A masterful exegesis … the quality of Dr Fletcher’s research and the power of his reasoning demands attention and respect. There will be those who differ; as I have said, contestation is the Treaty’s only consistent companion. But Dr Fletcher has shifted the debate’s centre of gravity, and for that, Treaty law, history and scholarship owe him a debt of gratitude.
The Hon. Justice Sir Joe Williams (from the foreword)

How was the English text of the Treaty of Waitangi understood by the British in 1840? That is the question addressed by historian and lawyer Ned Fletcher, in this extensive work.

With one exception, the Treaty sheets signed by rangatira and British officials were in te reo Māori. The Māori text, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, was a translation by the missionary Henry Williams of a draft in English provided by William Hobson, the Consul sent by the British government to negotiate with Māori.

Despite considerable scholarly attention to the Treaty, the English text has been little studied. In part, this is because the original English draft exists only in fragments in the archive; it has long been regarded as lost or ‘unknowable’, and in any event superseded by the authoritative Māori text. Now, through careful archival research, Fletcher has been able to set out the continuing relevance of the English text.

The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi emphasises that the original drafting of the Treaty by British officials in 1840 cannot be separated from the wider circumstances of that time. This context encompasses the history of British dealings with indigenous peoples throughout the Empire and the currents of thought in the mid-nineteenth century, a period of rapid change in society and knowledge. It also includes the backgrounds and motivations of those primarily responsible for framing the Treaty: British Resident James Busby, Consul and future Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson, and Colonial Office official James Stephen.

Through groundbreaking scholarship, Fletcher concludes that the Māori and English texts of the Treaty reconcile, and that those who framed the English text intended Māori to have continuing rights to self-government (rangatiratanga) and ownership of their lands. This original understanding of the Treaty, however, was then lost in the face of powerful forces in the British Empire post-1840, as hostility towards indigenous peoples grew alongside increased intolerance of plural systems of government.

The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi enriches our understanding of the original purpose and vision of Te Tiriti o Waitangi / The Treaty of Waitangi and its foundational role in Aotearoa New Zealand.


'Behind the modest title to this book is an outstanding scholarly work that enlightens our pathway forward. It reminds us that our troubles came not from the Treaty of Waitangi but from the neglect of it. The lofty ideals behind its drafting correctly assume that we can capitalise on difference as a positive way of improving co-existence for all. Ned Fletcher has shone a torch on the past of which all New Zealanders should be aware.'
The Hon. Sir Edward Taihakurei Durie

'This book reminds us that understanding our past is a constant process. It makes an important scholarly contribution to helping New Zealand understand one of our most important constitutional moments.'
The Hon. Justice Matthew Palmer

'Ned Fletcher’s careful analysis casts new light on some of the key contexts that shaped Te Tiriti and the development of the colony’s political and legal culture in the years following 1840. It is an indispensable contribution to the debates over the Treaty and the legacies of colonisation in contemporary New Zealand life.'
Tony Ballantyne, Professor of History, University of Otago

'Ned Fletcher weaves meticulous archival research into a flowing narrative to produce an account of the Treaty of Waitangi that challenges received views about British imperial history and the rights of indigenous peoples within the Empire. This book will be an instant classic – a standard reference for understanding New Zealand’s ‘founding document’.'
Mark D. Walters, Professor of Law, Queen’s University

'The English Text of the Treaty of Waitangi is both an extraordinary work of scholarship and an engaging story, well-told. Ned Fletcher moves from Waitangi to Sydney, London, and the Empire beyond demonstrating the rich imperial context of the Treaty and exploring the personalities that shaped the text. This book challenges long-standing theories about the meaning of the English text and argues thoughtfully for an important alternative.'
Katherine Sanders, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland