Specialist, and aims to collect information about our local history collections, as well as information about online initiatives. We welcome feedback -- Contact Us
Wondering where to get started or what's on offer? We've put together a guide with tips and hints to help you with your research of local and NZ history online and in person at Wellington City Libraries (click to view fullscreen).
Wondering what's new? Here are our picks of the local history recent items!
Coffee houses of Wellington 1939 to 1979 : the pre-espresso period in New Zealand, by Craig Miller.
This book covers the history of the arrival of coffee shops in Wellington, the people involved (pioneers, business owners and customers) and how our coffee culture has changed over time.
The empire city: songs of Wellington, by Andrew Laking ; paintings by Bob Kerr.
"The Empire City traces the history of Wellington, from the middle of the 19th Century till the present day. Stories are told through song, text, paintings and photographs ... The book includes a CD with original songs by Andrew Laking ... The songs are given context by historical notes and illuminated through a number of previously unseen archival photos, and over 20 new paintings by Bob Kerr" (Publisher information)
Raupo to deco : Wellington styles and architects, 1840-1940, by Geoff Mew & Adrian Humphris.
"This book celebrates a century of architectural achievement in Wellington, linking the progression of style characteristics, from raupo thatching to art deco ornament, with the development of the city. It contains biographical information about more than 300 architects associated with Wellington at various times" (Publisher information)
Thorndon : Wellington and home : my Katherine Mansfield project, by Kirsty Gunn.
"For London-based writer Kirsty Gunn, returning to the city of her birth to spend a winter in a tiny colonial cottage in Thorndon is an exciting opportunity to walk the very streets and hills that Katherine Mansfield left behind on her departure from New Zealand, but later longed to revisit. For Mansfield, Gunn writes, home was an instant 'go-to' zone for invention and narrative and characterisation and setting. For Gunn, home is now two places - Here and there the same place after all" (Publisher information)
New Zealand's lost heritage : the stories behind our forgotten landmarks, by Richard Wolfe.
"Features 20 notable structures which, for various reasons, no longer exist. Most of the buildings have been demolished in the name of urban development, creating controversy. Each building and the circumstances of its demise is discussed and illustrated, including Wellington's Parliament Buildings (accidental fire). What emerges is a fascinating social and historical narrative that sheds light on parts of New Zealand's cultural history and reveals the truth of the old adage that history repeats" (Adapted from Publisher's information)
You'll find local history books at the library at 993.141 (check both the lending and reference, large and normal sized book sections), or try our catalogue search for Wellington history books
What we have...
The Heritage films page showcases videos from Wellington City Archives. They are of an ephemeral nature and include short films from the Khandallah Library opening in 1953, the Queen's visit in 1954, the Festival of Wellington in 1959, and an informative film from 1947 about Wellington's milk supply.
Ephemera & poster collections:
Catch a glimpse of the past with our Ephemera and poster collections... (more about our Ephemera and Poster Collections)
The Cuba Street Memories Project:
The Cuba Street Memories Project is the libraries' first collaborative history project. Help us build a history of Cuba Street online - share your memories and pictures of Cuba Street and contribute your knowledge of the area.
The Ruth Gotlieb oral history:
Ruth Gotlieb had a long and remarkable career within local government, serving a total of 27 years between the Wellington City Council, the Wellington Regional Council, the Wellington Harbour Board and the Capital & Coast District Health Board. These interviews with Ruth Gotlieb were recorded in 2015 over three sessions.... (more about the Ruth Gotlieb Oral History)
The Mervyn Kemp oral history:
Listen online. Ernest Mervyn Hall Kemp, was Mayor of the Tawa Borough Council for 28 years. These recordings were made in 1995 when Mervyn Kemp was 82 years old... (more about the Mervyn Kemp Oral History)
The Robert Bradford Williams oral history:
Robert Bradford Williams was an American-born immigrant who first arrived in Wellington in the late 1880s. He became a notable lawyer, music director and the longest serving Mayor of the Wellington Borough of Onslow. This oral history was recorded in 2010 with Jane Paul, Robert Bradford Williams' granddaughter... (more about the Robert Bradford Williams Oral History)
The Ohariu Valley oral history:
Stretching for 15 kilometres from Makara in the south to Tawa in the north, Ohariu Valley is a rural district on Wellington's urban doorstep. Feeling that the social history of the area deserved to be more widely known, Wellington City Libraries have captured some of the memories of current and former valley dwellers in this oral history project.... (more about the Ohariu Valley Oral History)
Thornton's Confectionary oral history:
For generations of young Wellingtonian's, one shop in the city stood above all others: Thornton's Confectionary based in Manners Street was Wellington's best known and loved manufacturing confectioner until it closed in 1948. In an era before processed snack foods or pre-packed sweets and chocolate bars, Thornton's supplied a huge variety of sugary treats to Wellington's citizens for nearly 70 years.... (more about the Thornton's Confectionary Oral History)
- The Streets of my city : Wellington, ..., Fanny L. Irvine-Smith (1948)
An invaluable resource which records and explains street-names, preserving pioneer ships and their captains, early settlers, Māori places and people...
- The Land of Tara and they who settled it, Elsdon Best (1919)
Reprinted in 1919 from the Journal of the Polynesian Society of New Zealand.
- The Rosanna Settlers, Hilda McDonnell (2002)
In 1825 a group of Scottish settlers, though some were said to have been from Cumberland, sailed on the barque Rosanna from London with Captain Herd. They were part of a New Zealand Company venture planned to last three years.
- Notes on Port Nicholson and the Natives in 1839, Major Charles Heaphy
Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 11th October, 1879.
- Twelve months in Wellington, by John Wood (1843)
Published in London in 1843. [...] 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 are more digitised books in our Te Whanganui-a-Tara pages, including Māori deeds of land purchases
Our local history databases:
- Wellington Local History Database
Primarily based around a collection of newspaper articles, dating back to the 1940s when the clipping and indexing of local newspapers first began at the Libraries...(more about the Wellington Local History Database)
- Evening Post clipping database, 1927-1977
Contains several hundred thousand newspaper clippings collected between 1927 and 1977. It was originally assembled and maintained by Evening Post library staff... (more about the Evening Post clipping database)
- Master mariners' database
New Zealand's master mariners were featured in a series of Evening Post articles in 1958-1959. The profiles were written by Sydney Waters and mainly deal with Union Steam Ship Company captains... (more about the Master Mariners' database)
Databases we subscribe to:
- ProQuest ANZ Newsstand
This database offers full text access to national and provincial newspapers in Australia and New Zealand. New Zealand titles include The Dominion Post... (more about the ProQuest database)
Museums & archives
Catalogues & web directories
Interested in our city's history? Our local heritage resource created in association with the Wellington City Archives, draws upon our collections of photographs, postcards, vintage pamphlets, theatre programmes and more... Visit Recollect
Historical Wellington Resource Guides
The architecture of our city is a reflection of our history over the past 150 years. From simple wooden houses, to streamlined Art Deco housing blocks...
Read more about Wellington's architecture
For the 86 years between 1878 and 1964, public transport in Wellington was dominated by the tram...
Read more about trams in Wellington
Though there have been worse shipping disasters in New Zealand with far greater loss of life, the sinking of the Wahine in 1968 is by far the most well known...
(Read more about the Wahine disaster)
The 1981 Springbok tour became one of the most divisive events in New Zealand history. Its impact went far beyond the rugby ground as communities and families divided and tensions spilled out onto the streets and into the living rooms of the nation...
(Read more about the 1981 Springbok tour)
Did you know... Brooklyn was established in 1852 by John Fitchett senior as a dairy farm? Or that Berhampore was named after a place in Bengal? Read our (brief) suburb guides:
Few issues have had a higher profile in the minds of many Wellingtonians than the development of the Wellington waterfront. For over a century, much of what we now consider to be open public space was locked away from the average citizen with a line of stern buildings and wrought iron gates...
(Read more about the Wellington Waterfront)
Various links to Te Whanganui-a-Tara resources. On these pages you'll find more digitised resources, including: Māori deeds of land purchases, a list of Māori tribes and chiefs circa 1878, and many more resources...
(Read more about our Te Whanganui-a-Tara resources)
Our whakapapa pages
The library has a wealth of information suitable for using as resource material when researching your whakapapa. Some of these lists are arranged by iwi, and some by geographic region....
(Read more about researching Whakapapa)
Our genealogy pages
Genealogy is the art of tracing your family's bloodline. It is one of the few times you actually start at the end of something and work your way back in time...
(Read more about researching Genealogy)