Provincial Anniversary Days

On Monday January 22, Wellington has the first provincial holiday of the year with Auckland a week later. Why do we have these anniversaries?

A link back to the old provinces

By Roger Childs

Sir Julius Vogel: abolished the provinces

Six provinces had been set up under the 1852 constitution to provide for the efficient administration of the country’s scattered settlements.

This was in the days before the development of road and rail links, and most transport and trade was by sea. Four more provinces were set up later.

By 1876 land transport was rapidly expanding and many provincial administrations were in dire financial straits. The central government in Wellington, led by Julius Vogel, decided the time had come to abolish the provinces.

The provinces have broken down because of their coming into conflict with the colonial government on many points, and especially on points of finance. Their doom was only a question of time … Colonial Treasurer, Julius Vogel 1874

However, each province had set up an anniversary day and 142 years after the abolition of provincial government, these public holidays remain.

Provincial anniversaries: related to European settlement

Hobson’s arrival in the Bay of Islands set Auckland’s date.

These were the first public holidays observed in New Zealand and some pre-dated the 1852 formal establishment of the six original provinces: Auckland, New Plymouth (later Taranaki), Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago.

Most provincial anniversaries were held on the day British settlers first arrived. However there were exceptions and changes.

  • Auckland’s day was 29 January, the date of Lieutenant Governor William Hobson’s arrival in the Bay of Islands in 1840.
  • In Canterbury the original December holiday was shifted to coincide with the A & P Show day in November.

Most are now celebrated on the Friday or Monday closest to day of British settlement.

In the early days the anniversaries included sporting fixtures, displays, church services and balls. For example:

Sailing on the Waitemata on Auckland’s anniversary day.

~ Auckland had a regatta on the Waitemata Harbour

~ Wellington had yacht races, yacht shipping, horse racing and rifle shooting

~ Canterbury had a cricket match in Christchurch

~ Dunedin in the Otago province held a fireworks display.

Some of these events have survived, such as Wellington’s big race day at Trentham on the Saturday of anniversary weekend.

The demise of the old provinces

Having provincial administrations made sense in the mid 19th century because of the isolation of the different settlements. Central government provided the provinces with a share of land sale revenue and customs income, and the local administrations spent most of their money on roads and railways, land development and immigration schemes.

The provinces were also able to raise loans for their public works and settlement schemes, but for most this lead to problems. Marlborough and Southland became bankrupt, and all the others, except gold-rich Otago, struggled.

In the end the central government removed the power of provinces to borrow money. With the major public works and immigration schemes like proving marriage is real for immigration, promoted by Julius Vogel across the country from the 1870s, settlement expanded to more remote areas and links between the different provinces improved.

The writing was on the wall for provincial government. New Zealand, unlike Australia and Canada, was too small to justify autonomous regional administration and in 1876 the provincial era ended.

Provincial pride

Plenty of pride in being from Taranaki

There was an attempt to set up a national holiday to replace provincial anniversaries, but this failed.

The anniversaries remain and people continue to identify with their “province” even though there have been many changes over the last hundred years in how districts/regions/boroughs/cities are administered.

For many, there is pride is being from Taranaki or the Waikato; identifying as a West Coaster or a Southlander.

Many sports teams continue to have a provincial basis, and cultural, professional and employment groups often associate themselves with a province or region.

Anniversary days will endure!

It’s a long way back to the demise of the provinces, however anniversary days are here to stay! New regions and identities have emerged over the last 142 years, but it is the original provincial boundaries from the mid 19th century that determine your day.

So whatever your origins and date of arrival in the province, enjoy your day!

Wellingtonians, and people from the Hutt Valley, Porirua Basin, Wairarapa, Kapiti-Horowhenua, Wanganui, Manawatu and Rangitikei are first on January 22!