Monday, August 9, 2010

History of the Public Trust 1872-1895

I’ve had a few dealings with Public Trust and always found them to be reasonable. When looking at the Public Trust from a family history perspective, I’ve found them to be a bit delinquent. Maybe we only hear the bad news, so I’ll hold on judgement. Finding the records is another problem, I haven’t found them, if indeed they still exist.

The 1872 bill passed into law provided for
  • A central Wellington official to manage far flung estates in the colony. They were to accomplish this using professional agents.
  • The Supreme Court was empowered to appoint the Public Trustee as guardian of mental patients estates.
  • To exercise supervision over overseas-based life insurance companies operating in the colony.
  • To act as guardian for minors.
  • Enable building and friendly societies to place securities and properties in the hands of the Public Trustee.
  • The Public Trustee and officers of his department were to provide sureties.
  • Stringent provisions for keeping and auditing the Public Trustee’s accounts.
  • Lands adminstered by them could not be disposed of, or money invested, without the approval of a special board.
  • To audit the accounts of Curators of Intestate Estates, and eventually to supersede them.
  • The Trustee would administer such public trusts as money invested in savings banks and Government assurances.
  • The Public Trustee took over the estates of absent heirs until their rights had been established.
  • The Public Trustee took over land for which the owners could not be found and which owed unpaid rates and were weed infested etc, for a period of 21yrs and thereafter, sold.
  • To look after vacant allotments of native land.
  • To adminster the estates of convicts.
  • It invested  in Government Securities and became self-suporting.
The Public Trustee  and his couple of clerks became quickly overwhelmed and inefficient. Estates were held over until they lost value, losses by native owners etc resulted in a Royal Commission of Investigation.

This commission made the overworked Public Trustee a scrapgoat (retired 1880, died 1881), and replaced him with a Public Trustee of a commercial type with absolutely free reign from any control by the Auditor Generals office and to have extensive authority as that enjoyed by a financial institution.

An Act of Parliament in 1886 required local bodies, before raising a loan, to establish a sinking-fund to be overseen by the Public Trustee.

Legislation in 1891,1894 & 1895;
  • Eased the exacting conditions the previous Public Trustee had laboured under.
  • Freed the office from having to apply to the Supreme Court before administering estates under £250 then to £400 without a court order.
  • Be given greater powers of assistance to minors so that they didn’t have to wait until they reached their majority before benefiting.
  • Powers to sell, lease, enlarge, purchase, mortgage, repair, insure and pay outgoings and institute legal proceedings.
They made lots of lovely money.

Between 1870 and 1893 more than a quarter of a million male migrants arrived in New Zealand  but only a hundred thousand chose to remain, the rest, unable to make a living, moved on. To prevent more wastage, the Land for Settlements Act, passed in 1894 gave the government power to take land compulsorily if large property owners refused to part with their large lots and to cut it into small holdings. The Public Trust made affordable finance available to men with limited means to take up these farms. By 1895 the Public Trust office loaned a total of £354,907 to deserving settlers in need of financial help and purchased eight estates to cut up with provision for more.

Source: A Century of Trust 1873-1973, A Centennial History written by C.W. Vennell. A Wilson & Horton Ltd publication.

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