In 1865 the New Zealand Parliament, entirely Pakeha, passed
"An Act to Amend and Consolidate the Laws relating to Lands in the Colony in which the Māori Proprietary Customs still exist and to provide for the ascertainment of the Titles to such lands and for Regulating the Descent thereof and for other purposes."
This was ‘The Native Lands Act 1865’, successor to an ineffective act of 1862, which set up the Native (later Māori) Land Court of New Zealand, to be the Court of Record for investigation into the titles of Māori land and title succession.
A Judge of the Court was to work with at least two Assessors and an interpreter.
Any ‘Native’ could claim, in writing, interest in a specified piece of land, and ask the Court to investigate so that a Crown title might be issued. A claimant was to state the name of the iwi or the names of others who had an interest.
News of the application was to be circulated and the Court could summon witnesses, but not all those concerned were at hearings to register an interest.
Under the 1865 act, up to ten owners only could be registered on a Certificate of Title, but in 1873 this limit was removed.
For every hearing Māori had to pay fees. If they could not pay, charges were placed against the land. Appeals could be made against decisions, but at further cost.
The Court could not make a decision unless an authorised survey of the land had been presented to the Court. The cost of the survey was borne by Māori.
Where a person with an interest in land died without leaving a will to dispose of that interest, the Court could be asked to hear evidence and determine succession, according to law and ‘Native custom’. A Court could process a will for Probate.
The Court could also hear requests to subdivide land blocks.
Sittings of the Court began hearings into cases brought to them in 1865, though most sequences of Minute Books begin somewhat later. They continue today.
A Judge presided at each Court hearing. Some understood te reo Māori; others had interpreters to assist. A Judge sometimes kept his own notes, which have become Judges’ Note Books in the Māori Land Court Minute Book collection. Technically these are not Minute Books, but they add to understanding.
A Judge was assisted by a Clerk, who kept the minutes in English of the hearing. A few Clerks in the 19th century understood te reo Māori; others, like Judges, relied on interpreters. The Clerk created an index of names and block names in a Minute Book.
The Judge was assisted in his work by one or more Assessors, usually Māori, though not from the area of the hearing. They assisted with translation and with understanding the intricacies of Māori whakapapa and connection to the land. A few Assessor Books, in Māori, have survived, where Assessors recorded for themselves what was said in Court. Other Assessor Books are known to be held by descendants.
Archives New Zealand in Wellington holds original Minute Books (MB) from all seven Māori Land Court (MLC) districts. Most date from 1865-1962 or -1975. Originals are not available to researchers, but copies are held on microfilm (some to after 1975) and as printed reproductions.
Key sequences are local MB (see below), but others include Alienation, Appellate and Consolidation MB, Adoption & Assessors’ Books, & Judges’ Note Books. Succession was often recorded in ordinary MB or in Succession Books. Māori-run Block Committees 1900-1905 in Taitokerau & Tairawhiti, and District Māori Land Boards from 1905 (led by Pākehā) both created MB.
There is overlap between districts. Many Waikato-Maniapoto cases were held in Auckland (Taitokerau), and Tauranga MB are under Waikato-Maniapoto. Some South Island cases were held in the North Island.
A few MB are missing, there was sometimes confusion in the numbering, and not all MB are sequential – two MB might be in use at the same time. Some sequences of MB overlap, notably Otorohanga and Waikato. Judges’ Note Books often cover a variety of places and regions, complementing a number of MB.
The main regional groups of records are listed below, but not all the "extra" MB, nor some shorter sequences.
Some MB held only on microfilm. Reproduction copies of many MB in Auckland office. Digital copies of Papatupu MB (Northland) are online via the University of Auckland.
Many Judges’ Books. Otorohanga and Waikato overlap. Some MB held only on microfilm. Reproduction copies of many MB in Auckland office.
Also District Māori Land Board books. Some MB held only on microfilm. Reproduction copies of many MB in Auckland office.
Also Maori Land Board 1902-1952, Validation Court 1894-1910, etc. A few Gisborne MB only on microfilm.
A number of reproduction versions in Wellington office.
Some Judges’ Books. Many reproduction versions in Wellington office.
Reproductions of most in Christchurch office.
An online index for 1865-1910, created by Auckland University, is available online. Searches can be made by land block name, by witness name, etc, leading to specific page references in individual MB. This gives the best access to MB up to 1910.
A spreadsheet of all the MLC MB we hold has been created: a paper copy is available at the Reading Room Desk in Wellington and Archives staff can access a digital version.
This lists all versions of MB we hold, whether original, reproduction, microfilm or digital, gives the dates of each MB and the places of hearings.
Some MB originally held items such as maps and whakapapa which are larger than the MB. These are held separately for preservation reasons and are listed with MB in ARCHWAY.
Archives New Zealand holds some MLC files, created as a result of cases recorded in MB, but many files (such as Block records) are still held by the MLC.
Archives New Zealand can provide hard-cover bound copies or loose-leaf unbound copies, depending on your preference. These are printed off-site and delivered to you, usually taking around three weeks. The cost is determined by the number of pages in each Minute Book – some range from 150 pages to 400 pages, so it can vary. Enquiries about this service, costs, delivery, should made via our website.