Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) documents, containing the signatures of rangatira and others, have not been well cared for over the years. In 1842 the documents had to be saved from a fire in the ramshackle government buildings in Auckland. After the fire, they were fastened together and stored in a safe in the Colonial Secretary’s Office. They were later transferred to Wellington, where historian Thomas Hocken found them in the basement of Government Buildings in 1908. Unfortunately, they had been nibbled by rats. Subsequent inexpert conservation treatment and ill-judged exhibitions further damaged the documents.
Today, the nine remaining sheets are in the care of Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga Archives New Zealand. In 1990, after more conservation work, the documents were put on display in what was known as the Constitution Room at Archives New Zealand in Wellington. This was opened by Jim Bolger as part of the Waitangi anniversary celebrations.
In 2017, the documents were moved from the Archives building to the nearby National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa building in Wellington. They are all on display in a special room called He Tohu. The room’s design is based on a waka huia (a treasure box used by Māori to hold precious items). He Tohu has temperature and light control to preserve the documents and ensure they remain safe while on display. Information to help visitors understand the history of the treaty is also displayed.
He Tohu also contains the 1835 He Whakaputanga and the 1893 suffrage petition, two other foundational documents. In the first five years of the opening of He Tohu, an estimated 100,000 people, including 20,000 school children, visited the exhibition.
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