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NEW ZEALAND: A Treatise on Practical Surveying, as Particularly Applicable to New Zealand and Other Colonies: Containing an Account of the Instruments most useful to the colonial surveyor and engineer: instructions for laying out towns, country and suburb Zoom

NEW ZEALAND: A Treatise on Practical Surveying, as Particularly Applicable to New Zealand and Other Colonies: Containing an Account of the Instruments most useful to the colonial surveyor and engineer: instructions for laying out towns, country and suburb


Very Rare – the most important early work on land surveying in New Zealand, by Arthur Whitehead, a pioneering surveyor for the New Zealand Company, profusely illustrated by original maps, plans and diagrams, including 3 large folding coloured maps of Wellington and the Hutt Valley. 

Author: Arthur WHITEHEAD (c. 1818 - 1892).
Place and Year: London: Longman & Company, 1848.
Code: 65236

8° (23 x 15 cm / 9 x 6 inches) – Collation Complete: x pp., 174 pp., 12 pp. tables, 17 pp. monochrome plates of interconnecting road maps, 1 folding plate of diagrams, 3 large folding maps, errata slip at end, bound in original green cloth, with neat manuscript owner’s inscription to title in blank corner (Very Good, internally clean and crisp, folding maps fresh and crisp; binding with minor shelf-wear, some loss to original paper label on spine). 


This excellent and very rare work is of great historical importance to the early colonial history of New Zealand.  Published in 1848, barely seven years after New Zealand officially became a colony, it is both a sophisticated land surveying manual and a fascinating personal memoir penned by Arthur Whitehead, one of the most important surveyors working for the New Zealand Company, the syndicate that founded modern New Zealand.  It is by far and away the finest and most detailed work on the the early terrestrial mapping of New Zealand, with the methods and techniques described having broader significance, as they explain best practices as conducted in other frontier British colonial possessions, such as Canada, South Africa, Australia, Guyana and rural India. 

Well-presented and highly readable, Whitehead’s work gives a unique and valuable insight into the mind and actions of a British surveyor, working at the vanguard of the Empire.  The text is enlivened by numerous plans, diagrams and maps, including a trio of large folding, coloured maps that detail the critical Wellington and Hutt Valley areas, as well as a series of 17 monochrome plates illustrating the route of the new road running up the Hutt Valley, plus a folding plate of diagrams of surveyors’ instruments.

By that time Arthur Whitehead arrived in Wellington to begin his charge as a surveyor, in February 1842, New Zealand’s coasts had already been quite well charted by the Royal Navy, by way of trigonometric surveys.  However, the islands’ interior was scarcely mapped at all, and Europeans had never even visited many areas.  From 1839, the New Zealand Company commenced surveying lands in preparation for the founding of towns, the building of roads and the demarcation of cadastral divisions for new homesteads.

It is worth noting that the present example of the work features the neat former owner’s inscription of “Robert Baker 16th July 1858” on the title page.  This likely refers to Robert Baker (1797 - 1867), a native of Devon who was a pioneer settler in New Zealand under the auspices of the New Zealand Company.

The Contents of the Work in Focus

Whitehead’s text is fascinating and presents a valuable insight into the nature of frontier land surveying during the mid-19th Century.  Whitehead makes it plain that it was not possible to conduct surveys using the most sophisticated methods in such a rugged, heavily forested country as New Zealand, namely surveys executed via systematic, trigonometric surveys, regulated by astronomical observations.  His general methodology was to conduct itinerary surveys, whereby base-points were ascertained through astronomical observations, while the land in between was measured by carefully following the routes of roads, paths or rivers, filling-in the intermediate details as best as possible.  While not as accurate as systematic, triangulated surveys, this method, if practiced carefully, could produce fine maps sufficiently accurate for most purposes.  Indeed, Whitehead proved to be highly skilled in this regard.  That being said, he noted that the execution of surveys of small areas in flat, cleared county could be accomplished with advanced scientific means by use of a theodolite.

The text of the book concerns six mains topics: 1) Description, uses, and adjustments of the several instruments employed by the surveyor, of which many of the instruments are illustrated on the folding plate of diagrams; 2) On laying out town lands; 3) On laying out country lands; 4) Practical astronomy, also referring to the instrument illustrated on the aforementioned plate; 5) Marine surveying; and 6) On colonial roads, whereby Whitehead specifically references his experiences running the road up the Hutt Valley, here illustrated by his series of 17 monochrome plates of the route of said road.

Perhaps the highlights of the work are the three large folding, coloured maps of Wellington and the Hutt Valley areas that grace the back of the work.  The ‘Chart of the Country between Manawatu and Port Nicholson, Comprising the Wairarapa Valley, New Zealand’, is a magnificent early map embracing the southern third of the North Island.  It includes all major features, yet shows the limitations of European knowledge of the interior, as many rivers are labeled with their ‘Supposed Course’, while large expanses of territory are left blank.  Areas that have been explored by Europeans are labeled with notes as to the qualities of the land.  Interestingly, the map labels the route of Charles Henry Kettle & Alfred Wills’s exploring expedition of 1842, whereby they crossed the Tararuas from the west side into the Wairarapa, and then traversed the Rimutakas to Port Nicholson.  This endeavor did much to educate the British as to the nature of the interior just before surveying and settlement programmes were commenced.

The ‘Chart of the Harbour of Port-Nicholson, New Zealand’ is an excellent early map focusing on ‘The Town of Wellington’ and its magnificent natural harbour, which features copious nautical information, such as bathymetric soundings, anchorages and hazards, while the ‘Reference’ below explains the symbols uses to denote the varied nature of the shorelines.  The lower Wairarapa Valley features numerous cadastral divisions.

The ‘Working Plan of the District of the Upper Hutt, New Zealand’ provides a stellar view of how Whitehead and his colleagues set up cadastral divisions in an area that was earmarked for immediate settlement.  The numbered lots are shown connected by a network of roads, while notes describe the nature of the land.

Historical Context: The New Zealand Company & the Early European Settlement of New Zealand

The New Zealand Company played a critical role in settling the islands and establishing the foundation of modern New Zealand.  From 1800 until the 1840s, the European presence in New Zealand was fleeting, confined to tiny missionary outposts and whaling stations, most of which were temporary in nature.  The islands’ remote location, and the Europeans’ complex and, at times, hostile relations with the indigenous Maori peoples, were major inhibitors to founding a proper colony. 

The New Zealand Company was founded in 1825 in an effort to establish a permanent, thriving British presence on the islands.  The company followed a colonial model devised by its founder, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, a colourful figure who was once jailed for abducting a 15-year old heiress.  Gibbon held visions of founding an antipodean “Utopia” in New Zealand, or an idealized little England with a similar social class systems and a small mixed-farm economy.  The Company would aim to settle poor, but industrious, migrant labourers from Britain in New Zealand, who through their own hard work would gradually be able to purchase the land plots assigned to them, and to cover much of the Company’s expenses.

The Company’s initial efforts proved unsuccessful, as it was unable to find suitable locations for settlement, let along a significant number of settlers willing to sail across the World to start new lives in an utterly unknown land.  However, the Company’s principals persisted and, in 1837, it was given a royal charter to settle New Zealand.  Many important British noblemen, politicians and business figures lent their names to the endeavour.

From 1839, the Company began to enjoy some measurable success.  In 1840, it founded the first enduring major European settlement in New Zealand, Wellington, on the shores of Port Nicholson.  A modest, but steady flow of settlers began to arrive in the islands, finding the mild climate and abundant natural resources to be a pleasant place to start to new society. 

The Treaty of Waitangi (1840) ensured peace between the British and the Maori, and New Zealand formally became a colony under the Company’s guidance in 1841.  From 1840 to 1850, the Company succeeded in brining 12,000 settlers to the islands, increasing New Zealand’s European population from 2,050 to 22,108 over that period.  While this may seem modest by contemporary American, or even Australian terms, it must be noted that the logistical challenges and the costs of settling New Zealand were extreme. 

The Company founded several of the island’s enduring centres, including Wellington, Nelson, Taranaki, and Wanganui; while having an important supporting role in the foundation of Otago and Canterbury. 

With reference to cartography, the Company’s surveying corps was responsible for the first accurate terrestrial maps of the islands, surveying thousands of square miles of territory, laying out the plans for several towns, delineating hundreds of miles of roads, as well as thousands of cadastral plots. 

That all being said, the New Zealand Company suffered from inept management.  Its principals quarreled with both the Colonial Office and missionary societies, all of which were immensely powerful stakeholders.  By 1843, the Company fell into serious financial trouble, from which it was never to recover.  While the Company continued to operate, its powers were greatly limited upon the granting of responsible government to the colony in 1853; and the Company was officially dissolved in 1858.  It would not be until the 1860s, when New Zealand began to enjoy a prolonged economic and settlement boom, that the foundation built by the New Zealand Company would reach its potential.

Arthur Whitehead: Pioneering New Zealand Surveyor

Arthur Whitehead (c. 1818 - 1892) was a major figure in the early terrestrial mapping of New Zealand, especially with regard to the southern part of the North Island.  He was born around 1818 in Tiverton Devon, the third son of the Reverend William Baily Whitehead.  He trained as a civil engineer and estate surveyor in the West Country and settled for a time in Chard, Somerset. 

Like many young British men, Whitehead sought fame and fortune in the colonies, and so answered the New Zealand Company’s call for surveyors to map their new colony.  He singed a three-year, supposedly renewable, contract to serve as an assistant surveyor.  In September 1841, Whitehead embarked aboard the Brougham, arriving in New Zealand on February 9, 1842.

Based out of the Wellington, Whitehead became the foreman of a surveying team that was charged with laying out large sections of the Lower and Upper Hutt Valley, an important mandate, as these areas were considered to amongst the most promising locations for settlement on the North Island.  There he and his teams ran the road up the valley and surveyed new cadastral lots, in anticipation of the mass arrival of settlers.  Whitehead also subdivided the Watts Peninsulas and laid out part of the road over the Rimutaka Range that was to connect the Hutt Valley with Wairarapa.  He also conducted surveys in Karori and Makara.


The quality of Whitehead’s work, and the speed at which he operated, was inarguably impressive, as the resent work provides testament.  However, the New Zealand Company’s financial problems saw its operations becoming mired in political infighting, which affected the surveying corps.


Whitehead’s boss, Samuel Charles Brees, the New Zealand Company’s chief surveyor, was a quarrelsome fellow.  Although a fine topographical artist and well-trained surveyor, educated at Gray’s Inn, London, Brees often cut corners and rushed through his surveying work.  This led to friction between the perfectionist Whitehead and Brees, with the Company encouraging the latter’s behavior in an effort to save money and time.  While Whitehead’s work was commended by the Company, the ‘office politics’ had become so toxic that, in 1845, Whitehead’s contract was not renewed and he promptly returned to England.


Back home, Whitehead settled in Exeter, where he established a lucrative practice as a civil engineer and estate surveyor.  He found time to write the present book, which he saw as a vindication of his efforts to maintain rigorous technical standards in colonial surveying, while the good ‘PR’ from the book would certainly have benefitted his new practice.  After a successful career, Whitehead retired to Frome, Somerset, where he passed away at the age of 73.


A Note on Rarity

The present work was published in only this single contemporary edition, which is today very rare.  We are aware of only a single other example as having appeared on the market during the last 30 years.  We can locate 7 institutional examples (King's College London; National Library of Australia; State Library of NSW; Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand; Museum of New Zealand, Te Aka Matua Library; Dunedin (NZ) Public Library; University of Otago, Hocken Collections).

References: Ferguson 4957; OCLC: 220228996 / 153362629; Thomas Morland Hocken, A Bibliography of the Literature relating to New Zealand, p. 142; The Civil Engineer & Architect’s Journal (1848), vol. XI, pp. 140-1; The Publishers’ Circular and General Record, vol. 11 (1848), no. 1464.