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Library Subject Guides

Ōtautahi - Christchurch: Migration & Settlement


This section provides a brief overview of Ngāi Tahu and European migration to and settlement in Ōtautahi - Christchurch.

Ngāi Tahu


Ngāi Tahu is the iwi that has manawhenua over most of the South Island. Early origins stem from successive migration streams from the North Island, and subsequent mostly coastal settlement. Many of these settlements became the 18 Papatipu Rūnanga that underpin the way modern Ngāi Tahu governs its affairs. Alongside tribal investment and flaxroots funding, corporate Ngāi Tahu is a billion-dollar Christchurch player with significant nation-wide investment in property and tourism among other endeavours.

Macmillan Brown Library has a significant number of Ngāi Tahu resources within a discreet collection. Please come in and have a browse.

The ideal place to begin learning about about Ngāi Tahu is their website.

[Note that you may see Ngāi Tahu written and spelt 'Kai Tahu', this is a dialectal language difference.]

Early Ngāi Tahu 

Start with these books:

For a discussion of Ngāi Tahu in a Canterbury/Christchurch context see Chapter 2 of Southern capital : Christchurch : towards a city biography, 1850-2000

Web resources

Land Acquisition by Settlers & Ngāi Tahu Response to Colonisation


Early European activity brought some opportunity for Ngāi Tahu, and many hapū were involved in both local and trans-tasman trade with settlers. Some Māori owned trading vessels and early relationships with Europeans were, although tense, mostly favourable. However disease and the introduction of guns into traditional inter-tribal warfare soured the outlook towards settlers. Further, when colonists arrived in greater numbers, land acquisition was amped up through increasingly coercive techniques. Ngāi Tahu were sidelined from traditional mahinga kai areas and living on mostly marginal land parcels. For a summary, begin with these books and article:


​Ngāi Tahu responded in protest, the first formal communication being a letter from Matiaha Tiramōrehu to Governor Eyre in 1849. The protest spanned more than a century, culminating in a Waitangi Tribunal Settlement Offer of recompense in 1996 and the Deed of Settlement in 1997. Ngāi Tahu have an excellent summary of the process of the Claim on their page Te Whakataunga: Celebrating Te Kerēme - the Ngāi Tahu Claim. ​The Macmillan Brown Library holds the Crown papers, much of the Ngāi Tahu evidence, the reports and the deed of settlement. For more information, ask at the desk. 

European Colonisation


Systematic colonisation of Canterbury began with the arrival of the Canterbury Association immigrant ships to Lyttelton in 1850. Edward Gibbon Wakefield founded the Canterbury Association with John Robert Godley in London in 1848 as an offshoot of the New Zealand Company, in order to establish a Church of England settlement on what was then labelled by the Company as the Port Cooper Plains. Surveying began later that year under Captain Joseph Thomas, after H. Tacy Kemp negotiated, on behalf of the Crown,  'purchase' of twenty million acres of land from Ngāi Tahu. 

The plans, activities and attitudes of the Association can be found in the Canterbury Papers, published between 1850 and 1852. Parts 1-10 are online here and you can see the contents of all parts in our catalogue record for the paper copies. They also feature letters and excerpts from a variety of sources documenting life in the young colony. More on the history of the Canterbury Association and early Christchurch can be found through the following subject headings in the Library catalogue: Canterbury Association, Canterbury (N.Z.) – ColonizationChristchurch (N.Z.) -- History -- 19th century.

For a contextual nation-wide overview of Pākehā settlement, see this book: Pākehā Settlement in a Māori World: New Zealand Archaeology 1769-1860


Canterbury Provincial Council

Governorship of Canterbury passed to the Provincial Council in 1853 after the establishment of provincial councils under the New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852. Voting rights were limited, as at the national level, to land-owning men over the age of 21, effectively excluding not only women but also working men and most Māori. The Council lasted until the Abolition of Provinces Act 1875.

Material containing the activities of the Provincial Council are published in three sources; the New Zealand Gazette (Canterbury Province), the Ordinances of the Province of Canterbury, and the Journal of Proceedings.

See here for all Canterbury Provincial Council material held at the University of Canterbury Library, including official publications, provincial rolls and individual papers.


Early European Descriptions of Christchurch

We have several sources written in the 1800s that describe Christchurch and the Canterbury colony. 

Lyttelton Times 1851-1889 on PapersPast. This newspaper is a rich source of information and includes: Journal of the Week with such things as the progress of roads, land sales, the NW wind;  Police Reports; advertisements which include public notices including those from the Canterbury Association.

The Journal of Edward Ward 1850-1851: Being His Account of the Voyage to New Zealand  in the Charlotte Jane and the First Six Months of the Canterbury Settlement. (1951). This is a typescript of a journal held in Canterbury Museum.

Travels and adventures of an officer’s wife in India, China and New Zealand. (1864). This is also available online. It contains a detailed description of Christchurch.

Canterbury Association. Part of the Canterbury Settlement. London : T.W. Saunders, [1851?] This is a very early map of Christchurch showing the centre called Lyttelton.

Ngāi Tahu in the City Today


Today Ngāi Tahu has a significant presence in Christchurch City. The iwi invests in and oversees many local businesses and property ventures, runs health and education improvement programmes and endeavours to ensure Ngāi Tahu has strong representation within Christchurch City Council and other decision-making groups as the city rebuilds. "Matapopore is the mana whenua voice in recovery and is responsible for ensuring Ngāi Tūāhuriri/Ngāi Tahu values, aspirations and narratives are realised within the recovery of Christchurch." Their online resources contain a wealth of information.


Red Zone Stories has a series of videos in which Te Maire Tau talks about Ngāi Tūāhuriri in Ōtautahi. Click on the Ngāi Tūāhuriri story then select an area. If the videos don't play, click on View video full size.

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