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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Thierry, Charles, Baron de

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Thierry, Charles, Baron de, who claimed the sovereignty of New Zealand prior to the British annexation, was an Englishman, though born of French parents. He bore a French title, and was by birth and education a gentleman. In 1820 he had met with Hongi, a Maori chief, at Cambridge, where the Baron was studying at the university. Hongi was accompanied by a missionary named Kendall, who received from the Baron thirty-six axes wherewith to buy land for him on his return to New Zealand. In virtue of those axes, the Baron claimed an estate of forty thousand acres, but, as a matter of fact, Kendall only secured for him two hundred acres at Hokianga. In the deed of conveyance, dated in 1822, he is "described as Baron Charles Philip Hippolytus de Thierry, of Bathampton, in the county of Somerset, England, and of Queens' College, Cambridge." The Baron had held a minor diplomatic appointment, and had been in an English regiment. He therefore applied to the British Government to countenance him in the schemes of territorial aggrandisement in New Zealand which had filled his mind since meeting Hongi. Earl Bathurst's reply, given in 1823, was that New Zealand was "not a possession of the Crown." Foiled in England, the Baron asserted his French citizenship and applied for aid to the French Government. Offended by his prior application to England, they in turn gave him the cold shoulder. In 1826 he opened an office in London for the reception of applications from would-be colonists. This move, too, proved a failure, and he went to America with the, as it proved, unavailing view of securing countenance in that quarter. In 1835 he got as far as Tahiti, and proclaimed himself sovereign chief of New Zealand and King of Nuhuhera, one of the Marquesas islands. As a counterblast, Busby, the British resident in New Zealand, induced some of the leading chiefs to declare their independence under the name of the "United Tribes of New Zealand." He also appealed to all British subjects to resist the Baron's pretensions. Thierry replied denying British rights of interference, and put himself forward as "the humble champion of the present and future liberties of New Zealand." Of this declaration he sent a copy to Sir Richard Bourke, the Governor of New South Wales. In 1837 he visited Sydney, and offered to lay down his sovereign title, if Bourke would guarantee him protection, professing to rely merely on moral suasion for the advancement of his claims. Bourke, whilst declining to recognise or protect him, took no active steps to suppress his proceedings. Gathering together a motley crew of "subjects" in Sydney, he at last landed at Hokianga in Nov. 1837. Here he was equally derided by the white and Maori residents, the latter calling him "King Pukanva," i.e., "a king unrecognised." The Rev. James Buller wrote, "I was present at a conference he had with the native chiefs at Otararau. They smiled at his demands. It ended in the cession of about three hundred acres of good forest land to him on the part of Tomati Waka and Taonui. They said they were sorry they had not a good house to offer for the accommodation of himself, the Baroness, and their retinue. He built some fragile houses and began the making of a road, which was, he said, to be extended to the Bay of Islands. But ere long the poor Baron was deserted by all his followers. He afterwards took up his abode at Auckland, where he obtained a scanty living as a teacher of music, and died in great poverty in 1864, at the age of seventy-one. Fantastic as his scheme was, his claims were recognised by the French Government. Their ships of war that touched at Auckland had orders to pay him great respect." When the French Roman Catholic bishop, Pompallier, landed at Hokianga in 1838, he brought letters of recommendation to the Baron from the French Government, and it is certain that Thierry's claims and their quasi-recognition by the French authorities had a good deal to do with hastening the British annexation in 1840.