Wellington was the first settlement of the New Zealand Land Company, with the city’s new residents arriving in 1840. Unfortunately sport and recreation were not considerations of the New Zealand Land Company when drawing up plans for the city. There were many allotments of land but no space was provided for recreational activities.
During the 1840s and early 1850s, Wellington was developing fast under the guidance of plans drawn by by Colonel William Wakefield. Among the landmarks of the early city was a lagoon, linked to the harbour by a stream. Early maps named the lagoon as simply Basin and it seems it was intended to be used as a safe haven for ships, with some alterations to the stream. However, a disaster was about to strike that would drastically alter those plans. On January 23 1855 at 9.11pm a major earthquake, measuring about 8.3 on the Richter scale, struck the lower North Island. The quake left its mark on the growing city and the layout of the land, particularly the Basin.
For eight hours after the earthquake, aftershocks caused the tide to approach and recede from the shore every twenty minutes. The highest tides reached ten feet while the lowest receded four feet lower than normal. The whole of the flat at the Te Aro was raised about a metre and a half and the Basin lagoon became a swamp. In some ways, though, the earthquake turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Wellington was short of flat land and the rise at Te Aro had created level land suitable for public recreation. This was the beginning of the creation of the Basin Reserve.
In February 1863, prison labour from the nearby Mt Cook barracks was used to flatten and drain the basin. The land was reclaimed from the swamp which created a rough paddock. Development picked up again in 1866 when it was agreed the Basin Reserve would be leased for three years to be used as a cricket ground. In January 1867, the Basin Reserve formally became Wellington’s home of cricket.
The first game of cricket was played on the Basin on the January 11 1868 between Wellington volunteers and officers of the HMS Falcon. In spite of ground improvements it was still covered with stones and thistles that caused injury to players’ hands and fingers. Funds for the further development were raised and vegetation was cut, mounds leveled, soil moved, and banks sculpted. Minor drainage work was undertaken and grass seed was sown, greatly improving the surface. In 1873 the Basin Reserve was given to the people of the city for recreational purposes and countless cricket matches, sports, and other events have since been played at the ground.