The Native Tenths Reserves


The New Zealand Company, a private company formed in Britain and supported by the British Government, established a colonisation scheme for New Zealand in the 1840's.

The Company wanted to avoid some of the disastrous consequences of European settlement experienced in other countries, for example North America and Australia, and developed a set of principles to guide their dealings with the resident Māori communities.  The Company stated that Māori owned the land in New Zealand and it would have to be purchased from them. They also declared that Māori should retain all the land they used for habitation, cultivation, urupā (burials) and mahinga kai (resource areas). The Company also guaranteed to set aside one-tenth of all land purchased from Māori for the benefit of the Māori vendors (the Tenths Reserves), and promised that because of the Tenths, Māori would grow rich as the settlement developed and prospered, making the Tenths the true payment for the land.

 Plan of the town of Nelson Plan of the town of Nelson, approved by Frederick Tuckett April 1842. [London] : Smith & Elder [for the] New Zealand Company. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Tuckett, Frederick. (1842). Bett Collection, M66.
Click image to enlarge or see zoomable map
The Company’s second settlement, Nelson, would consist of 221,100 acres, divided into 1,100 acres of one-acre town sections, 55,000 acres of fifty-acre accommodation or suburban sections, and 165,000 acres of 150-acre rural blocks. Each investor in the settlement would pay £300 for 201 acres – one 1-acre town section, one 50-acre suburban section, and one 150-acre rural block. The Māori vendors, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Tama and Te Ātiawa, would be entitled to one-tenth i.e. 22,110 acres, across town, suburban and rural sections.

These high ideals were not fulfilled. One hundred acres of Nelson Town (one-eleventh, not one-tenth) and 5,000 acres of Motueka (one-eleventh) were selected as Tenths in 1842. No rural Tenths were ever allocated, and surveyors included Māori pā, cultivations, urupā and mahinga kai in the surveys instead of excluding them. The vendor chiefs were not allowed to occupy or cultivate the Tenths after the Government decided to lease them to settlers and use the income “for the benefit of Māori”. No income from the Tenths was distributed to the Māori vendors or their families until 1897, and then only half was distributed until 1956.

The 5,100 acres designated as Tenths were reduced to less than 2,000 acres:

  • 47 acres of Nelson Town were taken for the “remodelling” of the Nelson Settlement at the behest of settlers in 1847
  • 918 acres at Motueka were taken by Governor Grey and given to the Church of England for an industrial school (Whakarewa) in 1853
  • 58 acres were taken for public works
  • 27 acres were taken for streets and roads
  • 1,308 acres were sold by the Māori Trustee when a 1967 Act allowed lessees to freehold.
Nelson from Auckland PointNelson from Auckland Point 1848. From Broad, Lowther (1892) The Jubilee History of Nelson: From 1842 to 1892. Bond, Finney and Co. Part of: New Zealand Text Centre
Click image to enlarge

The income possible from the Reserves was severely limited by legislation favouring lessees from the 1880s onwards, which:

  • made leases of Native Reserve land perpetually renewable by lessees, thus alienating the Māori owners forever
  • set rent review periods at 21 years, and
  • set rents at 4% or 5% of unimproved value regardless of what was happening in the commercial world.

Until 1897 Government appointed administrators used income from the Tenths in whatever manner they believed to "benefit" the owners and their offspring. There was no consultation with the Māori owners.

From the 1890s until 1956 a partial distribution of income from the Tenths was made to those individuals and families who were identified as the owners of the Nelson Settlement district. The Native Land Court identified those owners in its judgment of 1892/3, which recorded the names of all those Rangatira (chiefs) and their families who lived in the Nelson Settlement district in the 1840s who had the authority to agree to the New Zealand Company proposal to settle the area.

The plan for Māori to grow rich, as the settlement developed and prospered, was certainly not realised: many descendants of the vendor chiefs were destitute by the end of the nineteenth century. In 1975 after many years of protest and debate, legislation was passed enabling Māori incorporations or trusts to be formed to administer their own reserves. Wakatū Incorporation was established in 1977 by the descendants of the vendor chiefs of Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Tama and Te Ātiawa - the original owners of the Tenths Reserves. These owners were allocated shares in the Incorporation of a value equivalent to the interest they owned in the land. Thus owners became shareholders, receiving dividends from the incorporation instead of the rent they had previously received. The 11,064,710 shares were owned by 1,668 shareholders.

In 1977 the Crown handed control of a total of 1393.72 hectares of land, covering 752 leases, to Wakatū Inc.. This land, in the Nelson, Motueka, Golden Bay region had an unimproved value of more than $11 million and a capital value of well over $20 million and was the remnants of the Tenths Reserves and occupation sites. 

Wakatū Incorporation continues to work to "Make the Tenths Whole" and has brought a case against the Crown following a Supreme Court decision in 2017.

2008 (updated March 2020)

Sources used in this story

  • Allan, R (1965) Nelson: A History of Early Settlement. A H & A W Reed, pp170-171, 300-304.
  • Jellicoe, R L. (1930) The New Zealand Company’s Native Reserves. Government Printer, Wellington, pp. 1-16, 33-47, 48-end.
  • Mitchell, H & J. (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough. Volume I. Huia Publishers, Wellington & Wakatu Incorporation, Nelson.: pp424-461.
  • Sheehan, B., O’Regan, R., & Te Heu Heu, G. (1975) Report of Commission of Inquiry into Maori Reserved Land. Government Printer, Wellington.

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Further sources - The Native Tenths Reserves


  • Allan, R (1965) Nelson: A History of Early Settlement. Wellington, N.Z. : A H & A W Reed.
  • Appendices to the journals of the House of Representatives (1887) G-1
  • Burns, P. (1989) A fatal success : history of the New Zealand Company Auckland, N.Z. : Heinemann Reed.
  • Jellicoe, R. (1930) The New Zealand Company's native reserves : compiled from Parliamentary papers, Departmental documents, and other authentic sources of information. Wellington : Government Printer
  • Mackay, Alexander (1991) A compendium of official documents relative to native affairs in the South Island Wellington [N.Z.] : Alexander Turnbull Library. [microfiche of original publication 1872/3]
  • Mitchell, H & J (2004) Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka: A History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough, vol.1 The people and the land . Wellington, N.Z. : Huia Publishers in association with the Wakatū Incorporation, pp70, 71, 302-303, 424-426.
  • Maori Land Court, Ikaroa District, Nelson minute book [1892]. Wellington, N.Z. : National Archives of New Zealand. [held Nelson Public Library/ National Library]
  • Sheehan, B., O’Regan, R., & Te Heu Heu, G. (1975) Report of Commission of Inquiry into Maori Reserved Land. Government Printer, Wellington.
  • Waitangi Trubunal (2007) Te Tau Ihu o te Waka a Māui : preliminary report on Te Tau Ihu customary rights in the statutory Ngāi Tahu takiwā. Wellington, N.Z. : Legislation Direct, 2007.


  • Mitchell, D. (1986, July 23) Land struggle of the eighties: Whakarewa Māori land. Nelson Evening Mail, p.8 (part 1 of a 4 part series on land held by the Whakarewa School Trust and loss of the "promised Tenth": Part 2 - 1986, July 24, p.10; Part 3 1986, July 25, p. 6; Part 4 1986, July 27)
  • Watson, Norton (1971, Sep) Civil commissioner James Mackay a mighty man of valour Historical Journal Auckland-Waikato, 19:p.7-10
  • The Nelson Examiner. (1849 March 10) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 8(366) 10 p.6


  • Alexander, D (1999) Reserves of Te Tau Ihu, Vols I & II. Waitangi Tribunal WAI-785. Doc no. A60
  • Wakefield, A . Correspondence. Doc qMS 2099 [Alexander Turnbull Library]

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