The New Zealand Company, Nelson Settlement and the Tenths Reserves


The New Zealand Land Company, commonly known as the New Zealand Company, was a commercial colonising enterprise formalised in England in 1837.  Its intention was to buy tracts of land in New Zealand, subdivide and sell for a profit.  Edward Gibbon Wakefield was the visionary for the project.

Wakefield’s Māori Policies
Wakefield wanted to avoid the appalling consequences of earlier colonising ventures where indigenous people were pushed off their lands and completely marginalised in North America and Australia.  He established principles to underpin the Company’s settlements:

  • All land in New Zealand belonged to Māori from whom it must be purchased.
  • All land used by Māori for habitations, cultivations, burials and traditional uses would be excluded from surveys and reserved in perpetuity for them as Occupation Reserves
  • Of the land purchased by the Company for settlement, one-tenth would be reserved for the vendor chiefs and their people – the Tenths Reserves.  The Tenths Reserves were to be the true payment for the land:  they would increase in value as the settlement prospered, they would provide the opportunity for Māori to participate in the new economy, and they would prevent the marginalisation of Māori.

The New Zealand Company Arrives
In 1839 Colonel William Wakefield, brother of Edward Gibbon, led a New Zealand Company party on the Tory to explore suitable locations for the Company’s settlements.  William Wakefield executed three Deeds of Purchase in the Cook Strait region – with Te Atiawa and Ngāti Tama at Wellington, with Ngāti Toa at Kapiti Island, and with Te Atiawa at Arapaoa Island.  Māori understanding of the transactions was limited by language difficulties and poor interpreters, but the Company claimed it had acquired 20 million acres in the lower North Island and the upper South Island.  William Wakefield set about establishing the Company’s first settlement, Wellington.

NZ Co Companys alleged purchase area

The Company's alleged purchase area. Image supplied by authors

The Company’s Second Settlement
In February 1841 the Company in London announced plans for its second settlement, to be named Nelson, although the location was as yet unknown.  Captain Arthur Wakefield, another brother, arrived in New Zealand in late August that year.  After negotiations with Lt. Governor Hobson (the Company wanted Banks Peninsula, the Governor offered Thames) Blind Bay (Tasman Bay) – regarded as part of the Company’s purchase – was decided on.  Arthur Wakefield and the Company’s three ships – the Arrow,  the Will Watch and the Whitby – arrived at Astrolabe, north of Kaiteriteri, on 9 October 1841.  Wakefield gave gifts to the local chiefs to secure their cooperation. 

NZ Co Presents made to native chiefs

Presents made to sundry native chiefs on account of the Nelson Settlement by Capt Arthur Wakefield for the NZ Company

The Nelson Settlement Plan
The Nelson Settlement was to consist of 221,100 acres of arable, cultivable land.  There would be 1,100 allotments of 201 acres, consisting of one Town acre, one 50-acre Accommodation or Suburban section, and one 150-acre Rural section further afield.  Each landowner (settler or investor) would pay £300 for his/her 201-acre allotment.  One-tenth of each land type would be Tenths Reserves.

The Nelson Plan in Practice
By April 1842 Nelson Town had been surveyed, the 1,100 one-acre lots were all numbered, and settlers/investors or their agents were able to select their sections according to an order of choice decided by a ballot in London.  Henry Thompson, Resident Magistrate, selected the 100 Town Tenths Reserves;  his choices were also according to the London ballot.

Despite regular Māori use of Nelson Haven, the Mahitahi and other resources, no Occupation Reserves were set aside. 

Nelson Town Plan adapted from Tuckett 1842. Native Tenths Reserves are highlighted in yellow

Nelson Town Plan adapted from Tuckett 1842. Native Tenths Reserves are highlighted in yellow

Map of Nelson Town Sections
100 Tenths Reserves sections are shown in green/yellow.  100 is one-eleventh, not one-tenth.  Note that many of Thompson’s selections as Tenths Reserves bordered the Haven, the Maitai River and the Eel Pond – mahinga kai (resource areas) frequented by Māori.  Apart from 5 Tenths Reserve sections (Nos. 62-66) at Mātangi Āwhio (Auckland Point) and one nearby section (No. 50) at Green Point at the foot of Russell Street, the Company further flouted Edward Gibbon’s principles by deciding that Māori would not actually occupy the Tenths Reserves which were to be leased to settlers.

The Suburban/Accommodation Sections
By January 1843 Company surveyors had marked out the 50-acre sections, stretching from Stoke to Wakefield, and across to Riwaka and Marahau.  Again Thompson selected the Tenths Reserves according to his ballot numbers.  One hundred 50-acre sections (5,000 acres) at Moutere, Motueka, Riwaka and Marahau were selected.  Again 100 sections was one-eleventh – 500 acres short of a true tenth of 110 sections, and again no Occupation Reserves had been set aside and excluded from the surveys.  This was a far more serious matter than in Nelson as there was a resident Māori population of c.500 at Motueka.  By including all the land at Motueka in the survey Māori would eventually become landless and homeless, as Europeans settled their sections and the Tenths Reserves were let to Europeans.

The Wairau Confrontation 17 June 1843
After the Suburban/Accommodation survey was complete it became obvious there was insufficient cultivable land available for the Company to meet its Rural 150-acre commitments.  Only 151,000 acres of suitable land could be found, not the planned 221,100 acres.  The Company turned eastwards to the attractive Wairau plain.  Ngāti Toa, led by Te Rauparaha, were adamant the Wairau had not been included in the 1839 purchases;  they asked the Company to remove surveyors from the Wairau, and begged the Company to wait until Commissioner Spain could consider the validity of the Company’s alleged purchase.  The Company ignored Ngāti Toa and sent surveyors to begin laying out the Wairau.  Te Rauparaha, Te Rangihaeata and their people carefully removed the surveyors and their equipment, and paddled them down the river to their ship anchored in Cloudy Bay to return to Nelson.  Ngāti Toa burnt shelters, rods and markers made on site from local resources, and began cultivating the land.

Back in Nelson, Cotterell, a young surveyor, made a complaint of arson against the chiefs.  Arthur Wakefield and Henry Thompson swore in a party of “gentlemen, a few constables, and about 20 labourers” as special constables to execute a warrant for the chiefs’ arrest.  The party was issued with an odd assortment of old muskets and sailed for the Wairau.  On the morning of 17 June 1843, at Tuamarina, the chiefs, who were accompanied by women and children, declined to give themselves up.  The ragtag Nelson party was ordered forward, and a shot was fired, perhaps accidentally.  Te Rongo, one of Te Rangihaeata’s wives, fell dead.  The ensuing volleys from both sides killed about ten Europeans and four Maori.  Wakefield ordered his party to retreat up the hill to find cover.  Some ran away.  Wakefield and about ten men eventually surrendered and were taken to Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata.  Te Rauparaha was inclined to let them go but Te Rangihaeata insisted on utu (retribution) for his wife’s death.  Wakefield, Thompson and all those with them were executed by tomahawk.

22 immigrants and at least 4 Māori died that day.  The Nelson community lost its leaders, trade between Māori and European was suspended, and race relations suffered serious damage.  The Nelson Settlement was no longer a desirable destination, heaping further pressure on the faltering New Zealand Company.

The 150-acre Rural Sections
No Rural Tenths Reserves were ever set aside, leaving the Tenths Reserves estate short by 15,000 acres.

The Spain Commission
William Spain was appointed by the British Government to examine the validity of pre-Treaty purchases of Māori land, including the New Zealand Company’s purchases.  Because the Treaty banned private purchases from 6 February 1840, the Company relied on its 1839 Deeds to establish the Nelson Settlement.  During late 1841 and early 1842 gifts had been given to the Nelson chiefs to gain their support, although the chiefs may have regarded the Company’s gestures as reciprocating their own presents of valuable taonga to Wakefield.

Spain sat in Nelson in 1844.  He declared that the Wairau was not part of the Company’s purchase, he accepted the Company’s offer of £800 for the Nelson chiefs, and he redesignated some Motueka Tenths Reserves to become Occupation Reserves for local Māori to live on and cultivate.  He restricted the Nelson Settlement to the 151,000 acres already surveyed, and ordered 15,100 acres to be set aside as Tenths Reserves.

Only 5,100 acres of Tenths Reserves was ever allocated. 

By 1850 the New Zealand Company was bankrupt and because of Government loans and guarantees the Company’s assets, liabilities and responsibilities transferred to the Crown. 

The Fate of the Nelson Town Tenths Reserves
The 100 acres of Nelson Town Tenths Reserves sections was quickly whittled away.

  • 1847 Remodelling.  
    In 1847, with the approval of Governor Grey and Earl Grey, Secretary of State for the Colonies, in a so-called remodelling of its Nelson Settlement, the New Zealand Company took back 47 of the Nelson Town Tenths Reserve sections, as depicted on the map below.  The Company argued that as it had sold only 530 allotments to investors/settlers it only needed to set aside 53 Town sections as Tenths Reserves;  the fact that the Tenths were supposed to be one-tenth of the land actually purchased by the Company was ignored.
    NZ Co Remodelling scheme

    Plan showing the effects of the remodelling scheme on the Nelson Town Tenths Reserves

    Fortunately the Company’s attempt to do the same with the 50-acre Suburban/Accommodation Tenths Reserves was rebuffed by the Greys. There was no attempt to restore sections to the Tenths Reserves portfolio as more allotments sold.
  • Governors’ Decrees and the Public Works Act
    • Secs 203 and 205 were taken by Governor’s Decree in 1871 and 1873.
    • Nearly 2 acres of Secs 62-65 at Mātangi Āwhio was taken for a school (Auckland Point) in 1924.
    • Nearly 4 acres was lost to streets and roads.
    • 2 acres was taken by Nelson City Council under the Public Works Act:  Sec 1099 on Haulashore Island in 1958, and Sec 148 on Paruparu Road in 1916 and 1964.
    • 14+ acres was sold by the Māori Trustee.

Wakatū Incorporation 1977
After years of Māori protest throughout Aotearoa an enquiry into the administration of Native Reserve Lands was commissioned by the Government.  In 1974 the Commission of Enquiry recommended that Māori take charge of their own lands.  As a result the descendants and successors of 254 named original owners of the Nelson lands acquired by the New Zealand Company established Wakatū Incorporation in 1977. 

Approximately 30 acres of the original 100 acres of Nelson Town Tenths Reserves was transferred from the Māori Trustee to the new Incorporation, along with remnants of the Suburban/Accommodation Tenths Reserves and some Occupation Reserve lands owned by particular whanau – 2,994 acres in total.


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Further sources - The New Zealand Company, Nelson Settlement and the Tenths Reserves


  • Burns, P. (1989) Fatal success : a history of the New Zealand Company. Auckland [N.Z.] : Heinemann Reed
  • Fox, W. (1849) Report on the settlement of Nelson in New Zealand. London : Smith, Elder and Co.
  • 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]
  • Maori Land Court, Ikaroa District, Nelson minute book [1892]. Wellington, N.Z. : National Archives of New Zealand. [held Nelson Public Library/ National Library]
  • 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.
  • 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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