At 9:11pm, on 23 January 1855, the southern part of the North Island was struck by a magnitude 8.2 earthquake, the most powerful ever recorded in New Zealand.
The largest recorded earthquake to have hit New Zealand rocked Wellington and the Wairarapa at 9:11pm, on 23 January 1855. The earthquake measured 8.2 on the Richter scale and was centered in the south-west Wairarapa along the Wairarapa Fault, about 25 kilometres from Wellington. The violent shake was felt as far away as Canterbury. This earthquake was the second major earthquake that Wellington settlers had experienced. Three people had died when a wall collapsed onto them. In 1855 Wellington had a population of approximately 6,000 people. Approximately four-fifths of the chimneys in Wellington fell down.
Brick houses destroyed in the 1848 quake had been replaced by timber houses, but there were still some brick buildings which suffered damage in 1855. In the Wairarapa three people died when a house collapsed on them. The Government Offices, which housed the Wellington Provincial Government, were completely demolished.