In the early days of New Zealand's formation, it was a dangerous country where husbands and fathers were burdened with not only breaking in the land or starting new businesses, but who had also to ensure, that if they died, their families would be taken care of using the capital they had built up.
So, it was also a dangerous place for widows and orphans, because the estate they inherited was not usually administered by themselves, but by others entrusted with this work. The problem was that there were few people in the colony who had the skill or time to do this.
The population was very transient, out of every five people who entered the colony, two left and those who did stay were largely illiterate. The people who agreed to be a trustee before the death event, might not last much longer than the deceased, either dead themselves or wanting to move on to new pastures.
As family researchers, we see what this state of affairs meant for our families. Mostly, the head of the house wrote into the will that everything was to be sold off, turned into money and distributed as soon as possible.
I saw too in one of my own families, strong in Matriarchal authority that the daughters were given (as much as the law would allow), autonomy in the use of the inheritance from their husbands possible ill-use of it.
In 1862, legislation enabled trustees to transfer their responsibilities to the Registrar of the Supreme Court of the local Province and the Court Registrars were already over-burdened. The estates entrusted to them were not administered any better really, money filtered out of them at alarming rates and the beneficiaries were reduced to poverty sometimes.
Besides the wills of people with estates worth administering, there were those who had a little bit or those who were incapable of looking after themselves. These interstate estates had been the responsibility of the registrar anyway.
The next bit of legislation meant to overcome this community wastage was the Public Trustee Bill introduced by Julius Vogel and passed into law in August 1870.
And how did the Public Trust's administration skills measure up? We will explore this another time.
Source: A Century of Trust 1873 - 1973, A History of the New Zealand Public Trust Office.