Held every year on the Monday closest to the 29th of January, Auckland Anniversary Day focuses attention on the energy and identity of New Zealand’s largest city. The event is widely celebrated, perhaps most notably with the Auckland Regatta, but how many of us know the origins of Auckland’s very own public holiday?

Early Days

Although Auckland Anniversary is assumed by many to relate to purely to the city and its foundation, it actually has its genesis three hundred kilometres north in the Bay of Islands.

At the beginning of 1840 New Zealand, though having been recently annexed by New South Wales, was under Maori Sovereignty. Britain wished to acquire the country as a colony separate from New South Wales but faced a roadblock in the form of a ruling by the House of Commons that stated that such an acquisition would be illegal unless Maori voluntarily surrendered their sovereignty.

In order to effect the transfer of sovereignty from Maori to the British, William Hobson, a Commander in the Royal Navy, was sworn in as Lieutenant-Governor and despatched to New Zealand from Australia. He arrived in the Bay of Islands on the 29th of January 1840 and very shortly thereafter drafted the Treaty of Waitangi.

In November 1840, after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the Queen declared New Zealand to be a Crown colony separate from New South Wales. On the 3rd of May 1841 Hobson was made Governor of the new colony.

The Founding of Auckland

Several months before the ratification of New Zealand as a separate colony, Hobson was tasked with choosing a site for the capital of the country. Though Wellington (then Port Nicholson) may have been the obvious choice, Hobson opted for a site on the south side of the Waitemata Harbour.

On the 18th of September 1840, officials authorised by Hobson performed a foundation ceremony on the site and named the new settlement Auckland in honour of Hobson’s patron and friend, George Eden, Earl of Auckland. As part of the celebrations on that day a small regatta was held on Waitemata Harbour (three races of two boats each).

The Birth of a Public Holiday

In 1841 the government designated the 29th of January as Auckland’s official anniversary day. Strangely, this commemorated Hobson’s arrival in New Zealand at the Bay of Islands, rather than any date significant to the town itself.

In 1842 Hobson decreed that the 29th of January would be a general holiday and the public holiday we enjoy today was born. It was in this year that the first Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta was held, becoming, in 1850, the official  Auckland Anniversary Day celebration event.

A Significant Milestone

Though the capital was eventually moved to Wellington in 1865, and though the date of the celebrations may not exactly reflect the birth of the city, Auckland Anniversary Day has come to represent one of the significant milestones in the development of New Zealand – the creation of its largest city. And the regatta that celebrates it has grown from an impromptu event involving a couple of row boats to an annual extravaganza recognised as the largest one-day regatta in the world.

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