Howick Historical Village
Governor George Grey was concerned that the French could move down to New Zealand from where they were already established in New Caledonia and Tahiti by 1845. At the same time the Maori chief Hone Heke was causing unrest with new settlers in the north of New Zealand. He cut down the flagpole at Kororareka flying the British flag five times in succession to make the point that the British settlers were not welcome.
The sacking of Kororareka (now known as Russell) caused Governor George Grey to write to Earl Grey back in England in 1846, asking for assistance in protecting the fledgling settlement in Auckland. At this time, Auckland was a collection of wooden buildings near the waterfront and had only just been made the capital of New Zealand. Russell (Okiato) was the first capital, Auckland was capital from 1841 to 1865, and Wellington from then on.
The decision was made to send out retired and worn-out British soldiers who had returned from fighting in Afghanistan, India, Malta and elsewhere in the British Empire. They had served up to 20 years overseas, and were invited to form an army corps to be known as the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps, meaning they were a form of defensive force to protect Auckland should it ever be attacked.
The conditions of engagement offered these men were that they were allowed to bring their wives and children, and it became the biggest immigration programme of its day (approximately 2,500 men women and children settled in Panmure, Otahuhu, Onehunga and Howick). They arrived here between 1847 and 1852, in ten sailing ships. Most voyages took about 3 to 4 months. Conditions on board were usually very good for the time, but one particular ship, the Clifton, was termed the Ship of Sorrows because 46 people died during the voyage (mainly children coming from the Irish potato famine).
Most of the ships departed from Gravesend, in England, and over half of the Fencible families were Irish in origin. Panmure was the biggest Irish settlement.
The Fencible soldiers were generally offered free passage to New Zealand and for many, a two-roomed cottage and an acre of land, in return for a seven-year term of service. They were encouraged to take on other employment, as their main obligation was to attend military parades every Sunday. They were also offered work for a year on public work schemes, like road and bridge building. They were only called out on military duty once, in April 1851.
When the first four boats arrived, there were no cottages ready. Instead, the new arrivals were assigned to tents, raupo cottages, or on Howick Beach, two long sheds (one for the men, the other for women and children). Privates generally had paired “Siamese” cottages, sergeants had single dwellings, and officers had bigger houses (Captain Smith’s house, Bell House, can be seen behind Sergeant Ford’s).
After seven years, Fencibles were released from service and the cottages and an acre of land became theirs absolutely. They could also buy extra land at a very good price. Only three ever returned to Europe. Financially the Fencible immigration scheme was very successful.
On May 23, 1962, a public meeting chaired by Mr B. Kendrick was held on the Pakuranga College hall. It was resolved that the "Howick Historical Society" be formed and incorporated. This was led group of local enthusiasts wanting to preserve Howick’s history. Mr B. Kendrick was elected as the first president.
The origins of the Society began with the lead up to the All Saints Church Centenary Celebrations in November 1947. For this occasion Cecil Litten and a small group which included, among others Mrs. Lucy Hughes, organised a display of Fencible furniture and artifacts to be held in the old Howick Town Hall. An appeal was made for anyone with such furniture or knowledge where more was stored. What resulted was a very successful display. A record of these exhibits was kept, and it can be noted that most of these artifacts and furniture can be seen today on display in the Colonial Village.
In 1949, the centennial committee had not completely disbanded and was later joined by other interested people including William Orange. They realised that fencible houses were fast disappearing and they explored ideas for preserving examples in assorted locations and settings. Miss Nixon was part of this group that established the "Garden of Memories" in Uxbridge Rd. This began the protection of some fencible buildings. Cecil Litten led the idea of some kind of Colonial Village where these buildings would be set in a historical setting. From the 1950s to 1960s this informal committee continued to meet at irregular intervals and by 1960 it had been joined by Mesdames D. Collings, A. Zellman, N. Martensen and Mr D. Hastings and B. Kendrick. In 1961, the group elected Mr. B. Kendrick as chairman of a steering committee to form a society to be known as the Howick Historical Society.
J. Cecil Litten was elected the second president of the Historical Society and was elected mayor of Howick and he died in office in 1966. Some of the ideas of the Howick Colonial Village as a living history village came from society members' own trips to New England outdoor history museums at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, and to seaside Mystic in Connecticut.
The Bell family offered Bell House, located in its present position, to the Society in 1972. Alan la Roche and Dufty Bell negotiated with Lloyd Elsmore (the mayor at the time) and the Society was offered five acres next to Bell House. This was later extended to a total of 7 acres. This became the site of the Howick Historical Village. Manukau City planner and landscaper Janet Ward, and architect Ian George had a large part to play in the final layout of the village.
It took eight years to develop the area into a living museum, using volunteer labour and working bees in the weekends. Volunteers like Arthur White, Pat Chisholm, Dorothy Stacey, Pam Taylor, Rich'd Voogd, Andrew McCaw, Jack Davis, Nelson Blake, David Mirams, John Macaw, David Edward and Alan La Roche played a big part in these working bees. A plan was drawn up, letters sent to owners of Fencible cottages, and over that period of time many cottages were offered to the Society. They were transported to their new home and restored to represent the Fencible period. The funding for the re-siting of buildings and their restoration largely came initially from the sale of Christmas cards and from cake stalls. There was a lot of local support for the fund raising initiatives that led to the development of the site.
John Litten, using donated equipment from Litten Brothers LLC developed many of the roads and drains in the village, and through the 1970s many people worked together to organise the relocation of Fencible buildings to the village site. The Manukau City Council dug out the pond. The last Manukau mayor, Len Brown, was one of the young volunteers who helped develop the Village in its early days.
On 8 March 1980, the Howick Colonial Village (as it was then called) was officially opened by Allan Highet, Minister of Internal Affairs, on behalf of Governor-General Sir Keith Holyoake, who was unwell on the day. John Litten was serving as the president at the time. A cloud of caged pigeons was released before a large crowd, who then inspected the fourteen buildings that comprised the museum.
At that time there was only one oak tree on the site and the rest of the planting has been carried out subsequently. The gardens have become an extensive heritage project, led by a restoration ecologist, with close links to the Heritage Tree Crops Association and Auckland Seed Savers. Many of the trees come from the sites of historic homes in the area.
The staffing has grown since the early days, but the Village still[update] operates with a huge amount of support from volunteers.
There are now[update] thirty buildings that comprise the museum and the site has reached maturity and its full capacity. The challenge for the future will be to retain the buildings in good and authentic condition for future generations.
The Village is open to the public every day of the year (except Christmas Day, New Year's Day, ANZAC day, and Good Friday) from 10am-4pm. On the third Sunday of each month (excluding December) Live Days are held, in which the Village comes to life with many costumed volunteers re-enacting daily life in Victorian New Zealand times. There is an admission fee, parking is free, and a cafe is on-site.
The Village is a popular destination for school groups on their LEOTC studies. School holiday programmes are offered once or twice in each holiday period.
The little church is used most weekends for weddings or naming ceremonies, and the surrounding grounds (including Victorian period gardens, wagon, and 30 historic buildings) make the perfect backdrop for unique wedding, family photography or promotional photography.
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