Hawkes Bay Earthquake - 3rd February 1931
Statistical Data

Time 46 minutes and 46.3 seconds after 10.00 am on Tuesday February 3, 1931.
Magnitude 7.8 on the Richter Scale.
10-11 on the Modified Mercalli Scale of felt intensity in the Napier/ Hastings area.
Epicentre (Estimated) 20Kms north-north-east of Napier just off the coast near Tangoio and Waipatiki.
Focus Shallow, at approximately 16 kilometres.
Duration 2.5 minutes, with a 30 second lull in the middle.
Aftershocks Approximately 150 in the 12 hours post earthquake. 525 in the 14 days post earthquake.
Napier 157
Hastings 101
Wairoa 3
1931 Population
Napier 16,025
Hastings 10,850
Taradale / Havelock North 3125

General Infromation

They began in chemists' shops where gas jets were in close proximity to flammable liquids. One hour after the earthquake, the fires were spreading rapidly. Fires also broke at Ahuriri. In Napier, the water supply was lost and there was little that firemen could do. In Hastings, the water supply remained intact so the fires were contained.

The Navy
HMS Veronica was moored at West Quay. HMS Dunedin and HMS Diomede left Auckland with medical supplies and personnel at 3.00pm that day and arrived in Napier at 8.30am on Wednesday.

People, afraid to enter their homes, camped in their gardens, on road-sides, at Nelson Park and on the Marine Parade Beach.

The Napier Borough Council relinquished control under the Municipal Corporations Act 1920, and the Government appointed two Commissioners to oversee and manage the town and its reconstruction, with the Napier Reconstruction Committee. They were John Saxon Barton, a solicitor and Lachlan Bain Campbell, an engineer.

Reconstruction Finance
An Earthquake Relief Fund was opened by the Prime Minister and eventually reached $800,000. A Government Grant of $20,000 built Tin Town. $3,000,000 was given by the Government in the form of loans.

The Associated Architects
The four architectural practises in Napier in 1931 banded together to share facilities and bring a unity of purpose to the task of rebuilding the town, working in shifts around the clock. But they continued (except in rare cases) to design the buildings individually. These firms were:

  • E A Williams, who favored the Art Deco style.
  • Finch & Westerholm, which designed mainly in the Spanish Mission style.
  • J A Louis Hay, who usually designed buildings inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, and occasionally Louis Sullivan.
  • Natusch & Sons, whose work tended to reflect the growing modern movement.
  • Other architects who worked in Napier in the 1930s were J T Watson who arrived in 1934 and become Borough Architect, and architects from other cities, chiefly Wellington, who were retained by banks, insurance companies and hotel chains to design their buildings throughout New Zealand.

    The Inner Harbour
    The Napier area tilted upwards, a maximum of 7 feet (just over 2 meters), and 2230 hectares (5575 acres) were raised to sea level. Since then, apparently, the area has continued to creep up at the rate of 1cm per year, so that it is now 60cms (or two feet) above sea level.

    The Hastings Carnival to celebrate the rebuilding was held in November 1932. The New Napier Carnival was held in January 1933, by which time most of the main reconstruction was completed or nearly so.

    The Marine Parade
    The development of the Parade had begun before the Earthquake. The baths were built in 1909, and the Paddling Pool in 1914. Later a children's playground was built north of the baths. The retaining wall nearest the sea was built just before the earthquake.

    After the quake, the vision was extended and the area between the sea wall and the new retaining wall was filled with rubble and gardens created. The architectural features were built between 1934 and 1939. 


    The Hawke's Bay Museum
    The Museum has a permanent exhibition about the 1931 Earthquake which tells the earthquake story in photographs, artefacts and a video – “Survivors’ Stories”. The Museum is open daily from 10.00am to 6.00pm (Late night Thursday open until 8pm). The Berry Historical Library at the Museum (open Monday to Friday 1.00pm - 4.30pm) has a large collection of earthquake photographs, records, personal stories and publications relating to the earthquake.

    For more information on the 1931 Hawke's Bay Earthquake, go to the Art Deco Shop and order one of the fine books available "The Hawke's Bay Earthquake" by Robert McGregor ($15)
    "Quake" by Matthew Wright ($34.95)


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