Kōrero: Colonial and provincial government

Whārangi 5. After abolition

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

The land fund

George Grey, who became premier in 1877, did not restore the provincial governments, despite his opposition to their abolition. In fact he proceeded to centralise the land fund, making provision for 20% (33% in some instances) of land revenue to be paid to local authorities.


The provinces had adopted different land-sale and land-tenure systems, and different schooling and charitable-aid systems. New laws in 1877 and 1885 standardised practice in such matters throughout the country (in the case of land law, it was not until 1892 that the process was completed). Provincial police forces were absorbed by the colonial constabulary.

Māori ‘provinces’

The survival of de facto Māori provinces in south-west Taranaki (to 1881), the King Country (to 1884) and Te Urewera (to around 1920) after the abolition of the Pākehā provinces was a transitional phase. It was the product of a hiatus in land buying and settler pressure, to which all eventually succumbed when the pressure resumed.

Provincial districts

After the end of provincial government, provinces did not completely disappear. Even with the expansion of European settlement, they represented for the most part meaningful geographical divisions. They were labelled ‘provincial districts’, and statistical and other information continued to be presented for them until the 1950s. Statistical districts were replaced by ‘statistical areas’ in the 1961 census.

Land districts and education boards

Land districts closely followed the former provincial boundaries, especially in the South Island. In the North Island, where the settlement frontier continued expanding until the 1920s, there was subdivision. Two new land districts – North Auckland and Gisborne – were formed in 1919 and 1922 respectively.

Education boards also followed provincial boundaries for the most part. However, Whanganui and South Canterbury both gained their own boards in 1877.

‘How provincial!’

In 1981 language expert Ian Gordon explained that in New Zealand the words ‘province’ and ‘provincial’ had taken on a life of their own. Provinces were entities of equal status, they were not the opposite of a metropolis or capital, or outlying areas, as in France and Britain. In fact the two usages coexist in New Zealand. The notion of Southland or Taranaki province is familiar, but so also is a phrase such as ‘out in the provinces’ – that is, in centres beyond the major cities.

Non-official provinces

Through the 20th century most organisations – including the Farmers Union (later Federated Farmers) and the Rugby Football Union – described their regional entities as provinces.

Provinces and regions

Regions were previously seen as physical rather than human arrangements, but this changed in the 1960s. Influenced by developments in Europe, ‘regions’ were seen as forward looking – unlike provinces – and associated with planned development. When the Ministry of Works investigated economic development throughout the country in the 1960s, it did so through a series of regional studies.

The lack of economic growth in parts of New Zealand became an issue in the late 1960s. It was a theme of the Labour government of 1972–1975, and its initiatives to address the problem were labelled regional development.

Regional authorities and councils

An overarching council set up for Auckland in 1963 was titled the Auckland Regional Authority. Other regional authorities were set up in subsequent years. When 14 councils with environmental responsibilities, covering the whole country, were established in 1989, they were called regional councils.

Health and hospital boards

In 1935 only around one-third of hospital board funding came from central government. Thereafter the proportion grew markedly but they retained elected boards. The boards were reconstructed as area health boards in 1983, as crown health enterprises in 1992 and as district health boards in 2002. In 2022 the latter were replaced by two national organisations, Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand and Te Aka Whai Ora Māori Health Authority.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Malcolm McKinnon, 'Colonial and provincial government - After abolition', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/colonial-and-provincial-government/page-5 (accessed 15 April 2024)

He kōrero nā Malcolm McKinnon, i tāngia i te 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 6 Oct 2023