The story behind the Treaty of Waitangi

It’s Waitangi Day in New Zealand, the 176th anniversary of the day when a treaty was signed at Waitangi, in the Bay of Islands, between Maori and the British government. It’s widely regarded as modern New Zealand’s founding document. And I figured out a way to make the best hourly rate ever from what the government’s planning for the original parchment.

More on that in a moment, but first here’s a history of that parchment. There are many copies of the Treaty, made at the time so it could be hawked around the country after the formal signing. But for practical purposes “the” Treaty document is the one signed on 6 February at Waitangi. It symbolises all the Treaty scrolls and – because it marks the foundation of Crown government – is the New Zealand equivalent in importance of the US Declaration of Independence. The physical scroll is the most valuable and important archival document in the country.

The 'Waitangi' Treaty parchment - what's left of it, anyway.
The ‘Waitangi’ Treaty parchment – what’s left of it, anyway. Public domain, via Wikipedia.

It’s also extremely tatty, thanks to its history. It was signed in the grounds of the house belonging to James Busby, who chucked it into a cupboard afterwards. Neither he, nor the Governor – William Hobson – bothered collecting it when they left. (At the time, the Treaty was far less important than it became.) Eventually it was re-discovered, rather worse for wear, when the house was gifted to the Crown in 1932 and renovated – as a place of national importance – for the 1940 centenary.

The scroll was then taken to Wellington where it sat in the basement of Parliament buildings, drawing the attention of rats, for nearly 30 years before it was re-re-discovered, now in very rough condition. In the late 1980s the remains ended up in Archives New Zealand.

Now – that hourly rate. It’s like this. The fragments of the scroll are still at Archives New Zealand, but its final home will be the National Library (which also holds the ‘first draft’ of the Treaty in the Busby collection, which I’ve read).

Now, I gather the cost of moving it has been budgeted at around $7 million – but the two buildings are just 195 metres apart, door to door. Now, here’s the clever bit. I figure I could carefully walk that in about 120 seconds, carrying the scroll. What’s more, I’d be prepared to do that for (say) half the figure the Department of Internal Affairs thinks it’ll cost to move the Treaty. So the taxpayer saves, I get the best hourly rate e-v-a-h ($105 million an hour, albeit for only 120 seconds of my time) and the Treaty is delivered safely to its new home. It’s not as if I’m a stranger to the staff at either place, being a historian and all that. They know who I am, and they know I’d look after the Treaty in that 120-second walk – it’s important to me, too. Hey – I’d even waive the cost of any time I had to wait at the Aitken-Murphy street pedestrian crossing, blowing the journey beyond that 120 seconds at $29,166.67 a second.

A deal, or what?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2016


10 thoughts on “The story behind the Treaty of Waitangi

  1. Even allowing for making a cabinet, attaching wheels and connecting a dehumidifier – the NZ Government is NUTS to spend $7 million moving it for goodness sake.
    Will it be accompanied by Dignitaries and Leaders from around the world?

    1. I can’t fathom it myself. Doubtless any move will be with all due ceremonial – there’ll doubtless be a powhiri (Maori cultural welcome) and other activities. I suspect part of the cost includes setting up a suitably secure environment-controlled location in the National Library building, but even so…

  2. You are a true hero. Such unselfishness shouldn’t go unrewarded (in addition to the half-salary). Have you figured-in the cost of new footwear (I wouldn’t risk a sole failure)? Umbrella? What about gathering rat representatives? It seems to me they now have an ingested stake in the document. Of course, not only would you benefit from a government payment, but a book and primetime special are a certainty. I see reality show possibilities here, too. An entire season of you planning your route, training, consulting with various leaders and experts, etc.. The ratings possibilities when you cross the street are enormous! What if someone runs the light? The tension! What if there are protestors (surely you could find some)? Will someone hold the door for you or will you perform that act solo? I’m shaking just thinking about the journey. 🙂

    1. I’d have to tell the media, of course! 🙂 The street crossing is notoriously narrow and it’s just *too* easy to dart across between cars, so that’s definitely a major risk factor there. Yes, a difficult and dangerous task but that hourly rate really is a good one and not to be turned down. As a writer, that rate might even beat J K Rowling’s (albeit only for 120 seconds…)

      Funnily enough, I have a book lined up to write on the Treaty! 🙂

  3. Matthew, I enjoyed the blog on Treaty of Waitangi. It is a fascinating looking document even in its current state. You mentioned the equivalency with the US Declaration of Independence so I needed to share this with you. Artist Marzena Ziejka created a hand woven work of the Declaration. you can view it at this link: Or Google ‘Marzena Ziejka Declaration of Independence’ Full dosclosure Marzena is my wife and I assure you this post is for the appreciation of the work nothing more. You simply must see it !

  4. Reblogged this on quirkywritingcorner and commented:
    I love his thinking on this and wish I could help somehow. I’d take a measly $250,000 for the preliminary work before Matthew picked up the treaty. It makes one wonder how much of that 7 mil is for bribes. Maybe they bought the building and the moving company?

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