Addresses to Sir George Grey

The Addresses to Sir George Grey is a large bound volume of over 300 pages, held in the manuscripts collection at Auckland Libraries. Conceived as a birthday tribute to Grey, the Addresses went from proposal to bound volume, with over 13,000 signatures, in less than a month. A first public meeting was held on Monday, the 15th of March, 1886: “ ... to take into consideration the propriety of Presenting a Congratulatory Address to Sir George Grey on his next Birthday, April 14”.

New Zealand Herald, 15 March 1886.

Detailed reports in the newspapers over the course of that month included telling details: it is to be “purely non-political, and has its sole raison d’être in admiration and respect for Sir George” (Auckland Star, 15 March 1886)  – a pertinent point, given that Sir George Grey was a still a divisive force in the politics of the day and would have undoubtedly been reading the reports with interest. The article ends with the note “It was also agreed that ladies should be allowed to sign the address.” (New Zealand Herald, 16 March 1886)

Individual sheets were printed by Wilson and Horton, publishers of the New Zealand Herald, and distributed for signing throughout the Auckland Province and beyond. “Lists for signatures have been sent to all Mayors of boroughs, and to prominent settlers in the outlying districts, to be returned on or before the 7th of April. The number of signature sheets sent out is sufficient for 7,000 signatures.”(Auckland Star, 20 March 1886)   “...the committee will gladly receive communications from any country settler who is willing to obtain signatures in the district in which he resides.” (New Zealand Herald, 17 March 1886)

When 7 April arrived, the deadline was extended by four days, at least for Aucklanders: “To those who have not yet signed and desire to do so, lists will remain at the various banks and several other places in the city up to Saturday next” (Auckland Star, 7 April 1886).  An example of one of the original sheets, before being trimmed and bound, can been seen at page 290.

Untrimmed sheet, from: Addresses to Sir George Grey, 1886. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, GNZMS 275.

The engrossing of the address had been entrusted to Mr. James Slator. It will be on three sheets of vellum, and is to cost £40. This is exclusive of binding, which is to be of artistic design. The signature sub-committee had held several meetings and had forwarded 264 blank sheets to about 165 persons. Copies of the address had been left at the various banks, clubs, principal hotels, and forwarded to the mayors of various boroughs, and to nearly every minister and clergymen of the different religious denominations in the city." (New Zealand Herald, 29 March 1886)  Additional sheets must have been required because there are in fact 290 signed sheets.

New Zealand Herald, 28 April 1886.

On 17 March, two days after the initial meeting, a sub-committee met and finalised the wording of the address. It was also decided to “bind up the lists of signatures in handsome morocco boards”.  The report ends with the news: “Copies of the address were sent up to the Domain to-day, and a large number of signatures obtained.” (Auckland Star, 17 March 1886)

Photo credit: Dan Liu. 

It wasn’t long before the project captured the imagination of the province. Five days later it was reported: “The work of signing the address to Sir George Grey goes on vigorously. We find that Mr. Thos. Scott must be removed from his pedestal as the senior colonist, 1836. Archdeacon Maunsell signed the address yesterday, giving date of arrival 1834,' but Judge Wilson later on went "one better," and signed as arriving in 1832.” (New Zealand Herald, 24 March 1886)

When all of the sheets were returned on 7 April, the Auckland Star reported, “On one of the sheets at the Star Office there is the signature of an admirer of Sir George Grey, who "beats the record" ...  This is Mr William Thomas Nicholas, of Shoal Bay... Mr Nicholas landed at Hokianga on the 25th of March, 1828.” (Auckland Star, 7 April 1886)

However, the following day, the New Zealand Herald reported, “The signatures to Sir George Grey's testimonial have brought to light many interesting facts regarding the early history of the colonisation of New Zealand, but we think the oldest colonist has at length been found. John Wheeler King, born at the Bay of Islands in 1816, has sent in his signature to the sheet in the possession of his nephew, the Rev. King Davies of Mount Roskill. Mr. King is now over 69 years of age.”(New Zealand Herald, 8 April 1886)  [see page 239]

Signature of John Wheeler King. From: Addresses to Sir George Grey, 1886. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, GNZMS 275.

Who signed the sheets?

Although the instructions were to put the year of arrival in the colony, many added much more information, giving the regiment they served in, or where else in the British Empire they came from – a number from Cape Town [see page 161], others from India [see page 282]. In some instances, this may be the only place where such information is recorded.

The sheets that went to smaller communities appear to be akin to a mini-census.  There are instances where the head of the household signs, followed by his wife and children [see page 282]. There is an instance of a signature in Chinese characters 亚 大 [see page 31]. On some pages many of the names are written in the same hand, on behalf of others. Some people have signed by appending their mark to their name written by someone else [see page 214].

Signatures. From: Addresses to Sir George Grey, 1886. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, GNZMS 275.

A few of the sheets have the names of the localities inscribed in the margins: Huntly [see page 171]  Kihikihi [see page 172] Te Awamutu [see page 189] Te Kopuru [see page 193] and Port Arthur [see page 290]. Residents of Parua Bay sent their signatures in a letter to the committee, to be added on their behalf [see page 230a]. Their signatures were duly added to page 231. Ōtāhuhu is noted on four non-adjacent sheets [see pages 27, 37 , 145 , and 196].

Clearly the sheets were not bound in any particular sequence, the page numbers being stamped on after they were bound. In Onehunga, the sheets were at the Star Agency Office in Queen Street, ready for signatures. The people of Thames initially intended to present their own address to Sir George Grey, but then decided to sign the Auckland address. The sheets were available for signing at Mr. W. Wood's, bookbinder, in Pollen Street, Thames.

The sheets also went beyond the Auckland Province, for example on 29 March the Poverty Bay Herald, published in Gisborne, announced that sheets were available at the Argyll Hotel for signature, and the Town Clerk would “receive any contributions from those disposed to subscribe to the expenses.”(Poverty Bay Herald, 29 March 1886)  Given the creased and stained condition of some of the pages, it appears some of the sheets went on arduous journeys across the province [see page 257].

The Māori signatures

Although Māori names appear throughout the sheets, a section of the Addresses is devoted specifically to Māori. The story of how the Māori address came to be written is not clear from the reports in the press, other than there were three drafts in circulation: one was too long, another was apparently lost in transit (See: New Zealand Herald, 30 March 1886). The address that was included [see page 286] was written by Paora Tuhaere, the leader of Ngāti Whātua, who is also the first signatory following the address in te reo Māori.

Gottfried Lindauer. Paora Tuhaere, 1878. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of Mrs Emma Sloane, 1934.


The New Zealand Herald, 30 March 1886, noted “It is a subject for regret that time will prevent many important sections of the natives from uniting in paying this tribute of respect to their old Kawana Kerei. Like the Europeans, the Maoris were anxious to avoid expressing any opinion on matters political, and in regard to which they, like ourselves, might entertain many differences upon.” (New Zealand Herald, 30 March 1886)

It was reported that in addition to the signatures gathered at Orākei, signatures were gathered at Taupō and at a meeting held by Tāwhiao at Whatiwhatihoe, the sheets being carried there by Paora Tuhaere. On the 2nd of April, the Thames Star reported on the gathering, noting “The land question is to be discussed when Paul, of Orākei, arrives there. Paul takes Sir George Grey's address for their signature.”(Thames Star, 2 April 1886)   The principal topic under discussion at Whatiwhatihoe was the failure of the Crown to honour the Treaty of Waitangi (Waikato Times, 6 April 1886). While a number of prominent Māori leaders did sign the address, Tāwhiao’s and Rewi Maniapoto’s signatures are notably absent.

The Presentation

A contemporary account of the presentation at the Opera House is pasted into the front of the address, perhaps during Sir George Grey’s time, and can be read in the transcript at image 4. (New Zealand Herald, 26 April 1886)

Those people who had donated ten shillings or more to the expense of preparing the address received a ticket for a ‘Lady and a Gentleman’ for the stage. A large number of ladies were expected for the dress circle, so to avoid overcrowding, a charge of one shilling was made for that part of the house. Entry to the rest of the house was free of charge. (Auckland Star, 12 April 1886)

Auckland Star, 14 April 1886.

The ‘Birthday Ode’, written by W. R. Wills, characterised as “the poet of Ōtāhuhu”, set to music by J. H. Phillpot, and sung “by a choir comprising leading local amateurs” was not universally appreciated. “I have read a birthday ode, written by a local rhymster, and dedicated to Sir George Grey. It has been set to music by a local composer. I shall not read it again. Life is too short to be wasted over such stuff” wrote a commentator in the New Zealand Herald of 10 April (New Zealand Herald, 10 April 1886). Detractors notwithstanding, the sheet music was for sale at 6d a copy, “… no doubt many people will provide themselves with copies prior to the coming ceremonial, at which it is expected to be sung”(Auckland Star, 8 April 1886). The Library holds a copy of the sheet music in the collection (GNZMS 295).

The Transcriptions

A partial index to the names has long been available in the Passengers database at Auckland Libraries. When the Addresses were digitised in late 2018, it was decided to do a fresh transcription, using the high-resolution images. Many of the signatures that were previously skipped over as being illegible were deciphered, and in some instances cross-checked with contemporary newspapers. Any details that accompanied the signatures have been included.  Forenames are often abbreviated, these are spelt out in full in the transcriptions. Examples of some of the common abbreviations are: Benj for Benjamin, Chas for Charles, Geo for George, Hy for Henry, Jas for James, Jno for John, Jos for Joseph, Thos for Thomas, and Wm for William. And there are still some signatures that defied transcription – suggestions and corrections are most welcome!  Suggestions can be submitted via the Comments box on the relevant pages in Kura Heritage Collections Online.

Author: Timothy Barnett, Team Leader Digitised Content & Strategy


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