Preserving Te Tiriti o Waitangi for future generations

The care, protection and preservation of our founding document and taonga, Te Tiriti o Waitangi is safely in the hands of conservators from Te Rua Mahara o te Kāwanatanga - Archives New Zealand and Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa - National Library of New Zealand.

Published: Monday, 5 February 2024 | Rāhina, 05 Huitanguru, 2024

Te Tiriti o Waitangi – the documents, comprising nine sheets, reside in the specially designed low light and temperature-controlled document room, He Whakapapa  Kōrero at the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington, as part of the public He Tohu exhibition.

The documents are housed in state-of-the art glass cases along with other sovereign documents; He Whakaputanga, the Declaration of Independence of the United Tribes of New Zealand signed in 1835 and Te Petihana Whakamana Pōti Wahine, the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. Read about how the documents are preserved here.

Our taonga, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, hasn’t always been treated with the level of care and respect shown to it today.

At signing from 6 February 1840, Te Tiriti o Waitangi took some handling, traveling the length of Aotearoa taking eight months and stopping at 45 locations to receive 542 signatures.

Back in government buildings in Auckland in 1842, Te Tiriti O Waitangi barely survived a raging fire, and for the next 100 or so years it withstood agents of deterioration including pests, pollutants, light, temperature, water, fire, thieves, physical forces and custodial neglect.

Hidden away in either the basement or attic of government buildings in Wellington to be nibbled by rodents, the document was even transported to the Masterton Public Trust Building for the duration of WWII, Masterton deemed the safest place in Aotearoa to keep the document should New Zealand come under attack from the enemy.

While it saw the light of day for public viewing at Waitangi in 1940 for the 100 year commemorations of the signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, it wasn’t until the 1970s when Te Tiriti o Waitangi was publicly exhibited, first at the Turnbull Library then at the Reserve Bank Vault, Archives New Zealand and now at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington.

Te Tiriti o Waitangi, fragile and priceless, has survived against the odds, albeit faded and jaded after over a century of neglect. Every year now, the precious document has its health check and fortunately survives for future generations.

Visit He Tohu online or the public exhibition of Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and our other sovereign documents, at the National Library of New Zealand. The exhibition is open on Waitangi Day.

Image supplied by Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa - National Library of New Zealand. The Waitangi sheet.