The signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi means the arrival of colonists from Britain. Conflict between Tangata Whēnua and the new Pākehā settlers begins after the New Zealand Company mismanages land purchases. Governor George Grey arrives to crush any resistance to colonisation.

1840 New Zealand Company selling Māori land to settlers begins

A timetable of colonisation



 March 1826

A ship of the (first) New Zealand Company visits southern New Zealand




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


Opposition to the New Zealand Association grows, 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


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

 August 1839

Hobson is 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

Wakefield and 16 Te Whanganui-a-Tara chiefs sign a land deed for Port Nicholson (Wellington) district



 22 January 1840

The Company’s first immigrant ship, the Aurora, arrives in Wellington

 6 February 1840

Te Tiriti o Waitangi Treaty of Waitangi is signed

 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 is formally incorporated


Company ships arrive in Wellington, Whanganui, 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

New Zealand Company agent Arthur Wakefield is killed at the Wairau Affray. The Company is brought close to insolvency when news reaches England


Settlers are short of food and the New Zealand Company is virtually bankrupt


All New Zealand Company work ceases; unemployment is rife


New Zealand Company is £60,000 in debt

 August 1845

Colonial Office advises that Company settlements will become municipalities with legislative council representation


British Government advances money to cover Company liabilities


Constitution Act is passed by Parliament to establish representative institutions in New Zealand


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




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 of Company land


New Zealand Company is dissolved



© The Nelson Provincial Museum, 2007


1840 Police Magistracy Forces


From 1840 to 1846 a system of Police Magistracy Forces endeavoured to maintain law and order in the first Pākehā settlements established in the North and South Islands. This system was modelled on that of New South Wales. In the north, these settlements included the Bay of Islands, Auckland, New Plymouth, Whanganui and Wellington. Akaroa and Nelson were the two in the south. This system involved the appointment of a Police Magistrate, a Chief Constable and various ranks of police in each location. The Police Magistrate’s task was to investigate reports of offences, bring the accused to Court, hear the cases, and impose and administer penalties, including imprisonment through building and staffing gaols. Possibly the most interesting location was at Akaroa, where Police Magistrate Robinson (Robinson’s Bay) had to oversee the French (and some German) settlers. The French warship L’Aube remained in the harbour, requiring the French-speaking Robinson to be a diplomat as well as carrying out his other duties. One of his staff, Sergeant William Barry, is also remembered in the harbour, with Barry’s Bay being named after him.

Sherwood Young


1840 Te Tiriti o Waitangi is signed


New Zealand was changing quickly in the late 1830s. Māori were still in the majority and enjoying entrepreneurialism across Aotearoa and the Pacific. However, British subjects and other Europeans were acquiring land from Māori and had set up valuable commercial operations. Large groups of settlers had set out for New Zealand in 1839. Crime, violence and general lawlessness was rife, and the British Resident from 1833, James Busby, could do little to control it. Foreign powers, notably the French, were also taking an interest in New Zealand. The British government appointed Captain William Hobson as consul and provided him with instructions to negotiate for the sovereignty of New Zealand and for the setting up of a British colony. Most Māori considered they needed the protection offered by Queen Victoria from the invaders.

The Treaty of Waitangi is the founding document of New Zealand. It is an agreement entered into by representatives of the Crown and of most Māori iwi and hapū. It is named after Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands, where the Treaty was first signed on 6 February 1840. The Treaty was not drafted as a constitution or a statute. It was a broad statement of principles on which the British officials and Māori chiefs made a political covenant to found a nation state and build a government in New Zealand to deal with pressing new circumstances. Like many treaties, it is an exchange of promises between parties to it.

The Treaty has three articles. In the English version, Māori cede the sovereignty of New Zealand to Britain; Māori give the Crown an exclusive right to buy lands they wish to sell and, in return, are guaranteed full rights of ownership of their lands, forests, fisheries and other possessions; and Māori are given the rights and privileges of British subjects. The Treaty in Māori, which was the original version, was deemed to convey the meaning of the English version, but there are important differences. Most significantly, in the Māori version the word sovereignty was translated as kawanatanga (governance). Some Māori believed that the governor would have authority over the settlers alone; others thought they were giving up the governance over their lands but retaining the right to manage their own affairs. The English version guaranteed ‘undisturbed possession’ of all properties, but the Māori version guaranteed ‘tino rangatiratanga’ (full authority) over ‘taonga’ (treasures, which can be intangible). The precise nature of the exchange within the Treaty of Waitangi is a matter of debate.

New Zealand Police values include a commitment to Māori and the Treaty.

Rowan Carroll


Treaty FAQs’ (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 23-May-2017


1843 Wairau land confiscations


The New Zealand Company, through the operations of its chief negotiator Colonel William Wakefield, claimed to have purchased 1.2 million hectares of land in the Cook Strait region. On the basis of three dubious (and soon discredited) purchases, the Company set about establishing its main settlement at Port Nicholson (Wellington), where the first shiploads of immigrants arrived in January 1840.

The second of the Company’s planned settlements in the Cook Strait region was at Nelson. The Company claimed to have purchased land at Port Whakatū (Nelson) from Ngāti Toa in 1839. Captain Arthur Wakefield, William’s brother, subsequently negotiated with the resident Te Tau Ihu chiefs, who rejected Ngāti Toa’s claims to the area. By the end of February 1842 there were 500 settlers in Nelson and another 1500 on the way.

When the Company decided to push ahead with plans to survey the Wairau plains, things took a serious turn for the worse. On 17 June 1843, 22 Europeans and four Māori were killed when an armed party of New Zealand Company settlers clashed with Ngāti Toa over the purchase of land in the Wairau Valley. This affray at Tuamarina, 10 km north of today’s town of Blenheim, was the first significant armed conflict between Māori and British settlers after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Nine of the Europeans had been executed after surrendering, and outraged settlers demanded action against Ngāti Toa. They were disappointed when the new governor, Robert FitzRoy, judged that the Māori had been provoked by the Europeans. FitzRoy’s subsequent inaction was widely condemned by Pākehā, but the alternative, open warfare with Ngāti Toa, would have been disastrous for settlers struggling to establish themselves in a new land.

The sequels to Wairau were further fighting in the Hutt Valley and Porirua in 1846, and in Whanganui in 1847. In each case the causes, and the participants, were largely those involved in 1843.

Rowan Carroll


The Wairau incident’ (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 23-Oct-2014


1845 Governor Grey arrives tasked with crushing resistance to colonisation


In November 1845, George Grey (who had been working in South Australia) arrived in New Zealand to replace Governor FitzRoy. Grey’s initial task was to crush all resistance. He was provided with military resources substantially superior to those of his predecessors and the freedom of enforcement.

Not long after taking office, Grey rescinded the Native Exemption Ordinance, which had been established by FitzRoy in mid-1844. The Ordinance sought to alleviate the harsh application of Pākehā law to Māori, particularly in cases not involving Pākehā, and formalised the principle of utu in court proceedings. In criminal cases other than rape and murder, a Māori offender was freed on payment of £20 to the victim. In cases involving only Māori, the Police Magistrate would not intervene unless requested by iwi. Interception of a wanted Māori outside town limits could only be by two chiefs of the iwi of the accused. In 1845, FitzRoy extended the principle to assault cases by authorising the payment of half the fine for such offences to the victim of the assault. No Māori could be imprisoned for debt. Pākehā offenders, serious Māori offenders, ‘rebels’ and those Māori detached from their hapū – the so-called ‘town rangers’ – continued to be imprisoned or transported. By the simple act of rescinding the Native Exemption Ordinance, Governor Grey created an environment that ensured Māori would fall foul of Pākehā law.

Simone Bull


Bull, S. J. (2004) ‘The land of murder, cannibalism, and all kinds of atrocious crimes? Maori and Crime in New Zealand, 1853-1919’ British Journal of Criminology, Vol. 44, July, pp. 496-519.

Hill, R. S. (1986) Policing the Colonial Frontier (Part One). The theory and Practice of Coercive Social and Racial Control in New Zealand, 1767-1867 (The History of Policing in New Zealand, Volume One). Wellington: Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs.

Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into the Prisons System (MCIPS) (1989) A Summary of: Prison Review Te Ara Hou: The New Way. The Report of the Ministerial Committee of Inquiry into the Prisons System. Wellington: New Zealand Crown.

Police stockade at Porirua Harbour, 1845. William Swainson: Alexander Turnbull Library (A-190-016)
Police stockade at Porirua Harbour, 1845. William Swainson: Alexander Turnbull Library (A-190-016)


1846 Armed Police Forces in New Ulster and New Munster


George Grey arrived in New Zealand armed with experience of policing in Ireland in a military style. He also had ideas about assimilating indigenous people because of his recent experience in South Australia.

He sold the idea of his new system of armed policing to settlers by emphasising how it would supress resistance and attacks from Māori and keep European settlers safe. It actually existed to control both races. New leaders replaced Police Magistrates and men were chosen to surveil, fight and occupy after battles.

His plan to bring about peace by creating three Armed Police Forces was legalised by Special Ordinance on 9 October 1846. Forces were formed in Auckland, New Plymouth and Wellington and existed alongside the military.

Grey recruited Māori because they knew the land and were to be an example to their people. This was his contribution to ‘civilising’ indigenous people, a way of encouraging Māori to take part in the administration of laws in the country as it was being shaped by the settlers.

New Zealand was separated into two provinces: New Ulster in the north and New Munster south of the Patea river-mouth, including the South Island. But the separation did not impact on how Grey administered his police. From 1848 New Munster Armed Police transitioned to four provincial police forces. Wellington controlled the northern part of the New Munster Armed Police Force. A small civil force in Akaroa policed Banks Peninsula. Elsewhere, especially in Otago, the small Pākehā settlements had police coverage in theory but in reality they were isolated and unprotected.

Sophie Giddens


Hill, Richard S. ‘The History of Policing in New Zealand: Policing the Colonial Frontier – The Theory and Practice of Coercive Social and Racial Control in New Zealand, 1967 -1867’. Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1986.

George Grey’ (accessed 2 April 2018)