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William Mein Smith

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Name  William Smith

Died  January 3, 1869
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William Mein Smith (1798 – 3 January 1869) was a key actor in the early settlement of New Zealand's capital city, Wellington. As the Surveyor General for Edward Wakefield's New Zealand Company at Port Nicholson from 1840 to 1843, he and his team surveyed the town of Wellington, after finding the land on the Petone foreshore unsuitable, laying out the town belt and other features and making provision for the much debated "tenth" share of the land for local Māori.


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Early life

Born in 1798 in Cape Town, South Africa, he was raised in Devon and the Scottish Borders, serving in the Royal Artillery from 1814 in Ireland and then Canada. There he met his wife, Louisa Bargrave Wallace, who was born in Canada in 1802 as the first child of then First Lieutenant, later General, Peter Margetson Wallace of the Royal Artillery and his partner, later wife, Louisa Turmaine. They married at Kingston, Ontario in 1828 and his next posting was to Gibraltar, including being part of a diplomatic visit to Marrakech in 1829-30, followed by appointment to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich where he taught as Master of Line Drawing, before being approached to assist Wakefield's New Zealand Company in 1839. He and his team of surveyors sailed to New Zealand on the New Zealand Company barque Cuba, arriving on 3 January 1840 in the harbour of Te Whanganui-a-Tara (Port Nicholson). His wife and older children arrived two months later.

Professional life

He was instrumental in the Wellington colony's early administration, the setting out of the town (including reservation of one tenth for Māori owners), and country acres, and later oversaw work in the Manawatu and Wanganui. He was gazetted as a magistrate. He also served on the short-lived (and controversial) Wellington Town Council established by the Company. His name survives today however only indirectly, in Mein Street, Wellington. His other contributions included helping to form the first library, designing the first light at the entrance to the harbour, exploring the route to Porirua and the Kapiti Coast, and founding the Horticultural Society.

Though getting on the wrong side of Colonel Wakefield, the Company's Principal Agent, and being dismissed as Surveyor General from early 1842, when he was replaced without warning by Samuel Charles Brees, he was commissioned to sail down the East Coast of the South Island in September 1842 to help locate another site for settlement by the New Zealand Company. He was thus an early visitor to what is now Christchurch, Akaroa, Port Chalmers and Bluff, but was shipwrecked in the course of the return trip. He still had the opportunity to visit and name Quail Island in Lyttelton Harbour, after crossing the peninsula on foot, visiting whalers and Māori alike. Later he surveyed a number of other parts of the lower North Island, including some townships in Wairarapa (Featherston and Masterton in particular), the coastline as far north as Castlepoint, and the Taratahi plain. He also spent time in the 1850s seeking a better route through the mountains to Wellington.

He was involved in operating a farming venture near Wellington at Terawhiti until 1846.

At about this time, he was responsible for establishing one of the earliest cattle and sheep runs in the Wairarapa, at Huangarua, near modern Martinborough, with his friend Samuel Revans in about 1845, when he seems to have left his first home under what is now Tinakori Hill, Wellington, driving some of the first cattle round the rocky coastline. They were among the first half dozen settlers in the valley. There he and Louisa raised their five children. He also carried on surveying and was a local magistrate and politician. He also had close dealings with local Māori, and his image is said to be preserved in one of the celebrated carved perimeter posts at Papawai marae, near Greytown.

Political career

Smith was a member of the General Legislative Council from 1851 until it was replaced by the later Legislative Council on 28 September 1853. He then represented the Wairarapa electorate on the Wellington Provincial Council from 1858 (when he defeated Charles Borlase) to 1865.


Smith produced water colours and sketches of early Wellington and Wairarapa, many of which are held by Wellington's Alexander Turnbull Library.


He died in Greytown in the Wairarapa in 1869 after a lengthy illness, at his and Revan's home "Brierly" at Woodside. Louisa had died there two years earlier. One of his descendants, Philippa Mein Smith, is a historian and wrote a biography of Mein Smith for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.


William Mein Smith Wikipedia