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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



The Provincial Period, 1853–76

By providing what was, in effect, a unitary constitution, the constitution-makers had expressed their confidence that eventually national issues would transcend those of provincial concern; but, in the early years of self-government, geography and parochial self-interest ensured that the provincial governments would assume powers and responsibilities not contemplated by the Constitution. Grey's actions, in particular the priority he gave to the establishment of the provincial councils, led to the criticism that he was deliberately seeking to consolidate the position of the councils. This was aided by their passing their own empowering ordinances. It was soon accepted that the revenues coming from the sale of public lands would, after certain deductions, go to the provinces; and the power to determine the price and method of sale of land, combined with control over immigration and public works, allowed the individual provinces to dictate the pattern of their own social and economic development. The southern provinces, without the distraction of the Maori wars and helped by the gold rushes, developed more rapidly than did those in the north. By 1870 only Canterbury and Otago could be said to be flourishing, and there were events during the ensuing five years that had as their inevitable conclusion the abolition of the provinces. The Central Government prohibited further provincial borrowing; it took over immigration and public works; and, by the use of public loans, itself encouraged immigration and developed road and railway communications. Thus the country became an economic unit while the provinces were more and more anachronistic. Their end came when Julius Vogel, irritated by the provincial opposition to his plans for the creation of railway reserves and for afforestation (the provinces saw these as an attack on their lands), was able to obtain support for abolition legislation. This became effective in 1876. Soon after, land revenue was taken over by the Central Government, to be spent on the general needs of the colony.