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British proclaim sovereignty as French head for Akaroa

10 August 1840

Sketch of French settlers at Akaroa
Sketch of French settlers at Akaroa (Te Papa, 1992-0035-1718)

HMS Britomart arrived at Akaroa, on Banks Peninsula, a week before a shipload of French colonists landed there. The Britomart's captain raised the Union Jack to confirm Britain's claim to sovereignty over the area.

In 1838 the commander of the French whaling ship Cachalot made a dubious land purchase from Māori on Banks Peninsula. The Nanto-Bordelaise Company was then formed in France with the goal of establishing a settlement at Akaroa. In 1839 King Louis-Philippe agreed to provide assistance. Captain Charles François Lavaud, the French representative for the settlement, sailed for New Zealand in April 1840. A month later, the Comte de Paris set off for Akaroa carrying 53 emigrants.

In the period between the land purchase and the departure of the French colonists, the situation in New Zealand had changed. Britain had decided to colonise New Zealand. The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (including two signatures gathered at Akaroa at the end of May 1840) and Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson’s declaration of sovereignty over the whole country on 21 May confirmed that New Zealand was, at least in European eyes, a British colony.

Until Lavaud arrived in the Bay of Islands in July 1840 he was unaware of these developments. While Hobson was friendly enough, he sent HMS Britomart, under the command of Owen Stanley, to observe the French in Akaroa. The warship left the Bay of Islands on 23 July and reached Akaroa on 10 August. When Lavaud arrived five days later he accepted that France could not create a colony without causing hostility. When the Comte de Paris arrived on 17 August, the Union Jack was flying over Akaroa.

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British proclaim sovereignty as French head for Akaroa, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated