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Otago and Canterbury Settlements

A few years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the government and E.G. Wakefield's New Zealand Company purchased around half the South Island from the Ngai Tahu tribe. The buyers wanted to fill the empty landscape with people.

Organised settlement began in the 1840s and continued into the 20th Century. Two of the earliest groups of immigrants were the Scottish Presbyterians in Otago and the English Anglicans in Canterbury.

The Scots started to arrive in 1848, led by the tough and religious Captain William Cargill and Reverend Thomas Burns. The Scots were hoping for a more moral and religious society than the one they left behind.

When the first ships arrived in New Zealand, some surveying had been done but very little else. In Britain the settlers had been given glowing reports of their new home and some expected an already established town with a mild climate. But they arrived just before winter and had a miserable first few months living in primitive barracks that lined the main street.

Further north, a successful new English settlement was soon developing around Banks Peninsula and the Canterbury Plains. John Robert Godley was the man who made the Canterbury settlement a reality. Godley believed in the class system and wanted to settle a full slice of English society in Christchurch. Godley, his wife and a group of labourers went to prepare Lyttelton for the first four ships. When the settlers arrived in December 1850 the settlement was reasonably well prepared.

Lyttelton was the port of entry but the Canterbury settlement was to be on the other side of the Port Hills. This was not to be the best place to build a city. Unlike other main cities of New Zealand, Christchurch was built on a swamp.

When economic development began to slow, Godley sought to encourage growth by supporting large-scale sheep farming. He dropped the price of land dramatically and settlers came, armed with capital, and Canterbury took off.

The decision to open up the land for large-scale sheep farming ensured the economic survival the Canterbury settlement. In Otago, Cargill reluctantly followed Godley's lead and lowered the price of land. Here too, sheep farming brought growth and stability to the struggling settlement. The South Island became an economic powerhouse and for three decades more people would live there than in the North.