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Time to display Littlewood treaty?

By: Mike Butler




December 13, 2023


While staff at Te Papa museum in Wellington ponder what to do with the treaty display that was defaced by protesters on Monday, I suggest that the Busby February 4 document, which is also known as the Littlewood treaty, is the perfect fit.

The protestors want a direct translation of the Maori text added to the display so that visitors could understand clearly what the Te Tiriti actually says. After all, Te Tiriti was the text that was debated and agreed to by chiefs in 1840.

The Busby February 4 document is a perfect match - but for a single word added to in Article 3 of Te Tiriti, and, of course, the date. That single word is the word “Maori”, which clarifies that it would be the Maori people of New Zealand who would become British subjects, and be protected. Brits living in New Zealand in 1840 were already British subjects and protected. If the Busby February 4 document replaced the now defaced English text at Te Papa, every visitor to the treaty exhibition could easily see exactly what Te Tiriti said.

If there was any doubt, any fluent Maori speaker there could be called on compare the texts line by line. Such a comparison would confirm that the two texts are identical – except for the extra word “Maori” in Article 3 of Te Tiriti, and the date.

Now, to be very clear, the text that was defaced at Te Papa is a document which is referred to as “the official English text”. This is NOT the final draft in English. The final draft from which Te Tiriti was translated went missing. That final draft was not available when the Treaty of Waitangi Act was drafted, debated, and passed in 1975. For that reason, it could not be appended to the Treaty of Waitangi Act back then.

But the Busby February 4 document (aka the Littlewood Treaty) has been available since 1989. That was when it was discovered among the belongings of Ethel Littlewood of Pukekohe, who passed away on February 27 of that year. That document is dated February 4, 1840, is handwritten in English by the then British Resident, James Busby, on paper with an 1833 water mark on it. That document looks very much like the final draft in English of the Treaty of Waitangi.

This is because the only differences from Te Tiriti are the date, and the absence of the word “Maori” in Article 3, as already mentioned. The discovery was first reported in the New Zealand Herald on September 11, 1992, and historian (the late) Donald Loveridge was paid to do an official appraisal in 2006. His finding was that it was either a translation or the missing final draft.

The Busby February 4 document was on display at National Archives in Wellington until the He Tohu display of “constitutional documents” opened in 2017. Now it remains out of sight and accepted treaty experts won’t talk about it. Perhaps now is the time to put the Busby February 4, 1840, document on display at Te Papa. It could also be included in the He Tohu exhibition, and could replace the English treaty text appended to the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975. With the simple explanation of why the word “Maori” was added to Te Tiriti, if the Busby document was included in the Te Papa display, visitors could understand clearly what the treaty actually says, as the treaty protesters suggest. For your interest, I have reproduced the text of the Busby February 4, 1840, document below.

Note, there is no mention of “lands estates forest fisheries” or “pre-emption”, and Article 2 simply refers to “the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property”, not “unqualified exercise of the chieftainship”. After all, the treaty was drafted in English and translated into Maori. The meaning and intent of the treaty is as clear in English as it is in Maori.

Preamble Her Majesty Victoria, Queen of England in her gracious consideration for the chiefs and people of New Zealand, and her desire to preserve them their land and to maintain peace and order amongst them, has been pleased to appoint an officer to treat with them for the cession of the Sovreignty [sic] of their country and of the islands adjacent to the Queen. Seeing that already many of Her Majesty’s subjects have already settled in the country and are constantly arriving: And that it is desirable for their protection as well as the protection of the natives to establish a government amongst them. Her Majesty has accordingly been pleased to appoint me William Hobson a captain in the Royal Navy to be Governor of such parts of New Zealand as may now or hereafter be ceded to Her Majesty and proposes to the chiefs of the Confederation of United Tribes of New Zealand and the other chiefs to agree to the following articles.

Article first The chiefs of the Confederation of the United Tribes and the other chiefs who have not joined the confederation, cede to the Queen of England for ever the entire Sovreignty [sic] of their country.

Article second The Queen of England confirms and guarantees to the chiefs and the tribes and to all the people of New Zealand, the possession of their lands, dwellings and all their property. But the chiefs of the Confederation of United Tribes and the other chiefs grant to the Queen, the exclusive rights of purchasing such lands as the proprietors thereof may be disposed to sell at such prices as may be agreed upon between them and the person appointed by the Queen to purchase from them.

Article third In return for the cession of their Sovreignty [sic] to the Queen, the people of New Zealand shall be protected by the Queen of England and the rights and privileges of British subjects will be granted to them.

Signed, William Hobson

Consul and Lieut. Governor. Now we the chiefs of the Confederation of United Tribes of New Zealand assembled at Waitangi, and we the other tribes of New Zealand, having understood the meaning of these articles, accept them and agree to them all. In witness whereof our names or marks are affixed. Done at Waitangi on the 4th of February, 1840.


That final draft was not available when the Treaty of Waitangi Act was drafted, debated, and passed in 1975.




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