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History series - Treaty





1840 was a very eventful year – however the major milestone was the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.

The Treaty is New Zealand’s ‘founding document’. It’s a remarkable part of our history that takes its name from the place it was first signed, on 6th February 1840.

The Treaty is an agreement, in Māori and English, that was made between the British Crown and about 540 Māori chiefs.

The growing numbers of British migrants arriving in New Zealand in the late 1830s brought about a need for some sort of formal agreement.

Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson had the task of securing British sovereignty over New Zealand. The Treaty itself was prepared in just a few days. Missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward translated the English draft into Māori overnight on 4 February.

About 500 Māori debated the document for one day and one night before it was signed on 6 February 1840.

Different understandings of the Treaty have long been the subject of debate.

In October 1975, the government created a Tribunal to hear Māori claims of breaches of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Today it’s common to refer to the intention, spirit or principles of the Treaty rather than the treaty itself.