In 1863, the Crown passed the New Zealand Settlements Act to provide “permanent protection and security of the well-disposed inhabitants of both races for the prevention of future insurrection and rebellion and for the establishment and maintenance of Her Majesty’s authority and of Law and Order throughout the colony”. The Act stated that the best means to achieve this was through “the introduction of a sufficient number of settlers able to protect themselves and to preserve the peace of the Country”.
The Act provided for the confiscation of Maori land whenever the Governor in Council was satisfied that “any native tribe, or section of tribe or any considerable number thereof” had been in “rebellion” against the authority of the Queen since 1 January 1863. The Act provided for the Governor in Council to first declare the land within which the tribe was situated to be a “district” for the purposes of the Act, and then to set apart “eligible sites for settlements for colonization” within such districts. The land reserved for the purpose of such settlements would then become Crown land.
The New Zealand Settlements Act provided that no compensation would be granted to persons engaged in, levying, or making war against the Queen since 1 January 1863.
The British Colonial Office had misgivings about the scope and application of the Act, considering it “capable of great abuse”, but allowed the legislation to proceed because final authority for any confiscation remained with the Governor. The Colonial Secretary instructed the Governor to withhold his consent to any confiscation which was not “just and moderate”.
On 30 January 1865, the Governor declared “Middle Taranaki” to be a district for the purposes of the Act. This district lay in the western part of the Taranaki region between the Waitara River mouth in the north and the Waimate Stream in the south, and covered approximately 560,000 acres. Two other proclamations then set aside two blocks within the Middle Taranaki district, called “Oakura” and “Waitara South”, as eligible sites for settlement.
On 2 September 1865, the Governor declared two further large confiscation districts, named the “Ngatiawa” and “Ngatiruanui” districts. The Ngatiawa district extended north-east from the existing Middle Taranaki confiscation district to a line traced twenty miles due east from Parininihi on the northern Taranaki coast, and covered approximately 400,000 acres including most of the Te Atiawa rohe. The Governor then designated the whole of the Ngatiawa and Ngatiruanui districts, which included the remaining parts of the Middle Taranaki district, to be eligible sites for settlement. These confiscations took place in the absence of any substantial acts of rebellion by the resident tribes.
The lands taken greatly exceeded the minimum necessary for achieving the purpose of the New Zealand Settlements Act. They included the whole of the confiscation districts rather than just the lands required for the purpose of creating specific settlements. The confiscations also deprived both “loyal” and “rebel” Maori alike of the ownership and use of their lands, despite the statement in the confiscation proclamation of 2 September 1865 that the land of “loyal inhabitants” would be taken only where “absolutely necessary for the security of the country”.
In 1866, Parliament passed the New Zealand Settlements Acts Amendment Act, which retrospectively declared all of the instruments and proceedings made under the authority of the 1863 Settlements Act and subsequent amendments “absolutely valid” and beyond question “by reason of any omission or defect”.