First British Resident comes ashore

17 May 1833

Painting of James Busby, 1832
Painting of James Busby, 1832 (Alexander Turnbull Library, NON-ATL-P-0065)

His ship anchored in the Bay of Islands on 5 May, but it was 12 days later that the new British Resident in New Zealand landed in state. James Busby received a seven-gun salute from HMS Imogene as he was rowed ashore to the Paihia mission station.

While pageantry was otherwise lacking, the occasion was unprecedented in New Zealand history – it was the first formal meeting between Māori chiefs and the representative of a great power.

Hundreds of Māori greeted Busby and his retinue of naval officers with vigorous haka; about 50 European residents had also assembled. Busby began the hui by reading a letter from Viscount Goderich, the British Colonial Secretary. This expressed King William’s pleasure that an apparent threat from the French had come to nothing; trade with Britain would hopefully proceed undisturbed. Goderich also explained that the King had sent Busby to be a kaiwhakarite – an intermediary between the races.

Busby then made a speech, also in English. He told the chiefs that they were being honoured by his appointment, which he indicated was equivalent to the despatch of an ambassador – an implicit acknowledgement of New Zealand independence. If Māori listened to the word of God, he continued, material progress would follow – their crops would flourish, and ships would ‘bring clothing, and all other things which you desire’.

Translations of both documents by Reverend William Williams were then read out. After several chiefs had expressed their satisfaction at Busby’s arrival, he presented 22 of the ‘leading men’ with a blanket and 6 lb of tobacco.

Then it was time for lunch. The Europeans dined at Reverend Henry Williams’ house, while Māori associated with the mission dished up at least 600 helpings of beef, potatoes and ‘stirabout’ (a popular concoction of flour and water sweetened with sugar) to their fellow-countrymen.

To reinforce the significance of Busby’s arrival, the speeches were later printed in Sydney and distributed widely in northern New Zealand. But the British Resident’s seven-year term was to be a chequered one.


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