The New Zealand Cricket Museum is located at the historic Basin Reserve. Often voted as one of the world’s best cricket grounds by players and fans alike, the Basin has a long history but many people don’t know the its origins and how it came to host cricket.
In Part One of our Basin Reserve history we look at its transformation from lagoon to land.
When Surveyor-General, Captain William Mein Smith, drew up plans for Wellington in 1840, a stream linked the harbour to a lagoon that he simply labelled ‘Basin’. Smith’s intention was for this Basin to become a safe harbour for ships, accessed through a canal to the harbour. Over the next fifteen years the city continued to develop around Smith’s Basin as people from around the world moved to the new colony.
Then an earthquake changed everything. At 9.11pm on January 23 1855 an earthquake struck. Estimated at a magnitude of 8.2, the quake was centred in the Wairarapa but had a profound effect on Wellington’s landscape. Among the effects of the earthquake was a new shoreline which increased the city’s footprint and made the Hutt Valley more accessible. It also saw the land through Te Aro rise by about 1.5 metres, turning Smith’s Basin into a swamp.
In 1857 citizens began to petition the Provincial Council for a site to create a permanent cricket ground. With the city growing rapidly, cricket fields were being built upon as quickly as they were developed and the English settlers passion for the game would not abate. The Council approved the petition and gave them the site they desired, Smith’s former Basin at Te Aro.
It was no small task turning this swampy piece of land into a ground suitable for cricket and recreation. However, the prison at the nearby Mt Cook barracks offered free labour and, in February 1863, prisoners began the task of draining and flattening the new ‘Basin Reserve’. While the work to reclaim land from the earthquake-inspired swamp was successful, the Basin Reserve’s place as the home of cricket was not confirmed until it was leased for cricket in 1866. Cricket’s love affair with the Basin Reserve had begun.