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Wellington, New Zealand: Map of the City of Wellington and Surrounding Dist.



An extremely rare, large format work that is the first edition one of the seminal maps of Wellington, depicting the New Zealand capital when it was one of the fastest growing cities in the British Empire, with a wealth of finely executed and intriguing details, granting a peerless record of the city as it was, as well as prefiguring its ambitious future development, drafted by the leading Wellington cartographer F. Harold Tronson, and published in the city.


Lithograph, mounted upon original linen, folding into original patterned dark green cloth covers with title gilt-debossed to front cover (Good, some noticeable toning due to natural glue oxidization from covers especially to left-hand side, some light wear along folds, light shelf-wear to covers), 84 x 47 cm (33 x 18.5 inches).


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This extremely rare work is the first edition of one of the seminal maps of Wellington from its first 50 years.  It was drafted by F. Harold Tronson, a prominent local cartographer who specialized in fulfilling government contracts for town plans and cadastral surveys; the map was published in Wellington by the lithographers Brown, Thomson & Company.  The map is quasi-official, as it predicated upon the latest information from the city records; it was then quite common for the authorities to have commercial mapmakers issue maps on their behalf, so sparing the government from the costs of printing and marketing the projects.  In 1887, Tronson made a gargantuan ‘master plan’ map of the city, which he reduced and modified o create the present work.

The map captures one of the British Empire’s fastest growing cities, granting a peerless record of its state in 1888, as well as indicating it future path of development.  Wellington was founded in 1840, just after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (February 6, 1840) that opened the country up to European settlement.  Named after the ‘Iron Duke’ (and an avid supporter of New Zealand’s settlement), Wellington was located on a peninsula along a stellar natural harbour on the southwestern tip of the North Island, strategically guarding the Cook Strait.

During its first generation, Wellington was totally overshadowed by Auckland, but in 1865, it was officially declared New Zealand’s capital.  The city then had only 4,900 residents, but soon became a boom town, due to mass immigration from Britain and migration from other parts of the country.  The 1886 census records a population of 77,536, while the 1891 census counted 97,725 inhabitants.  The period in which the present map appeared was one of hyper-growth and optimism, which is illustrated by the city’s ambitious plans for expansion, as depicted upon the present map.

The map captures the entire city of Wellington, within its marked boundaries (crossed lines), and labels every single street and lane, names every neighbourhood, and numbers every block and land plot (for the purposes of cadastral divisions, and future development).

The downtown is located along the shores of Lambton Harbour, in the northern part of the city.  Its epicentre was the newly developed district around ‘Lambton Quay’ which features important public buildings, such as the ‘Parliament Bgs.’, ‘Govermt. House’, the ‘Govt. Buildgs.’ (the world second largest historical wooden structure, completed in 1876), ‘Museum’, ‘Customs House’, ‘Court House’, ‘Theatre’, ‘Printing Office’, the main ‘Railway Station’, as well as major churches and schools, etc.  The map also showcases planned future development projects, such as land reclamation in the harbour, noted by the appearance of ‘Defined Line of Reclamation’, as well as the extension of the railway to the southern shore of the harbour, labelling the ‘Proposed Railway Stn.’.

Beyond, as the city extended southward across the peninsula, one can see a wide variety of urban planning models.  The continuation of the city connected to the downtown, running due southward, features prominent institutions such as the ‘Hospital’, ‘Prison’, and an a surprisingly large ‘Lunatic Asylum’.

On the middle left, is a distinct neighbourhood with densely packed lots called ‘Vogel Town’, an early suburban development founded by Sir Julius Vogel, who served as the premier of New Zealand (1873-5 and 1876).  Vogeltown still survives, although most of the older houses date from the 1920s.

While Kilburn and Island Bay (in the south, with the ‘Race Course’) are well-developed suburbs, in most remaining places, the city still maintains a rural quality, dominated by its hilly topography, although that would soon change due to Wellington’s super-rapid growth.


A Note on Editions and Rarity

The present map was issued in three editions, of which the present 1888 is the first.  A modified edition with extensive over-printed details, entitled as the Jubilee Map of the City of Wellington and Surrounding District (1890), was issued to celebrate the city’s 50th Anniversary.  The third edition was issued in 1905 and was heavily modified to reflect Wellington’s explosive growth over the previous decade and a half.

All editions of the map are today extremely rare.  It seems that they were issued in only small print runs for local circulation, while the survival rate of such city plans is quite low.

We can trace only 3 institutional examples of the present first edition of the map, with 2 held by the Alexander Turnbull Library (National Library of New Zealand), and a single example held by the Family History Library (Salt Lake City, Utah).  Moreover, we can trace only a single sales record, from a fairly recent New Zealand book dealer’s catalogue.


Tronson: Leading Late Victorian Cartographer of the Wellington Region

Fairlie Harold Tronson (fl. 1878 – 1905) was one of the most important cartographers working in the Wellington area during a critical era of explosive growth.  He specialized in fulfilling commissions from local governments and was evidently a skilled draftsman with a professional engineer’s style.  Many of his maps are today the authoritative historical records of the places depicted from the last quarter of the 19th century.  His works were lithographed locally, in only small print runs, and are all today great rarities.

Of particular note, and relevant to the present work, Tronson’s greatest achievement was his gargantuan ‘master plan’ of Wellington, made in cooperation with the city council, Map of the City of Wellington and Suburbs compiled and drawn by F. Harold Tronson (Wellington: Dutton, Brown & Thomson, 1887), which measures 160 x 85 cm, and is known in only a single surviving example, held by the Alexander Turnbull Library.  The preset map, created the following year, was reduced and modified from this work.

In addition to Tronson’s general maps of Wellington, some of his works include the Township of Richardson: Wairoa District (1878); Map of the Electoral Districts of Thorndon, Te Aro, Wellington East, & Wellington South & Suburbs (1887); Map of the Manawatu-Rangitikei District: Comprising the Manawatu, Oroua and Part of the Horowhenua Counties, Provincial District of Wellington, New Zealand (1887); Roads in the Taranaki District (1888); Map of the County of Horowhenua (1888); New Zealand Post Office Directory Map of the City of Dunedin, N.Z. (Dunedin: Wise, Caffin & Co., c. 1890), his only major work of a South Island subject; and a Map of the Hutt County (1894)


References: Alexander Turnbull Library (National Library of New Zealand) – 2 examples: MapColl 832.4799a 1888 21658 and MapColl 832.4799a 1888 35288; Family History Library (Salt Lake City, Utah): 993.14/W1 E7t; OCLC: 156712564, 949702750 and 865944792.

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