Guest post: The New Zealand Company


Guest contributor: Paul Veart

Over the past few months I’ve had the pleasure of researching the New Zealand Company for a presentation as part of Auckland Libraries’ lunchtime talk series.

When I first began looking at the New Zealand Company I must admit I didn’t quite realise what I’d be in for, expecting just a brief search through emigration records. Once I began, however, I quickly got sucked into a world of manipulative political dealings, life-and-death journeys and murky contracts – and that was just trying to book a microfilm reader!

Of course there are actually a large number of freely available resources on the New Zealand Company, including an excellent set of microfilms at the Central Auckland Research Centre, covering everything from emigrants’ original applications for free passage to letters of reference and land purchases. However, the resource I found most interesting was something different…

After several failed attempts as far back as the 1820s, the New Zealand Company was founded in England in 1839 with the aim of promoting, and financially benefitting from, the colonisation of New Zealand. The company’s principles were devised by a former diplomat, hypnotist and convicted kidnapper, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, while he was serving a three year jail term in Newgate Prison. The New Zealand Company went on to found settlements across the country, including Wellington,Nelson and Petre/Wanganui/Whanganui, as well as being involved in the establishment of New Plymouth, Dunedin and Christchurch.

Of the many excellent resources on the history of these settlements, the ones I found most insightful were not passenger lists or recruiting posters (although these are both worth investigating) but a series of maps, freely available on the Te Ara website.

Included is the 1840 map of Wellington on its original site, complete with its own Covent Garden and Billingsgate Fish Market, all on the banks of the Hutt River. There is also the first map of Wellington as we know it today. The ruler-straight roads can be seen running up the sides of Wellington’s notorious hills and if ever you’ve laboured up a particularly steep street in the country’s capital or have struggled to find a car park on ground flat enough that your handbrake will hold, you now know who to blame: the New Zealand Company’s first Surveyor General and author of the map, William Mein Smith. This online plan also lets you investigate every original section, and the order in which they were chosen – from lot 215, a prime waterfront location (at least until the land reclamations) to lot 524, just above the cemetery and chosen 993rd!

Te Ara has these maps not only for Wellington but also several other New Zealand Company settlements. The format allows you to zoom in to great levels of detail and appreciate them not only as genealogical and historical tools, but as works of art in their own right.

Paul Veart

This entry was posted on Wednesday, 23 February 2011 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response.

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