History at Waitangi

History at Waitangi

15th January 2020, 7 am we arrived in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. MS Noordam dropped anchor in sheltered waters between Russell and the Waitangi Treaty Ground, while we waited a call to board a ship-to-shore tender.

DSC07795_1Bay Of Islands, Paihia Wharf, New Zealand to Waitangi Treaty GroOur excursion included a bus to trip to Kerikeri, to explore two of the oldest surviving buildings in New Zealand, and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.


Ship’s tenders docked at Paihia Wharf.


Before engaging in the serious business of exploring New Zealand’s early years, we sat down to coffee/tea with scones, jam and cream at the The Plough and Feather, Kerikeri …


…. on the banks of the Kerikeri River.


Across the road is the famous Mission Station Stone Store.


“The Kerikeri Mission Station was established in 1819 as one of the first places in New Zealand where Māori invited visitors to live among them. Built under the protection of local chiefs who were keen to harness the trade and technology of Europe, Kerikeri Mission Station grew amidst a backdrop of tribal warfare and ever-increasing visits from foreign ships.” (heritage.org.nz)


The Stone Store was built in 1832, as a Missionary Society warehouse, but took on various other roles as a trading post, library, barracks and boys’ school. It also served as the general store, a role which it still fulfils today.


Behind the Stone Store is Kemp House, New Zealand’s oldest surviving building (albeit with modifications and restorations). Europeans and Maori worked together to construct the house in 1821-22.


It was originally the Mission House, but having been purchased by the Kemp family in 1832, became known as Kemp House.


The visit to Kerikeri completed, our tour guide drove us to the Treaty Grounds at Waitangi.


One of the most influential European figures in New Zealand during the 1830s was James Busby. He was residing in Australia when appointed to the position of “British Resident in New Zealand” from 1833. As a representative of the British crown, his main duties were “to protect the more orderly British settlers and traders and prevent ‘outrages’ by the less orderly Europeans against Maori”. (nzhistory.gov.nz). Note, he had no authority over Maori.

DSC07827“The Treaty House” – The Busby family home at Waitangi

Since most of the Europeans in New Zealand at that time lived and worked around the Bay of Islands in the whaling industry, that’s where his appointment took him. He built a house at Waitangi across the Bay from Russell (then known as Kororareka), the location of the largest whaling station in the southern hemisphere.


Soon after arriving in the Bay of Islands, Busby wrote to the Colonial Secretary in New South Wales suggesting the adoption of a New Zealand flag. Why? It was the Europeans in New Zealand doing most of maritime trading and according to maritime law trading ships had to fly the flag of their home country. Trading vessels from New Zealand had no flag to fly, which resulted in one New Zealand ship being impounded in Sydney.

Apart from solving the trade issue, Busby believed that having a flag might encourage Maori chiefs to work together, instead of continually fighting each other.

With Busby’s involvement, A flag was designed, agreed to by a majority of north island Maori chiefs attending a meeting on Busby’s land at Waitangi 20 March 1834 and approved by King William IV of Britain. Approval was circulated via the British Admiralty with instructions to recognise it as New Zealand’s flag.

Maori United Tribes Flag 1833A replica of the 1833 Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand

To northern Maori, the approval of the United Tribes flag meant that Britain recognised New Zealand as an independent nation, and thereby acknowledged the authority of their chiefs. But it seems, fear of being taken over by other foreign powers, such as France, prompted the tribes to want further acknowledgement of their ownership of New Zealand.

Thirteen chiefs had already written to King William IV in 1831 to seek an alliance and protection from foreign powers. But in October 1835 against the background of fear, James Busby saw an opportunity to take this further. He arranged another meeting at his Waitangi property, during which he convinced 34 Maori chiefs to sign a declaration of independence, “He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni” (the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand), a document that he and other British representatives in New Zealand had recently drafted.

DSC07798Exhibition Wharenui – Maori meeting house at Waitangi Treaty Grounds

“The declaration had four articles:

  • In the first article the chiefs declared New Zealand an independent state.
  • The second stated that sovereign power was held collectively by the chiefs.
  • The third article said a congress would meet in autumn each year to make laws and decisions.
  • The fourth article said a copy of this declaration would be sent to the king of England and asked him to be a parent of the infant state” (courtesy of tears.govt.nz)

DSC07803Inside the Wharenui at Waitangi

Of course, Busby was working to protect Britain’s interests, because he also feared that other European powers might officially claim parts of New Zealand before Britain was willing to do it.

DSC07809Internal detail of Wharenui

DSC07810Wharenui Pole carving

In the late 1830s large groups of Europeans were arriving and acquiring land from Maori and many valuable commercial operations were being developed. Crime was on the rise and the fear of foreign powers claiming a piece of New Zealand was continuing to grow. The British government decide to act.

Captain William Hobson was appointed and despatched from London in July 1839 to negotiate for the sovereignty of New Zealand and to set up a British colony.


On 5 and 6th February 1840, Hobson met with Maori chiefs on Busby’s land at Waitangi, where they signed the treaty “by which the chiefs purportedly voluntarily transferred sovereignty to the British Crown in return for guarantees respecting their lands and possessions and their rights as British subjects.” Since not all Maori chiefs attended the meeting, the document was taken around the country to gain as many signatures as possible. Approximately 530 chiefs signed the treaty, however some declined to sign and some were not consulted.

Three months later, Hobson proclaimed British sovereignty over the islands of New Zealand.

DSC06976English version of Treaty of Waitangi – Notice Article the Third refers to the Queen of England. Queen Victoria, came to the British throne in 20 June 1837 after the death of her uncle William IV.

The Maori language version of this treaty was the version that most Maori Chiefs signed. It had some subtle, but significant differences, which have caused disputes between Maori and the governing authorities over many years.


By necessity my account of the Treaty of Waitangi (and other political developments of 1830s in New Zealand) is brief and simplified, and by way of omission may contain inaccuracies. For more detailed information visit:

teara.govt.nz/en/treaty-of-waitangi/page-1  or   en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Waitangi


DSC07843World’s largest ceremonial war canoe (waka taua) named Ngātokimatawhaorua, housed at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Ngātokimatawhaorua was built in 1940 to mark the centenary of the Treaty of Waitangi. It is made of kauri timber, is 37.5 meters long, weighs 6 tonne (dry), designed for 80 paddlers, however can carry up to 150 people.


This is the final episode covering our cruise around New Zealand in January 2020. However, after the Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted within and outside Australia, I hope to bring you more of our adventures, presuming you are interested.

  • Richard (Dave) Hawkins
    Posted at 08:30h, 14 May Reply

    Hi Alistair n Maggie,
    As always just love your blogs Alistair. Yes Like everyone it’s been annoying but have managed to stay healthy and found things to do.
    Alistair was wanting to see pics of Norm and Di’s Wedding. I did look before in the gardens with some of you, is this post different. Can you send the password to us so w e can look.
    Stay safe, I’ve had a wonderful experience with your blogs of N Z and we had hoped to go this year but will have to be 2021 hopefully
    Cheers Shirl n Dave 👍

    • alistairstravel
      Posted at 09:04h, 14 May Reply

      Thanks for your comment Shirley. I hope you do have the opportunity to go to NZ next year. There is so much to see and experience there.

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