Times Gone By – Northcote’s History

Northcote has always been a sought-after area. It was an early area of residential settlement in Auckland, with ferry access from Northcote Point to Auckland city from 1854. The area was known as Onewa (divided earth), but was re-named Northcote in the early 1880s in honour of Sir Stafford Northcote, a British aristocrat and politician who served as the British Foreign Secretary at that time. Historic spots afford glimpses back into the history of this fascinating suburb, including the Victorian-style wooden Northcote Tavern built in 1884, situated near the Northcote Wharf for meal and accommodation options for passing travellers in the days before Auckland Harbour Bridge was built.

The earliest known residents of the area were Ngāi Tai, who cultivated the area and gathered kaimoana (seafood and shellfish). Following Ngāpuhi’s defeat of Hauraki and Ngāti Whātua at Panmure in 1821, the whole Auckland region, including the North Shore, was mostly abandoned. In the late 1830s Ngāi Tai returned to form kainga (settlement) at both Northcote Point and North Head. After the Mahurangi Purchase in 1841 of a vast area of land which included the North Shore, Ngāi Tai left Northcote Point.

From 1844 The New Zealand Company purchased large tracts of land in the Northcote area from the government, with the view of establishing a settlement there. However, the cost of land in Auckland was too expensive for the Company and in 1847 it sold the land back to the government. By 1849 European settlers were pioneering commercial fruit and strawberry growing in the region, diversifying from the gum digging and firewood cutting which the area had previously provided. The North Shore Road Board commenced operations in 1868 to manage local roading and facilities, with their focus on Northcote as that was where the North Shore’s population was primarily situated. The first school in the area was opened on a part-time basis in 1873. In 1884 the establishment of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (now known as the Chelsea Sugar Factory) began production to supply sugar throughout New Zealand, and this industry boosted suburban growth in the area.

The twentieth century brought many changes to the region. Northcote attained borough status in 1908 when it reached the milestone of 1,000 citizens, and the iconic boutique Bridgeway Cinemas were built in the late 1920s. For the first half of the twentieth century, Northcote remained a fruit growing area and popular destination for a day out or holiday. This dramatically changed with the opening of the Auckland Harbour Bridge on 30 May 1959. Just a few weeks afterwards, the Northcote Shopping Centre opened on 19 June 1959: the first ultra-modern, mall-style shopping centre to be built in Auckland. Today, the area is as popular as it ever was, with new homes being established in a fascinating area rich in history.

Photos (from top):

Aerial view of the Auckland Harbour Bridge, 1960s, aerial photograph by Whites Aviation, reproduced with permission Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections N0113212;

Paddle steamer ferry ‘Albatross’ leaving Northcote Wharf at Little Shoal Bay and heading towards Birkenhead, 1913, photograph by William Archer Price, reproduced with permission Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections B0377;

Fishing for piper at Northcote Wharf, c. 1910-1919, photographer unknown, reproduced with permission Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections T0922;

Santa Claus on horseback at Northcote Shopping Centre, 1959, photograph by Philip Henry George LaVie, reproduced with permission Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections T7283.

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