Waitangi Day


1840 painting
Copy negative of an oil painting by Oriwa Haddon depicting the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1370-32-5.)

February 6 marks the first signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi (The Treaty of Waitangi) between the British and representatives of Māori tribes in 1840 at Waitangi where Lieutenant-Governor Hobson declared ‘he iwi tahi tatou’ – Now we are one people.

Over the next 7 months 9 copies of the Treaty were signed by different iwi at many different locations. Te Āti Awa signed the treaty in April and May 1840. (Henry Williams treaty copy, NZ History)

united tribes flag
The United Tribes flag of New Zealand made on board the Tory during its voyage to NZ and raised at Petone on 30 September 1839. It’s based on the national flag adopted by Māori chiefs at Waitangi in 1834. After the signing of the Treaty in 1840 Lieutenant Governor William Hobson ordered an armed party to lower the flag on June 30 1840 and raise the Union Jack flag the next day. (Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand)

The Treaty House and grounds at Waitangi were given to the nation by Governor-General Lord Bledisloe in 1932. The first celebrations at Waitangi were held in 1934 and the newly restored Treaty House was opened. The celebrations involved the two sites of the Treaty House grounds and nearby Te Tii Marae – the same two sites used today.

james busbys house
The Treaty House at Waitangi in the early 20th century before the Bledisloes gifted it and surrounding land to the nation and it underwent extensive renovation. The Treaty was signed on the grounds outside the house, 
(House of British Resident Mr Busby in Waitangi. Duncan, Russell James, 1855-1946 :Photograph albums. Ref: PA1-o-142-093. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.)


treaty house now
The restored Treaty house, enlarged in the 1930s to serve its new purpose as state monument.  It would have been treated differently according to conservation practice today. (Photograph by Melanie Lovell-Smith,  Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand.)
1934 first celebrations (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A14689.)
1934 2
Te Tii Marae at Waitangi in 1934, when the great hui was held to celebrate the gift of the property where the treaty was signed. The treaty house stands across the bridge among the trees. (Ref: 1/2-090801-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.)
1934 opening treaty house
View of the 1934 ceremony proceedings. (FDM-0816-G, Auckland Libraries.)

1940 marked the centenary of the Treaty signing and also the beginning of Māori using the occasion to challenge the country’s race relations record. Ceremonies expanded, gained prominence and also become a platform for Māori protest, especially from the 1970s.

February 6 was officially named ‘Waitangi Day’ in 1960 by Labour Prime Minister Walter Nash, but it was only made a public holiday in 1974 by Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk who called it ‘New Zealand Day’. In 1976 (after Norman Kirk’s death in 1974) the name changed back to ‘Waitangi Day’.

Waitangi Day celebrations are noted for protest and drama. The 1990 t-shirt thrown at the Queen incident, Helen Clark reduced to tears in 1998 when her speaking rights were challenged, Don Brash with mud thrown at his face in 2004 and a sex toy thrown at Stephen Joyce in 2016…

In the Hutt celebrations have been a bit lower key.

Evening Post 8 February 1941.
waitangi day feb 1997.jpg
Lower Hutt Mayor John Terris leading citizens in a re-enactment of the first settlers at Petone Beach on Waitangi Day 1997. (Evening Post 6 February 1997.)

Further Reading:

Treaty of Waitangi – NZ History

Treaty of Waitangi – Te Ara – The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

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