Historic Petone

One of the best things about my new locale, Petone, is the history associated with the area. Since we are all restricted to short walks in our local area during the Covid-19 pandemic let me invite you to a virtual walk through Discover Historic Petone. Many of the Petone streets are named after the early settler ships.

The Tory arrived Sep 1839 with Colonel William Wakefield of the New Zealand Company who made a dodgy land purchase from Te Ati Awa. Cuba was the NZ Company’s survey ship which arrived in Jan 1840. The first Pakeha immigrants arrived on the Aurora (22 Jan 1840), Oriental (31 Jan 1840), Duke of Roxburgh (7 Feb 1840), Bengal Merchant (21 Feb 1840) and ships continued to arrive in droves from then on.

Tennyson Street, Petone.

My ancestors arrived in Wellington harbour on the Duke of Roxburgh. After landing on the beach at Pito-one my ggg-grandfather, John Brown Reading, went into business as a carpenter at a settlement called Britannia about a mile up the Hutt River. The area was subject to flooding and at the end of 1840, he relocated to Karori where he later became the Postmaster.

New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator, 12 June 1840.

In 1894, not far from the site of the abandoned settlement of Britannia, Leila Adair made a balloon ascent from the Wellington Agricultural & Pastoral Association’s Showgrounds.

Evening Post, 9 & 11 June 1894.

Her new manager had a nifty plan, whereby spectators bought the shilling admission ticket as part of the train fare, thereby hoping to avoid “deadheads” who watched the exhibition from outside the grounds for free. Unfortunately, this plan ran into unforeseen problems when the inflation took longer than anticipated, forcing Leila to make a brief hurried ascent before the return train was due to depart.

New Zealand Times, 14 June 1894.

Nothing remains of the Showgrounds as the land was sold off for sections in 1904. The sections initially advertised for £140, were still being advertised a year later for £5 deposit with monthly instalments of £1.

Seaton & Sladden, & MacDonald Wilson & Coy. (1904). Plan of 143 magnificent building sections, formerly the Agricultural Show Grounds, Petone : To be sold by public auction … 1904 / Seaton & Sladden, surveyors. Wellington, N.Z.]: Macdonald, Wilson &. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/34321409

There are very few buildings left in Petone that date from the time of Leila Adair’s visit, but the Petone Historical Society, Jackson Street Programme, and Heritage NZ have made efforts to preserve what remains. Jackson Street was designated a historic area in 1996.

Main Street, Petone, 1911, Wellington, by Muir & Moodie studio. Purchased 1998 with New Zealand Lottery Grants Board funds. Te Papa (PS.002255)

294 Jackson Street: This charming cottage dates from before 1905, when building permits first became a thing.

Old Police Station and Jail Museum: These buildings were moved from Elizabeth Street to their present location at 274b Jackson St. The jail has a few macabre tales to tell such as this: Truth 23 Sept 1926.

The former Grand National Hotel (built 1863) was moved from the Hutt Road to 274C Jackson St in 1995. Click here to see Valentine’s Hotel c1889.

Built in 1901, this wonderfully gothic house is at 66 Sydney Street. Petone Settlers Museum has details of the history of Price’s Folly.

The Wesley Methodist Church (1883) at 42 Nelson St has been converted into desirable apartments. “For I will restore you to health and heal your wounds.” Jeremiah 30:17.

Te Puna Wai Ora: Supplying water to the early settlers, people still come from far and wide to sample the pure artesian water at Buick Street. It’s been closed during the lockdown.

Petone Settlers Museum contains a fascinating display about Petone’s industrial past. The Centennial Memorial opened in 1940.

Petone once had four cinemas: The Grand, State, Empire and Palace. The Lighthouse Cinema (opened in 2002) now occupies the Labour Party Hall, built in 1927.

The Iona Cross dedicated 23 Feb 1940, commemorates the Church of Scotland service held 100 years before by the Revd John MacFarlane from the Bengal Merchant.

Apart from the history, Petone has a great selection of multicultural restaurants, food speciality shops, boutiques and would you believe – seven op-shops! Let’s hope they all get to reopen soon.

4 thoughts on “Historic Petone

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  1. Hi Catherine, I came upon your blog by chance when looking for photos of Price’s Folly. Very enjoyable read, well done.
    Just one wee point to note about Jackson Street – we are the Jackson Street Programme (not Jackson Street Project) – we’re a main street programme, one of the few left in NZ, and we’re independent of Council. Our office is in the Historic Police Station and we have the Old Jail Museum behind us. You’re more than welcome to pop in and have a look – it would be great to have a chat. I’m here Monday-Thursday, 9am-1pm.


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