In the 1800s New Zealand was a very different country to the British colony that emerged after February 1840. Although the Maōri world was changing, a decade before the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (‘the Treaty’) Maōri retained their autonomy. At this time it was estimated that the Maōri population was approximately 150 000 (Kingi, 2005 ). Pre-1830 Maōri were a vibrant and healthy people. They were international traders within and outside of New Zealand, with their own bank. They had total guardianship of their 66 million acres, resources and other assets.
During the 1830s resident Europeans, however, were few - about 1400 in the North Island and 500 in the South Island. With increasing European settlement came the introduction of arms and what was known as the musket wars resulting in notable decreases in the populations of some iwi. Traders and settlers exploited resources, and while some missionaries and traders purchased smaller pieces of land, speculators acquired large amounts of land. Furthermore, missionaries introduced Christian beliefs and practices (Orange, 2004 ).
Nonetheless, in direct contrast to promising developments associated with international trade, the health of Māori visibly declined due to the harmful impacts of introduced diseases, warfare and social change. In addition to declining health, Māori had increasing concerns about the lawlessness of settlers in Aotearoa New Zealand. This led to Ma¯ ori leaders petitioning the British Government to address this matter. In 1832 James Busby was appointed the British ‘Resident’ in New Zealand, responsible for the law and order of British subjects, backed by periodic visits from a warship from Sydney Royal Navy squadron. Busby also encouraged Māori chiefs to organise themselves into an entity more recognisable to the British Government to make and enforce British style ‘laws’ (Orange, 2004 ). This approach was unusual, as in some countries that the British migrated to, the indigenous people were almost ignored or brushed aside because they lacked the military and social organisation to resist settlement (Sinclair, 1980).