A Simple Nullity: The Wi Parata Case in New Zealand Law and History, by David V. Williams (Auckland University Press, 2011), 288 pp., $49.99.
Grossly misunderstood in both its legal context and factual matrix, Wi Parata v The Bishop of Wellington (1877) is the single most infamous case in New Zealand legal history.[i]A solitary passage in the joint decision of Chief Justice James Prendergast and Justice William Richmond (most likely written by Richmond) to the effect that the Treaty of Waitangi was ‘a simple nullity’ has rendered it the whipping boy of modern biculturalism, a deformity of the common law recurrently surfacing to spook liberals until our present Chief Justice Sean Elias finally euthanised it in the 2003 Ngati Apa decision.[ii]
Wi Parata revolved around a Whitireia land grant of approximately 500 acres engineered in 1847–8 by Ngati Toa as a gift to the Bishop of New Zealand, George Selwyn. The intermediaries for the gift were were Octavius Hadfield (‘Te Harawira’, from 1870 the Bishop of Wellington) and two young Christian rangatira, Katu Tamihana Te Rauparaha (son of Te Rauparaha) and Henare Matene Te Whiwhi-o-te-rangi. Under the doctrine of Crown pre-emption, the Governor had a monopoly on all land dealings with Māori. Any such gift required the Governor first to accept the land gratuitously from Māori and then grant it to the Bishop on trust. The terms of that trust, known as the Porirua Trust, were that the Bishopric establish a college of higher learning and religious instruction for the education of all races: ‘hei Kareti mo nga tamariki Maori Pakeha’. When the College did not eventuate, later generations of Ngāti Toa unsuccessfully sought return of the land in Court, following the refusal of Parliament and various Commissions of Inquiry to provide a remedy.