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The Visitation: The Earthquakes of 1848 and the Destruction of Wellington

$39.00 NZD

‘It is my most painful duty to inform your Excellency that a terrible calamity has overtaken this province. An earthquake has occurred, and the town of Wellington is in ruins.’ —Lieutenant Governor John Eyre to Sir George Grey, 19 October 1848


Wellington was only a fledgling settlement of some 3000 people when it was struck by a cluster of devastating earthquakes in 1848. The fearful violence of the shocks, the destruction of property, and the frequency and continuance of the danger caused universal alarm, and it was feared the settlement and its future was ruined. But Wellington did recover, quite quickly. The British immigrants were not going to be deterred after coming halfway around the world, and in any case, most had nothing to go home to. Their direct accounts of the earthquake and its aftermath make compelling reading.


Along with describing the effects of the 1848 earthquakes and the social response to them, The Visitation also explains their cause – the relationship between earthquakes and movement on fault lines, first discovered in the late 1880s by the celebrated New Zealand geologist, Alexander McKay, following a large earthquake in North Canterbury on 1 September 1888. It also discusses the fault that ruptured during the first great shock of the 1848 earthquakes; what remains of the 1848 rupture today and its relation to large earthquakes in the past; and the geological context of the 1848 earthquakes as products of the convergence of two great tectonic plates through the Marlborough–North Canterbury area of the South Island of New Zealand; and ends with a possible scenario of a future large earthquake in Wellington generated by movement of the Wellington Fault.


  • Written by Professor Rodney Grapes
  • 192 pages
  • Paperback book
  • Published November 2011
  • ISBN: 9780864736864


Professor Rodney Grapes taught Earth Sciences at Victoria University of Wellington for many years. He has published and lectured extensively in New Zealand, Germany, China and Korea, and has wide research interests in the fields of mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, geomorphology and the study of historical earthquakes.