French fear

Maori Fear of the French

This goes back to the saga of the arrival in the Bay of Islands of Marion du Fresne in April 1772 with two ships and sixty scurvy-ridden sailors. He set up a hospital for them on Moturua Island near the entrance and while they were recovering he got friendly (or so he thought) with the local tribe, Ngati Pou. All this went on in an apparently friendly fashion for a couple of months.

Note that this was only three years after Cook's first arrival so that prior contact of Maoris with Europeans had been limited and that du Fresne's stay was rather longer than any stay in one place by Cook. Thus it was the first quite prolonged interaction between the two.

Well, Marion liked fishing but unfortunately he fished in the wrong place, broke a tapu and was promptly killed and eaten along with his fishing party. Then the Maoris decided to attack the hospital on the island and 1500 of them assembled to do so, outnumbering many times the fit Frenchmen able to defend it. Of course the French defended themselves with guns and muskets in what has been described as the first real clash on New Zealand soil between European firepower and sheer Maori muscle. In the ensuing battle the French drove off the attackers and killed about 250 of them including many chiefs, with no losses apart from the 27 killed in the initial encounters.

It was in fact a overwhelming victory and imbued in the Maoris a tremendous and lasting fear of the French.

It was all recorded in detail in French accounts. particularly by Lieutenant Roux and there can be no doubt that he made a very accurate record of events. It is all well related in Ian Wishart's book, "The Great Divide", Chapter 3. I recommend that you and your adversaries all get copies of this book and study it carefully, if you have not done so already.

That the 'Marion' affair did bite deeply and enduringly into the Maori psyche is shown clearly in the letter of the 13 Ngapuhi chiefs to King William of 16th November 1831 (59 years later you will note) which you have already sent to the naysayers. In it they say "We have heard that the tribe of Marion is at hand, coming to take away our land. Therefore we pray thee to become our friend and the guardian of these islands, etc."

Note that Ngapuhi had without doubt heard of the 'Marion' account since they were neighbours of Ngato Pou and had exterminated them in the intervening period.

It had been rumoured that the French naval vessel "La Favourite" was somewhere near and intended to annex New Zealand in retaliation for the 'Marion' affair. Be that as it may, Frenchman, Charles du Thierry claimed he had purchased 40,000 acres in the Hokianga, was planning to establish a colony and declare French sovereignty. By then Busby was around and du Thierry's plans were in a large measure the stimulus for him to create the so-called 'Declaration of Independence' of 1835. Note that this was Busby's work and the chiefs had had no input to it but anyway he had no trouble getting them to sign it.

That fear of the French continued and was one reason, perhaps the main one, for the signing of the ToW at Waitangi and Hokianga is verified by the report of Rev. Samuel Warren in which he says: "The natives were at the time in mortal fear of the French and justly thought they had done a pretty good stroke of business when they placed the British lion between themselves and the French eagle." (See"Twisting the Treaty",p. 48.)

French Bishop Pompallier had indeed induced some chiefs who lived nearby that the British intentions were evil and that they intended to make the chiefs into slaves and that was the main reason chiefs spoke against signing the treaty on 5th February, though they did sign on 6th and admitted the reason for their talk the day before.

With the gathering of treaty signatures proceeding apace, on 21st May 1840, Hobson declared the North Island to be British sovereign territory by virtue of cession. The case of the South Island was a little different. Hobson had pointed out to Normanby that it was virtually uninhabited (which was indeed true) and Normanby had said "Judge it on the day. If you need to decree sovereignty by virtue of discovery, then so be it." (Wishart, op. cit., p.151.) Accordingly in his May declaration of sovereignty Hobson did just that. Whether in part his motivation was to forestall the French is not clear though it may have been so. In any case, collection of South Island signatures commenced around the same time. The list of treaty signatories in my possession does not give dates in all cases. Major Bunbury who was active in collecting southern signatures, on 4th June 1840 at Sylvan Cove declared Stewart Island sovereign territory by right of discovery, having been unable to find a single native living there. (Sylvan Cove is a delightfully remote spot where I did land myself once. Edward Williams made a drawing of it.) Then on 17th June at Cloudy Bay, Bunbury declared the South Island British by right of cession. Given the practicalities of the day, these procedures were entirely reasonable and only a lower deck lawyer would argue otherwise today! So New Zealand became British.

Post 6th February 1840, the French were still around and the Nanto-Bordelaise Company was planning to establish a French colony at Akaroa on land Captain Langlois said he had bought from Kai Tahu in 1838. The French frigate "L'Aube" arrived in the Bay of Islands in July 1840 and its captain, Lavaud, injudiciously informed Hobson of his intentions in the south. (See W. Pember Reeves, "The Long White Cloud", p.152.) Hobson therefore promptly despatched Commander Stanley in HMS "Britomart" to Akaroa where he raised the British flag, forestalling the French colonists who arrived in "Le Compte de Paris" on 17th August 1840. This was the end of French aspirations in New Zealand.

Then on 16th November 1840 by Royal Charter, New Zealand was established as a British colony,separate from New South Wales, so we became a country in our own right.

- BRUCE MOON  12/12/14


"I (Rev John Warren) was present at the great meeting at Waitangi when the celebrated Treaty was signed, and also at a meeting which took place subsequently on the same subject at Hokianga. There was a great deal of talk by the natives, principally of securing their proprietary right in the land and their personal liberty. Everything else they were only to happy to yield to the Queen, as they said repeatedly, because they knew they could only be saved from the rule of other nations by sitting under the shadow of the Queen of England. In my hearing they (the natives) frequently remarked 'Let us be one people. We have the Gospel from England, now let us have the Law from England...' The natives were at that time in mortal fear of the French, and justly thought they had done a pretty good stroke of business when they placed the British lion between themselves and the French eagle... There is a native proverb which says with reference to a man of great keenness and sagacity: 'He was born with his teeth' and in the matter of making bargains the Maoris may be said to be people who were born with their teeth."

Rev John Warren, Wesleyan missionary, present at the signing ceremony at Waitangi.