Rarotonga 9 October 1900: Annexation to Great Britain: Makea Takau Ariki accepts British Annexation for Rarotonga, Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke from the New Zealand Governor General Lord Ranfurly. In attendance wearing a topee is the future Resident Commissioner Lieutenant-Colonel Walter E. Gudgeon. At this time, Makea Takau Ariki and others on Rarotonga were not aware that this Annexation Proclamation to Great Britain was just a “short-term” measure that would later be followed by a “transfer of annexation” from Great Britain to the Government of New Zealand eight months later on 11 June 1901. 22111833
Before the Cook Islands considers submitting an application to become a member of the United Nations, we should first consider submitting an application to become a Full Member of the British Commonwealth, writes historian Howard Henry.
In one capacity or another, the Cook
Islands has been a part of the British Empire/Commonwealth for more than 120
years. And yet, as of today, the Cook Islands is still not recognised, or
accepted as being, a Full Member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
A check on any of the British Commonwealth
Membership websites will clearly show that the Cook Islands are not included.
There are currently 56 Members within the
But the Cook Islands is not one of them.
The time is now right for the Cook Islands
to “stand up” and submit an application to become a full member of this
The first island, of the present day Cook
Islands, to be annexed by Great Britain was Penrhyn.
This happened on 22 March 1888.
In the weeks that followed, several other
islands in the present-day Northern Group were also annexed by Great Britain.
But nothing came of these various
annexations. They were all simply ignored and forgotten by the Government of
Great Britain in the years that soon followed. This was because these various
islands were looked upon as being of no economic or strategic value to the
British domestic economy. So, it was pointless for the British Government to
have any annexation relationship with any of these islands.
As a result of the apparent French Colonial
threat spreading west from Tahiti, the British Government then placed a
Protectorate status over those islands, which up until then, were known as the
Hervey Islands. Rarotonga was the first island to be declared a British
Protectorate. And this happened on 27 September 1888.
In the weeks that followed, other islands
in the present-day Southern group, were also declared a British Protectorate.
As a result of placing a British
Protectorate status over the then Hervey Islands, the British Government then
changed the name of these various islands. They called them the Cook Islands,
in recognition of the British explorer Captain James Cook.
These islands being the present-day
Southern Group only. Those islands in the northern group, along with
Palmerston, were not part of the Cook Islands at this time.
years leading up to 1901, New Zealand was a self-governing colony of Great
Britain. It was not an independent nation in its own right. And so, the New
Zealand Government had no authority to annex any islands in the South Pacific.
For several decades previous, successive
New Zealand governments had persistently requested for the British Government
to annex the Hervey/Cook Islands … and to then hand these islands over to the
New Zealand Government for colonial administration.
During this period of time, successive governments
in New Zealand were almost “desperate” to acquire their own colony, or colonies,
in the South Pacific. France, Germany and Great Britain itself, had all annexed
and taken colonial control of various groups of islands in the region.
And successive New Zealand governments
wanted to be a colonial administrator, with their own dependent territory, or
territories … just like them.
But they could not achieve this on their
own. For New Zealand to take colonial control of any group of South Seas
islands, those islands first had to be annexed by Great Britain. But as the
years rolled into the 1890s, the British Government consistently declined New
Zealand’s request for colonial territory.
As the later years of the 1890s unfolded,
the British Government had a change of heart.
And so the New Zealand Government was told
to pass the appropriate legislation through their Parliament in Wellington that
would allow them to acquire their own colonial territory in the South Pacific.
This territory being the Cook Islands.
Under the Premiership of Richard John
Seddon, that legislation was passed through the New Zealand Parliament.
Subsequent to that, the New Zealand
Governor General Lord Ranfurly, travelled by warship to Rarotonga and declared
that island, as well as Atiu, Mitiaro and Mauke, to be annexed to Great Britain
on 9 October 1900. In the days that followed, Lord Ranfurly visited both
Mangaia and Aitutaki where he also announced their annexation to Great Britain.
Lord Ranfurly also announced that each island of the present-day Northern Group
were also annexed to Great Britain as well. However, Lord Ranfurly never
bothered to visit any of these islands to confirm his annexation proclamation’s.
With his “annexation mission” now
complete, Lord Ranfurly then returned to Wellington.
It was time for the next step in the “Cook
Islands Colonial Process” to begin. This step having already been decided upon
by both the governments of Great Britain and New Zealand, without any
consultation or discussion with any of the people of Rarotonga, or any of those
living on the outer islands.
At a small function in Wellington on 11
June 1901, the Governor General of New Zealand formally withdrew all the
various British annexation proclamation’s he had previously placed on each of
the islands within the Cook Islands.
With the withdrawal of all the British
annexation proclamation’s, the New Zealand Government legislation to take
colonial control of the Cook Islands then came into effect. And so, the Cook
Islands then became a dependent territory of New Zealand.
Back on Rarotonga, and the other islands
in the group, there was no knowledge of what had happened in Wellington.
Everyone was under the impression they had
been annexed to Queen Victoria and to Great Britain … and so that was it!
Lord Ranfurly, and those travelling with
him during his voyage of October 1900, never told anyone about what had been
arranged between the Governments of Great Britain and New Zealand regarding
Cook Islands annexation to New Zealand. So, while people on the various islands
were happy to be told they had been annexed to Queen Victoria, they were never
told that this was just a “short-term” measure that would be followed by a
“transfer of annexation” from Great Britain to the Government of New Zealand
eight months later, on 11 June 1901.
It was not until July 1901, that Lieutenant-Colonel
Walter E. Gudgeon returned to Rarotonga. He then announced that he was no
longer the British Resident, but rather, he was now the Resident Commissioner
of the Cook Islands. He made it known public that Great Britain had withdrawn
all of Lord Ranfurly’s annexation proclamation’s, and that a New Zealand law
had been passed which said that the Cook Islands were now a dependent territory
of New Zealand.
This meant that the Government of New
Zealand was now the Government of the Cook Islands.
And as Resident Commissioner of the Cook
Islands, Lieutenant-Colonel Walter E. Gudgeon was the New Zealand Government
representative in these islands.
And so Lieutenant-Colonel Walter E.
Gudgeon … he was now the boss.
The Cook Islands colonial period under New
Zealand went on for another 64 years until the country gained Self-Government on
4 August 1965.
formation of the British Commonwealth of Nations dates back to the Statute of
Westminster Act. This legislation was passed by the British Parliament on 11
In the years that followed, there have
been various amendments and updates in regard to British Commonwealth
Membership and the ways various countries can apply to join this organisation.
The most recent review was undertaken at
the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda in November 2007. This
conference agreed to a basic core criteria for Membership and how this new
membership of any country can be achieved.
For a country that wishes to join the British Commonwealth of
Nations organisation, the following four steps will apply once the country
concerned has submitted a formal expression of interest to the Secretary-General
at the Commonwealth Secretariat. The following four steps will then take place:
An informal assessment
will be undertaken by the Secretary-General following an expression of interest
by an aspirant country.
Consultation by the Secretary-General will be made with other
An invitation will then be extended to the interested country
concerned to make a formal application.
Included in that formal
application, there needs to be evidence that the country concerned has a functioning
democratic process and there is popular support in that country for joining the
The procedure also sets out that the application would then be
considered by Heads of Government at the next Commonwealth Heads of Government
Meeting. If that Conference reaches consensus on accepting this particular
application, then that country concerned would then join the British
Commonwealth and be invited to attend subsequent meetings and fully participate
in all future British Commonwealth activities.
The last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held in
Rwanda during June 2022. The next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is
scheduled to be held in Samoa in mid-2024.
If the people of the Cook Islands have a genuine desire to apply
for Full Membership of the British Commonwealth of Nations, then it is to the
scheduled Heads of Government Meeting in Samoa 2024 that our attention should
now be directed.
Should the decision be taken by
Government, that they wish to proceed and submit an “Expression of Interest”
with the Secretary-General to join the British Commonwealth, then it may be
appropriate to seek three other “Expressions of support” as being part of
Government’s initial correspondence with Secretary-General.
These three “Expressions of support” could
The Parliament of the Cook Islands. This
would come as a result of a motion being tabled in Parliament supporting this
initiative. Discussion and debate would then take place and all members of
Parliament would have been given the opportunity to contribute and express
The House of Ariki. The traditional
leaders of the Cook Islands need to also be consulted. And for them to make a
decision as to whether they support the Cook Islands Government submitting an
application to become a Full Member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
The Cook Islands Religious Advisory
Council. The leaders from each of the main religious denominations in the Cook
Islands, should also have the opportunity to express their views as to whether
the Cook Islands should submit an application to become a Full Member of the
It could be argued that the basic reason
the Cook Islands was not a Full Member of the British Commonwealth is simply
because no government in the past has ever bothered to apply for Full
Successive governments had consistently
taken the view “by mistake”, that the Cook Islands did have Full Membership.
When in fact the Cook Islands did not.
The time is now right for the Cook Islands
to “step-up” and seek Full Membership of the British Commonwealth.
After more than 120 years of being British
subjects, it is now time for the Cook Islands to stand “shoulder-to-shoulder”
with all the other 56 countries world-wide who are Full Members of the British
Commonwealth of Nations.
Samoa, mid-2024, that is when all of this
can be achieved.
Howard Henry is the eldest grandson of the
late Albert Henry, the first premier of the Cook Islands. Howard has authored a number of books
including “Christianity created a Nation” – a book of many stories concerning a
whole series of events following the arrival of the Gospel to Aitutaki on 26