The Maori King
Chapter VI — The Justice on Circuit
The Justice on Circuit
The duty which Mr Fenton was sent into the Waikato district to discharge was of such importance, and his own narrative of his proceedings reveals so much of the actual state of native feeling at that time, that I shall try to give the reader an abridgement of Mr Fenton's voluminous journals, even at the risk of producing a disjointed story.1
On the 13th of July, 1857, the new magistrate of Waikato left Auckland, with a Maori companion, carrying ‘200 lbs. weight of books, paper, and ink.’ On the way they met a Waikato chief, named Huirama,2 who told them that a meeting was to be called to induce Potatau, their chosen King, to leave Auckland, and settle at Ngaruawahia; and repeated the common opinion that fights and disorders could be stopped by nothing but a King, to whom all would give support. The Government had tried long enough, and had failed. Huirama further informed them that he was going to Auckland, to ask for £100 to buy iron-work and stones for a mill, but intended his friend Hone Kingi3 to ask for it, because, being a loyal man and a Queen's magistrate, he was more likely to get attention from the Government.
1 These journals are printed AJHR, 1860, E-1C.
2 [Te Huirama Tiakiawa, a Ngatimahuta chief; killed at the battle of Koheroa, 1863.]
4 N.B.—Taupari must not be confounded with Taupiri.
Waata Kukutai and a friend were to be assistant-magistrates; an old gentleman named Po,1 a retired cannibal, President of the Village Council; and Arama Karaka 2 said he should be a lawyer, and charge 5s. to any one who employed him. But in the midst of all this, there occurred an illustration of the proverb—‘Paper and ink, and little justice.’ A native arrived to ask assistance against a European neighbour, who would not pay rent for a cattle-run. It appeared that there were several owners, and the settler judiciously denied all their titles. Mr Fenton told the complainant that as the dispute concerned a Maori title, the magistrate could not interfere; and that the law could afford him no protection until he held by legal tenure.
The court at Taupari was held in an unfinished house, roofed with tarpaulins. One end was fitted up with seats, desks, and docks for the magistrates, witnesses, and suitors, separated by a wooden rail from the general public. From the slowness of witnesses and the vast amount of impertinent matter introduced, the three cases occupied an entire day. One witness was a boisterous old Maori chief, a great orator.3 He began a speech in the witness-box exhorting the magistrates to be just and give judgment for his friend the plaintiff. After going on about two minutes, he was asked if he knew anything of the facts of the case. He said—‘No; but he wanted to speak up for his friend.’ He was told that his assistance was not wanted, that he must at once leave the box, and, if he wanted to make a speech, must go out of doors. Every one expected a scene, but he quietly walked away, and after the Court rose he made an apology, saying he would misbehave no more.
1 [A Ngatitipa chief.]
3 [His name was Ruhiana.]
On reaching Paetai, Mr Fenton found a capital Court-house finished. The timber for the posts and rafters had been all adzed smooth, and the roof was lined with reeds; but the desks and internal fittings were very inconvenient, and there were no doors or windows, such articles being beyond the power of Maori workmanship. The place where the great King meeting had been held was then covered with springing wheat. After issuing his writs, the magistrate had to turn carpenter and work for two hours at the fittings of his court-house. In the interval between his arrival and the opening of the court, one of the native defendants ran away to the hills to avoid service of a summons. The only other case was one in which Pukewhau, the principal chief of Lower Waikato, was plaintiff. This was so intricate that Mr Fenton could not see his way through, and was obliged to order it to stand over till his return.
Still continuing to ascend the river, Mr Fenton, at Mr Ashwell's Mission Station, met with Takerei, upon whose cooperation the chance of influencing Upper Waikato mainly depended. There appeared to have been a schism at Takerei's village of Whakapaku, between himself and his relatives, who were ardent supporters of the Maori King. Takerei had threatened to leave the place and establish a new settlement a few miles off, at Karakariki. He also complained that a donation of £40 had been made to Porokoru, an old warrior living at Otawhao. This gift excited Takerei's jealousy, for he did not understand why the Government should give money to a man who stood on the Maori King's side at the great Paetai meeting. page 68 Mr Fenton could give no explanation himself, supposing that it was a mistake arising from the native office being ignorant of Porokoru's sayings and doings. The Auckland officials, however, had acted with a full knowledge of all the facts. The virtue that had outweighed the vice of treason was that Porokoru had recently sold land.
From Taupiri Mr Fenton went up with Takerei to Karakariki, where he was kept talking till midnight. The next day being Sunday, service was held in a native house, small, full, and stifling with heat and smell. In the evening there was a meeting about establishing a new settlement, where law and order could be carried out without interruption. Mr Fenton thought it better not to attend, but heard them talking far into the morning. Takerei however came to call him at an early hour, saying that all expected him to speak upon the subject. He therefore went to them and said that if their relatives persisted in forbidding the entrance of law into Whakapaku, they could do nothing but leave the place and establish a new settlement. The law could only be carried out where all consented to obey. In the early days of New Zealand Christianity, it had often happened that the Christian party was obliged to set up a separate settlement, but gradually the Maori party joined them, until the old pa was abandoned. So it would have to be in extreme cases now. Finally, he advised them to be careful to select a good site and lay out their village in a regular way. After this advice they requested him to take the entire management of the migration. Mr Fenton said he did not approve of Karakariki, as the land was not very good, and there was no firewood handy. So they all got into canoes and paddled about the river, landing at several places, none of which however seemed to combine all the advantages they required. At last they came to the Maka, a splendid flat of several hundred acres, covered with fern and koromiko, surrounded by forest containing many kinds of trees. Mr Fenton approved of that place, marked out a line for the houses, with space between each, and directed the court-house and church to be placed in the centre, and patakas and stores in the rear: all the houses were to face the river. Having thus provided for Takerei and his brother malcontents, he proceeded on his circuit.
The next place visited was Whatawhata, where the people page 69 were in a state of alarm and vexation at a summons they had received from the King party, either to join, and surrender their lands to the King, or else leave their village and settle upon the territory of the Queen. The Whatawhata people urged upon Mr Fenton the necessity of the British Government openly recognising their friends, and discountenancing the agitators, who were their enemies. They insisted that applications for assistance from hostile tribes should be refused, and the white men managing their mills should be recalled, and that Maories should thus be taught how utterly they were dependent upon the Governor for everything. At present, said they, it was the general opinion that the Governor did not give more encouragement to the loyal than to the disloyal.
No cases were tried at Whatawhata, and Mr Fenton paddled down again to Karakariki. There he found Tarahawaiki and all the Whakapaku people discussing with Takerei and his followers about the separation of settlements, and about a project of Mr Fenton's for advancing grass-seed to them on credit, for sowing their waste lands. The King party said, that they had heard that sheep also were to be given by the Governor, and that such a gift was very bad, and was only meant to make the Maories tame; moreover, that if the wool was sold to repay the money, the bodies of the sheep would not be discharged from the debt. As to the grass-seed, they said that the name of the Queen would stick to all the land covered with grass, and that they would not have the name of the Queen in Waikato; and that Taupiri would go, with a great deal more nonsense of that sort. Takerei replied: ‘We are near relations, and I shall speak plainly. Mind your own business. We do not ask you to join us. The land is mine, as you know, and I shall do what I like with my own land. If you wish to remain poor, you may do so. I intend to grow rich.’ Another speaker said that he saw the Maori kingdom meant eating fern-root and wearing mats: he would not interfere with the digging of fern-root, and they must not interfere with the growing of wool. One cause of the opposition of Tarahawaiki and his friends was vexation at Mr Fenton's not having called to see them on his way up the river; and a second cause was jealousy of the position and influence which Takerei's loyalty had already gained.
Mr Fenton had heard from Takerei that the great Ngati- page 70 maniapoto tribe, which has since become our most formidable enemy, was anxious to receive a visit from him, and had returned £17s. which had previously been collected for the King, to the subscribers. Indeed, the chief, Rewi Maniapoto himself, had met Mr Fenton at one of the landing-places on the Waikato, and invited him to Kihikihi. Takerei, however, wanted to put off the visit till the next circuit, as he proposed to go with the magistrate, but had not yet got his wheat in, and seed-time was already past. To this delay, Mr Fenton—who found the duties of the whole district more than he could satisfactorily perform —agreed. It was a golden opportunity lost.
Before returning to Auckland, Mr Fenton visited the Ngatihaua tribe, who were energetically working, under Wiremu Tamihana, for the Maori King. They had appointed six men to mark out the boundaries of their land which was to be handed over to the King's custody. Ti Oriori of Maunga-tautari, one of their chiefs, had written a letter to Mr Fenton, reporting a case of murder, and requesting him to come to Maunga-tautari to hold an inquiry, as Tamihana was trying to get the murderer tried by Maori law, and wanted him, if guilty, to be put to death.
Mr Fenton wrote in reply, that he would not go unless the people collectively would agree to accept and abide by the law, and wrote to invite him, as otherwise he might find his orders disobeyed. Subsequently, although no invitation came, Mr Fenton, after thinking deeply over the question, resolved to go, as if on a private visit to Ti Oriori; since it was most important to see the disposition of so powerful and intelligent a tribe. He found the current of Waikato above Ngaruawahia very rapid, and it was hard work to paddle a canoe against it. It was dark before he had reached Te Rapa, where he sent a messenger to Arikirua to fetch Ti Oriori. The people at Te Rapa told him that the boy said to have been murdered was still alive, and the magistrate went to bed, uncertain what to believe. Next morning, however, three men, riding from Arikirua to Whatawhata, called at the village. They said that Ti Oriori was too ill to come to see Mr Fenton, and that a large meeting was to take place that day to discuss the alleged murder. The victim was said to have been killed by three priests, who, while going through certain incantations over the boy, got into a passion, page 71 broke his arm, and then despatched him, though at the commencement of the ceremony they had no intention of doing so. The travellers said that some proposed to crucify the worst of the men, and let the others off; but nothing would be done till Ti Oriori had judged and sentenced the accused.
Mr Fenton stayed all day at Te Rapa, but no message came to him and no one asked him to remain longer. There was evidently a bad feeling amongst the Ngatihauas. Speaking of their mill which had been broken and become useless, ‘Yes,’ said one, ‘the Pakehas are a humbugging people.’ Two or three men came to Mr Fenton privately and said they were tired of agitation but dared not say so, as the multitude had resolved that all the Queen's friends should leave the territories of the King and live on the Queen's land. So Mr Fenton returned from his attempt to visit Ngatihaua without any result good or bad.
On the way back to Auckland Mr Fenton again visited Paetai. He found the natives alarmed and excited by a visit from Huirama, who had just returned from his visit to Auckland, where he had succeeded in getting blacksmiths and carpenters to build his mill, though Government had not given him the expected help. He told the Paetai people that they would be driven from their lands if they did not recognise and subscribe for the King. This had made them very uneasy. They asked Mr Fenton—‘What are we to do if the King party commence to carry out their threats by force? are we to resist? If we protect the Governor's dignity, will he protect us? Which side affords us the best chance of quiet? If we join the King, we know the Governor will make no difference in his behaviour to us, but if we join the Queen we are not certain that the other party will be as indifferent.’
A few cases were heard at Paetai, and that difficult case of Pukewhau's was again adjourned for further evidence.
The hardships of the journey, constant wet, indifferent food, and talking instead of sleep at night, subjected Mr Fenton to a violent attack of influenza, which compelled him to return speedily to Auckland, and confined him to his room for many days after arriving there. The entire journey had occupied rather more than six weeks, and did not produce the expected effect of inducing the natives to abandon their design of electing a king.page 72
As the result of experience acquired in this journey, Mr Fenton made three practical proposals to the Government:
(1) Maories never cultivate the same piece of land for more than a few years successively; they then abandon the half-exhausted soil to weeds. At every village visited, Mr Fenton found acres of land covered in this way with dock: he proposed, therefore, that the Government should advance a quantity of grass-seed, and get the Maories to sow it upon the cultivations immediately before they were deserted, so that they might thereby be converted from mere noxious wildernesses into pastures. The magistrate's attention had been particularly directed to a great piece of land stretching for three-quarters of a mile, from Mr Ashwell's Mission Station down the west bank of the Waikato, about 300 or 400 yards in depth, and hemmed in and sheltered towards the south-west by the mountains which form one side of the gorge through which the river flows. The place was free from fern and native growth, having been under cultivation during that same year. Mr Fenton had taken the pains to ascertain the names of the owners, and to obtain their consent to the place being sown with grass-seed supplied by Government, the cost of which was to be repaid by instalments. The matter was looked upon by the proprietors as a settled arrangement, and they accordingly prepared to execute their part of the engagement. This scheme was, as appears from Mr Fenton's own narrative, regarded with jealousy and dislike by many natives, and the fear of provoking a quarrel was the reason assigned by Government for not performing what Mr Fenton had promised. It is true that land-buying which provoked many quarrels was not suspended from the same humane motive, but there is a clear difference between the two cases. In the latter we were pursuing our own interest; in the former, only that of our native friends.
(2) Mr Fenton's efforts to introduce law and civilization among the Maories soon led him to the conclusion that some power was necessary to enforce obedience to the decisions of magistrates. He thought it would be very unwise and a dangerous imperilling of such prestige as we had, to attempt to enforce civil procedure in the European manner; but proposed that either the Governor or the Magistrates of the district should call a meeting of native assessors, at which even such men as page 73 Ti Oriori would attend, and by a resolution of such meeting bind them to undertake the duty of enforcing obedience to law. He desired that it should be made clear to them, that since law was offered and taught to them as a boon, and by no means forced upon them, it was their business to see the law respected and obeyed. Summoning such meetings as these appeared of the very highest importance to Mr Fenton. But no such council was ever called.
(3) Experience showed that the practice of the native office in conducting correspondence and other business directly with the natives, without referring to or informing the local officer, was a source of many evils. In the first place, there was often an actual conflict of authorities. Pukewhau was sent for to Auckland on the very day when he ought to have appeared as a litigant before the local officer under pain of having his case dismissed. Moreover, when the natives discovered that the district authority had little or no influence with the Governor, his power as an officer was materially diminished, and respect for his decisions decreased proportionally. At the time when Mr Fenton was magistrate of Waikato, it was most important to throw as much power as possible into his hands, because the political department of Native Government in Auckland had become entirely absorbed in the Land Purchasing Department, so that every political event was estimated by its tendency to aid or hinder the acquisition of land. Moreover, the local agent of necessity always knew more of facts and people in his own district than persons resident in Auckland. Even the Governor himself cannot obtain reliable information by direct intercourse with the natives. When a Maori is in the Governor's presence, it is difficult to get him to tell out plainly his thoughts, fears, and wishes. He generally sticks to safe generalities. Polynesian politeness forbids the introduction of any topic known to be disagreeable to the person visited. In Mr Fenton's days, the Maories visiting Auckland were possessed of two fears—first, of offending the Governor; secondly, of offending the Native Department. Mr Fenton therefore proposed that all ordinary business transacted with the natives of a district should pass through the local officer's hands. It is hardly credible that so simple and obvious an administrative reform, though often talked of, has never down to the present day been practically made.page 74
After the establishment of the new Circuit Court, the next phase in the history of the Government of the Maories was a departmental battle between the New Zealand Ministry and the Native Office. The Colonial Ministry had at that time much less share in the management of native affairs than they now possess. They had a mere right to be informed by the Governor of what he proposed to do, and to give their opinion thereupon.1 The Governor was not bound to follow their advice, but could act on his own judgment even when opposed to theirs; and the Native Department, which executed his decrees, was responsible neither to the ministers nor to the Colonial Assembly. But the exceptional measures taken to counteract the King movement in Waikato had been a joint plan of the Governor and Mr Richmond, the Colonial Treasurer, who was devoting his whole mind and most of his time to the solution of the Maori problem. Mr Fenton was a protégé of Mr Richmond, from whom he received all his instructions, and at whose suggestion he had been appointed in preference to another person, recommended by the Native Office.2 The whole plan of the Circuit Court and the new magistrate appointed had from the first been very unpalatable to Mr McLean, the Native Secretary and his subordinates, who, as might be expected from the connexion of their department with the English Home Government, were always more or less jealous of the colonial ministers. The Waikato became a bone of contention between the colonial and imperial departments of New Zealand Government. The latter regarded Mr Fenton as a colonial interloper, who should be put down on all possible occasions, and he on his side was nothing loth to take up the quarrel, in which he was backed by his patrons the colonial ministers.
Mr McLean thought he had good grounds for objecting to much that was being done in the Waikato district.
1 [The ministers were able to exercise considerable influence over Maori policy because the Assembly had to approve of the expenditure on Maoris (beyond the £7,000 set aside on the Civil List for that purpose) and to pass legislation affecting them. Cf. below, (Ch. IX.)]
2 [Robert Reid Parris (1816–1904), then a land purchase agent in Taranaki.]
From these various causes, Mr McLean gave in the following official opinion to the Governor:—‘The most distant recognition of any adverse party to Potatau in his own district, would be attended with results more injurious to the real interests of the Europeans than any other step that could be taken; not only from its giving an undue prominence and appearance of stability to the position he proposes to assume, but from the paucity of the numbers, and subordinate character and position of those tribes which would alone follow such a course—in which, moreover, they could be retained only by influences of a mercenary nature.’2
In consequence of this representation, Mr Fenton was removed from the control of the colonial ministers, and placed under the orders of the Native Department, of which he had hitherto been the rival and the critic.
At the beginning of 1858, Mr Fenton was permitted to make another circuit in the Waikato district, where he was instructed to confine himself entirely to his judicial duties as a magistrate. On this visit he had the further task of taking a census of the native population.3
1 AJHR, 1860, F-3, p. 8.
2 Ibid., p. 126.
The task of taking the census caused the magistrate some uneasiness. A stupid woman told the people that he was writing down the names of King's people, and Queen's people. He was afraid this would do harm in the unquiet districts; but he pacified them by saying that he merely wanted to know the numbers and distribution of the people, so as to arrange the court-houses conveniently.
At Kahumatuku, a court was held and two cases tried. In one, an action for slander, the defendant was Whakapaukai (Anglicè, Gorging Jackie), the most impudent and bare-faced robber in the Waikato district,1 who has since set the Governor and the Maori king alike at defiance. He was difficult to manage. When rebuked for his improper language he said that it was not his fault, that he did not understand the new system, and that he was an old fool; that he did not come willingly to the court, but came because he was compelled, and therefore they should not be angry with him. However, notwithstanding his contumacious language, he paid the damages given to the plaintiff.
Several of Mr Fenton's native friends told him that the census was sure to cause misunderstanding among the tribes of the interior. Waata Kukutai had been engaged to accompany the magistrate, but it was now thought better to send the loyal chief back, lest his presence should excite suspicion.
1 [Fenton described him as ‘a boisterous Maori of the old school’. (AJHR, 1860, E-1C, p. 31.)]
At Whatawhata there were many cases awaiting trial. When the business was disposed of, some very young men made a complaint against the native magistrates. After a patient hearing, Mr Fenton found that (apart from some slight mistakes, resulting from ignorance or inexperience), the conduct of the magistrates had been good and firm, and that the complaints arose from the dislike the young people felt to the restraint under which they were held. They said they were quite willing to submit to the decision of the court when the European magistrate presided, but the native magistrates were not so good. Mr Fenton found at Whatawhata that the census would not be of much value, as far as the proportion of children was concerned, from the vague ideas of Maories as to the age at which a person becomes adult. Only the infants were put down as children; boys and girls were classed amongst the adults.
On this occasion, Mr Fenton, in company with Takerei, ascended further up the Waipa than he had done on his former circuit. They were much annoyed at being constantly stopped by parties of natives, who insisted on presenting them with cooked food. The houses and people were very miserable.
At Kopua, where there is a Wesleyan Mission-station, the people expressed their desire for law and their willingness to build a court-house, and a promise was given that they should be visited in future circuits. Thence Mr Fenton and Takerei ‘poled’ up the shallow river to Awatoetoe. The people of this place pressed the magistrate to consent to the erection of a court-house and the establishment of law. But they were told that the place was too remote to be included in the regular circuit of the European magistrate. They replied that they were the Queen's subjects, and had a right to have law administered among them; that this necessity was so strongly felt, that great numbers of the Maories were trying to find out a way of governing themselves, for every one felt that murders and wrongs must be stopped among them as well as among the Europeans, but they did not wish to join this party, which was ignorant and principally led by old Maori chiefs. This place was page 79 amongst the hills, three days' journey from Taranaki, and the chief subject of conversation among the people was the native war at that time raging there.
Mr Fenton overheard some people saying that the King party were organizing policemen and soldiers to repress disorder, but the conversation dropped when they saw he was listening. He thought the objects of the agitators were too little understood in Auckland. The agitation seemed to him to be simply the effort of a people wishing to be governed, to govern themselves in default of anything better.
When the subject of the census was introduced, the people of Awatoetoe told Mr Fenton that he would get no information higher up in the central district of Ngatimaniapoto, and that his presence on such an errand would cause great uneasiness.
Next day there was a meeting and a feast. The banquet consisted of eels and pork. More mention than usual was made of the King. After the feast, Mr Fenton formally consented to their building a court-house, but would not promise that any magistrates would visit them regularly. In the evening there was a meeting about a disputed eel-weir; the magistrates declined to act, when called upon, on the ground that the dispute concerned land. It was as well they did, for Ngatimaniapoto had taken possession with an armed party.
Next day the ground was marked out for the court-house, and Mr Fenton went away, collecting his census papers as he pulled down to Kopua. One tribe would not make any return, as they thought the Governor wanted to know how many men there were, that the Pakeha and Ngapuhi might come down to fight them. The Maories in this Upper Waipa country were in the lowest stage of poverty; their houses, clothes, and everything belonging to them, were most wretched. They had nothing inside their houses and little outside, and expected to have to eat fern-root during the winter. The mill had not turned its wheel for five months.
Mr Fenton doubted whether he should thence visit the large villages of Rangiaowhia and Kihikihi, but as the people there knew he was in the neighbourhood, and had not asked him to go, he took it as a broad hint to stay away, and stayed away accordingly.
At Mr Ashwell's Mission-station, he had a long interview page 80 with Ti Oriori, who assured him that all the Ngatihaua tribe wanted was law and order; they thought the only way of getting it was by establishing a government among themselves. He was glad to see that the Europeans, whom they knew to be far wiser than themselves, were at last beginning to govern in earnest. He and most of his people were quite ready to join Mr Fenton now that they saw the affair was not a mere pretence. Ti Oriori said that the old chiefs of Ngatimahuta must not be taken as representing the opinions of the king-makers; they were the advocates of a return to old Maori customs. Ngatihaua, on the contrary, wanted nothing but government and progress, showing, as an instance, that they had supported the sowing of grass, and he himself had procured and sown some of the seed first sent up.
At Paetai a meeting had been held in Mr Fenton's absence, at which it was resolved that he should discontinue circuits and live there permanently, or else that some other European magistrate should be appointed to live at Paetai. The people offered any quantity of land,—the idea being that the magistrate could occupy his spare time in farming. This offer he was, of course, forced to decline. At Rangiriri there was a land-feud going on, in which he refused to adjudicate. The native magistrates here were beginning to complain of the weight of their labours, saying they would soon be the poorest of their tribes.
Only once during his term of office did Mr Fenton venture to send a Maori to gaol. A native stole linen from a dwelling-house in Auckland, escaped up the Waikato, and took refuge in the hilly country about Pirongia. Two of Mr Fenton's probationary magistrates went after him, caught him, and brought him down to Kahumatuku, where he was tried, sentenced, and sent in charge of native police to Auckland gaol. His friends, who had vainly offered money to atone for the crime, were very angry, and complained of the magistrate's conduct. Wiremu Nera, to whose tribe the culprit belonged, told the Government that it was very rash to take such steps in the district, and that it was fortunate the man belonged to his tribe, as, had he belonged to any other, a collision would have been inevitable. He himself felt aggrieved that he had not been first consulted. As the hunt had been so successful, Mr Fenton wished to reward his two probationers as an example, and therefore recommended page 81 their appointment to salaried offices. This appointment had been previously promised to them by the Governor, whenever Mr Fenton should recommend it. On arriving in Auckland with their prisoner, they, in pursuance of the recommendation, went and called upon officers of the Native Department. These officers told them that all such recommendations must come from the Native Office—that the officers of that Department were the only heads of the Maories; and with this gratifying information the men were sent back, without being either appointed or allowed to see the Governor.
I have told this story to show how completely the Native Department had reduced the Waikato magistrate to a state of subjection, and how the official mind, even at the antipodes, cannot restrain itself from those petty jealousies, which, however harmless in a highly civilized society, are fatal folly in the government of a half-savage race. Shortly after this occurrence, Mr Fenton was altogether relieved of his functions, and the field was left clear for the Maori King.
Thus ended the first practical attempt to govern the Maories. To extinguish Mr Fenton was no doubt a great triumph for the Native Department, but has since turned out rather a costly one for the British Empire. The abortive measures of the Government made the revolt of the Waikatos much more complete than if nothing had been done at all. The Maories know as little of our domestic intrigues as we of theirs. It appeared to them that the Governor had made promises at the Paetai meeting which had not been fulfilled. The King party were encouraged in their turbulence and claims of independence by seeing how evidently the Government was afraid of them, and those who desired to see law and order established amongst them at last lost all faith in their British rulers, and characterized their conduct as ‘maminga,’ or, in plain English, ‘humbug.’
For example, in 1858, a chief of Paetai, named Honi Kingi, was deputed by several tribes to see the Governor as to the delay in carrying out what had been promised. He could not obtain an interview. He thought himself insulted. The tribes by whom he had been deputed were of the same opinion, and they soon after joined the King party, of which they had previously been determined opponents.1page 82
It is useless now to conjecture what might have been, if the attempt to solve the New Zealand difficulty by active efforts to govern and civilize the natives had been at that time persevered in.
A committee was appointed by the New Zealand parliament in 1860, to inquire into the abortive attempt to introduce Civil Institutions of Government into Waikato. This Committee, after examining all the papers and a large number of witnesses, European and Maori, reported as follows:1—‘ The Committee, with the light of two years’ subsequent experience before them, do not perceive sufficient reasons for suspending the work in which Mr Fenton was engaged. Without in any degree mitigating the real causes of agitation in the native mind, his withdrawal disheartened a large and influential body of natives, including many influential chiefs who had associated themselves with him, and were actively engaged on the side of Government. They were disappointed and humiliated at the sudden abandonment of their undertaking. Many of them joined the King party, and this, amongst other causes, has tended to irritate and give a more malign aspect to the King movement itself.’ Wiremu Tamihana was invited to attend to give evidence, but he wrote to the chairman: ‘Friend, what is the good of our talking after the evil has taken place? Had you written to me when the evil was small, it would have been well, and I should have come to see you; but now, that the evil has attained full growth, what is the good? Behold the kindling of fire, when little it can be put out, but after it has spread it cannot be extinguished.’
1 Ibid., p.3. [Gorst paraphrases and revises the original.]
As the European magistrate left the Waikato, Potatau went into it and was duly installed King at Ngaruawahia in April, 1858.3 The Governor trusted that ‘time and absolute indifference and neglect on the part of the Government (which still continued to pay Potatau a salary of £50 per annum afterwards increased to £100) would teach the natives the folly of proceedings undertaken only at the promptings of vanity.’4
1 [Grey, also, relied on it in 1861–3. See below, Chapter XII.]
2 [In the chaotic conditions of the time, neither chief nor runanga was fully in control of tribal life; as Gorst shows later, the chiefs were sometimes followers of public opinion. Fenton would have been obliged to humour both authorities. For his defence against these criticisms, see his memo on the Waikato, Richmond MSS., ADDL. 57. General Assembly Library, Wellington.]
3 [According to Thomas Buddle, The Maori King Movement in New Zealand, (1860), pp. 13–15, and to the Soutbern Cross (11 June, 9 July, 3 August, 5 August, 1858), he was officially ‘installed’ in June. However, he moved from Mangere to the Waikato in March. See Appendix: The Election of the Maori King.]
4 AJHR, 1860, F-3, p. 128.
Treating this great national agitation as nothing, was a policy in great favour with New Zealand statesmen. Mr Fenton fell into a like error. ‘Although I find this King business,’ he says, ‘a nuisance and an obstruction, I always tell the Maories it is nothing, and advise them to take no notice of it.’1 There is no doubt that such statements did much mischief. They were false and the natives knew it. The Maories contrasted the declaration of Government, that their King was unworthy of notice with the warnings of their Pakeha friends, that they would be ‘torn to pieces’ for establishing him. And when they were afterwards informed that the King was not such a mere trifle, and had always been regarded by Government as a serious danger, the discovery did not increase their esteem for either the resoluteness or the truthfulness of their rulers.
Every one acquainted with the native affairs of New Zealand knew from the first that there was real danger, and that any act which the natives should regard as a common grievance would turn the harmless and ridiculous King into the head of a formidable hostile confederacy.
We shall learn in the next Chapter how such a common grievance was supplied to the Maories, without loss of time, at Taranaki.
1 Ibid., E-1C, p. 27.