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Unsung Irish : William Hobson October 11, 2007

Posted by Rambling Man in The Unsung Irish.
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William Hobson was born in Lombard Street, Waterford in 1792 and went on to become New Zealand’s first governor and the primary signatory and author of that country’s founding accord – the Treaty of Waitangi.

As was not unusual at the time, Hobson was sent away to sea at the age of 10 (!) and with the rank of volunteer served the British Navy fro 13 years without leave. He was both stationed and at sail all over the world in such places as the North Sea, the West Indies, North America and the Mediterranean. By 1827, now a commander and in his mid thirties, he married a Scotswoman, Eliza Elliot in Nassau and had a daughter with her.

In 1834 he was posted to the frigate Rattlesnake in the East Indies and ended up in New South Wales a few years later. A new colony was being set up there at the time and Hobson was involved in such projects as laying out the street structure of Melbourne. A call for protection from British citizen James Busby of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand saw Hobson and his ship arrive there in 1836. Later in 1838 when the crown saw fit to appoint someone to New Zealand “invested with the character and powers of British Consul” they called upon Hobson for the job. He was charged with the task of setting up a treaty or accord that would see the natives of that land cede sovereignty of all or part of their lands to the British Empire.

In August 1839 Hobson sailed from England with his wife and family on board the HMS Druid. Arriving in the Bay of Islands in 1840, and with the assistance of Busby and some other British subjects, he arranged for the northern Maori chiefs to meet him at Waitangi for the purpose of negotiating a treaty. The discussions began early in February when Hobson explained the terms of the treaty. The next day, after further argument and explanation, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by the Maori leaders. To this day there is controversy over the document and some differences exist between the Maori and English versions.

Hobson himself was sworn in as the new colony’s first Governor in 1841. He died in Auckland in 1842, aged 50, from a stroke and is buried in the Symonds Street cemetery.

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