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New Zealand Company

The New Zealand Company is a society that was formed in 1839 to promote the colonisation of New Zealand.

Two previous attempts had been made to colonise New Zealand. In 1825 a company was formed in London and sent out settlers led by Captain Herd to the Hokianga in the far north of New Zealand but nothing came of the venture. At this stage New Zealand was far too unsettled to have supported such colony.

Then in 1837 Edward Gibbon Wakefield persuaded a group of notable men to join him in the New Zealand Association to promote the settlement of New Zealand. However they met with strong opposition in London from the Colonial Minister and from the Church Missionary Society and the Association lapsed.

However a seed had been planted and the following year several of the intending colonists formed a joint stock company. They were joined by former members of the NZ Association and the New Zealand Land Company was chartered in 1839. Once again the driving force was Edward Gibbon Wakefield.

There was also concern in London about increasing French interest in New Zealand. Events were pushing the politicians towards a declaration of British Sovereignty over New Zealand. The officers of the New Zealand Company knew that if that happened, all land sales would be frozen pending the establishment of effective British control. They had other plans, which were to treat New Zealand as a foreign country and buy the land directly from the Maori, they knew they could get a better deal that way.

A land-buying expedition was hastily organised and sailed to New Zealand in the Tory in the May 1839 commanded by William Wakefield. A second ship, the survey ship, the Cuba, was sent off in August and then nine immigrant ships sailed in September, before word had reached London of the success of the Tory and Cuba. Their instructions were to sail to Port Hardy on D'Urville Island where they would be told of their final destination.

William Wakefield began negotiating to buy land from the Maori around Petone, {Wellington Area} as soon as he arrived in New Zealand, and had concluded several purchases by the end of 1839. Meanwhile British sovereignty was declared by the Treaty of Waitangi, 6 February 1840. Land sales were immediately frozen and all existing purchases declared invalid pending investigation.

This put the New Zealand Company in a very difficult position. They did not have enough land to satisfy the arriving settlers and they could no longer legally sell the land they claimed they owned. Despite this they pressed ahead, no doubt hoping that subsequent events would create enough pressure to allow them to proceed within the law.

The original settlement was intended for Petone at the mouth of the Hutt River. However the ground there was very swampy and the anchorage dangerously exposed. They resolved to move further west within the harbour of Port Nicholson to the area they had named Lambton Bay, now Lambton Quay, in honour of Lord Durham who had been closely associated with the formation of the Company.

Despite this setback the colony got off to a good start. Within the first year no fewer than 110 vessels had entered the harbour. Food was abundant, mainly supplied by the Maori, who were already supplying the whaling stations around the coast. Safety and relations with the Maori had been the primary concern of the early arrivals but, initially at least, they were very amicable. The initial purchase of the land had proceeded smoothly with Colonel Wakefield, (William), taking every care to ensure that the Maori understood the transaction and were satisfied with the deal. It was estimated that they paid over goods valued at about four hundred pounds for the land on which Wellington was established. Although this now seems paltry there was another aspect of the sale which, maybe, helped justify the deal. One tenth of all the land the Company was purchasing, urban as well as rural, was to be reserved for the Maori. It was expected that the rise in land values subsequent upon European settlement would more than compensate the Maori for the loss of their land. By the standards of the time this was indeed liberal, although it was based on the land being valued in monetary terms only, a European concept. It did not take into account the spiritual and prestigious value of the land, important Maori concepts.

The fact remains that at the time of the sale both parties were very happy with the deal.

However not all the Maori remained satisfied with developments. When the Settlers decided to move from Petone to Lambton Bay they found it already occuped by several Maori Pa or villages. These particular Maori did not want to move. They had sold the land quite happily without anticipating the consequences imagining that the Maori and Pakeha would be able to share the land equitably. The dissatisfaction from this dispute has continued until the present day.

The New Zealand Company went on to establish settlements at Wanganui, 1840, at New Plymouth in 1841 and Nelson in 1842.

However the Company was soon in serious financial difficulties. The plan was to buy land cheaply and sell it dearly. It was anticipated that a colony based on a higher land price would attract affluent colonists. The profits from the sale of land were to be used to pay for free 0passage of the working class colonists and for public works, churches and school for instance. For this sceme to work it was important to get the right proportion of labouring to propertied immigrants. In part the failiure of New Zealand Company plans were because this proportion was never achieved, there were always more labourers than landed gentry. But there was another flaw in the plan which made the problem worse. A proportion of the land in the new colony was bought for speculative reasons by people who had no intention of migrating to New Zealand. They had no plans to develop the land they were buying. This meant that in the new colonies there was a serious shortage of employers and consequntly a shortage of work for the labouring classes. From the outset the New Zealand Company was forced to be the major employer in the new colonies and this was a serious financial drain on the Company

The income from the sale of land to intending settlers never met expectation and came no where near meeting expenses. In 1844 the Company ceased active trading and surrenderd their charter in 1850. The British Government initially assumed responsibility for the New Zealand C9ompany's debts bequathed them to the fledgling New Zealand Government in 1854.