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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Native Trust Lands Redeemed

Native Trust Lands Redeemed

How it came about that a very large area of heavily-indebted and, for the most part, undeveloped native land in and about Poverty Bay was redeemed makes an interesting story. In 1878 the owners placed the blocks concerned in the trusteeship of W. L. Rees and Wi Pere. However, the Supreme Court ruled that none of the land could be conveyed by such a trust. The owners then assigned rights to the New Zealand Native Land Settlement Co. Ltd. (promoted by Mr. Rees) to enable its capital (subscribed chiefly by Europeans) to be utilised in promoting development and settlement. Contested claims as to ownership in the various blocks as between native and native were followed by suits as between natives and alleged purchasers of native rights. Survey and other legal expenses also ran into tall figures.

When its capital was exhausted, the Settlement Company raised moneys from, and, in return, gave mortgages over the lands and rights which it had acquired to, the Bank of New Zealand Estates Co. Ltd. In 1892 the Settlement Company was wound up and its rights were vested, on behalf of the beneficial owners, in the Hon. J. Carroll and Wi Pere, who gave a mortgage to the Estates Company in respect of a debt of £53,851 and of £40,000 required to improve the blocks. The Validation Court, upon confirming the arrangement, declared the Estates Company to be in the position of a mortgagee in possession.

The trust lands became more and more heavily involved in debt, and, in 1902, the Bank of New Zealand (which had become the holders of the mortgages) began proceedings to sell certain of the lands. Unsuccessfully the trustees applied for an injunction. Parliament then hurriedly passed the East Coast Native Trust Lands Act, 1902, which prohibited the bank from selling any of the lands before 31 August, 1904, without the consent of a board which wast to be established.

Although the title of the bank and its powers of sale were placed beyond question, the board was given power to redeem the lands, to sell or lease them, to improve or subdivide them in order to facilitate sale or letting, and to borrow money for all these purposes. At 30 January, 1904, £159,029 was owing to the bank, and, as security for repayment, it held lands aggregating 107,832 acres of an estimated value of £164,268, together with livestock valued at £20,000. As a result of realisations and page 314 certain loans obtained on new mortgages, together with a concession off principal of £25,000, the debt to the bank was liquidated by June, 1905.

The East Coast native trust lands came under commissioner control in 1905. They are scattered from just above Tolaga Bay in the north to Wairoa in the south, and from Mahia in the east to the borders of the Urewera Country in the west. As compared with the area originally held by the Carroll-Wi Pere Trust, the Commissioner (J. S. Jessep) in 1946 controlled more than as much land again, or about 225,000 acres, comprising 49 farms and stations, in which over 5,000 natives are beneficial owners in varying degree. The State valuation of the Trust lands in 1939 was £1,115,000 and the mortgages then totalled £220,000. As at 31 March, 1946, twenty of the farms and stations were being directly farmed by the Commissioner and the remaining properties were under leases, all of which will expire by 1954. On the properties farmed by the Commissioner several of the managers and practically all of the 139 workers were natives.