I would like to try and shed some light on this important event.
By 1831 the presence of British Sealers, Whalers, Loggers and general traders had already had a major impact on the Maori population of New Zealand, as did the later arrival of Missionaries spreading the word of a Christian, Anglican God. Many trade deals had been entered into ranging from Land sales to the setting up of ‘safe’ areas on the seashore for the use of the Sealing and Whaling gangs. The relationship on the whole between these early Pakeha (the name given to the early white settlers) and Maori has been described by historians such as James Belich as ‘good’, with sex often being used to cement deals between groups…"a treaty made in Bed". However, although the headline relationship between Maori and Pakeha was good, outside of the trade arena, issues were being raised that dealt with the behaviour and lawlessness of the Pakeha sailors and even escaped convicts from Australia that had quickly made the small port of Kororareka (modern day Russell) in the Bay of Islands the unofficial capital of European New Zealand and famously "The Hell Hole of the Pacific". In 1831 a petition was signed by 13 northern Maori chiefs who had decided that the drunkenness and debauchery of Kororareka had to be addressed and this was sent to King William IV in Britain, asking for protection, the implementation of law for the Europeans, and recognition of their special trade and missionary contacts with Britain. The 1831 Petition also raises the fear of nations other than Britain taking an interest in New Zealand affairs, stemming from the increasing presence of American and French sailors in New Zealand waters. The Petition directly led to the arrival of James Busby as ‘Official British Resident’ in New Zealand, an event that was to shape the fledgling relationship between the British Empire and Maori New Zealand.
The signing of a Declaration of Independence in 1835 came as a result of the overreaction on the part of Busby towards the threats coming to him from the Frenchman Baron Charles de Thierry, self-styled "King of New Zealand". De Thierry had approached various European powers with the proposal that he would acquire large tracts of land in the northern parts of New Zealand around the Hokianga from pliant Maori chiefs, and then set himself up as "King" allowing preferential treatment for whatever nation backed him. He was ignored by all the imperial powers, and so set out on his own to achieve his aim. The news that de Thierry had indeed purchased land and was on his way to New Zealand sent Busby into a spin, and was to finally trigger a debate in London as to the future of the country. "The Declaration of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand", Busby’s brain child, gave Britain a ‘Fatherly’ role over the growth of the new country, a New Zealand that although supervised by Britain was nevertheless very much a Maori nation. For Maori chiefs, the presence of a Flag and a Declaration of Independence seemed to signify that they had achieved a measure of self-determination, although it is crucial to note that there was no concept of ‘Maoridom’ at this time, rather a loose group of often bickering tribes, for example the Musket Wars that devastated the country in this period showed how tenuous inter-tribal relations could be. How these independent minded tribes came to sign the Treaty was to have a major impact on the development of New Zealand.
While it may be fair to say that the aims of the treaty may well have been based on obtaining knowing agreement for the proposals from the Maori, in the rush to get the signatures, key elements were distorted. These elements were to cause a lot of friction between the two parties in the coming years. For Maori, it became clear that the idea of British Crown preemption, which meant all land being sold to the crown before deals were struck with the final purchasers, was not fully understood. Land sales became a major source of friction in New Zealand, and have even led to the conflicts of the 19th century being called "The Land Wars". If land was a major cause of tension, so too was the perceived slight on Northern chiefs, in particular Hone Heke of Nga Puhi. The first Maori chief to sign the treaty, Heke and fellow chief Kawiti, felt let down by the British decision to move the capital of British New Zealand down to Auckland away from the Bay of Islands. This loss of trade revenue seemed to signal a lack of respect and a betrayal of trust on the part of the British authorities. The following conflict over the flagstaff in Korerareka was the first of a number of Maori attempts to challenge the Treaty using active, sometimes violent, means. Within a few short years, the optimism of the Treaty had been replaced in the minds of both Maori and Pakeha with a sense of regret. Maori did not see any evidence that they were being afforded the same rights as British citizens as the Treaty had promised in the third article, and the Pakeha continued to purchase land with little care over the legitimacy of the deal in much the same way as before 1840. Given these issues, what impact did the offer of a treaty eventually have on those left to share the lands of New Zealand?