Waitangi, Declaration of Independence

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Waitangi, Declaration of Independence

In August 1839 the British Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, issued instructions for a treaty to be concluded between the British Crown and the Maori chiefs of New Zealand. The instructions were prompted by a growing British population in New Zealand (around 2,000 by the end of 1839) that was effectively beyond the scope of British law. The resulting Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on February 6, 1840, and by September of that year around 542 chiefs had put their names to the agreement.

In the Treaty's English text, Maori ceded sovereignty to the Crown, but whether this was sovereignty over Europeans in the colony, or over Maori as well, is subject to debate. The English text also guaranteed Maori full possession of their lands and fisheries, and gave them the same rights as British subjects.

However, there were discrepancies in the Maori version of the Treaty, which was translated by the Anglican missionary Henry Williams. Whether Williams deliberately mistranslated the Treaty is in dispute, but in the Maori version, the chiefs ceded some form of government to the Crown, while retaining their chieftainship—an arrangement that, ironically, was tantamount to a form of sovereignty.

Not all chiefs signed the Treaty, and it is unlikely that every signatory fully comprehended its provisions. Despite this, on May 1840, William Hobson, the colony's Governor and one of the authors of the Treaty, proclaimed British sovereignty over the entire country—satisfied that sufficient Maori endorsement of the Treaty had been received.

see also Pacific, European Presence in; New Zealand.


Moon, Paul. Te Ara Ki Te Tiriti: The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi. Auckland, New Zealand: David Ling, 2002.

Orange, Claudia. The Treaty of Waitangi. Wellington, New Zealand: Bridget Williams, 1987.