Art. XIV.—The Mission of the “Britomart” at Akaroa, in August, 1840.
[Read before the Historical Section of the Wellington Philosophical Society, 20th May, 1919; received by Editor, 19th June, 1919; issued separately, 10th June, 1920.]
The British Government, though constantly urged by the New Zealand Company, had persistently refused to recognize New Zealand as a British colony, or even as a possession of the Kingdom. The company, therefore, in order to force the hand of the Government, despatched the “Tory” for Port Nicholson (afterwards named Wellington) on the 12th May, 1839, for the purpose of purchasing land from the natives and forming a settlement, the first colonists to follow almost at once. This forced the Government into unwilling action, and an Imperial Proclamation was issued on the 15th June, 1839, extending the boundaries of New South Wales so as to include portions of New Zealand; and on the 13th July of the same year Captain Hobson was appointed Lieutenant-Governor “of any territory which is or may be acquired in sovereignty by Her Majesty in New Zealand.” Among other instructions issued to Captain Hobson by Lord Normanby was one to the effect that he should endeavour to persuade the chiefs of New Zealand to unite themselves to Great Britain; he was also to establish a settled form of civil government, with the free and intelligent consent of the natives expressed according to their established usages; to treat for the recognition of the sovereignty of Her Majesty over the whole or any part of the Islands; to, induce the chiefs to contract that no lands should in future be sold except to the Crown; to announce by Proclamation that no valid title to land acquired from the natives would thereafter be recognized unless confirmed by a Crown grant; to arrange a commission of inquiry as to what lands had been lawfully acquired by British subjects and others; to select and appoint a Protector of Aborigines.
Captain Hobson left in the “Druid” for Port Jackson, where he arrived on the 24th December, 1839. On the 14th January, 1840, Sir George Gipps, Governor of New South Wales, administered the oaths to Captain Hobson, making him Lieutenant-Governor of New-Zealand. He also, in accordance with the instructions of Lord Normanby, issued three Proclamations—the first extending the boundaries of New South Wales to include any territory which then was, or might thereafter be, acquired in sovereignty by Her Majesty in New Zealand; the second appointing Captain Hobson Lieutenant-Governor; the third declaring that all purchases of land from the natives thereafter would be invalid unless supported by a Crown grant.
The new Lieutenant-Governor arrived in the Bay of Islands on the 29th January, 1840, where he next day read his commissions before the people assembled. As a first step towards establishing the sovereignty of Her Majesty he called together the natives, and on the 5th February, 1840, were commenced the negotiations which, on the following day, resulted in the Treaty of Waitangi being signed by forty-six principal chiefs. Others signed it, or authorized copies' of it, in various parts of the Islands at later dates, the aggregate number of signatures obtained being 512! Being
attacked by paralysis, the Lieutenant-Governor was disabled from travelling to obtain the signatures personally, and he deputed Major Bunbury to visit parts of the North Island, and also the Middle and Stewart Islands, for that purpose. Major Bunbury sailed in H.M.S. “Herald,” with instructions, dated 25th April, 1840, to obtain signatures at all places possible, and to visit such places as he might deem most desirable for establishing Her Majesty's authority.
In reporting the results of his mission Major Bunbury stated that he had, on the 5th June, 1840, proclaimed the Queen's authority, by right of discovery—no natives being there met with—at Southern Port (Stewart Island); and at Cloudy Bay (Middle Island) on the 17th June, the sovereignty at this place having been ceded by the principal chiefs signing the treaty.
Writing on the 25th May, 1840, to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Lieutenant-Governor Hobson concluded his despatch by saying that without waiting for Major Bunbury's report he had, on the 21st May, 1840, proclaimed the sovereignty of Her Majesty, owing to affairs at Port Nicholson pressing him so to do, over the North Island in accordance with the consents given by the natives in the treaty, and over the southern islands by right of discovery. This despatch was acknowledged and approved by Lord John Russell, and the Proclamations making the islands subject to Her Majesty were inserted in the London Gazette. New-Zealand was at the time promised a charter of separate government, which charter was sent on the 9th December, 1840. Lest, however, the proclamation of sovereignty over the Middle Island “by virtue of discovery” should be considered either insufficient or illegal, the Queen's authority was again proclaimed over it by Major Bunbury on the 17th June, 1840, by virtue of the Treaty of Waitangi. This same proclamation was also made, at Cloudy Bay, and Captain Nias, of H.M.S. “Herald,” landed with a party of marines to honour the occasion, twenty-one guns being fired from the ship.
Sir George Gipps, writing to Lord John Russell on the 24th July, 1840, reported that Major Bunbury appeared to have carried out his instructions very satisfactorily. He, says, inter alia, “One of the places visited by the ‘Herald’ was Banks Peninsula, the spot at which it has been said that a settlement is about to be made by a company formed in France. Of this company, however, and of its proceedings I know nothing, save what I have derived from English newspapers.” The French discovery-ships “Astrolabe” and “Zélée” were at Banks Peninsula in April, 1840; they knew of no project for forming a settlement there, and, indeed, thought the locality a disadvantageous and undesirable one for such a purpose.
Strong feeling had been excited in France by the publication in London of the instructions to Captain Hobson when he was sent out as Lieutenant-Governor to New Zealand. The French Press teemed with calls on their Government to take steps similar to those the British Government proposed to adopt, and to take a share in the colonizing of New Zealand, as a country open to all nations. Mr. E. Gibbon Wakefield, giving evidence on the 17th, July, 1840, before the Select Committee on New Zealand affairs, stated that he had received as many as forty different French newspapers containing comments on Captain Hobson's instructions. The French Chamber of Commerce also petitioned the Government, and from all this excitement sprang a project for sending French colonists
and establishing a French colony in New Zealand. Matters connected with this project were conducted by a company calling itself the Nanto-Bordelaise Company. A certain Captain Langlois had, on the 2nd August, 1838, made a provisional purchase from Tuaanau and other natives, of the greater part of Banks Peninsula, paying a deposit in commodities valued at £pD6, further commodities to the value of £pD234 to be paid at a later period. They were so paid, but not until the arrival of the French colonists in August, 1840. Consequently, owing to the Proclamation of Governor Gipps above referred to, the purchase was, strictly speaking, illegal, and need not have been recognized by the Crown at all. Captain Langlois sold part of his interest to the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, and on the 9th March, 1840, sixty-three emigrants left Rochefort in, the “Comte de Paris,” an old man-of-war given by the French Government for the purpose.
Another man-of-war, the “Aube,” under Captain Lavaud, was sent as escort, and also to take possession for the French Government and protect the colonists on their arrival. The captain, in order to consult the Roman Catholic bishop resident there, sailed for the Bay of Islands, arriving on the 11th July, 1840. Certain proceedings took place subsequently to her arrival, which have given rise to the romantic account of the “taking possession” at Akaroa. It is said that the captain in an unguarded moment revealed the object of his presence in New Zealand waters, whereupon the “Britomart” was secretly despatched to forestall the French by taking possession of the South Island at Akaroa. Lavaud was obliged to make some mention of his mission in order to explain his presence in the bay, and was placed in an extremely awkward position when he was told that the whole of New Zealand, including the South Island, had been proclaimed a possession of the British Crown. At the time he left France New Zealand was still a No Man's Land; and he had had two separate instructions—one to protect the French whaling industry in the southern waters, the other to prepare Akaroa for the reception of the emigrants by the “Comte de Paris,” part of such preparation being the annexation of Banks Peninsula or further territories on behalf of France. He knew nothing even of the appointment of Hobson as Lieutenant-Governor, and he was at first disposed to refuse recognition of his authority.
Hobson appreciated his difficulty; and in order partly to safeguard such British interest in the peninsula as had been established, partly to convince the French that the territory was undoubtedly regarded as British, he despatched Captain Stanley with two Magistrates to hold Courts at Akaroa and other places on the peninsula. The following is a copy of the instructions, to Stanley: they are printed in part in Rusden's History of New Zealand, though not in the printed collections of official documents:—