75th Anniversary of the Hawke's Bay Earthquake

In 1931, 150 seconds would completely redefine Hawke’s Bay. It would change the relationship of Napier with the sea, seed new architecture and deeply affect the people who lived there. That event was the Hawke’s Bay earthquake, and it began at 10.47am on 2 February 1931. A huge jolt – magnitude 7.8 on the Richter scale and just 16 kilometres deep – would wreak widespread destruction on a region that until then had enjoyed tremendous growth.

Issue information

Napier had been established in 1851 and by the 1920s was a thriving town of 16,000 people, with a great number of brick buildings, including the Anglican Cathedral and the Municipal Theatre. Hastings, just 20 kilometres south, had grown out of developments that began in the 1870s. By 1930, the population had reached 10,850 and the city was justifiably proud of structures such as the Hawke’s Bay Farmers Co-operative Association building, the Grand Hotel, Roach’s department store and the Post Office with its tall tower. Other towns in the area were also developing – Havelock North, Taradale, Waipawa, Waipukurau, Dannevirke and Wairoa.

The day itself began innocently enough – hot and still. It seemed the best of starts for children returning to school for another year. But at 10.47am, there was a sudden jolt, then nothing for 30 seconds – before another shock shook the ground, smashed buildings and opened huge fissures in roads. In just two and a half minutes – chaos! Cherished businesses in Napier and Hastings were obliterated. Wairoa, which was close to the quake’s epicentre, was also extensively damaged. Fires began within minutes, and by early afternoon Napier was ablaze – adding to the torment and devastation that those living there faced. 

Rescue workers sprang into action as all who could help ignored the powerful after-shocks and did what they could to aid the trapped and hurt. Unfortunately, Napier Hospital and the Nurses’ Home in Napier were unustable, and the Public Hospital at Hastings was too small to cater for the large numbers of injured and wounded. The injured were ferried to the Botanical Gardens and the Racecourses in Napier and Hastings. In all, 258 died. Countless numbers were hurt. Everyone was shocked, dazed and confused.

If there was one fortunate coincidence, it was the presence of HMS Veronica in Napier at the time. In fact, it was the ship’s radio that alerted those outside the region as to what had happened, because all other forms of communication had been cut off. The crew of HMS Veronica was despatched to the devastated town to help with the rescue effort and set up emergency services. By early afternoon, two more ships laden with supplies had been despatched to the stricken area from Auckland.

Over the next two weeks people evacuated the region, taking what possessions they could recover, and the long clean-up began. What would emerge from the rubble would be new cities, including the art deco wonder of Napier, and new hope. This 20 stamp issue paid tribute to this huge event in New Zealand’s history, to those who endured it, those who were lost and to the cities that have risen from the rubble in its aftermath.

First Day Covers

Two first day covers were issued, each featuring ten of the striking gummed stamps from the full 20 stamp set.

Miniature Sheet Booklet

A miniature sheet booklet featured unique miniature sheets of all the stamps in the issue was produced. Supplemented by photographs of what took place on the ground, it brought you the story of the quake as it happened – a vivid and memorable way to recall this extraordinary event.

This was the only format in which the miniature sheets were available.

Product Listing for 75th Anniversary of the Hawke's Bay Earthquake

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
Set of Stamps Mint, used or cancelled sheet of 20 x 45c stamps. $9.00
Miniature Sheet Booklet Collectable booklet containing a range of miniature sheets and further information on the stamp issue. $19.95
Set of First Day Covers Set of two first day covers with gummed stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $10.00

Technical information

Date of issue: 3 February 2006
Number of stamps: 20
Denominations and designs: 20 designs, one denomination 45c
Stamps and first day covers designed by: CommArts Design, Wellington
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print, New Zealand by offset lithography
Number of colours: Four process colours plus one special buff
Stamp size and format:  40mm x 30mm
Paper type: Tullis Russell 104gsm red phosphor gum stamp paper
Number fo stamps per sheet: 20
Perforation gauge: 14
Special blocks: Plate/imprint blocks, A and B barcode, logo and value blocks could be obtained by purchasing one sheet of 20 stamps.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 2 February 2007.