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The Treaty of Waitangi
King, Marcus 1891-1977 :The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, Feb 6th, 1840 [Wellington, Free Lance] 1939
Signing the Treaty of Waitangi
Permission of the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mätaurangao Aotearoa, must be obtained before any reuse of this image.
Representatives of the government and of the Māori assembled at James Busby's residence, including Captain William Hobson. Henry Williams at the lower table explaining the text to a signatory, Captain J Nias, James Busby and Tamati Waka Nene.
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In August 1839 the British Government sent Captain William Hobson out to New Zealand aboard "The Herald", as British Consul, with orders to annex a part of New Zealand and place it under British rule. His mission was to organise a treaty and persuade Māori chiefs to accept British sovereignty over all, or at least over parts of the country. The British Government was anxious to establish sovereignty in order to stabilise the degrading situation in New Zealand.

The Māori and their land were to be protected from unscrupulous land sharks who were taking advantage of the uncontrolled situation, and the 2000 settlers already established in the country were to be secured.

It was therefore not long after the arrival of the New Zealand Company settlers at Port Nicholson (bottom of the North Island) that Captain Hobson obtained the first signatures from Māori chiefs for the envisaged Treaty of Waitangi.

Among the terms of the treaty, it was stated that :

  • Māori would retain possession of their lands and fishing areas.
  • At the same time, Māori would accept the new Colonial government's pre-emptive right to purchase land. All sale of land by either Māori or European would be transacted via the government.
  • Māori would accept the sovereignty of the Queen.
  • Māori would be guaranteed the same rights and privileges as those of all British subjects.

Hobson promised that all land which had been unfairly bought would be returned to Māori hands. It was also promised that all land transactions made before 1840 would be investigated by a Land Court.

The Treaty of Waitangi (Waitangi means weeping (or noisy) waters) was finally signed on 6th February 1840, after a great gathering at Waitangi (Bay of Islands), which commenced on the morning of 5th February. Discussions and arguments for and against the Treaty continued until the morning of the 6th. Among those chiefs in favour of the Treaty were Rawiri Taiwhanga, Hone Heke and Tamati Waka Nene.

Not all Māori chiefs were present at Waitangi to sign the treaty, and Hobson set off traveling north and south gathering further signatures. It was not until the 3rd September that the final signature was obtained. In all, over 500 Chieftains had signed, although a number of important Chiefs had not signed the Treaty, including Te Wherowhero of Waikato, Taraia of Thames, Tupaea of Tauranga, the Te Arawa of Rotorua, and the Ngati Tuwharetoa of Taupo.

In May 1840 Hobson declared British sovereignty over New Zealand.

Click here for more details on the circumstances of New Zealand's annexation.

From the start Hobson experienced difficulties with the New Zealand Company settlers. The first arrival of settlers wanted to set up their own government, in spite of the Treaty which had just been signed. Hobson viewed their actions as being disloyal to the Queen. It was this which pushed him to declare British sovereignty over the totality of New Zealand.

Difficulties with the settlers continued. They objected to Hobson's plan to make Waitemata Harbour the capital, instead of Port Nicholson. The land owners objected to Hobson's offer of higher wages to labourers for work on government buildings. This naturally led labourers to leave the south for the more lucrative north.

The settlers were not happy with Hobson's Māori policy, feeling he was too pro-Māori in keeping to the conditions of the Treaty of Waitangi. In addition to this, neither the British nor the American settlers wanted British rule. They wanted a self government. Hobson was continually obliged to fight an uphill battle with the settlers. He died in office in September 1842.

Captain Robert FitzRoy, another naval officer, succeeded Hobson and difficulties with the settlers still followed. As far as the settlers were concerned, FitzRoy was continuing with Hobson's policy of favouring Māori interests over those of the Europeans. In addition to FitzRoy's problems, the Government he inherited was bankrupt.

The New Zealand Company in London was at the same time experiencing severe financial problems, and this was causing discontent among the settlers. Those who had bought land from the Company found they were unable to have it properly surveyed. Labourers who had emigrated via the New Zealand Company, following the promise of employment and pay, found themselves jobless.

FitzRoy's relations with the settlers came to a head with accusations concerning his "pro-Māori" policy. The settlers demanded that Britain recall FitzRoy. They were supported by New Zealand Company allies. The Māori themselves were beginning to regret the annexation of their land, and relations between Māori and the settlers deteriorated to a low point.

The Māori realised that they were no longer free to sell their land as they wished. The government began to force the Māori to sell land at low prices, in order to resell the land to settlers at much higher prices. This situation eventually led to first hostilities known as "The Flagstaff War".

The Colonial Office was eventually obliged to give in to the settlers' demands, and in 1845 FitzRoy left office. Governor George Grey, an army officer, was nominated as FitzRoy's successor. The British Government granted subsidies, and the Colony's finances soon became stable. With financial assistance from Britain, Grey was able to do that which Hobson and FitzRoy before him had been unable to do, purchase land from the Māori on a large-scale basis.

The New Zealand Company had been rescued from financial disaster by Britain, (Britain having been obliged to accept the presence of the Company). The Company purchased the Canterbury Plains, and the "Canterbury Pilgrims", 3.500 in number, settled on some of the finest pastoral land in New Zealand.

Land in the South Island was easily purchased, as Te Rauparaha and his war parties had seriously reduced the number of Māori in the south. Apart from the gold miners from Australia and America, who appeared in growing numbers during the gold rush era of 1861, when gold was discovered in Otago, the majority of European settlers were from Great Britain : England, Scotland and Ireland. This group made up approximately 40% of the Europeans in New Zealand in 1886. They were principally from lower and middle class labourer backgrounds.

After this group were the Germans and Scandinavians with some Asians and southern Europeans. Several hundred Dalmatians from today's ex-Yugoslavia settled in North Auckland during the 1890s.

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Early investigation of land transactions

The Crown formed a Land Claims Commission in 1840, in order to investigate the purchases of land before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. No pre-Treaty land sales were to be considered valid unless so confirmed by the Crown. Any further private land purchases made by settlers from the Māori would be considered illegal and invalid.

Busby had earlier stated that all unjustly transacted land would be returned to the Māori, and William Hobson reiterated this later.

The first Land Claims Commissioners were Edward Godfrey and Mathew Richmond. William Spain became Land Claims Commissioner for the South Island later on. The Commission had mixed success. Some land purchases were declared invalid, others adjusted by the agents of the Lands Commission to satisfy all parties involved.

Other land purchases, however, were not fully investigated. The Ngati Toa chiefs Te Rauparaha and Te Rangihaeata expressed grievances on the Crown monopoly of land purchase which encroached on their land. The Hutt Valley was a particular point of contention.

However other Māori tribes, in particular the Te Atiawa tribe, rivals of the Ngati Toa, sided with Governor Grey in the resistance against Ngati Toa.


Gold was first discovered as early as 1842 in the Coromandel and Nelson areas, although these were only traces. The most important gold find, leading to a gold rush, was in 1861 at Gabriel's Gully in Otago. A gold seeker had just panned 7 ounces of gold in 10 hours.

The subsequent gold rush led to Otago's population doubling in number during the six months which followed the first discovery, with many prospectors arrived direct from the Australian gold fields. The principal gold rushes in early New Zealand were :

  • 1861 - 1864 Otago
  • 1864 - 1868 The West Coast
  • 1868 - 1870 Waihi

Main source of research :
"An unsettled History" - Alan Ward
"Kinds of Peace" - Keith Sinclair
The New Zealand Historical Atlas - Bateman
The New Zealand Official Year Book

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Related Links
The Treaty of Waitangi
Three historical interpretations of the Treaty of Waitangi from the Electronic Journal of Australian and New Zealand History
The Treaty of Waitangi The Waitangi National Trust
The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Extensive database of New Zealand biographies
Local history links
Early Māori place names


 Please be aware that this website is a personal homepage. It would therefore be wise to cross check information which I have presented here. A list of many official New Zealand history sites may be found within my Links section.