Burgeoning trade marked early contact between the peoples. Whalers, sealers and ship-builders who plundered forests for masts, interacted with coastal Maori villagers. Soon timber, flax and trading blossomed too. A relationship of coexistence developed - the Europeans relied on Maori for provisions and access to valuable resources; Maori wanted European goods such as scissors, mirrors, nails, blankets, tobacco and - later - muskets. Misunderstandings, however, occurred and murder bloodied the land.
Late in 1809, the ship Boyd arrived in Whangaroa Harbour to collect a cargo of timber spars. On board a young chief, Te Ara, had complained of mistreatment during the voyage from Sydney. In an act of utu (revenge) local Maori lured the captain ashore where they murdered and ate him and other crew. Later they attacked and burned the ship. A whaling ship arrived to exact revenge but wrongly attacked villagers of a chief who had tried to help. The incident represented the worst aspects of those early contacts - the Boyd crew did not know local Maori were suspicious of Europeans after an earlier ship visit led to a disease outbreak. The cannibalism set back perspectives of Maori as a noble race.
Perhaps the Maori leader who most enthusiastically welcomed trade and contact with Europeans was Ngapuhi chief Hongi Hika. In 1814, he travelled to Sydney and in 1820 he and young chief Waikato set off to England on board the whaling ship, New Zealander. Accompanied by missionary Thomas Kendall, he spent five months in London and Cambridge. He assisted Professor Samuel Lee to compile the first Maori-English dictionary, wowed many with his intelligence, personality and his moko and was introduced to King George IV. The trip also enabled Hika to amass a stockpile of guns which tipped the balance of inter-tribal power.
A crass commercial deal struck between Captain William Stewart, commander of the brig Elizabeth, and Ngati Toa chief Te Rauparaha was a tipping point leading the colonial Government in New South Wales to become convinced Britain needed a stronger official presence in New Zealand. For the price of a cargo of flax, Stewart agreed to transport a Ngati Toa war party from their base in Kapiti Island to Banks Peninsula for an attack on Ngai Tahu. Stewart invited
Te Maiharanui aboard where he was ambushed by Te Rauparaha and his men. Bloodshed followed when Te Maiharanui's village was attacked.
As violence and lawlessness among Europeans grew, a group of northern chiefs petitioned King William IV for protection. In November 1831, 13 Ngapuhi leaders, prompted by missionary William Yate, drew their moko as a signature on a document urging greater British control and hinting at the trade prospects New Zealand offered. In a reply from the Colonial Office, the British responded
with a letter that expressed goodwill but failed to propose action.
Calls for intervention grew louder and missionaries and merchants, including the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, pleaded with the British. Finally in 1832 they agreed to send a British Resident for New Zealand. The resident, James Busby, arrived in May 1833 and built a house on land he bought at Waitangi.
Within a short time of Busby's arrival it was evident he was ineffective. Unable to bring European marauders - or Maori - under control, Busby even suffered the indignity of having his own house burgled. He was described as a "man-o-war [naval warship] without guns" and in 1834, the New South Wales Governor, Sir Richard Bourke, informed London that Busby was disregarded by the Europeans, was unable to form a close connection with Maori leaders and could not accomplish any of the tasks required of him. Sir Richard proposed Busby be withdrawn immediately.
Before any moves could be made against him, Busby orchestrated one of the ost significant political actions the young country had seen. With the perceived threat of French interest in New Zealand, he drew up a Declaration of Independence, signed by 34 northern chiefs who called themselves the Confederation of Chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand.
Following experiences in America and South Africa, Britain's imperial policy was one of encouraging trade and commerce - but not settlement. However in March 1837, British settlers in New Zealand petitioned the King for protection and complained about Busby's ineffectiveness. In December 1837, London decided that because de facto colonisation was already underway it was time to intervene formally.
New Zealand's first and biggest property boom saw large tracts of land snapped up, often in dubious deals where Maori sold land to the British for paltry sums. In 1838, Edward Gibbon Wakefield established the New Zealand Company which bought millions of acres to sell to settlers. His plans for colonisation did not sit comfortably with the British Government which was concerned about the impact on Maori and repercussions, but Wakefield pressed on sending immigrants to the other side of the world.
Meanwhile, French whaler Captain Jean Langlois planned to bring French settlers to New Zealand. In August 1838, he negotiated a deal to buy land at Banks Peninsula. Over the next year he convinced a group of colonists to travel to Akaroa, with the official backing of King Louis-Philippe who agreed to send a warship to protect the settlement. By the time they arrived, however, the British had asserted sovereignty over the country.
With British settlement looking inevitable, London decided to appoint as consul Captain William Hobson, who had served in the Royal Navy since he was 10. He had been to New Zealand in 1837 on behalf of the New South Wales Governor. There was much debate about what Hobson's role would be but by the time he set sail in August 1839, he was instructed to obtain sovereignty over New Zealand under an agreement with Maori leaders.
1840 (January 30)
The day after arriving in the Bay of Islands, Hobson set out to assert control and restrain rampant land sales. He banned private purchases from Maori unless they had been validated by a Crown commissioner. He also arranged for Busby to invite chiefs of the Confederation to meet him on February 5. In the meantime,a draft of what would become the Treaty of Waitangi was prepared for missionary Henry Williams to translate, so could be discussed at the meeting. In the days leading up to the meeting Maori leaders gathered to contemplate their position.
1840 (February 5)
Hobson arrived on the beach from his ship the HMS Herald about 9am and headed to Busby's house for a meeting in a long marquee. About 500 Maori were present. Hobson told them the Treaty offered them protection and read it aloud in English. Williams read it in Maori. Many chiefs spoke - some wanted to sign but many didn't, complaining about treatment by Pakeha. One influential chief, Hone Heke, said it was too late to send the Pakeha away. Another, Tamati Waka Nene, agreed, imploring Hobson to preserve Maori customs and land. The meeting was adjourned with Hobson asking them to re-gather two days later on February 7.