History of the Governor-General

Page 3 – Crown colony era

New Zealand became a British colony in 1840, legitimised by the Treaty of Waitangi and Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson's 21 May declaration of sovereignty.

Hobson (who served from 1840 until his death in 1842) and Robert FitzRoy (1843-5) were naval officers. Their administrations were grossly under-resourced. They were challenged in providing even the most basic infrastructure while preserving harmony between the British settlers and the numerically and militarily dominant Māori.

Both fell out with settlers; Hobson angered the New Zealand Company’s Wellington colonists, while FitzRoy was accused of favouring Māori and missionaries. Nelson settlers burned FitzRoy in effigy when news of his recall (sacking) by London reached New Zealand.

The Australian connection

New Zealand began as a dependency of New South Wales. Late in 1839 letters patent altered the commission of the governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps, by reappointing him captain-general and governor-in-chief in and over the territory of New South Wales, the new boundaries of which included any land that might be acquired here. For the next 18 months his legislative council promulgated all New Zealand law, and the New South Wales land regulations were also extended to New Zealand. This arrangement ended in May 1841, when New Zealand became a separate Crown colony.

In Crown colonies (colonies that were not self-governing), governors ruled personally. Hobson had two bodies to assist him. The Executive Council comprised the colonial secretary, attorney-general and colonial treasurer. Hobson convened and chaired it.

The Legislative Council, made up of Hobson, the Executive Council and three senior justices of the peace, gave a veneer of independence, but it could meet only at the request of the governor, who set the agenda and who alone introduced laws. As a result, many settlers treated it with contempt. Charles Clifford, appointed a counsellor in 1844, resigned after 10 months 'because he objected to FitzRoy's use of the official majority and because he considered the meetings an idle and useless formality'.

War broke out in 1845 between some northern iwi and the British and their Maori allies. Dashing, young Governor George Grey (1845–53 and 1861–8) arrived with more realistic numbers of troops and the money to pay them. By early 1846 an uneasy peace had settled over the far north.

How to cite this page

'Crown colony era', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/history-of-the-governor-general/crown-colony-era, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 5-May-2023