Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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'At the arbitrary disposal of the Government': 'Loyal' Māori, confiscation and the operation of the Compensation Court in South Auckland and Waikato 1865-67.

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posted on 2023-08-10, 00:57 authored by Sandra Thomas

Over a million acres of land was confiscated under the New Zealand Settlements Act 1863 following the Waikato war of 1863-64. It was acquired from 'rebel' and 'loyal' Māori alike, but a specialist court was established in 1865 which could award compensation to applicants it deemed 'loyal' and who could satisfy the Court that they had an ownership interest in the confiscated land. This study examines the ways in which the various parts of the state machinery situated the confiscation of land from its 'friends', and the process for compensating them, within the context of the wider 'colonising project'. In exploring the establishment of a Compensation Court and its operations in South Auckland and the Waikato in the period 1856-67, the thesis provides a case study of both the mechanisms of confiscation and the state's rationalisations for such coercion.

Analysis based principally on archival records of the Compensation Court's sittings and decisions, supplemented by newspaper and other research, reveals both how the Court determined its awards and the motivations that underpinned its work. Its proponents argued that it not only adequately protected the property interests of loyal Māori but also provided them with benefits. Its critics, however, perceived it to be a Māori-phile organisation impeding settlers from achieving their goals in the new colony. Even Senior Judge Francis Dart Fenton, after the Court's hearings were first complete, told of his surprise that the legislation was so 'tender' of Māori interests. This study explores the exercises undertaken by the Court's judges to determine both loyalty and ownership interests, to value the land, and to make awards in cash and later in land, based on either its own findings or in response to out of court arrangements 'negotiated' by the Crown Agent. The overarching purpose of such legal mechanisms and methods was to legitimise the government's decision to confiscate land from friends as well as foes, a decision which put the land of loyal Māori at the 'arbitrary disposal' of the settler government. Despite some minimal efforts by the Court to mitigate the effects of state policy, the thesis finds that the interests of loyal Māori were sacrificed, in the name of the public good, to the interests of the settlers, the New Zealand state, and the colonizing project.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License


Degree Discipline

New Zealand Studies

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130705 Understanding New Zealand’s past

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Stout Research Centre for New Zealand Studies


Hill, Richard; Patterson, Brad