The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi
How was the English text of the Treaty of Waitangi understood by the British in 1840? That is the question addressed by historian and lawyer Ned Fletcher, in this extensive work.
With one exception, the Treaty sheets signed by rangatira and British officials were in te reo Māori. The Māori text, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, was a translation by the missionary Henry Williams of a draft in English provided by William Hobson, the Consul sent by the British government to negotiate with Māori.
Despite considerable scholarly attention to the Treaty, the English text has been little studied. In part, this is because the original English draft exists only in fragments in the archive; it has long been regarded as lost or ‘unknowable’, and in any event superseded by the authoritative Māori text. Now, through careful archival research, Fletcher has been able to set out the continuing relevance of the English text.
The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi emphasises that the original drafting of the Treaty by British officials in 1840 cannot be separated from the wider circumstances of that time. This context encompasses the history of British dealings with indigenous peoples throughout the Empire and the currents of thought in the mid-nineteenth century, a period of rapid change in society and knowledge. It also includes the backgrounds and motivations of those primarily responsible for framing the Treaty: British Resident James Busby, Consul and future Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson, and Colonial Office official James Stephen.
Through groundbreaking scholarship, Fletcher concludes that the Māori and English texts of the Treaty reconcile, and that those who framed the English text intended Māori to have continuing rights to self-government (rangatiratanga) and ownership of their lands. This original understanding of the Treaty, however, was then lost in the face of powerful forces in the British Empire post-1840, as hostility towards indigenous peoples grew alongside increased intolerance of plural systems of government.
The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi enriches our understanding of the original purpose and vision of Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi and its foundational role in Aotearoa New Zealand.