British sovereignty over New Zealand was established two years after the passing of the Public Record Office Act of 1838. It is not surprising then that the Colonial Reformers of the New Zealand Company should have included a Public Record Office in their plans of settlement or that the Colonial Office should have assumed the existence of such an office in its instructions to Governor Hobson in 1840. It was natural, too, that the Treaty of Waitangi should be filed amongst the “archives of the colony”.
The Colonial Secretary was the registrar of the public records. As sole channel of communication with the Governor, he was in a good position to ensure their preservation. After 1854, with the formation of the provincial governments and the diversification of Central Government Departments, the Colonial Secretary ceased to have sole control over the public records, and for the next 40 years they suffered neglect. Even the records of the abolished provincial governments, unlike those of earlier defunct administrations, were, for the most part, simply handed over to the local land offices.
The last years of the century, however, saw a growing interest in the records of the colony, an interest not so much in their preservation as in the use they might be made to serve. By this time New Zealand was almost past the period of initial colonisation, and men like R. J. Seddon were concerned to see that the achievements of themselves and their forbears were properly recorded. This concern resulted in attempts to obtain copies of records relating to New Zealand, both from the Public Record Office in England and from the New South Wales Government. Nothing was achieved except the transfer to New Zealand in 1909 of the Governor's duplicate dispatches. At the same time J. Izett, inspired by the compilers of the Historical Records of New South Wales, offered his services for a similar project, and in 1900 was appointed to the task. His attempts at compiling a history were not very successful and it was never published. His work was in a sense taken over by Robert McNab, who was similarly inspired by the Historical Records of New South Wales. In 1908 and 1914 two volumes of Historical Records of New Zealand appeared covering the years 1642 to 1842 and containing a considerable amount of material gleaned from its counterpart of New South Wales.