Just as there were varying views among Maori about the merits of the Treaty of Waitangi, so too did attitudes among Pakeha of the day differ enormously. Two Pakeha witnesses to the treaty-making at Waitangi, whose roles and attitudes were poles apart, were Felton Mathew, a sharp-tongued cynic, and the astute idealist, William Colenso, who worked as a printer for the Church Missionary Society.
Mathew, living in Sydney, accepted an offer to accompany Hobson to New Zealand as acting Surveyor-General and was a witness to the Treaty signing. He remained somewhat troubled by what he regarded as the shortcomings of the whole business. 'By far the larger proportion of the Native Chiefs never subscribed to it at all' he wrote in his journal (1).
Mathew's hand-written account acknowledges that the Treaty 'will be found to exercise a very important influence on the prospects and interests of the Colony' (2). He noted that the interests of what he called the 'Confederated Chiefs', those who in 1835 had signed the Declaration of Independence, were 'formally recognised and the Government expressly declared its determination to take no land from the Natives except what they were willing to dispose' (3). No other parties were permitted to buy land.
Mathew wondered 'how far the stipulations of this treaty will affect the future proceedings of the Government' (4). He questioned how it might work when the British Government had sent just 'a Captain of the Navy accompanied by three officers only sneaking to New Zealand…to ask a few barbarians if they would allow the establishment of British authority over them' (5).
He went on to suggest that 'the whole affair has been conducted in a contemptible manner'. But he undermined his credibility by eloquently attacking the British government of the day, and showing his political colours, not to mention his judgmental nature, with his words 'that most elaborate coxcomb, The Marquis of Normandy, who was Secretary of State for the Colonies' (6).
Speaking from his Australian experience, Mathew mused that the English tended to fly into contrary extremes in handling 'native' peoples. Either they were treating indigenous people by 'hunting them down like dogs, poisoning them like cats and committing every conceivable outrage' (7). Or they were 'endangering the lives and property of their own people, sacrificing their interests and retarding the progress of the Colony from their extreme delicacy in the treatment of a people who after all are only savages and very indifferent savages too' (8).
Had it not been for the cooperation of the missionaries, Mathew believed the entire business of treaty-making would have failed. Crediting the missionaries with actions they themselves would not have been comfortable with, he said that their 'influence among the natives was vigorously and most beneficially exercised in our favour' (9). The Church Missionary Society missionaries such as the Reverends Richard Taylor, Henry Williams and William Williams, or even the then layman William Colenso would never have seen their role as simply favouring the Crown.
William Colenso was born in Penzance in 1811 and trained as a printer with the Church Missionary Society who in 1834 sent him to run their printery in Pahia. The first article ever printed in New Zealand was the Epistles of St Paul's letter to the Ephesians in Maori, which was the work of Colenso. It was Colenso who at James Busby's request ran off 100 invitations to chiefs to attend the Treaty discussions. Colenso had done his best to prepare the chiefs for what they were signing. As Hone Heke was about to commit to the Treaty on 6 February, Colenso stepped in and asked Governor Hobson whether he believed Maori really understood all aspects of the Treaty. Hobson replied 'I am sure you will work to avoid that. We've done the best we can' (10).
Colenso was responsible for the printing of the Book of Common Prayer in Maori and was ordained, somewhat reluctantly, by Bishop Selwyn in 1843. Later he was to lose his position in the church because of his relationship with a young Maori servant, Ripeka Meretene of Ngati Kahungunu. They had a child at a time when such behaviour by a clergyman was almost unthinkable. Yet Colenso never forgot Hobson's challenge and the justice that was supposed to underpin the Treaty.
Perhaps his most important contribution came when as an old man, fifty years after the Treaty, he produced The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi based on his detailed notes at the time. With its descriptions of the Waitangi scene and its detailed reportage of both Maori and Pakeha speeches and arguments, it is probably the best eyewitness account of the event. Five years before his death the church revoked his suspension and he was readmitted to the Anglican clergy.
(1-9) Mathew, Felton. (1996) CD.
(10) Orange, Claudia. (1989). The Story of a Treaty. Wellington: Allen & Unwin New Zealand Limited and the Port Nicholson Press. p ??.
(11-13) Colenso, William. (1984). The Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand, February 5 and 6, 1840. First published in 1890. pp 28–29.
Text originally published in Tai Awatea, Te Papa's onfloor multimedia database (1998)