Originally published on the Breaking Views blog

When Hobson arrived in New Zealand on 29 January 1840, equipped with a 4200-word brief from Colonial Secretary Lord Normanby, he knew what he had to do.  If the Maori chiefs wanted the protection of the Queen they had one choice: to sign a document ceding all their rights of sovereignty, whatever they were, to the Queen.  

As Hobson took pains to explain to them in due course: “as the law of England gives no civil powers to Her Majesty out of her  dominions, her efforts to do you good will be futile unless you consent.”[1] Moreover, all Maori were to be offered in due course by Article Third of the Treaty, all the rights and duties of the people of England; remarkable for its generosity in its day.  

Yet today we have Jacinta Ruru and Jacobi Kohu-Morris of the University of Otago talking of [2]  “concept(s) .. imposed over the top of existing indigenous nations and legal systems”, an extraordinary extrapolation from the actual articles of the treaty. The sheer absurdity of this sort of statement in the New Zealand context must surely be obvious to everybody except of course those who are determined not to see.  There was neither nation nor legal system nor anything indigenous in anything Maori.  They were a collection of independent tribes often in brutal conflict with each other.

Hobson set to work forthwith to make the first essential step: to draft a version in English of the requisite document.  As a straightforward and experienced sailor he knew well how to make a plain language statement – often at sea, men’s lives might depend on it.  His obvious assistant was his personal secretary, James Freeman, appointed by Governor Gipps of New South Wales, anxious to rid himself of a number of incompetents.[3]  Freeman, a product of Eton and Oxford, had a headful of the pretentious language used in European diplomatic exchanges.  After two days of producing incompatible drafts which still exist in our archives, Hobson dismissed Freeman and sought the help of Busby who succeeded on 3 February in producing an initial draft for Hobson’s attention.

Thereupon, the following day, at the spacious home of James Clendon, a British subject and American consul, with Busby as scribe and Clendon in attendance and providing paper from his own private stock not used officially elsewhere, Hobson proceeded to produce a document in English, duly dated 4th February, for translation into the Maori language. 

This done by mid-afternoon, Hobson proceeded the short distance across the water to the mission station at Paihia and requested Henry Williams, the Head of the Mission, to translate it and provide for him by the following morning a text in Maori.  With the aid of his son, Edward Marsh Williams, who was very competent in that language, Williams did so.  This text, with one word changed when reviewed the next morning, was of course the text known to all as “The Treaty of Waitangi”, signed by rather more than forty chiefs over the next few days.

Meanwhile, Freeman, sidelined by Hobson from the work of treaty preparation, and with no authority to do so, set to work to write what he thought a proper English version and  succeeded in getting it away to Governor Gipps in Sydney by the storeship “Samuel Winter” on 8 February.

Clendon, for his part, made a copy of Hobson’s genuine text on paper from the same stock as the 4th February document was written, and with minor adjustments – correcting Busby’s spelling mistake: “Sovreignty” and with “6 February”, the actual date on which the signing took place − in his capacity as U.S. Consul, sent it on 20 February to the US Secretary of State, John Forsyth.

Then on 30th March,  US explorer Charles Wilkes arrived in the Bay of Islands in his storm-battered ship, USS Vincennes and in his own words proceeded “to inquire into the actual state of these islands”. From Administrator Shortland via Consul Clendon he was provided with the actual final text of 4 February which his writer proceeded to copy exactly, Busby’s mistakes included, and making a few of his own![4]  Both documents exist today in U.S. archives.

This done, Clendon never returned the final text and in due course among his private papers it came into the hands of his solicitor,  Henry Littlewood and disappeared from public view until 1989 when it was found among her mother’s effects by Beryl Needham, a descendant of Littlewood.

Dubbed by some official “the Littlewood Treaty”, establishment figures have done all that they can to discredit it.  The official line is that expressed in response to a questioner by Hon. Margaret Wilson, the then Associate Minister of Justice, on 27 July 2004: “A written treaty … has no validity unless signed by both parties.  The ‘Littlewood’ Treaty was not signed”. … While the “Littlewood Treaty” may be of historical interest, it has no official status.”

This was the line taken in the Treaty-2-U caravan which was taken around the country in 2006 to promulgate the official treaty story.  So this flimsy dodge avoids the fact that it was the version in English whose composition was a vital step in the production of the actual treaty.   Nobody pretends that it was an executable document in its own right, but its historical importance is vital because it says precisely in English what is said in the treaty in Maori and, as can be seen from it, the steps Hobson took to observe his mandate from Lord Normanby.

In only one significant way, does the substance of the treaty differ from Hobson’s 4 February English version.   Between “tangata” and ‘katoa” in Article third, Williams inserted “maori”  on whom specifically the rights of the people of England were to be conferred.  Since existing British subjects had such rights already and it was not desired to include foreigners, this was appropriate. This is further and indeed compelling evidence that the document dated 4 February was not a translation of the Treaty document in Maori but preceded it.  It can only have been written on 4 February and is correctly dated.  There is no evidence to the contrary.

The critical importance of all this is that, given the well-established authenticity of the inaccurately dubbed “Littlewood Treaty”, the document in English from which the treaty was translated, any translation of the treaty itself to English is entirely unnecessary and can be, at least, twice removed from the actual document in English which was read out at Waitangi on 5 February 1840.

So what actually happened at Waitangi?

It is clear that when a large number of chiefs assembled at Waitangi on that fateful couple of days that they meant business and that they grasped the nature of that business.  Their words at Waitangi on 5 February 1840, clearly those of articulate speakers, recorded at the time by Colenso, leave not the slightest doubt that they knew what they were doing.  Very few commentators ever note this fact.

There were barely twenty four hours between Hobson’s presentation to the chiefs and their near-unanimous acceptance of his proposals.  They did not seek explanations of fine points of meaning.  Those who were bilingual did not quibble about differences between Hobson’s English text of the 4th and the Williams’ text in Maori.  Apart from some clarification of religious matters, few questions were asked.  When the chiefs adjourned to Tii marae to debate the matter, there is no report of any of them referring back to him for clarification of what he proposed.  Next morning more than forty were ready to sign and did so.

Subsequently their decision was emphatically endorsed by about five hundred chiefs around the country who added their signatures. 

So what was actually agreed at Waitangi?

1. The chiefs ceded such sovereignty as each possessed to the Queen on the most generous terms for any native race in the history of colonisation.

In the absence of any word in classic Maori for “sovereignty”, the Williams in their translation chose “kawanatanga”, a synthetic word obviously comprising a transliteration of “governor” with a suffix meaning “-ship”.  Time after time, commentators claim that this meant that only “government” and not sovereignty was ceded to the Queen.  This is false and superficial reasoning because translation is not the same as derivation.  Many examples could be given. The words of chiefs recorded at Waitangi and elsewhere leave no doubt that they knew that by signing they would become subordinate to the Queen.  They knew they would cede sovereignty;  that is the tribal autonomy of each, not the sovereign authority of a non-existent nation –  and they did!

2. By Article third all Maoris (tangata maori katoa [sic]) received the protection of the Queen and the same rights and duties as the people of England.  “Rights” was translated by the Williams as “tikanga”.  Note that this referred to the rights of English people, not whatever “tikanga” meant in a Maori context.  It included protection from any foreign power, in particular the French of whom Maori were mortally afraid.

In essence, remarkable indeed in their generosity those terms are, that is all!  However, the essentially redundant [5] Article Second is the one which has been mercifully exploited with glaring omissions and half-truths (or less) by our legion of treaty-twisters!  Here is how.

This article assured all the people of New Zealand − tangata katoa o Nu Tirani − that isall, of the possession − tino rangatiratanga −of their homes and personal property − “taonga”.   Herein lie two plausible though false chinks in the translation which the treaty-twisters exploit to the full.

(1) The first is that Maoris had no real conception of a right enjoyed by the people of England, now granted to them: possessions of private property – of which they could be deprived at whim by chiefs and others of senior status, such as rangatiras, in the very hierarchical Maori tribal society.  In this way the Williams sought to extend to all of them what had hitherto been only a right of Maori chiefs.  Nevertheless, it needs to be said again since the treaty-twisters so flagrantly ignore it,  Article second applied to all the people of New Zealand.

More and more today, do we see part-Maori radicals waving a black, white and red flag which they call the “tino rangatiratanga” flag, claiming that those two words in the Treaty somehow mean that there is something called “maori sovereignty” which continues to exist.   Nothing could be further from the truth.  No such thing ever existed as a unified concept.

(2)  The word for “property” used appropriately by the Williams was “taonga”.  It had first been defined by Hongi Hika in assisting Lee and Kendall in compiling the first Maori dictionary in 1820 as “property procured by the spear” – “tao”.  It had been broadened by 1831 when thirteen Ngapuhi chiefs wrote to King William seeking his protection of themselves and their property which was “nothing but timber, flax, pork and potatoes” — the latter two of course, courtesy of Europeans.  Its meaning expanded to include the great variety of European material goods but nevertheless William Williams in his 1844 dictionary still defined it simply as “property”. That was still its meaning in P.M. Ryan’s 1974 dictionary.

Since then part-Maori opportunists have unashamedly expanded its meaning to include anything their greedy minds aspire to acquire.  One notorious example was when a feeble old man was claimed to be a “taonga”.  Gullible white men thereupon allowed him to jump the queue for a major operation and within a few months he was dead from other natural causes.

More sweeping is their claim that the electromagnetic spectrum – barely known in 1840 – is another “taonga” and officialdom continues meekly to award very valuable and extensive rights to it to part-Maori interests.  There is every sign that they are now making similar spurious claims with respect to natural water.  If other New Zealanders are stupid enough to give in to these spurious claims, then they will inevitably pay for the consequences.

And at Cabinet Level

With the rigid denial of the authenticity of the so-called “Littlewood Treaty” which, as the primary source in English, would be superior to any translation, officialdom in consequence needs an “official translation” of the actual Treaty.  The first such translation was made by T.E. Young of the Native Department in 1869 but Cabinet decided to adopt a 1989 translation by Sir Hugh Kawharu.

All well and good, you may say, considering his distinguished academic record.  This does not exempt it from a further critical look since it is taken to be authoritative in all cabinet considerations concerning the Treaty of Waitangi and any implications of it.  These are perhaps more extensive today than at any previous time in its 182 year history – a truly astonishing situation which, surely, is matched by few other purported treaties of anything like its great age! [6]

Kawharu offered a number of footnotes to his translation but most of them do not ring true in the light of our earlier commentary.  Most flagrant is his “footnote” about “taonga” thus:

“As submissions to the Waitangi Tribunal concerning the Maori language have made clear, ‘taonga’ refers to all dimensions of a tribal group’s estate, material and non-material – heirlooms and wahi tapu (sacred places), ancestral lore and whakapapa (genealogies), etc.”

In the first place, Kawharu could hardly have done worse than refer to proceedings of the Waitangi Tribunal as his ultimate authority.  As veteran newspaperman, Brian Priestley who sat in on Tribunal proceedings for three months observed: “it would be hard to imagine any public body less well organised to get at the truth” (Sunday Star-Times, 30 May 2010).

Yet even worse, in using a modern meaning of a word in translating a document written in 1840 when its meaning was quite different, he commits a gross error, quite unforgivable in any academic, let alone one of his exalted standing.

So there we all are, with Cabinet allowing itself to be grossly deceived by a flagrant distortion of the meaning of the Treaty of Waitangi, held so dear by so many, with the loss of major assets of the people of New Zealand on spurious grounds to a racially defined group, almost all of whom are direct descendants of colonists from Britain to whom they direct their hatred today and whose tribal ancestors might have been killed in the incessant tribal wars, had not British colonisation saved them from themselves.

There are more plain truths:

1.  A “Treaty Partnership” is a fake

2. “Treaty Principles” are a fake

3.  The legislated “Treaty in English” is a fake.

We shall have more to say on these sorry realities.


[1] Colenso’s account, checked at the time by Busby. (full reference available).
[2] Atea Otago, 2 February 2022. which states: “This content was created in paid partnership with the University of Otago … a vibrant contributor to Maori development and the realisaton of Maori aspirations, through our Maori Strategic framework and world-class researchers and teachers.”
[3] As recorded by Buick (reference available)
[4] C.Wilkes, USS Vincennes letter book, copy of despatch Number 64, Microfilm 1262 University of Auckland Library pp 163-4, original at Kansas Historical Society, Topeka, Kansas.
[5] Apart from the provision for sale of Maori land which soon became unworkable, Article second guaranteed rights to Maoris implicit in Article third and to other British subjects who had those rights already.
[6] Coincidentally, it was in mid-March of the same year that the so-called “Littlewood” Treaty was found by Beryl Needham among the effects of Ethel Littlewood, her recently deceased mother.

Bruce Moon is a retired computer pioneer who wrote “Real Treaty; False Treaty – The True Waitangi Story”.