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Letter from James Busby to Baron Charles de Thierry, 30 October, 1835

British Residency at New Zealand,
Bay of Islands, 30th October, 1835.


In adopting the measures I have thought necessary to defeat the enterprise which you have announced to me in your letter dated from Papeete Bay, Otaheiti, on the 14th ultimo, I have acted on the discretion which as an accredited representative of the British Government I have considered it my duty to exercise, under circumstances of so extraordinary a character. But even had I been entrusted with no powers at all in this respect, I should have thought it my duty upon the broad principles of common justice and humanity to have used whatever influence I possessed to prevent the occurrence of so much mischief as would be the inevitable result of an attempt upon the liberties of a free people ....

The British Government has extended to the natives of this country, as well as to His Britannic Majesty's subjects, the protection of British laws, so far as regards the conduct of British subjects. But with the present Independence of the natives, or with their personal or territorial rights, it has not interfered, nor permitted its subjects to interfere.…

[Note added by Robin Hyde:]

Mr. Busby goes on to discuss at length the de Thierry land claims, and the price paid thereon, described by him as “two dozen of axes”.

Even if the chiefs mentioned in the deed would have considered this the price, instead of the earnest thereof (as the axes were considered by them to be) you would have had to satisfy the claims of probably five hundred other individuals before you would have been permitted to take possession of your property, page 82 for the meanest of the New Zealanders is not a person to submit quietly to the most trivial inroad upon his rights. This disposes of your claim to any property in the soil of this country. But however well-founded a claim might have been, the chiefs are well aware that it would have been forfeited by your pretensions to Sovereign Rights: and they request me to warn you against approaching their lands, in whatever capacity you may choose to present yourself, or however accompanied, on pain of being treated as Independent States have a right to treat persons who attempt the usurpation of their sovereign rights within their territories.

[Note added by Robin Hyde:]

(Mr. Busby's dismissal of the purchase price paid for the 40,000 acres hardly takes into account the fact that the Church Missionary Society also purchased New Zealand land with axes; while the New Zealand Company later, for property valued at £50 in trade, acquired nearly a million acres.)

Being persuaded that the utter hopelessness of success will present itself to your mind in so strong a light as to prove to you the madness of persisting in your enterprise, and the criminality of engaging persons less qualified to judge to embark upon it, it seems almost supererogatory to add that should you present yourself, with whatever face, you may be sure of meeting with the most spirited resistance from the whole population… a population with whom warfare in its fiercest form has been a sport, and who are far from being ill-provided with arms and ammunition.

If the steps I have taken should, under Providence, be the means of preventing the sacrifice of even one life in a bad cause, I know I shall be held excused by His Majesty's Government for giving an appearance of importance to your enterprise, to which, apart from such a consideration, it has not the remotest title.

I am, Sir,
Your most obedient servant,

James Busby,

British Resident.