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William Spain

William Spain was born in England in 1803 and trained in the law. In 1841 he became a Land Claims Commissioner in New Zealand.

His task was to investigate the New Zealand Company's claims that it had purchased a total of some 20 million acres (8 million hectares) in 1839. Even though most of these purchases were hotly disputed by Māori, hundreds of settlers had arrived to take up the land.

Spain began work in Wellington in May 1842. Under investigation, the majority of the Company's claims, especially those at Nelson, Wellington and Wanganui, did not hold up. However, Spain did not declare the land sales invalid. Supported by Governor FitzRoy, he cooperated with the Company in arranging further compensation which would ‘complete’ the transactions. Spain felt this was appropriate, as Māori sought settlement for the economic and other advantages it would bring, and justice should be done to the settlers who had bought land from the Company in good faith. Māori either accepted reluctantly or refused the compensation (decided by officers of the Protectorate of Aborigines Department).

Spain left New Zealand in 1845 and died in Australia in 1876. The Company's claims were not finally settled for several more years - either through further purchase or by military force.

Adapted from the DNZB biography by Rosemarie V. Tonk

How to cite this page

William Spain, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated