Story: City history and people

Nelson petition

During the 1840s New Zealand Company towns were beleaguered with problems. The rush to buy land led to disputes with Māori over what had been sold and by whom. Too much land went to absentee owners, who did nothing to improve its value. Some plots proved difficult to access and work. Employment could be sporadic and sometimes there was not enough food. In 1843 bitter Nelson labourers petitioned the company about cuts in wages and unfulfilled promises. The first page of their petition reads:

Jany 14 – 1843

Capt Wakefield Esq. R. N.

We the working men of Nelson earnestly request you to take our case into your serious consideration you sir are well aware that we have been seduced from our father land our homes and friends by the flatering pretensions of the New Zealand Company we have endured considerable hardship and exposed to the dangers and Perils of the deep and briny ocean both ourselves & our family’s where many parents have lost their children and Children have lost their parents in short this to us a most painful & unfortunate Enterprise merely to Gratify the Ambition & add to the wealth of the New Zealand Company. We now are cast upon a miserable & barren soil Inhabited for ages only by Cannibals we did not come here under the dishonourable appelation of Convicts we came here not with characters branded with Infamy but with characters that would bear the strictest Scrutiny as honourable and Industrious men wishing only to live by our Industry and to pursue a comfortable maintenance for ourselves and family’s Now the Company’s 16th Regulation guarantees to us Employment provided that we cannot meet with it elsewhere it does not guarantee Subsistance but expresses the word Employment distinctly Now sir we are not total Strangers as to the somewhat unpleasant nature of the Situation you hold placed as a [days?] man between the working class and the pretended landowners poor unfortunate Victims they have fell a sacrifice the tongue of flatery about this Splendid Country as well as we have, they have continued by what Means is not for us to say to raise the wind when they were in England in order to purchase a section or 2 of land to get the Splendid name of a landowner and a cabin passage free to this place but alas for them as well as for us their hopes are vanquished on beholding the shore that their destined to land upon for Instead of finding Elysian fields & Groves adorned with every beauty of Nature they have found unsightly & barren Hills & Mountains covered over with fern which has fed on the soil for ages ...

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Archives New Zealand - Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga
Reference: NZC 208 1*2/2

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How to cite this page:

David Thorns and Ben Schrader, 'City history and people - The first towns', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/zoomify/23492/nelson-petition (accessed 31 March 2020)

Story by David Thorns and Ben Schrader, published 11 Mar 2010