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Scenery preservation 1903-1953

Page 6 – Scenery Preservation Commission

The Scenery Preservation Commission

The Scenery Preservation Commission identified scenic and historic sites and administered the Scenery Preservation Act 1903. The first commission was appointed in March 1904 under the chairmanship of Polynesian Society chair and former surveyor-general Stephenson Percy Smith. Other members were Henry Matthews, the government's chief forester; John Marchant, surveyor-general; William Smith, horticulturalist and amateur ethnologist; and Major Hoani Tunuiarangi, Rangitane and Ngati Kahungunu leader and member of the Maori parliament (Kotahitanga).

The commission worked quickly, visiting 74 locations from Northland to Southland in 1905 alone. In addition to its own surveys, it received suggestions for reserves from many sources, including politicians keen to promote their local electorates.

Between its first meeting in 1904 and its disbanding in 1906, the commission lodged 14 interim reports made up of 416 recommendations for reservation, comprising nearly 365,000 acres of land. Of these, 77% were scenic sites; 20% were historic sites, and 3% were thermal.

By 1906 only 61 reserves, totalling 15,000 acres, had been gazetted. Several were high-profile sites such as Otari–Wilton's Bush in Wellington and Kennedy's Bush in Christchurch. Only a few prehistoric and historic sites had been established, the most notable being Motukaraka Island, Te Kawau pa, Turuturumokai pa, and Ship Cove in the Marlborough Sounds. It took time to negotiate land prices with owners, survey the properties and gazette the decisions.

The commission's problems, though, ran deeper. The Department of Lands objected to reserves on land it considered better suited to agriculture. Some Maori opposed the taking of their land and resources. Settlers feared that reserves would become fire hazards or breeding grounds for noxious weeds. Some farmers wanted greater compensation while others objected to the loss of tax relief they derived from clearing the bush, then considered a land-improvement measure.

Politicians were just as divided. Some complained that the commission had neglected their districts. Others criticised it for reserving areas without actually inspecting them.

Within the commission, Percy Smith was unhappy about the lack of progress. He was frustrated at what he saw as the interference and bullying of the Department of Lands. In early 1905 he resigned as chair of the commission, but the minister, Sir Joseph Ward, refused to accept it, knowing that there was no one else to do the job. When the commission was disbanded, Percy Smith was delighted.

How to cite this page

Scenery Preservation Commission, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated