William Hobson was born at Waterford, Ireland, on Sept. 26, 1793. He entered the Royal Navy at the age of 9, became a midshipman in 1806, and rose to captain in 1834. He served at the North Sea, West Indies, North America, English Channel, and Mediterranean stations and in 1836 was posted to Australia, where he surveyed Port Phillip Bay, the northern part of which was named after him.
In 1837 Hobson was sent to investigate the situation in New Zealand, where tribal warfare was reported to be threatening the lives of British subjects. As a solution, he proposed the establishment within certain areas of a series of British enclaves, or "factories, " on the model of those of the East India Company in India, but it came to nothing.
In 1839 Hobson was appointed British consul in New Zealand with authority to negotiate justly and fairly with the Maoris for recognition of British sovereignty over their territory. On Feb. 5, 1840, Hobson met with Maori chiefs at Waitangi, where they signed a treaty by which the chiefs ceded sovereignty to Britain in return for guarantees respecting their lands and possessions and their rights as British subjects. Three months later Hobson proclaimed British sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand and established the capital at Auckland in the center of the Maori population.
Hobson governed New Zealand as lieutenant governor under the jurisdiction of the governor of New South Wales, but in May 1841 New Zealand became a separate crown colony with Hobson as governor. In his short term of office he attempted to regulate land claims and as a result came into conflict with the New Zealand Company, which had been organized in 1839 by Edward Gibbon Wakefield and his followers and had claims to about 20 million acres. Hobson had virtually no military force to support him, and he experienced difficulty in reconciling the divergent interests of missionaries, traders, and Maoris. Moreover, he was not well served by the officials around him, and the expenses of his civil establishment were unnecessarily high. He himself was honest, religious, sociable, and well liked by the Maoris, who considered him a just man, but he was dogged by failing health, which affected his grasp of the situation. He died at Auckland on Sept. 10, 1842.
Guy H. Scholefield, Captain William Hobson, First Governor of New Zealand (1934), is the standard biography. Important specialized studies are J. C. Beaglehole, Captain Hobson and the New Zealand Company (1928); T. Lindsay Buick, The Treaty of Waitangi: How New Zealand Became a British Colony (1933); James Rutherford, The Treaty of Waitangi and the Acquisition of British Sovereignty in New Zealand, 1840 (1949); and A. H. McLintock, Crown Colony Government in New Zealand (1958). □