When New Zealand became a separate Colony from New South Wales in 1841, the Royal Charter established three provinces:New Ulster (the North Island north of the Patea River)
New Munster (the North Island south of the Patea River, plus the South Island)
New Leinster (Stewart Island/Rakiura)
In 1846 the British Parliament passed the first New Zealand Constitution Act, which was almost totally suspended on the advice of Governor George Grey. The only operative provisions related to the reform of the provinces. The reformed provinces were:New Ulster (All of the North Island)
New Munster (The South Island plus Stewart Island/Rakiura)
In addition, the provinces were separated from the central government for the first time.
New Ulster and New Munster had their own seals.
New provinces were formed by the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 (UK). This Act established the first six provinces of Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago. Each province elected its own legislature known as a Provincial Council, and elected a Superintendent who was not a member of the council. The councils elected their speaker at their first meeting after elections.
The Act also created a national General Assembly consisting of the Legislative Council appointed by the Governor and the directly elected House of Representatives. These provinces came into effect on 17 January 1853 and the regulations defining the boundaries of the provinces were gazetted on 28 February. Electoral regulations were gazetted on 5 March.
Elections were open to males 21 years or older who owned freehold property worth £50 a year. Elections were to be held every four years. The New Zealand Constitution Amendment Act 1857 provided for the appointment of a Deputy Superintendent.
The Constitution Act provided for the creation of additional provinces, and when the spread of European settlements between the original centres of provincial government and the outlying settlers grew, the General Assembly passed the New Provinces Act 1858.
This Act allowed any district of between 500 thousand and 3 million acres (2,000–12,000 km2) of land with a European population of no fewer than 1,000 people to petition for separation provided that at least 60% of electors agreed. As a result, Hawke's Bay Province separated from Wellington on 1 November 1858; Marlborough Province from Nelson on 1 November 1859; and Southland Province from Otago on 1 April 1861. New Plymouth also changed its name to Taranaki under the same Act.
Stewart Island/Rakiura, which had since 1853 not been part of any province, was annexed to the Province of Southland on 10 November 1863.
Provinces established under this act elected their superintendents in a different way. Members of the provincial council would elect a suitable person listed on the electoral roll as superintendent by majority. If such a person was an elected member, this would result in a by-election to fill the vacancy.
Almost as soon as they were founded, New Zealand's provinces were the subject of protracted political debate. Two factions emerged in the General Assembly: "Centralists", favouring a strong central government and "Provincialists", favouring strong regional governments. The Centralist members of the General Assembly regarded the provinces as inherently self-interested, and prone to pork-barrel politics. In the construction of railways, for example, three of the provinces had constructed railways (as was the case in Australia) to different track gauges, with Canterbury Provincial Railways being built to "broad" gauge, Southland's railways being built to "standard" gauge. As a result, the Public Works Act of 1870 standardised the gauge to be used, and Otago's first railway, the Port Chalmers railway, was built to the new "standard" narrow gauge. Colonial Treasurer (and later Premier) Julius Vogel launched his famous immigration and public works schemes of the 1870s, borrowing the massive sum of 10 million pounds, to develop significant infrastructure of roads, railways, and communications, all administered by the central government. This diminished the power of the provinces greatly. The provinces were finally abolished by the Abolition of Provinces Act 1876, during the Premiership of Harry Atkinson. For the purposes of the Act, the provinces formally ceased to exist on 1 January 1877.
Upon abolition of the provinces, they took the legal status of provincial districts, which had no administrative functions. Local government was vested in elected borough and county councils. The Counties Bill of 1876 created 63 counties out of the old provinces. The former boundaries of the provinces served as administrative areas for the education boards set up under the Education Act of 1877 and for the offices of several Government Departments, including the Department of Lands and Survey.
Upon abolition various responsibilities were delegated to boards. For example, Education Act 1877 created the Education Boards for Auckland, Hamilton, Hawkes Bay, Taranaki, Wanganui, Wellington, Nelson, Westland, Southland, Canterbury and Otago districts. In 1989 the counties were replaced by enlarged district councils.
Department of Lands and Survey split the country in the Land Districts of Auckland (North), Auckland (South), Hawkes Bay, Gisborne, Taranaki, Wellington, Canterbury, Marlborough, Nelson, Westland, Otago and Southland.
The New Zealand Rugby Union was formed in 1892 with foundation members principally being provinces: Auckland†, Hawke's Bay†, Taranaki†, Manawatu, Wanganui, Wairarapa, Wellington†, Nelson†, Marlborough† and South Canterbury. At the time, three major South Island Provincial Unions – Canterbury†, Otago† and Southland† – resisted the central authority of the NZRU.
Some current Provincial Anniversary Days are still public holidays in New Zealand: Auckland†, Taranaki†, Hawkes' Bay†, Wellington†, Marlborough†, Nelson†, Canterbury†, Canterbury (South), Westland†, Otago†, Southland† and Chatham Islands.
† indicates it reflects an original province.
The provincial districts had different boundaries from the present day regions, for example, the Manawatu-Wanganui region is largely in the Wellington provincial district. The districts are represented by teams in rugby union's ITM Cup and Heartland Championship, both of which replaced the National Provincial Championship.
Some of the names persist in other contexts as well, such as health administration districts: Northland, Waitemata, Auckland†, Counties Manukau, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes (Rotorua/Taupo), Hawke's Bay†, MidCentral (Manawatu), Tairawhiti (Gisborne), Taranaki, Whanganui, Wairarapa, Hutt Valley, Capital and Coast (Wellington)†, Nelson (Marlborough)†, West Coast†, Canterbury†, South Canterbury and Southern (Otago)†.
Some of the names of former provinces and current regions have a tendency to be preceded by "the", as, for example, in this extract from a recent Court of Appeal judgment: "At trial, there was evidence of a sticker ostensibly from the Manawatu on the courier bag." Thus, for example, we have Auckland, Canterbury, Hawke's Bay, Marlborough and Wellington, but the Waikato, the Manawatu, the Bay of Plenty, and the West Coast.
The current Regions of New Zealand and most of their councils came about in 1989: Northland, Auckland†, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay†, Taranaki†, Manawatu-Whanganui, Wellington†, Tasman, Nelson†, Marlborough†, West Coast†, Canterbury†, Otago† and Southland†.
The Usenet Internet discussion system for New Zealand "Very roughly they correspond to the boundaries of the 14 Regional Councils": Northland, Auckland†, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty†, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay†, Taranaki†, Manawatu, Wellington†, Nelson†, West Coast†, Canterbury†, Southland† and Dunedin(Otago)†.