Story: Ngā tāone nui – Māori and the city

Page 2. Cities and Māori land

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Unfulfilled promise of trade

Land purchases were often justified to Māori on the basis that tribes would benefit from Pākehā settlement. Māori were eager to have access to the markets, new goods and technology that would result. Many were early entrepreneurs, feeding towns by trading produce. Generally, the sale of land meant that Māori were quickly displaced from towns, and when they lost their agricultural land they were replaced as suppliers of food to the cities. The four major centres became city corporations around the same time: Dunedin in 1865, Christchurch in 1868, Wellington in 1870 and Auckland in 1871.

Dunedin Māori

In 1844 Ngāi Tahu chiefs Taiaroa and Karetai agreed to the sale of the Otago block, opening the way for Pākehā settlement in Otago. During negotiations reserves for boat landings in the proposed town of Dunedin were agreed to. Additionally, 'tenths' (one tenth of the land to be sold) were discussed as part of the negotiations, but they were never recorded on the deed, and were subsequently not given to Māori. Whalers and local Māori intermarried, but it was not long before the Māori population was severely affected by introduced diseases. Ngāi Tahu had hoped that settlement would see a continuation and development of commerce, but in the late 1840s the loss of land and diminishment of the population meant the tribe was a bit player in Dunedin.

Christchurch Māori

Most of the Canterbury region was purchased from Ngāi Tahu by the government in 1848. A number of Ngāi Tahu chiefs signed a deed prepared by Commissioner Henry Tacy Kemp at Akaroa. Under the deed Ngāi Tahu were allowed to retain their settlements, and certain areas were reserved for them. However, when the land was surveyed many of the reserves were ignored or lessened. The failure to ensure that Ngāi Tahu received its reserves was an important aspect of the Ngāi Tahu claim to the Waitangi Tribunal in 1986. As in Dunedin, the loss of land undermined Ngāi Tahu's ability to take advantage of the commercial opportunities of settlement.

Fox with the hounds


Early resident Walter Buller used to walk Wellington’s streets with his law clerk conversing in Māori. Ngatau Omahuru was abducted from Taranaki as a little boy and adopted by Premier William Fox, who renamed him after himself. He was educated at Wellington College, took a world tour and then studied law. When Buller took his clerk north for land court hearings he was reunited with his family. He later supported the pacifist prophet Te Whiti at his community at Parihaka.


Wellington Māori

William Wakefield was the principal agent in New Zealand for the New Zealand Company and purchased land from Wellington chiefs. An investigation into the transactions by Land Claims Commissioner William Spain found that there were significant problems with the land purchases. The chiefs of Te Aro, Pipitea and Kumutoto had taken little or no part in land purchases. Spain was guided by the fact that the European population of 3,500 significantly outnumbered the Māori population of 500–600, and he felt compensation should go to those whose land had been sold without permission. Compensation was paid, and Māori retained some land, particularly through tenths – the New Zealand Company allocated reserves which were to make up one-tenth of the company’s lands and were to be allotted on the same random basis as the settlers’ lands. In the early 2000s these lands were managed by the Wellington Tenths Trust.

Despite the retention of land, by 1881 only 28 Māori still lived at Te Aro and nine at Pipitea. By the 1890s both Te Aro and Pipitea were unoccupied. The pā at Ngāūranga did not survive into the 20th century.

Auckland Māori

In 1840 a number of Ngāti Whātua chiefs, including Apihai Te Kawau, signed the Treaty of Waitangi, and Te Kawau invited Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson to locate his government on the Waitematā Harbour. Ngāti Whātua then sold land for the township of Auckland, hoping that Pākehā settlement would protect them from incursions from other tribes. However by 1855 Ngāti Whātua had lost title to all except a 700-acre (280-hectare) Ōrākei block. The Native Land Court declared this land to be inalienable in 1869, but by the 1890s the land was split up. In 1951 the government compulsorily took the last 12.5 acres (5 hectares) of Ngāti Whātua land. In 1986 Ngāti Whātua took a claim to the Waitangi Tribunal about the Ōrākei block.

How to cite this page:

Aroha Harris, 'Ngā tāone nui – Māori and the city - Cities and Māori land', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 23 April 2024)

Story by Aroha Harris, published 11 Mar 2010