Litigation in the early years of the Canterbury settlement 1852-1861
This paper looks at the frequency and nature of litigation in the early years of the Canterbury settlement on the east coast of the South island of New Zealand. Because this was a new settlement in an area with virtually no preexisting European population (and few indigenous people), but was a part of a more developed colony with an existing institutional base of courts and of inherited and local law, it provides an unusual opportunity to obtain a picture of litigation in a new community which inherited, rather than developed, its legal institutions. This paper focuses on civil litigation in the Supreme Court of New Zealand, the superior court of record, and is based primarily on archival records available in Christchurch, particularly the Supreme Court Minute Book, supplemented by other archival material and by contemporary newspaper reports. The termination date of the study, around the end of September 1861, is dictated by changes in the recording of matters before the Supreme Court, under which very many fewer details are entered into the Minute Book. I must begin with a caveat that this paper does not attempt at all to deal with all cases before the courts in Canterbury – there is clearly a substantial body of disputes which were heard in the lower courts which fall outside the purview of this study; I have not looked at these, partly because it would extend this paper substantially; partly because of pressure of time, and partly because the documentary record is patchy enough to raise some doubts as to the possibility of ever establishing a sufficiently accurate picture.