The decision to present Maori with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was one that was to become a crucial turning point in Maori-Pakeha race relations in New Zealand in the nineteenth century



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The decision to present Maori with the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 was one that was to become a crucial turning point in Maori-Pakeha race relations in New Zealand in the nineteenth century. The factors that contributed to this decision included the influence of the humanitarian movement, threats of Pakeha lawlessness and foreign annexation and increasing official and non-official British involvement in New Zealand in the 1830’s. The consequences of this decision up to 1850 Pakeha interpretation of the Treaty and their subsequent assertion of sovereignty through political dominance, while the consequences for Maori included their own differing interpretations of the Treaty and assertions of sovereignty through coming into conflict with Pakeha.
The historical context in which the decision to present Maori with the Treaty was made was one in which contact between the races was localised and occurred mainly in the Bay of Islands. Before 1840 Maori were numerically dominant in New Zealand, so race relations occurred against a backdrop of Maori cultural dominance. Maori actively sought contact with Pakeha, and formed, in the words of Claudia Orange, a “workable accord” of interdependence that was based on their desire for material assets like European goods and non-material assets such as literacy from missionaries. Pakeha who came to New Zealand included sealers, whalers and traders, who came to exploit New Zealand’s natural resources, and began arriving from 1800 onwards from Britain, Australia and America. Missionaries came later with the Church Missionary Society the first to arrive in 1814, followed by the Wesleyan Methodists and Roman Catholics in the 1820’s and 1830’s. Missionaries came to both anglicise and evangelise Maori who they viewed, in the words of Samuel Marsden, as “noble savages” who were inferior but still deemed worthy of cultural conversion. The British Crown shared this view of Maori, and carried a core Eurocentric belief of racial superiority that had formed from its growing imperial dominance. Maori, for their part, viewed Pakeha as an addition to what James Belich calls the “changing currency of mana” (social pride, status) and saw them as a valuable economic resources. While the pre-Treaty period of 1840 was characterised by an economic interdependence, this was also accompanied by the Eurocentric belief of racial superiority held by missionaries and the Crown, particularly from the 1830’s onwards, and this resulted in a growing sense among Pakeha that formal annexation was an inevitable event.
One of the major factors behind the decision to present Maori with the Treaty was the influence of the humanitarian movement, both in Britain and New Zealand. In Britain the movement had a powerful lobby group in the Church Missionary Society, which had considerable political power. The humanitarians were concerned for the welfare of indigenous people in Britain’s colonies, and feared for races who came into contact with what they felt was their ‘superior’ European culture. Sandeson Coates, Secretary of the Church Missionary Society in Britain, expressed this idea of ‘fatal impact’, saying he thought informalised contact would lead to the “despoiling of the Natives…and ultimately, their extinction.” As Claudia Orange states, humanitarians “hoped to avert this fatal impact and redeem the British record. In New Zealand the humanitarians worked through key Church Missionary Society members like Samuel Marsden and Henry Williams. Marsden sent exaggerated reports back to Britain highlighting a need for formal annexation, while Henry Williams helped to translate the Treaty when it was presented to Maori, and Keith Sinclair states that it was his humanitarian concerns that led him to create an image of the Crown as a paternal guardian to Maori. “This is Queen Victoria’s act of love for you,” he said to the chiefs who assembled for the conference at Waitangi in 1840.
Another important factor that led to the decision to create the Treaty of Waitangi was the growing threats of Pakeha lawlessness and foreign annexation. Maori were concerned about the behaviour of Pakeha including the sealers, whalers and traders who had settled in New Zealand and whose lawlessness and alcoholism had led to their settlement at Kororareka being called, as Belich states, “the hellhole of the Pacific”. Encouraged by missionaries, they turned to the Crown to seek reassurance that their sovereignty would be protected. A prominent Maori chief stated his concerns to Governor Hobson before signing the Treaty, asking him, “What will you do about the lying, and cheating, and stealing of the whites?” The threat of foreign annexation also led Maori to look to Britain to protect their rangahiratanga (sovereignty), which is illustrated in the “La Favorite” episode of 1831, where rumours of a French annexation led thirteen Maori chiefs to petition the King, asking that he become “a friend and guardian to these islands”. These actions taken by Maori of seeking the Crown’s help led to a political connection that was forged between the races, and that added to the Crown’s sense of obligation to formally annex New Zealand.
The increasing amount of official and unofficial British involvement in New Zealand was the third major factor that, as Belich states made Britain allow itself to be “reluctantly pulled in” to New Zealand and to annex it. The appointment of James Busby as British Resident in 1832 was an important step towards formal annexation, as Busby lacked the military backing to enforce British law, and Orange sees his ineffectiveness as an important step to the Treaty as it necessitated further action by the Crown. Busby also persuaded thirty-four Maori chiefs to sign a ‘Declaration of Independence’ in 1835, and this meant that Britain needed to create a Treaty to nullify this earlier recognition of Maori sovereignty over New Zealand. The unofficial actions of the New Zealand Company also played a very important part in the decision to formulate a Treaty. The Company planned immigration schemes that were to increase the Pakeha population from fewer than 2000 in 1840 to almost 10,000 a decade later. This meant that when Hobson was appointed Consul in 1838, his instructions from Lord Glenelg, the Colonial Secretary, displayed a significant shift in foreign policy. The planned immigration schemes meant that instead of preparing for a Treaty that would incorporate settlers into a Maori society, Hobson needed to prepare for a formal annexation that would be tailored for a settler colony and would transfer sovereignty from Maori to the Crown. This led to the presentation of the Treaty of Waitangi to Maori and the Treaty was signed on February the 6th 1840.
The immediate consequence of the Treaty for Pakeha was their interpretation of the Treaty as granting them substantive sovereignty over New Zealand. To Pakeha the signing of the Treaty signalled the end of interdependence or co-existence, and the beginning of the process of colonisation, which Belich terms the “new Evangelism” that was to replace Christianity as the preferred tool for cultural conversion. A gubernatorial system of government was set up, but the early Governors had few resources with which to change chiefly authority to colonial authority. This led the government to use land policies as one of the key cornerstones of their new Evangelism. The Governors used the right of pre-emption to buy land cheaply from Maori and sell it to settlers at a profit to raise funds. In investigating pre-1840 land sales, Governors only allowed single claims of up to 2,560 acres and the Crown assumed ownership of all ‘surplus’ land. This, as Orange states, “seriously shook Maori confidence”. Governor Grey also applied the Pakeha view of ‘wasteland’ as unoccupied property to buy half the land in New Zealand, including most of the South Island. Grey was so effective in helping the British to get closer to substantive sovereignty that Ranginui Walker describes him as the “hit-man of colonisation”. These political assertions of sovereignty were all part of what Claudia Orange calls a “distinct shift in the political climate”, as Governors began focussing less on “native welfare” and more on “settler development”. This shift was continued after 1850 with the implementation of settler government and the effective political exclusion of Maori in 1852.
For Maori, the immediate consequence of signing the Treaty was their interpretation of it as an affirmation of their ‘rangatiratanga’ and the beginning of a partnership or co-existence between the races. They asserted this view by coming into conflict with Pakeha with the Wairau Affair and the Northern War. The Wairau Affair took place in 1843 between settlers from Nelson and the Ngati Toa tribe who occupied the Wairau plains nearby. When settlers tried to take control of the land and, in the words of Stenson and Olssen, “teach the savages a lesson”, Maori responded by killing around twenty-eight Pakeha. It was display that Maori believed that they should co-exist with Europeans, and not colonised. The Northern War of 1844 to 1846 was another assertion of sovereignty by Nga Puhi Chief Hone Heke against what he felt was the growing erosion of Maori sovereignty. Heke was angered by the actions of the Governor, which he felt was taking away the ‘mana’ of Maori. He expressed his desire for racial coexistence when he cut down the flagpole at Kororareka four times, insisting that both the flags of the United Tribes of New Zealand and Britain should have been flying, not just the Union Jack. Heke was one of a growing number of Maori who were beginning to realise that the nature of land sales was changing, as John Garst, a young Pakeha official observed later, as the population of Pakeha grew “a sale involved parting with the dominion of the soil.” This erosion of sovereignty continued past 1850 and led to further Maori assertions of rangatiratanga like Kingitanga in 1858 and the Kohimarama Conference of 1860.
The decision to present the Treaty of Waitangi to Maori in 1840 was one which resulted in a change in the balance of power within race relations, as substantive sovereignty began to shift away from Maori and towards Pakeha. The factors contributing to this decision included the influence of the humanitarian movement, threats of lawlessness and foreign annexation and increasing official and unofficial British involvement in New Zealand in the 1830’s. The consequence of the Treaty for Pakeha included their interpretation of substantive sovereignty for the Crown and their assertion of this through growing political dominance to enforce colonisation. For Maori, the Treaty signalled the confirmation of racial coexistence, and they asserted their view by coming into conflict with Pakeha at Wairau in 1843 and in the Northern War of 1844 to 1846, and these competing assertions of colonial authority and chiefly authority had a profound impact on race relations until 1850 and beyond, as the balance of power began its drift towards Pakeha in nineteenth century New Zealand.


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