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New Zealand Revisited

Chapter XIV — Bishop Selwyn

page 242

Chapter XIV
Bishop Selwyn

In October, 1862, a very important Maori Convention, which had been summoned several months before by Tamihana, was held at Matamata. I was at first instructed to attend it, and had made all preparations to go, but at the last moment orders came from the Governor that I was not to be present. This meeting was attended not only by the Waikato tribes, but by deputations from Tauranga, from the east coast, Napier, Wanganui and Taranaki. The subject which the meeting had been called to discuss was the proposal of the Governor for a judicial investigation into the title of the disputed land at Waitara.

The opinion generally current among the Maories was that no arbitration could take place while the troops remained in possession of Waitara; so long as the Government persisted in holding the land in dispute by force of arms, it was right in their opinion to refuse every offer of arbitration, and to continue to hold Tataraimaka as a material guarantee for the restoration of that which was their own. The difference between what Sir George Grey proposed, and what the Maories would accept was small, but important to both sides. It was the old question of Independent Nationality in a different form. If both parties withdrew from Waitara, the investigation would page 243have an international character, but to allow the Governor to remain in possession was to acknowledge the Queen's sovereignty, to submit as subjects, not to treat as an independent nation.

But although the meeting at Matamata was not attended by any representative of the British Government, Bishop Selwyn was there, and it was from him I learned the full details of what had taken place. After the meeting, he came over Maunga Kawa into the Waikato, and spent a week in our house at Te Awamutu. He was a very original guest; his principle, as he told me, in staying at people's houses in the bush was to give no domestic trouble of any kind. He made his own bed, he tidied up his own bedroom, he cleaned his own boots, and even washed his own clothes. One Saturday afternoon he was missing, and the only clue as to what had become of him was a report that he had gone to the kitchen, and borrowed a piece of soap. My wife and I, on looking for him, discovered him in a bend of the Mangahoe creek, having just completed the washing of all his clothes, which were spread out on the bank to dry. Like Sir George Grey, he was passionately fond of children, and devoted to the service of women. My little boy exercised a complete tyranny over him, perpetually riding on his shoulder; and I recollect meeting him on foot, when he was on a journey through the bush, while an old Maori woman, with a heavy bundle, was riding on his horse.

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At the Matamata meeting, Bishop Selwyn did his best to moderate the zeal for nationality, which overpowered all other considerations. The first encounter between him and Tamihana took place on the Sunday. At the morning service, Tamihana preached a sermon to the assembled congregation on the text, "Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity," and he enforced the doctrine on his hearers by enumerating all the benefits which had resulted from the union of Maori tribes under one King. They were formerly perpetually engaged in quarrels and wars; they were now united in a common brotherhood, and each tribe pursued the interest of all. This discourse produced a great effect on the congregation, and the Bishop, hearing of it, preached at the afternoon service, from the same text, another sermon. He urged upon them the great advantages that would arise from the cordial union of the Maori and Pakeha races, and he pointed out to them the impossibility of such a union taking place, unless they agreed to submit to one law, and one Sovereign.

During the speeches and discussions which took place on the following day, Bishop Selwyn asked for an opportunity of addressing the assembly, which was at once granted to him by the head chiefs. In his speech, he pressed and besought the Maories, especially Tamihana and Matutaera, whom he called upon by name, to page 245agree to the settlement of the Waitara dispute, which had been proposed by Sir George Grey. He further pointed out to them the suffering and ruin which their hostile occupation of Tataraimaka had inflicted upon the innocent men, women and children, who were so unfortunate as to be its owners, and he declared that as he had stood up before the British Government and protested against the Maori widows and orphans being deprived, by force, of their rights, so he now protested against the Maori wrong in retaliating upon the Pakeha widows and orphans in like fashion.

The Bishop's speech was listened to with attention and respect, and was supported by several Ngatihaua chiefs, who stood up, and boldly declared themselves to be on his side, but it did not alter the general resolution of the meeting. His arguments, however, had produced on Tamihana a greater effect than the Bishop at the time supposed; for a fortnight after the meeting, he rode over with his followers to Kihikihi, and in an open and public meeting, demanded from Rewi and Wi Kingi that an investigation should be made into the title to Waitara, in the manner in which the British Government had proposed. Wi Kingi refused point blank. A stormy discussion then ensued, in which Rewi and all the Ngatamaniapoto supported Wi Kingi's refusal, and ultimately their opinions prevailed. Tamihana, thus baffled in his first proposal, next page 246demanded that Tataraimaka should be given up to the Pakeha owners. This demand was, however, as obstinately resisted as the former one. The resolution of the Ngatamaniapoto was immoveable, and it was evident that any concession to the Government would cause an open quarrel in the King party.

It did not appear to occur to the British authorities that, notwithstanding the refusal of the Maories to join, they might have instituted on their own part a formal and public investigation into the title to Waitara and the validity of the claims of Wi Kingi and his tribe. Had such an investigation taken place, instead of the informal and secret one which Sir George Grey instituted at Taranaki, with the Prime Minister, Mr. Domett, and the Native Secretary, Mr. Dillon Bell, after Tataraimaka had been occupied by the soldiers, it is probable that the war at Taranaki would never have recommenced. The Maories would have awaited the result of the public investigation before they began to fight. The private inquiry, however, at once brought to light the fact that Wi Kingi and his tribe were living at Waitara in pursuance of a valid agreement made with the sellers, and Sir George Grey expressed a very strong opinion that this fact, if known to Governor Browne, would have prevented his ever purchasing Waitara.

On January 1, 1863, Sir George Grey suddenly determined to visit the Waikato district attended page 247only by Mr. John White, the chief interpreter of the native office. They set off at nine o'clock in the morning, and spent the night at Pokino, near Te Ia, whence they sent to Te Kohekohe for a canoe. Next morning, when the canoe arrived, they paddled up to Paetai, which they reached in the night. In the morning the natives assembled to see the Governor, and received him cordially. They asked him why he had come to Waikato; he replied—"I have come to bring peace to you and the Maori nation." From Paetai he rode on horseback along the river bank to Mr. Ashwells station at Taupiri, and thence went on alone to Ngaruawahia. He arrived on the east bank of the river, was ferried across in an ordinary canoe, and walked direct from the bank past the native houses to the tomb of Potatau, where he stood for several minutes unrecognized and alone. The place was almost deserted; the King and his council were at Hangatiki, only Te Paea and a few chiefs remained behind. The people came out of the houses to look at this audacious stranger, and at last some one recognized him, and cried out, "It is the Governor." They welcomed him with great emotion; the old women turned out to "tangi" over him, and then began to scrape potatoes for food for him and his followers who shortly began to arrive. Te Paea said—"Why did not you make the surprise complete by taking an axe and cutting down the flag-staff? We should page 248have refused you nothing;" riders were sent all over the country to summon Tamihana, Matutaera and the principal chiefs.

Sir George Grey returned to Taupiri, where he was unfortunately taken ill, and unable to accept the pressing invitation which Tamihana and all the people sent to him to again visit Ngaruawahia. Instead of that, a meeting was arranged to be held at Taupiri, and there for the first and only time Sir George Grey met Tamihana face to face. Matutaera had also obeyed the summons and rode on horseback from Hangatiki as far as Rangiaowhia. There, however, he broke down; he was too sore to sit any longer on the saddle; to his bodily pain was added mental anxiety that the Governor would think his inability to ride a mere pretence. He therefore sent for Mr. Morgan and a native catechist and asked them to examine his condition; they did so: they certified formally that the King could not sit on horseback, and the certificate was duly forwarded to the Governor.

The proceedings at Taupiri took place in a field near the mission station. As soon as Sir George Grey entered the field at the farther end of which the chiefs were clustered together, the crowd suddenly parted and Tamihana ran forward, took the Governor by the hand, and with cries of welcome led him to the seat placed for him as president of the meeting. Rewi and the Ngatimaniapoto chiefs were not present. Then Taati, page 249of Rangiaowhia, asked why the Governor had come to Waikato? The Governor replied—"It was love." Taati asked, "What kind of love?" The Governor said—"Love to you and all the people of this island." Taati then asked "whether he would acknowledge their King." The Governor replied by relating to them the story of a crime lately committed at Wanganui, a place far out of the Waikato district, but which adhered to the Maori king. An English girl, walking along the high road a little in advance of her father, had been seized by a native, who attempted to outrage her; her screams brought her father to her aid, and the miscreant made off. The police had arrested the man, but he had been rescued by his comrades and sheltered by them, as not subject to British law.

Tamihana then intervened, and defended their establishment of a Maori king with the customary arguments, and again asked him to acknowledge their King. The Governor replied that as the criminal at Wanganui had been rescued by them from the hands of justice, they had made themselves participators in his crime. "No, it is not ours," said Tamihana; "we condemn those evil deeds." The Governor declared that such outrages were the natural consequences of their refusal to submit to the Queen's authority. Tamihana again entreated the Governor to recognize their King. Since his appointment they had lived in peace in Waikato, no crimes were being committed page 250there, and the lawlessness that prevailed in other parts of New Zealand was the consequence of the disturbance made by the "angry Governor," who had gone. The Governor then addressed them on the questions of selling and letting native lands, and the Governor especially asked Tamihana why he had refused his proposal for a judicial investigation of the title to Waitara. Tamihana replied that he had been pressed by the Bishop, by Sir William Martin, Archdeacon Maunsell, Mr. Ashwell and Mr. Burrows to go and make peace at Waitara; he had gone to Waitara, and written to General Pratt, asking that the troops should be withdrawn from Waitara to the town, and Waitara left under the protection of the law. "The 'angry Governor' had sent McLean and others to confer with him; he said to McLean, 'Let your soldiers be sent back to the town, to the Queen's piece, and let Waitara be left to the law.' McLean said, 'Yes; let Waikato return.' He replied, 'Yes, we will return to-morrow,' but when we returned the soldiers remained in possession of the disputed land, and their tents are standing there now. For that reason I have given back Waitara to Te Rangitake, and I have nothing more to do with it." The Governor said that if the title to Waitara was investigated and if it was determined by the judge that Waitara belonged to Wi Kingi, it should be given back to him and his people; so much for Waitara, but as to Tataraimaka, what right had the Taranakis page 251and Ngatimaniapoto to possess themselves of that place? Tamihana said that the lands at Waitara had been taken by the soldiers for the Queen, and that was why the natives had in retaliation possessed themselves of Tataraimaka. The Governor declared that on his return to Auckland he should go down in a steamer to Taranaki, that he should take possession of Tataraimaka, and settle himself on that land, and invited the Waikatos to meet him there, and help him in the preservation of peace. Tamihan; entreated him to delay such an enterprise, and to prolong the armistice for another year, and during that time to abstain from putting a steamer on the river; then during that interval they would jointly work for peace, he on the side of the King, and the Governor on the side of the Pakeha, and they might thus prevent the outbreak of war. The meeting then broke up, and the illness of the Governor obliged him to return to Auckland, without any further conference with the natives.

There was one speech made by the Governor at this meeting which is omitted from the official account, but which impressed the natives more than anything else he said, and which rang through all Waikato and the tribes beyond its limits which adhered to the Maori king. It was repeated over and over again by chiefs who had been present, both in public speeches and in private conversations. Sir George Grey was reported page 252to have said that he never went to bed at night without thinking what he could do to pull down the Maori king. "I shall not," he said, "fight against your King with a sword, but I shall dig round him with spades, until he falls of his own accord." The Maories said they had all looked round to see where the spades were at work, and they were convinced that the Government Commissioner was the principal spade, and that the digging was going on most vigorously at Te Awamutu.

Remonstrances were addressed to the Government at the Taupiri meeting against the threatened steamer. The Maories had never objected to small boats and canoes, but a steamer was a different thing; it could bring troops and great guns into their country. The Governor said he should certainly bring his steamer to save them the trouble of paddling their canoes against the current; it would tow their canoes. In a very short time they would be convinced of its usefulness and would threaten him with war if he took the steamer away.

Before his return to Auckland, pressing invitations were received by the Governor to visit Rangiaowhia and Tamahere; even after he had left Taupiri riders galloped down the river bank after him, beseeching him to return. In pursuance of their promises, Tamihana, Taati, and the chiefs present at Taupiri wrote letters to Taranaki, urging the Ngatiruanui to give up Tataraimaka page 253and intimating that in the event of the renewal of the war no help was to be expected from Waikato. But counter letters were sent at the same time by Rewi and the war party exhorting the Ngatiruanui to hold the Tataraimaka block resolutely and promising that any attempt on the part of the Governor to possess himself of it would be regarded by Waikato as a declaration of war.