New Zealand before the Treaty of Waitangi was signed

The history of Māori migration and settlement in Aotearoa and the stories of Te Ao Māori (The Māori World) have been retained in the oral histories of each iwi (tribe) and hapu (sub-tribe). Histories of the Māori people are told in the creation stories.

European discovery of New Zealand occurred in 1642 with the arrival of Abel Tasman and contact was extended from 1769-70 when James Cook’s expedition mapped much of the coastline.

By the late 1830s, the inhabitants of New Zealand consisted of approximately 125,000 Māori and about 2000 settlers. The largest European settlement was Kororāreka (now known as Russell).

Barry, James, fl 1818-1846. Barry, James :[The Rev Thomas Kendall and the Maori chiefs Hongi and Waikato] 1820. Ref: G-618. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23241174
Barry, James, fl 1818-1846. Barry, James :[The Rev Thomas Kendall and the Maori chiefs Hongi and Waikato] 1820. Ref: G-618. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23241174
Sealers and whalers were the first Europeans to establish settlements on the coasts of New Zealand. They were soon followed by traders who traded with Māori for food and natural resources such as flax and timber in exchange for clothing, guns and other products. Missionaries also came to New Zealand and introduced Māori to the Christian religion, using Māori translations of the Bible to teach reading and writing as fighting and lawlessness in general were threatening trade and relations.

Pressures on Māori from European settlers

Europeans settled permanently in New Zealand and wanted to buy land for farms and houses. Most settlers did not understand Māori land tenure processes and Māori law concepts, or structures for social cohesion and due to these misunderstandings many skirmishes – some quite bloody – occurred.

Other European countries, in particular France, were becoming more interested in New Zealand as a source of trade or as a possible colony for settlement. In 1831 a petition signed by 13 northern Māori chiefs was sent to King William IV, asking for protection and recognition of their special trade and missionary contacts with Britain.

Shaw Savill Line postcard depicting the United Tribes Ensign. Falkner, Nancy Gaynor, 1930- : New Zealand flags and coats of arms. Ref: 82-419-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.
Shaw Savill Line postcard depicting the United Tribes Ensign. Falkner, Nancy Gaynor, 1930- : New Zealand flags and coats of arms. Ref: 82-419-01. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22558185

Declaration of Independence of New Zealand

James Busby was appointed in 1833 as the British Resident in New Zealand to act as a go-between for Māori and European and to watch over British interests. In 1834 Busby invited the northern chiefs to Waitangi to choose a New Zealand flag, which could be used on New Zealand ships to identify them. This flag was known as ‘The flag of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand’. This was replaced after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi by the Union Jack, the flag of Great Britain.

McDonald, James Ingram, 1865-1935. McDonald, James Ingram, 1865-1935 :James Busby, British Resident, 1830. 1903.. Ref: A-044-008. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23133573
McDonald, James Ingram, 1865-1935. McDonald, James Ingram, 1865-1935 :James Busby, British Resident, 1830. 1903. Ref: A-044-008. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23133573

Sovereignty and possession of land and trading rights were issues for both Māori and Pākehā throughout the 1830s. The British were worried about French interest in New Zealand. This was exacerbated by Baron Charles de Thierry declaring himself ‘Sovereign Chief’ of New Zealand in 1835 when he took possession of land he claimed he had bought in the Hokianga.

On the 28 October 1835, James Busby organised a meeting at Waitangi where 34 chiefs signed a ‘Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand — He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni’ and formed a ‘Confederation of the United Tribes of Aotearoa’. In the Declaration they asked for William IV, King of England, to act as the Protector of the new state against any attempts on its independence. By 1839 a total of 52 Māori chiefs had signed the Declaration, which they saw as the guarantee of their independence.

Flag of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand

Flag of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand

Recommended reading

Further reading on pre-1840 New Zealand from Papers Past and the New Zealand Electronic Text Collection. This content needs to be considered in relation to the time and context in which it was written:

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