Treaty of Waitangi
The 6th of February 1840 AD
It took decades from James Cook’s mapping of the islands of New Zealand for British settlement to begin, though in piecemeal fashion and with the French and adventurers from other nations rivalling them. In the 1830s the British authorities discussed how to regularise the situation in the distant land where exploitation of the indigenous Maori was causing resentment and rising tension. Naval officer William Hobson investigated the situation in 1836, and suggested that what amounted to sovereign trading posts be established. Things moved on, and it was decided that Britain would incorporate New Zealand as a colony within New South Wales, sending Hobson to be Consul and then Lt-Governor of the annexed land.
Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands at the end of January 1840 needing to reach a settlement with the Maori rapidly – the Aurora, the first ship of settlers, had beaten him by a week. He quickly began the negotiations which resulted in the Treaty of Waitangi, where sovereignty was accorded to Queen Victoria in return for confirmation of existing Maori land and property rights, and Maoris being given equal status with Britons. Some 45 Maori chiefs signed the document on February 6 1840, hundreds of others joining them over the next seven months via copies despatched around the country.
Problems with interpretation and legality soon began: Britain never ratified the treaty; the English and Maori versions were somewhat different; and it seems each party had a different idea of what had been intended in the first place. Exploitation, argument and war inevitably followed; and to this day claims are being settled which relate to breaches in the (un-ratified) treaty.
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