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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.



Constitutional Government

Convinced that his land and native policies had made their mark, Grey planned to leave the country once he had put into effect the 1852 Constitution Act. By this Act New Zealand was divided into six provinces – Auckland, Wellington, New Plymouth (Taranaki), Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago – each with a superintendent and a council, separately elected, to govern locally. Roughly, each province corresponded to a particular area of settlement. At the centre, government was in the hands of a legislature consisting of a Governor, a Legislative Council nominated by the Crown, and a House of Representatives elected on a broad property franchise. There was no rigid distribution of powers, though some functions were reserved to the general government. For most purposes – including the crucial question of land policy – the general government, in the first few years, empowered the provincial governments to legislate for their districts. Two further steps completed the structure of government: in 1856 a division of revenue (from land sales and customs) between general and provincial governments was agreed to, giving the lion's share to the provinces; and in the same year responsible government was introduced after a protracted controversy.

Grey had set the provinces functioning and had also arranged for the election and meeting of the General Assembly. With that, he departed (in December 1853), leaving an acute problem for the administrator, R. H. Wynyard, who held office until the arrival of the next Governor, Thomas Gore Browne, in September 1855. This problem was the demand voiced by colonists' leaders, Frederick Weld, Sewell, William Fox, FitzGerald, Godley, E. W. Stafford, and I. E. Featherston joined by Edward Gibbon Wakefield himself, that effective power be given to ministers supported by a majority of the elected House. Wynyard refused to act on his own initiative; while the colony awaited directions from London, the General Assembly embarked upon a series of bickerings given distinction only by the brief political career of Wakefield, flouting nearly all his principles in an effort to gain political power, and being bitterly opposed by his erstwhile disciples of the Company and Canterbury settlements. In 1856 the Colonial Office agreed that responsible government should be granted (it had already been granted in Canada) and with Gore Browne's arrival the full ship of state was tardily launched. One domestic function was withheld from the responsible ministers – native affairs. For Gore Browne decided that the Governor, as representative of the Crown, should act independently of his elected advisers in this sphere. The decision was to bring confusion and divided counsels in the future.