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 Maori 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 Maori resistance to land loss. Historians have criticised the Court’s role in assisting land sales, and the destructive effects of the Court process itself – Maori communities became caught up in decades of expensive and damaging court cases.

After 1867 Fenton applied European succession laws in cases where Maori 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 Maori land legislation of the twentieth century was designed to overcome this problem.

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Jonty Fenton Hare

Posted: 30 Mar 2012

I was related to him