Faces of Auckland today share in Campbell’s dream
Auckland . . . had only one organised group of immigrants to speak of.
Auckland is commemorating the bicentenary of the birth of Sir John Logan Campbell, its most eminent pioneer and donor of Cornwall Park, who was born in Edinburgh on November 3, 1817. In his last years he was universally known in the city of his adoption as The Father of Auckland.
But should we continue to call him that, a century and more after his death? Is it appropriate today now that Auckland has lost its pioneer character, and not least because, strictly speaking, he wasn't a true founding father anyway?
It's been argued that having a founding father should be limited to those community settlements that were deliberately established under an acknowledged leader. That was how Wellington was set up in 1840 under Colonel William Wakefield in charge of the NZ Company settlers who came out in the Aurora. Or again, Dunedin had its beginnings in 1848 when Scottish immigrants came ashore from the John Wickliffe and Philip Laing, with Captain Cargill and the Rev Thomas Burns as their founding fathers.
Perhaps the most dramatic of all was the settlement of Christchurch in 1850 when J. R. Godley led 791 so-called “Canterbury Pilgrims” henceforth known as the “First Shippers”, who came out on the Randolph, Cressy, Sir George Seymour and Charlotte Jane. Some Christchurch families today have great pride in their first-shipper ancestry.
And there are even some quite small New Zealand towns that can lay claims to having a founding father of a planned settlement. One thinks of Waipu formed in the 1850s by Scots from Nova Scotia under the charismatic Rev Norman McLeod, or of Katikati in the Bay of Plenty where George Vesey Stewart in 1878 set up a colonial community of 153 Ulster Scots from County Tyrone.
But Auckland had no such heroic beginnings. It simply came into being when, in September 1840, the first governor, Captain Hobson, proclaimed Tamaki as the colony's capital.
Thereafter Auckland was settled haphazardly, grew rather like Topsy. In its early days, it had only one organised group of immigrants to speak of; a distressed working-class party of 500 or so emigrants, mainly Scots from the Paisley area who arrived in October 1842, under no acknowledged leader, on the Jane Gifford and the Duchess of Argyle.
But most of these settlers stayed on, stuck it out, and some did surprisingly well. In time they considered themselves to be Auckland’s first shippers. And when their Jubilee year came along in 1892 they cast about for a surrogate founding father who would be the patron of their celebrations. They chose Auckland’s oldest and most eminent citizen, Dr J. L. Campbell. That’s how he became the Father of Auckland.
But should we regard him so today? Auckland is no longer the puny pioneer settlement that it was in his time. Indeed it has become a world city far beyond Campbell’s most ambitious imaginings.
Should we in 2017 still carry on calling him Father of Auckland?
I believe so, mainly because in a most remarkable way, he epitomises the city of today.
Auckland has become New Zealand's largest and fastest-growing city, not through organic growth but by importing people — from elsewhere in New Zealand and from abroad: Cardiff, London, Glasgow, the Punjab, Hong Kong, Syria, Somalia and from countless other places — incomers who see Auckland as the city of the second chance, a place where one can make a fresh start and (with luck) prosper.
Just like Logan Campbell; who while living on Brown’s Island in 1840, waiting for Auckland to be set up, decided to abandon his medical profession — to “throw physic to the dogs” was the way he put it — to become a merchant and perhaps thereby make his fortune. And, in Bruce Forsyth’s famous catchphrase, “didn't he do well!”
That's why I believe we should still think of him as the Father of Auckland.
His vision of what this city might do for you is one that most Aucklanders of today would seem wholeheartedly to share.