About Te Tiriti o Waitangi


  1. Background
  2. Towards a Treaty
  3. Signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi
  4. What the Treaty says
  5. The sheets
  6. Chronology
  7. Online resources

A brief introduction


Interaction between Māori and Europeans was intermittent following Captain Cook’s first visit in 1769. Contact became varied and frequent in the first decades of the 19th Century.

East Polynesians arrived in these islands perhaps 800 years ago. By the time of Tasman’s brief encounter in 1642 and Cook’s several visits from 1769, Māori society and culture were well-established and complex, based on independent and often competing iwi and hapu (tribes), with differing dialects and traditions.

Seasonal food gathering was significant in the communal economies. Horticulture was also important in warmer areas. Extensive trade networks distributed many resources throughout New Zealand. A rising population and competition for resources from the 16th Century led to communities organised for both warfare and peace.

From the British settlement of New South Wales in 1788, entrepreneurs looked for resources to exploit. They found rich possibilities in New Zealand. Many Māori, especially those on the coast, soon became familiar with Europeans who profited from whales, seals, timber, flax, and Maori labour and artefacts. Maori adopted aspects of European culture which they found useful. Metal, clothing and new foods, such as potatoes and pigs, were quickly acquired. Guns led to more intense tribal warfare. Metal tools greatly influenced wood carving, fishing and other activities that had previously used stone tools.

British missionaries settled in New Zealand from 1814, seeking to ‘civilise’ Māori society through British customs and Christianity. New Zealand also attracted more unruly convicts, traders, sailors and adventurers, mostly concentrated in the Bay of Islands. These visitors distressed the missionaries, who encouraged Māori to look to Britain for protection. However, Britain had no formal authority, and indeed recognised Māori independence.

By the 1830s Māori were suffering from intensified intertribal warfare and diseases, such as measles and influenza, against which they had no immunity. Lawless Europeans were also a problem. James Busby became British Resident in 1833, supposedly to control the British in New Zealand, but he had no means of enforcing order. He did assist with the adoption of a New Zealand flag in 1834, and the 1835 Declaration of Independence, which was signed by 34 northern rangatira. Both were acknowledged by the United Kingdom.

Māori continued to adapt some European practices, and in the late 1830s Christianity, filtered by Māori teachers, appealed to many Māori. This encouraged widespread literacy as the Bible, catechisms and other texts became available in Te Reo Māori. However, Busby’s hope for the evolution of a central Māori authority was in vain. Māori independence remained centred on iwi and hapu.

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Towards a Treaty

Considerable pressure was placed on the British Government to intervene in New Zealand in the late 1830s. Recognition of Maori independence meant the British needed a Treaty to gain formal authority. In some haste a document was created in early 1840.

The British were reluctant to intervene in New Zealand because colonies were expensive and there were usually problems for the colonisers in their relations with native peoples. However, in the late 1830s, greater involvement was forced by a number of factors.

By late 1839 there were some 2000 Europeans in New Zealand, among perhaps 100,000 Maori.

The Colonial Secretary, Lord Normanby, decided to annex at least some of New Zealand on 30 May 1839. In June Letters Patent were issued to allow New South Wales authority to be extended into New Zealand.

William Hobson, a naval officer who had reported on New Zealand in 1837, was chosen to be Lieutenant-Governor of the new colony, representing the British Crown and Government. When the first New Zealand Company settlers sailed, it was made clear to Hobson that annexation of the whole country would be best. Normanby’s instructions to Hobson were ambiguous. Māori interests (including land rights) were to be protected, so land purchase was to be controlled by the Crown. Britain needed to gain legal authority over its own subjects, and annexation would benefit Māori whose sovereignty was seen as ‘little more than nominal’. British law was seen as a way to control and improve Māori/settler relations.

Captain Hobson arrived on the HMS Herald at the Bay of Islands on 29 January 1840, a week after the first New Zealand Company settlers landed at Port Nicholson (Wellington). Land ‘purchases’ from Māori continued. Hobson knew he had to act fast.

Busby sent invitations to northern rangatira to meet Hobson, ‘a rangatira of the Queen of England’, at his property at Waitangi on 5 February 1840 to discuss a formal arrangement.

Hobson had no draft treaty. Neither he nor James Freeman, his secretary, had legal training, or much understanding of Māori. After a first attempt with Freeman, Hobson fell ill. Busby added considerably to the draft, which was finalised by Hobson on 4 February. Into the evening the missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward translated the draft into Māori. A clean copy of the proposed treaty in Māori was made on parchment by the Rev. Richard Taylor early on 5 February 1840 to be presented to the hui that day.

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Signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi

After considerable discussion, William Hobson, representing the British Crown, signed a treaty with Māori at Waitangi on 6 February 1840. Many other signatures were subsequently gained elsewhere.

The proposed treaty in Māori was presented and explained to 500 Māori and 200 Pakeha at Waitangi on 5 February. Missionaries acted as the main translators from English to Māori. Explanation and discussion continued through the day. Many rangatira spoke against a treaty. The mood was altered by rangatira, concerned about the situation in the north, who feared they could not control the influx of Europeans. In the evening, after Hobson had left, discussion continued, but it remained unclear whether Māori would sign.

The discussion gave little hint of many implications of signing the Treaty. Missionaries, trusted by many Māori, generally favoured it, while some traders were against it. Possible benefits were stressed and little said about the restrictions Māori would face. The absolute nature of the transfer of authority to the British Crown, intended in the English word ‘sovereignty’, was played down, but ideas of protection through a personal relationship with Queen Victoria and of union in covenant under one god were stressed.

The hui was to resume on 7 February, but some Maori wished to leave a day earlier, so Hobson hastily agreed the Treaty could be signed. He did not allow any further discussion, though Bishop Pompallier gained Hobson’s verbal agreement to religious tolerance for all, including Māori. Hone Heke decided to sign, and over 42 rangatira followed, adding their names or personal marks to the parchment sheet of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Hobson then travelled, gathering more signatures, first at Waimate and then at a large hui at Mangungu on the Hokianga. On 1 March 1840 at the Waitemata harbour Hobson suffered a stroke; he could not gather all the signatures wanted.

The original sheet—the Waitangi Sheet—had become too small, and there was the risk of loss if it continued to travel, so copies were made using the Māori text. These were taken to various parts of New Zealand. Those gathering signatures also had copies of the English text, for their understanding. Some took printed copies of the Māori text, made by William Colenso at the Church Missionary Society Printery in the Bay of Islands on 17 February. Major Thomas Bunbury set off in the HMS Herald with one copy, to gain signatures in a variety of places, including the South Island. Willoughby Shortland organised for other sheets to be taken to specific areas.

The collecting of signatures lasted till early September. Even as new signatures were still being added, Hobson proclaimed British sovereignty on 21 May 1840, claiming the North Island by right of the Treaty, and further south by right of Cook’s ‘discovery’. Unaware of Hobson’s action, Bunbury proclaimed British sovereignty over Stewart Island on 5 June and the South Island on 17 June, the latter on the basis of the signatures he had obtained. British authority was official, as far as the British were concerned.

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What the Treaty says

There are two principal versions of the Treaty, with other minor variations. By far the majority of signatures were given to sheets with the Māori text. The English text was signed by only 32 rangatira at Waikato Heads in mid-March 1840 and by 7 others at Manukau on 26 April 1840.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi

Ko Wikitoria te Kuini o Ingarani i tana mahara atawai ki nga Rangatira me nga Hapu o Nu Tirani i tana hiahia hoki kia tohungia ki a ratou o ratou rangatiratanga me to ratou wenua, a kia mau tonu hoki te Rongo ki a ratou me te Atanoho hoki kua wakaaro ia he mea tika kia tukua mai tetahi Rangatira – hei kai wakarite ki nga Tangata maori o Nu Tirani – kia wakaaetia e nga Rangatira Maori te Kawanatanga o te Kuini ki nga wahikatoa o te wenua nei me nga notu – na te mea hoki he tokomaha ke nga tangata o tona Iwi Kua noho ki tenei wenua, a e haere mai nei. 

Na ko te Kuini e hiahia ana kia wakaritea te Kawanatanga kia kaua ai nga kino e puta mai ki te tangata Maori ki te Pakeha e noho ture kore ana. 

Na kua pai te Kuini kia tukua a hau a Wiremu Hopihono he Kapitana i te Roiara Nawi hei Kawana mo nga wahi katoa o Nu Tirani e tukua aianei amua atu ki te Kuini, e mea atu ana ia ki nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani me era Rangatira atu enei ture ka korerotia nei.

Ko te tuatahi 

Ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga me nga Rangatira katoa hoki ki hai i uru ki taua wakaminenga ka tuku rawa atu ki te Kuini o Ingarani ake tonu atu – te Kawanatanga katoa o o ratou wenua.

Ko te tuarua

Ko te Kuini o Ingarani ka wakarite ka wakaae ki nga Rangatira ki nga hapu – ki nga tangata katoa o Nu Tirani te tino rangatiratanga o o ratou wenua o ratou kainga me o ratou taonga katoa. Otiia ko nga Rangatira o te wakaminenga ne nga Rangatira katoa atu ka tuku ki te Kuini te hokonga o era wahi wenua e pai ai te tangata nona te wenua – ki te ritenga o te utu e wakaritea ai e ratou ko te kai hoko e meatia nei te Kuini hei kai hoko mona.

Ko te tuatoru 

Hei wakaritenga mai hoki tenei mo te wakaaetenga ki te Kawanatanga o te Kuini – Ka tiakina e te Kuini o Ingarani nga tangata maori katoa o Nu Tirani ka tukua ki a ratou nga tikanga katoa rite tahi ki ana mea ki nga tangata o Ingarani. 

W. Hobson Consul & Lieutenant Governor 

Na ko matou ko nga Rangatira o te Wakaminenga o nga hapu o Nu Tirani ka huihui nei ki Waitangi ko matou hoki ko nga Rangatira o Nu Tirani ka kite nei i te ritenga o enei kupu, ka tangohia ka wakaaetia katoatia e matou, koia ka tohungia ai o matou ingoa o matou tohu. 

Ka meatia tenei ki Waitangi i te ono o nga ra o Pepueri i te tau kotahi mano, e waru rau e wa te kau o to tatou Ariki. 

Victoria, the Queen of England, in her concern to protect the chiefs and the subtribes of New Zealand and in her desire to preserve their chieftainship and their lands to them and to maintain peace and good order considers it just to appoint an administrator one who will negotiate with the people of New Zealand to the end that their chiefs will agree to the Queen's Government being established over all parts of this land and (adjoining) islands and also because there are many of her subjects already living on this land and others yet to come. 

So the Queen desires to establish a government so that no evil will come to Maori and European living in a state of lawlessness. 

So the Queen has appointed me, William Hobson, a Captain in the Royal Navy to be Governor for all parts of New Zealand (both those) shortly to be received by the Queen and (those) to be received hereafter and presents to the chiefs of the Confederation chiefs of the subtribes of New Zealand and other chiefs these laws set out here. 

The first 

The Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs who have not joined that Confederation give absolutely to the Queen of England for ever the complete government over their land. 

The second

The Queen of England agrees to protect the chiefs, the subtribes and all the people of New Zealand in the unqualified exercise of their chieftainship over their lands, villages and all their treasures. But on the other hand the Chiefs of the Confederation and all the Chiefs will sell land to the Queen at a price agreed to by the person owning it and by the person buying it (the latter being) appointed by the Queen as her purchase agent. 

The third 

For this agreed arrangement therefore concerning the Government of the Queen, the Queen of England will protect all the ordinary people of New Zealand and will give them the same rights and duties of citizenship as the people of England.

William Hobson
Consul and Lieutenant-Governor. 

So we, the Chiefs of the Confederation and of the subtribes of New Zealand meeting here at Waitangi having seen the shape of these words which we accept and agree to record our names and our marks thus. 

Was done at Waitangi on the sixth of February in the year of our Lord 1840.

A translation by Professor Hugh Kawharu, 1975


The Treaty of Waitangi

Her Majesty Victoria Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland regarding with Her Royal Favour the Native Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and anxious to protect their just Rights and Property and to secure to them the enjoyment of Peace and Good Order has deemed it necessary in consequence of the great number of Her Majesty's Subjects who have already settled in New Zealand and the rapid extension of Emigration both from Europe and Australia which is still in progress to constitute and appoint a functionary properly authorised to treat with the Aborigines of New Zealand for the recognition of Her Majesty's Sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those islands – Her Majesty therefore being desirous to establish a settled form of Civil Government with a view to avert the evil consequences which must result from the absence of the necessary Laws and Institutions alike to the native population and to Her subjects has been graciously pleased to empower and to authorise me William Hobson a Captain in Her Majesty's Royal Navy Consul and Lieutenant-Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may be or hereafter shall be ceded to her Majesty to invite the confederated and independent Chiefs of New Zealand to concur in the following Articles and Conditions.

The Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand and the separate and independent Chiefs who have not become members of the Confederation cede to Her Majesty the Queen of England absolutely and without reservation all the rights and powers of Sovereignty which the said Confederation or Individual Chiefs respectively exercise or possess, or may be supposed to exercise or to possess over their respective Territories as the sole sovereigns thereof.

Her Majesty the Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand and to the respective families and individuals thereof the full exclusive and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates Forests Fisheries and other properties which they may collectively or individually possess so long as it is their wish and desire to retain the same in their possession; but the Chiefs of the United Tribes and the individual Chiefs yield to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Preemption over such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to alienate at such prices as may be agreed upon between the respective Proprietors and persons appointed by Her Majesty to treat with them in that behalf.

In consideration thereof Her Majesty the Queen of England extends to the Natives of New Zealand Her royal protection and imparts to them all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

William Hobson, Lieutenant Governor.

Now therefore We the Chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes of New Zealand being assembled in Congress at Victoria in Waitangi and We the Separate and Independent Chiefs of New Zealand claiming authority over the Tribes and Territories which are specified after our respective names, having been made fully to understand the Provisions of the foregoing Treaty, accept and enter into the same in the full spirit and meaning thereof in witness of which we have attached our signatures or marks at the places and the dates respectively specified. Done at Waitangi this Sixth day of February in the year of Our Lord one thousand eight hundred and forty.

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The sheets

Te Tiriti o Waitangi is not one but nine sheets, signed across New Zealand over a period of seven months.

In 1841, only a year after the Treaty was drawn up and signed, the documents were saved from a fire at the government offices in Official Bay, Auckland. Poor storage between 1877 and 1908 led to the Treaty being damaged by both water and rodents. However, facsimiles of the Treaty had been created in 1877, before the damage occurred, and images of all signatures have survived. After a series of different conservation treatments, and different homes, the Treaty was finally brought to National Archives in 1989.

The following is a chronology of events about the signings of the sheets, their care, and their display.

Sheets and signings


Parchment: 620mm (width) x 1158mm (length)

Signings Date Sig
Waitangi 6 February


Bay of Islands 6 February - August


Waimate 10 February


Hokianga 12 February


Waitangi 17 February


Waitemata 4 March


Kaitaia 28 April


Paihia 13 May


Tamaki 9 July


Russell 5 August


Total: 240 Signatures (approx)

Gathered by William Hobson and others


Te Moana o Toi Huatahi/Bay of Plenty

Paper: 336mm x 1015mm

Signings Date Sig
Opotiki 27/28 May


Torere 11 June


Torere 14 June


Te Kaha 14 June


Bay of Islands 16 June


Total: 26 Signatures

Gathered by James Fedarb, trader


Te Manuao Herald/HMS Herald

Parchment: 535mm x 636mm

Signings Date Sig
Coromandel 4 May 4
Mercury Island 7 May 2
Akaroa (near) 30 May 2
Ruapuke 10 June 3
Otago 13 June 2
Cloudy Bay 17 June 9
Waitemata 19 June 2
Hawkes Bay 24 June 3

Total: 27 Signatures

Gathered by Major Thomas Bunbury


Ruakawa Moana/Cook Strait

Paper: 352mm x 625mm

Signings Date Sig
Port Nicholson 29 Apr


Queen Charlotte 4 May


Rangitoto Island 11 May


Kapiti 14 May


Waikanae 16 May


Otaki 19 May


Tawhirihoe 21 May


Manawatu 26 May


Wanganui 23 May


Wanganui 31 May


Motungarara 4 June


Total: 132 Signatures

Gathered by Henry Williams, missionary



Paper: 475mm (width) x 593mm (length)

Signings Date Sig
Waikato Heads March


Manukau 26 Apr


Total: 39 Signatures

Gathered by Robert Maunsell, missionary, and B Y Ashwell (Waikato Heads), and William Symonds (Manukau)



Paper: 403mm x 623mm

Signings Date Sig
Tauranga 10 April - 23 May


Total: 21 Signatures

Gathered by Alfred Brown, James Stack and Henry Taylor, missionaries


He rau kua ta tuhia/Printed sheet

Paper: 202mm x 323mm

Signings Date Sig
Waikato Heads No date


Total: 5 Signatures

Probably gathered at Waikato (Heads) signing above


Te Tai Rawhiti/East Coast

Paper: 351mm x 622mm

Signings Date Sig
Turanga 5 May and later


Uawa 16/17 May


Waipu 25 May


Waipu 1 June


Tokomaru 9 June


Total: 41 Signatures

Gathered by William Williams, missionary



Paper: 351mm x 540mm

Signings Date Sig
Manukau 20 March


Kawhia 28 April


Kawhia 21 May


Kawhia 25 May


Kawhia 15 June


Kawhia 27 August


Kawhia 3 September


Total: 13 Signatures

Gathered by William Symonds (Manukau) and missionaries James Wallis and John Whiteley (Kawhia)

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1840: The original document was signed by Governor Hobson and rangatira at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840. Copies also signed by Hobson were sent to various parts of New Zealand to obtain the signature of other rangatira in order to extend the sovereignty of the Queen over the whole country. A printed sheet was also signed.

1841: The Treaty documents narrowly escaped destruction by fire when the Government offices at Auckland were burned down. George Eliott, the record clerk, arrived just in time to rescue the Treaty and the Seal of the Colony. Eliott afterwards deposited the Treaty in the Colonial Secretary’s Office, where it remained until at least 1865.

1869: The Legislative Council asked for a reproduction of all the Treaty documents plus the rough draft to be laid on the table. It was reported however that the draft was not on record either in the Native Department or in the Colonial Secretary’s Office. The text and translation were published for the Legislative Council, with notes by W. B. Baker, translator to the Native Office. Notes on the draft of the Treaty appear to have come to light during the next few years.

1877: The Government published facsimiles of various documents relating to the Treaty: the Declaration of Independence 1835, the draft notes of the Treaty and the nine sheets of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

1908: The Treaty was discovered in the basement of the Government Buildings “in damaged condition presumably rat eaten” by Dr Hocken. The Department of Internal Affairs took charge of the Treaty, and it was sent to the Director of the Dominion Museum to see if it could be restored.

1913: The original sheets were glued on to new canvas, and with the aid of the 1877 facsimiles the portions that had been damaged by rats were reproduced. Once restored it was placed in “a specially made tin cylinder” which was kept in the strong-room of the Department of Internal Affairs in the old Government Buildings.

1927: Discussions between the Alexander Turnbull Library, General Assembly Library and the Department of Internal Affairs were initiated about possible public display of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

1931: Memoranda to Minister of Internal Affairs suggested relocating Te Tiriti o Waitangi outside of Wellington following the 1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake.

1940: Te Tiriti o Waitangi was displayed to the public for the first time at Waitangi as part of the centennial commemorations.

1957: With the passage of the Archives Act 1957, the Treaty became an official archive subject to the provisions of the Act and custody was given to the National Archives in the Department of Internal Affairs.

1961: On 30 January the Treaty was transferred to the Alexander Turnbull Library for “suitable display under proper conditions to prevent deterioration until such time as the National Archives had its own Exhibition Room”. The Treaty was installed in a showcase built for it in the entrance hall of the library and was unveiled by the Minister of Internal Affairs on 6 February 1961.

c.1977: Conservators working at the Alexander Turnbull Library removed the cloth backing when it was found to be causing damage.

c.1978: The Treaty was removed from public display and returned to the National Archives.

1979: Conservation staff at National Archives carried out repairs on some of the documents with the advice of S M Cockerell, a prominent British Conservator.

1981: A sealed package containing the Treaty of Waitangi was deposited in the safe of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand by National Archives.

December 1991: The Constitution Room was officially opened on 9 December and the nine sheets of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, along with other founding documents of New Zealand, were put on permanent display for the first time.

1997: The Treaty was inscribed on the UNESCO Register of the Memory of the World in recognition of its universal significance in world history.

2017: The Treaty, along with the Women's Suffrage Petition and He Whakaputanga, was moved from Archives New Zealand's Constitution Room to a state of the art exhibition at the National Library, He Tohu.

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Online resources

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