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New Zealand in History









The colonisation of New Zealand
First European arrivals

"They arrived in Lyttelton to find they had to climb up a steep hill, known as "The Bridle Track". When they reached the summit, all they saw was flax, tussock and swamp, not a dwelling in sight. They looked and exclaimed "To think we left our comfortable homes to come to this", and they nearly turned back. They walked to Ferrymead by the Heathcote River, and were rowed across in boats to a landing called "The Tanks", where today is a monument to commemorate the landing of the early settlers. The only dwelling in Christchurch recalled at that time was a sod house called "The White Heart hotel."
(Extract from the written memories of Lorna, one of my ancestors. Lorna's grandfather, Thomas Smith spoke of this, the settler's first arrival in New Zealand, and the climb up the Bridle Track. Thomas Smith subsequently established a flour mill near Rangiora, called "The Cam")

The Māori knew Ferrymead at this time as "Ohika Paruparu". This name makes reference to the time when the Māori Women gathered shellfish in this area, and would often sink and became covered in mud.


The New Zealand Company
Clayton, Matthew Thomas 1831-1922: Settlement of Wellington by the New Zealand Company. Historical gathering of pioneer ships in Port Nicholson, March 8, 1840, as described by E J Wakefield. Wilson & Horton chromolith. Mt Clayton [delt.] ; Auckland, Wilson & Horton, 1899
New Zealand Company ships arriving
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätaurangao Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

As early as 1825 a George Lambton had sent agents to New Zealand who were alleged to have bought land in Cloudy Bay, Stewart Island, and also in the North Island of New Zealand. However, no settlers arrived to settle the land. This first New Zealand Company collapsed due to lack of backing from the British government.

Much later in 1837, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a sometime political figure, took up the idea of the former New Zealand Company, naming it "The New Zealand Association". Wakefield's Association was based on the idea of a "Systematic Colonisation Theory".

While serving three years in prison in 1829 for the abduction of a schoolgirl heiress, Wakefield wrote his tract "A Letter from Sydney". Although he had never been to Australia, Wakefield's writing gave the impression of a first hand analysis of the shortcomings of the colonisation system.

Wakefield considered the Australian colonies as being afflicted by three problems : economical, social and political. His proposed remedy was that land should be sold at a "reasonable" price, so that :

  • It would take longer for colonial workers to become proprietors;
  • During this time a fund would accumulate, enabling migrants free passage to New Zealand;
  • A selective choice of future settlers would be made, in order to maintain the structure of English society;
  • The colonies should be self-governing

Colonists would pay for Land titles before leaving England. The profits would be used to buy land from the Māori, start public works, and enable free passage to New Zealand for selected emigrants. A land order title would grant the emigrant the right to participate in a ballot on arrival, in order to determine his sector of land.

The Colonial Office was not in favour of Wakefield's plan, considering that it would not be in the interest of the Māori.

In 1839 Wakefield restructured the Association, renaming it "The New Zealand Company", still hoping to obtain the British Government's approval. This was not to be the case.

On hearing rumours that the British Government was about to annex New Zealand, Wakefield hastily sent out The New Zealand Company ship "The Tory", in May 1839, with his younger brother, Captain William Wakefield aboard. William Wakefield had instructions from his brother to buy as much land as possible from the Māori before New Zealand became annexed.


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In September 1839 The New Zealand Company sent it's first three migrant ships to New Zealand. These ships were "The Oriental", "Aurora" and the "Adelaide". Before leaving, the future settlers agreed to a code of law by which they would be governed until Britain officially took over New Zealand, and this in spite of warnings by the British Government that The New Zealand Company was operating illegally, and that any land title claims could not be guaranteed as legal.

The Company's agents made hasty and dishonest deals for land with the Māori. In addition to this, different conceptions of land sales between Māori and the New Zealand Company buyers led to hostilities once the settlers began arriving in numbers. For the Māori, selling land at first simply meant that the land was being "put to another purpose". A European living on bought land was often considered simply as "land being used otherwise".

The exploitation of flax and timber would bring benefits to the Māori community, and the signing away of land was usually more of an assertion of mana, rather than a land sale in the European sense of the word. For example, the warrior chief Te Rauparaha signed away enormous areas of land in both the North and South Islands, not realising that The New Zealand Company negotiators would be sending out as many settlers as they said they would be.

The intention of Te Rauparaha's land sale was mainly to accommodate a portion of settlement on the land for the purpose of economic benefit and trade, as had been practiced before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi - but at the same time retaining control over the bulk of the area. This was the Māori concept, misunderstood by the Europeans.

It was when the many shiploads of settlers started disembarking on New Zealand soil that the Māori realised the significance of the European conception of land sale, and the subsequent claim to ownership. In the rush, The New Zealand Company sent its first settlers out too soon, with no advance preparation for their arrival.

When 1.000 settlers arrived at Petone (near Wellington today), they disembarked on the beach with their belongings to a surrounding of bush and swamps. There was little or no shelter in evidence. Proper survey on the land had not been completed due to the inaccessible bush and hill area surrounding Wellington harbour.

During this same year, approximately 9.000 settlers arrived in New Zealand via The New Zealand Company. It was seven years before land allocations were finally able to be completed, and during this time the settlers were demanding that The Company establish settlements elsewhere in the country.

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Group outside a timber camp hut, circa 1900. Shows two women peeling potatoes, a man, a dog and chickens. Photograph taken by the Northwood Brothers.
Early pioneers
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätaurangao Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.
click here to enlarge this image (57k - link will open in a new window)

The following further settlements were subsequently created :

  • 1840 Wanganui
  • 1841 New Plymouth
  • 1842 Nelson
  • 1850 Otago and Canterbury

During the following years, 8.600 colonists arrived in a total of 57 ships. 244.618 acres of land had been bought, not only by the migrating colonists but also by land speculators back in Britain, who had no intention of migrating to New Zealand. The absentee landowners were hoping for quick profits on their far off land tilled by colonists.

With not enough landowners migrating to take possession of their land, too few employers were on hand to hire the arriving labourers. Numerous immigrants, making the voyage with the promise of instant employment, found themselves without jobs on arrival. These early years were difficult ones for many new arrivals.

However, the settlement in Canterbury was a success due to its much higher rate of settlers to speculators. This led to productive use of the land and jobs for colonists who were not in a financial position to be able to buy land orders.

Main source of research :
"An unsettled History" - Alan Ward
"Kinds of Peace" - Keith Sinclair
The New Zealand Historical Atlas - Bateman
The New Zealand Official Year Book

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Related Links
A historical overview of "The Bridle Path" From the Christchurch City Council
The history of Ferrymead from
Local history links
Early Māori place names


 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.