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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 Association

The genesis of the New Zealand Company is to be found in the New Zealand Association, which took shape in the spring of 1837 as a practical expression of Wakefield's challenging theories concerning emigration and colonisation. The Committee of the Association was a strong one and among its members were Francis Baring, Lord Durham, Lord Petre, W. B. Baring, Rev. S. Hinds, B. Hawes, W. Hutt, Sir W. Molesworth, and H. G. Ward-names which are now a part of our own nomenclature. The Association comprised two classes of members: first, prospective settlers, and, secondly, public-spirited men who were willing to lend their support to the venture, on the clear understanding, as Lord Durham put it, that they would “neither run any pecuniary risk, nor reap any pecuniary advantage from the undertaking”. Despite these disinterested motives, the Association faced bitter opposition from the powerful missionary societies when its prospectus was made public in the summer of 1837. The Colonial Office lent a willing ear to their protests and the Association was forced to appeal to Parliament in June 1838, knowing full well that it could not count on Government support. The Bill did not survive the second reading. It was expecting too much of Parliament to grant the Association's “board of commissioners” powers of self-government in a country which – so ran the debate – “was as independent of Great Britain as France or any of the nations of Europe”. In the face of official obduracy, one course only was left to the Association – to reconstitute itself as the New Zealand Colonisation Company which would function on the joint stock principle.

Formation of the Company

On the dissolution of the Association, therefore, some of its members formed the New Zealand Colonisation Company which took shape on 29 August 1838. The project gradually gathered support, with the result that in the spring of 1839 sufficient funds had been raised for fitting out an expedition for making land purchases in New Zealand and preparing for the early arrival of the first emigrants. The reaction of the Colonial Office was anything but cordial, for plans for the establishment of British sovereignty in New Zealand were already well advanced. But the Company held to its course and, in May 1839, took the bold step of dispatching the Tory to New Zealand under the charge of its principal agent, Colonel William Wakefield. In one respect the Company was in a strong position. It had a nominal capital of £400,000, in 4,000 shares of £100 each, and among its membership were many men of influence and talent.

With the arrival of the Tory in New Zealand in August 1839, Colonel Wakefield at once began negotiations with the Maoris for the purchase of land in the Port Nicholson (Wellington) district. Four months later, on 22 January 1840, the Company's first emigrant ship, the Aurora, arrived, and before long the town of Wellington came into being. Unfortunately the Company was soon at loggerheads with the British administration at the Bay of Islands, where Captain William Hobson, following the Treaty of Waitangi of 6 February 1840, had set up his Government. At once the Company's land claims, which amounted to 20 million acres, were in jeopardy, for the treaty expressly gave to the Crown the exclusive right of pre-emption over lands alienated by the natives. When, later in the year, Hobson decided to move his capital to Auckland, on the Waitemata, the Company's settlers in the south were openly resentful and did their utmost to undermine confidence in the Hobson and, later, the FitzRoy administrations.

The Charter

Meanwhile in London the Colonial Office and the Company had at last come to terms, in large measure through the attitude of Lord John Russell who in October 1840 decided to recognise the Company as an instrument of government in the colonisation of New Zealand. It therefore received a charter of incorporation and a generous land title and was formally incorporated on 12 February 1841. For its part the Company had to disclose its expenditure on the purchase of native land, on the dispatch of emigrants, and on surveying, public works, and the like. For every pound it expended the Company was to be entitled to four acres of land. Heartened by this official volte face, the directors proceeded with plans to extend their field of operations, and to that end they renewed their propaganda. They could always count on the support of such London magazines as the Colonial Gazette and The Spectator. Moreover, on 8 February 1840, there had appeared the first number of the New Zealand Journal, which, though claiming to be independent, received financial aid from the Company and worked hard on its behalf. In an effort to stimulate interest in its projects the Company endeavoured to form subsidiary companies in Scotland and England. Only one, at Plymouth, took shape. It was absorbed by the parent company early in 1841, but it did establish a successful settlement at New Plymouth, Taranaki, the first settlers arriving there on 19 November 1841.

At this juncture the Company's main concern was with its Nelson settlement. The Company, through its agent, Captain Arthur Wakefield, was anxious to found the settlement at Port Cooper (Lyttelton), on the east coast of the South Island. But Hobson decided in favour of the Nelson site, which had the advantages of being in the Cook Strait area and of having good land in the Waimea, Moutere, and Motueka Valleys. But as there was insufficient available to meet the demands of the new settlement, the Nelson settlers turned their attention to the Wairau, a potentially rich farming district. The Company claimed it by right of purchase, though this was stoutly denied by the redoubtable chiefs Rauparaha and Rangihaeata. Exasperated by the delay and determined if possible to force the issue, Captain Wakefield and a band of Nelson settlers clashed with the natives on 17 June 1843, when 22 Europeans, including Wakefield, were killed. The “Massacre” was a serious blow to the Company; immigration fell away and its financial position deteriorated. In New Zealand the Cook Strait settlers demanded Government action against the chiefs, but Captain Robert FitzRoy, Hobson's successor, refused to punish the chiefs and, indeed, publicly castigated the settlers for precipitating a crisis by their folly. The Nelson settlers never forgave FitzRoy for his “cowardice” and from 1844 onwards, led by the talented Alfred Domett, they attacked the administration and its policy of “rewarding outrage by concession”. But their main grievance was directed against the Treaty of Waitangi, which confirmed the Maori title to the soil of New Zealand. They argued that, unless this agreement were annulled, the New Zealand situation and the Company's prospects would remain in a parlous state. The Company was certainly in a bad way and in February 1844 turned to the Government for help. In the following April things took a more favourable turn when a select committee of the House of Commons, with Lord Howick (later, the third Earl Grey) as chairman, investigated the Company's grievances. The report of July 1844 reviewed most critically the policy of the Colonial Office towards New Zealand. Moreover, it supported the Company in its land claims and made no secret of its dislike for the manner whereby the Crown had established its sovereignty over the country. The report, however, had little practical value, for its hostility to the Treaty of Waitangi had aroused the humanitarians en masse, and Lord Stanley, Secretary of State at the Colonial Office, indignantly repudiated the Company's assertion that the treaty was merely a praiseworthy device for amusing and pacifying savages. “You will honourably and scrupulously fulfil the conditions of the Treaty of Waitangi” was his firm direction to Governor Grey.

The Last Phase

By mid-1845 the Company, some £60,000 in debt, was again looking to the Government for a land grant and loan. In the following year, when Earl Grey became Colonial Secretary, the directors once more set out a case, which was well received. In addition to the £100,000 already promised by Stanley, the Government was prepared to advance a further sum to cover the Company's liabilities and to meet all colonising expenses for three years, on conditions which were most favourable to the directors. When, moreover, the Government piloted through Parliament a constitution Act in 1846, which was to establish representative institutions in New Zealand, the Company became in effect what it had long aspired to be, an instrument of government in the colonisation of the country. It was with renewed hope, therefore, that the Company resumed operations. But the drive of its earlier proceedings had moderated by 1847 and little of the former energy remained. Instead, there was a spirit of caution, which was shown by the solicitude of the directors for the interests of their shareholders. Dividends and salaries became of first importance and colonising schemes took second place. Furthermore, the purchase of land in New Zealand was no longer looked upon as a profitable form of investment, with the result that by the late forties the Company's prospects of success, always dubious, vanished completely. Nevertheless, in this last phase of its colonising activities, the Company could claim an indirect share in the success of two church-sponsored ventures, the Otago and the Canterbury settlements. The former was organised by the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland and its settlement took shape at Dunedin, Otago Harbour, in March 1848. Similarly, the Canterbury Association, which was strongly supported by leading members of the Church of England, founded its colony around Christchurch in December 1850.

It is interesting to note that in these settlements, as in those earlier, the Company's plans for expansion on the basis of large-scale agriculture failed to materialise. Sheep, and not grain, became the key to prosperity. With the foundation of these last settlements, it was realised by the directors that the Company's colonising work was coming to an end, unless, of course, the Government could provide further financial assistance. When this was not forthcoming the proprietors, on 4 July 1850, put an end to the Company's existence as a colonising body and surrendered its charters. By the terms of the agreement of 1847, the Crown came into possession of the Company's entire landed property in New Zealand, some 1,092,000 acres, for which it was bound to pay the sum of £268,000. This amount, which was to be a first charge on the land revenue of New Zealand, became a bitter issue between Company and settlers. Everything that the Company had done to promote the colonisation of New Zealand was soon forgotten by the colonists when they found that they had to accept the responsibility of indemnifying its shareholders. The Auckland settlers in particular were vehement in protest, for they owed nothing to the Company and its works. But even the Canterbury Association turned against the parent body, and the feeling soon prevailed that the Company's difficulties arose mainly from its own mismanagement. Few tears were therefore shed when the Company was finally dissolved in 1858.