Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand

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Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand
He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni
He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni (known as The Declaration of Independence) (Page 1 of 3), 1835 (10430000633).jpg
The first page of the Declaration.
Created28 October 1835
Author(s)James Busby and 35 northern Māori chiefs (including Tāmati Wāka Nene and Bay of Islands brothers; Te Wharerahi, Rewa, and Moka Te Kainga-mataa)
SignatoriesUnited Tribes of New Zealand
PurposeProclaimed the sovereign independence of New Zealand

The Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand (Māori: He Whakaputanga o te Rangatiratanga o Nu Tireni), signed by a number of Māori chiefs in 1835, proclaimed the sovereign independence of New Zealand prior to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.


In 1834, a document known as the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand was drafted by 34[2] northern Māori chiefs — including Tāmati Wāka Nene, Tītore and Bay of Islands brothers; Te Wharerahi, Rewa, and Moka Te Kainga-mataa — together with James Busby, the official British Resident in New Zealand. The document was initially signed at Waitangi on 28 October 1835. By 1839, 52 chiefs had signed.[2]

In the process of signing, the chiefs established themselves as representing a confederation under the title of the "United Tribes of New Zealand". Missionaries Henry Williams and George Clarke translated the Declaration and signed as witnesses;[3] merchants James Clendon and Gilbert Mair also signed as witnesses.[4]

The Declaration arose in response to concerns over the lawlessness of British subjects in New Zealand and in response to a fear that France would declare sovereignty over the islands. A Frenchman, Charles de Thierry,[5] who titled himself 'Charles, Baron de Tierry, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand and King of Nuku Hiva' (in the Marquesas Islands), sought to establish a colony on a 16,000-hectare (40,000-acre) plot of land that he claimed to have purchased in the Hokianga.[3]

The document also arose from movements in Māori society. From 1816 onwards, a number of Northern Māori chiefs had made visits to the colonies in New South Wales and Norfolk Island and to England, which led to discussions about unifying the tribes and the formation of a Māori government. The Māori had become involved in international trade and owned trading ships. In 1834, the chiefs had selected a flag for use on ships originating from New Zealand.

The need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear when the merchant ship the Sir George Murray, built in the Hokianga, was seized by customs officials in the port of Sydney. The ship had been sailing without a flag, a violation of British navigation laws. New Zealand was then not a colony and had no flag. The ship's detainment reportedly aroused indignation among the Māori population. Unless a flag was selected, ships would continue to be seized.[6][7]

The flag, amended slightly when officially gazetted, became the first distinctively flag of New Zealand. As late as 1900, it was still being used to depict New Zealand, and it appeared on the South African War Medal that was issued to New Zealand soldiers of the Second Boer War and was inscribed with the phrase "Success to New Zealand Contingent 1899–1900".[8] The unamended version of the flag, with eight-pointed stars and black fimbriation, is still widely used by Māori groups.

The Declaration is displayed at the National Library of New Zealand, as part of the He Tohu exhibition, along with the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1893 Women's Suffrage Petition.


The hereditary chiefs and heads of the tribes of the northern parts of New Zealand declared the constitution of an independent state. They agreed to meet in Waitangi each year to frame laws and invited the southern tribes of New Zealand to "lay aside their private animosities" and join them.

The original design of the flag, with eight-pointed stars and black fimbriation, is today widely used by Māori groups.
New Zealand United Tribes flag, 1834, drawn by Nicholas Charles Phillips of the man-of-war HMS Alligator.

Explanation of Māori text[edit]

The Māori text of the Declaration was made by the tino rangatira (hereditary chiefs) of the northern part of New Zealand, uses the term Rangatiratanga to mean independence and declares the country a whenua Rangatira (independent state) that is to be known as The United Tribes of New Zealand (Te Wakaminenga o nga Hapu o Nu Tireni).[note 1]

The translation of the second paragraph is "that all sovereign power and authority in the land" ("Ko te Kingitanga ko te mana i te w[h]enua")[4] should "reside entirely and exclusively in the hereditary chiefs and heads of tribes in their collective capacity", expressed as the United Tribes of New Zealand.[4]

The terms Kingitanga and mana are used in claiming sovereignty of the state to the assembly of the hereditary chiefs, and it is declared that no government (kawanatanga) would exist except by persons appointed by the assembly of hereditary chiefs.


The signatories sent a copy of the document to King William IV (who reigned from 1830 to 1837), asking him to act as the protector of the new state. The King had acknowledged the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand and now recognised the Declaration in a letter from Lord Glenelg (British Secretary of State for War and the Colonies), following consideration of the Declaration by the House of Lords, dated 25 May 1836.[10][11]

It read, in part:

I have received a letter from Mr. Busby, enclosing a copy of a Declaration made by the chiefs of the Northern parts of New Zealand, setting forth the Independence of their country, and declaring the Union of their respective tribes into one State, under the designation of The United Tribes of New Zealand.

I perceive that the chiefs at the same time came to the resolution to send a copy of their Declaration to His Majesty, to thank him for his acknowledgment of their Flag, and to entreat that, in return for the friendship and protection which they have shown, and are prepared to show, to such British subjects as have settled in their country or resorted to its shores for the purposes of trade, His Majesty will continue to be the parent of their infant State, and its Protector from all attempts on its independence.

With reference to the desire which the chiefs have expressed on this occasion to maintain a good understanding with His Majesty's subjects, it will be proper that they should be assured, in His Majesty's name, that He will not fail to avail himself of every opportunity of showing his goodwill, and of affording to those chiefs such support and protection as may be consistent with a due regard to the just rights of others, and to the interests of His Majesty's subjects.

— Lord Glenelg, in a letter to Major-General Sir Richard Bourke, Governor of New South Wales, 25 May 1836.[10]

The Declaration was not well received by the Colonial Office, and it was decided that a new policy for New Zealand was needed as a corrective.[12]

It is notable that the Treaty of Waitangi was made between the British Crown and "the chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand" in recognition of their independent sovereignty.

Legal effects[edit]

Pākehā writers have dismissed the significance of He Whakaputanga as an attempt by James Busby to establish a 'settled form of government', but Māori unity movements looked to the document as the basis for Māori claims to self-determination that reaffirmed tikanga Māori and Māori concepts of power and decision-making.[13] In 2010 the Ngāpuhi iwi (tribe) in Northland requested that the Waitangi Tribunal rule on whether the tribe had in fact relinquished sovereignty in 1840 when they signed the Treaty.[14]

Ngāpuhi Waitangi Tribunal claim (Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry)[edit]

In 2010, the Waitangi Tribunal began hearing Ngāpuhi's claim that sovereignty was not ceded in their signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.[15] The Tribunal, in their Te Paparahi o te Raki inquiry (Wai 1040)[16][17] is in the process of considering the Māori and Crown understandings of the Declaration and the Treaty. That aspect of the inquiry raises issues as to the nature of sovereignty and whether the Māori signatories to the Treaty of Waitangi intended to transfer sovereignty.[18]

The first stage of the report was released in November 2014,[19][20] and found that Māori chiefs never agreed to give up their sovereignty when they signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.[21][22][23] Tribunal manager Julie Tangaere said at the report's release to the Ngapuhi claimants:

"Your tupuna [ancestors] did not give away their mana at Waitangi, at Waimate, at Mangungu. They did not cede their sovereignty. This is the truth you have been waiting a long time to hear."[24]

Final submissions were received in May 2018, but the second stage of the report was still in the process of being written up as of June 2020.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Throughout the document the usual use of "wh" is largely replaced by "w", a spelling indicative of the document having been largely created by iwi from the western North Island. That is most notable in the use of the term "wakaputanga", rather than the more common "whakaputanga", in the title.[9]


  1. ^ Scholefield, G. (1930). Captain William Hobson. pp. 202–203.(Instructions from Lord Normanby to Captain Hobson – dated 14 August 1839).
  2. ^ a b "Background to the Treaty of Waitangi – Declaration of Independence". Archived from the original on 11 August 2011. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  3. ^ a b Caroline Fitzgerald (2011). Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North. Huia Press. ISBN 978-1-86969-439-5. 261
  4. ^ a b c "The Declaration of Independence". Translation from Archives New Zealand, New Zealand History online. Retrieved 18 August 2010.
  5. ^ Raeside, J. D. (1 September 2010). "Thierry, Charles Philippe Hippolyte de – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 26 August 2010.
  6. ^ "Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (1834–1840)". History of the New Zealand Flag. New Zealand: Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 16 February 2007.
  7. ^ "The New Zealand Flag". Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  8. ^ Caption to photo, Alexander Turnbull Library, retrieved 15 January 2012
  9. ^ "Declaration of Independence 1835," Te Waka o te Mokopuna. Retrieved 6 February 2014.
  10. ^ a b The Lord Glenelg (25 May 1836), "EXTRACT of a DESPATCH from Lord GLENELG to Major-General Sir RICHARD BOURKE, New South Wales", written at London, Documents > Declaration of Independence, Christchurch: Waitangi Associates, retrieved 11 January 2010
  11. ^ Palmer 2008, p. 41.
  12. ^ "Taming the frontier Page 4 – Declaration of Independence". NZ History. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 23 September 2016. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  13. ^ "Declaration of Independence – taming the frontier?". NZ History. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 30 March 2008.
  14. ^ "Independence Daze". The Listener. 25 June 2010.[permanent dead link]
  15. ^ Field, Michael. "Hearing starts into Ngapuhi's claims". Farifax New Zealand. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
  16. ^ "Waitangi Tribunal | Waitangi Tribunal". Retrieved 7 October 2017.
  17. ^ "Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) inquiry". Archived from the original on 11 October 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  18. ^ Paul Moon (2002) Te Ara Ki Te Tiriti: The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi
  19. ^ "Report on Stage 1 of the Te Paparahi o Te Raki Inquiry Released". Waitangi Tribunal. 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  20. ^ "Te Manutukutuku (Issue 67)". Waitangi Tribunal. February 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  21. ^ "Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) (Wai 1040) Volume 1" (PDF). Waitangi Tribunal. 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Te Paparahi o Te Raki (Northland) (Wai 1040) Volume 2" (PDF). Waitangi Tribunal. 2014. Archived from the original (PDF) on 25 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  23. ^ "He Whakaputanga me te Tiriti / The Declaration and the Treaty - Report Summary". Waitangi Tribunal. Retrieved 13 June 2020.
  24. ^ "Ngapuhi 'never gave up sovereignty'". The Northland Age. 18 November 2014. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  25. ^ "Te Paparahi o Te Raki". Retrieved 13 June 2020.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]