Kōrero: Government and agriculture

Whārangi 1. Land purchase and early farming regulations, 1840–1876

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Land purchase

The government’s most important contribution to agriculture was to acquire land from Māori and sell it to European settlers. Once the Crown had the land, governments surveyed it, then sold it freehold or leased it. Land sales were a major source of government income. Māori concerns were of secondary importance, and it was not until the 1920s that the government seriously considered assisting Māori to develop their land.

By 1860 most of the South Island had been acquired from Māori. In the North Island, a large block had been bought in Hawke’s Bay, with other blocks in Wellington, Taranaki, Auckland, and parts of Northland. Increasing pressure for land by settlers and growing resistance by Māori to sell it led to the New Zealand wars in the 1860s, which slowed settlement in the North Island.

Animal imports and disease

Farming expanded rapidly in the South Island, and in the Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay in the North Island. Sheep and cattle were imported in large numbers, mostly from Australia, from the 1840s to the early 1860s. The open-door policy to animal and plant imports meant that pests and diseases came with their hosts. Scab, footrot, and catarrh in sheep, and pleuro-pneumonia in cattle had caused major stock losses in Australia, but initially little was done to prevent the spread of these in New Zealand. The campaign to control scab brought more government regulations to agriculture.


Sheep scab is caused by the mite Psoroptes ovis. It is easily transmitted, and causes sheep to lose condition, become less productive, and in severe cases die. Beginning with an ordinance in 1849, governments tried to control the spread of scab by appointing a sheep inspector and making inspection of imported sheep at ports compulsory. Infected sheep were quarantined until they recovered.

In the 1850s and 1860s it became compulsory to brand sheep to identify ownership, and properties running sheep had to build dipping facilities. Later it became compulsory to dip all sheep at least once a year to control parasites. Penalties for possessing scabby sheep became progressively harsher. At first fines were imposed, and later, sheep inspectors could inspect sheep at any time and destroy infected flocks.

Many regions were free of scab by the late 1870s, but it was not until 1893 that the whole country was declared clean.

Lost sheep

Edgar Jones owned a sheep run in the Amuri district. After sheep from a scab-infected property were seen crossing onto his land, Jones tried to avert an outbreak by dipping as many of his sheep as he could muster. When that failed, the sheep inspector ordered Jones to destroy his flock of 7,000, and he was not allowed to restock his run for another two years.

Cattle quarantine

Periodic outbreaks of pleuro-pneumonia, a highly infectious and fatal disease of cattle, were common in the Australian colonies. In 1861 the Canterbury provincial government banned the further importation of cattle from diseased areas, and there were no outbreaks. The Otago government continued to import cattle from Australia and had continued epidemics. Otago’s solution was to destroy infected animals when outbreaks occurred.


Fencing regulations to control livestock were enacted from the 1840s. An 1844 ordinance provided for compensation for damage done by trespassing cattle. An 1847 ordinance encouraged fencing and specified that the cost and maintenance of boundary fences be shared by each neighbour. Later ordinances stipulated what constituted a legal fence – this changed as new fencing methods developed.


Provincial governments began to build railways as early as 1863, but the real boost began in 1871 when the colonial government borrowed to invest in a huge public works programme. By 1880 a main trunk line extended from Bluff to north of Christchurch. In the North Island, the Auckland–Hamilton line had been completed, and there were shorter lines elsewhere.

Especially in the South Island, the extension of the rail system made possible a boom in cropping in the late 1870s and 1880s by providing cheap and efficient transport to ports.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Tony Nightingale, 'Government and agriculture - Land purchase and early farming regulations, 1840–1876', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/government-and-agriculture/page-1 (accessed 16 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Tony Nightingale, i tāngia i te 24 Nov 2008