In contrast to the elaborate commemorations now established, on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi there was rather less fuss. This is no great surprise, because from an 1877 judicial ruling until the passage of the Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, the Treaty was regarded as a 'legal nullity' by the Crown.
If the newspapers of the day are anything to go by, there was little official recognition of the 6 February anniversary. In fact, until 1934 the commemorations (what little there were) focused on 29 January instead, that being the date in 1840 on which Captain William Hobson arrived in the Bay of Islands with his officials to commence drafting the Treaty. (For that same reason, the 29th is still commemorated in the north as Auckland Anniversary Day). Formal annual commemorations of the treaty signing did not commence until 1947.
So perusing the nation's newspapers on 6 February 1890 elicits very little in the way of Waitangi news. Some papers made brief mention to the signing but counted the anniversary from 5 February when the text was put to a gathering of northern chiefs on the lawn at Waitangi, as opposed to 6 February when the document was actually signed by those present. Here is the full contents of the Thames Star's discussion of Waitangi Day on 6 February 1890:
- Foresters' excursion to Coromandel to-morrow.
- Professor Swallows' concert in the Academy to-morrow evening.
- Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in the Bay of Islands.
- The Rarotongans leave Auckland to-morrow for their Island home.
- Bush fires are raging in some parts of the Waikato, near Taupiri and Mangawhare. Ohaupo was surrounded by flames, and rain is eagerly looked for to save much valuable property.
Both the New Zealand Herald and the Waikato Times also carried advertisements for a Government-printed publication of William Colenso's Authentic and Genuine History of the Signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Here's the Waikato Times' advertisement:
To be issued by the Government on honour of the celebration of the
JUBILEE OF THE COLONY
on the 29th January.
"Authentic and genuine history of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand, February 5th and 6th, 1840, being a faithful and circumstantial narration of events which happened on that memorable occasion, with copies of the Treaty in English and in Maori, and of the three early proclamations respecting the founding of the Colony. By Wm. Colenso, F.R.S., F.L.S., etc."
Price, 1s ; Postage, 2d.
On the then day of commemoration, 29 January 1890, Wellington's Evening Post issued a splendidly curmudgeonly slice of humbug regarding the public holiday:
Our usual budgets of cable messages and telegrams are missing to-day, owing to the closing of the Telegraph Office. Having already celebrated the actual Jubilee of the colony in a fitting way, the citizens of Wellington are to-day paying little heed to what has been aptly described as the "red-tape Jubilee," beyond anathematising the official "cussedness" that brings about the closing of banks and public offices at a time when the ordinary business of the city is in full swing. A meagre string of streamers from one foreign-going vessel in port, and the decoration of the tower and roof of the General Post Office, make up the sum-total of the outward appearance of rejoicing.