Cornwall Park is named after the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary of England). During the Royal visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1901 Sir John Logan Campbell was asked to be honorary Mayor of Auckland. It was during this visit that he took the opportunity to gift the Park to the people of New Zealand and asked that it be called Cornwall Park.
The hill was originally called One Tree Hill after a solitary tree which grew on the summit when Europeans first settled Auckland (See One Tree Hill below). One of the Maori names for the hill is Maungakiekie - mountain of the kiekie. Kiekie (Freycinetia banksii) commonly grows as an epiphyte or vine on forest trees, this suggests that the vegetation observed by Maori when they named the mountain was different to that of today.
Sir John Logan Campbell addressing the crowd at the formal opening of Cornwall Park, 26 August 1903.
The Auckland Volcanic field has 48 volcanoes that have erupted in the past 150,000 years. They are in world terms small volcanoes. One Tree Hill is one of the largest in the field and relatively recent. It erupted more than 20,000 years ago. It formed a complex cone of scoria lapilli when the eruption was fountaining red hot lava. The hot lava cooled in the air, freezing in the gas that was in the lava forming the vesicles in the scoria. Some formed into bomb like shapes while in the air and other pieces fell still sufficiently hot to weld together where they fell. One of the craters formed of scoria lapilli is complete while two others were horseshoe craters, lacking one side where the lava flowed away from the vent. The lava from One Tree Hill flowed down old stream valleys towards Onehunga. In the process it blocked the drainage for parts of the isthmus north of the hill allowing sediment to accumulate there forming the plain between One Tree Hill and Mt St John. Some of the lava flows formed tubular channels of cooled volcanic rock through which the hot lava flowed. Late in the eruption this drained away leaving lava tube caves which are often found in the Auckland volcanic field.
There is a volcanic trail on the mountain. Collect the trail guide at the Information Centre and watch the introductory film at the Lindo Ferguson Education Centre.
Maungakiekie is the most extensively terraced of all the Auckland volcanoes. Over 170 of these terraces remain in Cornwall Park and One Tree Hill Domain. These earthworks cover approximately 45 hectares, making Maungakiekie one of the largest pa in New Zealand.
The traditional occupants of Maungakiekie were the Wai o Hua tribe. Their traditional history refers to the site as the head pa of their paramount chief, Kiwi Tamaki. The Wai o Hua people occupied the site in the early 1700's and most likely earlier than that. Other Auckland iwi, including Ngati Whatua o Orakei can also trace their ancestry to people who occupied the site.
Like the other volcanic cone pa it was not occupied at the time of European exploration and settlement, for reasons which are not fully understood. Certainly many people still lived in the area. Defeats in warfare, exhaustion of forest resources as the forests were cleared and the difficulty of defending such large sites may all have been factors.
The Rongo stone set in a plinth near the main barbecue area is an unusual remnant of a Maori shrine. Maori religious concepts seldom took physical form but Rongo is an exception with objects and carved stones being seen as manifestations of the god and used ritually to aid the growth and harvesting of crops.
This naturally shaped columnar stone was part of a shrine at Three Kings though it had, according to tradition, been moved there from the upper Waitemata. It was called Te Toka i Tawhio - "the stone which has travelled all around". Campbell rescued it from a roadside where it had been dumped and moved it to Cornwall Park.
The Rongo Stone
One Tree Hill is one of the largest Maori fortifications (pa) in New Zealand, covering about 45 hectares. Tamaki (Auckland) was a popular place for Maori to live with its rich harbours and the fertile soils derived from the volcanic eruptions. The lava field surrounding One Tree Hill would in the past have been dotted with small settlements of a few houses each, associated with gardens cleared among the rocks. Little of this evidence now survives around One Tree Hill, but it does survive in other lava fields in Auckland and elsewhere.
Some people would have lived on the cone and stored their crops and valuables there. The settlement also acted as a point of defence for the surrounding area where all the population could reside in a time of stress. Warfare was often a seasonal activity in traditional Maori society so it was not necessary to live continuously in a fortified place. On the cone there are many terraces created for living areas and storage pits for kumara - sweet potato. These would formerly have been roofed. The site has ancient paths which can be seen in several places and boundary walls. Defensively there are several strong-points within an overall defence for the whole site. Scarps and ditches and banks are part of the defences. Formerly there would have been palisades and fighting stages protecting the entrance ways.
Very little investigation by excavation has been carried out on the hill. The little that has been done is enough to show there is a rich inventory of features there for an archaeologist to discover and study, ranging from palisade post-holes, food remains, house structures and discarded and lost tools.
The ancient people buried their dead on the mountain and deposited their bones in lava caves around the mountain.
An archaeological trail covers the major points of the mountain. Collect the trail guide at the Information Centre. There are often guided tours to look at the archaeological features led by an archaeologist.
Check at the Information Centre for information. See also the Centennial Project page (link on left).
One Tree Hill
The last tree on top of One Tree Hill was a pine tree - Pinus radiata - the most common tree grown for timber in New Zealand. Another Maori name for the hill is Te Totara i Ahua which refers to a sacred totara tree (Podocarpus totara) and can be translated as "the totara that stands alone".
The name One Tree Hill was applied to the hill by early European settlers because of the single tree growing there. The tree was the totara, sacred because of its association with the cutting of a baby's umbilical cord, an important ceremony in Maori society. The event commemorated by the planting, the birth of a boy called Koroki. That tree was cut down in 1852 by a party of workmen, reportedly angry at the non-arrival of some rations. Attempts over the years to re-establish a totara on the summit have all failed. In October 2000 Auckland Council deemed the tree unsafe due to its dwindling health after a number of attacks in recent years. The icon was removed on the 26 October 2000. The Council are planning to replant a series of smaller trees over the next planting season (May - August).
Pictures of tree removal 26 October 2000
By the 1870's the Auckland Isthmus had been converted to pasture land. The volcanic soils around the cones were well favoured because of their fertility. Traces of earlier Maori use of these areas were for the most part obliterated as new fields and farm buildings were erected. Where the land had many boulders surviving from the lava flows they were used in forming stone walls. Some of the stone walls in the Park date back to this use of the land. In the process some earlier Maori stone walls marking off their smaller plots would have been removed. Similar walls can still be seen in south Auckland at Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve.
The original land sales were often in small parcels. However wealthy individuals bought neighbouring properties and amalgamated the small parcels into larger holdings. As always in the land close to Auckland, speculation on increasing value was as often a motivation for purchase as was farming. Farming though was pursued while other opportunities were awaited. Campbell's holdings around One Tree Hill expanded to 1000 acres, only part of which became the Park. He used it for sheep and cattle grazing and experimented with olives and grapes. The remnants of the olive grove are still within the Park. Some other parts of the estate were leased to tenant farmers.
Campbell and his business partner Brown purchased the Mount Prospect estate in 1853. They renamed it One Tree Hill and in 1873 when the partnership was dissolved, Campbell became sole owner of the One Tree Hill Estate. The land was farmed at the time of purchase and Campbell continued to farm it, though he did not live at the site, rather employing a farm manager. Campbell originally intended to build a large home within the current park grounds, this never eventuated, but formal plantings for a carriage way in the 1870s are a feature of the park.
Campbell had always considered gifting the park and Corinth Park was a name he favoured, this reflected his interest in Classics and the parallel of ancient Corinth with Auckland, both being situated on an isthmus.
With the Royal Visit in 1901, and as Mayor of Auckland Campbell pre-empted his will and handed the title deed to the Park to the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. From that time the affairs of the park have been in the hands of a trust board, the original Trust Board was hand picked by Campbell and included himself as a member.
With the initial gifting the park inherited plantings from the farming landscape as well as major plantings that Campbell had established. However an overall plan was needed and young landscape architect Austin Strong was recommended by Chief Justice Sir Robert Stout. Strong had been a schoolboy in New Zealand and had studied landscape architecture in the United States. He drew on the precedent of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for the form of Cornwall Park. The parks share broad areas of open spaces, massed plantings concentrating on trees, sweeping driveways and facilities for visitors.
In August 1903 the Park was formally opened from the front steps of Huia Lodge, now the Information Centre for the Park. Over the first 100 years the Park has been planted and set out following Campbell's aims and objectives as well as the broad spectrum of Strong's design.
The Obelisk was completed on the summit of One Tree Hill by 1940 – the Centennial year of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. The unveiling of the Obelisk was delayed until 24 April 1948, after World War two was over, in keeping with Maori custom of not holding such ceremonies during a time of bloodshed. A number of dignitaries were present for the occasion, including the Mayor, the Maori King and various other representatives from both the Maori and Pakeha communities.
Although it was constructed nearly 30 years after Sir John Logan Campbell’s death, it fulfilled the terms expressed in his will and he had reserved money for that purpose. The Obelisk is situated near Campbell’s own grave, but it was not intended to honour him. It was built as a permanent record of his admiration for the achievements and character of the great Maori race. Campbell decided on the idea of an obelisk after admiring them during his travels in Egypt.
The architect who designed the obelisk was Richard Atkinson Abbott. The obelisk is 33 metres in height and is built from reinforced concrete covered in Coromandel tonolite. The base is formed from rusticated basalt blocks and rubbed stone wedges.
Along with other volcanic cones in Auckland, One Tree Hill has been used to site reservoirs for water supply. There are currently two sited on the cone, both on the south west flank, one buried and an older one with an iron roof. On the flanks of the hill there are three others, two of which are buried. The iron roofed reservoir on the cone is the oldest of all, built in 1900 as part of a a supply drawn from the Onehunga springs. It subsequently became linked to the regional supplies fed from the Waitakere and later Hunua Ranges. The second high level reservoir was built to service Onehunga Borough's water supply also fed from Onehunga. Watercare Services Ltd now owns and operates all the reservoirs on the hill and its surrounds.
Military Use in World War Two
Parts of the Park near the Olive Grove were planted in potatoes as part of the war effort to boost food production. The Park became a centre of military activity, starting with the Home Guard and later as a a New Zealand army unit headquarters. A New Zealand Royal Air Force signal base used the mountain. The bracing blocks for the radio masts can still be seen over the cone.
The major use was the construction of a hospital in the northeast of the Park by the US Army 39th General Hospital. This dealt with casualties from the Pacific campaign. The hospital huts covered some 75 acres and were linked by long enclosed corridors. The Park was closed to the public during the period of most intense military use.
The US Army began moving out in 1944 and the buildings became a New Zealand government hospital facility with a lease imposed on the Park by legislation.
Cornwall Hospital 1942 - 1975. The hospital was originally to last for 6 years but did not finally depart the site until 1975 when the land reverted to pastoral use. In its time the Cornwall Hospital was the site of National Womens Hospital and of the Cornwall Geriatric Hospital. A brochure available at the Information Centre commemorates the Hospital, tours of the area where the Hospital was situated are occasionaly run as part of the Summer or Winter Programme.
Aerial view showing US Army 39th General Hospital in the Park
Plans for the Future
The Park Board ensures the Park continues to serve its visitors by planning for the future. The Board maintains plans for matters such as sustaining the trees through replanting, protecting the historic features and maintaining visitor facilities attuned to the changing needs.The overall responsibility is to protect a treasure of Auckland in the character it has sustained since the park was gifted.