Story: Te tango whenua – Māori land alienation

Page 6. The Native Land Court in practice

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The operation of the Native Lands Acts and the Native Land Court caused numerous problems, particularly in Hawke’s Bay.

Ten owners rule

One problem was the ‘10 owners rule’ of the 1865 act, which limited the number of owners on a certificate of title to 10. The 10 may have been intended as representatives who held the land as trustees for the other owners, but in practice, once they received Crown grants they became legal owners.

In Hawke’s Bay, many chiefs exchanged their interests in lands for goods such as building materials, fencing wire, cigars, brandy and suits. Some became entangled in debt. In 1867 G. S. Cooper, a government official, reported that Hawke’s Bay rangatira (chiefs) were ‘allowed, and are indeed sometimes tempted’ to take credit ‘to an extent almost incredible’, and then ‘seeing no other means of raising the money, they have begun to sell their lands in every direction’. 1

A land commission

As a result of pressure from both Māori and concerned Pākehā, a commission of enquiry into Hawke’s Bay lands was established by Native Minister Donald McLean in 1873. The commission had two Māori and two Pākehā members and was chaired by Supreme Court Judge C. W. Richmond. He wrote the main report, rejecting Māori claims of fraudulent dealings by Pākehā settlers in Hawke’s Bay but strongly criticising the actions of the Native Land Court.

Native Lands Act 1873

In 1873 McLean oversaw the enactment of a new Native Lands Act, with a number of changes. Most importantly, it abolished the ‘10 owner rule’ and replaced it with a new system of a memorial of title, whereby all the owners of a block were entered into the court records. Chief Judge Fenton thought that the 1873 Act was intended ‘to do celestial justice, which I always believe to be impossible in this wicked world’. 2

However, the new law created a new problem. A block with many owners could become difficult to administer, especially as owners’ interests passed to their children and grandchildren over the years. This problem has become worse over time and today some blocks of Māori freehold land have many thousands of owners.

The Native Land Court continued investigating titles on a large scale until about 1900. By then it was running out of land to investigate – apart from regions such as the Urewera which had been set aside under special legislation.

  1. G. S. Cooper, ‘Report on the subject of native lands in the province of Hawke’s Bay.’ Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1867, A-15. › Back
  2. ‘Evidence given by Chief Judge Fenton to the Royal Commission on Native Lands and Native Land Tenure.’ Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1891, G-1, p. 47. › Back
How to cite this page:

Richard Boast, 'Te tango whenua – Māori land alienation - The Native Land Court in practice', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 June 2024)

Story by Richard Boast, published 24 Nov 2008, updated 1 Jul 2015