Local Government Magazine
LG Magazine

Hobson’s over-stressed ghost STILL HAUNTS OUR FUTURE

By Alan Titchall, Editorial manager Local Government Magazine.

You might have wondered, since the current Labour Party has been in power, why there has been such a concerted push to reinterpret our early colonial history (especially the British ‘Treaty’ of 1840) as a two-way, cultural/political partnership and the basis of governance in the 21st century.

This ‘partnership’ ideology is already dominating new legislation, government departments, and relationships between central Government and local government. On a larger scale, I am sure it will be a bone of contention amongst parties and voters in the next general election.

As a student of New Zealand history during the 1970s, I know the Third Labour Government led by Norman Kirk ‘resuscitated’ the old treaty between the British Crown and some Maori tribes while sorting out historic individual tribal grievances with the Crown in the 20th century. It became more embraced in a constitutional sense by the Fourth Labour Government in the 1980s when the ‘principles’ behind the Treaty of Waitangi were placed into some legislation (as ‘interpreted’ by the courts). A Labour government commission in the mid-1980s defined ‘one’ of those principles as a ‘partnership’. What sort of ‘partnership’ was still left to interpretation.

Why the treaty idea didn’t work

Even back in 1840, the three-clause document was hardly a paragon of treaty law (and wasn’t written by lawyers, let alone constitutional ones). It also proved far more effective in fielding off other European interest in these lands than it did bringing Maori tribes under Crown rule. Many tribes, particularly those in the central plateau and the Waikato regions, declined to sign it, and it took years for the early colonial governments to muster the power and Maori allies to subdue Maori that carried on regardless.

Much underplayed officially these days are British intentions in 1840 as instructed to Governor Hobson as the French and British vied for territory in the South Pacific, and while this country was fast being settled by Europeans.

The idea of a treaty went swimmingly at the initial ceremony with mostly northern Maori chiefs at Waitangi, who had most to gain from an alliance with the British Crown. As each chief signed, Hobson said ‘now we are one’. The problem would be getting other treaty signatures from around a country that wasn’t easy to get around. This would take time – estimated to be about October 1840 before Hobson could justifiably say the country had been ‘ceded’ to his superiors. Copies of the treaty in both English and Maori were slowly delivered around Maori settlements. This was not an age of universal literacy and most English people at the time signed their marriage certificates with an X. Cambridge University in England had come up with a programme of written Maori in the 1830s that was used by bible societies (both English and French) prior to 1840 to convert Maori to Christianity. Even so, the individual treaty presentations and interpretations in the villages of 1840 must have been very interesting.

While Hobson waited for his signatures he got wind of talk about a republic being set up in the fast-growing settlement of Wellington by The New Zealand Company. Again, official history today understates the influence of The New Zealand Company as a Crown competitor. It was set up in the UK in 1825 as a business focused on the systematic colonisation of New Zealand, and merged with Wakefield’s New Zealand Association in 1837. Receiving its royal charter in 1840, it was involved in the settlements of Wellington, Nelson, Whanganui, Dunedin, New Plymouth and Christchurch. Activity-wise, it peaked in 1841, returned its charter in 1850, and wound up in 1858.

Hobson panicked and declared ‘sovereignty’ over New Zealand (Nu Tirani in the Maori treaty version) on May 21, 1840 by ‘cession’ (look it up) over the North Island, then ‘right of discovery’ over the South Island with not a word about partnership with the indigenous peoples or the European settlers. Queen Victoria signed a charter on November 11, 1840 that made us an official British colony, doesn’t mention Hobson’s treaty, nor does the NZ Constitution Act 1852 passed by the British Parliament.

Hobson had suffered his first stroke by now, so sent a magistrate by ship to Wellington with armed marines to sort out the budding ‘republicans’. wherever he worried about other treaty signatures returned by October 1840 is doubtful. By 18 September the British flag was raised at Auckland in preparations for setting up the capital, ignoring requests to set up central government in Wellington. This set off one of the first of many grievances over the British takeover of New Zealand with The NZ Company formally petitioning the British Parliament to reverse Hobson’s choice.

In October 1840 the first 40 immigrants arrived in Auckland from Australia and, four months later, the colonial administration had joined them. Hobson’s problems over the new colony, as its governor and commander in chief, continued to stress him until until his second stroke and death in September 1842.

British sovereignty was far from complete. Wellington remained assertively independent. The New Zealand Company offered blocks of land for sale at Whanganui and Taranaki towards the end of 1840, and founded Nelson. Dispatches to and from his superiors took nine months. He was at the mercy of his Executive and Legislative Council. There were outbreaks of intertribal warfare, his relationship with the press was abysmal, and he still had to settle French claims at Akaroa.

Those bloody French

 It is very difficult not to believe the French colonial intentions for New Zealand did not also push Hobson to jumping the gun on his treaty. He must have been aware of French plans to set up an official settlement on Banks Peninsula, for a start, which had been public since 1838.

An immigrant ship, backed by the French authorities and protected by its Navy, was due to arrive at Akaroa mid 1840. The settlement’s founder, Captain Charles Lavaud, was to represent the French here until a governor arrived. French whaling ships were already thick in the oceans of the South Island by 1840, and Kiwi whale oil lit up the streets of Paris at the time. Jean-Baptiste Pompallier was the first bishop of any denomination here, and Hobson was not amused by the sight of his palatial French settlement in Kororareka (Russell) across the bay from Waitangi when he arrived there in January 1840.

It was not a pushover stymieing French settlements plans. The French naval corvette L’Aube, which had been sent down to protect the new Kiwi settlement, dropped into the Bay of Islands in July 1840. “Bonjour, neighbour”!

Hobson quickly dispatched two magistrates to Akaroa on the Britomart, a 10-gun Cherokee-class brig-sloop, to make sure the British flag was flying before the French naval vessel and the immigrant ship arrived in August. Interestingly, the British were out-gunned as the immigrant ship was also armed. Negotiations between the British and French went on for years (for the local Maori the ‘land purchase agreement’ was only finally settled between Ngai Tahu and the Crown in the mid 1990s). The French Navy stayed in Akaroa until 1856 helping develop the region, while Jean Langlois persisted that Banks Peninsula was French sovereign territory. In 1848 he even suggested the peninsula was ideal for a new convict settlement and called on the French government to assert its authority.

Finally, in 1849, after protracted negotiations, the investment company that owned the French settlement’s assets was liquidated and, ironically, sold to The New Zealand Company. It wasn’t quite over. In 1853, to the dismay of the New Zealand colonial government of the time, the French lay claim to our closest neighbour – New Caledonia.

France still rules New Caledonia and French Polynesia, stretching over more than 2000 kilometres in the South Pacific Ocean.

Hobson’s colonial clash with the French resurfaced in the 1970s with the Kirk Government’s formal NZ naval protest over French nuclear testing at Mururoa; flared again with the Rainbow Warrior bombing in 1985; and continues more passively over trade.

Dual governance

If this country is heading down a path of dual governance between Crown and Maori, and is accepted by future voters, it leaves a big question of how that will look and how it will be applied in what is supposedly a democracy that left the British system of privilege by birthright back in the 19th century.

Diarchy set ups, with two top end representatives, are very few. Only Bhutan (shared by a King and a religious representative) and Israel (two prime ministers) spring to mind.

The Canadian Commission Bilingualism and Biculturalism (1963-1971) set up a cultural dualism; not with the indigenous people but, bizarrely, between British and French cultures, despite the fact the French ceded all of North America to the Brits east of the Mississippi River back in 1763! Two hundred and sixty years later, Canada decided to split between what it thinks is ‘British’ and ‘French’. Leaving the question – is Canada really bicultural or, like most of the Western world now, multicultural? If you visited Canada today you will be hard pressed to appreciate either of this dual culture (apart from a funny way of parler francais; much like Kiwis talk nasal Unglush). Canadians sound and act like Canadians – “f…ing Eh, buddy”!

On a final note – ask yourself if ‘colonialisation and acculturation’ of human societies has an ending or is continuous?

Take Nu Tirani/New Zealand. Human societal ‘determination’ started with the first waves from Polynesia over a 1000 years ago. The first non-Polynesians celebrated their first Christmas here in 1642 (as far as we know). Hundreds of years of acculturation and floods of different ethnic and cultural DNA are still determining our future. A future that will continue to be shaped by foreign interventions and adaptions. Think of the effects over the past decade with social media, IPCC climate predictions, American software technology, Korean telecommunications, American fast food and cuisine trends, Chinese manufacturing and local investment, and medical advancements and global pandemics.

I leave you with this question. Can any culture, or even country, in this century enjoy the right of self-determination or, like Hobson’s treaty aspirations, are all societies indiscriminately pushed around by global forces beyond their control? LG

Article amended May 2, 2022.

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