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The making of the Treaty

A treaty in the making

The British government appointed William Hobson as consul to an independent New Zealand. It sent him here with one goal – to get Māori to sign over sovereignty of all or part of New Zealand to Britain. Hobson would then become lieutenant governor over those areas.

Hobson sailed into the Bay of Islands on Wednesday, 29 January 1840. James Busby, British Resident, met him, and the two began planning a treaty that would carry out their government's intentions.

Enlarge image Invitation sent by James Busby to Tamati Waka Nene

Invitation to the Waitangi treaty meeting sent by James Busby to Tamati Waka Nene. Auckland Museum Tamaki Paenga Hira (Ref: C21.784)

Working fast

Busby sent these invitations to local rangatira (chiefs) to come to his house at Waitangi on 5 February. Meanwhile, Hobson, with no legal training, struggled to write the treaty he wanted the rangatira to sign.

Unimpressed with Hobson's efforts, Busby redrafted the treaty, adding an all-important promise – that Māori would retain possession of their lands, forests, fisheries, and other property.

Finally, the missionary Henry Williams translated the treaty into Māori. However, it wasn't an exact translation.

Invitation translation

30 January 1840

My dear friend, I make contact with you again. A war ship has arrived with a chief on board sent by the Queen of England to be a Governor for us both. Now he suggests that all the chiefs of the Confederation of New Zealand, on Wednesday of this holy week coming should gather to meet him. So I ask you my friend to come to this meeting here at Waitangi, at my home. You are a chief of that Confederation.

And so, to conclude.

From your dear friend, Busby

The first meeting, 5 February 1840

Early on Wednesday 5 February, waka (canoes) streamed across the bay to Waitangi. Settler vessels joined them, flags flying. A marquee was set up on Busby's lawn, while stalls sold refreshments – pork, bread, pies, ale, and spirits – to the gathering crowds.

Enlarge image William Hobson

William Hobson. Watercolour by Mary Ann Musgrave, 1839?, Rex Nan Kivell Collection, National Library of Australia (Ref: nla.pic-an6054546)

Talks begin

Hobson explained the Treaty and urged the rangatira to sign it. He stressed that it would give the British Queen the authority to control British subjects and protect Māori and their lands.

Throughout the day, the rangatira debated. Some saw the Treaty as the best way forward. Others said the Treaty was unnecessary. Still others thought it was dangerous. By nightfall no one had signed. The meeting was adjourned for two days.

Enlarge image The scene in the marquee

Photolithograph by Leonard Cornwall Mitchell, 1949, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington (Ref: A-242-002)

The scene in the marquee.

'In front of the platform ... were the principal ... chiefs ... some clothed with dog-skin mats made of ... stripes of black and white hair; others ... in ... new woollen cloaks ... of crimson, blue, brown, and plaid, and, indeed, of every shade of striking colour ... while some were dressed in plain European and some in common Native dresses ... here and there a ... taiaha ... was seen erected, adorned with the long flowing white hair of the tails of the New Zealand dog and crimson cloth and red feathers.'

William Colenso, The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Government Printer, Wellington, 1890 (reprinted Capper, 1971)

Enlarge image Hakiro, Waka Nene, and Rewa - three of the rangatira who debated at Waitangi

Hakiro, Waka Nene, and Rewa - three of the rangatira who debated at Waitangi. W Bambridge, in W C Cotton Journal, vol IX, Dixson Library, State Library of New South Wales (ML Ref: MS 41)

The words of the rangatira

'Let the Governor return to his own country ... We are not whites, nor foreigners ... This country is ours ... we are the Governor – we, the chiefs of this our fathers' land.'

Rewa of Ngāi Tawake from Kororareka

'We are free. We will not have a Governor ... go back, return, walk away.'

Hakiro of Ngāi Tawake

'O Governor! Remain for us – a father, a judge, a peacemaker.'

Tamati Waka Nene of Ngāti Hao

The signing – 6 February 1840

Māori groups camped nearby and continued talking into the night. No one knows just what was said, but by morning most rangatira had decided they should sign the Treaty after all. And they didn't want to wait until the meeting was reconvened in a day's time.

Caught by surprise, Hobson said he could not discuss the Treaty that day, but would accept signatures. Over forty rangatira signed with their names, mark, or moko (facial tattoo). But this was just the beginning.

Enlarge image Rangatira Eruera Maihi Patuone and Hone Wiremu Heke Pokai

Rangatira Eruera Maihi Patuone (right) and Hone Wiremu Heke Pokai, who was first to sign the Treaty. Patuone presented Hobson with a greenstone mere for Queen Victoria.

Lithograph by W Hawkins after an original by George French Angas, from New Zealanders Illustrated, London 1847 (Te Papa Neg. B.038951)

Enlarge image William Colenso´s notebook

William Colenso's notebook, in which Colenso took shorthand notes of Hobson's opening words at Waitangi. Courtesy of Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery

Enlarge image Te Tii, Waitangi, where chiefs camped after the first Treaty meeting

Te Tii, Waitangi, where chiefs camped after the first Treaty meeting to discuss the pros and cons of signing the Treaty. Sketch by Sarah Mathew, 1840, Auckland City Libraries Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero (Ref: A12003)

Enlarge image Felton Mathew, Acting Surveyor-General, described the Waitangi meetings in his journal

National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa, Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington , Dominion Post Collection (Ref: EP/1996/2239/29)

Felton Mathew, Acting Surveyor-General, described the Waitangi meetings in his journal, shown here by Eamonn Bolger. Mathew noted that among the chiefs were 'many female chiefs of importance, who were distinguished by white feathers in their hair and ears, sometimes by the entire wing of a bird suspended from the ear.'

(Diary of Felton Mathew, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa)

Kao, kao, e hoki!
No, no, go back!
E noho, noho mai, Kawana!
Stay, remain here, Governor!