Auckland City Tāmaki Makaurau is situated amongst many volcanoes on an isthmus that is flanked by the Manukau and Waitemata harbours. The cones punctuate the skyline and the ocean is never far from view. These iconic features have not only shaped the landscape but also the people who have settled in this diverse environment.

Welcome to the AHI landing page. This research inititative will focus on understanding the historical and cultural development of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland as well as the wider Auckland region extending from Northland to the Waikato, and Auckland’s connections with international and global networks of trade, governance and culture.

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Upcoming AHI Events: Auckland Heritage Festival

Auckland City Centenary 1971 – film and panel discussion at Old Government House, University of Auckland

Come along and enjoy the next AHI event as part of the 2019 Auckland Heritage Festival. Registration required.

Where: Old Government House, the University of Auckland

When: 18 October 2019, 4pm-5.30pm with a social function afterwards


2019 AHI Symposium

The Auckland History Initiative is pleased to announce its first symposium to be held at the Waipapa Marae, The University of Auckland, 9am-4pm, 15 April 2019, with an evening lecture and function at the Auckland Museum.

Morning tea and a light lunch will be provided. 

Please register for the Symposium and Lecture separately using the ‘register’ buttons. 



Symposium Programme

Speakers at the symposium will include Professor Grace Karskens (University of New South Wales), Emeritus Professor Russell Stone, Emeritus Professor Raewyn Dalziel, Professor Charlotte Macdonald, Dr Ben Schrader and Dr Hazel Petrie.

The event will also feature the work of Summer Scholars from the University of Auckland who will talk on aspects of Auckland history, an update on Auckland Museum’s proposed Tamaki Galleries and a panel discussion on urban history from different disciplinary perspectives to take the AHI forward.

To conclude the symposium, Auckland Museum is hosting the first AHI Annual Lecture, to be presented by Ms Margaret Kawharu and Professor David Williams. Please register separately for the evening lecture.

Draft 2019 AHI Symposium Programme

Keynote Address

Going Public: Historians, Public History and the Power of Place


What is the role of historians in public history? Are they revered experts and instigators? Equal collaborators? Or do they just provide the ‘colourful’ stories in public history projects?  Drawing on historians’ work with archaeologists, museum curators, local historians, film-makers and Aboriginal people over the past thirty years, this paper will argue that public history is a distinctive kind of historical practice, indeed a distinctive kind of history, because of its connections to places and people. Historians need to go public. Public history has the power to foster historical consciousness of place, to connect people in shared understandings of the past and present, in ways that are essential for caring for places, and for social justice and reconciliation.

Speaker’s Bio

Professor Grace Karskens teaches Australian history at the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She is a leading authority on early colonial history and also works in cross-cultural history and environmental history. Grace began her career as a public historian and is committed to promoting historical understandings and awareness to wide audiences. She has served as a Trustee of Sydney Living Museums and of the Dictionary of Sydney. Her latest book The Colony: A History of Early Sydney won the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction and the US Urban History Association’s prize for Best Book 2010. Her next book, People of the River, is a history of Aboriginal and settler peoples on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River from deep time to about 1830.


Glitter and Gore: Auckland’s origins as a garrison town

Charlotte Macdonald

Amongst the first and most consistent European presence in colonial Auckland were redcoat soldiers of British regiments sent as part of the Governor’s retinue; as a fighting force in the mid-1840s Northern Wars; as a resident garrison in the 1850s, and then in very large numbers (over 12,000) as forces fighting in the wars of the 1860s. Officers and ordinary rank and file soldiers from 18 British Army infantry regiments (along with some wives and children), together with the 2200 or so Fencible settlers (1847-53), made Auckland a place of dense military activity.

There are many layers to this early history, and a paradox at its heart. Alongside the gore, the guns and the harsh enforcement of imperial authority was a remarkable glitter and popularity. To the muddy streets and flimsy wooden buildings, officers and ordinary redcoat soldiers brought ceremony, pageantry, stirring music, elaborate balls, horse racing to thrill an afternoon, and the deep pockets of the Commissariat that kept many a local business afloat. The paper will discuss these contradictory strands in Auckland’s origins as a garrison town – a term used both admiringly and as an insult by contemporaries. What understanding might we reach by exposing this history that hides in plain sight in the streets of modern Auckland? How might we see Auckland as a node in a ‘settler empire’ held together by an underpinning force along with law, trade, religious conviction and, in the case of Aotearoa New Zealand, a Treaty?

Benjamin Cunningham and the First Auckland City Mission

Raewyn Dalziel

In the 1860s leading citizens of Auckland responded to perceived issues of child poverty and neglect among its European population with a number of competing charitable projects.  They struggled with how to categorize the children they wanted to help – as neglected, destitute, orphaned, criminal, depraved, insane – and how to provide the care that might be appropriate to each child’s situation.  A case study of one of the child ‘rescue’ projects, the Auckland City Mission and Children’s Home, established in 1863 and closing in 1870, illustrates some of the class, religious and ideological tensions that characterised the young town and early attempts at providing child welfare.  These tensions were shown most clearly when the treatment of some of the children by the young ‘President’ of the Mission became the subject of a devastating newspaper attack and a subsequent public inquiry.  Far from independent, the inquiry was probably the first of many that took place over subsequent years into the abuse of children in institutional care in New Zealand.

Government House: The first ‘Auckland’ building?

Ben Schrader

The Maoriland period (1890-1910s) was the genesis of New Zealand cultural nationalism. Recent research on Maoriland cultural production and consumption – in literature and the wider arts – has shown how traditional Māori culture was used to provide Pākehā with a pre-history to the settler state and a distinct social identity. An area of Maoriland so far overlooked is the built environment. The period also saw an awakening Pākehā interest in preserving colonial historic buildings. These were increasingly viewed as important in shaping a distinctive Pākehā sense of place and social identity too.

This talk examines the 1910 public campaign to save Auckland’s Government House. A government plan to demolish the building for a new university generated the largest public campaign to save a historic building in the city’s history. The general view was that the building was a pivotal part of Auckland’s heritage and its demise would rob the city of a vital emblem of colonial Auckland. Faced with overwhelming opposition, the government judiciously backed down.

The campaign suggests that Maoriland’s construction was more complex than previously recognised; that it not only appropriated Māori culture but included aspects of Pākehā (material) culture as well.

Black Fellows and White Chinamen: Chinese, Indian, Lebanese, & Dalmatians arrive in Auckland, c1890-1920s

Hazel Petrie

 New Zealand’s earliest non-Polynesian immigrants were largely British.  From 1840, their numbers grew exponentially until, by about 1858, they outnumbered Māori.  However, as

economic depression loomed around 1890 and the number of incoming settlers from Britain dwindled, a new breed of immigrant, almost entirely male, began arriving in Auckland.  They came from narrowly-defined regions within China, India, Lebanon, and Dalmatia but, for the last two in particular, their ethnicities and political allegiances were twice misconstrued to suit the objectives of those seeking to exclude them.  Preferring to live and work as extended family or groups from the same villages, they were described as ‘locusts’.  Unable to bring their womenfolk with them, they were represented as sexual threats to young women: Pākehā and Māori.  More fearfully, their cohabitation with ‘English’ women threatened to produce a degraded, ‘piebald’ race and end civilisation as the city knew it.  By 1924, Auckland was home to just one Māori for every one hundred Pākehā.  But it was the British settlers who feared being ‘swamped’ by foreigners.  This presentation will consider the context behind the largely hostile receptions those new immigrant groups faced and the disasters their arrival allegedly threatened to inflict on Auckland.

AHI Inaugural Lecture

The first Auckland History Initiative (AHI) Annual Lecture will be hosted by the Auckland Museum following the AHI Symposium, 5-7pm, Monday 15 April 2019. Ms Margaret Kawharu MA (Hons), (Ngāti Whātua) and Emeritus Professor David Williams FRSNZ will speak. The lecture will be followed by a reception where light refreshments will be served.

 The Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei journey towards an historical account in Treaty Settlement negotiations (1999-2011): Hapū perspectives and some comments on ‘legislated history’

 Please register for the Symposium and Lecture separately using the ‘register’ buttons.