Early survey parties were deployed to identify favourable European settlement sites and to enable the legal purchase and sale of land. The surveyors explored the country with the assistance of Māori guides, marking trig points to take measurements from, and entering data and observations in their field books for later mapping. The surveyors gathered their data using various instruments including a theodolite to measure angles.

The maps document the landscape prior to large-scale European settlement. They show rivers, vegetation, disused tracks and place names, along with cadastral information (the legal description, boundaries and area of land parcels). Continued annotations in the working life of the maps mean that some roads, railway lines and names of first purchasers or lessees may also be found. 

The digitised maps can be found on Archway. Choose ‘advanced search’ and then enter the relevant series number (23142 for Canterbury, 23143 for Marlborough, 23144 for Nelson, or 23145 for Westland). To navigate around a map with your mouse, set the image to full screen view using the button on the left of the zoom buttons.