Okiato or Old Russell is a small holiday spot in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, seven km south of present-day Russell. It was New Zealand's first national capital, for a short time from 1840 to 1841, before the seat of government was moved to Auckland. The car ferry across the Bay of Islands, the main tourist access to Russell, runs between Okiato and Opua.
Pomare, the local Māori chief in the 1830s, sold land at Okiato to a British merchant and ship owner, Captain James Reddy Clendon, who settled there in 1832 and set up a trading station with partner Samuel Stephenson. Clendon became the first United States Consul for New Zealand in 1838 or 1839.
When the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson instructed the Surveyor-General, Felton Mathew, to report on possible locations for a capital in the Bay of Islands. Clendon's property met the requirements for a good anchorage and immediate availability of land suitable for subdivision and on-sale to settlers. Kororāreka (present-day Russell) was discounted as it had insufficient available land and locations such as Paihia and Kerikeri were bypassed for various reasons. Clendon wanted 23,000 pounds for the 1.24 km² of land, the house, two small cottages, a large store and other buildings. Hobson eventually secured it for 15,000 pounds. He changed its name from Okiato to Russell, in honour of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lord John Russell. Hobson and his family moved there in May 1840 and officials, troops, workmen and immigrants took up residence in permanent or temporary buildings and tents. Mathew drew up ambitious plans for a town, but only one of the intended roads was ever built - leading directly from the town hall to the town jail. A year later in 1841 New Zealand was established as a separate colony from New South Wales and Hobson moved the capital to Auckland and most of the Russell residents moved there too. A few officials lived on in the Government House at Russell but when it and the offices burned down in May 1842, they moved to Kororāreka leaving Russell virtually deserted.
Kororāreka was part of the Port of Russell and gradually became known as Russell also. In January 1844 Governor Robert FitzRoy officially designated Kororāreka as part of the township of Russell. Now the name Russell applies only to the erstwhile Kororāreka while Okiato has resumed its original name.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Okiato.|
- King, Marie (1992). A Most Noble Anchorage: A Story of Russell and the Bay of Islands. Kerikeri: Northland Historical Publications Society. pp. 26–28. ISBN 0-9597926-1-9.
- Lee, Jack (1998). Old Russell: New Zealand's First Capital. Northland Historical Publications Society, Inc. ISBN 0-9597926-8-6