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NEW ZEALAND: Die Colonisation von Neu-Seeland. Ein Vortrag, im wissenschaftlichen Vereine zu Berlin am 22. Januar 1842, von Karl Ritter.



Very rare – the first printing of the famous geographer Carl Ritter’s insightful and influential discourse on the early colonization of New Zealand, based upon his extensive interviews of principals of the New Zealand Company, featuring an original map, published in Berlin in 1842. 

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This is the very rare first printing of Carl Ritter’s discourse on the early colonization of New Zealand, published in Berlin barely four years after the New Zealand Company had begun its activities in earnest.  Ritter, along with his friend Alexander von Humboldt, is considered to be the father of modern geography, and while he never stepped foot anywhere near New Zealand, he maintained a particular fascination for this distant land, with its unusual geography, native Maori peoples, and endemic species of wildlife.  In 1841, Ritter traveled to London to interview several of the main backers of the New Zealand Company, the syndicate that possessed the official mandate to settle and develop New Zealand on behalf of the British Crown.  These interviewees included politicians and financiers, as well as Company employees who had returned to England from New Zealand.  Ritter had such a great international reputation; the Company’s principals were honoured by the opportunity, as so provided the German geographer with remarkably candid and detailed insights into the early colonization of New Zealand.  This imbues the present work with considerable historical value.


Ritter consolidated the valuable insights gleaned in London into a speech he delivered the Economic Union of Berlin on January 22, 1842.  The present work is thus the text of his speech, slightly edited for style.  It is jam-packed with fascinating facts and statistics, as well as detailed observations on the history, geography, natural sciences, native peoples, climate and economic potential of New Zealand.  Importantly, the discourse provides insider information on the early development of the Company’s colonization schemes, which were then focused on settling parts of the North Island.


Ritter provides a highly positive impression of New Zealand, as having the ideal climate to foster a modern European society on the other side of the globe.  He highly rates the character of the Company’s officers glowingly and commends the organization’s plans for developing the islands.  He predicts a bright future for New Zealand.


Indeed, as of 1841, the Company seemed to have made a good start towards their initial goals.  It had made peace with Maori, upon signing the Treaty of Waitangi (1840); it had ensured that New Zealand was formally made a colony (1841); and it had successfully established several towns, which would subsequently become some of New Zealand’s major cities.  It was only in 1843 that the Company started to fall into serious financial and organizational problems.  Thus, Ritter’s assessment seemed astute at the time.


A highlight of Ritter’s work is an attractive original folding map that features the world in two hemispheres, noting New Zealand’s global position and the fastest travel route between England and New Zealand.  The composition is completed with two cartographic insets: one with a map of the Cook Strait (which divides the North and South Islands); and the other being a map of Port Nicholson, the location of Wellington.


Importantly, Ritter’s discourse proved to be highly influential, and the New Zealand Company was delighted that an international celebrity intellectual such as Ritter had endorsed their endeavours.  At the Company’s instigation, the present work was promptly translated into English and published in London as, The Colonization of New Zealand by Charles Ritter (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1842).  Copies were distributed to potential investors and the heads of settler’s groups as an intellectual form of promotional material.  Ritter’s discourse was also quoted in innumerable contemporary scholarly and promotional works.


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.  Moreover, peace with the Maori broke down, resulting in several fierce conflicts fought between the native peoples and the new colonial regime.  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.

Carl Ritter: The Co-Founder of Modern Geography


Carl Ritter (1779 – 1859) is considered, along with his friend Alexander von Humboldt, to be the founder of modern geography.  His methodology on how to study the subject remains highly influential to this day.  He was a prolific writer whose brilliant gaze touched virtually every region of the world, and his global reputation allowed him to obtain the best information from explorers, foreign governments and other writers.  He was the first chair of geography at the University of Berlin, from 1825 until his death, mentoring generations of scholars.

Carl Ritter was born in the bucolic town of Quedlingburg, Saxony, the son of a successful doctor.  While his father died when Carl was only two, his family was left with an ample inheritance, sufficient to pay for Carl to receive a good education.  He attended the Schnepfenthal Salzmann School, where he studied under the famous educator, Johann Christoph Friedrich GutsMuths.  There he became fascinated with the study of natural sciences.  He also came to follow the 3-stage learning methodology of Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, which called for one to collect objects, compare the material, and then establish findings into a general system.

In 1798, after graduating from high school, Ritter who had spent all of his inheritance, benefitted from being introduced to the wealthy Frankfurt banker Johann Jakob Bethmann Hollweg.  The banker agreed to sponsor an arrangement whereby Ritter tutored his children, and in return he would pay Ritter’s tuition at the University of Halle, plus living expenses.  This arrangement was subsequently extended to allow Ritter to specialize in geography at the University of Göttingen.

Ritter completely redefined the study of geography in his 19 volume masterpiece Die Erdkunde im Verhältniss zur Natur und zur Geschichte des Menschen, written between 1816 and 1859.   In this work, he connects the influences of physical geography to human activity and the development of various societies.  Ritter’s approach was universally adopted scholars worldwide and, along with the works of Humboldt, formed the foundation of modern scientific geography.

Amongst Ritter’s memorable quotations are:

“Geography was a kind of physiology and comparative anatomy of the earth: rivers, mountains, glaciers, &c., were so many distinct organs, each with its own appropriate functions; and, as his physical frame is the basis of the man, determinative to a large extent of his life, so the structure of each country is a leading element in the historic progress of the nation.”

He also articulated that:

“The earth is a cosmic individual with a particular organization, an ens sui generis with a progressive development: the exploration of this individuality of the earth is the task of geography”.

Ritter also wrote innumerable articles and short treatises (such as the present work) on a wide variety of international subjects.  He received many prestigious awards and was a fellow of scientific and learned societies all over the globe.  By the time that he wrote the present work on New Zealand, he was one of the most famous and universally respected intellectuals in the world.

A Note on Rarity


The present original edition of Ritter’s work on New Zealand is very rare.  While we note around a dozen or so examples in institutional holdings worldwide, we cannot trace any records of another example appearing on the market since 1950.


References: Thomas Morland Hocken, A Bibliography of the Literature relating to New Zealand, p. 105; OCLC: 948018177 / 930527146.

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