New Zealand and New South Wales were once one colony, but on 3 May 1841 New Zealand was officially declared a British colony separate from New South Wales. This month it is the 180th anniversary of this decision that brought about two intertwined but distinct national stories.
Today Sydney enjoys close ties to New Zealand. It is our only international travel bubble option and remains a popular holiday destination. People come and go from both directions, with a large ex-pat community of New Zealanders in Sydney. These connections go back to the first years of Sydney as a British outpost, maybe even earlier.
Aboriginal and Māori stories hint at contact across the ditch before British arrivals, but we know for sure that Māori visitors were here by 1793, just five years after the First Fleet arrived.
In true colonial fashion, British ships visiting New Zealand’s Bay of Islands area kidnapped two Māori men, Tuki Tahua and Ngahuruhuru (also known as Huru) and took them to Norfolk Island to teach convicts how to weave flax for ships sails. Flax grew abundantly in New Zealand and would become a major trade item. The men did not traditionally weave flax and so could not help. Instead they were taken to Sydney met Governor King and were returned to their homes. Tuki and Huru’s time in Sydney alerted merchants to the flax and Kauri pines growing in their homeland, and soon merchant ships were visiting regularly. Many Māori came back to Sydney on these ships as both visitors and crew, until they were a reasonably regular sight on Sydney’s colonial streets. Paintings of Sydney in the 1810s and 1820s show Māori people amongst the crowds.
In 1805 Māori chief Te Pahi arrived with four sons, spending three months touring Sydney and the surrounding area including Parramatta and John Macarthur’s farms. His daughter Te Atahoe and her ex-convict husband also came to Sydney in 1810, having been kidnapped in New Zealand in 1808 and taken to India before gaining their release. Te Pahi had himself come back to Sydney in 1808 to see Governor Bligh and secure his daughter’s release. She died in Sydney after giving birth and was buried at the Old Sydney Burial Ground.
Relations began to sour after 1809 when a merchant ship, Boyd, was attacked by Māori war canoes in the North Island and all but four people on board massacred. The attack had been prompted by the British captain flogging a Māori chief’s son who was on board the ship. Although trade and travel continued to flourish, it was done with increasing wariness.
By the 1830s increasing incursions by Sydney merchants, missionaries, whalers, timber getters and settlers led to James Busby from Sydney being appointed as Official Resident to represent the British Government in 1832. He was to act as a liaison between the British and Māori. Tensions finally exploded in 1845 in what became known as the Māori Wars. Sydney sent troops and gunboats in the 1840s and again in the 1860s, marking a brutal end to what had been one of the first multi-cultural exchanges outside Australian shores in colonial Sydney.
Dr Mark Dunn is the author of ‘The Convict Valley: the bloody struggle on Australia’s early frontier’ (2020), the former Chair of the NSW Professional Historians Association and former Deputy Chair of the Heritage Council of NSW. He is currently a Visiting Scholar at the State Library of NSW. You can read more of his work on the Dictionary of Sydney here and follow him on Twitter @markdhistory here. Mark appears on 2SER on behalf of the Dictionary of Sydney in a voluntary capacity. Thanks Mark!