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Treaty of Waitangi - Te Tiriti o Waitangi

The Treaty of Waitangi

Sheet 1 of the Treaty

The Treaty of Waitangi is not a single large sheet of paper but a group of nine documents: seven on paper and two on parchment. Together they represent an agreement drawn up between representatives of the British Crown on the one hand and representatives of Māori iwi and hapū on the other. Te Tiriti o Waitangi is named after the place in the Bay of Islands where it was first signed on 6 February 1840, but it was also signed in a number of other locations around the country in the following months.

New Zealand History Online provides transcripts of the Treaty of Waitangi, including the English version as signed, the Māori version as signed, and a modern English translation of the Māori version.

The nine Treaty sheets displayed in the Constitution Room at Archives New Zealand in Wellington are all in Māori, except the Waikato sheet, which is in English.

The nine sheets are (click to view):

The Drafting of the Treaty

William Hobson, with assistance from his secretary James Freeman, began drafting a treaty soon after he arrived in the Bay of Islands. However, James Busby, the British Resident who had been in New Zealand since 1833, realised their draft was inadequate, and he wrote the three articles. Hobson and Freeman then completed the draft in English, which the missionary Henry Williams and his son Edward Williams translated into Māori. The Rev. Richard Taylor wrote out a neat copy of the translation, which became the Waitangi Sheet. The whole process was hasty, taking less than a week from first drafting to signing. Back to top

The signing of the Treaty

The draft treaty was debated, sometimes heatedly, on 5 February at the house of James Busby, the British Resident. The influential chief Tāmati Waka Nene turned the debate in favour of the Treaty. Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands on 6 February 1840 by Captain William Hobson, several English residents and approximately 45 Māori chiefs. The first Māori to sign was Hone Heke; though three other chiefs later placed their signatures above his. The document signed at Waitangi was then taken to various other northern locations, including the Waitemata, to obtain additional Māori signatures.

Aiming to extend Crown authority over the rest of the North Island and the South Island, Hobson sent copies of the Waitangi document around the country for signatures. The Church Missionary Society press at Paihia, near Waitangi, also printed copies of the Treaty in Māori, and one of these was used to obtain signatures. At the end of this process, a total of about 540 chiefs—including some women—from thirty-nine areas of the country had signed the Treaty. The Treaty was not taken to all parts of New Zealand and some chiefs refused to sign.

A printed list of the signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi, including a history of the signing, is available in the archives of the Legislative Department [LE 1, 1865/139]. This was also published in The Journals of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives 1869 pp.67-78, Claudia Orange has a more elaborate list as appendix to her book: An Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi, published by Bridget Williams Books, Wellington, 2004 ISBN: 1877242160

The Documents

In 1841, only a year after the Treaty of Waitangi 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 any damage occurred and all signatures have survived. After a series of different conservation treatments, and different homes, the Treaty was finally brought to National Archives in 1989, where the documents are now on permanent display in the secure, stable environment of the Constitution Room, Archives New Zealand.

Documents Timeline


The original document was signed by Governor Hobson and the chiefs at 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 chiefs in order to extend the sovereignty of the Queen over the whole country. A printed sheet was also signed.


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


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.


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


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


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.


With the passing of the Archives Act of 1957, the Treaty became an official archive subject to the provisions of the Act and custody was given to the then National Archives.


On 30 January the Treaty was transferred to the Alexander Turnbull Library for “suitable display under proper conditions to prevent deterioration until such time that 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.


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


Concerns regarding security and conservation of the Treaty led to its removal from public display and return to the care of National Archives.


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


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


From 16 November 1989 until the end of 1990 the Treaty and other documents featured in a special exhibition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, held in the Constitution Room of the not-yet-completed Archives House.


The Constitution Room officially opened on 9 December and the Treaty of Waitangi, along with other founding documents of New Zealand, was put on permanent display for the first time. It occupies pride of place in the centre of the room.

More information on the Treaty of Waitangi

Archives New Zealand produces an education resource for schools visiting the Constitution Room. This includes a series of exercises relating to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Related links

The following sites are a good starting point for further information about the Treaty of Waitangi: