Saturday, February 23, 2008

6 February

6 February is a national holiday here in New Zealand. It commemorates the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and most of the Maori tribes of New Zealand, which was the official beginning of NZ as a British colony. Not surprisingly there were significant differences between the English language and Maori language versions of the treaty, and both sides thought they were agreeing to rather different things. Been disagreeing ever since. But at least we agree there is an agreement to disagree over, and that both sides actually wanted to agree.

Well, as you know I am interested in history, and it got me thinking a little. What role did the humble pencil play in all this? For instance, was the treaty drafted in pencil? So, I’ve spent the last week or two digging for pencil links, without much success, but then again...

Captain William Hobson (1792 – 1842) was a British naval officer of some repute. He joined the navy when he was nine years old (yes 9), and served in the North Sea and West Indies during the Napoleonic Wars, and then later against the Americans in the War of 1812. In 1815 he was aboard one of the vessels escorting Napoleon to exile on St Helena. He then spent much time chasing and being chased by, capturing and being captured by, pirates and slavers in the West Indies. Eventually his path lead to the East Indies, Australia and finally New Zealand. In 1839, when Britain reluctantly decided to establish New Zealand as a crown colony, Hobson was appointed to command it. He was given the title of Lieutenant-Governor, but precious little else - he would basically have to run the colony by persuasion.

Hobson arrived in NZ on 30 January 1840, and the treaty with the natives was then drafted from scratch and signed 1 week later, on 6 February. There were many drafts of the treaty prepared with the local missionary and residents, but I can’t find any references to their writing, other than that some notes of meetings were specifically taken “in pencil”. These were terribly stressful times for Hobson, and just a few weeks later, on 1 March, he suffered a paralysing stroke, caused by “violent mental excitement” according to his attending naval surgeon. Luckily he made a quick and reasonably good recovery, being able to pencil a letter to his wife on 15 March. Below are his signatures – firstly in ink from the multiple official copies of the treaty, some including his title ‘Lt Governor’. Next is his pencil signature on the letter to his wife after his stroke, just a few weeks after signing the treaties above. He never fully recovered from his stroke and continuing ill-health combined with the stresses of the job – extremely limited resources from the Crown, subversive and obstructive commercial interests, rival French settlements, etc – caused his untimely death by another stroke on 10 September 1942.

We aren’t very good at commemorating our history here in NZ, particularly our European history, so I thought I would make the effort, and go and visit the Captains final resting place.It’s pretty simple and run down, just a rather grimy small low plain raised concrete tomb surrounded by a wrought iron fence in need of a new coat of paint.A small plaque on the ground notes his role as governor and instigator of the treaty. Perhaps not exactly how most countries would treat one of their founding fathers.Seeing he was British, my wife thought he might appreciate some rosemary and a rose from her garden.At the time of his burial he would have looked down the valley to the bay named after him and out to the islands in the gulf.Nowadays though the English oaks and other trees have grown tall and shade the cemetery, and they along with road bridges and inner city buildings block the view from the graveside.It’s actually quite a nice secluded shady little place on a summer Sunday afternoon, the oaks giving it a little touch of Britain. However many strands of “spaghetti” (the numerous ‘on’, ‘off’ and interchange ramps) from the city central motorway junction also weave around the cemetery so it’s not exactly a peaceful place during working hours.I once worked with a mad kilt-wearing Scottish guy whose hobbies included grave-rubbings. (That’s rubbings, not robbing) Now there’s an unusual use for a pencil! I decide against joining that hobby on this particular visit.

Whilst trolling around various websites, I did come across this little snippet.The first pencil impression of our government headquarters in the architect’s notebook. He was a British “outsider” brought in to design the new government parliamentary offices, and was rumored to have whipped up his design on the back of a napkin during dinner with the Prime Minister in 1964.

1 comment:

Germ said...

the government HQ looks straight out of Star Wars, KUDOS!!!!