Fencible Story

Howick was first settled by Maori about 1000 years ago. The tangata whenua are the Ngaitai tribe of Tainui descent. They called the area Owairoa (meaning flat waters) and the district Paparoa (flat rocks). There were numerous kainga (villages) and pa (forts) in the area. Today the marae of Ngaitai is at Umupuia.

Howick was founded by Governor Captain George Grey as part of a chain of villages around the southern aspect of Auckland to protect Auckland from possible attack. Grey requested troops, but Earl Grey (later Lord Howick) as Secretary of State for the Colonies (1846-1852) decided to send retired soldiers as members of the Royal New Zealand Fencible Corps.

Fencible comes from the word “defencible” meaning “capable of defence”. The fencibles had served in the wars of Britain in the 1830s and 1840s. To emigrate to NZ under the fencible scheme, retired soldiers were required to be under 48 years of age and of ‘good character and industrious habits’. These soldier-settlers were offered a free passage to New Zealand with their wives and families, a cottage and an acre of land. Providing they performed certain military duties – including compulsory church parade on Sundays – their cottage and acre would be theirs after a seven-year term of service. They received a small pension and were required to find gainful employment in addition to their ‘fencible’ occupation.

Between 1847-1854, eleven ships brought the 2,500 fencibles and their families, which nearly doubled the population of Auckland at that time. Other fencible villages were at Panmure, Otahuhu, and Onehunga.