HMS Britomart arrived at Akaroa, on Banks Peninsula, a week before a shipload of French colonists landed. The ship’s captain raised the Union Jack to confirm British sovereignty over the area.
In 1838 the commander of the French whaling ship Cachalot made a dubious land purchase from Māori on Banks Peninsula. The Nanto-Bordelaise Company was formed in France with a view to establishing a settlement at Akaroa. In 1839 King Louis-Philippe agreed to provide assistance. Captain Charles François Lavaud, the French representative for the settlement, sailed for New Zealand in April 1840. A month later, the Comte de Paris set off for Akaroa carrying 53 emigrants.
In the period between the land purchase and the departure of the French colonists for Akaroa, the situation in New Zealand had changed. Britain had finally bowed to pressure to colonise New Zealand. The signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (including two signatures gathered at Akaroa at the end of May 1840) and Lieutenant-Governor William Hobson’s declaration of sovereignty over the whole country on 21 May confirmed that New Zealand was a British colony.
When Lavaud arrived in the Bay of Islands in July 1840 he was unaware of these changes. While Hobson was friendly enough, he sent HMS Britomart, under the command of Owen Stanley, to observe the French in Akaroa. The warship left the Bay of Islands on 23 July and reached Akaroa on 10 August. When Lavaud arrived five days later he accepted that France could not create a colony without causing hostility. When the Comte de Paris arrived on 17 August, the Union Jack was flying over Akaroa.