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The settler colonies: New Zealand

In the first half of the 19th century, Parliament had to take into account the interests and claims of the Maoris in New Zealand. They were the politically-organised indigenous people of the islands whose chiefs addressed a Declaration of Independence to the British Crown in 1835.

Committee report

In 1836 pressure from missionaries and humanitarians persuaded Parliament to set up a committee to examine the treatment of aborigines in the colonies.
Its 1837 report recommended that, as far  as possible, Europeans and indigenous peoples should be kept separate.

Treaty of Waitangi

Following this advice in 1840 the consul in New Zealand, William Hobson, signed the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori chiefs, which assured them of the Crown's protection of their lands and rights. He then annexed the islands to Britain, in order to enforce Crown control over the British settlers there.
The treaty did not work and conflict between settlers and Maoris over land increased in the second half of the century.

Constitution Act

Following its policy of establishing self-government in the settler colonies, Parliament passed the New Zealand Constitution Act in 1852.
It set up government at the colonial and provincial level by a governor, executive council and a two chamber general assembly, with a nominated upper house and an elected lower.

First ministry

At the first meeting of the New Zealand general assembly in 1854 there were motions calling for responsible government in the colony, and the country's first ministry was formed the following year.
In 1857 Parliament passed another law which allowed the New Zealand general assembly itself to amend some of the provisions of the 1852 Act.


In 1900 New Zealand decided not to enter the Australian federation and remained an independent British colony. On 26 September 1907 the country formally called itself a Dominion- a term only recently created to describe the self-governing settler colonies. 

In 1947 it was also the last of the Dominions to adopt the Statute of Westminster at which point it became independent of the British Parliament.  It remains a member of the Commonwealth.

Did you know?

Did you know?

Differences between the English and Maori interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi have long caused conflict. In 1975 the treaty was finally given the status of New Zealand law and a Tribunal was established to hear claims under its terms.