Our Treaty: Birth of a bicultural nation

By Suzanne McFadden

The events of the most momentous day of New Zealand history were recorded by two witnesses - William Colenso, who wrote a pamphlet 50 years after the event, and Felton Mathew, who recorded details in his journal. Suzanne McFadden recreates the day from these two sources.

As Thursday, February 6, 1840, dawned sun-drenched and brilliant over the Bay of Islands, no one foresaw the significance the day would hold. This was not the day anyone expected the Treaty of Waitangi to be signed.

Waka filled the bay carrying Maori chiefs to the Waitangi headland. Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson's ship, the HMS Herald, sat anchored quietly offshore as a crowd gathered on the lawns of the British Resident, James Busby.

After the previous day's discussions with Hobson - on these same lawns in a huge tent built from ship spars and sails - the rangatira decided it was time to sign the agreement with Queen Victoria, even though Hobson had
suggested they gather for more discussions on February 7.

Long into the night, the chiefs had held their own debate about the Treaty at their camp south of the Waitangi River mouth (now the Te Tii Marae) and
in the morning, they wanted to sign and head home. Some chiefs had already left. Food provided by the British - flour, sugar, pigs and potatoes - was running short, and a quarrel had broken out over tobacco not handed out fairly the previous afternoon.

Their decision came as a surprise to the British missionaries, who walked the oneand-a-half miles (2.4km) to Waitangi after breakfast to discover the throng of Maori waiting for them. Missionary printer William Colenso estimated there were "not less than 300"scattered in small tribal groups.

By 11am, with no sign of Governor Hobson or any movement on board the Herald, the chiefs grew impatient. It was almost noon when Colonial
Secretary Willoughby Shortland, Hobson's principal member of staff, George Cooper and Surveyor-General Felton Mathew came ashore
bound for Busby's house.

They sent a messenger for Hobson, who arrived half an hour later. Hobson had not expected this - he imagined the chiefs would mull over the Maori text of the Treaty for days before coming to a decision. The next meeting had been scheduled for the following morning.

So harried was Hobson, he arrived at the meeting in plain clothes, except for his
plumed hat. Unattended by any of his officers, Hobson went to the tent followed by the few Europeans ("not more than a dozen," Colenso recalled).

Inside were at least 500 Maori, most of them rangatira, "all seated on the ground with great decorum and regularity", Mathew wrote. There were several hundred more outside the tent.

Hobson stood and told the assembly he would take the signatures of the chiefs, but there would be no discussion on the Treaty - the public meeting would still be held the next day. On the table sat a freshly-written copy of the Treaty in Maori, duplicated on parchment overnight by missionary Richard
Taylor. Hobson asked the Reverend Henry Williams to read it aloud in Maori.

Then the Catholic Bishop, Jean Baptiste Pompallier, who had arrived at the tent, spoke in the ear of Hobson. He wanted a guarantee that religion would not be interfered with; that "free toleration will be allowed in matters of faith". Hobson agreed but Williams insisted that all faiths be protected, including the Maori custom.

Although never written into the Treaty, this clause is often described as
the "Fourth Article". There was a pause before Maori replied.

Mathew wrote: "one or two chiefs rose up and said that yesterday they had not understood the matter, but that now they had made enquiry and duly considered it, and thought that it was good and they would sign it".

Yet still no chief approached the table.

Finally, Busby suggested calling them by name from his list of local chiefs - the first was influential Ngapuhi leader Hone Heke.

As Heke walked towards the table, Colenso voiced his concerns to Hobson. He asked if Hobson believed the Maori fully understood the articles they were about to sign.

An irritated Hobson replied: "If the Native chiefs do not know the contents of this treaty it is no fault of mine. I wish them fully to understand it. I have done all that I could do to make them understand the same..."

Colenso said he had spoken to some chiefs who had "no idea whatever as to the purport of the Treaty". He was concerned the chiefs were taking the missionaries' word, and that there could be a reaction later.

Hobson countered: "I think that the people under your care will be peaceable enough; I'm sure you will endeavour to make them so."

Unperturbed, Hone Heke went ahead and "made the mark of his tattoo on the parchment". Mathew quotes Heke as saying he would sign "The Book (the Treaty)" and "let those who approve it do the same, and they who do not like it, let them remain silent".

Then a stream of chiefs approached the table to make their marks. The Governor
shook hands with each and said in Maori, "He iwi tahi tatou - [we are now one people]."

As the procession went on, two chiefs - Marupo, of Waitangi, and Ruhe of Waimate - kept up a traditional challenge inside the tent. Mathew was taken aback by Marupo, stripped naked to the waist, pacing up and down and "speaking and gesticulating most violently until he was quite exhausted".

After making his mark, Marupo shook hands heartily with the Governor, grabbed his gold braided hat from the table and tried to put it on his own head.

The last chief of note who had not signed, Rewa of Kororareka, was finally persuaded by other chiefs and missionaries. Rewa, who had a good understanding of the document, told the Governor that Pompallier had urged him not to sign.

Forty-three chiefs signed the Treaty on February 6, including some who had only arrived that day. Most rangatira drew their moko as their signature.

Before leaving the tent the Maori rangatira burst into three thundering cheers and Patuone, a highly-regarded Ngapuhi chief from the Hokianga, presented Hobson with a pounamu mere for "Kuini Wikitoria (Queen
Victoria)". Patuone was invited back to the Herald to dine with Hobson, and the rest of the chiefs were rewarded with two blankets and tobacco. On board the Herald, officers danced a quadrille to the tune of two fiddlers
until dark.

Mathew was impressed with Patuone's etiquette at the dinner table: "He would have put to the blush many an awkward European bumpkin who sticks himself on the corner of his chair and is afraid to eat lest he should
do wrong. Patuone, on the contrary, handled his silver fork with perfect ease, took wine with everyone, attentively listening to the conversation, much of which he evidently understood although he can only speak a few words of English."

At the end of the day's chronicle to his wife, Mathew wrote: "We now consider that the first and most difficult part of our undertaking is completed and do not anticipate any further trouble with the natives."

Hobson no doubt woke the next morning relieved the signing had begun a day early.

Friday was shaken by a storm, and no one left the ship all day.

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