Damaged seal 'makes Treaty void'

By Mike Barrington

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Queen Victoria's royal seal on the Treaty of Waitangi was damaged by fire in 1841 when, according to Maori claimants, English law stated any contract became void if its seal was defaced. Photo / File
Queen Victoria's royal seal on the Treaty of Waitangi was damaged by fire in 1841 when, according to Maori claimants, English law stated any contract became void if its seal was defaced. Photo / File

A claim questioning the validity of the Treaty of Waitangi because the royal seal signifying Queen Victoria's assent to it had been defaced by fire has "stunned" the Waitangi Tribunal, says claimant Hone Tiatoa.

"They don't know how to deal with it," he said yesterday.

Mr Tiatoa, a Kerikeri artist, says damage to the seal during a blaze which destroyed colonial government offices in Auckland in 1841 rendered the Treaty void under English contract law which applied at that time.

The Wai 966 claim was lodged by Ngapuhi kaumatua Gray Theodore and Pereme Porter, both of Auckland, in 2001.

A 250-page addition to Wai 966 was filed by Mr Tiatoa, his uncle Te Kei Tiatoa and Mr Porter during the tribunal's Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) Inquiry stage 2 hearing at Kerikeri in September.

With the Treaty allegedly void, Hone Tiatoa - who is acting as counsel for the Wai 966 claimants - said the principle of jus cogens in international law applied and Maori authority had not been displaced in Aotearoa.

In September he had recommended to the tribunal that the International Court of Justice should rule on the issue.

Receiving no response, he last week emailed tribunal presiding officer Judge Craig Coxhead asking him to verify the historical evidence in the Wai 966 addition and to carry out its recommendations.

The Northern Advocate called the Justice Ministry media team to ask what was happening and was told the tribunal did not comment on unresolved claims.

Historian Paul Moon said Captain William Hobson used a seal with the royal arms above the words "New Zealand" on the Treaty signed with Maori chiefs at Waitangi in 1840.

Copies were sent around New Zealand to obtain the signatures of other chiefs and extend the sovereignty of the Queen over the whole country.

The first public seal of New Zealand, showing Queen Victoria with a group of Maori chiefs, was introduced in 1841.

The same year, the Treaty documents narrowly escaped destruction by fire when the government offices at Auckland were burned down, Professor Moon said.

"George Eliott, the record clerk, arrived just in time to rescue the Treaty and the Seal of the Colony," he said.

Mr Tiatoa said he had studied the Treaty at Archives NZ in Wellington and it could be seen how Mr Eliott had patched together documents damaged in the blaze, and fire damage to the seal was evident. The Wai 966 claimants wanted a peaceful resolution to the issue as "we have to work together to resolve this for the good of the country," Mr Tiatoa said.

- Northern Advocate

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