New Zealand Constitution Act comes into force

17 January 1853

Extract from the Act published in the Taranaki Herald (New Zealand Electronic Text Centre)

Governor Sir George Grey issued a proclamation to bring the New Zealand Constitution Act (UK) of 1852 into operation, establishing a system of representative government for the colony.

The Act created a General Assembly – made up of an appointed Legislative Council and a House of Representatives elected every five years by males aged over 21 who owned, leased or rented property of a certain value – and six provinces with elected superintendents and provincial councils. By British standards, the property qualification was modest, allowing most male settlers to vote.

On 5 March, Grey issued a further proclamation setting out regulations for registration and voting, and outlining the boundaries of the 24 electoral districts, which were to return 37 general and 87 provincial members.

New Zealand’s first general election was held between July and October 1853, but Grey was criticised for calling the provincial councils to meet before the General Assembly, giving provincialism a five-month head-start on central government. The General Assembly did not meet until 24 May 1854, 16 months after the Constitution Act had come into force.