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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

The Seat Of Government

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The Seat Of Government.

In the year 1839, when the New Zealand Company had begun in earnest to colonize these islands, the Government of the Mother Country thought it was time to look after her own interests, and, with this object, despatched Captain William Hobson, of the Royal Navy, under orders to sail to New Zealand via Sydney, where he would receive further instructions from Sir George Gipps, the then Governor of New South Wales. Prior to this date, the British Government had been represented by agents who were designated “British Residents.” The principal of these, Mr. James Busby, had been sent over from Sydney seven years before by Sir Richard Bourke, at that time Governor of New South Wales, with the authority of Great Britain's last male monarch. Matters of importance moved slowly in this hemisphere in those days. Though Mr. Busby's authority was signed by the principal Secretary of State on the 14th of June, 1832, it was not until the 17th of May, 1833, that Mr. Busby made his official landing from His Majesty's ship “Imogene,” and read that authority to the natives and white population of the Bay of Islands. The British Resident had been in the bay nearly a fortnight, but the weather was not such as seemed to befit so important an occasion. There was a great stir among the natives and missionaries who joined forces in providing for the feast. The Bay of Islands was at that time undoubtedly the proper place for the newly-appointed British Resident to take up his abode. It was the head quarters of the missionaries, and by far the greater portion of the traders were collected there.

The population, however, did not grow rapidly, for in 1840 when Captain Hobson, the Lieutenant-Governor, arrived, there were but 300 white folks at Kororareka, the principal settlement in the bay. On the 29th of January Captain Hobson arrived, and the next day he declared that New South Wales had been empowered to annex New Zealand as a part page 8 of its territory. The Lieutenant-Governor soon became dissatisfied with the Bay of Islands as a site for the seat of Government. The famous “Treaty of Waitangi” was signed on the 6th of the following month (February). Very shortly after that Captain Hobson decided that Kororareka was quite unsuitable for the site of the Capital, and he purchased an estate of a trader some four miles nearer Kawa Kawa, where he located the Government Offices, naming the place Russell. The choice was declared a mistake from the first, and in a few months this site was abandoned, and Kororareka has since been known as Russell. The selection of the site for the Capital was a work of some difficulty. Travelling about was attended with much danger. The Lieutenant-Governor, however, made light of this, and crossed over from the Bay of Islands to Hokianga in the hope of finding a more suitable site on the West Coast. As there was no tempting area there, he returned, and afterwards continued his search to the Waitemata, on the recommendation, among others, of the Rev. Henry (afterwards Archdeacon) Williams—a much respected and most useful missionary, and father of Mr. T. C. Williams, so well known at the present Capital. The isthmus between the Manukau and Waitemata Harbours charmed Captain Hobson into the belief that nowhere else in New Zealand was there so suitable a site for the Capital; and, strange to say, the primary reason given for its selection was “its central position.” Remembering that at this time the population of Port Nicholson was nearly three times that of the Bay of Islands—the only other settlement of importance in the country—it would seem that Captain Hobson could hardly be sincere in placing the “central position” of the site of Auckland first upon the list of its advantages. But the final reason given by him for the selection of Auckland is, in the light of present-day facts, still more amusing. It set forth the “fertility of its soil,” stating that the most valuable land in the North Island was comprised within a radius of fifty miles of the newly-found centre. Setting aside those parts rendered useless for cultivation by the volcanoes, it would be difficult to find its equal in the Colony for “poverty” of soil. The richest land in the Auckland province lies south of that radius—in the lower Waikato, and even this is far from the richest in the North Island. Still, the land spoken of by Captain Hobson would not be on the whole considered poor in most countries, and is probably equal to that around the Bay of Islands, which was the only other part of the Colony then known to the Lieutenant-Governor. “The safety of the Waitemata harbour”—another reason given for its selection, is also rather amusing to Wellingtonians. The harbour of Port Nicholson was page 9 described by Captain Hobson on the authority of Mr. Willoughby Shortland, as “certainly most spacious, and free from danger within its heads; but its very great extent and the tremendous violence of its prevailing winds generate so heavy a sea within itself as to suspend for many days together all operations connected with the shipping.”

Whatever may have been the motives which caused Captain Hobson to fix on Auckland as the site for the Capital, and however great may be considered the mistake he thus committed, it must be acknowledged that it possesses exceptional advantages as a site for the northern town. It is quite likely that the jealousy which still exists between Auckland and Wellington had its origin in the bosom of the Lieutenant-Governor before he finally decided the selection; but if that be so, his opposition to Wellington probably rested on a very imperfect knowledge of the country and on the exaggerated reports of the rapacious land-grabbing propensities of Wellington's founders. Nothing is surer than that Captain Hobson was anxious to do what he believed to be in the best interests of the whole, and, considering the various sections whom he was in a manner bound to conciliate, if possible, it is by no means certain that he acted unwisely in fixing upon Auckland. Being himself in very delicate health, he would the more readily believe in the superiority of the Auckland climate and the surprising beauty of that part of the country must have had a great effect on a gentleman of such marked taste and refinement. The fact that Captain Hobson's choice stood for a quarter-of-a-century showed that it was a fairly wise one. During that quarter-century the South Island had progressed to an importance certainly never contemplated by Captain Hobson, and the removal of the Seat of Government to some more central place was a natural result of that progress. Had the earthquakes been as slight in those early days as in the present, Wellington might have been the Capital long before; but considering that it held that proud position within ten years of the heavy earthquakes of 1855, the superior attractions of Wellington were not long neglected by Her Majesty's Government.

It was about six months after Captain Hobson's tour of inspection that he announced his intention of removing to Auckland. This he did in the latter end of 1840; but it was not until January, 1841, that the Lieutenant-Governor himself arrived to take up his residence on the site of the present Auckland Government House; and on the 3rd of May following, the Queen's Proclamation was read, declaring New Zealand an independent Colony and Captain Hobson the Governor of it.

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Thus the Government at length found a “seat.” A Legislative Council was nominated by the Governor, consisting of himself, his Colonial Secretary (Mr. Willoughby Shortland), the Colonial Treasurer (Mr. George Cooper), and the Attorney-General (Mr. Francis Fisher), with Mr. G. S. Haswell, and two other Justices of the Peace. Evidently the Queen's Birthday was not an institution at the Antipodes in the early years of Her Majesty's reign, for the Legislative Council of seven members held its first meeting on the 24th of May, 1841. Mr. James Coates, father of the present general manager of the National Bank at Wellington, was appointed clerk to this newly-created Council, and all the requisite Government Offices were filled up.

As may well be imagined, the selection of Auckland as a site for the Capital was not very graciously submitted to by the settlers at Wellington. The many advantages of Port Nicholson had been very carefully pointed out to Captain Hobson, who knew very well that the promoters of the New Zealand Company in London quite expected that their principal settlement would be chosen as the Capital. Instructions were sent out to Colonel Wakefield that all possible assistance was to be accorded the Lieutenant-Governor, including the granting of a suitable piece of ground for Government House and Offices.

In June, 1840, the Acting-Colonial Secretary, Mr. Willoughby Shortland, visited Port Nicholson under a wrong impression concerning the loyalty of the settlers there—an impression that was speedily removed. The settlers, led by Colonel Wakefield, took this opportunity of sending an address to Lieutenant-Governor Hobson, setting forth, among other matters, that in laying out the town of Wellington the wants of Government had been anticipated as far as possible by the setting apart of valuable sections of land for Government House and Offices, the founders of Wellington being assured that sooner or later their town must become the seat of Government. Colonel Wakefield seconded these measures by a personal visit to Captain Hobson at the Bay of Islands in July of the same year, but he returned with the tidings that though he had been received by the Lieutenant-Governor most courteously, His Excellency had decided against Wellington and had settled upon Auckland as being in a more central position and one better adapted for internal communication. This, of course, caused much disappointment, but it was borne with fair tranquility until the following February, when advantage was taken of some trifling occurrences as a ground for petitioning the Queen for Captain Hobson's removal from the Lieutenant-Governorship. This petition charged Captain Hobson with sins of which he knew nothing, and a counter petition got up in Sydney, praying for his continuance in office, page 11 ascribed to him virtues of which he was equally innocent. Doubtless, this gave a good deal of pain to New Zealand's first governor; but that he endeavoured to look on the whole matter philosophically may be gathered from the fact that in his next despatch to the Secretary of State, he attributed both petition and counter-petition to his having chosen Auckland instead of Wellington; that act being sinful in the eyes of Wellingtonians, and most meritorious according to the judgment of those whose interests lay in the opposite direction. In the same despatch Governor Hobson intimated his intention of visiting Wellington, and some three months later (August, 1841), His Excellency carried out that intention. A few of the settlers were of opinion that an address should be prepared as a kind of formal welcome to the Queen's representative, but the majority, in meeting assembled, decided that it would be a wiser plan, and one more consistent with their recent conduct, to allow His Excellency to land without any demonstration whatever on their part. This course was adopted; but the visit of Governor Hobson had the effect of pacifying the settlers a good deal. One of the most prominent of those who had made complaints against the Governor, after explaining the misapprehension under which he had laboured, was appointed to the Legislative Council, a position which Colonel Wakefield had declined for prudential reasons, he being the agent of the New Zealand Company. Thus ended the first struggle for the loaves and fishes of Government; but the jealousy between the two cities still lingers. Aucklanders are apt to remember only that their city was once the Capital and that Wellington “usurped the Crown.” Wellingtonians think it should have been theirs from the first, and that the usurpation took place in 1840.

The Government of the infant Colony being definitely located at Auckland, it was not long before that town grew to a position of some importance. Land-speculators cropped up from all parts of the civilized world. Governor Hobson appears to have had a horror of land-grabbers. To prevent the land falling into the hands of a few, he had the sales well advertised, and the town lots put up at auction averaged but little over a quarter-of-an-acre. At the first sale in April, 1841, upwards of forty acres was disposed of at an average of nearly £140 per quarter-acre. Within six months of that date a sale of suburban and small farm lots took place, but the prices realized were exceedingly low as compared with those given for the town lots, which in many instances were contiguous. By the middle of the following year (1842) the population of Auckland was estimated at 2000; that of the whole Colony, excluding Auckland, was under 9000; and of this number the New Zealand Company's settlements at Wellington, Nelson, and Taranaki claimed 5000, 2000, and 800 page 12 respectively, or a total of nearly 8000. As the expenses of Government amounted to upwards of £50,000, it was easy to see that if this sum had to be raised in the country, the colonists of the New Zealand Company would have to send nearly £40,000 a year to Auckland, there to be divided among officials for whom they had but little love, in return for Governmental protection on which they set a very low value. This led to the despatch of a grumbling letter from the governor of the company, Mr. Joseph Simes, to the Colonial Office, pointing out a number of grievances, the most important being that while harbour officials had been appointed at Auckland at a cost of upwards of £1000 per annum, no such provision had been made for Wellington, notwithstanding that the Customs duties at Wellington provided that sum every month. Though Wellington did so well, the total receipts from all taxation were quite inadequate to the expenses of Government, and Governor Hobson soon found himself beset with money difficulties. He drew the attention of the Home authorities to this unpleasant condition of affairs, and intimated that he had drawn bills on the British Treasury, and that he hoped to augment the Colony's funds in this convenient way to the extent of £25,000; but the Treasury “struck” at £10,000. Few men have occupied more harassing positions than that in which New Zealand's first Governor found himself. Insufficiently helped from abroad, and pecked at by every crotchety grumbler at home, his delicate constitution was unequal to the strain. Even Aucklanders, who had soon learned that the possession of the Seat of Government could not of itself constitute prosperity, ruthlessly blamed their innocent Governor for everything disagreeable that happened. Unfortunately, Governor Hobson was of a very sensitive nature, and felt these little stings acutely. For no sufficient reason that can be discovered, the people of Auckland conveyed to the Secretary of State at Home an expression of want of confidence in the Governor, and in many other mean ways so crushed. His Excellency that he may be said to have been worried to death—memorialised, deputationised, criticised to death. All animosity, however, died with His Excellency, who was buried amid “the most striking demonstrations of affection. Not a person in the township of Auckland but appeared in the deepest mourning.” A full and most interesting account of Governor Hobson's death and burial appears in “Brett's Early History of New Zealand,” a short quotation from which may not be out of place here. After describing the funeral, the writer says:—“Half-a-century has elapsed since the early settlers of Auckland followed to their last resting place in the beautiful Church of England Cemetery, overlooking the broad expanse of the Waitemata, the remains of this man, whose early death was unquestionably due page 13 to the anxieties and trials he had undergone in administering the affairs of the infant Colony. The time may come when justice may be done to his memory, and in the coming years many a New Zealander, standing by Captain Hobson's grave, meditating in silence upon the records of those eventful two years and eight months which closed a life spent in the service of his country, will be moved by feelings of gratitude for the achievements and profound respect for the character of New Zealand's first Governor. By such men the greatness of the British Empire has been built up. Even in those days, when political rancour found vent in the grossest personalities, the bitterest opponent of Governor Hobson's policy had no word to utter against his personal rectitude and the honesty of his aims.” Captain Hobson did much for New Zealand. New Zealand in return found him an early grave and affectionately laid him in it.

The difficulties of the New Zealand Government were very far from dying with Governor Hobson. For a little more than a year the office was filled by Lieutenant Shortland, the Colonial Secretary, and during that gentleman's administration occurred the lamentable collision with the natives, for ever to be known as the Wairau Massacre. The Cook Strait Settlements felt keenly their distance from the Capital, exaggerated, as it most certainly was, by the primitive means of communication. Governor Hobson had been charged with indecision and neglect, and it was not likely that an acting-governor would in these respects, give greater satisfaction. But when, at the end of 1843, Captain Fitzroy arrived, it was hoped, if not very confidently, that he would be able to afford the settlements at Wellington and Nelson the military protection of which, since the quarrel at Wairau, they felt such pressing need.

Governors in those days were all but autocrats. The benefits of a constitution and representative government were not conferred on the Colony till 1852. Even then, the Executive was not responsible to Parliament. That privilege was accorded four years later, in Governor Browne's time. It was not surprising, therefore, that the colonists were most anxious in their enquiries as to the character and sympathies of Captain Fitzroy, seeing that their destinies might almost be said to be in his hands.

They were not suffered to remain there long however, for within two years Governor Fitzroy was recalled by the Home Government. His two years' tenure of office marked an epoch in his career which would ever be remembered by him above all else. He was disliked by the colonists on account of his sympathy with the Maoris, and with the Maoris themselves he was much less popular than Governor Hobson. The war with Hone Heke— page 14 a rebel chief of the Bay of Islands—began in Governor Fitzroy's time, and was not concluded until shortly after the arrival of Captain (now the well-known Sir) George Grey. It must be acknowledged that Governor Fitzroy tried very hard to do his duty in New Zealand. He travelled about a good deal and did much to minimize the difficulties of communication with the Capital. This, and the fact that its removal seemed hopeless, caused a cessation of the complaints and requests with which Captain Hobson had been worried.

Meanwhile, the population of the Seat of Government was steadily growing, and must have been between 4000 and 5000 when Governor Grey arrived.

Though this, the third governor, has often been blamed for being too lenient towards the Maoris, he was certainly much more prompt and decisive than his predecessor. Governor Fitzroy's mild treatment of the chiefs Te Rauparaha and Rangihaeata, who were mainly concerned in the shedding of British blood at Wairau, caused much uneasiness to the settlers at Port Nicholson, as these chiefs had their strongholds at Porirua, Waikanae, Mana, and other places in the neighbourhood of Wellington; and it was supposed that such leniency would have the effect of emboldening them for the accomplishment of further mischief. This was to some extent born out by fact, and the July following Captain Grey's appointment, found Te Rauparaha a prisoner in the hands of the new Governor, surprised and taken by him at the head of 130 men. The effect of this decisive action was most salutary. Not only was a troublesome chief rendered harmless, but the respect for the new Governor was greatly strengthened among both races. Te Rauparaha was soon pardoned and released, but did not long survive, and gave no further trouble.

Governor Grey was sent here to relieve his less-experienced predecessor because the Home Government had conceived a very high opinion of his abilities in the management of aboriginal races. He had been successful in South Australia, and for this and his prompt action in New Zealand he was made a Knight Commander of the Bath. It was for the same reason, too, that in 1853 after eight successful years in the Colony—Sir George was appointed Governor of Cape Colony, and High Commissioner of South Africa, where the natives were at that time turbulent.

When Governor Browne replaced Governor Grey, great things were in turn expected of him. The Maori difficulty was far from settled, and it was the general opinion that the new governor would effect a rapid settlement. But in 1861, after Governor Browne had administered the affairs of the Colony for six years, Sir George Grey was asked to return to page 15 New Zealand, as it was hoped his presence and experience would be of great use in putting the native matters on a more peaceable footing. During Governor Browne's term of office, the defenceless position of the seat of Government caused some alarm, and a strong barracks with a fine stone wall was erected, so that at a given signal, the women and children might repair thither for protection. This really fine wall was built by friendly natives. From first to last, the Europeans were assisted in their wars against the Maoris by various tribes recognised as “friendly natives,” and in very many cases most excellent allies they proved themselves. To this very circumstance, however, the unfortunate protraction of the wars between the races was in a great measure due. One Governor after another thoroughly believed that if the land-grabbing propensities of the colonists could be kept within more reasonable bounds the disturbances would entirely cease. Though many brave lives were lost, it is hardly fair to dignify the outbreaks with the name of wars. In almost every instance they were quarrels resulting from misunderstandings about land. The Maoris were recognised as British subjects before there was any war at all. Neither the Governors nor the settlers had any desire for the extermination of the Maoris. All expected that any day might see the dissatisfied tribes pacified. And so the policy “chopped and changed” from “blankets, flour and sugar” to “shot, shell and bullets,” every change being expected to effect a permanent cure. Looking back upon the whole thing it is readily seen how the Colony might have been made to flourish without any sign of war or massacre. Everything was too haphazard; and the Home Government began with a parsimony that proved in the end most expensive. The New Zealand Company should never have been allowed to pour their emigrants into harbours and settle them upon lands bought with a few muskets; and even Governor Hobson's method of buying thousands of acres of land from the native owners for next to nothing, and within a year disposing of a thousandth part of it for £25,000—was not likely to have a very soothing influence upon the Maori mind. Neither the missionaries nor the traders were slow to magnify the injustice. The most fruitful source of trouble was the isolation which land speculation forced upon the settlers, thus leaving them completely at the mercy of the Maoris. Looking back upon it all, it seems wonderful indeed that greater advantage was not taken by the Maoris of the great power they possessed. Any part of the Colony would have been good enough as a place from which colonization might start. Had the white population kept together and cultivated the land nearest them for their own immediate requirements, the natives all over the Colony would have been only too glad to trade with them; and the principal functions of Government page 16 should have been to keep arms and ammunition out of the hands of the Maoris. The Maoris knew the value of trade with the white folks long before colonization commenced; and had they been more wisely treated, the trading would soon have been wonderfully profitable to the colonists. It is hard to fix the blame on anyone in particular, nor is it either necessary or advisable that that should be done. Too many attempts to do this were made at the time. Governor Hobson was killed by it; and Governor Fitzroy was harshly abused, a fact well evidenced by a parting shot at him which was freely if privately circulated, of which the following is the conclusion:—“A vascillating policy will never cause a colony to prosper; and your career has been hitherto marked by a vascillation in a series of mischievous acts—experimentising upon the patience of a loyal people, who would, if their number had been equal to that of your favourite friends, the aborigines, have been also driven to rebellion. Had you done your duty, the country you found flourishing and in peace, would not have been plunged into anarchy and warfare, the lives and properties of your fellow-countrymen placed in danger, their energies depressed and their hopes blighted. The greatest consolation they have now, sir, is the knowledge of your early departure from them, and the only good wishes they can bestow is charitably to hope that your past mistaken career will cause you to abandon your political life, and never more appear upon the stage of politics, for which you are totally unfitted. Let not the House of Commons be your aim, for there you cannot domineer and put people down by a frown. Learn, sir, the common courtesies and civilities of life—you are not yet too old to learn; but, believe me, the political horizon has set upon your career, and will never more rise. Take, therefore, warning from your fall, and accept this letter as the only address you will receive from an insulted and deeply-injured people.”

Even after the Colony had been granted a constitution and the right of self-control by responsible Government, the early Governors had by no means joyous times. The writer can well remember the wife of a Presbyterian minister saying in 1863 that Sir George Grey ought to be hanged, and she would gladly “make one to pull the rope.” When a Governor like Sir George Grey, who had so often himself taken the field and in many ways had so thoroughly earned the country's gratitude, was spoken of in that way, one can hardly be surprised at the treatment his predecessors received.

It was during Sir George Grey's second term that the seat of Government was removed; and it is interesting to note that the resolutions affirming the desirability of removing to some more central place were carried after many attempts, mainly through the page 17 persistent influence of some of those who, twenty years before, had worked hard for the same object. Mr. Alfred Domett, the mover of the resolutions in the House of Representatives, was among the earliest Nelson settlers, and one of a deputation of two sent to Acting-Governor Shortland in the matter of the Wairau Massacre. The resolutions referred to were passed in November, 1863, but it was not until February, 1865, that the removal actually took place.

This removal was of course a great blow to Auckland. Despite the trouble with the natives, that part of the Colony had, under Government patronage, made fairly rapid strides. Sir George Grey had shown his love for the North by the purchase of the beautiful island of Kawau. As far as Aucklanders could see there seemed to be no adequate reason for the change. Beautiful Auckland was in their eyes the only place fitted for the seat of Government. The town was of course largely supported by Government money, and the sudden withdrawal of this expenditure was very keenly felt. The war was still far from settled, and its operations were nearer Auckland than any other large town—largely in the Auckland province, in fact. This, of course, helped to turn the tide of immigration away from Auckland, and it is impossible to say how seriously the ex-capital would have been affected by all these untoward circumstances had not the discovery of gold at the Thames come in most opportunely as a compensating influence. From that time to the present Auckland has been more subject to “ups and downs” than any other part of the Colony. It is a fine town still—much larger than Wellington, and every day being made more beautiful.

In 1863, when it was decided to remove the seat of Government to some more central place, Wellington was not specially mentioned. The resolution said “some suitable locality in Cook Strait;” and it was agreed to leave the selection of the site to three Commissioners to be appointed respectively by the Governors of New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania, who unanimously decided in favour of Wellington. The change must have been decidedly unpleasant for the officials and others who were bound to follow the Government: from the wide streets and roomy allotments of Auckland to the narrow and crowded thoroughfares of Wellington. But great and important changes have been made in the Capital since its selection—now over thirty years ago. A very handsome and commodious Government House was soon erected. The Parliamentary Buildings may be similarly described. Land has been reclaimed on which wider streets have been laid out and immense piles of Governmental and other buildings erected. Suburbs have been page 18 created and beautified; and the whole district has made and is making rapid and steady strides.

The abolition of Provincial Government in 1876, and the consequent centralization of all Government expenditure, was of still further benefit to Wellington. The tendency of the age, too, in the extension of the functions of Government has the same effect. No better example of this need be given than the department of Government Insurance, which keeps a staff of about fifty officials at the seat of Government. The Public Trust, Agriculture, Labour, and other more recently added departments all help to increase the size and importance of Wellington. No part of the Colony can advance without sending its quota of increased wealth to Wellington. It only remains for the civic authorities to remember that their city is the seat of Government in a prosperous Colony and to act accordingly, and Wellington will soon take its proper place in the list of capital cities.

There can be no doubt that the residence at Wellington of so many Government officials has a marked influence on the habits and character of the people. To say that this influence is wholly beneficial would be to depart slightly from the truth. There must be, of course, a few civil servants where example is baneful; but on the main, the opposite is the case. The large majority of Government officials, especially those who have risen to high positions in the service, are men who have sprung from good families, have been well educated, have married suitably, and are in a most creditable way training up their families to be of great use in the country. The beneficial effects of such an admixture in the population of the Capital can hardly be over-estimated; and now that so many of the banks and principal insurance companies have discovered that their head quarters must be at the Capital, it is easy to see that this elevating influence will be largely augmented. The effect politically is to stay agitation and otherwise to tend towards conservatism—a quality not altogether to be despised in these days of rapid changes.

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