It’s Waitangi Day!

Carved sternposts of beached 'waka' (canoes) on the beach near Waitangi.

Carved sternposts of beached ‘waka’ (canoes) on the beach near Waitangi.

It’s Waitangi Day in New Zealand – our national day. The day we celebrate (or, for some people, the opposite) the signing in 1840 of our founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi.

Marcus King painting of Treaty of Waitangi.

Marcus King painting of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.  See the Comments section of my posting for discussion about the accuracy of this (and other) paintings.

My most memorable Waitangi Day was back in 1990 (ooh err – that’s 24 years ago now!), when I took part in a major reenactment of the signing of the Treaty. I played the part of one of the five NSW Mounted Police troopers who accompanied the British party.

Me as a trooper of the New South Wales Mounted Police (c1840).

Me as a trooper of the New South Wales Mounted Police (c1840).

The party of NSW mounted troopers at the Old Stone Store in Kerikeri.

The party of NSW mounted troopers at the Old Stone Store in Kerikeri.

Governor Hobson's party at sea on the way to the beach at Waitangi (me on the far left).

Governor Hobson’s party at sea on the way to the beach at Waitangi (me on the far left).

I think this post on M J Wright’s blog is very insightful about the history and controversy behind the Treaty.

An actor playing a Maori chief at Waitangi.

An actor playing a Maori chief at Waitangi.

Well-known actor and announcer Peter Sledmere played Governor Hobson in an (inaccurate) navy uniform.

Well-known actor and announcer Peter Sledmere played Governor Hobson in an (inaccurate) navy uniform.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “It’s Waitangi Day!

  1. Hi Roly – many thanks for the shout-out! It must have been supremely cool to be able to take part in the 1990 re-enactment. Neat photos. Good stuff.

    It’s curious about Hobson. He wore his official naval gear on 5 Feb when they had the first korero about the Treaty. He agreed to re-convene on 7 Feb, but when a lot of Maori turned up again on the 6th to sign, he rushed ashore in his morning coat. So the Treaty was signed in what amounted to civvies! William Colenso’s account (the only long eyewitness account of the day) is explicit – and yet, time and again, Hobson is portrayed in formal clothing, including in a fair number of the artworks purporting to show the event.

    • Likewise the troopers with him are often portrayed in paintings wearing the standard red coats and shakos of the British infantry. I suspect this is incorrect, as I believe they would have worn NSW Mounted Police uniforms. The troopers did originally come from army regiments, and in fact stayed on their books – but the Mounted Police uniform was based on that of the light dragoons, not infantry.

      I personally think the hats that we were costumed with for the reenactment were wrong, too. Sources speak of a ‘cabbage-tree hat’. I suspect this was nothing more than an informal straw hat, and not this leather police shako. But I was out-voted on that one!

  2. Wow – what an amazing experience that must have been! Thanks for sharing the photos!

    I’ve visited the treaty grounds a couple of times, but unfortunately never on the anniversary, and certainly not on a big anniversary like the 150th. It must have been quite the sight!

  3. There certainly was indeed something magical about that day. The reenactment involved hundreds of people, and was watched by thousands (including the Queen). The weather was magnificent, the cicada were in full voice, there was a fantastic atmosphere (despite some protests further off).

    The highlight for me was being rowed across the bay in that navy cutter, with several massive waka (canoes) paddling as an escort on either side. The competing rhythmic chanting of the crews wafted across the water and sent shivers up my spine. With no spectators at sea to break the spell, it was one of those holy grail time-travelling moments that reenactors eternally seek.

  4. Happy Waitangi day to us! I am busy using the day off on holiday, to erect my new flag pole. Somehow that seems rather apt!

  5. Well done, that man!

    I would’ve been flying the United Tribes flag of the Confederation of Chiefs today, had I been able to get one in time. I see it as the original flag of New Zealand (1834). King William IV approved the flag, and a drawing of it was circulated through Admiralty with instructions to recognise it as New Zealand’s flag. Plus its quite a splendid looking flag anyway:

    http://www.nzflag.com/images/unitedtribes.gif

    • I must admit I would have flown the ‘Jack’ if I could, but the concrete will take a day to set… always one to ‘stir the pot’ and all that! ;-)
      On that note, my son brought an interesting piece of homework from school yesterday for today… discussing both sides of the issue… it was rather thought provoking, especially for us as recent immigrants to this country…

  6. BTW wonderful photos…whether historically accurate or not!
    You look damned dashing Sir, … Flashman couldn’t hold a candle to you!

  7. MattMcK

    Hi, I’m loving the outfit, were they fairly accurate to what the NSW troopers wore? Also, did you have any idea how long these uniform were used by the NZ constabulary? (Or what the early NZ constabulary did wear from 1840 onwards?)
    Thanks for your help,
    Matt

    • The costume is probably not really that accurate, Matt. The NSW Mounted Police reportedly wore a uniform similar to light dragoons of the period.

      The NSW troopers returned to Australia after a short time. From then on, policing was done locally under a number of different regimes (eg Governor Grey’s Armed Police, and the various provincial police forces, and later the Armed Constabulary). So uniforms varied.

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