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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 7 (October 2, 1939)

Colour at Waitangi — An Historic Scene

page 41

Colour at Waitangi
An Historic Scene

Innumerable pamphlets have been issued, thousands of words have been written about the Treaty of Waitangi, that most historic occasion at the beginnings of New Zealand's colonisation. This is as it should be, and we are all indebted to those indefatigable people who undertook the trouble and the research necessary to do so, but in reading their accounts one feels that they seem to have stressed the what-was-done and whowas-there angle rather than the what-itlooked-like point of view. One is inclined to be swamped by the importance of the occasion and become slightly vague as to how the scene actually appeared to an interested onlooker.

The Reverend W. Colenso's pamphlet, “The Authentic and Genuine History of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi,” is a straight-forward document, but an intensely interesting one, as it gives us a glimpse of colour at Waitangi, that we might not suspect when we read the aforesaid accounts.

One can so easily see the clear blue water ringing the shore; the high February sun shining down on the moving, excited crowd of Maoris and pakehas; the white tents erected on the smooth stretch of lawn in front of Mr. Busby's residence; the shore lined with all sorts of craft, from the towering strength of Her Majesty's man-o'-war Herald, the sturdy schooners of the whalers, to the little rowing boats of the pakeha settlers who lived in one or other of the bays, and the long slim grace of the Maori canoes.

Every now and then more canoes would come to join the throng. Sweeping through the water, straining every nerve to keep in the lead, the brown men would come on, their paddles keeping time to the rhythm of the canoesong. This was sung by the proud kaituki, or canoe-song singer, who stood on the thwarts and animated the men with his gesture, as well as his voice.

The whites, as has been their custom from time immemorial, improved the shining hour with promenades up and down the beach, and polite conversation, breaking up into social little groups and chatting with each other in the politest manner in the world, as though the scene had been laid in Brighton rather than in half-wild Waitangi, so many hundreds of miles away from that Mecca of the early nineteenth century.

The Maoris, on the other hand, were squatting about in vociferous groups according to their tribes, and the whole effect was one of gala day, while, nothing daunted by this unusual rivalry, the cicadas persisted in their summer whispering. So much for the scene outside.

Inside the Residency the LieutenantGovernor, Mr. Busby, and the Rev. Mr. Williams were busy translating the Treaty and arranging other business. About half-past ten Bishop Pompalier from his kauri and adobe house in Kororareka, arrived dressed in the full glory of his canonicals, attended by one of his priests. He walked boldly, passed the nonplussed sentry at the gate and joined the conference, while the other missionaries, more diffident or less astute, waited outside.

Then came a small procession from the house towards the tent. His Excellency, the captain of the Herald, Mr. Pusby, some of the mounted police, and Bishop Pompalier with his attendant were the principals.

(Thelma R. Kent, photo.). The old Residency at Waitangi.

(Thelma R. Kent, photo.).
The old Residency at Waitangi.

The scene inside the great tent must have been colourful to a degree. On the narrow, raised platform were seated the Lieutenant-Governor and the captain of the man-o'-war in full uniform, golden epaulettes, cocked hats and all. The Bishop, resplendent in dark purple with his gold chain and crucifix glittering against his habit. As a contrast, the members of the Church Missionary Society were in plain black. The different officials of the Herald, together with His Excellency's suite—all in their gayest and best—were stationed at the back.

In front of the platform were the principal native chiefs, some in their prized dogskin mats made of stripes of white and black hair. Others in splendid new woollen cloaks of European make, crimson, blue, brown and plaid. These it afterwards transpired were the gifts of the Bishop. Other natives were dressed in ordinary European or Maori garb.

The most striking figure in the whole assembly was Hakitara, a tall, magnificent member of the Rarawa tribe. He was dressed in a large, silky, white kaitaka mat fringed with a deep and dark coloured woven border of lozenge and zig-zag pattern.

A shaft of sunlight striking through an aperture in the tent roof illumined this figure in such striking relief against the others that nowadays, in a more cynical age, onlookers might be tempted to whisper “staged!” It must indeed have been a marvellous stage set—picture it—the motley of colour—the gold and blue of the naval officers, the purple canonicals of the Bishop—the coloured

(continued on p. 47.)

page 42