The provinces of the Colony of New Zealand existed as a form of administrative division, sub-national government. Initially established in 1846 when New Zealand was a Crown colony without responsible government, two provinces (New Ulster and New Munster) were established. Each province had its own legislative council and Governor. With the passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 the provinces were recreated around the six planned settlements or "colonies". By 1873 the number of provinces had increased to nine, but they had become less isolated from each other and demands for centralised government arose. In 1875 the New Zealand Parliament decided to abolish the provincial governments, and they came to an end in November 1876. They were superseded by Counties of New Zealand, counties, which were later replaced by territorial authorities. Following abolition, the provinces became known as provincial districts. Their principal legacy is the use of some provincial boundaries to determine the geographical boundaries for anniversary day public holidays in New Zealand, public holidays.

Crown Colony: 1841–1853

Following the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, New Zealand became a British colony, initially as part of New South Wales. The Royal Charter of November 1840 stated that the islands of New Zealand were "designated and known respectively" as: * New Ulster Province, New Ulster (the North Island) * New Munster Province, New Munster (the South Island) * New Leinster Province, New Leinster (Stewart Island/Rakiura) These names were of geographic significance only. New Zealand became a separate Crown Colony from New South Wales in May 1841. In 1846 the Parliament of the United Kingdom, British Parliament passed the first New Zealand Constitution Act 1846, New Zealand Constitution Act, which allowed for the establishment of provinces. Governor George Edward Grey, George Grey arrived in New Zealand in November 1845, and upon reading the new Constitution Act in May 1847 argued for its suspension in dispatches to the Colonial Office. Before this occurred, Grey proclaimed the provincial boundaries on 10 March 1848: * New Ulster (the North Island, north of the Patea River mouth) * New Munster (the North Island south of the Patea River mouth, the South Island and Stewart Island/Rakiura) Each province had a Lieutenant-Governor, appointed by the Governor-in-Chief. The 1846 Constitution Act was suspended in early 1848, with the only operative provisions relating to the reform of the provinces. News of the suspension did not reach New Zealand until 23 March 1848, when the immigrant ship John Wickliffe (ship), John Wickliffe arrived in Port Chalmers to begin European settlement of Otago. In addition, the provinces were separated from the central government for the first time. New Ulster and New Munster had their own seals.

Responsible Government: 1853–1876

New provinces were formed by the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852. This Act established a quasi-federal system of government and divided the country into the six provinces of Auckland Province, Auckland, New Plymouth Province, New Plymouth, Wellington Province, Wellington, Nelson Province, Nelson, Canterbury Province, Canterbury, and Otago Province, Otago. Each province elected its own legislature known as a provincial council, and elected a Superintendent (New Zealand), superintendent who was not a member of the council. The councils elected their speaker at their first meeting after elections. The Act also created a national New Zealand Parliament, General Assembly consisting of the New Zealand Legislative Council, Legislative Council (appointed by the Governor-General of New Zealand, governor) and the directly elected New Zealand House of Representatives, House of Representatives. These provinces came into effect on 17 January 1853 and the regulations defining the boundaries of the provinces were gazetted on 28 February. Electoral regulations were gazetted on 5 March. As with general elections, elections were open to males 21 years or older who owned freehold property worth £50 a year. The 1853 New Zealand provincial elections, first provincial elections were held at the same time as the 1853 New Zealand general election, 1853 general elections. While Governor George Grey had issued the writs for the provincial and general elections at the same time, the provincial councils met before the general assembly met, in May 1854. The New Zealand Constitution Amendment Act 1857 provided for the appointment of a deputy superintendent.

New Provinces Act 1858

The Constitution Act provided for the creation of additional provinces, and when the spread of European settlements between the original centres of provincial government and the outlying settlers grew, the General Assembly passed the New Provinces Act 1858. This Act allowed any district of between 500 thousand and 3 million acres of land with a European population of no fewer than 1,000 people to petition for separation provided that at least 60% of electors agreed. As a result, Hawke's Bay Province separated from Wellington on 1 November 1858; Marlborough Province from Nelson on 1 November 1859; and Southland Province from Otago on 1 April 1861. New Plymouth also changed its name to Taranaki under the same Act. Stewart Island/Rakiura, which had since 1853 not been part of any province, was annexed to the Province of Southland on 10 November 1863. Provinces established under this act elected their superintendents in a different way. Members of the provincial council would elect a suitable person listed on the electoral roll as superintendent by a majority. If such a person was an elected member, this would result in a by-election to fill the vacancy.

Abolition of Provinces Act 1875

Almost as soon as they were founded, New Zealand's provinces were the subject of protracted political debate. Two factions emerged in the New Zealand House of Representatives, General Assembly: "Centralists", favouring a strong central government and "Provincialists", favouring strong regional governments. The Centralist members of the General Assembly regarded the provinces as inherently self-interested, and prone to Pork barrel, pork-barrel politics. In the construction of railways, for example, three of the provinces had constructed railways (as was the case in Australia) to different track gauges, with Canterbury Provincial Railways being built to "broad" gauge, Southland's railways being built to "standard" gauge. As a result, the Public Works Act of 1870 standardised the gauge to be used, and Otago's first railway, the Port Chalmers Branch, Port Chalmers railway, was built to the new "standard" narrow gauge. Colonial Treasurer (and later Premier) Julius Vogel launched his The Vogel Era, Great Public Works policy of immigration and public works schemes of the 1870s, borrowing the massive sum of 10 million pounds, to develop significant infrastructure of roads, railways, and communications, all administered by the central government. This diminished the power of the provinces greatly. The provinces were finally abolished by the Abolition of Provinces Act 1875, during the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Premiership of Harry Atkinson. For the purposes of the Act, the provinces formally ceased to exist on 1 January 1877.


Upon the abolition of the provinces, they took the legal status of provincial districts, which had no administrative functions. Local government was vested in elected borough and county councils. The Counties Bill of 1876 created Counties of New Zealand, 63 counties out of the old provinces. The former boundaries of the provinces served as administrative areas for the education boards set up under the Education Act of 1877 and for the offices of several Government Departments, including the Department of Lands and Survey. Upon abolition, various responsibilities were delegated to boards. For example, the Education Act 1877 created the ''Education Boards'' for Auckland, Hamilton, Hawkes Bay, Taranaki, Wanganui, Wellington, Nelson, Westland, Southland, Canterbury and Otago districts. In 1989 the counties were replaced by enlarged Districts of New Zealand, district councils. The Department of Lands and Survey split the country into the ''Land Districts'' of Auckland (North), Auckland (South), Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Taranaki, Wellington, Canterbury, Marlborough, Nelson, Westland, Otago and Southland. The New Zealand Rugby Union was formed in 1892 with foundation members principally being provinces: Auckland Rugby Football Union, Auckland†, Hawke's Bay Rugby Union, Hawke's Bay†, Taranaki Rugby Football Union, Taranaki†, Manawatu Rugby Union, Manawatu, Wanganui Rugby Football Union, Wanganui, Wairarapa Bush Rugby Football Union, Wairarapa, Wellington Rugby Football Union, Wellington†, Nelson Bays Rugby Union, Nelson†, Marlborough Rugby Union, Marlborough† and South Canterbury Rugby Football Union, South Canterbury. At the time, three major South Island Provincial Unions – Canterbury Rugby Football Union, Canterbury†, Otago Rugby Football Union, Otago† and Southland Rugby Football Union, Southland† – resisted the central authority of the NZRU.

Modern uses of the old names

Some current ''Provincial Anniversary Days'' are still public holidays in New Zealand: Auckland†, Taranaki†, Hawkes' Bay†, Wellington†, Marlborough†, Nelson†, Canterbury†, Canterbury (South), Westland†, Otago†, Southland† and Chatham Islands. † indicates it reflects an original province. The provincial districts had ''different'' boundaries from the present day Regions of New Zealand, regions, for example, the Manawatū-Whanganui region is largely in the Wellington provincial district. The districts are represented by teams in rugby union's ITM Cup and Heartland Championship, both of which replaced the New Zealand Rugby#Provincial rugby, National Provincial Championship in 2006, although the term "provincial" is still used in connection with rugby for the present 29 unions whether founded in the 1880s (e.g. Otago) or 2006 (Tasman). Some of the names persist in other contexts as well, such as health administration districts

Counties ManukauWaikatoBay of PlentyLakes (Rotorua/Taupo)Hawke's Bay

MidCentral (Manawatu)Tairawhiti (Gisborne)TaranakiWhanganuiWairarapaHutt ValleyCapital and Coast (Wellington)

Nelson (Marlborough)

West Coast


South Canterbury
Southern (Otago)
. Some of the names of former provinces and current regions have a tendency to be preceded by "the". Thus, for example, we have ''Auckland'', ''Canterbury'', ''Hawke's Bay'', ''Marlborough'' and ''Wellington'', but ''the Waikato'', ''the Manawatu'', ''the Bay of Plenty'', and ''the West Coast''. The current Regions of New Zealand and most of their councils came about in 1989: Northland Region, Northland, Auckland Region, Auckland†, Waikato, Bay of Plenty Region, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne Region, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay Region, Hawke's Bay†, Taranaki†, Manawatu-Whanganui, Wellington Region, Wellington†, Tasman Region, Tasman, Nelson, New Zealand, Nelson†, Marlborough Region, Marlborough†, West Coast, New Zealand, West Coast†, Canterbury, New Zealand, Canterbury†, Otago† and Southland, New Zealand, Southland†. The Usenet Internet discussion system for New Zealand ''"Very roughly they correspond to the boundaries of the 14 Regional Councils"''


Bay of Plenty

Hawkes Bay


West Coast
Otago)†. These current day regions are often referred to by many as provinces, and many use the terms region and province freely to talk about the same subject matter. Another usage of words associated with the former provinces often refers to anything rural, e.g one may refer to a town as provincial rather than rural or use the phrase 'out in the provinces,' in order to refer to the countryside. These terms can often be heard on national television networks, particularly on weather broadcasts.


† indicates an old province.



* * *

Further reading

* Speeches and Documents on New Zealand History, McIntyre and Gardner (Eds), 1971, Oxford University Press
Story: Colonial and provincial government
Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

External links

Text of the Abolition of the Provinces Act 1876

New Zealand’s Nine Provinces (1853–76)
– Welcome to the Hocken Bulletin No.31 March 2000, Friends of the Hocking Collections – Dunedin 2000 {{Authority control Provinces of New Zealand, Political history of New Zealand Constitution of New Zealand 1841 establishments in New Zealand 1876 disestablishments in New Zealand