Let’s start at the beginning

Howick last month celebrated its 170th birthday. Today we begin a column penned by Alan La Roche which will run for the year and guide us nicely toward the district’s 175th anniversary celebrations. Alan is on the Board of The Howick and Districts Historical Society Inc and works as a volunteer at the Howick Historical Village about four days a week. The title of Howick Historian was conferred on him by the Manukau City Council and Howick and Districts Historical Society.  

On the 15th November 1847, 170 years ago, the first settlers arrived at Waipaparoa –Howick Beach. They were members of the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps, called Pensioners in their day, but we call them Fencibles. There were three sailing-ships that brought these retired soldier-settlers who would settle in Howick. They were the Minerva, the Sir Robert Sale and the Sir George Seymour from Britain to Auckland Harbour.

After the war in Northland the Governor needed troops to protect Auckland. Fencibles, retired soldiers, were much cheaper than regular soldiers.

The first ship to arrive in Auckland harbour was the Minerva from Gravesend, London in a 95 day “good voyage” without stopping arriving on October 8, 1847. There were no complaints about the food, water, the accommodation, or the crew.

There was a doctor on each ship; on the Minerva one woman and six children died but six children were born. The doctor was paid 10/- for every passenger who arrived alive at the destination. They were allowed to go ashore in Auckland town to buy fresh fruit, bread and liquor. But they were idle, with handy hotels and often got drunk because they had to wait six weeks before the Governor decided where to place the settlement.

There was not enough Crown Land available close to Auckland. He considered the Bay of Islands, Mahurangi, and even a Cook Strait settlement but he finally chose Howick on land that was taken off Maori (unpaid) under the care of William Fairburn and the Church Missionary Society. But Governor Grey was able to sell land around Howick for inflated profits that paid for the Fencible immigration scheme as well as money for Auckland’s roads.

The Victoria, the Government brig came alongside in Auckland harbour to load on November 15. The ships name brought back memories for the Fencibles. Many had attended the 19-year-old Queen Victoria’s Coronation with their regiments nine years earlier.

On October 18, only four weeks earlier, Major George Grey, Bishop Selwyn, Major Richmond [the Brigade Major], and Felton Mathew, the Surveyor General, all swam their horses over the Tamaki River and rode over to Howick bay where they decided on the site for a Fencible settlement.

Felton Mathew had surveyed Pakuranga and Howick in 1843 and farms were available for one pound an acre then. The price of farmland in Howick and Pakuranga increased dramatically as soon the settlement of Howick started in 1847 and continues today.


  1. According to the Dictionary of NZ Biography – Felton Mathew left New Zealand in September 1847 and died in Peru in November. This suggests that he was probably not swimming his horse across the Tamaki River in October 1847. What is the source for this?

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