1800-1859 | New Zealand

Britain signs a treaty with the Maoris only to renege on it

A bronze plaque of the signing of the treaty – Queen Victoria statue in Wellington –
Archives New Zealand – CC License – via Flickr.

6 February 1840

On 6 February 1840, the treaty of Waitangi was signed between representatives of the crown and five hundred Maoris chiefs. While recognising ultimate British sovereignty over New Zealand, it promised in return that ‘Her Majesty confirmed and guaranteed to the chiefs and tribes of New Zealand the full, exclusive and undisturbed possession of all the lands which they collectively and individually governed as long as it was their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession.’1 The wording was clear enough. The treaty, named after the location on North Island where it was signed, was an unequivocal guarantee that native lands would be protected from encroachment by settlers. However, as the number of European immigrants continued to increase, the Foreign Office relented to pressure to renege on the agreement and in 1846 declared it could no longer be observed because it constituted ‘a bar to sound colonisation.’2


  1. The Treaty as quoted by Lord Russel in parliament and cited in The Morning Post, 20 June 1845 p. 3.
  2. Piers Brendon, The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, Jonathan Cape London 2007, pp. 90-91.

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