The Treaty of Waitangi

February 6, 1840 – Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, establishing New Zealand as a British colony.

The Treaty established a British Governor of New Zealand, recognized Māori tribal ownership of their lands and other properties, and gave the Māori the rights of British subjects. The English and Māori versions of the Treaty differed significantly, so there is no consensus as to exactly what was agreed. From the British point of view, the Treaty gave Britain sovereignty over New Zealand, and gave the Governor the right to govern the country. Māori believed they ceded to the Crown a right of governance in return for protection, without giving up their authority to manage their own affairs.  After the initial signing at Waitangi, copies of the Treaty were taken around New Zealand and over the following months many other chiefs signed.  In total there are nine copies of the Treaty of Waitangi including the original signed on February 6, 1840.  Around 530 to 540 Māori, at least 13 of them women, signed the Treaty of Waitangi.

Until the 1970s, the Treaty was generally regarded as having served its purpose in 1840 New Zealand, and was ignored by the courts and parliament alike, although it was usually depicted in New Zealand history as a generous act on the part of the British Empire, which was at the time at its peak.  Māori have looked to the Treaty for rights and remedies for land loss and unequal treatment by the state, with mixed success. From the late 1960s Māori began drawing attention to breaches of the Treaty, and subsequent histories have emphasised problems with its translation.  In 1975, the Waitangi Tribunal was established as a permanent commission of inquiry tasked with researching breaches of the Treaty by the British Crown or its agents, and suggesting means of redress.

New Zealand’s first stamps (shown nearby) featured portraits of Queen Victoria. The first New Zealand stamps, issued in 1855, are called full-face queens as they feature a front-on view of Queen Victoria, based on a painting by Edward Chalon of the queen when she was just 19. The image came to be known as the “Chalon head” and also appeared on stamps in Queensland, Tasmania, Canada, Nova Scotia, Natal and the Bahamas. From 1873, stamps of the queen in profile were issued. By this time she was over age 50, and a side-on representation was chosen. These were known as the side-face queens.

New Zealand - first postage stamps - 1855

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