Author(s): Tony Simpson
Why did Sir Joseph Somes, Chairman of the New Zealand Company, writing to the Colonial Secretary Lord Stanley in 1843 describe the Treaty of Waitangi as "a praiseworthy device for pacifying and amusing naked savages for the meantime"? And why did Lieutenant Charles Wilkes commanding a United States Navy exploring flotilla at anchor in the Bay of Islands in February 1840 say of the Treaty in his diary: "The New Zealand Land Company has been the secret spring of this transaction" and then go on to describe them as very questionable company promoters who had successfully bamboozled the public out of their money by way of an investment in land the Company did not own? What was Captain William Hobson doing in New Zealand at all in February 1840 trying to convince the local Maori to sign a Treaty confirming British sovereignty over New Zealand when for the previous forty years successive British governments had implacably rejected any attempt to make New Zealand a British colony? These questions and many more are answered in Tony Simpson's new book Before Hobson which maps out the economic, political and ideological context of the creation of the Treaty of Waitangi and why it was thought to be needed when sovereignty over this country could be established (and was) by the issue of a simple proclamation in Sydney. The only players in this drama, including the missionaries, who come away without much criticism are the shore whalemen whose alleged unruly habits were the reason advanced for intervention in the first place.
Tony Simpson is one of New Zealand's best known social and cultural historians. He has published sixteen books of which the award winning The Sugarbag Years, an oral history of the Great Depression of the thirties, is the best known. He has recently retired from an almost fifty year career as a public servant, journalist, industrial advocate and writer for film, radio and television and is now writing full time, as well as running a small Wellington publishing company, the Blythswood Press.