The New Zealand Company had bought from the Maoris large tracts of land in the Wellington and Taranaki districts and in the South Island. Settlements were established in the Wellington district in 1840, in the Manawatu and Taranaki districts in 1841, in the Nelson and Marlborough districts in 1842, in the Otago district in 1848, and in the Canterbury district in 1850. Settlement had been preceded by explorations by a band of surveyors who designed and surveyed the towns and rural allotments to accommodate the increasing flow of selected immigrants. With the setting up of the provinces under the Constitution Act of 1852, the office of Surveyor-General was abolished, because it was impossible to maintain any effective central control of surveys, especially as there was hardly any overland communication between the scattered settlements. Under a Provincial Superintendent, a Lands and Survey Office was responsible for all land administration within each provincial district. A Chief Surveyor had autonomous control and direction of all surveys within his district. Unfortunately, in the nine provincial districts ultimately set up, the standards of land-title surveying and the techniques and methods used in the office and in the field varied greatly. Rapid settlement and its demand for surveys led to inferior work being done by men who were not adequately qualified. In the Auckland and Taranaki districts the Maori Wars of the 1860s (brought about by land disputes) disrupted land settlement, and survey work fell behind.
After conferences between provincial and Government officials, and after receiving a report on the state of the surveys of the colony by Major Palmer of the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain, the Government of New Zealand accepted the following general recommendations: the surveys of New Zealand be placed under the central control and direction of a Surveyor-General; a system of triangulation be provided to control the accuracy of surveys; and no person be permitted to carry out land-title surveys unless he had obtained a licence after passing an examination set by the Surveyor-General.
It was fortunate that some of the provincial survey officers were outstanding surveyors who had had experience and training with the survey of India and the Ordnance Survey of Great Britain. In four of the provincial districts these men had already established limited triangulation and standard traverse systems for survey control and an orderly method of reference for cadastral surveys within their districts. By the early 1860s most districts had adopted the theodolite for the observation of bearings and angular measurements, and by 1872 the continuous steel band had been universally adopted for distance measurements. Land-title boundary marks were related to permanent survey monuments established by triangulation of standard traverses, and the accuracy for land-title surveys was 1 in 8,000 in urban areas and 1 in 4,000 in rural areas.