State buys Cheviot Estate

19 April 1893

Painting of Cheviot Hills homestead, 1870s (Alexander Turnbull Library, NON-ATL-P-0083)

In the 1890s the Liberal government, especially Minister of Lands John McKenzie, were determined to ‘burst up’ large estates for settlement by prospective small farmers, who were among its key supporters. The first property purchased under this policy was the 34,300-ha Cheviot Estate in North Canterbury. The night after it came into government ownership, the stables, granary and store were destroyed by fire.

The Liberal Party had won power following the 1890 general election on a platform which included promoting closer settlement by selling Crown land only to genuine farmers, extending state leasehold rather than offering land freehold, purchasing large estates for subdivision, introducing a graduated land tax, and providing cheap finance for farm development.

In general, the policy was a success. Between 1892 and 1911, the Crown offered 3.4 million ha of land for settlement, subdivided into 33,000 holdings. This included 209 estates totalling 486,000 ha bought for a total of £6 million (about $1 billion today) and subdivided into 4800 holdings. The prices offered were mostly generous, and provisions for compulsory purchase were used just 13 times.