Te Tiriti was lucky to survive

An interesting series of tweets from @verslibre (archivist Stefanie) on how the Treaty of Waitangi got into a poor condition.

After te Tiriti finished being signed by September 1840 the nine sheets made their way back one by one to the offices of the government in Okiato, old Russell.

When the government moved to Auckland in 1842 te Tiriti moved too. By 1841 the nine sheets had been put for safekeeping in an especially requisitioned metal trunk. This likely saved them when the offices of government caught fire in 1842 and burned down.

The sheets, along with He Whakaputanga most likely, were saved by a quick-thinking records clerk.

The government records back then were all kept in the office of the Colonial Secretary, the Governor’s right-hand man and the guy who got all the shit done.

When the capital moved to Wellington in 1865 te Tiriti came too with the rest of the records of government.

The period of damage that you refer to occurred some time between the years 1877 and 1908. The documents were kept, rolled up we think, in the basement of the Govt buildings. Which is now the law school on Lambton Quay.

They were discovered, all damaged, in about 1908 by Dr Thomas Hocken, who for reasons I’ve never been able to get to the bottom of was fossicking round down there and luckily knew what he’d found.


The distinctive damaged shape of the Waitangi sheet comes from its having been nibbled by rats or mice. It’s made of parchment, animal skin. You’ll see the other paper sheets are not so nibbled = not as delicious to critters. There’s one other parchment sheet, also nibbled.

Incidentally we recently discovered through DNA testing that the Waitangi parchment is made of goat skin, the Herald sheet from calf skin. I digress.

Fortunately back in 1877 the Govt Print tested their new photolithographic machine on the Treaty sheets, so we know what was on the parts that were nibbled away between 1877 and about 1908.

After that they were taken into the care of the Department of Internal Affairs (that’s what the Colonial Secretary’s office had been renamed to).

They’ve had several repairs, the most recent major one in 1987.

Once the National Archives was instituted in 1957 they came under the care of the Chief Archivist and have been there ever since.

The archivists and conservators who look after Te Tiriti now love it with all our hearts.

Hope this was mildly interesting

Very interesting thanks Stefanie.

Te Ara – Story: Treaty of Waitangi

Leave a comment


  1. PDB

     /  21st December 2017

    Wasn’t all the Treaty of Waitangi damage done by the Labour party in the mid-1980’s?

    • PartisanZ

       /  21st December 2017

      Nah PDB, your mid-80s ‘damage’ was precipitated by The Treaty of Waitangi Act and establishment of The Waitangi Tribunal in 1975 …

      This was precipitated by the Maori protest movement of the early 1970s – sometimes labelled “Maori radicalism” – culminating in the Hikoi of 1975 led by Dame Whina Cooper …

      This was precipitated by ….

      This was precipitated by …

      This was precipitated by …

      This was precipitated by …. et al …


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