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Auckland Harbour
Auckland Harbour | © Robert Linsdell / Flickr
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How Did Auckland, New Zealand Get Its Name?

Picture of Joe Coates
Updated: 14 May 2018
Auckland is commonly, and incorrectly, thought by visitors to be the capital of New Zealand. This is quite understandable when you think of the size difference between itself and the actual capital Wellington. There sure is a lot to NZ’s biggest city, but how did it come by its name? Read on to find out.

In a nutshell

As you might expect in those spiffing and exciting days of colonial expansion – when the good old British Empire was rollicking along nicely – the naming of New Zealand (now) came about as a thank you from one very good pal to another.

Basically, Auckland was named by New Zealand’s first Governor, William Hobson, out of gratitude to his esteemed friend George Eden the Lord of Auckland, who had very sportingly revived Hobson’s flagging naval career.

Hobson
An engraving of William Hobson | © Archives New Zealand / Flickr

These two likely lads – Hobson and Eden – were two peas shelled from the same pod, bonded by their love of intrepid adventure. Lord Auckland, the Governor General of India at the time, intervened when Hobson was passed over for promotion, his career more or less having stalled, and gave Hobson command of the HMS Rattlesnake and a new mission to scope out New Zealand. The mission’s goal was no walk in the park. In fact, it was one that many gentlemen would happily have exchanged for a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel, or some other equally enjoyable entertainment. Hobson was instructed to gauge the Maori position on a formal sovereignty agreement between the Crown and the country’s first people.

Signed
Hobson’s signature on the Treaty of Waitangi | © Archives New Zealand / Flickr

Happily, and with all the pluck and fortitude of one raised as a gentleman in the military, Hobson completed his mission. Not only that, but he went on to deliver a treaty on behalf of Queen Victoria and gained the wholesale agreement of Maori Chiefs to English governance. Essentially, Hobson set up a new colony and government for the British Empire.

Hobson never forgot his lucky break and who scratched his back. Following successful negotiations with the local tribe, Ngati Whatua, Waitamata Harbour was declared the hub of the new capital so a name was hastily required for the settlement. Hobson not only named the city after his patron in September 1840 but bestowed Lord Auckland’s family name, Eden, to the soaring cone that graces the city’s skyline, Mount Eden. And of course, at a later date, Eden Park – home of the mighty All Blacks – was another famous landmark named after the career diplomat George Eden, Lord of Auckland.

Eden Park
Eden’s legacy | © Salman Javed / Flickr

Some background on Auckland’s namesake, the Earl of Auckland

Back when the world was ever so slightly younger, during the exciting age of colonial expansion by so many European countries, there was a bloke by the name of George Eden, Lord of Auckland. Now, as we have ascertained, Eden came to have his name used for Auckland as the return of a favour that he granted to William Hobson. Now, this all sounds very jolly and aristocratic – a bit of the old ‘I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine’ – and you’d think that perhaps Eden deserved to have a place named after him about as much as the next toff.

Eden
George Eden, Earl of Auckland | © russellstreet / Flickr

Refreshingly though, Eden was – to use a bit of Antipodean vernacular – a top bloke, by all accounts. In 1835 he was elected by his friend Lord Melbourne – we know, we know – the new Tory prime minister, as governor-general of India. It was from this elevated position that he was able to give the struggling Hobson a bit of a leg-up. Desiring expanded British trade and influence in Central Asia, he sought a commercial treaty with the Afghan ruler Dōst Moḥammad Khan. Hindered by Russian and Persian efforts there, Auckland replaced Dōst Moḥammad with his rival, Shah Shojā, who then depended strongly on British support.

To cut a long and interesting tale short, the Earl of Auckland had a bit of a nightmare when it came to his time in Afghanistan. His public reforms and orders to cut tribal allowances (to reduce the drain on India’s treasury) created local unrest that led to attacks on British forces, which then resulted in the death or capture of 5,000 troops during the 1841 winter retreat from Kabul.

IMG_6847
The view from the top of Mount Eden | © Richard Ashurst / Flickr

This is not to say that he wasn’t an effective and quite modern thinker for his time when it came to India. He extended irrigation, inaugurated famine relief, fought for the use of the vernacular in education, and expanded training in the professions, thinking these were the most practical measures for India’s progress.

All in all, as these things go, the naming of Auckland after this fellow George Eden really was quite the compliment. He was a forward-thinking gent, a man who strove to improve the lot of those he administrated over – yes, whilst embodying the ideal of expending thousands of lives in defence of one man’s pride – and could stand up with his chin held high even when he knew he’d just committed a world-class whoopsy.

Auckland City
The view of the city from Mount Eden | © Simon Lieschke / Flickr