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History, European Settlement and Government Until 1890

New Zealand politics, gold rushes, Treaty of Waitangi, landed gentry, New Zealand Company

Settlement of New Zealand from the British Isles and Australia began in earnest after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. New Zealand was initially made a dependency of New South Wales, Australia, but in 1841 it was constituted a separate crown colony. Auckland was founded as a planned capital in late 1840. The New Zealand Company was the major organizer of European colonization in the 1840s. It founded the towns of Wellington, Nelson, Wanganui, and New Plymouth by 1842; associated companies added Dunedin in 1848 and Christchurch in 1850.

After the treaty signing, Britain appointed a governor and began large-scale settlement. Provincial governments were established in the early 1850s and took over the organization of settlement. A national parliament convened for the first time in 1854, coming under the leadership of a premier in 1856, and took over many of the functions of the appointed governor by 1868. Under the influence of colonial treasurer Julius Vogel, a staunch supporter of British expansionism in the Pacific, the parliament began organizing and subsidizing immigration, bringing over another 100,000 people in the 1870s alone. The capital moved from Auckland, which had become a center of commercial activity, to Wellington in 1865. The central government gradually increased its hold on power at the local level by pushing aside its rivals, mainly Maori tribal leaders and provincial governments. The provinces themselves were abolished in 1876, replaced by counties and boroughs.

The European population of New Zealand grew from about 1,000 in the 1830s to nearly 60,000 in 1858, when parity with Maori was reached, and then rocketed to 500,000 by the early 1880s. The rapid population growth was due mostly to government sponsorship of immigration, employment in public-works projects, and the growth of export industries. Wool became a leading export beginning in 1850, but the export of extractive products such as timber, flax, kauri gum, and gold were also important. The discovery in 1861 of large quantities of gold in the Otago region of the South Island set off the gold rushes, in which large numbers of miners came from Australia and as far away as California to try their luck at striking it rich. Settlers led a rough-and-tumble life in the early colonial days of New Zealand. Families were large, women were less numerous than men, and crime was high. Settlement was scattered in numerous camps and towns. Opportunistic individualism and a pervasive “rush” mentality prevailed.

New Zealand politics from the 1850s to the 1880s were dominated by a small elite of men who, having prospered in business and sheep farming, formed a landed gentry. They controlled government and became New Zealand’s ruling class. Nevertheless, they always had to compromise with the middle- and working-class desire for at least nominal equality and for the expansion of opportunity. The demand for equality was met in part by extensions of the right to vote, first to virtually all men by 1881, and then to women in 1893. Women in New Zealand were among the first in the world to gain suffrage. However, the ruling elite failed to deliver expanding opportunities. In the 1880s a worldwide recession hit New Zealand. Growth rates plummeted, and the electorate saw stagnation as a breach of contract. The gentry lost power to the Liberals, an alliance of middle- and working-class politicians, in 1890.



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