Maketu’s Execution and the Extension of British Sovereignty in New Zealand
The execution of a minor chief in 1842 in Auckland Prison for the crime of murder would normally be of little significance in the evolution of a nation’s statehood, unless it triggered some form or rebellion or even revolution. The history of colonial rule in the British Empire in the nineteenth century contains many examples of murderers receiving capital punishment for their crime. However, the constitutional significance of the Governor’s determination to execute the criminal was of substantial, principally because it signified the Crown’s willingness – at this relatively early stage in Crown Colony Government in New Zealand – to extend its jurisdiction so that British law would apply to Maori communities. Too often, it has been taken for granted that the Treaty of Waitangi asserted (initially in principle and gradually in practice) British sovereignty over Maori as well as Europeans in the country. However, what the Maketu example illustrates is that the limits of British sovereignty in New Zealand prior to 1842 were confined exclusively to the non-Maori population, as had been the expectation of the Colonial Office in the two years leading up to the conclusion of the Treaty.