Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Point ... Bunbury?

In Silverdale some months ago, I came upon a print of an old map of Auckland, one of the Felton Mathew maps from 1841, originally printed in London in August the following year. It is the earliest map I’ve seen that actually includes the district known today at Point Chevalier — but back then, the mapmakers had a different name gracing the tip of the peninsula: Pt. Bunbury.

Not only that, but a name for the area of the Waitemata Harbour between Point and the Rosebank Peninsula (the latter not quite making it onto the draughtsman’s page): Trent Bay. But, the point of this piece is about that man Bunbury. I suppose that if it hadn’t been for historical amnesia, that would have been the name of the suburb today.

Thomas Bunbury was born in Gibraltar in 1791, “on the wrong side of the blanket”, as the old phrase would put it. His father, Major Benjamin Bunbury, did at least give the baby his name if little else. Seven years later, Benjamin married and had legitimate children, who were to inherit his estate when he died in 1827 after being caught beneath an overturned pony chaise, and kicked by the flailing horse for three hours.

Thomas was educated in a Church of England school, and only ever invited into the Bunbury house once. He entered the British army at age 16, starting as an Ensign, and went on to serve in the Napoleonic Wars, in particular the campaign on the Spanish Peninsula. By 1822 he had risen to the rank of Captain, then Major by 1834. In 1838 he assumed command of the Norfolk Island penal colony. Things there did not go well. He was found to be harsh with his punishments, although he did reward good behaviour. In the end, angering the soldiers based on the island by ordering the destruction of their huts, they mutinied, and Bunbury was recalled off the island in July 1839.

Where to from there? Well, there was a place just starting up along the path to being a British colony called New Zealand. Here, he has some fame as St Helier’s first farmer, and during his four years in New Zealand ended up being a right-hand man to Governor Hobson, heading around the country gathering signatures on the Treaty of Waitangi.

On Hobson’s death, as senior military commander in the colony, he expected to take over as Governor — but this was not to be. Perhaps his state of birth did indeed impact on his career. He seems, despite his standing as a ranking military commander here at the time, to have had a rather out-of-the-way part of the new town named in his honour — and the name was quickly forgotten. He served briefly as Deputy-Governor under Hobson’s successor, FitzRoy, but in the end left in 1844 for the field of India. There, another promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel.

He retired around 1853, wrote a three-volume autobiography, and died on Christmas Day 1861.

The only name given to south Waitemata promonitories on the map above that has survived would be Britomart, through the Britomart Transport Centre we have today, which is close to what would have been the original point. But Pt Willoughby (possibly after Willoughby Shortland, the Lt-Governor under Hobson) is now Pt Erin. Pt. Fisher is just a corner of Victoria Park, under the motorway. Pt Stanley is underneath a lot of valuable downtown real estate. Pt Dunlop became St Barnabas Point, (not known who or what Dunlop was) and Pt Mathew -- after Felton Mathew -- became Campbell's Point (after John Logan Campbell) until it was destroyed for reclamations and the rail system.


  1. I thought the town of Bunbury in Western Australia might have been a last nod to him but it seems not.

  2. The historic St Heliers property 'Glen Orchard' is currently up for sale - this was once owned by Bunbury and the Bayleys website includes a link to the NZHPT report on the building and it's history.

  3. I know -- that's why the reference to Bunbury's farm at St Heliers. The house at Glen Orchard itself, though, is much later than Bunbury's time. Thanks for adding the link, though.

    I recommend reading Elizabeth T Jackson's history of St Heliers.