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Many of the records detailed below fall under access restrictions. These have been set in place under the Public Records Act 2005 to protect personal information about individuals. Permission to access these records may be granted on request to the agency that created them (or its successor).

As responsibility for various welfare functions and institutions lay across and moved between different government departments over time, access permission contacts range from the health boards to Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children, or to the Ministry of Education - depending on the institution concerned.

For more information about access restrictions and contacts, see Archway, or check with an archivist.

Early charitable aid activities

Early charitable aid material can be found throughout the Canterbury Provincial Government records that we hold here; these cover the period from 1853 to 1876.

While the Provincial Government initially looked to families, the Church and private charities to be the primary providers of relief to those in need, the steady growth of that need during the period, especially when the fragile colonial economy stagnated, meant that the Government became increasingly involved in the provision of various forms of relief and care to the aged and infirm, the deserted, orphaned, injured, unemployed and generally destitute.

A small Charitable Aid Department was set up reporting to the Provincial Secretary’s Office, and for most of the period the Charitable Aid Administrator was also the Immigration Officer (the two functions were closely associated, with poverty and destitution sometimes imported into the province through the assisted immigration scheme). The aid usually took the form of ‘outdoor relief’ in the form of a cash allowance and rations, or pay for unemployed working on the public works in the province. Increasingly the Government also dispensed charitable aid through the provision of places for the destitute in a number of institutions, including the Lyttelton Orphanage, Charitable Aid House, Female Refuge, and Burnham Industrial School, while at the same time continuing to support private and Church charitable aid providers and institutions.

The related material that we hold has been nominally indexed by our volunteers and the indexes are available via our in-house index terminal, and in the case of items of individual correspondence, on our online finding aid Archway.

The minute books and correspondence of the North Canterbury Hospital Board (its predecessors and off-shoots) are especially important (e.g. the Lyttelton Orphanage Committee, the Charitable Aid Board, the Memorial Home and Female Refuge Committee etc.) We also hold early registers and report books from many of the charitable aid institutions themselves (see below).

After the demise of the Provincial Government in 1876, charitable aid was largely left in the hands of local authorities, church charities and private organisations, though significant oversight of child welfare was provided by the Education Department from the 1880s onwards (including the administration of special and industrial schools).

Charitable aid and social welfare institutions

We hold many records from the publicly-funded charitable aid and social welfare institutions that have provided care to the people of Canterbury and Westland since the second half of the 19th Century. These include aged care homes, charitable aid homes and hospitals, children’s homes, orphanages, reformatories and special schools.

Details of the records that we hold relating to individuals who were housed at, or who were attendees of these institutions are appended; also included are brief histories of each of the institutions.

Please note that we do not hold material relating to private or church institutions. In some cases the only records that we hold from an institution are administrative in nature - where that is the case, a brief history of the institution has still been included below, but no related records are discussed.

In some cases, the full record references are not given; in order to locate individual items in these instances, please refer to our online finding aid Archway, or to our in-house index terminal.

An asterisk (*) within a record description indicates that an in-house index is available for the record.

Department of Social Welfare

Child welfare

We hold the region’s Social Welfare Case Files, created by the Department of Social Welfare (now known as the Ministry of Social Development), related and predecessor agencies in the course of their work with children in need.

For many years (from the 1880s onwards) the oversight of child welfare was undertaken by the Education Department - a role formalised under the Child Welfare Act of 1925, which created a special Child Welfare Division within the Education Department to make better provision for the maintenance, care and control of children under state protection (the Division also administered New Zealand’s Special Schools). A separate Department of Social Welfare was created in 1972, and took over most of the Division’s welfare functions, though control of the special residential schools remained with the Education Department.

Files include the personal, family, academic and institutional details of individuals who received state oversight and care, and sometimes include information about foster parents and adoptions. Some files include many family members, while others focus on one child. Files may have been created for any of the following reasons: a needy family, parental inadequacy, supervision, maintenance, housing, neglect and ill-treatment of children.

These files are permanently restricted, and access to them can only be obtained via application to Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children. If you believe that there may be a file of interest to you or your family, you can contact:

Manager, Privacy Official Information Services

Privacy Official Information Team

Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children

PO Box 546

Wellington 6011

Central email:

Central telephone: (04) 918-9230

Adult welfare

Private charitable aid was the mainstay in supporting destitute adults in the second half of the 19th Century, though (as can be seen in the institutional histories above) Charitable Aid Boards, under the administration of the country’s Hospital Boards did oversee a number of homes for the elderly (and other charitable aid cases), and also provided funding for needy individuals admitted to hospital wards during this period.


Manager, Privacy Official Information Services

Privacy Official Information Team

Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children

PO Box 546

Wellington 6011

Central email:

Central telephone: (04) 918-9230

It wasn’t until the turn of the 19th Century that the first governmental measures were taken in the area of adult welfare - most notably with the introduction of the Old Age Pension in 1898. We hold very few records of pensions and benefits. In Christchurch we hold miscellaneous pension records from Waimate and Timaru (1899-1916) [Archives Reference: CH24], Department of Social Welfare War Pensions Registers (1946-1988) [Archives Reference: CH485], and Unemployment Benefit (and Sickness) Registers (1939-1985) [Archives Reference: CH454].



If you are adopted, or believe that you may have been adopted, and you are at least 20 years of age:

  • Write to Births, Deaths and Marriages requesting a copy of your original birth certificate. This will provide the names of your birth parents, unless they have placed a block on the information. (For adoptions after 1 March, 1986, there is no provision for birth parents to place a block on this information).

  • Request any information that Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children may hold about your adoption in their records.

If you are a birth parent of a child who was adopted, and that child is at least 20 years of age:

You may apply to Adoption Services at Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children to find out about the adopted child. Please note that the child may have placed a block on their information.

For more information please do not hesitate to contact Adoption Services at Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children.


Apply to Births, Deaths and Marriages, via the contact details above, for a copy of the adoptee’s original birth certificate. Please note that you are likely to be asked to provide proof both of your direct descent from the adoptee, and also of the fact that the adoptee’s parents are now deceased.

Information about Maori adoptions registered via the Maori Land Court from 1901 to 1955 was published in the New Zealand Gazette, some volumes of which are available for viewing in the reading room by placing an order on Archway [Archives Reference: CH1116].

You can also contact Adoption Services at Oranga Tamariki – Ministry for Children for further guidance and assistance.

While we do hold some court registers and files relating to adoptions, these are totally restricted under the current provisions of the Adoption Act 1955 and the Adult Adoption Act 1985, in the interests of protecting the personal privacy of those mentioned therein. Please ask an archivist for more information.

Further Sources

Further sources here may be of interest and assistance to those researching aid and welfare in Canterbury and Westland. Especially complementary to the records discussed above are many of our holdings from these regions’ courts, particularly those regarding maintenance orders and adoptions, though these are subject to access restrictions; ask an archivist for further details, and see Justice Records.

Also relevant are the health and education records that we hold here. For more information about these see Health Records, and Education Records.

Our Wellington archive has further sources that may be of interest to those researching in the area of welfare. Most notable as far as our region is concerned, are the Industrial School Nominal Rolls, Welfare Case Files and Registers of Foster Parents. See the national Child Welfare and Adult Welfare research guides for further details.