Proceedings of the Kohimarama Conference. Archives reference: MA23 Box 8/10. Click on the image to enlarge or download.
The Kohimarama Conference of 1860 was the most important Māori-Crown gathering since 1840.
The conference was met under the backdrop of war in Taranaki and the growth of the Kīngitanga, the Māori King Movement. Full of drama, debate and deliberation, the hui ended with a unanimous resolution known as the Kohimarama Covenant. The agreement recognised both the Crown’s sovereignty and confirmed Māori rangatiratanga.
In 1860, fighting over a disputed land transaction broke out between Māori and British troops at Taranaki. To convince Māori leaders to support the Government and to reject the Kīngitanga, Governor Thomas Gore Browne called rangatira to Kohimarama, Auckland. Over three weeks, the Treaty of Waitangi was debated by at least 200 rangatira, including many who had signed it. However, there were notable absences, such as leaders from Waikato, Taranaki, and the South Island.
The rangatira discovered that they had a different understanding of the Treaty to the Crown. Governor Browne and his translator, Donald McLean, appealed to the humanitarianism and sacredness of the Treaty. In doing so they played down the transfer of power written in the English version. A number of Māori leaders voiced their support for the Government and the authority of the Queen, but equally defended their rights as confirmed in the document. Despite the different understandings, both parties declared their commitment to the Treaty.
The final resolution of the conference was similar to formal consent. The Government, having mostly gained what they wanted from the conference, promised to hold further hui about sharing power, but no more were held. Meanwhile, rangatira believed their mana had been guaranteed by the conference. They thought that acknowledging the protective power of the Queen did not conflict with Māori authority over their traditional sphere of influence, and expected to play a greater part in decision-making. They were to be disappointed. As a result, Kohimarama became a point of reference for the expression of organised Māori protest in the years to come, and helped spread the Ngāpuhi idea of the Treaty as a solemn compact or covenant.
Archives New Zealand holds the original minute book of the Kohimarama Conference. It is written in the English language and is 300 pages long. Yet like the Treaty itself, the English and te reo Māori version of the proceedings are different. Both versions were widely circulated after the conference. The recipients are listed in another file at Archives New Zealand.