Story: Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the Treaty of Waitangi

Page 4. Dishonouring te tiriti – 1860 to 1880

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Kohimarama conference, 1860

In 1860 fighting broke out between Māori and British troops in Taranaki over a disputed land transaction. Governor Thomas Gore Browne hoped to convince Māori leaders to support his actions in Taranaki and reject the Kīngitanga. He called a conference of rangatira at Kohimarama, Auckland, in mid-1860. Over three weeks te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi) was presented and explained to at least 200 rangatira, including many who had signed it. The rangatira discovered that they had differing understandings of te tiriti. Finally they passed a unanimous resolution, called the Kohimarama covenant, which both recognised the Crown’s sovereignty and confirmed chiefly rangatiratanga.

The Kohimarama resolution was similar to a formal ratification of the treaty. The government promised to convene further conferences to discuss sharing power, but no more were held. The rangatira who attended the conference expected to play a greater part in decision-making, but they were to be disappointed.

War in Waikato

George Grey, recalled to a second governorship of New Zealand in 1861, saw the Kīngitanga as a direct challenge to Crown authority and the future of British settlement. The government responded to the movement by invading Waikato with British troops. This action escalated into warfare that spread to Bay of Plenty and elsewhere. The conflict was officially described as a suppression of Māori who were in rebellion against the Crown, but some politicians admitted that it was a war to assert British supremacy.

These military actions demonstrated to many Māori that the government had not upheld their rights under the treaty. The confiscation of Māori land in Waikato, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty and Hawke’s Bay after the wars left a further legacy of bitterness.

Native Land Court

The treaty’s promised protection of Māori land rights was ignored by successive governments. By 1860 almost the entire South Island had been alienated from Māori. The Native Land Court (later the Māori Land Court) converted iwi-owned Māori land rights into Crown-granted titles, making the land easier to sell. By the early 1890s around two-thirds of the North Island had been alienated, and land loss continued through the late 19th and 20th centuries.

European settlement expands

By the 1870s te tiriti seemed to have disappeared from settler consciousness. It may have been practically unknown to the hundreds of thousands of migrants who flooded to New Zealand to ‘open up’ the country. By the end of the 1870s Māori were outnumbered ten to one by the Pāhekā population. Breaches of Māori rights under the treaty escalated as settlement extended across the North Island.

Lack of protection for Māori

It became increasingly clear to Māori that te tiriti provided them with very limited protection. Court decisions, shady land dealings and legislation all played a part in undermining the treaty's guarantees. For instance, the treaty could not lessen the impact of the Public Works acts of 1864 and 1876. Together with later legislation, these acts enabled the Crown to compulsorily acquire Māori land for roads, railways and other public works.

The treaty’s promises to Māori of ‘exclusive and undisturbed possession of their lands and estates, forests, fisheries, and other properties’ were not upheld by settler actions such as foreshore reclamation, timber floatage (transporting timber downstream through flooding), which smashed fish weirs on rivers, and drainage schemes which damaged eel reserves and freshwater fishing. Local body works and the imposition of rates often caused economic disadvantage and land loss for iwi and hapū.

How to cite this page:

Claudia Orange, 'Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the Treaty of Waitangi - Dishonouring te tiriti – 1860 to 1880', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 14 July 2024)

Story by Claudia Orange, published 20 Jun 2012, reviewed & revised 28 Mar 2023 with assistance from Claudia Orange