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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




As constituted in 1853, the Province of Canterbury occupied the central part of the South Island and extended from east to west coasts. East of the Main Divide the province was bounded by the Hurunui River in the north and the Waitaki River in the south. At that time there was virtually no population outside of Banks Peninsula and the seaboard margin of the Canterbury Plain. West of the Southern Alps settlement began with the gold rushes of 1864–65, and originated from Otago, Nelson, and Victoria rather than from the early settled nucleus of Canterbury around Christchurch. In 1868, after three years of uneasy association under the one provincial government, the communities of east and west Canterbury were separated by the establishment of the County of Westland as a distinct local government entity. Henceforth Canterbury's western boundary was the crest-line of the Southern Alps.

The southern boundary of the province was the cause of confusion and dispute with Otago. The course of the upper Waitaki River was unknown when the boundary was proclaimed in rather vague terms in 1853. As pastoralists spread into the back country, the Otago and Canterbury provincial governments, anxious for pasturage rentals, both claimed land in the Mackenzie Country between Lakes Ohau and Pukaki. After three years of negotiation the dispute was settled by the General Assembly and the boundary was fixed along the Ohau River to Lake Ohau, and thence in a straight line to Mount Aspiring.

When European settlement began in Canterbury in the 1840s, there were probably no more than 500 Maori inhabitants. A few decades earlier the number had been substantially greater before civil wars and raids by North Island warriors wrecked havoc with the local Ngai Tahu peoples. Most Maori settlements were located on the bays of Banks Peninsula and on the fringes of bush patches and swamps on the plains – notably at Kaiapohia, Arowhenua (Temuka), and Waimate. Banks Peninsula was apparently the southern limit of kumara cultivation in pre-European New Zealand but, as crop yields were uncertain, the Canterbury Maori depended largely on fish, fern root, and waterfowl for food supply. The pa at Kaiapohia was an important centre for fashioning tools and ornaments from the West Coast “greenstone” (q.v.) or nephrite, and was the base for a profitable barter trade with northern peoples.


Murray McCaskill, M.A., PH.D., Reader in Geography, University of Canterbury.

Auaina ake: Early Settlements