top of page

The Kemp Block


[Creator unknown] : Aotearoa (Te Waipounamu) [copy of ms map]. [no date]


The New Zealand Company and the Sale of the Kemp Block

WAI- 27 - “The Tribunal found that, in acquiring more than half the land mass of New Zealand from the tribe for £14,750, which left Ngai Tahu only 35,757 acres, the Crown had acted unconscionably and in repeated breach of the Treaty”

It was the largest of all the Crown purchases from Ngāi Tahu and was the most controversial. The land was almost a third of the country’s land area, at 20 million acres.

On 12 June, 1848, a group of Ngāi Tahu chiefs boarded the HM Sloop Fly in Akaroa Harbour to sign a document for the sale of a block of land commonly referred to as the Kemp Deed.

Within months of the deed being signed, Māori discovered the deed was not what they thought it was and began to object to the sale. In the last 142 years, the agreement has been the subject of numerous petitions, parliamentary inquiries, Royal commissions and court proceedings.

Plans of Native Reserves in Canterbury: Sale of Ngai Tahu Land Canterbury and Otago, R22668703, Held by: Archives New Zealand/Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga, 

About 500 Ngai Tahu were assembled at Akaroa when the discussions over the Kemp Purchase began on 10 June 1848. The surveyor Kettle wrote in his journal some of the details of the meetings:


"...the “correro” [korero] commenced by the chiefs coming forward and calling the names of the lands to be sold”.


When it came to detail around land, some chiefs refused to part with some areas, while others offered specific areas. According to Kettle, Hone Tikao, from Ngai Tuahuriri, explained that all were not “fully agreed as to the sale of the land”.

He was also said to have confirmed that the whole of Banks Peninsula had been “sold” to the French. 

The purchase was negotiated on board the Fly by Henry Tacy Kemp on 12 June 1848. Fierce arguments amongst the group followed over details within the agreement on the ship. There was confusion and anger with Kemp collecting as many signatures as he could. Those who could sign their autographs did so, and those who could not put their tohu (mark) beside their name, were written down by Kemp himself. The result was a deed with forty Māori names, but with only sixteen signatures (ten autographs and six tohu) alongside an actual name. The other twenty-four names were left unsigned. 

Kemp attached a plan of the purchase area to the deed after it was signed, which the Ngai Tahu chiefs were not aware of. The plan was wrong and was different to what was written in the deed, where it was specifically stated that ‘the particular shape of the land’ would be revealed in the survey map. The survey had not yet taken place.


The official record of the agreement, the deed and the deed map, all contributed to the confusion over the land sale. Drawn up quickly, it did not specify the actual lands which Ngai Tahu reserved from the sale.

The agreement was actually put in place by a second Crown commissioner, Walter Mantell. Mantell arrived in Canterbury in August 1848, bringing the first lot of money for the sale and a surveyor. From the moment he showed the Ngāi Tahu chiefs assembled at Akaroa the survey plan, Māori opposed the document, who argued the plan was not right. He ignored Māori and Mantell refused to include all existing cultivations, despite Ngai Tahu protest. He reduced the areas of land for Ngai Tahu from the large areas they considered they were entitled to for mahinga kai, the natural resources of their hunting and gathering economy. At the end of his mission, Mantell had only set aside 6359 acres out of 20 million. 

Dacker, Bill, Te Mamae Me Te Aroha: a history of Kai Tahu in Otago 1844-1994, 2000.


Edward Gibbon Wakefield’s tenths’ Policy

bottom of page