New Zealand Company

New Zealand Company

The New Zealand Company originated in London in 1837 as the New Zealand Association with the aim of promoting the "systematic" colonisation of New Zealand. The association, and later the company, intended to follow the colonising principles of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who envisaged the creation of a new-model English society in the southern hemisphere. The New Zealand Company later established settlements at Wellington, Nelson, Wanganui and Dunedin and also became involved in the settling of New Plymouth and Christchurch. It reached the peak of efficiency about 1841, encountered financial problems from 1843 from which it never recovered, and wound up in 1858.

The company became notable for elaborate and grandiose advertising and for its vigorous attacks on those it perceived as its opponents – the British Colonial Office, successive governors of New Zealand, prominent missionary the Rev. Henry Williams and the Church Missionary Society in New Zealand and London. It stridently opposed the Treaty of Waitangi and was in turn frequently criticised by the Colonial Office and New Zealand Governors for its "trickery" and lies.[1] The company also saw itself as a prospective quasi-government of New Zealand and in 1845 and 1846 proposed splitting the colony in two, along a line from Mokau in the west to Cape Kidnappers in the east – with the north reserved for Maori and missionaries, while the south would become a self-governing province, known as "New Victoria" and managed by the company for that purpose. Britain's Colonial Secretary rejected the proposal.[1]


Early attempts at colonisation

The earliest organised attempt to colonise New Zealand came in 1825, when an organisation under the name the New Zealand Company was formed in London, headed by John George Lambton, MP. The association unsuccessfully petitioned the British Government for a 31-year term of exclusive trade as well as command over a military force, anticipating that large profits could be made from New Zealand flax, kauri timber, whaling and sealing. The following year it dispatched two ships under the command of Captain James Herd to explore trade prospects and potential settlement sites in New Zealand.

In September or October 1826 the ships, the Lambton and the Isabella (or Rosanna), sailed into Te Whanganui-a-Tara, (present-day Wellington Harbour), which Herd named Lambton Harbour. Herd explored the area and identified land at the south-west of the harbour as the best place for a European settlement. The ships then sailed north to explore prospects for trade, purchasing tracts of land – later claims put them at one million acres (4000 km²) – from local Māori in Hokianga, Manukau and Paeroa on the way. The company opted against pursuing any trade or settlement ventures and ceased activity, having spent ₤20,000 on the venture.[1]

The vessels arrived in the Bay of Islands in November 1826. Henry Williams recorded that Captain Herd relinquished the idea of landing settlers as the Māori they encountered were hostile. Henry noted in his journal that “They have charged the Missionaries with prejudicing the natives against them, forgetting that those natives were at war with our people; consequently out of our reach, even if we been that way disposed . . . Captain Herd appears very desirous to cast considerable blame on Mr Marsden.”[2] At the time of this first encounter with the association Williams does not appear to have formed a view as to the consequences of extensive colonisation of New Zealand; however by 1838, having read the pamphlet explaining the plans of the New Zealand Company, he was actively opposing the activities of the New Zealand Company.

Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Edward Gibbon Wakefield

Edward Gibbon Wakefield revived plans for the settlement of New Zealand during the 1830s. Wakefield, who had grown up in a family with roots in philanthropy and social reform.[1] In 1829, while in prison for abducting a 15-year-old heiress, he had published a pamphlet and a series of newspaper articles – the latter eventually republished as a book – promoting the colonising of Australasia. Wakefield's plan entailed the company buying land from the indigenous residents very cheaply, then selling it to speculators and "gentleman settlers" for a much higher sum. The emigrants would provide the labour to break in the gentlemen's lands and cater to their employers' everyday needs. They would eventually be able to buy their own land, but high land prices and low rates of pay would ensure they first laboured for many years.[3]

Many of those who had had involvement in the 'New Zealand Company' of 1825 embraced Wakefield's ideas and used them in 1834 as a basis for the colonisation of South Australia, where his supporters proposed recreating "a perfect English society".[1] Wakefield regarded the South Australian experience as a failure, however, and in 1836 set his sights on New Zealand, where his theories of "systematic" colonisation could be put into effect. A year later he chaired the first meeting of the New Zealand Association. Its members soon included MPs William Hutt and Sir William Molesworth, R.S. Rintoul of The Spectator and London banker John Wright. Wakefield drafted a Bill to bring the association's plans to fruition.

The Bill attracted stiff opposition, however, from Colonial Office officials and from the Church Missionary Society, who took issue both with the "unlimited power" the colony's founders would wield and what they regarded as the inevitable "conquest and extermination of the present inhabitants".[1] Anglican and Wesleyan missionaries were particularly alarmed by claims made in pamphlets written by Wakefield in which he declared that one of the aims of colonisation was to "civilise a barbarous people" who could "scarcely cultivate the earth". Maori, he wrote, "craved" colonisation and looked up to the Englishman "as being so eminently superior to himself, that the idea of asserting his own independence of equality never enters his mind". Wakefield suggested that once Maori chiefs had sold their land to settlers for a very small sum, they would be "adopted" by English families and be instructed and corrected.[1]

The New Zealand Land Company

By late 1837 the association had started to gain some favour in government circles, and in December was offered a Royal Charter to take responsibility for the administration, and the legislative, judicial, military and financial affairs of the colony of New Zealand, subject to safeguards of control by the British Government. To receive the charter, however, the association was told by Colonial Secretary Lord Glenelg it would have to become a joint stock company,[1] a condition the association initially rejected. But in August 1838 the association was wound up and replaced with two organisations, the New Zealand Colonisation Company and the New Zealand Land Company. In May 1839 both bodies merged with the 1825 New Zealand Company to form the New Zealand Land Company and in December the name 'New Zealand Company' was selected for the one and only company that would send emigrants to New Zealand. Once again Edward Gibbon Wakefield provided the driving impetus, although by then the offer of a charter had been withdrawn.

Within the British Government, meanwhile, concern had grown about the welfare of Maori and increasing lawlessness among the 2000 British subjects in New Zealand, who were concentrated in the Bay of Islands. Because of the population of British subjects there, officials believed colonisation was now inevitable[1] and at the end of 1838 the decision was made to appoint a Consul as a prelude to the declaration of British sovereignty over New Zealand. The officers of the New Zealand Company knew that any such declaration would involve a freeze on all land sales pending the establishment of effective British control, and control over the purchase of Maori lands by Europeans.[4] They had other plans, which involved treating New Zealand as a foreign country and buying the land directly from the Māori, knowing this would allow them to secure a better deal.

The 1839 expedition and land purchases

The New Zealand Company hastily organised a land-buying expedition, which sailed to New Zealand in the Tory on 12 May 1839,[5] commanded by Wakefield's younger brother, Colonel William Wakefield and with Edward Main Chaffers as the ship's Master.[6] A second vessel, the Cuba, with a surveyors' team headed by Captain William Mein Smith, R.A., sailed in August, followed a month later by the first of nine immigrant ships, even before word had reached London of the success of the Tory and Cuba. The immigrant fleet had instructions to sail to Port Hardy on D'Urville Island where they would be told of their final destination.

With the aid of whaler and trader Dicky Barrett, who had good contacts with Māori and a grasp of their language, William Wakefield began negotiating to buy land from the Māori around Petone in the Wellington area as soon as he arrived in New Zealand, and by the end of 1839 had concluded several purchases extending as far north as Patea that quickly became mired in controversy over their legitimacy.

The settlement differed greatly from what had been planned in England: among the many falsehoods in company prospectuses and advertising about the nature of the country, Wellington had been described as a place of undulating plains suitable for the cultivation of grapevines, olives and wheat.[7] Plans prepared in England showed parallel streets and sections that bore no relation to the physical contours of the area. Streets and sections, parks and cemeteries had been drawn in an area that consisted of swampy delta or high hills and steep gullies.[3]

In November 1839 Henry Williams and Octavius Hadfield arrived in Port Nicholson, Wellington days after the New Zealand Company purchased the land around Wellington harbour. Within months the Company purported to purchase approximately 20 million acres (8 million hectares) in Nelson, Wellington, Whanganui and Taranaki. Henry Williams attempted to interfere with the land purchasing practices of the Company. Reihana, a Christian who had spent time in the Bay of Islands, had bought for himself 60 acres (24 hectares) of land in Te Aro, in what is now central Wellington. When Reihana and his wife decided to go and live in Taranaki, Henry Williams persuaded Reihana to pass the land to Henry to hold it in trust for Reihana.[8] On his journey north, Henry Williams records in a letter to his wife Marianne “I have secured a piece of land, I trust, from the paws of the New Zealand Company, for the natives; another piece I hope I have upset.”[9] Upon arriving in Whanganui Henry records “After breakfast, held council with the chiefs respecting their land, as they were in considerable alarm lest the Europeans should take possession of the county. All approve of their land being purchased and held in trust for their benefit alone.” [10]

The Church Missionary Society in London rejected Henry’s request for support for this practice of acquiring land on trust for the benefit of the Māori. The Society were well aware that the Company actively campaigned against those that opposed it plans. While the Church Missionary Society had connections with the Whig Government of Viscount Melbourne, in August 1841 a Tory Government came to office. The Church Missionary Society did not want to be in direct conflict with the New Zealand Company as its leaders had influence within the Tory Government lead by Sir Robert Peel. In any event the actions of Henry Williams in attempting to thwart the ambitions of the New Zealand Company, lead to attacks on his character by members of the Company and their supporters.[1]

The Treaty of Waitangi

The New Zealand Company had long expected intervention by the British Government in its activities in New Zealand, and this finally occurred following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. The treaty not only transferred sovereignty from the Māori to the British Crown (at least in the English version), but under its so-called pre-emption clause, Māori were prohibited from selling land to anyone but the Government and its agents. Lieutenant-Governor Hobson immediately froze all land sales and declared all existing purchases invalid pending investigation. The treaty put the New Zealand Company in a very difficult position. They did not have enough land to satisfy the arriving settlers and they could no longer legally sell the land they claimed they owned.

The British authorities progressively eased restrictions on land sales after an agreement at the end of the year between the Company and Colonial Secretary Lord John Russell, which provided for land purchases by the company from the Crown at a discount price, and a charter to buy and sell land under government supervision. Money raised by the government from sales to the Company would be spent on assisting migration to New Zealand. The agreement was hailed by the Company as "all that we could desire ... our Company is really to be the agent of the state for colonizing NZ."[1] The Government waived its right of pre-emption in the Wellington region, Wanganui and New Plymouth in September 1841.

Hobson sent his Colonial Secretary, Willoughby Shortland, and some soldiers, to Port Nicholson (Wellington) to raise the Union flag and put an end to what his administration perceived as a challenge to British sovereignty – a "colonial council", complete with primitive legal institutions, headed by Wakefield and Smith. Hobson considered the colonists were creating a "republic" and regarded the council's activities as treason.

The settlement of Wellington

Swayed by the opinion of its Surveyor-General, Captain William Mein Smith of the Royal Artillery, the Company established the initial settlement, called "Britannia",[11] of 1100 1-acre (4,047 m2) town sections on the flat land at Pito-one, at the mouth of the Hutt River in January 1840. As well as a town section, each settler had purchased 100 "country acres" (about 40ha) to be located nearby, on which they could grow their food and support themselves initially. However the valley at Pito-one was a mix of dense forest, scrub, flax and swamp, prone to flooding and with a beach so flat ships were forced to anchor 1600 metres from the shore.[1] In March, eight weeks after the first passenger ship arrived, settlers voted to abandon surveying at Pito-one and move the town to Thorndon, to the south-west, one of the few comparatively flat areas on the harbour.[12]

John Lambton, 1st Baron Durham.

The area of Lambton Bay (later Lambton Quay) took its name in honour of Lord Durham, who had been closely associated with the formation of the Company.

Surveyors quickly encountered problems, however, when they discovered the land selected for the new settlement still inhabited by Māori, who expressed astonishment and bewilderment to find Pākehā tramping through their homes, gardens and cemeteries and driving wooden survey pegs into the ground. Surveyors became involved in skirmishes with the Māori, most of whom refused to budge, and were provided with weapons to continue their work.[1]

Wakefield had purchased the land during a frantic week-long campaign the previous September, with payment made in the form of iron pots, soap, guns, ammunition, axes, fish hooks, clothing – including red nightcaps – slates, pencils, umbrellas, sealing wax and jaw harps.[1] Signatures had been gained from local chiefs after an explanation, given by Wakefield and interpreted by Barrett, that the land would no longer be theirs once payment was made. However evidence later provided to the Spain Land Commission – set up by Governor FitzRoy to investigate New Zealand Company land claims – revealed three major flaws: that chiefs representing of Te Aro, Pipitea and Kumutoto, where the settlement of Thorndon was to be sited, were neither consulted nor paid; that Te Wharepouri, an aggressive and boastful young chief eager to prove his importance, had sold land he did not control;[1] and that Barrett's explanation and interpretation of the terms of the sale was woefully inadequate. Barrett told the Spain Commission hearing in February 1843: "I said that when they signed their names the gentlemen in England who had sent out the trade might know who were the chiefs."[3] Historian Angela Caughey also claimed it was extremely unlikely that Wakefield and Barrett could have visited all the villages at Whanganui-a-Tara in one day to explain the company's intentions and seek approval.[3]

The Māori occupants of the disputed land received promises of reserves equal to one-tenth of the area, with their allotments chosen by lottery and sprinkled among the European settlers.[1] Edward Jerningham Wakefield, who accompanied his uncle Col. William Wakefield to New Zealand on the Tory in 1839, explained that interspersing Maori with white settlers would help them change their "rude and uncivilised habits". He wrote: "The constant example before their eyes, and constant emulation to attain the same results, would naturally lead the inferior race, by an easy ascent, to a capacity for acquiring the knowledge, habits, desires and comforts of their civilised neighbours."[12] Wakefield said the reserves – "a very important part of our projected plan" – would remain inalienable to ensure that the Māori would not quickly sell the land to speculators. Spain eventually negotiated a settlement with Te Aro, Kumutoto and Pipitea chiefs whereby they would sell their land, but retain possession of their , cultivations and burial-places.[3]

In August 1840 the New Zealand Company suffered a further setback when the Legislative Council in New South Wales decreed that payment for land in New Zealand must go directly to the original inhabitants, and that no individual sale could exceed "four square miles". The NSW Government planned to examine all the purchases of the New Zealand Company – which had already claimed to have bought two million acres (8,000 km²) and sold part of it directly to settlers – as well as more than 1200 individual land claims throughout the country. Panic swept the town and hundreds of settlers chose to abandon their land and sailed to Valparaíso, Chile.[3][13]

In November 1840 the New Zealand Company directors advised Wakefield that they wished to name the town at Lambton Harbour after the Duke of Wellington in recognition of his strong support for the company's principles of colonisation and his "strenuous and successful defence against its enemies of the measure for colonising South Australia". Edward Jerningham Wakefield reported that the settlers "took up the views of the directors with great cordiality and the new name was at once adopted".[12]


In April 1841 the company informed the Colonial Secretary of its intention to establish a second colony "considerably larger" than the first.[1] The colony was initially to be called Molesworth after Radical MP Sir William Molesworth, a supporter of Wakefield, but was renamed Nelson (after the British admiral) when Molesworth showed little interest in leading the colony.[1] It was planned to cover 201,000 acres (810 km2), consisting of 1000 allotments. Each would be 150 acres (60 hectares) of rural land, 50 acres (20 hectares) of accommodation land and one "town acre" (4000 square metres), with half the funds raised by land sales being spent on emigration and about ₤50,000 ending up as company profits. The land would be sold at ₤301 per allotment or 30 shillings an acre, one pound an acre more than land at Wellington, with a lottery to determine the ownership of specific allotments.[1]

Two ships, the Whitby and Will Watch, sailed that month for New Zealand with surveyors and labourers to prepare plots for the first settlers (scheduled to follow five months later). Land sales proved disappointing, however, and threatened the viability of the settlement: by early June only 326 allotments had been sold, with only 42 purchasers intending to actually travel to New Zealand. Things had improved little by the drawing of the lottery in late August 1841, when only 371 of the allotments were drawn by purchasers, three-quarters of whom were absentee owners.[1]

The two survey ships arrived at Blind Bay (today known as Tasman Bay), where the expedition leaders searched for land suitable for the new colony, before settling on the site of present-day Nelson, an area described as marshy land covered with scrub and fern. In a meeting with local Māori, expedition leader Arthur Wakefield claimed to have gained recognition – in exchange for "presents" of axes, a gun, gunpowder, blankets, biscuits and pipes – for the 1839 "purchases" in the area by William Wakefield.[1] By January 1842 the advance guard had built more than 100 huts on the site of the future town in preparation for the arrival of the first settlers. A month later the township was described as having a population of 500, along with bullocks, sheep, pigs and poultry, although the company was yet to identify or purchase any of the rural land for which purchasers had paid.

The search for this remaining 200,000 acres (810 km2) would ultimately lead to the Wairau Affray – then known as the "Wairau Massacre" – of 17 June 1843, when 22 Europeans and four Maori died in a skirmish over land in the Wairau Valley, 25 km from Nelson. Arthur Wakefield claimed to have bought the land from the widow of a whaler who, in turn, had claimed to have bought it from chief Te Rauparaha. The chief denied having sold it. Although settlers in Nelson and Wellington were appalled at the slaughter at Wairau, an investigation by Governor Robert FitzRoy laid the blame squarely at the feet of the New Zealand Company representatives.[14]

As early as 1839 the New Zealand Company had resolved to "take steps to procure German emigrants" and appointed an agent in Bremen. A bid in September 1841 to sell the Chatham Islands to the Deutsche Colonisations Gesellschaft was quashed by the British Government. German migrants instead moved to Nelson.

Further settlements

The New Zealand Company also established a settlement at Wanganui in 1840 – chiefly as a spillover settlement, the site of the rural land promised to Wellington purchasers – and also became indirectly involved in the settlement of New Plymouth in 1841, through its links with the Plymouth Company, which merged with the New Zealand Company the same year. The company also sent surveyors down the east coast of the South Island to consider further sites, where they made contact at Akaroa with the fledgling French colony established there under the auspices of Jean-François Langlois's Nanto-Bordelaise Company.

In July 1843 the New Zealand Company issued a prospectus for the sale of 120,550 acres (48,000 hectares), divided between town, suburban and rural lots at a new settlement called New Edinburgh. The location of the settlement still remained undetermined.[1] An office was established in Edinburgh to attract Scottish emigrants. A 400,000 acre (160,000 hectare) block was selected around the harbour at Otago in January 1844. The company worked with the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland on the sale of, and ballot for, land and the first body of settlers sailed for what became the settlement of Dunedin in late November 1847.

A month later Gibbon Wakefield began actively promoting a plan he had proposed in 1843: a Church of England settlement. New Zealand Company directors initially hoped to site the settlement in the Wairarapa region in the lower North Island. When local Maori refused to sell, however, its surveyor inspected Port Cooper (Lyttelton Harbour) on the east coast of the South Island and chose this as the location. Land was bought from 40 members of the Ngai Tahu iwi in June 1848. The colonising efforts were taken up by the Canterbury Association, Gibbon Wakefield's new project, and the New Zealand Company became a silent partner in the settlement process, providing little more than the initial purchase funds.[1] The first of the body of 1512 Canterbury settlers sailed on 8 September 1850 for their new home.

Financial difficulties and dissolution

The New Zealand Company began falling into financial difficulties from mid-1843 for two reasons. It had planned to buy land cheaply and sell it dearly and anticipated that a colony based on a higher land price would attract affluent colonists. The profits from the sale of land were to be used to pay for free passage of the working-class colonists and for public works, churches and schools for instance. For this scheme to work it was important to get the right proportion of labouring to propertied immigrants. In part the failure of the company's plans were because this proportion was never achieved – there were always more labourers, whose emigration was heavily subsidised by the company, than landed gentry.

The second major flaw arose because a large proportion of the land in the new colony was bought for speculative reasons by people who had no intention of migrating to New Zealand and developing the land they had bought. This meant that the new colonies had a serious shortage of employers and consequently a shortage of work for the labouring classes. From the outset the New Zealand Company was forced to be the major employer in the new colonies and this proved a serious financial drain on the company. Repeated approaches were made to the British government seeking financial assistance and in late 1846 the company accepted an offer for a £236,000 advance with strict conditions on, and oversight of, future company operations.

In June 1850 the company admitted land sales in Wellington, Nelson and New Plymouth had remained poor and its land sales for the year ended April 1849 amounted to only £6,266. With little prospect of trading its way to profitability, the company surrendered its charter. A select committee report concluded the company's losses were "mainly attributable to their own proceedings, characterised as they were in many respects by rashness and maladministration."[15]

Gibbon Wakefield, who had resigned from the company in disgust after its 1846 financial arrangement with the British government, remained defiant to the end, declaring in 1852 that had the company been left alone it would have paid a dividend, recouped its capital "and there would now be 200,000 settlers in New Zealand".[15]

The company, in its final report in May 1858, conceded it had erred, but said the communities they had planted had now assumed "gratifying proportions" and they could look forward to the day when "New Zealand shall take her place as the offspring and counterpart of her Parent-Isle ... the Britain of the Southern Hemisphere."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Patricia Burns (1989). Fatal Success: A History of the New Zealand Company. Heinemann Reed. ISBN 0-7900-0011-3. 
  2. ^ Caroline Fitzgerald (2011). Te Wiremu - Henry Williams: Early Years in the North. Huia Press. ISBN 978-1-86969-439-5.  Henry Williams Journal, 4 November 1826
  3. ^ a b c d e f Angela Caughey (1998). The Interpreter: The Biography of Richard "Dicky" Barrett. David Bateman Ltd. ISBN 1-86953-346-1. 
  4. ^ Keith Sinclair (2000). A History of New Zealand (revised edition). Penguin. ISBN 0-14-029875-4. 
  5. ^ "Ships, Famous. Tory". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. 
  6. ^ "SHIPS, FAMOUS", from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 18 September 2007 URL: Retrieved 5 March 2008
  7. ^ Michael King (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-301867-1. 
  8. ^ Fitzgerald, Caroline (2011) 290-291
  9. ^ Fitzgerald, Caroline (2011) 299, Letter Henry to Marianne, 6 December 1839
  10. ^ Fitzgerald, Caroline (2011) 302, 16 December 1839
  11. ^ Maclean, Chris (15 June 2008). "Wellington". Te Ara: the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 2008-08-16. "Early in 1840 the first six immigrant ships arrived off Pito-one (now Petone). There had been little preparation for their arrival. With Māori help the first settlers built huts along the foreshore. The young settlement was called Britannia." 
  12. ^ a b c Edward Jerningham Wakefield, "Adventure in New Zealand", Vol. 1, pub. John Murray, 1845.
  13. ^ An Account of the Settlements of the New Zealand Company by The Hon H W Petre (Smith, Elder and Co, 1842), Chapter 3.
  14. ^ Moon, Paul (2000). FitzRoy: Governor in Crisis 1843-1845. David Ling Publishing. ISBN 0-908990-70-7. 
  15. ^ a b "The Amazing Career of Edward Gibbon Wakefield 1796-1862" by A. J. Harrop, London, 1928, quoted by Patricia Burns.

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