The New Zealand Company was formed to develop settlements in New Zealand for British migrants. William Wakefield led an advance expedition in the Tory to Port Nicholson (Wellington) in 1839. On board was German scientist Ernst Dieffenbach, who was to report on the plants, animals and resources of the new land. When the Tory reached New Plymouth, Dieffenbach stayed ashore to explore. He decided that the best view would be from the top of Mt Taranaki (Mt Egmont). There were warnings that the mountain was tapu (under spiritual restriction), but Dieffenbach set off to climb it with the black American cook of the company’s land agent Dicky Barrett. They took a tohunga (Māori priest) as guide. The first attempt failed, but in the company of the whaler ‘Worser’ Heberley, Dieffenbach succeeded, while his Māori companions remained below praying.
Over the next two years Dieffenbach explored Northland and the centre of the North Island, and visited the Chatham Islands.
The New Zealand Company urgently needed flat, fertile, habitable land for the Port Nicholson settlement, and the country west towards Taranaki was examined. Edward Jerningham Wakefield went from Whanganui to Pātea in March 1840. In August, Robert Park, Robert Stokes and Charles Heaphy surveyed the land from Porirua to Taranaki.
They took longer to discover the country east of Wellington. In 1841 the company’s chief surveyor, William Mein Smith, sent Stokes over the Remutaka Range to Lake Wairarapa. The following year the company sent Charles Kettle and Alfred Wills with seven Māori through the Manawatū Gorge. Led by the Māori guide Eahu, they sidled southwards along the Tararua Range before finding a good route back over the Remutakas. They reported that the Wairarapa was like an English park, which helped encourage settlement of the area over the next few years.
Covering the North Island
By the mid-1840s, through the efforts of missionaries and the New Zealand Company, European exploration of the North Island was largely complete (except for remote areas of the Tararua, Ruahine and Urewera ranges).