When Miramar Was A Lake

The 1855 Earthquake

Source of the following text: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nationallibrarynz/12195282443

Artist: James Coutts Crawford. Watercolour 165 x 254 mm. A-229-003. Alexander Turnbull Library
Published in FishHead magazine, December 2013

Here is Miramar in the mid-1840s, viewed from Lyall Bay, looking toward Mt Crawford in the distance. The lake and surrounding swamp covered much of what is Miramar now.

Early Maori inhabitants called the lake Rotokura. More recent arrivals from Taranaki called it Para, and began to stock it with eels from the Hutt Valley. When the European settlement of Wellington was established the lake was renamed Burnham water.

This sketch was done by James Coutts Crawford, a lively figure in early Wellington history, who then owned most of what you can see in his picture. Clearly he was a better businessman than he was an artist. That is his new farm house, Glendavar, up on the slopes of Mt Crawford in the distance.

Burnham water was picturesque, but it was taking up good farmland so, in 1847, soon after he did this drawing, Crawford commissioned New Zealand’s first tunnel, through the hills on the left, and drained most of it away. The surrounding fern and flax was turned into pasture and Miramar became a successful cattle and dairy farm.

Crawford always hoped that he could eventually make a further fortune through subdivision, but those plans were not so successful. After the lake was drained a new racecourse was opened nearby to try and bring the crowds. A local paper reported that opening day “was remarkably fine, and crowds of people visited Lyall’s Bay, in carts, on horseback and on foot, and several boats were employed carrying passengers.” But the racecourse was not a success. It was too sandy, windswept and remote.

It was not until the early 1900s, when trams made city commuting possible, that Miramar began to resemble the busy suburb we know today.


  1. Hey Mike, just saw that this page is linked in the Shelly Bay Cultural Assessment document. :-)


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