The sometimes stormy relationship between the Bay cities of Napier and Hastings can be traced back over 125 years.
In Napier, the older of the two cities, the main settlement of Europeans beganin the early 1850s, whereas Hastings’ beginnings can be traced to the 1870s, when Thomas Tanner’s Riverslea Estate was subdivided for sale. Most of the buyers of the Hastings land were in fact Napier land speculators.
And while the Napier speculators were keen for their Hastings land values to increase, it appears they did not want Hastings to prosper at the expenseof Napier.
For example, in 1888 when a woollenmill was proposed in Hastings, Napier people would not invest in the project and the required funds were not raised.
A furious Thomas Tanner, the mill’s promoter, lashed out, saying Napier people were “jealous of Hastings getting ahead of Napier”. The Hawke’s Bay Herald disagreed, responding “no, Hastings people were ten times more jealous of Napier”. But the Herald did agree that Napier people would have invested if the woollen mill were situated in Napier.
Some of Hastings’ residents and its surrounding rural landowners had made earlier attempts to prosper Hastings ahead of Napier. In 1879, a group tried to establish a company to build a railway line to Clive Grange (now Haumoana/Te Awanga). This was to be the first stage in a plan to create a new breakwater harbour near Cape Kidnappers – taking business away from the port at Ahuriri, Napier.
However, Napier people, who were aware of the ultimate goal, refused to invest, and the company was not formed.
One of the originators of the Kidnappers breakwater harbour scheme was rural landowner John Harding. He never gave up on the idea of a port at Cape Kidnappers and stated in 1885: “…Napierites might rely on it [a port at Napier], but Kidnappers will be the port, and Hastings the capital of this province and to spend more money at Napier for harbour works is just taxing the people for the benefit of a few Napier shopkeepers.”
The breakwater harbour then became a priority for Napier people as they feared a rival port development. Ahuriri port could not take larger vessels, and it was expensive for shipping companies to use lighters to unload their cargo outside the port. A breakwater port would attract substantial business. While a preliminary Bluff breakwater harbour was completed in 1893, further development stalled as Hastings and rural interests defeated proposals for additional investment at ratepayers’ polls. Hastings’ business interests favoured more investment in the Ahuriri port, not wanting to pay rates on the more expensive breakwater harbour.
This issue was perhaps the most divisive between Hastings and Napier, raging for over 50 years. In the end, nature forced a decision when the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake lifted the sea floor and made Port Ahuriri unsuitable for further development.
As Hastings grew in size, so did its citizens’ desire to have their own public hospital. Napier had a hospital on Scinde Island (now Napier Hill), which served Hastings as well. Napier, with a larger population, was entitled to have more members on the Hawke’s Bay Health Board. Its representatives continually outvoted any attempts by the minority Hastings members to establish a cottage hospital in Hastings. Napier members of the Hawke’s Bay Health Board became skilful at delaying or offering temporary solutions, such as an ambulance, which blocked development of a Hastings hospital. Resources were scarce for public health services, and the Napier members feared a hospital at Hastings would weaken Napier’s health provision.
Hastings finally got a public hospital in 1928, but ended up with only a small maternity hospital, despite being promised an emergency ward as well.
All of these issues bubbled beneath the service until the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake not only unleashed the strain in the earth’s crust, but also the frustrations of Hastings people with Napier – especially over the hospital issue. (Hastings did get their full public hospital in the 1930s … and we know where that story leads!) The actions of some Hastings people towards Napier after the earthquake in attempting to lure business, hospital and the Hawke’s Bay County Council to their town made the situation much worse and did not go unnoticed around New Zealand.
These early sources of disagreement between Napier and Hastings continued into the 20th century, usually relating to arguments over where large infrastructure assets should be situated, with both towns believing their own claim to be superior. The proximity of the two towns, parochial attitudes, and the fact that two of everything could not be afforded meant
conflict inevitably occurred.