path to the treaty: a land paved with good intentions.

People have come and gone

But the land remains steadfast

Bindings of people, and the land

Is our history.

*     *     *

the treaty today.

Waitangi Day voucher available in London.

Every year on the Saturday closest to Waitangi Day, thousands of young Kiwi expats flood into London Underground stations and ride the Tube on the infamous Circle Line pub crawl. With the numbers in 2010 nearing 15,000, the event turns into quite the raucous celebration of all things Kiwi, as flag-bedecked girls and sheep-suit-wearing guys crowd into bars along the way to Trafalgar Square, where they await Big Ben to strike four ‘o’clock and perform a mass haka in Parliament Square.

It is quite the contrast to commemorations of the day back home. On the morning of February 6, 2010, a crowd of a different sort gathered on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds for a dawn service; a crowd of 500 that included the Prime Minister, Labour party leader Phil Goff, Māori Affairs Minister Pita Sharples, Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias, and members of the armed forces and diplomatic corps.  It was an event marked more by its solemnity than by youthful antics.

But no matter the difference, no matter the presence of diplomacy or debauchery, it all started because of a piece of paper, a document titled the Treaty of Waitangi. The signing of this document began on the sixth of February, 1840 – the date on which Waitangi Day is now celebrated – but continued for months as Māori chiefs had to be located throughout the North Island. It was not so much the declaration of independence I’m used to honoring as it was an agreement between two parties to form a relationship, a “partnership,” as the terminology is so often emphasized in current debates. In a way, it was a declaration of sovereignty…but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

And so as Waitangi Day approached, I knew I had to understand it the best I could. As fun as the past year has been – the bungy jumping and glacier hiking and roadtrip planning – I knew this is where it gets real. As if I’ve been dating New Zealand, this is where I finally get to know whoever it is I’ve been spending all this time with. This is, in my own understanding, one of the core issues the country is still grappling with.

The original Treaty of Waitangi.

*     *     *

a call for intervention.

Between Captain James Cook’s discovery of New Zealand in 1769 and the initial signing of the treaty in 1840, the path of British involvement took an interesting couple of turns. It was, moreover, entirely opposite of what I expected, in that, Britain seemed at first quite adamant about doing anything in its powers to not take responsibility for the new land. To put it another way, Mother England didn’t want another baby, no matter how beautiful or successful the child promised to be. In three instances of British statutes, the reigning monarch, King William IV – predecessor to Queen Victoria – made it explicitly clear that New Zealand was not a British territory. These statutes are recorded in a letter from a certain James Stephen, Esq., to John Backhouse, Esq. dated the 18th of March, 1840.

The first appears in Act 57 Geo. III. cap. 53, a statute titled “An Act for the more effectual Punishment of Murders and Manslaughters committed in places not within His Majesty’s Dominions”:

“Whereas grievous murders and manslaughters have been committed at the settlement in the Bay of Honduras, in South America, Ac.;” “ and the like offences have also been committed in the South Pacific Ocean, as well on the high seas as on land, in the Islands of New Zealand and Otaheite, and in other islands, countries, and places not within His Majesty’s dominions, by the masters and crews of British ships, and other persons, who have for the most part deserted from or left their ships, and have continued to live and reside amongst the inhabitants of those islands,” &c.; and the Act then provides for the punishment of offences so committed “in the said Islands of New Zealand and Otaheite, or within any other islands, countries, or places not within His Majesty’s dominions, nor subject to any other European State or Power…”

For offences committed in the south Pacific, a second document – Statute 4 Geo. IV. cap. 96, sec. 3 – gives authority to the Supreme Court in the Australian colonies of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s land (now Tasmania) to try offences:

“committed in the islands of New Zealand, Otaheite, or any other island, country, or place, situate in the Indian or Pacific Oceans, and not subject to His Majesty or to any other European State,”  if such offences were committed by British subjects.”

A final decree came in the form of Statute 9 Geo. IV. cap. 83, sec. 4, in which the above statute was repeated, adding only “that the punishment of the offence shall be the same as if the crime had been committed in England.”

Furthermore, as if the refrain of “not within His Majesty’s domains” does not recur enough, the King of England himself – outside the Parliamentary legislation seen above – made no mistake in clarifying New Zealand’s position. In the same letter, Stephen records that King William IV “made the most public, solemn, and authentic declaration which it was possible to make, that New Zealand was a substantive and independent state,” even after thirteen Māori chiefs wrote to the King in 1831 “praying the protection of the British Crown against the neighbouring tribes, and against British subjects residing in the Islands.”

As you can imagine, such statutes did not sit well with the  men who’d founded the New Zealand Company. It should be clear that at its outset, the company was not endorsed by the British government nor in any way associated with the Colonial Office, however, once headway had been made in New Zealand, the company desired official British involvement…but to no avail. This understandably baffled the New Zealand Company. In a letter dated the 7th of November, 1839, from Joseph Somes, the company’s Deputy Governor, to Lord Palmerston, the British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, frustration and confusion flow from Somes’ pen:

“If your Lordship is not already aware of the fact, it is proper that I should inform you at the outset that the Colonial Office refuses to hold any communication with, or in any way to recognize, the existence of the New Zealand Land Company. We are totally at a loss to conjecture for what reason. The Company has been formed in the usual manner, possesses a paid-up capital exceeding four-fifths of the capital subscribed, and has complied with every other condition of a joint-stock copartnership. Its existence as a Company is not less certain and complete in law, as well as in fact, than that of the Bank of England or any private firm; yet the Colonial Department seems to deny our existence…”

You can’t help but feel for Somes, can yout? It sounds all too similar to a heartbroken woman pleading with her love interest: “But I’m attractive, ambitious, and promise to be faithful…Why don’t you want me?” To Somes, and one supposes, the entire New Zealand Company, the arrangement made perfect sense, especially as the French began to show an increasing interest in the country as well. During the 18th and 19th centuries, New Zealand became quite the hub for the whaling industry, attracting French and American traffic to the point that a U.S. Consul  to New Zealand was appointed in the late 1830s. Among his other arguments, Somes highlights the need for swift British action to prevent any further moves by the French:

“It becomes very important, therefore, if it is of great importance to England to prevent the establishment of a French power in the midst of the English colonies of Australasia, that your Lordship should be made aware of the acts of the British Crown…”

But despite every apparent reason in favor of British colonization of New Zealand – even the threat of the French! Come on, Britain, could you ask for a better reason? – what finally forced the English hand was the presence of a handful of settlers who had found their way to New Zealand. They were in all opinions lawless rogues and were wrecking havoc with the natives. Soon enough, as Lord Normanby explains in a letter from 1839, England was left with no choice but to intervene:

“The necessity for the interposition of Government has, however, become too evident to admit to any further inaction. The reports which have reached this office within the last few months establish the facts that about the commencement of 1838, a body of not less than two thousand British subjects, has become permanent inhabitants of New Zealand, that amongst them were many persons of bad and doubtful character – convicts who had fled from our penal settlements, or seamen who had deserted their ships – and that these people, unrestrained by any law and amenable to no Tribunals, were alternately the authors and victims of every species of crime and outrage. It further appears that extensive cessions of land have been obtained from the natives and that several hundred persons have recently sailed from this country to occupy and cultivate these lands. The spirit of adventure thus been effectually roused it can be no longer doubted that an extensive settlement of British subjects will be rapidly established in New Zealand, and that unless protected and restrained by necessary laws and institutions they will repeat unchecked in that corner of the globe the same process of war and spoliation under which uncivilised tribes have almost invariably disappeared as often as they have been brought into the immediate vicinity of emigrates from the nations of Christendom. To mitigate, and if possible avert these disasters, and to rescue the emigrants themselves from the evils of a lawless state of society, it has been resolved to adopt the most effective measures for establishing amongst them a settled form of civil Government. To accomplish this design is the principal object of your mission.

It almost reads like a movie script, doesn’t it? I defer to primary sources so often only to give evidence to the written communication that went on between parties in England and New Zealand – the pragmatic straightforwardness and the intelligent eloquence of it all amazes me. In a way that counters the British Empire’s usual motto of “what we have, we hold,” England’s initial opinion towards New Zealand thus seems almost to say, “what we don’t have, we don’t want.” In a surprising show of altruistic restraint, official involvement appeared to be a “last resort” for the British colonial office, holding the law and civility as the utmost concerns at hand.

*     *     *

the native struggle.

Māori today present quite the unified front. With an official flag, a common language, and even their own king, one would expect it to have always been such a close-knit community. But the story of the indigenous people of New Zealand starts out a little differently, as is so often the case.

The word ‘Māori’ hasn’t always been used to describe their collective identity as a single race. As Marcia Stenson writes in The Treaty, “Māori meant ‘normal’ or ‘usual.’ The original inhabitants did not call themselves Māori. They were Nga Puhi, Ngati Maniapoto or Tuhoe or any of 40 or more tribes. The idea of a nation or national identity did not exist” (30). Similarly, in The Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand’s Law and Constitution, Matthew Palmer states that “it is misleading to conceive of a single unified Māori context in the early nineteenth century. The term ‘Māori’ itself developed, from its initial meaning as an adjective to something ‘ordinary’, to provide a way of collectively distinguishing indigenous New Zealanders from new arrivals” (33).

Rather than thinking of themselves as part of a national body of individuals, the allegiance of early Māori lay closer to home, generally in iwi or hapū, both of which were based on familial ties to a common ancestor. While both terms are generally defined as “tribe,” it can perhaps be more helpful to think of nineteenth-century Māori interactions between ‘iwi’ and ‘hapū’ as that between tribe and sub-tribe, or as ‘iwi’ being a grouping of several ‘hapū.’ As Angela Ballara describes the early organization of New Zealand, “a society of many independent corporate units had developed.”

Furthermore, Māori leadership resided largely in the local level. Each hapū had a chief, or rangatira, who was responsible for much of the tribe’s decision-making. Each rangatira was given authority, or mana, over the hapū, which as Stenson writes, was “gained by providing for the people, not oneself” (30). Kinship ties were important, as those in a hapū often shared a common ancestor. While several ‘paramount chiefs’ exercised control over a larger collection of hapū, it is important to recognize that no ‘centralized government’ existed as we might envision it today.

One such rangatira was a chief named Te Rauparaha, whose iwi Ngāti Toa stretched from the Wellington area of the North Island across Cook Strait into Nelson and Wairau. Despite his stature of a mere five feet, he was a fierce warrior known for his leadership and strategy and his notoriety today marks him as the “Māori Napoleon” or the “Napoleon of the South.” Even his haka is that which the All Blacks perform before every international match. He would later play a significant role in several historic arenas, from the Musket Wars to the selling of land to early European settlers to the Wairau Incident of 1843.

Te Rauparaha.

Intensifying this lack of centralization among the Māori was their tendency to tribal warfare. Boundaries between land and allegiance were constantly shifting as hapū engaged in conflicts across the country. In a book review of Andrew Vayda’s Warfare of the Māori, E.G. Schwimmer writes, “Wars were a constant feature of Maori life; conflicts over land and insults of every description were causes of war. The defeated party in any way was under an obligation, if it wished to restore its mana, to avenge its humiliation, so war was never finished with.”

Just as intertribal fighting often occurred over land, so did the aforementioned importance of the hapū and rangatira in Māori culture also coincide with their perspective on land ownership. It was a two-part perspective, focusing on collective ownership and their connection with the land itself.  The concept of individual land rights was foreign to them; emphasis instead rested on the collective. As a Māori saying goes, “Ehara taku toa I te toa takitahi
engari he toa takitini,” or “My strength is not in my individualism but in my family.” This applied to the land, as well, as it was to be used by the group, not owned or sold on an individual basis.

Stenson also contrasts the Māori tradition of use rights with that of European land values: “In European tradition, ownership is established by a written deed of sale, rather than by use. Owning the title deeds is more important than being a long-standing occupier. The value of the land has little to do with spiritual or cultural values and everything to do with market potential” (33). In European eyes, property rights were nothing more than a piece of paper, surely not something to be found in intimacy with the land, having a deep familiarity with every bush, rock and stream, or going as far to hold a ceremony before something as ordinary as felling a tree. In a “doomed-from-the-start” sort of way, these inherent differences in Maori and European conceptions of land ownership practically guaranteed future misunderstandings.

But at the same time, Māori were growing more and more in contact with international influences. From the early 1800s on, interaction with the ‘outside world’ was taking place with the influx of traders and whalers as well as missionary activities. In the same way that ‘Māori’ came to refer to the natives themselves, these outside figures became known by the term ‘Pākehā,’ a Māori word that literally means ‘foreign’ or ‘foreigner’, and applies mainly to white persons of European descent. This outside contact was not without its consequences, both positive and negative. As Palmer writes, “Internationalization had an increasingly important impact on Māori social, economic, political and cultural life” (35). With a deep interest in European products and technology, Māori began to trade with visitors, and as Stenson describes, “Traders were amazed at how Māori used and adapted technology” (40).

Perhaps even more remarkably, New Zealand historian James Belich estimates that “possibly a thousand Māori had traveled overseas before 1840” (40), one such traveler being Hongi Hika, rangatira of the Ngapuhi iwi, who brought back 300 muskets with him from England. When he wasn’t assisting various professors with the first Māori-English dictionary, Hongi was busy socializing with such characters as King George IV, who even gave the Māori chief a suit of armor. One can imagine the scene being something of a sequel to Pocahontas. Thus the Māori weren’t nearly as caught off guard as perhaps could have been the case by the arrival of additional Pākehā settlers and the New Zealand Company. The horizons of their world had been expanding long before 1840, and changes were taking place that would set the stage for later political decisions.

James Barry, 1820. Chiefs Waikato and Hongi Hika with missionary Thomas Kendall in England.

 

However, the new international influences brought with them a development that promised to dangerously converge with the Māori tradition of tribal warfare: the musket. The introduction of this weapon dramatically altered the means and methods of violence between Māori tribes. As NZ History describes, “Muskets (ngutu parera) changed the face of intertribal warfare, decimating the population of some tribes and drastically shifting the boundaries of areas that others controlled.” They ultimately lent their name to a time of intense fighting and destruction: the Musket Wars. The wars took place between the 1810s, 1820s, and 1830s and resulted in the deaths of nearly 20,000 Māori, a staggering twenty percent of the estimated native population at the time.

It was in the aftermath of the Musket Wars that interaction with British colonial officers began to increase in a pointed way. In 1833 a man named James Busby was sent to New Zealand to represent England as the British Resident. Despite the political nature of his new role, it seems Busby’s greatest passion in life was viticulture. Whilst working for various government departments in New South Wales in the 1820s, his plans were developing to begin wine making in the new Australian colony. In 1829, however, he returned to England after his posts ended in order to present himself at Whitehall for another position. For Busby, it was much the case of being in the right place at the right time. As it turned out, he had written on New Zealand. The English government, on the other hand, was seeking to send a British representative there in order to maintain some sense of order among its residents. While not the natural choice, Lord Goderich, secretary of state at the time, eventually chose Busby who soon after began his voyage to New Zealand, but not before gathering new vine cuttings from France and Spain.

James Busby.

What awaited Busby, in the words of someone I spoke with not long ago about New Zealand pre-Treaty of Waitangi, was “a mess.” It was a lawless land in every sense of the phrase, a land in which a few hundred Europeans had settled and many of whom, quite frankly, were up to no good. The Ministry of Justice reports [in an executive summary of a review of the New Zealand sex industry, no less] that “New Zealand has had a sex industry since the early days of European colonisation, when whalers and traders traded muskets and other goods for access to Māori women.” Much of the trouble originated from towns such as Kororareka, now known as Russell, which were major whaling ports. Such were the vices of its residents that one observer went so far as to call the town ‘the hell-hole of the Pacific.” It was, as NZ History puts it, a “frontier of chaos.” Or as James Stephen describes it in a letter to John Backhouse, New Zealand had “furnished an asylum to fugitive convicts, who, associated with men left in these Islands at different times by the whalers and other vessels, have formed a society much requiring the check of some competent authority.” For these reasons, a missionary by the name of William Yate assisted thirteen Māori chiefs in the composition of a letter to King William of England. The letter, dated the 16th of November, 1831, reads:

To King William, the Gracious Chief of England, Address of Chiefs to His Majesty the King.

King William,—

We, the chiefs of New Zealand assembled at this place, called the Kerikeri, write to thee, for we hear that thou art the great chief of the other side the water, since the many ships which come to our land are from thee.

We are a people without possessions. We have nothing but timber, flax; pork, and potatoes; We sell these things, however, to your people, and then we see the property of Europeans. It is only the land which is liberal towards us. From thee also come the missionaries who teach us to believe in Jehovah God, and in Jesus Christ His Son.

We have heard that the tribe of Mariau is at hand coming to take away our land; therefore we pray thee to become our friend and the guardian of these islands, lest the teasing of other tribes should come near to us and lest strangers should come and take away our land.

And if any of thy people should be troublesome or vicious towards us (for some persons are living here who have run away from ships), we pray thee to be angry with them that they may be obedient, lest the anger of the people of this land fall upon them.

This letter is from us, from the chiefs of the Natives of New Zealand.

1. Warerahi, Chief of Paroa.

2. Rewa, Chief of Waimate.

3. Patoune, Two brothers, Chiefs of Hokianga.

4. Nene, Two brothers, Chiefs of Hokianga.

5. Kekeao, Chief of the Abuahu.

6. Titore, Chief of Kororareka.

7. Tamoranga, Chief of Taiamai.

8. Ripe, Chief of Mapere.

9. Hara, Chief of Ohaiawai.

10. Atuabaere, Chief of Kaikohi.

11. Moetara, Chief of Pakauai.

12. Matangi, Chief of Waima.

13. Taunui, Chief of Hutakura.

The foregoing is a literal translation of the accompanying document.

William Yate,

Secretary to the Church Missionary Society, New Zealand.

In addition to the lack of laws regarding the behavior of new Pākehā settlers, there was also increasing confusion over the Māori sale of land to the settlers. Although Māori had begun to sell their land, often in exchange for muskets, the exact consequences of such a purchase were unclear. As mentioned earlier, many Māori felt the land wasn’t theirs to sell, yet they did transact with settlers in a way that allowed them to use their land. This, of course, differed only slightly from what the settlers thought they were getting for their muskets. The website of the Waitangi Tribunal aptly describes the situation:

“The idea of buying land was something new to Māori. The British settlers thought that they owned the land after they bought it from Māori. Some Māori thought that they were letting the settlers live on and use the land but thought it would always be Māori land. Hapu and iwi believe that a person can never be permanently separated from the land they were born on. Other people may use it, but other people would never be tangata whenua. The different ideas held by British and Māori about owning land were the cause of many problems.”

One of these problems had to do with the fact that many Māori chiefs had begun to sell the same parcel of land multiple times. As one website devoted to the Treaty of Waitangi records, “There is evidence that land sold by the Maoris to European settlers in the early days was sold more than once,” including Taranaki, which supposedly was purchased five times before 1860. Whether or not this was done intentionally has been left unsaid, but rumor has it that the more conniving of the chiefs, Te Ruaparaha included, might’ve one-up’ed settlers.

And so, like any proper British civil servant sent to a colonial outpost at the bottom of the known world, Busby got straight to work. Despite a fairly rough start in 1833 – a lack of respect from Māori and Pākehā alike, various attacks on the residency and his store ransacked, and any true financial (not to mention, moral) support from the British government missing – Busby was not a man easily discouraged. By 1834, he had Māori chiefs on the North Island deciding on a flag…if only to prevent ships originating from New Zealand  from being seized at foreign ports. NZ History gives the story of the “Hokianga-built trading ship Sir George Murray [which] was seized in Sydney by Customs officials for sailing without a flag or register. Australia, New Zealand’s major trading market, was subject to British navigation laws which ruled that every ship must carry an official certificate detailing construction, ownership and nationality of the ship.” Bit of a tricky situation, really, requiring a ship to declare a nationality that didn’t exactly exist in the eyes of the world. But Busby solved the issue while at the same time introducing the idea of mutual cooperation and collective government within the Māori. Bravo, Busby.

Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand.

At the same time, a man by the name of Baron Charles Philip Hippolytus de Thierry (we’ll call him the Baron for short) had an idea of his own. Although born to French parents, Baron de Thierry was raised in London and had the opportunity to meet Hongi Hika while studying at Cambridge. The 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand records that his acquaintance with the Māori chief “rekindled de Thierry’s boyhood passion to visit the scenes of Cook’s discoveries in the South Seas,” and he wasted no time no in securing himself a parcel of land in New Zealand. The path of his journeys over the next few years was filled with twists, turns, and tales of woe and bankruptcy, but by the late 1820s Baron de Thierry had taken to calling himself the “Sovereign Chief of New Zealand” and had every intention of arriving in the country to stake his claim.

Busby was not to be outdone. Word of the Baron’s intentions lit quite the fire under Busby’s pants and supposedly within thirty-six hours of hearing the news, he rallied a meeting of over thirty Māori chiefs at Waitangi on the 28th of October, 1835. It does seem an impossible feat in an age without cell phones or email, let alone fax machines or even a telegraph, but no matter his methods, Busby himself was soon responsible for drafting the first Māori Declaration of Independence, initially receiving thirty-four signatures from the newly-formed United Tribes of New Zealand.

The four points of the Declaration were concerned primarily with the recognition of Māori authority, but, much to Busby’s discredit, nothing much was to come of it. Not even his plans for a new Government House were constructed, let alone any meeting of Māori chiefs taking place as they had agreed to do each year. In many ways, Busby does seem like quite the utter failure, the doomed protagonist of a Shakespearean tragicomedy, and the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand only confirms this:

“British intervention in New Zealand at this stage was of the most cautious, frugal sort, involving no assertion of sovereignty and no cost to the Treasury, for the expenses were charged on New South Wales. Lord Goderich had contemplated supporting Busby with a small body of troops, stationing a warship at New Zealand, and giving him magisterial powers, but none of these things was ever done. He was expected to exercise a moral influence over captains and crews, runaway convicts, beachcombers, settlers, traders, and cannibal Maoris, solely by virtue of his powers of personal persuasion and the dignity of his Vice-Consul’s uniform. At Sydney, the new Governor, Sir Richard Bourke, had no faith in his mission; his Council made parsimony its watchword. Busby was supplied with a prefabricated small two-roomed cottage, but he had to pay the freight to New Zealand out of his own pocket and buy the covering and lining timber as well as the land on which to build it.”

In my opinion, though – however humble – the biggest achievement of Busby and his Declaration was the introduction of several key terms that were to surface again a mere five years later in the [slightly more influential] Treaty of Waitangi.

The first such term is ‘Tino Rangatiratanga,’ which appeared in the first point of the Māori Declaration in that “the chiefs declare the ‘Rangatiratanga o to matou wenua,’ and ‘Independence of their country.’” This phrase lies at the heart of treaty debates, because of both the particularly difficult task of translating it into English and the controversy that often results from this lack of agreement on its definition. In its Guide for Consulation with Māori, the Ministry of Justice defines it as “‘full authority, status and prestige’ with regard to the possessions, interests and customs of the Māori people.” A glossary on the Te Papa Museum of New Zealand website reads “sovereignty” and “the right for self-determination,” and in The Treaty, Stenson gives ‘chieftanship’ as the best way of understanding it.

Equally contentious was the use of the term ‘Kawanatanga.’ It featured in the second point of the Declaration, as the chiefs were believed to “declare they will not permit any separate ‘legislative authority’ or ‘wakarite ture’ to exist or any ‘function of government’ or ‘kawanatanga’ to be exercised within their land except under the authority of laws made by them…” Similarly, the Ministry of Justice defines it as a translation of the English word for ‘government,’ or in a slightly varied form, the Waitangi Tribunal lists it as a “transliteration of the word ‘governance.’” It is perhaps particularly interesting to note that many Māori were already familiar with the idea of kawanatanga from copies of the New Testament missionaries had translated for them. The term was often used to describe such leaders as Pontius Pilate or others with an equal amount of authority.

Thus with such controversial words in circulation, Busby laid the groundwork for the Treaty, even if it was muddled and not nearly according to the standard of that which the British government had expected. Most importantly, Māori were not only open to interaction with the British government, they desired it. The forthcoming Treaty of Waitangi was far from an agreement forced upon the indigenous people of New Zealand; in a way, it was solicited, if not the misunderstandings which resulted from issues of translation.

*     *     *

a different story across the tasman.

While the history of Australian colonization is quite easily another story for another day, I find it enlightening to momentarily compare it to that of New Zealand, to briefly note the vast difference in English behavior, if not opinions, in just a short fifty years.

Somewhere along my journey through US history textbooks, I’d picked up that the colonial existence of the state of Georgia – founded by British general James Ogelthrope and named after the ruling monarch of the time, King George II – was chiefly a “penal colony” of sorts, a repository for British prisoners, largely debtors. The English practice of shipping out its prisoners to new colonial soil was made possible by the Transportation Act of 1718, through which the government sought to alleviate its overcrowded prisons, or “gaols,” by sentencing convicts to seven years’ “transportation” to America. Although exact numbers don’t exist, it is estimated that during this time over 50,o00 British prisoners were sent to colonies such as Georgia.

However a little event called the Revolutionary War introduced a few, shall we say, complications into this ingenious British scheme. By 1776, with the colonies of America colonies no more, Britain was forced to turn elsewhere for what would be essentially another dumping ground for its human refuse. Enter Australia.

Captain Cook had already claimed the “Great Southern Continent” for Britain on the 22nd of August, 1770, after charting its coast and pausing on the aptly-named Possession Island to formally mark the occasion:

“Notwithstand[ing] I had in the Name of His Majesty taken possession of several places upon this coast, I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern Coast . . . by the name New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast, after which we fired three Volleys of small Arms which were Answered by the like number from the Ship.”

What is most important to note on Cook’s claim of Australia for Britain is the means by which his claim took place. A term that played a key role in the affair was the Latin expression terra nullius, translated roughly as ‘empty land’ or ‘no man’s land,’ that grew in frequency of application in eighteenth-century international law. The concept of claiming land as terra nullius found its initial support in the likes of philosophers such as John Locke. In White Politics and Black Australians, Scott Bennett describes Locke’s views:

“Locke maintained that man finds himself first of all in a state of nature (that is, an ‘uncivilised’ state), which he moves beyond only when he has begun to occupy land which he ‘tills, plants, improves, cultivates, and can use the product of.’ Such labour gives him the right to claim the land as his own property, ‘which another had no title to, nor could without injury take from him’” (15).

If no sign of such interaction with the land could be found by explorers, then in Locke’s opinion, the land was theirs for the taking, no matter the number of indigenous people. And so it seems that Cook himself:

soon established that an aboriginal people lived in the Great South Land, but careful observation appeared to show no towns, no cultivation, no religion, in short, no ‘civilisation’: the country was therefore, apparently ‘in the pure state of Nature, the Industry of Man, [having] had nothing to do with any part of it’” (15).

The indigenous population thus relegated to the status of null and void, Australia was in British hands, for better or worse.

But it wasn’t until 1779 that a light bulb appeared over the minds of the British, specifically a botanist named Joseph Banks who’d sailed with Cook, and an idea formed, selecting Australia as an alternative destination for their penal transportation scheme. Imagine the posters in tourism offices now: Australia, the New Penal Colony. A winning slogan if you ask me. If American soil was no longer an option, the convicts would now be sent Down Under, on a voyage not quite so simple as crossing a single ocean. The enterprise would be under the command and direction of Captain Arthur Phillip, an admiral in the Royal Navy, who was designated  Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales.  Phillip was to lead the settling of Britain’s first Australian colony (coincidentally on the site of what is now Sydney) and he left English harbors armed with a set of official instructions, dated the 25th of April, 1787, concerning the colonization process and the proper methods of dealing with the some 600 male and 180 female convicts in his control.

John Allcot (1888-1973), The First Fleet in Sydney Cove, January 27, 1788.

The tone of the document is again practical and straightforward, reading more like a set of instructions for a Saturday morning Do-It-Yourself project than of the founding of a colony. Between concerns for a sufficient stock of wine, “such further Quantities of Seed Grain as You may think requisite for the Tillage of the Land,” and the exercise of caution before slaughtering animals intended for breeding purposes, there was no room for philosophy or reflection or even perhaps – controversially – morality. Indeed, the original set of instructions unable to be located, an Australian website titled Documenting a Democracy posts a transcript of the document that was a manuscript draft. Penned five days before the official instructions, the draft contains several enlightening amendments, shown by a strikethrough in the text:

“And whereas it is Our Royal Intention that Measures should be taken in addition to those which are specified in the Article of these Our Instructions, for obtaining Supplies of Live Stock, and having in consequence of such Intention, caused a Quantity of Arms and other Articles of Merchandise to be provided, and sent out in the Ships under your Convoy, in order to barter with the Natives either on the Territory of New South Wales, or the Islands adjacent in those Seas, who found their ignorance of the value of………for such Articles.”

And again:

You are to endeavour by every possible means to open an Intercourse with the Savages Natives and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all Our Subjects to live in amity and kindness with them. And if any of Our Subjects shall wantonly destroy them, or give them any unnecessary Interruption in the exercise of their several occupations. It is our Will and Pleasure that you do cause such offenders to be brought to punishment according to the degree of the Offence [sic].

In this case, a single strikethrough can speak volumes. It’s as if each line were a crack in the façade; that having appeared, the colonial officers can be seen for who they really were and the motive of their actions exposed. Whilst the final document might have had civility at its core, their throwing around of words such as “savages” and “ignorance” is entirely telling. The website provides the following analysis of Captain Phillip’s guiding instructions:

“[They] advised Phillip about managing the convicts, granting and cultivating the land, and exploring the country. The Aborigines’ lives and livelihoods were to be protected and friendly relations with them encouraged, but the Instructions make no mention of protecting or even recognising their lands. It was assumed that Australia was terra nullius, that is, land belonging to no one…”

It is for the above reasons that I find it important to highlight the distinct differences between the British approach to settling Australia and that to New Zealand. In the case of Australia, land was a non-issue. In New Zealand, however, it couldn’t have played a more central role in the drama that unfolded. It’s almost impossible to know whether or not the British colonial officers regretted their actions in Australia a mere fifty years after the fact, but it is encouraging to see not every distant land was automatically assumed to be terra nullius.

*     *     *

all the best intentions.

There’s nothing like word of a war to get people moving. As mentioned before, sending a small body of troops to New Zealand in Busby’s aid had passed through the minds of men like Lord Goderich, though such military support had yet to come to fruition. It wasn’t until 1836 when Busby wrote to the governor of New South Whales, a man named Sir Richard Bourke, and informed him that warfare between two Maori tribes in the Bay of Islands was beginning to put European settlers in danger. At the same time, a certain captain in the Royal Navy, William Hobson, had just been stationed to serve under Bourke. Hobson, who had spent time patrolling the waters of North America, the Mediterranean, and the West and East Indies, perhaps had no idea how this particular assignment would shape the remaining course of his life.

William Hobson.

From the rank of volunteer, second class, to midshipman and master’s mate, Hobson had essentially spent his naval career thus far climbing the “corporate ladder” and had hopes of one day commandeering his own flagship in the Royal Navy. By the time of his promotion to acting lieutenant in April of 1812, he had been at sea for thirteen years without leave. He was once even described by a Commander Sir E. Owen as “an officer who to the most persevering zeal unites discretion and sound judgment.” And so it was that Bourke, receiving word of Māori threats from Busby, sent the newly-stationed Hobson to New Zealand to first and foremost ensure the protection of British settlers, but to also use the opportunity to observe and comment on Māori-Pakeha relations on the whole. Upon his return to New South Wales, Hobson submitted his findings and Bourke got to work.

On the 9th of September, 1837, Bourke wrote to Lord Glenelg, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, in a despatch titled On British Settlement in New Zealand:

“While awaiting the measure which your Lordship has recently announced an intention of resuming for the parliamentary regulation of the intercourse between British subjects and New Zealand, it may be proper to lay before His Majesty’s Government whatever information I am able to procure upon this difficult question

“…I proposed to [Hobson] to make known to me on his return the opinions which his observation whilst there might lead him to form upon the present state of New Zealand, and the means of securing, with the least possible overt interference, the common interests of the Natives and of the British settled amongst them

“…The details of the proposed measure may be varied to suit whatever circumstances may arise; and this without giving any reasonable cause for jealousy on the part of the other States, or exciting alarm in the breasts of those philanthropists who so creditably and powerfully advocate the rights of the aborigines all over the world. It is neither possible nor desirable to put a stop to the growing intercourse between the English colonies in those seas and New Zealand.”

From the tone of his letter, it looks as if Bourke felt the British government had finally reached the point of no return in its involvement with New Zealand. Although those in charge were initially opposed to the idea, just enough citizens had settled in New Zealand and just enough of Britain’s interests were connected to the country’s trading routes that as Bourke writes, to not get involved would now be detrimental. But as can be read, it is amazing to note their reluctance, to note the language of deliberation of this “difficult question.” Like a bulky, misshapen piece of clay or stone in the hand’s of an aging sculptor, just what was one to do with the unwieldy topic of New Zealand? The “growing intercourse,” however undesired, was now unavoidable.

As an addendum for Glenelg, Bourke also enclosed Hobson’s letter presenting the captain’s findings. He begins:

“It affords me great satisfaction to assure your Excellency that the European settlers at the Bay of Islands repose the most entire confidence in the friendly disposition of the Natives, notwithstanding the existence of war between the two tribes settled in their immediate neighbourhood. I am aware that the British Resident [Busby] is not free from apprehension; but from the intercourse I maintained with the Missionaries, and all other classes of British subjects, I am free to assert that he stands alone in the opinion he has formed.

Part of my heart went out to Busby, who was not even able to escape the censure of Hobson. I find it one thing to fail to receive understanding from lofty cabinet officials 12,000 miles away, out of touch with reality, but one would hope for a bit more camaraderie from someone who has seen the conditions of the country with his own eyes. He meant so well, but poor Busby never got a break.

Of the Māori themselves Hobson is perhaps more forgiving:

In reporting to your Excellency my views and observations on the social, condition of the New Zealanders, I cannot repress a feeling of deep regret that so fine and intelligent a race of human beings should, in the present state of general civilization, be found in barbarism; for there is not on earth a people more susceptible of high intellectual attainments, or more capable of becoming a useful and industrious race under a wise Government. At present, notwithstanding their formal declaration of independence, they have not, in fact, any government whatsoever nor could a meeting of the chiefs who profess to be the heads of the United Tribes take place at any time without danger of bloodshed. How, then can it be expected that laws will be framed for the dispensation of justice or the preservation of peace and good order, even if Native judgment were sufficiently matured to enact such laws or to carry them into execution?

I was thoroughly impressed by Hobson’s opinions of the Māori, endeared even, at the motivational tone to it. Like a coach in the locker room during half-time, Hobson seems to say, “You have so much potential, now buck up and show me what you’ve got!”

One can imagine that by late 1837, as Hobson finished his tour of Australasia and was sent home to England, he most likely relegated this time in New Zealand as just another episode in his lengthy naval career. Yet a year later, in December of 1838, the British government finally decided to position an officer in New Zealand who was “invested with the character and powers of British Consul.” When it came time to select such an officer, they hadn’t forgot about Hobson, neither his extensive naval record nor his prior experience in New Zealand. In the eyes of the British and in light of Busby’s lackluster performance, he indeed had what it would take.

Hobson’s appointment to the position of British Consul to New Zealand was formally sanctioned by Constantine Henry Phipps, who is perhaps better known as Lord Normanby or the Marquis of Normanby. In his role as British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Normanby also “approved the annexation of New Zealand to Britain,” as NZ History reports. On the 14th of August, 1839, he sent a letter of instructions to Hobson which are now famously referred to as Lord Normanby’s Brief. The brief begins:

“We have not been insensible to the importance of New Zealand to the interests of Great Britain in Australia, nor unaware of the great natural resources by which that country is distinguished, or that its geographical position must, in seasons, either of peace or war, enable it in the hands of civilised men to exercise a paramount influence in that quarter of the globe. There is probably no part of the Earth in which colonisation could be effected with greater or surer prospect of national advantage.

“On the other hand the Ministers of the Crown have been restricted by still higher motives, from engaging in such an enterprise. They have deferred to the advice of the Committee of the House of Commons in the year 1836 to enquire into the state of the aborigines residing in the vicinity of our colonial settlements, and have concurred with that Committee, in thinking that the increase in national wealth and power, promised by the acquisition of New Zealand, would be most inadequate compensation for the injury which must be inflicted on this kingdom itself by embarking on a measure essentially unjust, and but too certainly fraught with calamity to a numerous and inoffensive people whose title to the soil and to the sovereignty to New Zealand is indisputable and has been solemnly recognised by the British Government.”

Furthermore, the brief continues:

“The Queen, in common with Her Majesty’s predecessor, disclaims for herself and Her subjects every pretension to seize on the Islands of New Zealand, or to govern them as a part of the Dominions of Great Britain unless the free intelligent consent of the natives, expressed according to their established usages, shall first be obtained.”

Lord Normanby.

At some points, I find myself almost wanting to shout at the British, “Enough already!” This continued emphasis on obtaining the proper consent from the natives seems almost a broken record, but it does give proof to the fact that British officials seem intent on making sure they do things the “right way” this time around.

Bear in mind, though, that Hobson was back in England as he received Normanby’s brief and was thus able to send a reply the very same day asking for Normanby to elucidate several points. I find it easy to get caught up in the language of these primary sources, to focus on the what’s and when’s and why’s and neglect the who. For indeed, it’s quite a moving picture to think of Hobson, at the age of 44, having just returned home with his wife, son and four daughters, a family perhaps just beginning to regain some sense of normalcy and Hobson still cherishing dreams of his own flagship, when word arrives that he has been selected for a task none other than the founding of a new country. I find it poignant to imagine the moment when the letter arrives at 34 Great George Street – does Hobson take a seat by the fire? Does Eliza bring him a cup of tea? Does Little Johnny ask to read over his father’s shoulder? A fitting modern description of such a notice could very well be that a “bombshell” was dropped on the family that unsuspecting summer day. They had no sooner returned from their far-flung Pacific post than to find out they’d be heading back again. Hobson would never return to England.

What emotions passed through Hobson as he read of his new mission? Was there any sense of pride at being selected for such an assignment, or merely frustration? The 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand records that he was “not anxious to commit himself,” but one wonders how he expressed this reluctance to his superiors. In what state of mind did he bear his resignation to the task at hand? In his reply to Normanby on August 14th, Hobson writes that, “To facilitate a reference to this document, I have numbered the paragraphs in pencil from 1 to 20, commencing at the close of the preamble.” Did worry lines form on his forehead as he held his pencil and marked the document that prescribed the final course of his life? The Hobson family set sail from England on the 25th of August, 1839, and didn’t arrive in New South Wales until January the 10th, 1840. What conversations took place in those long five months? What hopes and fears found their voice on the decks of the HMS Druid? Perhaps this is just the closet novelist in me talking, but I find the circumstances surrounding Hobson’s selection all too inviting of this kind of speculation.

All we do know is that Hobson arrived in New Zealand on the 29th of January and within eight days had written the Treaty (with the help of missionaries and our dear Busby, I am pleased to report) and begun the process of obtaining Māori signatures. However, a month later, on the 1st of March, Hobson suffered a paralytic stroke and despite a temporary improvement of health, died two years later, to be survived by his wife by 34 years. It’s the makings of a movie, I’m telling you.

In light of the treaty, however – which, Hollywood aside, is the more pressing of issues – Hobson himself describes how his first days went as Lieutenant-Governor in a letter to the latest Governor of New South Wales, Sir George Gipps. Dated the 5th of February, the letter is titled Narrative of Proceedings on Arrival in New Zealand and writes of Hobson’s first meeting with the natives:

“[A] vast number of chiefs, with a multitude of followers, crowded in from every quarter, and at 12 this day they assembled under spacious tents, decorated with flags, which had been previously erected at Waitangi by the direction of Captain Nias, of this ship…[I] took my seat on a raised platform, surrounded by the gentlemen in the same order as they had accompanied me. In the centre of the area within the tents, the chiefs seated themselves upon the ground, leaving a space round them for the Europeans. The whole spectacle produced a most imposing effect.”

Like the pencil marks on Normanby’s brief, I find Hobson’s attention to detail, to mention such facts as that the Māori were seated, rather than standing, and that flags were waving, to be wholly evocative of the scene. He continues into the reading and discussing of the Treaty and into the range of reactions from the chiefs, a varied mix of support and opposition – as can be expected from any political arena, to be sure. And again, however difficult it is to ascertain whether the dialogue recorded were verbatim or not, I found the words of a rangatira named Nene particularly moving:

“[Nene] first addressed himself to his own countrymen, desiring them to reflect on their own condition—to recollect how much the character of New Zealanders had been exalted by their intercourse with Europeans, and how impossible it was for them to govern themselves without frequent wars and bloodshed; and he concluded his harangue by strenuously advising them to receive us, and to place confidence in our promises. He then turned to me and said, ‘You must be our father. You must not allow us to become slaves; you must preserve our customs, and never permit our lands to be wrested from us.’”

Although Hobson adjourned the meeting until the 7th, he awoke the next day to find the chiefs impatient – ready to get the show on the road, if you will. And so it was that two versions of the Treaty were written, one in English and the other in Māori, and were subsequently signed. The English text reads:

“HER MAJESTY VICTORIA Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland regarding with Her Royal Favour the Native Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and anxious to protect their just Rights and Property and to secure to them the enjoyment of Peace and Good Order has deemed it necessary in consequence of the great number of Her Majesty’s Subjects who have already settled in New Zealand and the rapid extension of Emigration both from Europe and Australia which is still in progress to constitute and appoint a functionary properly authorised to treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty’s Sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands – Her Majesty therefore being desirous to establish a settled form of Civil Government with a view to avert the evil consequences which must result from the absence of the necessary Laws and Institutions alike to the native population and to Her subjects has been graciously pleased to empower and to authorise me William Hobson a Captain in Her Majesty’s Royal Navy Consul and Lieutenant-Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may be or hereafter shall be ceded to her Majesty to invite the confederated and independent Chiefs of New Zealand to concur in the following Articles and Conditions.”

Article the First:

“The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.”

Article the Second:

“Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.”

Article the Third:

In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

(signed) William Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor.

Now therefore We the Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand being assembled in Congress at Victoria in Waitangi and We the Separate and Independent Chiefs of New Zealand claiming authority over the Tribes and Territories which are specified after our respective names, having been made fully to understand the Provisions of the foregoing Treaty, accept and enter into the same in the full spirit and meaning thereof in witness of which we have attached our signatures or marks at the places and the dates respectively specified. Done at Waitangi this Sixth day of February in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty.”

The English text of the Treaty, in Busby's handwriting.

Second page of the English text.

Or, as the chiefs might’ve read it:

KO WIKITORIA te Kuini o Ingarani i tana mahara atawai ki nga Rangatira me nga Hapu o Nu Tirani i tana hiahia hoki kia tohungia ki a ratou o ratou rangatiratanga me to ratou wenua, a kia mau tonu hoki te Rongo ki a ratou me te Atanoho hoki kua wakaaro ia he mea tika kia tukua mai tetahi Rangatira – hei kai wakarite ki nga Tangata maori o Nu Tirani – kia wakaaetia e nga Rangatira Maori te Kawanatanga o te Kuini ki nga wahikatoa o te wenua nei me nga motu – na te mea hoki he tokomaha ke nga tangata o tona Iwi Kua noho ki tenei wenua, a e haere mai nei.

Na ko te Kuini e hiahia ana kia wakaritea te Kawanatanga kia kaua ai nga kino e puta mai ki te tangata Maori ki te Pakeha e noho ture kore ana.

Na kua pai te Kuini kia tukua a hau a Wiremu Hopihona he Kapitana i te Roiara Nawi hei Kawana mo nga wahi katoa o Nu Tirani e tukua aianei amua atu ki te Kuini, e mea atu ana ia ki nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani me era Rangatira atu enei ture ka korerotia nei.

Ko te tuatahi:

Ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa hoki ki hai i uru ki taua wakaminenga ka tuku rawa atu ki te Kuini o Ingarani ake tonu atu – te Kawanatanga katoa o o ratou wenua.

Ko te tuarua:

Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangitira ki nga hapu – ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa. Otiia ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa atu ka tuku ki te Kuini te hokonga o era wahi wenua e pai ai te tangata nona te Wenua – ki te ritenga o te utu e wakaritea ai e ratou ko te kai hoko e meatia nei e te Kuini hei kai hoko mona.

Ko te tuatoru:

Hei wakaritenga mai hoki tenei mo te wakaaetanga ki te Kawanatanga o te Kuini – Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani.

(signed) William Hobson, Consul and Lieutenant-Governor.

Na ko matou ko nga Rangatira o te Wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani ka huihui nei ki Waitangi ko matou hoki ko nga Rangatira o Nu Tirani ka kite nei i te ritenga o enei kupu, ka tangohia ka wakaaetia katoatia e matou, koia ka tohungia ai o matou ingoa o matou tohu.

Ka meatia tenei ki Waitangi i te ono o nga ra o Pepueri i te tau kotahi mano, e waru rau e wa te kau o to tatou Ariki.

It was the copy of the above text that the Māori rangatira signed, a total number of chiefs reaching an estimated 240. Signatures were obtained all over New Zealand in the presence of a variety of witnesses on about eight different dates, spanning from February until August of 1840, and years of typical British restraint and reluctance to intervene finally came to a close.

Bay of Islands, 1840.

Treaty signed or not, however, two things remain to be clarified. The first is that the Treaty of Waitangi pertained solely to the North Island of New Zealand. This was an issue very much made clear in the correspondence between Normanby and Hobson in August of 1839. Hobson wrote to Normanby saying, “The declaration of the independence of New Zealand was signed by the united chiefs of the Northern Island only (in fact, only of the northern part of that Island), and it was to them alone that his late Majesty’s letter was addressed on the presentation of their flag; and neither of these instruments had any application whatsoever to the Southern Islands,” to which the Secretary of State replied, “The remarks which I have made respecting the independence of the people of New Zealand relate, as you correctly suppose, to the tribes inhabiting the Northern Island only.” The consequence of such a difference led to the need to distinguish between how the British might claim each island.

Accordingly, the second thing to note is how the means by which Britain gained possession of each island differed. As Hobson noted, there is “a distinction…between the Northern and Southern Islands of New Zealand…[in that] their relations with this country, and their respective advancement towards civilization, are essentially different.” Little contact had been made with the few chiefs that did reside on the South Island, and Hobson himself refers to them as “the wild savages in the Southern Islands,” instead encouraging Normanby that Britain might instead be entitled to “the rights that are usually assumed by first discoverers.” So while the North Island was claimed by treaty, the South was actually claimed by right of discovery, although several of its chiefs did eventually sign the Treaty of Waitangi.

In the end, neither island was claimed by right of conquest or by a concept as controversial as terra nullius. Instead, what should be remarked upon is the very determination of British officials to obtain the proper consent before embarking on any kind of partnership or agreement with the Māori. In this way, the British government certainly differed from the New Zealand Company in their approach to settlement and it is clear that both parties were operating under entirely different ideologies. In a letter referenced earlier from Joseph Somes to Lord Palmerston in 1839, Somes writes:

“In the year 1769, Captain Cook, acting under a commission from the Crown of England, took possession of the Islands of New Zealand in the name of His Majesty George the Third. This act was performed in the most formal manner, and was published to the world. We are not aware that it was ever questioned by any foreign Power. It constituted sovereignty by possession. The law of nations, we believe, recognizes no other mode of assuming dominion in a country of which the inhabitants are so barbarous as to be ignorant of the meaning of the word sovereignty, and therefore incapable of ceding sovereign rights. This was the case with the New Zealanders, from whom it would have been impossible for Captain Cook to have obtained, except in mockery of the truth, a British sovereignty by cession. Sovereignty by possession is that which the British Crown maintains in a large portion of its foreign dependencies.”

I find Somes’ language unexpectedly jarring in that it is such a noticeable departure from the typically good-natured and, shall I say, politically correct jargon of official British correspondence. Words such as “barbarous,” “ignorant” and “mockery” would hardly seem out of place in documents relating to the settling of Australia, but after letter after letter and dispatch after dispatch calling for the natives’ complete understanding and even reference to the Māori as “New Zealanders,” Somes seems to have missed the mark. While members of the New Zealand Company felt the country had already been claimed by right of conquest years earlier, it is clear the British government felt differently. Although Normanby wrote to Hobson, “I agree with you that the ceremonial of making such engagements with [South Island chiefs] would be a mere illusion and pretence which ought to be avoided,” this sentiment was not applied to the North Island. In the northern half of the country, Māori sovereignty was wholly respected and the natives themselves were deemed intelligent enough to enter into negotiations with.

*     *     *

land of (missed) opportunity.

And so it was that after the signing of the treaty, more settlers began to arrive and the official work of a new colony began. Accordingly, as Palmer writes, the humanitarian efforts of the 1840s gave way to the colonization efforts of the 1850s. This, as I say, is where it gets messy. The British were perhaps right to be so wary about entering into New Zealand affairs in an official capacity, for as soon as they were passed the ball, they swiftly dropped it.

The purpose of Article Two of the Treaty of Waitangi was to establish the Crown’s right to preemption. Defined as “the right of purchasing before others,” preemption basically gave the new British colonial government in New Zealand the sole right to buying land off the Māori. On one hand, this was a needed step in order to bring an end to shady and ill-defined transactions between the Māori and settlers, however it also resulted in land being sold cheaply, often at a price below market value.

At the time of New Zealand’s colonization, the British Empire was undercapitalized, with little funds to send its way. Thus strapped for cash, colonial officers began the process of purchasing Māori land and then selling it for several times the price to settlers. The profit that resulted from such transactions was used to fund the settlement process, whether bringing over new settlers or helping to fund the new colony. A precariously precocious concept, if you ask me, as it meant the Māori were soon left with little but their grievances. As the 1966 Encyclopedia of New Zealand writes, “Using this method the government acquired virtually the whole South Island and substantial areas in the North Island, especially close to Auckland and Wellington. The land was then transferred to the various provincial governments, for sale and grant to private settlers.”

In 1840, Māori held the title to 66,400,000 acres of land. To put it another way, the total amount of land mass making up the country of New Zealand. But as the colonial administration got rolling and began to purchase land, by 1852 that amount had been halved and by 1860 it was 21,400,000. The number wouldn’t be growing anytime soon.

The passing of the Native Lands Act in 1865 effectively ended the Crown’s right of pre-emption and established the Native Land Court as a means of clarifying land ownership. However, by this time, the New Zealand colonial government had done enough wrong to ensure the future would bring a need for accountability, a call for reparations and a making of amends with the Māori. Land was too important to them for their rights to go unclaimed. The future would be a time to correct the negative outcome of the situation…no matter how good the intentions might’ve been at the beginning.

*     *     *

Whatu ngarongaro te tangata 

Toitu te whenua

People perish but the land is permanent.

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