Many different aspects of Māori land can be researched in our holdings; although the search can be complicated. Land records and other relevant material are often held regionally, so researchers may need to work across more than one of our archives, for example Wellington and Auckland. Records are held within specific record groups, usually Series groups that can contain hundreds of different records. To narrow a search:

  • Go to Archway

  • Click on Advanced Search, then click on the Series box

  • Type the ‘Series’ number in the Code field. This can be in the form of COM20 or 19532.

  • Click on ‘search’

  • Click on View all records belonging to this

  • You may look at the entire list, or you may choose to click the refine search button and type in the name of a block or region of your interest. You may need to try several different search terms

For more information visit our 'Using our online search ' guide.

Different government agencies have interests in land and over time the various land responsibilities of agencies have changed, as has legislation. Land research also comes with its own group of terms. A glossary – at the bottom of this page – has been developed as a quick reference tool.

Macrons and Te Reo Māori

Macrons to indicate the Māori long vowel are marked on Māori words and terms and names, in the body of the text only. Macrons are not used for record titles as they were generally not used when the records were created.

Types of Māori Land

From 1900, conversion from customary ownership to freehold was the duty of the Māori Land Boards. However, the Māori Land court continued to deal with Partition Orders. In summary, there were three types of Māori land:

  • Customary (whenua papatipu): land held according to traditional customs. Prior to 1840, all land was Customary.

  • Land with a customary Māori Land Court title. Titles created by the Native/Māori Land Court in the 1860s and onwards. The Court only allowed 10 names to be on the titles.

  • Freehold Māori land. If iwi or hapū wanted to change the status of their land from Customary to Freehold so that it could be on-sold, they needed to apply to the Māori Land court for freehold status.

Between 1862 and 1873 land that had over 20 owners had a ‘Certificate of Title’ in the form of a land grant signed by the Governor. After 1873 these were called’ Memorial of Ownership’ but reverted back to ‘Certificate of Title’ in 1880. Further changes were made through legislation.

The Deeds System records

The Deeds Registration System documented changes of ownership and boundaries for pieces of land from the 1840s onwards. Each Land District administered freehold land within their respective areas. Māori Land is not covered by the Deeds System and neither is land held by the Crown. For information about Crown or freehold land see our Land research guide.

Searching for Māori Land Blocks

Information about many Māori land blocks can be found on Archway by using the block name as a keyword. For example, a search using ‘Hautu block’, ‘Hautu no. 3*’ and ‘Hautu 3F5B’ will all bring up results for some records relating to Hautu 3F5B.

  • Indexes to Native Plans

    • This series records plans of Māori land by block name. The plans had been drawn by government surveyors, for the Native Land Court [ABWN and BAAZ 4713]

  • Unregistered Papers Relating to Maori Land, c. 1870-1958

    • Assorted records relating to specific Māori Land Blocks, including correspondence, records of inquiries, payments, and agreements [ABWN 8925]

  • Registers of Māori (Native) Land Blocks [ABWN 8915 W5278/86]

  • Moerangi Block (Kāwhia) – lists of owners 1911 [ABWN 8925 W5278/80]

  • Wellington Māori Block Index, c. 1950 

    • The Māori Block Index is arranged alphabetical by block. For each Māori Block, the relevant Māori Land Plan (ML) number is given and a plan number for each partition of it [AFIH 22375 W5687/148-149

  • Hawkes Bay Land District Māori Block Registers, c.1975 - c.1993 [AFIH 22446 W5694/49-57]

    • These binders record details of the partition of Māori blocks and are drawn from a variety of sources including Māori Land Court Minute Books and the New Zealand Gazette. Partition Orders and plans are often included.

  • Hawkes Bay Land District Māori Block Register, c.1932-c.1960 [AFIH 22463 W5694/92]

    • This volume records Māori Blocks in alphabetical order. Unlike the Māori Block Registers [AFIH 22446], this volume records plan numbers relevant to each block.

  • Lists of Owners and Payments: Māori Land Blocks sold to the Crown, c.1890-1899 [AAMK 999]

If you do not know the block name but know where the piece of land is, a ‘map search’ on the ‘Māori Land Online’ website can help to identify the relevant block. Another useful website is Māori Maps:

Maps and plans

Crown Grant/Māori Crown Grant Indexes

Land originally owned by the Crown granted to private owners before the title system came about. Crown grants continue to exist till this day for large pieces of land. Any subdivisions of land from a Crown grant will be issued a Certificate of Title.

Crown Grants of land (1840 onwards) are recorded. The crown Grant Indexes are available online, including Indexes to Māori Crown Grants.

  • Crown Grant Alphabetical Registers 1842 – 1919 (whole country) [Series 8092]

  • Crown Grant Sectional Indexes 1856 – 1899 (whole country) [Series 8096]

  • Auckland Land District Crown Grant Indexes 1849 – 1959 [Series 24509]

  • Wellington Land District Crown Grants 1852 – 1914 [Series 22362]

  • Wellington Land District Crown Grants Nominal Register c.1852 – 1880 [Series 22365]

  • Wellington Land District Index to Māori Crown Grants 1866 – 1886 [Series 22366]

  • Hawkes Bay Land District Crown Grant Index [Series 22441]

  • Nelson Land District Crown Grant Index 1866 – 1915 [Series 24640]

  • Westland Land District Misc Indexes: [Series 23578]

Special files

This guide often refers to “Special Files”. These are Native Department records pre-1891 that survived the Parliament Buildings fire of 11 December 1907. All other Native Department records from that time (1864-1890) were destroyed.

Many “special files” relate to land alienation, 1877-1887 and others included miscellaneous bundles of files relative to land disputes. It is not known why they were not destroyed but it is probable that they were in use at the time of the fire and may have been held in a different place from the older and less used papers that were destroyed.

These surviving papers were all kept together as "special files", arranged in alphabetical order and numbered consecutively from 1 to 112. Subsequently the Native/Māori Department added to this series in two ways. First, it followed a policy of removing certain files or bundles of files relating to particular topics from the main filing system placing them among the "special files". These files were numbered from 113 to 154. Second, papers relating to housekeeping and general administrative matters were added to the series, with numbers from 155 to 221. These files date largely from 1906 onwards.

The most important special files related to transactions over blocks of land, Native reserves, important tribal personalities, gatherings of Māori chiefs, and papers produced for and created by Royal Commissions on Māori matters. Most were registered in the Native Department, but some originated from the Native Land Purchase Office, the Māori Lands Administration, the Native Minister's Office, or from the various Commissions. The numbering of these files was in some cases rather haphazard, and may be inaccurate.

A list of “special files” and their topics, a finding aid, is on Archway. Follow this link and then click on “More information and Index”

Recording Māori Land Loss

Over time numerous events and processes have led to a decrease in Māori ownership and control of land, including various pieces of legislation, Acts of Parliament and periods of land transfer.

Not all the causes or cases of land loss are listed below, but instead the focusses on groups of records that are often of use to researchers.

For more in-depth explanations it’s recommended that researchers read one of the many volumes written about Māori land loss.

Confiscation

Land confiscated under the New Zealand Settlements Act of 1863 was mostly administered by provincial governments. An exception is that in Patea, which was administered by the Central Government. The Confiscated Lands Department maintained general supervision of confiscated land administration until it was disestablished in 1876.

The archives of the Crown Law Office also contain material concerning cases which involved Māori land. Useful records include:

  • Confiscated Lands Department Inward correspondence,

  • Inwards Correspondence Files, 1870-1873 [ABWN 7608

  • Inwards Correspondence Files, 1871-1877 [AFLK 18517]

Papers of The Wanganui River Reserves Commission [ABWN 8926 W5278/81-82] and [ABWN 8927 W5278/83-84]

  • Royal Commissions – see below.

  • Māori Petitions Concerning Confiscated Land Claims, 1936 [ADOI 17063]

  • Native petitions up to 1891 [ACHK 16604 G49/17/31]

Commissions of Inquiry

  • Papers relating to Royal Commissions 1873-1891

    • This series contains records related to four different Royal Commissions of Enquiry. Some items in this series are 'special files'.

    • Papers related to four Royal Commissions of Enquiry [ACIH 16044]

  • Papers relative to the Commission of Inquiry into charges against J Rogan, Judge Native Land Court, and JA Wilson, Land Purchase Officer, 1876 [ACIH 16044 MA11 1/1]

    • For more information see also papers of Resident Magistrate, Wanganui MA-Wanganui

  • Papers relating to the Royal Commission upon certain Native claims to land, etc, Poverty Bay, 1873-1882

    • The Commissioner was instructed to inquire into seven claims by Māori to land in the Patutahi, Mahunga and Waimata Blocks and payments of money.

    • Special file No. 131, 1873-1882 [ACIH 16044 MA11 2/2]

  • Papers relative to the Commission on the removal of restrictions on the sale of Native lands, 1883-1891

  • Commission appointed under the "Native Land Courts Acts Amendment Act 1889" The Commissioners were instructed to inquire into all the circumstances attending the alleged alienation of land by Māori.

Land alienation files

Alienation is when landowners grant certain rights over their land to another person. For example:

  • selling land gives the new owner the ownership rights

  • leasing land gives the lessee a limited right to occupy land in return for payment of rent and other conditions

  • mortgaging land gives the mortgagee the right to sell the land if the mortgage is not repaid

How the land is alienated depends on the number of owners of the land. If fewer than 10 owners, the owners can deal with it in any way, except gift or sale without the involvement of the Māori Land Court. If more than 10 owners the 'meeting of owners' system must be used for any alienations, including a lease. This system required the Court to call a meeting of owners of which a minimum of three owners must be present. Resolutions passed at meetings were confirmed by the Court to ensure a fair price or sufficient rent was paid.

Lands and Survey Department

Records of the Lands and Survey Department and its successor, Land Information New Zealand, contain Crown Grants, Warrants, and 116 Certificates, the legal instruments used by the Crown to vest land ownership in private hands.

Warrants superseded Crown Grants as the most common instrument in 1880 and were in turn superseded by 116 Certificates in 1952. Each of these was authorised by different legislation, however all three continue to be used today. Māori Certificates of Title were issued by the Māori Land Court and implemented by the Land and Survey Department. Records include:

The collection also contains a large number of deeds, including Deeds of Sale and Deeds of Gift from Māori, as well as Crown Purchase Deeds.

Land for Railways

These records Lands taken and purchased for railway purposes.

Other records relating to land administration of the New Zealand Railways Department are still held at Land Information New Zealand (LINZ). Please contact LINZ directly to arrange access.

Land for roading

This series comprises an account book for payments for road works made under the Lands for Settlement Act. [ACGT 18459]

Land taken for Public Works

The archives of the Ministry of Works and Development contain files on Māori land taken for public works:

When searching in this series useful search terms include ‘taking’ and ‘native Land’ [ABKK W4069] To view the the sub-series in 889 click on the ‘records’ tab. This can help you filter your search [AAQB 889]

Petitions Created by Māori

The New Zealand Settlements Act of 1863 legalised confiscation of Māori land conquered or deserted (during military action). This resulted in petitions to the Crown from Māori and petitions to the Native Land Court. Some of this land was granted back (although not necessarily to the same owner), some of it is still held by the Crown. In addition, land that was not brought into production was considered Waste Lands justifying Crown acquisition of Māori Land.

Some petitions from Māori regarding land can be found through keyword searches in Archway, others are within specific record groups across different agencies. Examples of some petitions are below:

  • Māori Affairs, Blocks of Land ‘Special Files’ – Series 16046 [ACIH 16046 MA13]

  • Legislative Department, Series 18507

    • Papers laid before the House of Representatives and the Legislative Council, and the records created by select committees. This series covers a wide selection of topics and includes correspondence, petitions and reports [AEBE 18507]

    • Submissions to the Manapouri Select Committee [AEBE 18535 LE13]

  • Māori Petitions Concerning Confiscated Land Claims, 1936 [ADOI 17063]

  • Major Kemp on behalf of the Federated Māori Assembly, 1893

  • TW Ratana & others (30128), that The Treaty of Waitangi be made Statutory. Petition No. 239/1932-1933, parts 1 to 7 [AEBE 18507 1932/10]

Many petitions presented to Parliament are reprinted in the Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives. 1858-1950 can be searched online on Papers Past.

Crown Purchases of Land

Much of the land which the Crown later granted or sold to individuals was first purchased from Māori, and many records of those purchases exist. A few pertain to acquisitions for reserve, educational or other purposes.

Land taken under the Public Works Act is not documented in the Crown Purchase Deeds collections.

Māori Land Purchase Board

This agency has been used to describe records created and kept by a succession of government agencies concerned with Māori land purchase [AECZ].

The records include volumes of Copies of Deeds of Sale. These contain English and te reo Māori handwritten versions of Deeds of Sale, which were printed in the New Zealand Gazette. All iwi or hapū concerned are noted and sometimes have a small map attached.

Crown Purchase Deeds

Crown Purchase Deeds document land purchased from Māori by the Crown. Called ‘a hundred little treaties’ by one scholar, they are important both historically and for what information they contain, from the names of tūpuna to the location of wāhi tapu.

More than 6,000 of these records exist, covering agreements from all over New Zealand. They mostly date from 1841-1905, but also include some earlier records. Generally, each Deed includes legal and physical descriptions of the land, maps or plans (on or separate to the actual Deed), conditions of sale, the purchase price, names and tohu of tūpuna (sometimes with hapū affiliation noted), and records of payment.

Where the original Deed was written in te reo Māori there is often a translation into English. Many Deeds contain related papers, such as Crown Grants or Māori Land Court Orders.

Succession

The richest source of information on Māori land-owners, details of succession details and whakapapa are the records of the Māori Land Court. While the minute books of the Māori Land Court have been indexed to c.1910 by iwi, hapū, tupuna, kaikorero and block name, the majority of the records have not been indexed and must be accessed through the Māori Land Court registers, which are, for the most part, still held by the Courts.

The archives of the Inland Revenue Department also contain information about succession, including Native Succession Orders 1911-1964, and an Index to Native Succession Orders 1920-1924 & 1924-1926. Restrictions apply [AAEC 659 & 658]

Our Auckland archive holds a number of registers and indexes which provide access to the records held by them, including records transferred from Tai Tokerau, Waikato-Maniapoto, Waiariki and Tai Rawhiti Courts.

Reserves

Records relating to reserves on Māori land can be found in various record groups:

  • Reserves Māori Affairs Department and the Māori Trustee.

  • General correspondence; Lands and Survey Department and Land Information New Zealand.

  • Settlement areas including descriptions of land reserved for Māori use; New Zealand Company.

Records include:

  • Files relating to burial ground reserves and school sites [ACIH 16036 sub-series 21]

  • Reports on Native reserves in general, and on the West Coast Settlement Reserves in particular [ACIH 16050]

  • Māori Reserve File Register (c1890-c1950) [AAMK 6735]

  • Papers collected during Charles Heaphy’s tenure as Commissioner of Native Reserves, 1869-1881 [AECW 18683 Box 1]

  • A variety of papers and schedules about Native Reserves and lease registers for the North Island, Motueka, Greymouth and Hokitika/Arahura [AECW 18692]

  • Schedules of Native Reserves, 1868 – a schedule of owners of land blocks with an index at the beginning of the volume [AECW 18692/19]

  • Deeds of Register of Native Reserves [AECW 18692/24]

  • West Coast Settlement Reserves Grant Books which list beneficiaries [AECW 18695]

  • Domains, cemeteries, loan blocks and reserves [ACGT 18190]

  • Wanganui River Reserves Commission papers [ABWN 8926 and ABWN 8927]

  • Schedule of Middle Island Reserves, 1879 [ABWN 8923 W5278/90]

  • New Zealand Company archives (mentioned above) [AAYZ]

  • Westlands Māori Reserves Index 1865 – 1868 [CAYN 24226 CH1033 Box 3/ 36]

  • Registers of Reserves, South Auckland Land District 1870 – c.1960 (BAPP 24513)

Pre-1840, 1844-1845 – Old Land Claims

Before 1840 and Te Tiriti o Waitangi all Māori land ownership was based on customary title and all land was purchased directly from Māori. After 1840 land purchases were arranged through the Crown (except between 1844 and 1845).

The new government recognised customary title and held concerns about the legitimacy of earlier sales. As a result, the Old Land Claims Commission was created to investigate the validity of purchases of land from Māori by non- Māori before 1840. Between 1844 and 1845 Governor Fitzroy waived the Crown’s right of pre-emptive purchase, which allowed people to buy land directly from Māori. The Old Land Claims Commission also covers this period and includes:

Settlers had to provide proof of purchase to the Commission, which then ruled on the applications. Sales that were upheld were legalised through a Crown Grant. Records of these transactions can be found in the Old Land Claims files and Crown Grants (see tab below).

New Zealand Company

The New Zealand Company was formed in 1839 to put into practice Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s theories of systematic colonisation through settlements in New Zealand. The Company began purchasing land at Port Nicholson in later 1839 and at Whanganui in 1841. After the Company failed in 1850 its colonial responsibilities were taken over by the Governor and many NZ Company archives were transferred to the government.

Early records relating to settlements at Wellington, Wanganui, Nelson, New Plymouth, Canterbury and Otago are listed on Archway.

Land Office papers, 1839-1858 include registers of applications for land and descriptions of land reserved for the use of Māori [AAYZ 8981 NZC 33]

Information on events that took place in the Company’s settlements at Wellington, Wanganui, Nelson, New Plymouth, Canterbury and Otago [AAYZ 8971]

Waitangi Tribunal Raupatu Document Bank

Published in 1989 by the Waitangi Tribunal, the Raupatu Document Bank is made up of 139 volumes that reference primary sources relating to the confiscation, or raupatu, of Māori land. It contains references to maps and photocopies of correspondence, petitions, memorandums and government announcements.

Geographical areas covered in the volumes include Auckland/Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay, North Island, Poverty Bay (Tūranganui-a-Kiwa), Taranaki and Tauranga.

The Raupatu Document Bank includes archives and records from institutions across New Zealand. The main record groups mentioned are:

  • Lands and Surveys [ACGT]

  • Māori/Native Affairs [ACIH]

  • Army Department [AAYS]

  • Internal Affairs [AAAC and ACGO]

  • Legislative Department [AEBE]

A full set of the Raupatu Document Bank is available in the Wellington reading room.

The Waitangi Tribunal has digitised research submitted for Treaty claims that have gone through the Waitangi Tribunal process only. You can access the database online.

Māori Land Related Research Blog Posts

These blog posts contain useful information about how to search for land records in our archives:       

Glossary of Land Terms

Certificate of Title:

Records the legal owners of land and all dealings with the land, such as transfers of ownership and mortgages, leases etc. All transactions relating to a specific piece of land are listed on the same title document. References are made up of a volume and folio (page) number and often the abbreviation for the land district is noted in front, e.g. OT 287/50, SL 16/23  

Crown land:

Land “vested in Her Majesty” that is not set aside for any public purpose or held by any person in fee simple. It is administered by a Government agency (currently Land Information New Zealand, LINZ).

Freehold land:

Land that is owned by an individual or group with few or no restrictions on it. This contrasts with other interests in land such as leases (“leasehold”) and cross-leases. Often referred to as “an estate in fee simple”.

LINZ:

Land Information New Zealand Toitū te Whenua

Land registration systems

Land transfer system:

Also known as the Torrens System. Introduced in 1870. It was optional to use this system from 1871, and compulsory from 1924.

Legal description:

Also known as an appellation. How a parcel (or measured piece) of land is officially identified. Traditionally, this was done with block and section numbers within a survey district, a town or a township (or a hundred in Southland). With subdivisions, this is now often done using lots on subdivision plans.

  • section 2 Block VII Town of Dunedin

  • part Section 14 Block XII Tiger Hill Survey District

  • Section 18 Block XXI Invercargill Hundred

  • Lot 26 DP 4302

Deeds system:

The first system for registration of land ownership documents in New Zealand. It was introduced in Otago from 1851 and in Southland from 1863. Māori land is does not fall under the Deeds system.

Crown grant:

Land originally owned by the Crown granted to private owners before the title system came about. Crown grants continue to exist till this day for large pieces of land. Any subdivisions of land from a Crown grant will be issued a Certificate of Title.

Deed:

The deed itself was held by the landowner, as their evidence of ownership. It was lodged and registered at the Deeds Registry Office and copied into a deed register. It was not compulsory to register deeds, and there were often delays between documents being issued and registered. Each transaction relating to a specific piece of land constitutes a separate deed document and therefore a separate entry in the deeds register.

Title and deed terms:

Conveyance/Transfer:

Ownership of land is transferred from one individual/party to another.

Deeds plan:

Deeds plans were made when sections that were registered under the Deeds System were subdivided. Documents were issued for each new area of land, and new plans were lodged in the Deeds Registry Office.

Deposited plan (DP):

Plans recording subdivisions under the Land Transfer Act that have been deposited by the Registrar General of Lands. They are identified by a number and a DP prefix such as DP 12345. These could be a simple plan of the property's boundaries, area and dimensions, a detailed survey plan or a combination of both. Sometimes also known as a ‘Title Plan’ or a ‘Land Transfer Plan’.

Lease:

Land can be leased from the Crown (particularly common in rural areas), or from one individual/party to another. Leases from the Crown tend to be recorded in Certificate of Title volumes, but this is often not the case with private leases.

Māori Land plan (ML):

Land owner loaned money to pay for the property or took out a loan against the property. In the earlier days, this was often done from a person rather than a bank or financial organisation.

Pastoral Lease:

Lease of Crown land for grazing and pastoral purposes by an individual or by body corporates. Leaseholders were granted exclusive occupation rights and fixed rentals for a certain period of time, but were not able to own the land freehold.

Proclamation:

A declaration that land is to be taken for a specific purpose, such as a road or a reserve.

Survey Office plan (SO):

A record of all survey observations (bearing and distances) required to determine the correct position of the boundaries of a lot or section. Survey Office plans show these observations, together with underlying Certificate of Title boundaries, legal roads, and other information necessary to comply with the statutory requirements applying at that time. The plans included mining plans, railway and road plans, topographical maps, and those based on aerial photographs. Plans are identified with a number and an SO prefix such as SO 12345.

Survey Plans:

The Dunedin archive holds copies of these plans on aperture cards – the originals are still held by Land Information New Zealand (LINZ).

Transmission:

Occurs when land is passed from the estate of a deceased person to another, generally through the court probate process.