Early Land Sharks & Speculators.

The Land Court Commissioners investigate.

by Anthony G. Flude ©2003.


As far back as 1831, some thirteen Maori chiefs, prompted by their resident missionaries, petitioned the British government to colonise New Zealand and give them protection from the ravages of the inter-tribal 'musket wars' lead by chief Hongi and prevent more bloodshed to peaceful tribes living both in the North and South Islands of New Zealand.

To their dismay their request was refused and instead the Home Office in Britain sent  out Mr. James Busby to act as British resident in the Bay of Islands. Mr. Busby was paid a salary and an allowance of £200 a year to purchase and distribute gifts to the local Maori chiefs. His task was to monitor the activities and relations between the missionaries, traders and the local maori and report his findings to his superiors in Sydney.

Christianity, brought to New Zealand by the missionary Samuel Marsden in 1814, was slowly being spread among the maori by the increasing number of missionaries. Their preaching of the gospel gradually had the effect of  subduing the warmongering chiefs and their followers and also brought about the release of slaves who had been held by their aggressors from raids over the years before. Despite this, maori raiding parties, of over a hundred or more warriors, continued their slaughter and sacking of pa's and villages down the east coast until 1838. 

Over the next few years after Busby's appointment by the British Government, it was noted that the number of visiting foreign and British ships to New Zealand were increasing.
Rumours began to circulate among the white settlers.
They now began to strongly suspect that the colonisation of New Zealand by England was near at hand and news of these rumours soon spread to Australia, Europe and beyond.

 Gradually land speculators and hopeful purchasers arrived from Sydney and other parts of the world and began trading and bartering with the Maori for large tracts of land on both the North and South Island of New Zealand.
Most of these land deals and the arrangements made with the local chiefs were absurdly low, in some instances 100 acres of land was purchased for 1/4d [a farthing] an acre or for goods of cheap and poor quality.
Eight independent purchasers claimed at one stage to have 'bought' the whole of Kapiti Island for blankets, muskets, axes and other goods, only to find that the maori had re-sold the same parcel of land to many other speculators.

French whaling ships had used the port of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula on the South Island of New Zealand to reprovision since 1830. Many of the sailors deserted their ships and bought land from the Maori to farm and form a small township. The French government, in late 1839,  were about to send a small immigrant ship to the port to begin a new settlement and hopefully gain sovereignty over the South Island as a French possession.[for more information, see 'Akoroa & Banks Peninsula-the French connection'] 

By 1839, before the arrival of Governor Hobson, it was estimated that there were more than 2000 white settlers living permanently in the two islands which was made up of missionaries, whalers and sealers, [on the South Island] traders and the ever growing numbers of 'land-sharks'.

Rev.Henry WilliamsThe Rev. Henry Williams, heading the missionaries in New Zealand, was living in the Bay of Islands in 1839 from where he travelled widely checking the mission activity by Maori converts. By October 1839, he had sailed down to Hawkes Bay and then continued down to Wellington Harbour.
It was there that he found the immigrant ship Tory at anchor, with Colonel Wakefield aboard, together with Gibbon Wakefield's son, Edward Jerningham Wakefield.

Henry Williams was soon to learn that in June, 1839, the London Colonial office  had given way to the petitions of the newly formed New Zealand Company to colonise New Zealand and dispatched Captain Hobson RN to govern the country in the name of Her Majesty after its annexation.
He did not arrive in New Zealand until January 1840 to take up his appointment, while the Tory had left secretly four months ahead from England to purchase land on behalf of the New Zealand Company for the many new settlers soon to arrive.
Colonel Wakefield's main concern was that once New Zealand became a British Colony, the New Zealand Company would lose all powers of direct negotiation and purchase from the Maori. He decided to take action before Hobson's arrival.
Chief WharepouriChief Te PuniColonel Wakefield immediately began negotiations with the Maori chiefs Wharepouri and Te Puni at Port Nicolson, assisted by Richard Barrett. It took three months for them to finally secure the land for the settlers, who were, by now, on the high seas bound for New Zealand.
There was opposition from the missionaries and Henry William's urged the chiefs not to sell, delaying the negotiations. However, once the goods aboard the Tory were displayed as payment for the land, the Maori chiefs were not to be stopped and agreed to the sale, all eager for the muskets, axes and powder they saw among the piles of goods offered.

In February, 1840, at Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands , a Treaty was signed between the northern Maori chiefs of New Zealand and the British Crown, represented by Captain Hobson. A total of fifty-eight Maori chiefs gave their names to the treaty throughout the North and South Island of New Zealand.

Colonel Wakefield's fears over land purchases were well founded.

Shortly after the signing of the treaty, Governor Hobson issued a proclamation to all white settlers, land owners, land claimants or would-be purchasers, advising them that the newly formed government of New Zealand would not recognise any land deals, deeds or titles which were not given under the Queen's authority.

Land Commissioner Spain
The Land Claims Ordinance of 1841 saw the appointment of a British barrister, Land Claim Commissioner Spain, to hear disputes regarding land purchases from the maori prior to 1840 and  he began his task of hearing claims for land title in December 1841. 
Two further appointments were later made, filled  by Commissioners Richmond and Godfrey.

Judging by the later number of official land claims brought before the Land Claims Court between 1841 and 1844, it was thought that over a third of New Zealand had been 'bought' up by the 'land-sharks'.  Over 26,000,000 [million] acres of land was alleged to have been purchased from a few Maori chiefs in the South Island against worthless documents and deeds of sale in exchange for goods and chattels.
Together, the Land Claim Commissioners were responsible for the dismissal and reduction of many of the outrageous claims presented, including the claim of the New Zealand Company, where Colonel Wakefield believed he had purchased some 20 million acres of land on the North and South Islands on the companies behalf in 1840.
One of the largest claims by the New Zealand Company related to the block of land at Port Nicholson, where the company produced a sale agreement to the court. After hearing from several witness over the 'alleged' sale to the company, Land Claims Commissioner Spain was not satisfied.
Wellington Courts
After a lengthy hearing, Land Commissioner Spain finally allowed the company a total of 283,000 acres of land against the disputed documents it produced to the land court, however this was reduced to 120,000 acres by Governor Grey in 1848. Had their alleged claim been upheld, the company would have gained title to most of the land around Wellington, Taranaki and part of Nelson for a payment of £9000 worth of goods.

 A total of 1076 private claims were lodged for land purchased from the Maori prior to 1840. Seven hundred and twenty-two of these were claims from the Auckland area, fifty-three from the Thames-Hauraki area, sixty-eight from the Waikato and one hundred and fifty-five from the South Island and Stewart Island,  estimated at nine million acres of New Zealand. The Wellington, Wanganui and Taranaki claims, including the New Zealand Company claims, were to be dealt with separately.

By mid 1843 the hard working commissioners had settled and disposed of 1,037 of the claims lodged with the land courts. All were cut down drastically. The missionaries who claimed a block of land some 50,000 acres in size were allowed only 3000 acres. Another claimant who 'bought' 1500 acres of land in Hokianga was awarded just 96 acres.

The Church Missionary Society clergy and its missionaries went through the same process over their claims. Twenty-six members of its clergy claimed to have accumulated land from the maori chiefs between 1830 and 1834 amounting to 196,840 acres. The Land Commissioners cut this down in May 1843 to 45,179 acres.
The Rev. Henry Williams joined the claimants before the land courts, asking for 11,000 acres he had purchased to be approved, a Mr. Fairburn 40,000 acres and the Rev. R. Taylor of Wanganui, 50,000 acres.
There were only a few claims made by Catholic or Wesleyan clergy, who could not be accused of speculating in large tracts of land. These missionaries purchased only smaller lots from the Maori on which to build their churches, farms and mission stations which were all allowed.

Wakefield's 1840 'un-official' purchases on behalf of the New Zealand Company were to create the greatest problems of all.
The newly formed government had no funds with which to purchase the Taranaki land in dispute, neither would the New Zealand Company offer any settlement to the maori.

Believing that the Taranaki land belonged to the company, Wakefield had sold 60,000 acres to the arriving settlers which they began farming. The maori chiefs contended that this land had never been offered for sale nor 'bought' by Colonel Wakefield of the NZ Company and was not part of the original deal. Without warning, in 1843, things flared up.
Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata and his followers, in one raid, slaughtered twenty-two European farmers. These farmers had settled in the Wairau Valley in Taranaki, having paid a £1 and acre for land to the NZ Company in London prior to their departure from England.
 
The land disputes between the company and the maori chiefs dragged on, while each ammendment of the Land Claims Act failed to settle the disputes.  Eventually the problems between the government and the maori chiefs led to the outbreak of the Maori Land Wars in 1864, starting at first in the northern regions, then followed throughout the Waikato and Taranaki before coming to an end in 1868.  During this war, large tracts of land were confiscated by the Crown from the Maori chiefs.

Today in the year 2003, some land is still in dispute, although much of the confiscated land has been gradually restored or a settlement made to Maori by the NZ Government on behalf of the Crown. It is likely that the largest claim put forward by the Maori to the NZ Government, will arise over the Port Nicholson Block, where Colonel Wakefield's deed of sale was flawed as it failed to adequately describe the boundaries of the purchase on a map, leaving the chiefs in the position of NOT understanding as to what exactly they were selling him. This fact was strongly taken into account by Land Commissioner Spain at the land court hearings in 1842 and documents noted to this effect.
Named after the treaty that was signed at Waitangi in February, 1840, the present 'Waitangi Tribunal' was set up in 1975 to hear Maori grievances over land, inquire into claims under the Treaty and make recommendations to the New Zealand Parliament for resolving these disputes.