New Zealand Revisited
Chapter V — The International Exhibition
The International Exhibition
Upon arrival in Christchurch I was immediately visited by Captain Atkin, the permanent British Commissioner at the Exhibition: he took me at once to the building and showed me all the objects which had been contributed by the British Government: their help greatly conduced to the success of the Exhibition, and the New Zealand authorities were most grateful for what had been done for its success by the Mother Country. A very costly and elaborate silver model of H.M.S. Swiftsure and also one of H.M.S. Albion, and all the drawings of H.M. Battleship New Zealand, not at that time completed, had been sent out, with exhibits of many engines and contrivances of war, contributed by the War Office. There was a very complete description of British Education, primary and secondary, with photographs of many schools; and there was a series of photographs illustrating the manners and customs and the festivities of the British people, both in ancient and modern days, from the prolific stores of Sir Benjamin Stone, who is de facto photographer in chief to the House of Commons. But the most important contribution of the British Government was the Art Gallery, which without their co-operation would have been meagre in the extreme; they had invited modern British artists to send specimens page 56of their work, for the transport of which every facility was offered at home and abroad, and the result was an admirable gallery of modern pictures, some sent on loan, and some offered for sale, executed by painters of the present day, and others lately deceased. It was such an art exhibition as had never before been seen in the southern hemisphere; many of the pictures were purchased, some by private persons, and others by Public Commissioners from Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland and the larger cities of Australia and New Zealand; so that they will remain permanently in the southern hemisphere, as the nucleus of art galleries which the future will see established.
I was afterwards carried off by Captain Atkin to see the Maori pah which had been built in the Exhibition grounds to show visitors what the dwellings and fortifications of the Maories in former times were like. The pah was designed, and the work carried out under the supervision of old Maori chiefs and officers of the Government, who were quite qualified to remember and reproduce the ancient forms; but it was unhappily disfigured by a gigantic beer bottle erected on its outskirts, in the very worst and most vulgar fashion of modern advertising, to extol the merits and invite the purchase of some particular brew of beer. It destroyed rudely the poetry and illusion of the primitive Maori handiwork. Our visit was cut short by heavy rain, which drove page 57the Maories who were there into their model dwellings: but I witnessed the arrival of a party of natives from the Cook Islands, which are now a part of the New Zealand territory. Coming from a tropical climate, they shivered and seemed miserable in the cold rain.
The Cook Islands were annexed to New Zealand in 1901: they consist of a group of more than a dozen small islands of which Rarotonga is the best known. They are inhabited by a brown race akin to the Maories, who speak a language nearly related to the Hawaian, Tahitian, Samoan, Maori, and other Polynesian tongues. They have a Federal Council which can make laws for all the islands except Niué, which has a legislature of its own; but their laws and administration are subject to the New Zealand Government. They export coffee, copra and fruit, and the island of Niué does a trade in straw hats. In 1906 the exports were valued at £ 9,652, and the imports at £ 5,674. Their population is stated to be 12,279 natives and 161 whites.
In the afternoon of the same day I visited a public elementary school with Mr. Fowlds, and was at my entrance at once struck by the healthy appearance of all the scholars, great sturdy boys and girls, with rosy cheeks, and strong, well-formed limbs. I inquired about the condition of the children of the country generally, and whether New Zealand was cursed with that partial starvation of the child population which page 58has for so many years been permitted to exist in Great Britain, without our Government, our Parliament, or our local authorities being able to provide any effective remedy. The reply was that there did not exist a starving child in New Zealand from the north cape to the south, and as far as my observations went in the schools I visited, this statement was absolutely correct. In every other respect the school compared favourably with our best British Board Schools: but in the health and appearance of the children it far surpassed anything I had seen at home, except, perhaps, in the best schools of the city of Aberdeen.
The International Exhibition was opened on the following day by the Governor, Lord Plunket. The ceremony closely resembled those with which we are familiar in Great Britain. Military and civil bands were playing at every point of vantage. Every man wore the smartest uniform to which he was entitled, and every woman disported the most beautiful toilette that her taste, and the money of her husband or father, was able to invent and procure. There had been the usual quarrel about precedence, and who were entitled to sit in the chief places, but all had at last been amicably settled to everybody's satisfaction. The distinctive feature of the ceremony was an "Ode," the poetry and the music of which was composed by New Zealand artists, and performed by a band, chorus, and solo singers of the same country. It was a very beautiful and impressive performance. page 59Many of the solo singers had exceedingly good voices, and I was informed by competent critics that the music was of first-rate quality: the uninstructed ear derived great enjoyment from listening.
In the afternoon I again visited the Maori pah, from which the storm of rain had prematurely driven us the day before. There was an old chief, Mahuta, of Kopua, a village of Waipa, in the pah, who said he had often seen and talked to me in former days: he had been one of Rewi's most ardent followers, and had taken an active part in driving me out of the Waikato; he shook hands with me in the most hearty and friendly manner, expressed his great delight at seeing me once more, and seemed to think, as indeed did all the survivors of Rewi's war-party whom I afterwards fell in with in the Waikato, that the fact of his being one of those who drove me away by threats of violence gave him an especial claim to welcome my reappearance. Te Heu Heu, the principal chief of Taupo, son of a chief of the same name, who was powerful and conspicuous at the outbreak of the war, was also present; he spoke English perfectly and seemed to have the most sensible appreciation of the present position of the Maories and their requirements and claims. The Maori pah was under the medical control of Te Rangihiroa, whose European name is Doctor Buck, a young Maori, who has gone through the full medical course of the Dunedin University, where page 60he took a brilliant degree; he is a fully qualified medical practitioner, and now holds the position of a sanitary officer under the New Zealand Government. All the Maories at the pah suggested that I should pass through Waikato on my return to Auckland, and that a "tangi," or lamentation, should be held to wail over the departed chiefs with whom I had been acquainted in olden days. This "tangi" never took place, but was converted into a meeting in European fashion with Mahuta, the grandson of Potatau, the first Maori King, and the relics of the Waikato tribes who were summoned for the occasion. They also proposed that I should again visit the pah in a day or two and receive a formal and public welcome from the assembled Maories.
The festivities of the opening day of the Exhibition ended with a dinner given by the Governor, at which, as the representative of the British Government, the greatest of the exhibitors, I was asked to reply to the toast of "Success to the Exhibition." I took the opportunity of describing in detail the particulars and purposes of the British exhibits, and the steps that the British Government had taken to study the interests and wishes of the New Zealanders in the matter: this was only one among many illustrations of the good feeling which subsisted between the Mother Country and her colonies and dominions beyond the sea.
The festivities which accompanied the opening page 61of the Exhibition lasted for a fortnight, and consisted of the usual round of dinners, garden parties, race meetings and agricultural shows, of which the details would have no special interest for the reader: but one at least among them may deserve mention. This was the laying of the foundation stone of a new Technical School in commemoration of the late Richard Seddon, Prime Minister of New Zealand, who had died suddenly on the voyage from Sydney to Auckland in the previous August. Few persons who have not been in New Zealand are in a position to estimate the qualities of that great man. The British public knew little more of him than his pretensions to lay down what ought to be the policy of the British Empire, and the somewhat grotesque manner in which he put forward his views. But in New Zealand itself he was, as he merited to be, a great power; he was for many years an almost despotic ruler in the state, his strong personality enabled him to carry into effect measures of social reform, which other people contrived, but to which he lent the force which carried them through the New Zealand Parliament, and of which he had the great satisfaction to see the beneficial result: he died universally lamented by all the British and Maori inhabitants of the islands. His memory was still green at the time of my visit, and he will doubtless be long remembered and revered as one of the great founders and benefactors of the New Zealand Dominion.page 62
At the laying of this foundation stone there was present, amongst others officially connected with the Technical School, Mr. Rusbridge, a workingman, president of the Trades and Labour Congress of Canterbury. I had afterwards the advantage of a long conversation with this gentleman, and he furnished me with much valuable information about the condition of workers in New Zealand. He said that the Arbitration Act was not unpopular with the trades unions in New Zealand, although every industry in the colony is now practically regulated by the awards which are made under its provisions. Nobody in the colony among either employers or workmen really desired its repeal, although there was of course some grumbling at an award which displeased any of the parties to it, and many persons desired amendments to its provisions. He produced a sample award, which showed how much opinion in England was misled by newspapers as to the condition of New Zealand industry; but as a future chapter will give a more particular account of the working of the Arbitration Act, it would be superfluous to describe and discuss in this place the award produced by Mr. Rusbridge beyond saying that it was calculated to open the eyes of a British visitor as to the amount there was to unlearn and to learn. As to other laws regulating industry Mr. Rusbridge said there was no compulsory insurance against sickness, but friendly societies were very active, and had many members.page 63
There was no poor law in New Zealand, but endowments and benevolent funds existed applicable to extreme cases, the administration of which was controlled by Government. There was a very effective law for "compensation to workmen for accidents" occurring in the course of their employment, and almost all employers insured against the liabilities that might be incurred under this law, although they were under no legal compulsion to do so, and might keep the risk themselves.
We discussed the New Zealand scheme of old-age pensions, which Mr. Rusbridge assured me was extremely popular among the working classes, but he stated that there were bills introduced by Mr. Seddon before his death, which were to be brought forward in the next session of Parliament which would supplant old age pensions altogether. It is quite clear that the success of an old age pension scheme in New Zealand can teach us very little as to what would be the operation or cost of such a scheme at home, because the abject poverty of so large a proportion of workers, which is the great obstacle to all social progress here, does not exist at the Antipodes. The industrial associations in New Zealand are for strictly business purposes, to put the workers in a position to protect their own interests before the Arbitration Court, and they are not intended to be benevolent societies to provide for either sickness or old age. We discussed reformatories and the treatment of destitute children. The page 64discipline and management of reformatories seemed to have far less of the prison taint than in our own country. Many of the destitute children are provided for in them; and a very extensive use is made of the system of boarding out. The rights of destitute children are not ignored in New Zealand as they are by the Poor Law authorities at home, nor are they left in New Zealand to be provided for in Dr. Barnardo's homes, the Society for Waifs and Strays, or other charitable institution. Mr. Rusbridge praised the New Zealand Land Laws, which he said gave every encouragement and facility for the worker to settle himself on the land. He said the working class were opposed to freeholds or perpetual leaseholds; they thought that an increase in rental value of land not produced by the labour of the tenant should belong to the community, and not to the individual. The Government had, and exercised, power to build houses where required for workers, and this power was exercised without any loss to the State in many places to a considerable extent. Workers in New Zealand were willing to pay a fair rent for good houses, and would not think of living in the pigsties in which so large a portion of the people live in Great Britain. Their factory laws were very similar to ours, but the definition of a "factory" was much more comprehensive. Workers in New Zealand have a "lien" on the commodities they produce for their wages. There was no page 65opposition on the part of the working people to immigration, their standard of wages being assured by the awards of the Arbitration Convention, but they did object to the introduction of unsuitable and undesirable aliens, amongst whom both Chinese and Japanese were to be classed. Their general system of rating land was to proportion the rate to the unimproved value of the land, and they thought a system like ours, in which rates pressed most heavily on lands which were most improved and occupied for the most profitable purposes, was unwise. He lamented the destruction of the New Zealand forests, but said there was now a department of Government charged with their preservation and renewal, and that much greater attention would in the future be paid to this source of national wealth.
The New Zealand worker is generally represented by the capitalist Press of Great Britain as a Radical and Socialist of the most pernicious type. I was not a little surprised and enlightened by my conversation with Mr. Rusbridge, whose opinions seemed those of a Tory Democrat of Mr. Disraeli's school.
There were two great receptions, given in honour of the British Commissioners in the Maori pah. They danced what is called a "haka," a dance of welcome; the contortions and gesticulations are most violent and quaint, and are performed by every individual in the "haka" at the same moment, and with the most exact precision.page 66
The Maori costume of the dancers was to be seen in the upper part only of the figure; the ancient costume of the lower part, which was scanty, was suppressed, and the men were all dressed in trousers, and the women in long skirts which rather spoiled the æsthetic effect. Dr. Buck, the civilized medical practitioner, donned a Maori dress, and danced as vehemently as the rest. It was said that on all such occasions he made it a principle always to identify himself with his countrymen. The dancers were followed by speeches of welcome; some of the speakers had seen me in former days; some belonged to the tribes who had instigated the Waikato War; some had heard of me from their fathers; but all joined the welcome. Most of the speakers used the Maori tongue, and adopted the old style of oratory, running backwards and forwards with a spear in their hands, and introducing into their speeches snatches of old Maori songs; but there were one or two young men, not of the "haka," who wore English dress and spoke in English fashion, and wished us to know that there was a race of young Maories now springing up who were desirous of attaining the knowledge and civilization which the white men's schools and colleges could teach them and were ambitious of seeing their race become in every respect the equals of the Europeans, and of taking part in the government and administration of the country.
The British Commissioners, as a part of the festivities connected with the opening of the Exhibition, gave a dinner to the occupants of the Maori pah. Unfortunately influenza had broken out, and the attendance was thereby very much curtailed. Lord Plunket, who was called away to perform a public function in Dunedin, was to his great regret not able to be present. Altogether about forty sat down to dinner, including one or two Pakehas. Grace was said by the King of Rarotonga, the principal of the Cook Islands. There were no alcoholic drinks offered to the guests, but the dinner was excellent and the King's health was drunk in lemonade. In proposing the King's health I ventured to make a short speech in Maori, saying that I had left New Zealand a young man, and returned an old man, and found all my Maori friends dead except Patara, the rival editor of the Hokioi. The Chief Te Heuheu of Taupo was the principal speaker in reply. He welcomed me as one who was the friend of his father, and of his people. Te Kohi (Maori for Gorst) was long ago their friend, and knew the Maories of old times, but now the former race had vanished and gone. The Maories present were strangers, they were unknown. The only means of knowing them would be, when it was pointed out that this man, or that man, was the son of some chief, or some page 70friend of former days. Many of their chiefs had gone to the other world, some were left, but they did not follow in the lines of their forefathers. Te Kohi's eyes were accustomed to discern the natives of New Zealand. He might see that those of to-day were different from those he left behind in his young days. Here they were together in the hall to-day: some from the North Island; some from the South; some from the Islands of the South Pacific. Their host had come from the great chief who was their head. They were glad that he was there. They were all subjects of the King, they looked to him for protection, and he looked to their laws. They had one voice, they were one people, all under the King's rule. Their host was representative of the Government of England and of the Governors of New Zealand, and it gave them great pleasure to meet him, because they, the natives of New Zealand, were at times doubtful if the Government of England watched over them and their troubles. If their cause was not taken up, if they were neglected, it would be a very short time before they were lost to the world. But their host had said that their people were increasing, and they were pleased. By the last census it was shown that the Maori race was increasing. It was their wish that those who resided in New Zealand, Maories and Europeans, should be like older and younger brothers. They wished to have one father, who would guide and page 71look after them, but if it should happen that their Government in New Zealand did not look after their interests sufficiently, they would place their grievances before the Government of England. Welcome sacred bird! Welcome to this land. Good health to you all, and to our best King Edward.
Other speakers followed and to the same effect, and they broke out into the old Maori song of welcome, "Ka mate, ka mate! Ka ora, ka ora!" all the Maories present joined in the stirring chorus, given with hearty good will that made the hall ring again. Some of the old songs which were composed at the time of the war were also sung by the older men. The Cook Islanders also sang one of their very tuneful songs, and the King of Rarotonga apologised for being unable to speak, but there was nobody present who could interpret his language.
At the end of the entertainment every man was presented with a pipe, and every woman with a workbox, as a memento, and boxes of sweets were given and sent to the children.