Skip to main content

Henry George Grey

Earl Grey (1802–1894) was Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1846 to 1852. In 1844 (as Lord Howick) he had described the Treaty of Waitangi as "part of a series of injudicious proceedings". Among other things he could not accept that the Treaty guaranteed Māori ownership of the entire country. Rather, he insisted that Māori land rights applied only to the limited areas they actually occupied or cultivated. In his view the remainder - the vast bulk of the country - was unowned "waste land".

In 1846 he instructed Governor Grey to register lands "actually occupied" or cultivated by Māori as belonging to them. Following this, all other lands not already held under grant from the Crown, including lands used by Māori for fishing and food gathering, would become the property of the Crown.

Governor Grey, aware that Maori would strongly resist such a policy, did not carry out these instructions. Instead he used the Crown's position as a monopoly purchaser (the Crown's pre-emptive right) to acquire Māori land for minimal prices in advance of Europeans settling on it, while at the same time banning Māori from leasing their land. His aim was to acquire the land before the Māori owners understood how valuable it would be. By purchasing the lands cheaply, Grey hoped that the Crown could recognise Māori ownership in a way that did not prevent settlement. This policy was successfully pursued in New Zealand until the mid-1850s. By then, Māori had become dissatisfied and anxious about the rapid expansion of settlement. This led to the growth of the Māori King Movement, resistance to further land sales, and ultimately, war.

How to cite this page

Henry George Grey, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated