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Willis St Wellington, notice for sale of property.

Cartographic Collection

The Cartographic Collection is one of the few specialist map collections in New Zealand. Find out what about the highlights of the collection and how you can use it.

What's the Cartographic Collection?

Searching the catalogues for maps

Need help?

Copying maps

Concept of cartography for the purposes of forming the Cartographic Collection

Highlights from the Cartographic Collection


What's the Cartographic Collection?

Alexander Horsburgh Turnbull’s collection of early maps of New Zealand and the South Pacific by settlers, sailors, missionaries and government surveyors form the foundation of the Cartographic Collection.

The collection steadily grew from 11,000 items in 1972 when the Library gained legal deposit status, and now has around 82,000, including digital static images of maps. While the majority are published maps, manuscript maps are also a rich and significant part of the collection and number about 16,000. At the core of the collection are maps of New Zealand, the South Pacific and Antarctica. The library has approximately 24,000 digital images of maps available.

We hold a selection of cartographic materials and reference works produced in or about other countries, especially countries that have been influential in cartography.

The collection contains cartographic materials from a wide range of genres and subject areas such as:

  • maps relating to Māori
  • exploration, discovery and charting
  • town planning, Surveying and Cadastre
  • subdivision and real-estate plans
  • topographic and aerial photographs
  • electoral and census
  • hydrographic and bathymetric
  • geology, land use, metrological and climate
  • military maps
  • recreation, tourist and road maps
  • Pacific maps
  • history of cartography
  • maps of the world and from other countries.
Shows a hand-drawn chart of New Zealand.
Crop of Chart of New Zealand drawn by Tooke-Titter-a-nui Wari-pedo, a priest of that country who resided on Norfolk Islands 6 months. [London] : Cadell & Davies, 1804. Acc.42785, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Searching the catalogues for maps

Because the Cartographic Collection has both published and unpublished maps, the best place to start your search is the National Library website advanced search engine with the Cartographic Collection selected.

There are obvious overlaps with materials in other collections within the Turnbull Library, and there are many cartographic materials held within other collections or are part of other documents. When doing a comprehensive search for maps in the Turnbull Library collections, it is always worth doing a keyword topic search and including such terms as 'map', 'plan', 'sketch' and 'view'.

If you are searching for maps relating to Māori some examples of relevant search keywords  are  'Mahere whenua' (maps), Māori land tenure', 'Māori reservations', 'Ahi kā', and 'Māori pā'.

National Library website advanced search


Need help?

Most materials in this collection can be requested and viewed in the library's first-floor reading room in Wellington. If you have any enquiries use our online 'Ask a librarian' service.

Ask a librarian


Copying maps

You can request copies of maps from the Cartographic Collection and you can take your own photographs of maps if visiting the library. Maps from the Cartographic Collection are not photocopied so you will need to order high-resolution digital photographs. 

Please note that where necessary, you will need to obtain copyright approval in writing from the copyright owner before copying can start. Talk to our staff to see how we can help with making copies and contacting copyright owners.

Making copies

Copyright and privacy

Ask a librarian

A crop of Vincenzo Coronelli's map of the Pacific ocean.
A crop of Vincenzo Coronelli's map of the Pacific ocean with the Americas from 'Isola di California' to Tierra del Fuego, and Japan to 'Nuova Gvinea', 'Nuova Hollanda', 'Terra d' Antonio Diemens' and 'Nuova Zelanda'. Text in Italian next to an asterisk off New Zealand coast says "This exact place marked by asterisk is antipodean to the City of Venice, home of the author of this work". [crop of] Mare del Sud, detto altrimenti Mare Pacifico. Venetia: Coronelli, [1692?], Alexander Turnbull Library.

Concept of cartography for the purposes of forming the Cartographic Collection

Cartography is the art, science and technology used in the process of making graphic representations of geographic information. For the purposes of selecting itmes for the Turnbull's Cartographic Collection, the key features of cartographic materials are that:

  • information has a geographic location,and
  • is usually depicted graphically.

Such representations may be created as plans of towns, settlements, maps, charts, atlases, aerial and remote sensing photographs or images, globes and digital spatial data.


Highlights from the Cartographic Collection

Highlights from the Cartographic Collection include:

  • maps relating to Māori
  • exploring, charting, planning
  • maps and plans of early settlements
  • official series and government produced maps.

Maps relating to Māori

The library holds manuscript and published maps which show information about or relating to:

  • Māori land tenure and land use
  • location of pa
  • kainga
  • Māori place names, and
  • Māori tracks and waterways.

During encounters between Māori and early European explorers, Māori played an important part in surveying and mapping by sharing knowledge of their local areas and guiding explorers.

There are only a few extant examples of hardcopy maps depicting Māori knowledge that were compiled from oral narratives. An example is the sketch of the Middle Island, 1841-2  drawn by members of Ngai Tahu for Edmund Halswell in November 1841.

The library holds one of 2 manuscript copies of the original map that were made in 1910. To date, the original and the second manuscript copy have not been located.

Hand drawn map showing Banks Peninsual.
Sketch of the Middle Island of New Zealand, 1841-2, reduced from original Maori sketch made for Mr Halswell. Cropped to show Bank Peninsula. Ref: MapColl-834ap/[1841-2?]/Acc.527, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Exploring, charting, planning

Captain Thomas Wing made the first detailed charts of several North Island harbours, including a 1835 sketch of the entrance to Tauranga shown below.

As well as information for navigation, his charts showed and described, among other information about Māori, the locations of Māori settlements and gardens. Finding suitable sites for European settlements, especially with a navigable harbour, was one of the main goals of the charting.

Hand drawn map of Tauronga.
A cropped sketch of the entrance to Tauronga, a small harbour in the Bay of Plenty on the east coast of New Zealand, by Capt. Thomas Wing, June 1835. Ref: MapColl-832.16aj/1835/Acc.423 , Alexander Turnbull Library.

Another reason for exploring and mapping at the time was the search for resources such as seals, timber and flax. Robert William’s map of Port Macquarie, which is now Bluff Harbour, is an example of such mapping.

Crop from hand drawn map.
Crop of the inner harbour of Port Macquarie, Foveaux's Straits by Robert Williams, 1813. Ref: MapColl 835at/[1813]/Acc.425, Alexander Turnbull Library.

In addition to some early manuscript and publish charts which document early mariners’ explorations and surveying of our coast line, the collection holds most of main published series of charts of New Zealand, including early charts produced by Hydrographic Office of the Admiralty.

The first comprehensive survey of New Zealand’s harbours and coastline were undertaken by John Lort Stokes on the HMS Acheron and Commander Drury on the HMS Pandora. These were to become the basis for much of the charting around New Zealand’s harbours and coastlines until the 20th Century.

Stokes’ 1849 survey of Port Nicholson (below) showed the mouth of the Hutt River before the 1855 earthquake. 

Map of Lower Hutt River.
Crop of Lower Hutt River, map of Port Nicholson, surveyed by J.L. Stokes. London : Hydrographic Office, 1856. Ref: MapColl 832.45aj/1849/Acc.16025, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Maps and plans of early settlements

The library holds a selection of originals and facsimile copies of maps and plans of early European settlements and surrounding rural districts.

Between 1840 and 1850s, land surrounding the harbours of Wellington, Auckland, Nelson, Whanganui, New Plymouth, Dunedin and Christchurch was surveyed, and plans for new European settlements were laid down. Apart from Auckland, these settlements were undertaken by the New Zealand Company.

The original sections shown in the Company’s plan of the town of Wellington, Port Nicholson, shown below, are evident in the subdivision of city today.

Plan of the town of Wellington.
Plan of the town of Wellington, Port Nicholson: the first and principal settlement of the New Zealand Company. London: Smith, Elder & Co. for the New Zealand Company, 1840. Ref: MapColl 832.4799gbbd 1840 316-8, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Official series and government-produced maps

The library holds a comprehensive collection of cadastral, topographic, land use and other maps and plans produced by government and the survey departments of the earlier provincial governments. NZMS 13 and 16 are often requested by researchers looking for historic geographic information on urban and rural properties such as the size, location and extent of sections or blocks.

Some of the early editions of these maps also showed the location of historic events such as depicted in NZMS 13 TN 13, 1885 (below). This particular map shows some historic events around Parihaka, and when compared to the subsequent edition, the increased subdivision of land around Parihaka is striking.

Wairau and  Cape Survey Districts map.
Wairau & Cape Survey Districts [electronic resource] / W. Gordon, del., 1885, 1898 & 1903. [Wellington, N.Z.] : N.Z. Lands & Survey, 1903. Ref: MapColl 830bje/1914-/Acc.29136, Alexander Turnbull Library.

Feature image at top of page: Willis St. Wellington: J.H. Bethune & Co., 1907. MapColl-832.4799gbbd/A/1907/Acc.2982. Alexander Turnbull Library.