Henry Williams explains his Maori translation

Henry Williams’ account of his Māori translation of Treaty


THAT THE QUEEN had kind wishes towards the chiefs and people of New Zealand, and was desirous to protect them in their rights as chiefs, and rights of property, and that the Queen was desirous that a lasting peace and good understanding should be preserved with them. That the Queen had thought it desirable to send a Chief as a regulator of affairs with the natives of New Zealand. That the native chiefs should admit the Government of the Queen throughout the country, from the circumstance that numbers of her subjects are residing in the country, and are coming hither from Europe and New South Wales. That the Queen is desirous to establish a settled government, to prevent evil occurring to the natives and Europeans who are now residing in New Zealand without law. That the Queen therefore proposes to the chiefs these following articles:

[Article 1]

The chiefs shall surrender to the Queen for ever the Government of the country, for the preservation of order and peace.

[Article 2]

The Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the chiefs and tribes, and to each individual native, their full rights as chiefs, their rights of possession of their lands, and all their other property of every kind and degree. The chiefs wishing to sell any portion of their lands, shall give to the Queen the right of pre-emption of their lands.

[Article 3]

That the Queen, in consideration of the above, will protect the natives of New Zealand, and will impart to them all the rights and privileges of British subjects.

Henry Willliams to Bishop Selwyn, letter of 12 July 1847, cited in H. Carleton, The Life of Henry Williams (vol 2, 1877), pp. 155-157.

Williams was responding to Selwyn on the issue of ‘waste-lands’, a policy set out in a letter of Earl Grey (Secretary of State) to Governor George Grey. In his letter to Williams, asking him to explain how he (Williams) had explained the Treaty to Maori, Selwyn had referred to Earl Grey’s letter as ‘distinctly den[ying] the right of the New-Zealanders [i.e., Maori] to their unoccupied lands, – in entire violation, as I conceive, of the Treaty of Waitangi’. Selwyn also stated that he was ‘resolved to act with you and the other members of the Mission in defence of the Treaty’. Williams letter in response stated:

…I am truly grieved to find that the Queen of Great Britain can be thus dishonoured [by the actions of the government]. I have always maintained to the aborigines that her Majesty’s word was sacred and inviolable. This treaty between her Majesty the Queen and the chiefs of this country was made in the presence of the whole world, and now, by the flourish of the pen of her Majesty’s Minister, seems to be revoked and scattered to the winds. In like manner as Tahiti, so is New Zealand to fall a sacrifice to the avaricious designs of a company [the New Zealand Company], whose views are said to be confirmed by royal mandate, after a public and unexpected indignity towards her Majesty the Queen.

I cannot be surprised at the very light estimate in which the Missionaries are held who took so prominent a part in the explanations of this treaty between her Majesty and the chiefs of New Zealand. That we should fall a sacrifice, may be desired, but there are further points for consideration: the extermination of the native race, with proportional numbers of British subjects, who must fall with the aborigines in their struggle for freedom. As I was satisfied that I was discharging my duty as a loyal subject of her Majesty, and as a faithful Pastor of the aborigines, I executed the duty requested of me by her Majesty’s representative, Captain Hobson, and am now prepared for consequences. As I did explain the nature of the treaty in 1840, I must continue to explain, in self-defence; for I must not be accessory to such deception, but continue to stand upon the treaty alone.

By what we have seen, we may infer what will be the extent of indignation of the most faithful of native allies, when they find they have been thus deluded, and made the dupes of such duplicity, after such repeated assurance made to them, in her Majesty’s name, of her Majesty’s determination to preserve faithfully the treaty entered into with those at Waitangi....

My view of the Treaty of Waitangi is, as it ever was, that it was the Magna Charta of the aborigines of New Zealand.

Your Lordship has requested information in writing of what I explained to the natives, and how they understood it. I confined myself solely to the tenor of the treaty. [Williams then goes into his explanation, which is reproduced above.]