Pro Risk

150 years of insurance events in Hawke’s Bay

As this July marks 150 years since the founding of Hastings, we thought it would be interesting to take a journey through some of significant events in the region during this time and see how insurance played a part in them. Has much changed since 1873 and what have we learnt?


Hastings first major fire occurred in Heretaunga Street in 1893 when two blocks of business premises were destroyed. Whilst it was reported at the time that many of the buildings had insurance, many were ‘shy of large insurances on stock’, according to the Daily Telegraph, and ‘in a few cases there is no insurance at all, and the sufferers are now bitterly repenting their inattention to this precaution.’

What is fascinating at this time is that the amount of insurance each company had was listed in the newspaper – not something that most business would be so keen to do now!


In 1897 the Ngaruroro River burst its banks and flooded a large part of the Heretaunga Plains with eight people losing their lives. As a result, houses in that area now have foundations that sit four or five feet above the ground. The total damage was estimated at £150,000, or $34,309,472 in today’s money.

A similar flood occurred in 1938 with hundreds of acres of farmland being coated in silt for up to four years afterwards, following three days of heavy rain. Similar to recent events, one of the hardest hit areas was Esk Valley.


The biggest disaster however was the earthquake on 3 February in 1931, which killed 256 people. Within a few minutes nearly the whole business district was destroyed, with fires breaking out only minutes afterwards. Only a few buildings in Central Napier survived. Back then, hardly any of the building owners had proper earthquake insurance. Those that did soon found out that the small print in their policy stated that fire caused by an earthquake was not included in their policy. Subsequent to this, the Government created the 1931 Hawke’s Bay Earthquake Act.

This provided statutory assistance for the Hawke’s Bay rebuild by allowing the ‘State Advances Superintendent’ to lend money to local authorities to repair damage caused by the quake. The Act was repealed in 2015 as it was no longer relevant.

Now of course those of us who have private insurance policies for our property and land automatically have earthquake cover under EQC. A thorough review of New Zealand building codes was also completed as a result of the quake, resulting in many buildings being built during that era being heavily reinforced. It is also why you will now only see four buildings in Hawke’s Bay taller than five storeys.

The earthquake risk has meant that it has been hard and expensive to secure cover for older buildings.


In more recent years we have been hit by severe weather events. Many will remember Cyclone Bola in March 1988 which struck Hawke’s Bay and the eastern cape of Gisborne.

Losses back then amounted to $90 million (equivalent to about $210 million today). Insurance payouts for the whole event totalled $37 million at the time excluding Earthquake Commission claims. Sadly, Cyclone Gabrielle has surpassed the losses of Bola with claims numbers as of 4th April 2023 totalling 14,707.

Claims made in Hawke’s Bay alone are worth $593m – more than half the total for the entire country at $1.155 billion. Unfortunately, both numbers are still climbing, and it will be sometime before we have final numbers and total losses accurately recorded. 6,819 claims out of 44,650 (15.3%) have been settled with pay-outs totalling just over $147 million out of an estimated
$1.155 billion (12.7%). Hawke’s Bay now accounts for 14,707 out of 44,650 Gabrielle claims (32.9%), but nearly $593 million out of an estimated $1.155 billion (51.3%) of claims by value.

What have we learnt?

Whilst 150 years is a long time it is interesting to see a couple of common themes across this period.

Back in 1893 even those who had policies were underinsured and, in 1931 following the earthquake, people with insurance discovered they weren’t covered under their policy when it came to a claim. These are two issues that are very common today and that can be avoided by regularly reviewing your insurance policies and using a broker who can help check the detail for you. Congratulations on your anniversary Hastings. ICIB Brokerweb is proud to be part of community and looks forward to serving you well into the future.