Story: East Coast region

Page 10. Government

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Provincial government

When Auckland province was established in 1853, Poverty Bay and the East Coast down to just north of Wairoa were included. The region only gained a seat on the provincial council in 1873.

Local government

Cook County, covering the whole region, was set up when the provinces were abolished in 1876. In 1877 Gisborne gained its own borough council and in 1890 the isolated north became the separate county of Waiapu. The introduction of Waikohu, Uawa and Matakaoa counties followed between 1908 and 1920. Matakaoa ran out of money, was placed under a commissioner in 1933 and rejoined Waiapu in 1965. Uawa rejoined Cook County in 1964. In 1989 the Gisborne District Council replaced all of these authorities, and also its catchment boards.

Mayors of Gisborne

By 2019 Gisborne had had 25 mayors, all men, who mostly came from commerce or the professions. Long-serving mayors have included John Townley (1889–1908) and D. W. (Bill) Coleman (1928–33 and 1935–41). From 1950 Harry Barker held the office for nine successive terms and was reputedly the longest continuously serving mayor in New Zealand. John Clarke was the district council’s mayor from 1989 to 2001. Mayor Meng Foon was elected for a sixth term in 2016 and retired in 2019.

Parliamentary electorates

The East Coast electorate came into existence in 1871; at that time it also included all of Bay of Plenty.

Cardboard vote winner


During the East Coast election campaign of January 1876, pieces of cardboard distributed by supporters of candidate George Read were accepted as legal tender in Gisborne hotel bars. Read polled highest in the election, but a parliamentary committee of enquiry looked into the matter. The committee found that Read had not broken any laws, but the House of Representatives decided that Read was to lose his seat to the next highest polling candidate – George Morris.


In 1893 East Coast was replaced by the Waiapu electorate. This was in turn replaced in 1908 by Gisborne, which existed until 1993. Its longest-serving member of Parliament was Bill Coleman (also a mayor), who held the seat for five terms (1931–1949), the only lengthy period when Gisborne had a Labour member.

The East Coast proper was part of the Bay of Plenty electorate for most of the period from 1908 to 1963, followed by 15 years as part of the Gisborne electorate. East Cape electorate was created in 1978 and took in much of the coast.

New electorates with more voters were established in 1996 on the introduction of the MMP (mixed-member proportional) electoral system. Until 2002 the electorate covering East Coast was called Māhia; from 2002 it was East Coast. In 2019 the MP was Anne Tolley (National), who first won the seat in 2005.

Māori electorates

The region was in the Eastern Māori electorate from 1867 to 1996. James Carroll, who lived in Gisborne, represented the electorate from 1887 to 1893, when he won the Waiapu general electorate and was replaced by Wī Pere, whom Carroll had defeated in 1887. In 1905 Wi Pere was defeated by Apirana Ngata, who held the seat for 38 years.

When MMP was introduced Eastern Māori was replaced by the Te Tai Rāwhiti electorate. In 2020 the electorate, now called Ikaroa–Rāwhiti, was represented by Meka Whaitiri (Labour).


In 2011 the region had five secondary schools: Gisborne Boys’ High, Gisborne Girls’ High, Campion College and Lytton High School, all in Gisborne, and Ngata Memorial College at Ruatōria.

Another five schools also catered for secondary students – Tolaga Bay Area School, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o te Waiu o Ngati Porou in Ruatōria, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o te Kawakawa Mai Tawhiti in Hicks Bay, Te Kura-a-Rohe o Te Waha o Rerekohu in Te Araroa, and Sonrise Christian School in Gisborne.

The major providers of tertiary education were Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and Tairāwhiti Polytechnic. The polytechnic merged with Hawkes Bay’s Eastern Institute of Technology in 2011.


In 2011 Gisborne Hospital was the principal hospital in the region and the base of Tairāwhiti District Health, established in 2001, which serviced the whole region. It had service contracts with primary health organisations, Māori health providers, general practitioners and disability health providers.

The only other hospital in the region was located at Te Puia Springs, 100 kilometres north of Gisborne on State Highway 35. The hospital was established in 1907 in the aftermath of a typhoid outbreak in Ruatōria, and its primary role for a long time was as a tuberculosis sanatorium, that illness being widespread amongst Māori until the 1950s. In 2011 it was operated by local health provider Ngati Porou Hauora.

Treaty of Waitangi claims settlements

In 2011 the Crown acknowledged unjustified land confiscations caused by acts or omissions by the Crown when it settled all historical Treaty of Waitangi claims of Ngāti Porou and the Tūranga tribes

How to cite this page:

Monty Soutar, 'East Coast region - Government', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 June 2024)

Story by Monty Soutar, published 25 Aug 2011, updated 1 Mar 2015