6 February 2013 Waitangi Day

New Zealand’s “national day” too often seems to be an occasion when people are polarized by their opinions on how best to resolve the consequences of colonization. How should we address the interests of people descended from the tangata whenua before European migation (and the questionable land sales, confiscations, conquests, assimilation, intermarriage, and disadvantage that followed).

The official aspirations for settlement in New Zealand were short lived. The motivations of the Melbourne government when selecting and instructing the founding officials for the new colony were not sustained after 1841 when Tories led by Peel became the government.

The liberal idealism shared by the cabal appointed to administer the founding colony – Hobson (Lieut Governor, Martin (Chief Justice), Swainson (Attorney General), Outhwaite (Registrar ), Shortland (Colonial Secretary), and Selwyn ( Bishop) – reflected the expectations of Lord Normanby, the Secretary for the Colonies (ironically also Secretary for War) set out in Captain Hobson’s Instructions.

The Instructions run to numerous pages. They begin by recognising the national advantage to the Great Britain of colonization but that there were higher motives that constrained such an enterprise. Hobson’s task was to ensure those higher motives were not abused.

An example of those expectations is the following extract:

All dealings with the natives for their lands must be conducted on the same principles of sincerity, justice and good faith as must govern your transactions with them for the recognition of Her Majesty’s sovereignty in the Islands. Nor is that all: they must not be permitted to enter into any contracts in which they might be ignorant and unintentional authors of injuries to themselves. You will not, for example, purchase from them any territory the retention of which by them would be essential or highly conducive to their own comfort, safety, or subsistence. The acquisition of land by the Crown for the future settlement of British subjects must be confined to such districts as the natives can alienate without distress or serious inconvenience to themselves. To secure the observance of this – will be one of the first duties of their Official Protector.

Soon after giving Hobson his instructions, Lord Normanby moved to the role of Home Secretary. Lord Russell took over as Secretary for the Colonies, and in 1841 he in turn was replaced by Lord Stanley as secretary, when Melbourne was succeeded by Peel as Prime Minister.

The success of colonial interests in having Shortland removed as acting governor after the death of Hobson shows how the “higher motives” of the Whigs degraded as the interests of the colonists – and the New Zealand company – gained traction with the Tory administration.

The idealism which created the environment and made possible the unique characteristics of the Treaty of Waitangi, was lost thereafter.

And the players- Normanby is a Taranaki town (population 820). Russell in the Bay of islands has a similar population (although the original Russell designated to be the capital has reverted to its original name of Okiato and is unpopulated). Stanley gave his name to the Falkland Islands capital (population of 2000). Peel wasn’t adopted as a place name except for a Canterbury forest and several streets. Lord Melbourne is the only politician in the Treaty story to have a substantial geographic marker.