New Zealand Company


The New Zealand Company, a commercial enterprise formed in Britain, dispatched an expedition to establish its second New Zealand settlement, to be named Nelson, in 1841.

New Zealand Company founder and director, Edward Gibbon Wakefield believed that a successful colony needed to attract a balance of capitalists and labour.  In reality, the thousands of fertile acres required were not available in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

View in the Nelson district.Heaphy,C.[1841]:View in the Nelson district Alexander Turnbull Library, C-025-004 [New Zealand Company Collection]Click image to enlarge

The Company had developed principles to avoid the disastrous consequences of European settlement which had been experienced by native peoples in North America and Australia:

  • All land was to be purchased from the Māori owners.
  • One-tenth of all land purchased for European settlement was to be set aside for the future prosperity of Māori vendors.
  • Māori were to continue to own all their habitations, cultivations and special sites.

The land to be set aside for the vendors was to be spread throughout the European lands so that Māori could participate in the new economy and would grow rich as the settlement grew rich. The Treaty of Waitangi, signed by the British Crown and Māori chiefs on 6 February 1840, stated that Māori land could be purchased only when Māori wished to sell, and that only the Crown could buy Māori land. In October of that year, the New Zealand Company was recognised as a government instrument of colonisation with a right to deal in land.

Māori welcomed the material benefits of European settlement, but believed they were only sharing use of the land when they signed land deeds and entered into negotiations about their land with the New Zealand Company. To make matters worse for Māori, neither the New Zealand Company's admirable principles, outlined above, nor the Treaty of Waitangi were honoured by European Governors or Governments.

By 1844, a lack of capital, absentee landlords, limited arable land, poor work opportunities and restive Māori resulted in hardship for the New Zealand Company settlers. Between 1840 and 1852, the New Zealand Company brought 15,000 European settlers of generally good stock and character to New Zealand. Whatever their purpose in coming, their conflict with Māori over land was inevitable - as evidenced in the Wairau Affray. This precipitated the demise of the Company in 1858, which was already struggling with financial and political difficulties. The company and its colonisation plans had never been fully supported by the British Government. Its dissolution in 1858 obliged the British Government to establish full colonial governance of the country.

A timetable of colonisation

March 1826: (First) New Zealand Company ship visits Southern New Zealand.


1836: Edward Gibbon Wakefield (EGW) tells the British House of Commons about the ‘fittest country in the world for colonisation'.

22 May 1837: EGW chairs the first meeting of the New Zealand Association.

1837: Opposition to the New Zealand Association grew, led by the Colonial Office and missionary societies set up to protect Māori and control settlement

June 1838: The New Zealand Association re-forms as the New Zealand Company.

1 December 1838: Captain William Hobson is appointed as New Zealand Consul to address the ‘New Zealand problem' of unregulated British settlement.

1839: 2000 European settlers are in New Zealand: mainly whalers, tradesmen and seamen.

August 1839: Hobson dispatched to New Zealand to establish a British Colony.

August 1839: William Wakefield arrives in New Zealand on the first Company ship, the Tory.

September 1839: William and 16 Te Whanganui a Tara chiefs sign a land deed for Port Nicholson (Wellington) district.


The town and part of the harbour of Nelson in 1842Saxton, John Waring (1845) The town and part of the harbour of Nelson in 1842, Alexander Turnbull Library, PUBL-0011-06-2. Click image to enlarge

22 January 1840: The Company's first immigrant ship, the Aurora, arrives in Wellington.

6 February 1840: Treaty of Waitangi. Māori chiefs agree to Crown sovereignty and exclusive rights to sale of land.

October 1840: British Colonial Office recognises the New Zealand Company as a government instrument of colonisation, and grants charter and land title.

12 February 1841: (Second) New Zealand Company formally incorporated.

1840-1842: Company ships arrive in Wellington, Wanganui, New Plymouth and Nelson.

1 February 1842: Nelson's first immigrant ship Fifeshire arrives. Each investor was to receive one town acre, 50 suburban acres and 150 rural acres.

17 June 1843: Arthur Wakefield killed at the Wairau Affray. The Company brought close to insolvency when news reaches England.

1843: Settlers short of food and New Zealand Company virtually bankrupt.

1844: All New Zealand Company work ceases; unemployment was rife.

mid - 1845: New Zealand Company £60,000 in debt.

August 1845: Colonial Office advises that Company settlements will become municipalities with legislative council representation.

Stanford's atlas of New Zealand (Nelson and Marlborough)Stanford's atlas of New Zealand, (Nelson and Marlborough), Auckland City Library Special Collection, NZ Map Number
Click to enlarge

1846: British Government advances money to cover Company liabilities.

1846: Constitution Act passed by Parliament to establish representative institutions in New Zealand.

1848: Company advertises assisted passages for mechanics, farm labourers and domestic servants.


mid-1850: New Zealand Company collapses after failing to repay a three year loan to the Government by end of June.

4 July 1850: New Zealand Company surrenders charters. Crown pays £268,000 for 1,092,000 acres Company land.

1858: New Zealand Company dissolved.

© The Nelson Provincial Museum, 2007

For a full history of the New Zealand Company, see:

Updated 2022

Sources used in this story


Want to find out more about the New Zealand Company ? View Further Sources here.

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  • Is it not true that the government we have today, is still a company?

    Posted by Anon, 20/01/2020 11:21pm (5 years ago)

  • The New Zealand Company, a commercial enterprise formed in Britain and supported by the British Government,----- You sure about that?
    Ed. it was a commercial enterprise, but you are right it was never fully supported by the British Government. We will check wording

    Posted by Wild Winds, 21/09/2016 1:07pm (8 years ago)

  • Hi,I am a member of the Manchester Unity Friendly Society of the Auckland District.I am writing a speech and going to include the history of Nelson and the Martha Ridgway which arrived in Nelson on 2sd April 1842 with the first 9 passengers to start the M.U.F.S.
    Could you please help me with any more information ,I was in Nelson at a conference 6 years ago love it very much. Kind regards, Alan Foster . Ed. - the most useful resource for the Martha Ridgway is Neale's Pioneer Passengers; there is some information about the ship and the Society in Broad's Jubilee History of Nelson (avaiable on NZETC) and in Allen's Nelson: a history of early settlement. Papers Past would also be a useful resource.

    Posted by Alan Foster., ()

  • what is that lame question for?
    but any way i got lots of cool info for school this web site roxx!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by william Donahue, ()

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Further sources - New Zealand Company


  • Burns, P. (1989) Fatal success : a history of the New Zealand Company. Auckland [N.Z.] : Heinemann Reed  
  • Colbert, C.J. (1948) The working class in Nelson : under the New Zealand Company, 1841-1851.Thesis (M.A.) Wellington, N.Z. : Victoria University College  
  • Concerning the settlement of Nelson, New Zealand : a few plain facts addressed to purchasers of land : comprising the petition of the Nelson settlers, to the House of Commons (1848) London : T.C. Newby  
  • Fox, W. (1849) Report on the settlement of Nelson in New Zealand. London : Smith, Elder and Co.  
  • Harrop, A.J. (1928)The amazing career of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, with extracts from "A letter from Sydney" (1829)
    London : Allen & Unwin  
  • Heaphy, C. (1968) Narrative of a residence in various parts of New Zealand : together with a description of the present state of the company's settlements. Dunedin, N.Z. : Hocken Library, University of Otago  
  • Moncrief-Spittle, M. (Ed.) (2008) The lost journal of Edward Jerningham Wakefield : being an account of his exploits and adventures in New Zealand in the years 1850-1858, including : his various visitations, conversations & observations &c. &c. To which is added, an introduction  Dunedin [N.Z.] : Kilmog Press.  
  • Palmer, L.R. (1963) Captain Arthur Wakefield, R.N. : an account of his life and work as coloniser of New Zealand [microform] [Wellington, N.Z.] : Govt. Printer  
  • Petre, H.W. (1841) An account of the settlements of the New Zealand Company : from personal observation during a residence there . London : Smith, Elder and Co.  
  • Ward, J. (1975) (2nd ed) Information relative to New-Zealand : compiled for the use of colonists. Christchurch, N.Z. : Capper Press  
  • Wolfe, R. (2007) A society of gentlemen : the untold story of the first New Zealand Company. North Shore, N.Z. : Penguin



Unpublished Sources from Nelson Provincial Museum

  • Barnicoat, John (1841-1902) Papers  The Nelson Provincial Museum Bett Collection
  • Bell, F.D (1849) Report and notes upon the Nelson settlement for 1849 The Nelson Provincial Museum MS BEL (Bett Collection)
    Greaves, Joseph (1842-1848) Letter-book The Nelson Provincial Museum Bett Collection
  • JOLLIE, Edward (1872-1880) Reminiscences Canterbury Museum
  • Kelling, Charles, 1818-1898, and Kelling, Fedor, 1820-1909 (1839-1896) The Nelson Provincial Museum Papers AG 308
  • New Zealand Company (1841-1857) New Zealand land orders, town and country The Nelson Provincial Museum fMS NEW
  • New Zealand Company Papers (1840-50) The Nelson Provincial Museum qMS NEW (Bett Collection)
  • New Zealand Company (c.1850) Map [Waimea West] The Nelson Provincial Museum M28
  • Thompson, Thomas John (1870-1899) Papers The Nelson Provincial Museum AG 258 Tuckett, F (1842-1849, 1887-1891) Hocken Collections, University of Otago MS 156
  • YOUNG, William Curling (1841-2) Letters Victoria University of Wellington Library Te Pātaka Kōrero Fildes 257 (MSS)

Web Resources