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Above: Water­col­our by James Coutts Craw­ford. Pic­ture cour­tesy of the Alex­an­der Turn­bull Library

Here is Miramar in the mid-1840s, viewed from Lyall Bay and look­ing toward Mt Craw­ford in the dis­tance. The lake and sur­round­ing swamp covered much of what is Miramar now. Early Māori inhab­it­ants called the lake Rotok­ura. More recent arrivals from Tarana­ki called it Para, and began to stock it with eels from the Hutt Val­ley. When the European set­tle­ment of Wel­ling­ton was estab­lished, the lake was renamed Burnham Water.

This sketch was rendered by James Coutts Craw­ford, a lively fig­ure in early Wel­ling­ton his­tory, who then owned most of what you can see in his pic­ture. That is his new farm­house, Glen­dav­ar, up on the slopes of Mt Craw­ford in the distance.

Burnham Water was pic­tur­esque, but it was tak­ing up good farm­land so, in 1847, soon after com­plet­ing this draw­ing, Craw­ford com­mis­sioned New Zealand’s first tun­nel, through the hills on the left, and drained most of it away. The sur­round­ing fern and flax was turned into pas­ture and Miramar became a suc­cess­ful cattle and dairy farm.

Clearly Craw­ford was a bet­ter busi­ness­man than an artist. But, des­pite his artist­ic lim­it­a­tions he cer­tainly enjoyed sketch­ing. The Turn­bull Lib­rary has a large col­lec­tion of his scenes of early Wel­ling­ton and oth­er places he vis­ited on his entre­pren­eur­i­al travels. Dat­ing from the days before pho­to­graphy, they provide a valu­able record of what New Zea­l­and looked like.

Miramar’s landown­er was an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter, with many enthu­si­asms. He wrote art­icles about loc­al bot­any and geo­logy, and pub­lished a book about his world travels and a pamph­let advoc­at­ing a grand reform of Eng­lish spelling. Later, he became one of Wellington’s first pho­to­graph­ers – one of his early streets­capes will fea­ture in a future issue.

Craw­ford always hoped that he could even­tu­ally make a fur­ther for­tune through sub­di­vi­sion, but those plans were not so suc­cess­ful. After the lake was drained, a new race­course was opened nearby to try and bring in the crowds. A loc­al paper repor­ted that open­ing day “was remark­ably fine, and crowds of people vis­ited Lyall’s Bay, in carts, on horse­back and on foot, and sev­er­al boats were employed car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers”. But the race­course was not a suc­cess. It was too sandy, windswept and remote.

It was not until the early 1900s, when the new trams made city com­mut­ing pos­sible, that Miramar began to resemble the busy sub­urb we know today.


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