21 June 2015

Auckland trees: New Zealand’s first royal tree planting

Tree planting has been used for centuries to mark and celebrate both historical and royal occasions. In New Zealand, the first such occasion was in 1863, to celebrate the wedding of Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Although the wedding took place at Windsor, in England, on 10 March 1863, the news of the happy event took a couple of months to reach New Zealand, and it was a further couple of months before the various local authorities decided how, if at all, to celebrate the occasion.

In the end, it was only in Christchurch that the royal wedding was marked in any formal way, with the planting, on 9 July 1863, of an oak tree, the very first tree to be planted in the park that went on to become the Botanic Gardens. The ‘Albert Edward oak’ still survives; the Notable Tree Register has photos and a map.

The first tree plantings by an actual member of the royal family took place during New Zealand’s first ever royal tour, in 1869, when Queen Victoria’s second son, Prince Alfred Ernest Albert (1844–1900), Duke of Edinburgh, came to visit. As Captain of the HMS Galatea, he first visited Wellington, then sailed on to Nelson, Christchurch, Dunedin and finally Auckland. Along the way, he was a prolific tree planter.

I don’t have any photos of the trees planted in Wellington or Christchurch but can pass on what the local newspapers of the time reported about Prince Alfred’s efforts. The report at left is from the Hawke's Bay Herald, 23 April 1869, page 3.

The common name for Abies Nordman is Nordmann or Caucasian fir, the Podocarpus totara is a New Zealand native that we simply call totara, the Cedrus pensilis is no longer recognised in the taxonomy of trees but must have been some kind of cedar, and the Arancaria excelsa is mis-spelt; it should be Araucaria excelsa or Araucaria heterophylla, the Norfolk Island pine. 

The Duke of Edinburgh was also an energetic tree planter during his visit to Christchurch. The Press (on 26 April 1869, page 2) reported that ‘On Saturday His Royal Highness Prince Alfred, attended by His Excellency the Governor, His Honor the Superintendent, several officers of the Galatea and Blanche, and other members of the Royal Suite, visited the Government Domain.’

As you can see from the report (at left), this time the Duke planted an oak tree, a Wellingtonia gigantea, which we now know as a Sequoiadendron giganteum or Giant redwood, a totara, a deodara (also known as a Cedrus deodara or Deodar cedar), and a Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani).

Next stop on his New Zealand tour was Auckland and here I can show you photographs of HRH’s trees, as most have survived and, indeed, thrived. The Prince obviously had green fingers!

The first planting took place on 18 May 1869, as reported by the New Zealand Herald (19 May 1869, page 3):

The Giant Redwood
Yesterday afternoon, at about half-past two, his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, accompanied by Sir George and Lady Bowen, planted two Norfolk Island pines and a Wellingtonia Gigantea [Sequoiadendron giganteum or Giant redwood] on the lawn in front of the Government House [now known as Old Government House, in the grounds of the University of Auckland]. The spots were well selected, so as not to interfere with any view from the house when the trees are more fully grown, and will, we should hope, be respected and allowed to remain in their present position by the fortunate individual or corporate body that may eventually become possessed of the property, as, no doubt, the Southern members of the Assembly, doubting the necessity of a Government House and grounds in this province, will be of opinion that they should be sold for the benefit of the colony generally. After his return from the Kawau His Royal Highness intends to plant some two or three more trees in the Domain and in the grounds of the Auckland Acclimatization Society, and a Ponga (the male New Zealand fern tree), in the grounds at Government House.

Though there are several Norfolk pines planted at Old Government House, only one has a plaque saying it was planted by Prince Alfred (and that mis-reports the planting date as 14 May 1869), so I’m not sure if the second tree is one of the others or if it has not survived.

The enormous Norfolk pine Prince Alfred planted at Old Government House

A week after his first tree planting efforts, the Prince was at it again, this time in Auckland Domain. Here’s the article from the Daily Southern Cross, (27 May 1869, page 3):

Yesterday morning the committee of the Acclimatisation Society received an intimation from his Royal Highness that he would visit the Domain, and attend at their gardens at half-past eleven to plant the four trees which had been selected to stand in that delightful place of recreation as memorials of his visit.
As it had been determined that the operation should be performed in an unostentatious and private manner, very few of the citizens were enabled to be present, and those fortunate exceptions who witnessed the ceremony were merely such as had been accidentally strolling about the grounds at the time.

HRH's oak tree

Shortly before noon his Royal Highness, accompanied by his Excellency the Governor, Captain Pitt, A.D.C, Major Hamley, and escorted by H.R.H.'s orderlies, cantered up to the gate [how amazing to canter about the city!], where the party was received by the Hon. F. D. Fenton, on the part of the Domain Board; Captain Hutton, President of the Acclimatisation Society and Messrs J. T. Mackelvie, D. L. Murdoch, W. Morrin, members of Council. These gentlemen, with Mr. Brighten, the energetic curator, accompanied the Prince through the garden.
After viewing the various specimens of natural history confined in the cages {there used to be a small zoo in the Domain], and commenting favourably on the aspect of the gardens, which the Prince said he thought were in a most creditable condition considering the short period which he had been given to understand had elapsed since their first formation, H.R.H. proceeded to discharge the self-imposed task.
The trees, which were fine healthy young plants, comprised a specimen of each of the varieties Dammara robusta [Queensland Kauri], Araucaria Cookii [Captain Cook’s Pine], Araucaria glauca [also known as Araucaria cunninghamii or Hoop pine], and though last not least, a tall symmetrical plant of English Oak. The spades employed were the common ones in daily use in the garden, and his Royal Highness in handling them showed the result of some practice in the horticultural art. Mr. Brighton held the tree upright while the Prince shovelled the earth about the roots.

I love how the reporter almost sounds surprised that Prince Alfred used ‘common’ spades – no gold-plated spades for this prince, and I have to admire a royal who didn’t mind getting stuck in and getting his hands dirty. One hundred and forty-six years later, we continue to enjoy the fruits of his labours. Long live the royal tree-planting tradition!

At left, the Captain Cook's pine and Hoop pine and, at right, the Queensland kauri