Story: Colonial and provincial government

Page 4. Julius Vogel and the abolition of provincial government

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Vogel’s public works statement

In 1870 Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel announced a colonial borrowing programme (the provinces were still prevented from borrowing) to finance immigration, and road, rail and other public works. This ‘colonisation’ was the principal task of the provinces and Vogel expected them to carry out the work. But he thought the work more important than the provinces – if a choice had to be made between preserving the provinces and promoting colonisation, he would support the latter.

Vogel believed the provinces needed ‘remodelling’. All except Otago and Canterbury were in financial difficulties. Vogel introduced a capitation scheme – provinces would be funded on a population basis.

It was too late for Southland and Marlborough, both of which were bankrupt. Southland was re-annexed to Otago. Marlborough was to be re-annexed to Nelson but instead received supplementary grants from the colonial government; so, increasingly, did other provinces.

The colonial government takes over

The colonial government increasingly played the major role in Vogel’s public-works scheme. It standardised the rail gauge in 1870, and from 1871 took over direct management of immigration, and much of the public works in the North Island.

Other measures also diminished the role of provincial government. The Harbour Boards Act 1870 set up elected boards for managing ports. Vogel offered substantial grants to road boards – £100,000 in 1871, equivalent to more than $17 million in 2023.

Vogel and the provinces at odds

In 1873 Vogel proposed reserving not more than 3% of ‘waste’ (unused) land of provinces as ‘forest’; this would be security for the £3 million loan and the revenue would ultimately be used to pay it off. The provinces feared they would lose rights to future land revenue and killed the proposal.

In 1874 Vogel announced a plan to abolish the North Island provinces. When Parliament met for the 1875 session, the government announced the abolition of all the provinces (including Westland, which had been given provincial status in 1873). The second (principal) reading of the bill was carried 52–17, with the superintendents of Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay and Nelson (all members of Parliament) amongst those voting in favour.

The demise of the provinces

Colonial Treasurer Julius Vogel said, ‘The provinces have broken down because of their coming into conflict with the colonial government on many points, and especially on points of finance. Their doom was only a question of time, when it became obvious that they could not raise their own revenue; that they had to look to the general government to supply deficiencies; and that they could not borrow without the colony becoming liable.’1

Otago and Auckland opposition

The principal opposition to abolishing the provinces came from Auckland and Otago.

George Grey, former governor and now an Auckland resident, threw himself into the fray, claiming the provinces as his creation. He became provincial superintendent early in 1875, and entered Parliament in the middle of the year.

Auckland was not in a financially sound position, but it was geographically and economically very distinct from the other provinces. Grey was a popular figure who embodied that distinctiveness.

James Macandrew, superintendent of Otago, sought to keep provincial control of both the land fund and the education endowments, in respect of which Otago was well-placed.

It was agreed that abolition of the provinces would not take place until after an election and the conclusion of the parliamentary session which followed, that is, late in 1876. The election returned a majority for abolition, except in Auckland and Otago, and it came into effect on 1 November 1876. The Counties Act 1876 divided the rural parts of the colony into counties, which were in effect combinations of road boards; towns survived unchanged.

  1. Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1876, B-2, p. 12. Back
How to cite this page:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Colonial and provincial government - Julius Vogel and the abolition of provincial government', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Malcolm McKinnon, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 6 Oct 2023