The relationship between Maori and Pakeha has been, and still is, one of the pillars of New Zealand's nationhood. At the heart of this relationship has been the complex, often volatile, and never unambiguous issue of Maori land. For Maori, land possesses significant importance, not only in the temporal, but also the spiritual realm; it is the source of life, perhaps best embodied in the term tangata whenua (people of the land) which epitomises the close connection Maori have to their land. In the course of New Zealand history, however, Maori land has been the source of disagreement, conflict, political and personal agendas, and yet for all the divisiveness it has engendered, its significance is as resonant today as it was over 150 years ago.
For the great part of New Zealand history - from 1865 - the history of Maori land is closely connected to the history of the Native (later Maori) Land Court. It was this body which, acting as an instrument of the Government, effectively ensured the often unwilling transfer of millions of acres of Maori land into the hands of the Crown and private purchasers, to facilitate European settlement. The Native Land Court was not the sole body dealing with Maori land, however, and its work was assisted in the twentieth century firstly by short-lived Maori Land Councils, and then by the Maori Land Boards; the combined work of these bodies has had an enormous impact on the historical development of New Zealand.
The Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building (Former) in Wanganui has, therefore, played an important role in the history of the area covered by its administration, and the general history of New Zealand. The building is a rare, if not unique, surviving physical testament of highly significant historical processes in New Zealand's past, and its value ought not to be underestimated.
The Native Land Court: Historical Background:
Through the first two decades of New Zealand's life as a British colony, vast areas of Maori land - including most of the South Island - had been alienated through Crown purchase by deed. Towards the late 1850s, the Government felt increased pressure from settlers to allow direct private purchases - in the interests of speedier land settlement and many Maori themselves preferred to sell their land on the open market rather than through an effective Crown monopoly, which paid poor prices. A further problem that the Government was facing when purchasing Maori land was ensuring that the land was bought from proper customary owners, best highlighted by the disastrous Waitara purchase of 1860, which eventually led to the first Taranaki war.
By the early 1860s, the Government saw the answer to the land purchasing problem as the individualisation of Maori title through a Native Land Court. In Maori custom, land was owned by kin groups - be they whanau or hapu - rather than individuals. Individualisation of title, whereby individual Maori would hold their own measurable interest in a piece of land that had been previously owned in common, was ostensibly designed as part of the 'civilising' mission which the British colonial policy had set for Maori. The rationale, as expressed by Native Minister and later Premier Frederick Weld, was that without individual title, Maori existed in a state of 'bestial communalism', had no motivation to improve their lands, and their progress to 'civilisation' was thus hampered. There were more insidious motives behind the Government's plans. Quite simply, the individualisation of Maori title effectively meant that the alienation of Maori lands became easier. Furthermore, individualising Maori title also meant individualising Maori decision-making - a strike aimed at the heart of Maori political and social structures. Major decisions relating to land had in the past been made collectively by the hapu, through the rangatira that led them. With individual titles, rangatiatanga and collective decision-making became difficult to maintain, particularly when combined with often under-handed and questionable Pakeha purchase practices. This led to disastrous consequences for many Maori once the Native Land Court machinery was set up.
The Native Land Court was created by the Native Land Act 1862, but although the Court did briefly function under this legislation in Northland, there was no serious attempt on the Government's part to make it fully operational. The Native Land Court was truly formed by the 1865 Native Land Act, which put much more emphasis on the European judicial procedures rather than Maori custom, in contrast to the 1862 Act. The aims of the 1865 Act were fourfold:
-Firstly, to amend and consolidate legislation relating to lands still in Maori customary ownership
-Secondly, to provide a mechanism for ascertainment of rightful owners of lands still in customary ownership
-Thirdly, once the ownership of customary title was determined, to encourage extinguishment of such title to provide for conversion to title derived from the Crown
-Fourthly, to provide for the regulation of descent of such lands, or what in the Court's parlance became known as successions and partitions.
The Native Land Court's task was to implement the last three goals. The ultimate aim of the process was to facilitate easier purchase and alienation of Maori owned lands for the purposes of settlement, and undermine the idea of communal ownership and decision-making among Maori, which was clearly seen as undesirable by colonial politicians. Although the legislation relating to the Native Land Court was continually and confusingly amended and tweaked over the succeeding years and decades, the basic aims remained until at least the onset of the twentieth century.
The Native Land Court in Wanganui, 1866-1900:
The Native Land Court first sat in Wanganui in 1866. Between 1866 and 1900, the Court sat for the total of 1,548 days, with general trend showing that the sittings accelerated from the late 1870s before reaching a short hiatus in the early 1890s, with a significant and sustained increase from 1894. Throughout this period the Court was engaged in determining titles, although partitions and successions to land blocks whose ownership had earlier been determined started significantly increasing in frequency from 1880 onwards. The great majority of the Native Land Court hearings involving Maori lands in the Whanganui district were held in Wanganui, although from 1880 there were also sittings at Putiki Pa, Palmerston North, Marton, Upokongaro, Patea, Waitotara, New Plymouth, Taupo, and Otorohanga. It is quite likely that the Native Land Court sittings were held at the Wanganui Courthouse when the latter was available, particularly as the evidence consulted suggests that there were no purpose-built Native Land Court premises in Wanganui itself at the time. This is hardly surprising, considering that the Native Land Court was in essence a specialised circuit court - as 1,548 days of sittings in the Wanganui district over a 34-year period indicates - and as such was not deemed to be in need of permanent purpose-built premises. The sittings were often held in general courthouses if such existed in the vicinity and were available, town and public halls, or any other premises which were available and able to accommodate large groups of people.
However, it appears that there were Native Land Court premises erected at Upokangaro in 1881. The Chief Judge of the Native Land Court and the Native Minister controversially decided in 1881 to base the Land Court at Upokongaro and made arrangements with the local farmer, storekeeper and innkeeper John Kennedy to provide suitable accommodation for its purposes. The building that Kennedy erected for the Native Land Court purposes was also used as a local hall and theatre, and was known as ‘The Court Theatre' well into the twentieth century. However, complaints about the lack of suitable accommodation for the Court's purposes started surfacing soon after the first sitting of the Native Land Court at Upokongaro, and by 1884 Judge O'Brien preferred to hold the Court at New Plymouth rather than Upokongaro, believing it more convenient for all the interested parties. The Upokongaro premises can hardly be considered a purpose-built Native Land Courthouse, given that, firstly, it was not Government-built, secondly, it was widely used for other purposes, and thirdly, it does not appear to have had any significant longevity in its use for the Native Land Court purposes. It also seems unlikely that any earlier purpose-built Native Land Court buildings were constructed. In its early decades, the Court sat at various venues close to the main land blocks being investigated, so it did not require a permanent base. Subsequently, when regional Court offices were established, successive governments deemed that the Court was not in need of permanent premises.
The Whanganui Maori relationship with the Native Land Court in this period was uneasy at best. In addition to being the legal instrument designed to facilitate easier acquisition of Maori land, the Native Land Court process lent itself to achieving the same goal. The first challenge was the cost of putting land through the Court. Before the land could go through the Court, it had to be surveyed, and the surveyors' fees (often quite high) paid, either in money or in land. Once the land was before the Court, daily Court fees and witness fees also had to be paid as did a myriad of officials connected with Court, such as translators and surveyors. In some cases, Maori also had to pay for legal representation before the Court, and there were also considerable travel, accommodation and other living costs incurred during the Native Land Court sittings at venues as distant as Taupo or Hastings, in addition to the unquantifiable cost of lost labour in looking after crops and livestock while engaged on protracted and unpredictable Court hearings. Often the result of all these costs was that once the hearing was completed, the owners were left with such overwhelming debts that the only avenue they had of clearing them was to sell a large part of the land awarded to them by the Court; thousands of acres of Maori land passed into Pakeha hands in this way.
Throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century, Whanganui Maori sought to minimise the adverse effects of the Native Land Court. In the 1870s, the different tribal groupings in the region made efforts to define and mark out their customary lands and interests to avoid taking them to the Court, and tribal runanga were set up to deal with land disagreements. A further effort at organised opposition to the Court came with the ‘Kemp's Trust' - named after a leading Whanganui chief Te Keepa Rangihiwinui, also known as Major Kemp - which was established in 1880, and aimed to administer over half a million acres of Maori land in the Whanganui region through a council of chiefs. All these efforts made by Whanganui Maori to avoid dealing with the Native Land Court were, however, continually undermined by the fact that any single Maori individual claiming an interest in a piece of land could bring it before the Court for a title hearing, and thereby drag the other owners and counter-claimants before the Court to defend their own interests, even if they had never had any intention of putting their lands through the Court in the first place. Organised opposition to the Court became more difficult as time went on, but Whanganui Maori continued to voice their opposition to the Court and ask for its disbandment.
However, by the late 1890s it was becoming clear that changes to the Native Land Court system were necessary. Maori opposition to the Native Land Court became clearly articulated by Kotahitanga, an enormously popular pan-Maori body which became prominent in the 1890s and in which Whanganui Maori were actively involved, thereby putting pressure on the Liberal Government to address Maori land legislation. An 1891 commission of inquiry exposed the costs, defects, and devastating impact of Maori land legislation on Maori, and Liberal Government leaders such as the jurist Sir Robert Stout, Premier Richard Seddon, and Native Minister James Carroll joined Maori in advocating for change. The Liberals became increasingly alarmed following another aggressive bout of Maori land purchasing from 1894, and feared that Maori could soon become landless and therefore a ‘burden on the state'. After years of discussions and compromise between the Government and Maori from across New Zealand, new legislation was passed in 1900 under the guise of Maori Land Administration Act which established bodies known as Maori Land Councils; crucially, however, the Native Land Court was not abolished and continued to operate in parallel with the new bodies.
Maori Land Boards: Historical Background:
The Maori Land Councils set up under the 1900 Act were perhaps the fairest legislative compromise between Maori and Pakeha over the issue of Maori land since 1865, but unfortunately they were short-lived. The Councils included both Maori and Pakeha members, with a slight Maori majority, and shared some of the powers of the Native Land Court, most notably in the area of title determinations, where Maori agency in the process was encouraged through the establishment of Papatupu Block Committees. The Councils' other significant purpose was to encourage leasing of Maori lands through the system of voluntary vesting of the same in the Council by the owners for the purposes of further settlement. This reflected the Liberals' ‘taihoa' policy of staying further sales of Maori land while still promoting land settlement. On the surface, this arrangement suited both Maori, who were not facing the perils of further permanent alienation of their lands, and the Government, who still expected that enough Maori land would be freed up through voluntary leasing for further settlement. The reality, however, proved somewhat different.
For the Whanganui Maori, the passage of the Act provided an opportunity for their land to be protected from permanent alienation and used in a manner which would make it more productive. They sought to maximise this opportunity and, by 1904, had vested over 100,000 acres in the Aotea Maori Land Council, operating in the Wanganui region. This was more land than was vested in the Maori Land Councils anywhere else in the country. However, after decades of Government legal machinations aimed at divesting them of their lands, Maori in other parts of New Zealand remained suspicious of the Government's ultimate aims and failed to vest any significant amounts of land in their respective Councils, and given the generally resentful (and frequently racist) attitude of Pakeha settlers towards ‘Maori landlordism', the Government sought to change the situation in 1905 by abolishing Maori Land Councils and replacing them with Maori Land Boards.
Maori Land Boards were established under the 1905 Maori Land Settlement Act. The Boards, unlike the Land Councils, had a Pakeha majority (and a government-appointed one at that), and brought purchasing of Maori land back to the fore, including compulsory alienation. The Boards' duties were further extended under the 1909 Native Land Act, the most significant piece of legislation relating to Maori lands since the 1865 Act. The sweeping reforms of the 1909 Act resulted in a new round of almost unrestricted Maori land sales. The 1909 Act placed emphasis on the sale and leasing of Maori lands by the owners under the supervision of the Maori Land Boards - in this way the Boards' role may be seen as that of facilitating alienation of ‘idle' Maori lands for the purposes of general settlement.
The principal aim of the Maori Land Boards up until 1932 was the alienation of Maori lands - by the end of 1933, over 2.3 million acres of Maori-owned land (one-third of Maori-owned land in the North Island at the passage of the 1909 Act) was sold through the Maori Land Boards. In the period between 1911 and 1920, at the time when the plans for the Maori Land Court Building in Wanganui were beginning to emerge, the Aotea Maori Land Board - having replaced the Aotea Maori Land Council in 1905 - was responsible for confirming many sales, leases and mortgages of Maori lands in the Aotea district, thus proving an invaluable instrument of Government policy. The attitude of Whanganui Maori towards the Aotea Board, however, was far from endearing. In August 1912, a deputation of Whanganui Maori met with Native Minister W. H. Herries to ask that the jurisdiction of the Board be ended and the Board amalgamated with the Native Land Court. They further complained that the attitude of the Board officials left a lot to be desired, having been told not to ‘bother' the Board until it was actually sitting, and that they also had difficulties obtaining information from the Board on its activities. The President of the Aotea Board responded to the complaints in September 1912, asserting that Board officials only turned away Maori if they appeared intoxicated, and the Maori complaints do not appear to have been further investigated.
The role of the Maori Land Boards began to alter slightly during the 1920s. Although alienation of Maori land remained the central feature of Boards' activities, during this period Boards' surplus funds - accrued from deposits and investments - were beginning to be used for Maori land development. Access to affordable capital for agricultural development had long been a problem for Maori, and Maori political leaders had argued for decades that their people should be provided with the same degree of assistance for in developing land for agricultural use as the European settlers. Little had been done on the matter, however, until 1920s, when it became clear that the surplus funds of the Boards (and some money from the Native Trustee) could be used for the purpose. Throughout the 1920s the Boards were loaning money out of their surplus funds to prospective Maori farmers - in Wanganui most notably on the Ranana Development Scheme. From 1928, under the Native Land Amendment and Native Land Claims Adjustment Act, substantial government loans for Maori land development were finally made available, and the Boards were empowered to directly manage and cultivate Maori owned lands with the consent of a majority of owners.
However, by the early 1930s the Boards were facing significant problems. The National Expenditure Commission reviewed the structure and functions of the Native Department and related bodies such as the Maori Land Boards, and found the latter to be woefully inadequate. The Commission pointed that the Boards did not possess an effective machinery to manage and develop Maori lands, and clearly set out the overlap between the functions of the Boards and the Native Land Court. The Commission concluded that the Boards should be abolished altogether, with their functions devolved to the Native Land Court and the Native Department respectively. Although the Government did not abolish the Boards following the Commission's findings, it greatly reduced their power under the 1932 Native Land Amendment Act. The responsibility of confirming alienation of Maori lands was passed on from the Boards to the Native Land Court, and the Boards became little more than district offices of a reorganised Native Department, with their main task being administering lands vested in them. The Boards continued to operate in this guise for another two decades until they were finally abolished in 1952 under the Maori Land Amendment Act. The property of the Boards - including the Maori Land Court building in Wanganui and adjoining sections - was inherited by the Maori Trustee, and the Boards' land administrative tasks passed on to the Maori Land Court.
Throughout the legislative tinkering of the twentieth century, the Native Land Court continued to operate. The connection between the Court and the Board in Wanganui was a strong one - as it was in most districts - with the Judge and Registrar of the Court also serving as the President and Secretary of the Board. This reflected a wider and untoward overlap between the administrative and judicial arms of government when it came to Maori affairs; the Chief Judge of the Native Land Court frequently also acted as the head of the Native Department. Given this fact, it is unsurprising that Whanganui Maori argued in the early years of the twentieth century that the two bodies should be amalgamated. Indeed, the request probably serves more as a sign of Whanganui Maori disillusionment with the work of the Board rather than any great enthusiasm about the Native Land Court. As noted earlier, much of the Court's work in determining ownership in Wanganui had been completed by the turn of the century (the Wanganui Native Land Court did hear the Whanganui river-bed claim in 1938, but this turned into a protracted judicial saga that was eventually heard before the Appellate and Supreme Courts), and its focus now was more on partition and succession hearings.
This work was of immense significance too, as its end-product was often putting rightful owners and successors on increasingly smaller and economically unviable pieces of land, thereby further eroding the rapidly dwindling Maori land base. It was in this context that discussions over a purpose-built Native Land Court and Maori Land Board building in Wanganui began and operated.
History of the Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building:
In June 1916, the President of Aotea Maori Land Board, J. B. Jack, wrote to the Native Department warning that the lease on the premises in which the Board was situated at the time was expiring in a year's time, and urging that new permanent accommodation for both the Board and the Native Land Court be considered. Jack complained that the office space was insufficient for the staff, and that the layout of the premises at the Masonic Hall where the Board and Court were situated was problematic for the Court sittings, since the strong room where records were kept was at the back of the Court, and sittings often had to be interrupted by officials going to and fro from the offices to the strong room. Jack wrote again in August 1916, proposing that the Board use its surplus funds - this was allowable under the section 3 of the 1916 Native Land Amendment and Native Land Claims Adjustment Act - to obtain a site on which new premises could be erected. Jack's view was further strengthened by the Wanganui mayor who in a meeting with the Native Minister in September 1916 noted that the Native Land Court in Wanganui was becoming increasingly busy and that the present accommodation was inadequate.
The Native Department was receptive, and the Native Under-Secretary C. B. Jordan advised that the Public Works Department in January 1917 that the Aotea Maori Land Board had acquired a site for it and the Native Land Court's new premises. Over the next three months correspondence passed between the Native and Public Works Departments over preparation of sketches and plans for the new building, and Jordan even visited the site with one of the deputies of the Government Architect, Llewellyn Richards. Despite the seemingly effective start, Jordan informed Jack at the end of April 1917 that the plan to erect a new building had to stand over until the end of the war, and that the Board and Court were to remain in their leased premises at the Masonic Hall for the time being.
The case for a new building was revisited in January 1919, when the Registrar of the Aotea Maori Land Board recommended to the Native Department that work on new premises should be commenced. Jordan was reluctant to proceed with the work believing that the design prepared in 1917 was not the most suitable, and was too costly. It appears that two more - seemingly more suitable - designs were prepared by April 1919. A further sketch plan was prepared in September, and by the following month Jordan informed the Public Works Department that the Native Department had decided to proceed with the erection of a new building for the Aotea Maori Land Board and the Native Land Court, and asked that the matter be treated as urgent.
More time passed before anything was done, however, and in May 1920, Jordan wrote to the Native Minister urging that the work on the new premises be commenced urgently, as the lease at the Masonic Hall was due to expire and its premises were not only deemed unsatisfactory for the purpose, but even ‘disgraceful'. The District Engineer in Wanganui had already been instructed to invite tenders for the work some two weeks before Jordan's memorandum, and three were received by the end of July. The lowest tender, by A. G. Bignell, a prominent local contractor in Wanganui since the 1890s, was authorised by the Native Minister in August 1920, and the contract signed on 21 September.
Bignell, however, could not, however, commence work on the Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board building, since the buildings on the site had not yet been vacated. In the meantime, a further bout of correspondence between the Native and Public Works Departments erupted over the Native Department's request to revise the plan to add a second storey, which would, however, not cover the courtroom. John Campbell, the Government Architect, revised the plan by December (although upon his urging it was decided that the second-storey would cover the courtroom as well), but further developments awaited early in the next year.
It was the Government Architect John Campbell who was ultimately responsible for the design of the building, with close help from two other officials from his office, Llewelyn Richards and Claude Paton. Campbell had been responsible for many prominent Government buildings, including the Dunedin Law Courts, the Government Bath-house in Rotorua, the Public Trust Head Office in Wellington and Government House, also in Wellington. Campbell had a close working relationship with Richards, who had worked with Campbell on the Public Trust Head Office building in Wellington and who held the position of the Assistant Government Architect; the two men in fact both retired on the same day. Paton, who like Campbell was Scottish, had joined the Public Works Department in 1906 as an architectural draughtsman and started exerting increasing influence over design issues in the office from 1910, although he never joined the New Zealand Institute of Architects and was consequently never accorded the title Architect.
In early February 1921, the new President of the Aotea Maori Land Board, Judge Acheson, recommended the purchase of the adjoining site (Part section 86, Wanganui Town), on the corner of Market and Campbell Places (now Rutland street), viewing it as more suitable for the purpose of erecting the new building. There is little information on the pre-European usage of the site, as the land was part of the township from 1841 onwards, and no reserves were made for Maori in the township area. Consequently there is no pre-European title information, or anything in the Deeds Index earlier than the first grant. The new site was in close proximity to Pakaitore/Motoua Gardens, a traditional Maori fishing pa that Maori continued to use after European settlement of Wanganui. Despite this customary use, and undertakings from Crown land purchase officials in the 1840s and 1850s, Pakaitore/Motoua Gardens was not set aside as a Native Reserve. It was instead set aside by the New Zealand Company as a market reserve (the Company having sought to acquire Whanganui land and establish a settler town in 1840). After the establishment of the Native Land Court in 1865, Pakaitore/Motoua Gardens was sometimes used as an encampment by Maori attending the Court sittings, a practice which seems to have continued into the twentieth century. It was also a camping site for those coming down the river to trade produce with the townsfolk. The continued use of Pakaitore/Motoua Gardens by Whanganui Maori, particularly with the new Native Land Court building to be erected in its close proximity, undoubtedly provided both a physical and symbolic link of different understandings of land use and ownership between Maori and Europeans. The reserve, also, has a controversial and well known recent history. The site itself had been in a popular shopping and business area in the 1860s, although by the turn of the century the centre of town moved to Victoria Avenue. Through the second half of the nineteenth century the Commercial Hotel stood on the site, but it burned down in 1891 and the site remained vacant (although it seems that the Board, Native Department and Public Works officials were unaware of this fact). By March 1921, Jordan noted the superiority of the new site and recommended that the Board be allowed to purchase it, while also commenting that the site had been already considered for purchase in 1916, but that the defect in the title at the time, since rectified, prevented this from happening.
The Aotea Maori Land Board soon purchased the site, and a new set of plans was prepared, this time for a single-storey building with provision for a future second storey, as originally planned. However, disagreements over the design between the Native Department and the Government Architect John Campbell ensured that no finality on the matter was reached until late April, when Campbell was informed that the Native Department was definitely decided on the corner section, and that the matter be treated urgently. New plans for a single storey building were drawn up by Claude Paton in May 1921. The builder A. G. Bignell was required to put in a new tender, which was approved by late June 1921 and signed in late July.
However, even as the construction of the building proceeded in the latter half of 1921, tweaking of the internal design continued unabated. In October 1921 Judge Acheson wanted to have one of the offices converted into a second strong room (the room named office on the original plans became a strongroom and the floor between the strongrooms was also constructed in concrete to allow the strongrooms to be joined at a later date) and in December asked for alterations to the counters in the public office. In February 1922, W. Bowler, the Registrar of the Aotea Maori Land Board asked for, among other things, changes to the length and style of the Judge's bench, a clerk's desk, and panelling of Judge's and Registrar's offices. These latest requests drew a strong response from John Campbell, who thought that some of the requests were either unnecessary or impractical and saved his strongest criticism for the request for panelling, dismissing it as ‘unpardonable extravagance', with the Aotea Maori Land Board and the Native Department largely accepting his views.
The external part of the building was completed in February 1922, and the Aotea Maori Land Board and Native Land Court staff moved into their new premises on 24 May 1922. The architectural style of the building was somewhat unusual for a court building and the architect John Campbell. It is possible that the building does not follow the style of other courthouses erected at the time because it also needed to fulfil significant administrative Maori Land Board duties in addition to judicial Native Land Court ones. The archival material unfortunately does not offer any evidence on the reasoning for the particular architectural style chosen for the building. On 18 May the new Native Under-Secretary, R. N. Jones (who was also Chief Judge of the Native Land Court), congratulated the Board and Court staff on their new and improved premises in which to conduct their respective business.
Indeed, it was undoubtedly the first such building in Wanganui. A search of Parliamentary and Government department archival records suggest that only one other purpose-built Native Land Court and Maori Land Board office was erected prior to 1930, this one in Rotorua. This building was completed in 1915 after the previous premises occupied by the Native Land Court and the Waiariki Maori Land Board proved unsuitable for their purposes. However, there were significant differences between the Rotorua and the Wanganui buildings. The Rotorua building was a wooden structure, and the site itself was not owned by the Waiariki Board, with the land having been gifted to the Crown by local Maori. However, there were serious problems with the building by the late 1920s, and there were discussions over erecting a new building on the site. The Rotorua building was situated in Arawa Street and was replaced by a modern building in 1963.
A search of Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives (AJHR) suggests that there may have been a purpose-built Native Land Court building at Thames in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries, but a closer inspection of the Maori Affairs files at Archives New Zealand indicates that this was simply an old Courthouse which had hosted Native Land Court hearings in the past, and continued to do so into the second decade of the twentieth century even after a new Courthouse was erected at Thames. It seems that the old Courthouse ceased to be used at Thames by 1917, and the Native Land Court in the area was held at the Magistrate's Court at Thames from 1918. As such, the old Courthouse at Thames cannot be viewed as a purpose-built Native Land Court, and in any event it is unlikely that the building is still standing today, having been deemed as highly unsatisfactory at the time. It would thus appear that the Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board building is indeed a rare example of a purpose-built Native Land Court building prior to 1930, and is likely to be the only surviving such building from this period.
The general work carried out by the Native Land Court in Wanganui at this time consisted of determining shares, succession to the interests of deceased owners, and relative interests of owners, either when larger blocks were being partitioned into smaller ones, or following the death of one or more of the original owners. From 1932, the Native Land Court was also empowered to confirm land alienations (sales and leases), which required a hearing to ensure that all legal conditions had been met before the proposed transactions could proceed. Its administrative district covered a large area extending from the south and west of the North Island, encompassing Wellington, the Manawatu, and all of Taranaki.
Problems with the Wanganui building would continue to haunt the Native Department for decades to come. For the remainder of the 1920s, small renovations of the building had to take place, with the repair of the roof in January 1927 the most notable. A more significant problem with the building, however, was detected in 1931. In April 1931 the Building Overseer noted that the building had suffered damage in the form of fractures of the brick and concrete work, and concluded that these were caused by the combination of earthquakes and settlement beneath the foundations. The problem was exacerbated in the winter of 1932, when the Native Under-Secretary R. N. Jones noted that the building needed to be strengthened following an earthquake. The new president of the Aotea Maori Land Board, James Browne, wrote to Jones later on in August postulating that the problem with the building could be defective foundations, since no other brick and concrete buildings in the vicinity had suffered any significant damage from the earthquake. Browne's concerns proved right when the Public Works Department tests on the site discovered that the building was built upon the site of an old burnt-down hotel, and that the hotel's cellar was located exactly underneath the corner of the building which suffered the most extensive damage. Browne blamed the Public Works Department for failing to test the foundations properly before erecting the building, and a lengthy saga by correspondence ensued over who would carry the cost for the strengthening of the building, with Browne adamant that the Board should not be asked to make anything but a small contribution.
The strengthening work, again carried out by A. G. Bignell, was completed by May 1933, with Browne commenting favourably on the result. He reported that the foundation at the corner where the hotel cellar had been and where the building was sinking has been strengthened, the cracks in the walls had been filled in, the walls tied up with iron rods so as to prevent them falling apart and the old parapet around the building taken down and one of lesser weight substituted.
By the late 1930s, more problems started arising with the building - this time, not because of the faulty foundation work, but because of the significant increase in staff. By this stage the building not only housed the Board and Court staff, but, following the legislation in 1932 which had reduced the role of Maori Land Boards to effectively being District Offices of the Native Department, also other officials from the latter - including Housing and Unemployment officers - as well as a growing administrative staff. Small interior changes were made in 1937 which included a construction of a typists' room, and a retiring room, and a three-stall garage was erected on the adjoining site. These improvements, however, did not go far enough. On 11 August 1938, Browne wrote to the Native Under-Secretary:
'I beg to draw your attention to the fact that this office is very seriously congested at the present time owing to want of office accommodation. When the present building was erected, it was considered there was ample room for any expansion of the staff that could reasonably be contemplated, but owing to [Maori Land] Development, Housing, Unemployment and the other activities of the Department, the staff has increased to such an extent that there is literally no room for the Officers and five or six of them have to be accommodated in the Courtroom and even then there is overcrowding to a considerable extent. The Courtroom can be used only when there is no sitting of the Court, but when the Court is sitting the officers working there have to get out and there is really no room for them anywhere else. How the Registrar, under the circumstances, provides accommodation for them - if he does provide accommodation - I do not know.'
Browne argued that the only way out of the difficulty was by constructing an additional building which would accommodate the Board and the Court staff:
'The present building cannot conveniently be added to and we have come to the conclusion that the only way out of the difficulty will be to erect a new building for the Court and the Court and Board records on the Board's section alongside the present building. I have had a sketch prepared by Mr. Emmett of the Public Works Department which, from our point of view will provide all the additional accommodation required. It is proposed that the Judge, the Court staff and probably the part of the Board staff should be transferred to this new building and this will leave ample accommodation in the present building for the remainder of the staff as it is now and for any necessary increase.'
In September 1938, the Board and the Native Department discussed alternatives to erecting another building. In October 1938, the Native Department pro-posed that the problem be solved by building a new wing through an extension of the frontage on Market Place, to which the Board agreed. The Minister of Finance authorised the expenditure for the work in February 1939, but the Buildings Co-ordination Committee stopped the work from proceeding in April 1939, asking that the Department report back on any suitable accommodation in another building. By late July 1939 the Building Co-ordination Committee approved the calling of tenders for the work, but the outbreak of World War 2 prevented any action from being taken. In March 1941 the Native Under-Secretary wrote to the Aotea Board stating that the Department did not consider it prudent to proceed with proposed alterations at the time, given the excessive cost, and suggested that the Courtroom be used for staff purposes, and Native Land Court sittings conducted at the Supreme Court at Wanganui if feasible. The Aotea Board Registrar replied that he had contacted the Justice Department in relation to using one of the Supreme Court courtrooms, and thus presumably some of the Native Land Court sittings in Wanganui during the Second World War may well have been held at the Supreme Court.
In April 1941 G. W. Sampson, the Acting District Engineer prepared a plan for smaller alterations to the building - including creating a new entrance on Campbell Place, and creating a new Courtroom from already existing office space. However, despite continued correspondence and even the approval of expenditure by the Minister of Finance for some of the smaller alterations in November 1941, no actual work was carried out. The over-crowding of staff in continued to pose a significant problem, and in June 1943 the Aotea Board registrar once again wrote to the Native Department complaining that:
'For some considerable time the Court has been conducted under very difficult conditions. The local sittings have been required to be held in the Judge's room with the result that at times all those who require to attend cannot be present throughout the sitting...'
Needless to say, such a situation was not only inconvenient for the Court staff, but also for Maori who had to appear before the Native Land Court. With the country still at war, however, no alterations were forthcoming.
The need for alterations was revisited after the end of the war, with new plans prepared in January 1946, but once again no action ensued. By May 1948, the space shortage was so acute that L.J. Booker, the Aotea Board Registrar, was asking for permission to erect a temporary building. By July 1948 the Government Architect R. A. Patterson prepared a plan to utilise the whole site (including the original property acquired in 1916 and another adjoining property acquired in 1944) by building a two-storey extension on the adjoining site, which would eventually be joined up with a new two-storey building to be built at a later stage after the present building was torn down. The now re-named Maori Affairs Department approved of the plan, since they were acutely aware of the space shortage in the building, which by this stage had become so critical that two female staff had to work in the female toilets. Yet despite the seriousness of the situation, no extensions were proceeded with, quite possibly due to the shortages of building material and building restrictions following the war.
By late 1950 some of the Maori Affairs staff who had been housed in the building relocated to different premises, and by March 1952 the District Officer at Wanganui agreed that internal alterations only - most notably the moving of the main entrance to Campbell Place - would suffice. The Maori Affairs file is silent on whether these alterations took place, but other available evidence suggests that the removal of the main doorway and further internal changes did indeed take place in 1952.
In 1953 the focus shifted to the Courtroom itself. In February, the Maori Affairs Under-Secretary wrote to the District Officer in Wanganui stating that a complaint had been made about the noise from factories during Court sittings, and the fact that the premises were used for dances at night. He also enquired as to whether it would be possible to secure more suitable premises for the Court sittings, such as the Magistrates' Court, or whether the brick building used as bulk store on the adjoining property, acquired in 1944, could be converted into a Courtroom once it was vacated by Maori Affairs staff. Although the District Officer considered that neither of the two alternatives was viable, by November 1953 the brick building was being converted into a Courtroom, and was serving this purpose by April 1954. Yet by June 1957 it was already in need of serious repairs.
With the Maori Land Boards abolished in 1953, the building was inherited by the Maori Trustee, which from early 1956 leased the building and the adjoining properties to the Crown. In 1957 an additional building was erected on one of the adjoining sites to house the Maori Affairs Accounts staff, and by early 1962 new plans were afoot to extend the original building. The new extension plan required, among other things, the demolition of the existing Courtroom, and the Minister of Maori Affairs agreed to the plan in principle by March 1962. There is further correspondence regarding whether the Courtroom should be inside or outside the extended building, but the Maori Affairs file ends in October 1962 and it is not clear whether and when these extensions may have taken place. The building on adjoining land had a second floor added in 1964.
The Maori Land Court staff remained at the building until 1981 when they moved into the new Government office building at the corner of Wicksteed Street and Cameron Terrace. They remained there until 1990 when they moved to the present Ingestre Street offices. The old Native Land Court building was occupied by the Probation Service, with further internal renovations made in 1991 and 1995, by which time it housed the Community Corrections Office, and lately the building has been occupied by Iwi law offices.
Site visit undertaken by Alison Dangerfield, Heritage Advisor - Architecture, Central Region, NZHPT on 4th February 2008 and 26th March 2008. All parts of the building were accessed except for subfloor space, ceiling space, one office on the south east side, one office on the north-west side.
The Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building (Former) in Wanganui is located on the corner of Market Place and Rutland Street (Former Campbell Place). The rectangular building occupies around two thirds of the rectangular site and is built immediately on the footpath edge. It is sited of the edge of the central built area of Wanganui with two-storeyed buildings nearby and a site, currently carparking space, to the south-west.
Its north-eastern façade (the shorter side of the building) faces Pakaitore/ Moutoa Gardens, once a traditional Maori fishing pa, it now contains a number of memorials (Register Numbers 165, 967, 987, 2743, 4954 and 7101). Across the park is the Whanganui River. The aspect is open and expansive. Its south-eastern façade (the longer side) directs its view to an area of two-storey older buildings and the UCOL campus.
The Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building (Former) is a substantial single storey building with north-east and south-east facades presenting a modestly decorated public face. The inner less visible building facades are less featured.
The building has a solid heavy appearance with strong forms set over a plinth and a prominent but receding parapet above. The building generally follows the Art Deco style in an unassuming way. There are suggestions of a Palladian influence in design with the rhythmic windows and structural wall-columns set between large square corners, in the manner of a keep. The structure is constructed of brick and concrete. The cement-plaster finish is formed to imitate stonework and has a fine smooth brush-textured appearance. Horizontal channels between the windows reinforce the impression of stone. The exterior wall thickness is striking at 400mm with the plinth thicker still.
Facing Market Place and Rutland Street, the corner pillars project up and beyond the building face; and have modest and unadorned Art Deco 'sunrise' plastered moldings around a window deeply set into the wall thickness. One window has diamond-patterned glazing, set with fine timber glazing bars.
In between, the five windows are symmetrically set with the central window given slightly increased room and prominence. The windows are tall and consist of a lower sash divided by very fine timber glazing bars and remarkable top-lights. The toplights, with similarly fine glazing bars, contain three sashes - two awning sashes either side of a sash divided by a circular glazing bar. The rows of circular motifs present an unusual and striking appearance. Concrete steps lead up to the entrance doors.
The roof has an almost flat central trough section and corrugated hips to form gutters behind the parapets. The roof is set at a height to provide a floor-to-ceiling interior height of around 4 meters. Rainwater heads and downpipes are symmetrically placed, tucked into the pillars. The Rutland Street view of the building includes two brick chimneys and a modest main entrance to the building inserted between two of the windows.
On the north-west side of the building the double-hung sashes and downpipes are evidence of the presence of the former entrance. On the south west side a doorway leads to a courtyard bound by a plastered brick wall with light timber-framed lean-tos and a garage-sized building built against it. A gated portal gives access to Rutland Street.
The interior of the building has been viewed in most part. Generally interior consists of timber-framed walls. Rooms have panelled and battened plaster ceilings, simple square-dressed scotias, rimu joinery and plasterboard walls. There is a mix of glazed panel and flush panel doors. Internal doors have sidelights or top-lights. Floor coverings mask the timber floor for the most part however in the original public office the timber floor is in good condition.
The public office entered originally from a lobby at the street corner (approximately 14m x 6m) straddles the Market Place end of the building. With a 4 meter height it is a large room of pleasing proportions and generous light. Ceilings and walls show a restrained use of art deco decoration and the timbered floor has been smoothed and refinished. At the street corner end, a single office with internal windows faces the main public office. The public office is currently accessed from a lobby off Rutland St. A room has sectioned off an internal portion of the public office.
From the public office, two halls run the length of the building, separated by two large strongrooms, and connect by a subhall. Two modestly decorative arches feature in these halls.
On the Rutland Street side of the building are five rooms of a single office size are accessed off the hall; ceilings remain high, some doors include toplights and four have a fireplace and chimney.
On the corresponding northwest (non-street) side of the building are the original courtroom (now divided into several offices), the exterior alcove to the building and a row of toilets.
The original courtroom has its exterior walls on the corner furthest away from the streets. Seven large simply-divided windows rise to the ceiling with narrow transoms and mullions presenting an elegant rectangular pattern. The top sashes of the windows are awning-hung for ventilation in all weathers.
The exterior alcove has been enclosed into the building form of the building however its exterior walls are visible and the exterior of the window has not been altered.
A section of hallway has been added to access the row of toilets from inside the building
The two strongrooms in the centre of the building are rectangular with a single strongroom door to each, one to the north-west side and one to the south-east.
From the end of the southern hall an exterior door leads down several steps to a courtyard bound on three sides by boundary walls, small lean-to buildings and two larger buildings. The ages of the buildings vary from the small brick lean-to toilets and walls, indicated on the original 1921 plan, to later constructions which may date to the 1940's.
The Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building (Former) is a Moderne style building with limited Art Deco motifs. Other court buildings of similar construction methods that pre or post date the Native Land Court and Aotea Maori Land Board Building (Former) in Wanganui have grand entrances featuring Classical detailing including Marton (1897, Register No 190) Eltham (1908, Register No 827) Blenheim (1937, Register No 1509).
Architects John Campbell (Government Architect, Public Works Department) with input from his team Llewellyn Richards and Claude Paton.
Plans for new building started
External part of building completed
May - Aotea Maori Land Board and Native Land Court staff moved into premises
Minor repair work
Earthquake strengthening work completed
Internal alterations including moving of main entrance to Campbell Place (now Rutland Street)
Brick, concrete, cement plastered finish.
27th August 2008
Report Written By
Archives New Zealand (Wgtn)
Archives New Zealand (Wellington)
MA 1/4/1/8, parts 1-6; W 1/24/899, parts 1-2
M J G Smart and A P Bates, The Wanganui Story, Wanganui Newspapers Ltd: Wanganui, 1972
Bryan Gilling, 'Engine of Destruction? An Introduction to the History of the Maori Land Court', Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, 25, 1994
Hill, 2000 (2)
Richard Hill, Authority and Autonomy: Rangatiratanga and the Crown in the Twentieth Century New Zealand: An Overview, Treaty of Waitangi Research Unit, Wellington, 2000.
Selwyn Katene, The Administration of Maori Land in the Aotea District 1900-1927, MA Thesis, Victoria university of Wellington, 1990
Donald Loveridge, Maori Land Councils and Maori Land Boards, 1900-1952, Rangahaua Whanui Series, Waitangi Tribunal, 1996.
Mitchell, 2004 (2)
James Mitchell, The Native Land Court and Maori Land Alienation patterns in the Whanganui district, 1865-1900, Waitangi Tribunal, September 2004.
Tony Walzl, Whanganui, 1900-1970, A report commissioned by CFRT, February 2004.
David Williams, 'Te Kooti tango whenua': the Native Land Court, Huia Publishers: Wellington, 1999.
David Young, Woven by Water: Histories from the Whanganui River, Huia Publishers, Wellington, 1998.
Wanganui District Council
Wanganui District Council
Wendy Pettigrew, Maori Land Court (B4.3) Wanganui District Heritage Inventory, Draft April 2005.
A fully referenced Registration Report is available from the NZHPT Central Region Office.
Please note that entry on the New Zealand Heritage List/Rarangi Korero identifies only the heritage values of the property concerned, and should not be construed as advice on the state of the property, or as a comment of its soundness or safety, including in regard to earthquake risk, safety in the event of fire, or insanitary conditions.