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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.




As originally delimited in 1853, the Province of Nelson comprised the whole of the South Island north of the Hurunui River to its source, thence along a line to Lake Brunner and the mouth of the Grey River. Before the provincial boundaries were drawn, there was pressure from the Canterbury settlement to have lands north of the Huruni included within the Canterbury Province. Governor Grey, however, who had full powers to draw the boundaries as he wished, was determined to limit Canterbury, probably because of his distaste for its “exclusive” social character and its policy of high-priced land. In 1859 the north-eastern portion of Nelson was detached to become the Province of Marlborough but the east coast district known as the Amuri – between the Conway and Hurunui Rivers – remained part of Nelson, probably because the size of any new province was arbitrarily limited to 3 million acres. In later years there has been much popular confusion as to the definition of the Nelson district. The provincial district is coextensive with the province as at the time of abolition in 1876. The Nelson Land District, an administrative division of the Department of Lands and Survey, is smaller; the Amuri area is included with the Canterbury Land District, and the Grey Valley with the Westland Land District.

The nucleus of Nelson Province was the Tasman Bay lowland, the site of the second organised settlement of the New Zealand Company. Economically this area has always been characterised by small-scale intensive farming. The outlying areas have had only tenuous economic and social links with the heart of the province. The Amuri was early parcelled into a few large sheep runs and had few people until the end of the nineteenth century. Its commercial links have been with Christchurch rather than Nelson, and today few people there are aware of any former community of interest with Nelson. The West Coast portion of the province was first peopled by gold miners from west Canterbury who, although not hostile to government from Nelson, had little concern for provincial sentiment or institutions. Between Tasman Bay and these outlying areas of settlement lay an extensive forested and mountainous zone whose narrow valleys were occupied by a few prospectors and cattle farmers until dairy farming developed at the end of the nineteenth century.


Murray McCaskill, M.A., PH.D., Reader in Geography, University of Canterbury.