1862 shipwreck and trial Parliament in Wellington
A shipwreck disrupted the opening of the first session of Parliament to be held in Wellington, in 1862. Parliament had met in Auckland since 1854. The Wellington Province had for a long time wanted Parliament to move to Wellington, and had constructed purpose-built buildings to entice Parliament down. It managed to secure a single session in 1862.
Just before the session was due to start, the steamer the White Swan set off from Auckland for Wellington. On board were Premier Fox, Cabinet Ministers, wives and government officials, together with the necessary official papers and books.
At dawn on 29 June, on a foggy morning, the White Swan struck rocks south of Riversdale on the Wairarapa coast. The ship steamed ashore at full speed to avoid sinking rapidly. Fortunately, all of the passengers were able to get ashore without great difficulty, some without even getting wet. The country’s government would still function if only it could get to Wellington!
Meanwhile, in Wellington the Speaker and other assembled MPs waited in vain for the ship to arrive. The opening, originally scheduled for 26 June, had already been delayed to 30 June, and then had to be delayed to 7 July. The wreck of the White Swan was not the only reason; a storm had blown the ship carrying Governor Grey almost to the Chatham Islands. Attempts to assemble the Parliament from 7 July failed for lack of a quorum. Finally, the Parliament was officially opened on 14 July.
The shipwreck entered the annals of parliamentary and official history. For many years afterwards, when papers could not be found the excuse was that they had been lost in the White Swan. An attempt was made to float ashore the cases in which the papers were packed, but an ebb tide and an offshore wind saw to it that the cases were never seen again.
Parliament returned to Auckland for 1863 and 1864, before moving permanently to Wellington in 1865.