drawing of wellington 1849

An 1849 sketch of Wellington, done from the near where the Beehive is today. Mount Cook can be seen in the distance, with the military barracks on its peak.
Credit: Alexander Turnbull Library. Reference: A-292-071. Drawing by Thomas Bernard Collinson. Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

With the arrival of European settlers, Pukeahu was renamed Mount Cook, after British explorer Captain James Cook. In the years since, a range of functions have shaped the hill’s form and identity.

The impact of European settlement

New Zealand Company surveyor Captain William Mein Smith recognised the strategic advantage of the hill. By late 1840 a prison was situated on Mount Cook, even though the land was still a native reserve. In 1842 it was reported that about 60 prisoners were held there, though the building was described as ‘a wretched maori building, large enough for twelve or fifteen human beings at the most.’

Today Pukeahu/Mount Cook is most associated with the Dominion Museum building, a high school, a university and the National War Memorial. However, since the 1840s Mount Cook has been the site for a succession of prisons and a police station, served numerous military purposes, accommodated brickworks, and housed a number of educational institutions.

Lesser-known uses include being the site for an official observatory for the 1882 transit of Venus and the home of Wellington City Council’s dog pound.

Next: Law and Order and the Military 

Updated on 23rd July 2015