Why naming places isn’t always a solemn historical moment

There’s an island in the middle of Wellington harbour, New Zealand, that, upon a time, used to be the quarantine station. It isn’t any more. Nobody lives there, which is kind of weird for a place less than 5 km from the capital, amidst a bustling district surrounding the harbour.

Somes/Matiu Island, Port Nicholson.
That dark silhouette is Somes/Matiu Island, Port Nicholson.

Maori called it Matiu island, but when the New Zealand Company arrived to settle in 1840 they dubbed it Somes Island, after Joseph Somes – one of the directors of the company. Other places in the district were named after people the company owed money to, including their bankers (‘Baring Head’) and Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington.

Not so much a solemn historical moment as a fit of grovelling in the face of creditors. And who says history isn’t interesting?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


5 thoughts on “Why naming places isn’t always a solemn historical moment

  1. We had ancestors quarantined on Somes Island. I had to do a lot of research about the place to find out what it was like – and it wasn’t good. That might have something to do why nobody lives there now.

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