The British Empire 
                                                              1815-1914

The Treaty of Waitangi

As Victoria became Queen in 1837 not only did her government have problems in Canada to resolve but on the other side of the world, the land of New Zealand, not yet a British colony was in a state of lawlessness that made it one of the most dangerous places on earth. Although the territory was emerging from a period of tribal wars amongst its native peoples the Maori, the British government was so concerned about the situation there that it was considering its course of action. The debate over the nature and purpose of British settlement that developed over New Zealand was to reoccur whenever and wherever the British settled.


Victoria’s predecessor, William IV had been petitioned by 200 British settlers in New Zealand to provide them protection. As yet the government had not decided on its response and Melbourne, the Prime Minister and Lord Glenelg, the Secretary for War and the Colonies would have to decide what their response would be. A

British naval vessel, HMS Rattlesnake, under the command of Captain William Hobson had been sent in 1837 by the Governor of New South Wales to the Bay of Islands during a Maori war to provide protection for British settlers there and the British resident in new Zealand, the largely ineffective James Busby was promoting the idea of the British Government making New Zealand a protectorate.


1837 also saw the foundation of the Aborigines Protection Society and the Society for the Civilisation of Africa both of whom put pressure on the government to adopt a more humane approach to settlement of overseas territories as did a committee of the House of Commons which reported the same year on past settlement of British colonies concluding that it had been a disaster for native peoples.


The first wave of white people in New Zealand had been the sealers who arrived in the 1790s from New South Wales closely followed by whalers from Britain, France and the United States seeking the sperm whale which were abundant in New Zealand waters. The seal was virtually exterminated by sealers who would arrive from New South Wales and be deposited in coastal areas to hunt the seal over months or even years. Between 1803 and 1810 the seal was wiped out by which time the whalers were arriving in greater numbers bringing conflict with the local Maori people as a result of their stealing crops, weapons and kidnapping women. The Maori retaliated by attacking isolated coastal sealing camps and when in 1809 a Maori who had been part of a whaler’s crew was subjected to continues insults returned to his village and told the story of his humiliation they exacted their revenge by attacking the vessel the ‘Boyd’ killing virtually everyone aboard. Crews of other ships then themselves retaliated by destroying neighbouring villages. The cycle of violence between white traders and the Maori had begun.


It wasn’t long after the sealers and whalers had arrived in New Zealand that the first missionaries arrived. One of the first was the Reverend Samuel Marsden who was the chaplain to the convict settlement at Port Jackson, New South Wales. Marsden was typical of the missionary movement at the time that saw the saving of heathen souls as continuing the work of the apostles. Missionaries at this time believed that anyone could be saved whatever the prior state of their soul. All that they had to do was to accept the word of God and given this situation how could missionaries leave heathen souls in ignorance. Evangelicals also believed in the doctrine of reparation. It was accepted that sin and corruption was a part of mankind and therefore mankind should make restitution by doing God’s work on earth. How better for missionaries to achieve salvation than by preaching the word of God and converting others to Christianity?


Marsden had himself been persuaded by William Wilberforce to go and teach the gospel in New South Wales. Once there and having heard about the Maori Marsden determined that he should establish a mission in New Zealand. He held the view that was much debated amongst missionaries that natives could not be converted until they became civilised and that to achieve this missionaries should teach the basics of civilisation – that is they should educate the Maori and teach them how to farm and lead the lives of farmers in England. On Xmas Day 1814 Marsden preached the gospel for the first time in New Zealand in the Bay of Island. The Maori were respectful of Marsden and the missionaries and were willing to learn how to improve their agriculture and send their children to be fed and taught in mission schools but it was many years before any Maori were prepared to accept Christianity.


The presence of sealers, whalers, missionaries and some settlers in New Zealand had a huge detrimental impact on Maori culture. Their beliefs were challenged and in the 1830s the Maori began to convert to Christianity. Maori religion had once provided cohesion, law and authority for the Maori but with the adoption of Christianity the authority of the tribal leaders as challenged and undermined. The chief was no longer sacred and by accepting Christianity the Maori began to turn their backs on their social structure without fully embracing an alternative.


The work habits of the Maori changes as they were adapted to meet the needs of the white men who wanted to trade guns and alcohol for flax and timber. Providing flax for rope was a lucrative activity for the Maori but it involved moving to the coast where the environment was unhealthier and made them more prone to the European diseases of pneumonia, tuberculosis and typhoid.


The acquisition of guns resulted in large numbers of Maori dying from the often protracted wars of revenge which were part of Maori culture. When the tribal leader Hongo returned from a visit to Britain in 1821 he brought back presents which he used to buy guns. He then used these guns to terrorise his foes. At Auckland he killed 1000 and in Waikato his tribe killed 1500. Civil wars amongst the Maori in the 1820s and 1830s killed thousands and with the deaths from European diseases hastened the demise of the Maori. It was exhaustion from war and the presence of missionaries who advocated peace between the tribes that eventually brought an end to these Musket Wars. Many Maori believed that the deaths they suffered were a punishment from the Christian God and increasingly the Maori turned to Christianity.


In 1837 when 200 settlers and missionaries petitioned William to provide them with protection there were about 1000 British settlers in New Zealand, mostly around the Bay of Islands. The Secretary of the Colonies Lord Glenelg realised that something had to be done. The position of the Colonial Office at this time to founding more colonies was to resist such pressure as there was little money available to provide an administration and sufficient soldiers for defence. The attitude of governments at this time was to do as little as possible as the Colonial Office was understaffed, overworked and having to deal with the problems in Canada, South Africa and the West Indies. The empire had a low profile in government and parliament and such colonies as there were had been acquired for reasons of trade. The government preferred that trade and business proceed without the intervention of government which would only intervene as a last resort to protect British business interests. In the case of New Zealand Glenelg realised that something had to be done. Glenelg and his under-secretary, James Stephen, were both evangelicals who believed that the British government had a clear responsibility for the native inhabitants of colonies and that the role of the Colonial Office was to act as a referee to ensure justice was done between the conflicting interests of the traders, settlers, missionaries and local people. Although evangelicals Glenelg and Stephen rejected the views of the Church Missionary Society which believed that encouraging settlement would inevitably result in conflict with the Maori and came to the conclusion that colonisation was inevitable and what was needed was British intervention.


Lord Glenelg was to turn to the ideas of Captain Hobson who was the captain of HMS Rattlesnake when it was sent to the bay of Islands to provide protection for settlers in 1837. Hobson suggested that the British government should make separate treaties with some of the Maori chiefs to acquire jurisdiction within certain restricted areas that had previously been purchased from the Maori. Hobson was given the instruction to deal fairly with the Maori, to buy such land as he was able and to guarantee the rights and the welfare of the Maori.


Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands New Zealand in January 1840 from Sydney just a few days after the arrival of a group of settlers arriving at Port Nicholson. These two events marked the beginning of a struggle between government and settlers that would last into the 1860s. On 5 February Hobson presided over a gathering of Maori chiefs of whom thirty five had in 1837 signed a Declaration of Independence. They gathered in a marquee on the lawn of the British Resident James Busby in the Bay of Islands. Whilst Hobson spoke about how the British would guarantee their protection, Henry Williams a missionary translated and the Maori listened until it was their turn to talk when they spoke of their grievances: unequal treatment, the price of goods and the stealing of their land. Most of the leaders said they did not want Hobson to remain in New Zealand. The following day Hobson brushed aside the complaints of the chiefs and persuaded them to sign his document. Forty five chiefs went up to sign a document that had no standing in international law. What they signed was a document that ceded their sovereignty to the Queen of Britain, guaranteed the Maoris possession of their land, forests and fisheries, made it clear that only the Queen could purchase land and that the chiefs would have the same rights and privileges as British citizens.


The policy of land only being sold to the crown who would then sell on to settlers lasted for just twenty two years when a shortage of land and pressure from an increased number of settlers forced the government to put pressure on the Maori to sell their land.


The settlers who had arrived in New Zealand at the same time as Hobson in January 1840 had been recruited by the New Zealand Company, a company that had been formed in 1839, largely the brainchild of Edward Wakefield, to purchase and and prepare the way for settlement of New Zealand. Wakefield was one of several writers and politicians who in the 1830s endeavoured to encourage the foundation of new settlements. Wakefield believed that founding a settlement was a science and should be used to alleviate the poverty of the times. He wanted to establish settlements based on the British hierarchical model and with the price of land strictly controlled to deter anyone from setting up a farm so that there would always be sufficient labour for the farms. Wakefield in public claimed to support the idea of racial fusion between settler and native in order to get the support of the missionaries but in reality he saw New Zealand as a white man’s country.


The conflict between settlers wanting a ready supply of cheap land together with a compliant local labour force and a government that saw its responsibility as to ensure that local people were treated fairly was a struggle that would continue in New Zealand and virtually every other settler colony. Colonial governments often resented the interference of the imperial government claiming it knew little of local conditions. Local people were often portrayed as ignorant savages who preyed on vulnerable white settlers and any violence was caused by them.



The whalers began to arrive in New Zealand after the seal had been wiped out

Samuel Marsden arrived in New Zealand from Australia and gave a sermon on Xmas Day 1814 which began the CMS presence in New Zealand

By 1840 Maori culture was being eroded by contact with the Europeans

Early European settlement was concentrated in the Bay of Islands and the Wellington area

The Reverend Samuel Marsden

The Treaty of Waitangi was signed in the house of the British Resident James Busby

From 1840 large number of European settlers began to arrive in New Zealand

Top: The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi before Captain William Hobson

Above: Signatories to the Treaty