Francis Fenton


Francis Fenton
Francis Fenton

Francis Dart Fenton was born into an old Yorkshire legal family. After working as a solicitor for a time in England, he emigrated to New Zealand in 1850. In 1851 he joined the government as a clerk. During the next 30 years he held a number of judicial and administrative positions. He is best known, however, as the key architect and long-serving Chief Judge of the Native Land Court.

The Native Land Court began work in 1865. It was set up to change traditional Māori land ownership, by tribes or sub-tribes, into individual land titles. The land could then be traded on the open market. The Court facilitated the sale of Maori land on a massive scale. More than anything else, it broke the back of Māori resistance to land loss. Historians have criticised the Court’s role in assisting land sales, and the destructive effects of the Court process itself – Māori communities became caught up in decades of expensive and damaging court cases.

After 1867 Fenton applied European succession laws in cases where Māori landowners died without leaving a will. The land was broken up and passed on to many individuals, resulting in a very large number of small, uneconomic pieces of land. Much of the Māori land legislation of the 20th century was designed to overcome this problem.

Community contributions

3 comments have been posted about Francis Fenton

What do you know?

Robin Butt 021 31 9977

Posted: 12 Oct 2019

I have in my possession 2 Landscape Paintings signed by F.Fenton
I have been seaching for the Artist info for some time
I know his Daughter was an Artist, was he an Artist as well?

Jason Fenton

Posted: 22 Sep 2019

This my great great great grandfather

Jonty Fenton Hare

Posted: 30 Mar 2012

I was related to him