Fencibles try to settle

Howick historian Alan La Roche continues his fortnightly column which provides some very insightful glimpses into Howick’s past in this, its 170th year. The area is preparing for big celebrations on the 175th anniversary .

Howick was founded 170 years ago on 15th November 1847.

In 1847 Howick was founded with the arrival of three Fencible companies who were to be placed at Howick which was the largest of the Fencible settlements. But when the Fencible immigrants arrived at Howick Beach there were no roads, no bridges, no fences, no wharf, no firewood, and no land cleared for planting as promised and Howick was 15 miles from Auckland with a ferry to cross the Tamaki River.

Being November it was too late to plant potatoes or cabbages. August-September were the months for planting. Many Fencibles had dreamed of owning their own cottage and having their own vegetable gardens.

As the brig Victoria sailed along the coast to Howick all they could see was a bleak landscape of hill with fern-covered grasslands and stunted shrubs — they were disappointed. The other Fencible settlements were on productive volcanic soils.

At Howick Beach the ships boats took them ashore landing on tussock covered shell banks by the Uxbridge Road stream which extended out from the beach. The rock wall of the 1890s caused erosion and disappearance of a large amount of shell and sand. Bell birds and Tui gave bell sounds from the few trees.

Bell birds became diseased and died out in the 1860s in this area. The Fencibles were welcomed by two distinguished Maori chiefs – the tattooed Tara Te Irirangi and Wiremu Te Wheoro wearing European clothing but wrapped in a big blanket. They spoke in English and probably had attended Fairburn’s Church Missionary Society School at Maraetai Beach.

Maori had complained in 1847 that their land (almost 83,000 acres) had been taken by the Government and had not been paid for. But they saw an economic opportunity to sell fruit especially peaches, vegetables including maize, fish, oysters and other shellfish and pork at reasonable prices.

The Victoria was only 80 feet long with a shallow 12 foot draft, whereas the Minerva was 141 feet long so could not venture into the Waiheke Passage and the shallow waters off Waipaparoa-Howick Beach to unload the new immigrants.