England and the Maori Wars
Chapter I — Years Of Unrest
Years Of Unrest
The New Zealand Constitution Act of 1852 gave the colonists self-government but reserved to the Governor the direction of native affairs. The reservation was prompted by the best possible motive—the welfare of the Maoris—but unfortunately the Governor was not provided with adequate funds to administer the Native Department. Consequently there was a damaging division of authority which led to confusion and uncertainty. The Treaty of Waitangi had guaranteed to the Maoris the possession of their lands, but they viewed with apprehension the rapid influx of a white population naturally anxious to acquire land in the most fertile districts. A section of the colonists did its best to increase the apprehension of the Maoris—from motives good in some cases but dubious in others.
In 1854 Colonel Wynyard, the Acting Governor, reported that a pamphlet which had been circulated by a member of the Church Missionary Society was calculated to incite the natives against the Government system of land purchase. Here is a passage from the pamphlet:
What is the root of the wealth of the world? It is the land.—Deuteronomy, 3, 7, 8, 9.
For what reason did the foreigner desire to purchase the Maori land?
What are the things upon the land? Timber, grass, water, and numerous other things.
What are the things inside? Coal, iron, gold, copper, gum, and endless wealth.
When all these pieces of land are gone to the foreigner, where will you find a place as a town for you hereafter?
Donald Maclean, who had brought this matter to the notice of the Governor on October 21, 1854, wrote of “the strong opposition of several of the native tribes to the sale of their page 28 lands, the numerous confederations they are forming in the island to resist it, the national feeling of independence adverse to the progress of the English Government, which such an opposition creates, and the evil which it is likely to generate by creating feelings of resentment and ill will between both races of Her Majesty's subjects.” The Colonial Office minute to H. Merivale, the Permanent Under-Secretary, was: “This appears to be a repetition of the mischievous course formerly pursued by some of the Europeans in New Zealand … It might be proper to forward a copy of this despatch to the Society in this country, pointing out the disastrous consequences which might result from such an influence being exerted on the natives and requesting the co-operation of the Society in checking such a course. Since the departure of the late Governor the natives have shown a restlessness in some quarters, and I know that it was his opinion that a very little might serve to create an outbreak amongst those of them who were not well disposed.” Sir George Grey, therefore, had no illusions about the state of the country after his long period of almost absolute power.
In 1855 the situation was so threatening in Taranaki owing to an inter-tribal feud concerning the sale of land in the Puketapu district that the settlers sent a memorial asking for more troops. H. Merivale's minute to Sir William Molesworth, the Secretary of State, on this memorial is illuminating as indicating the beginning of that policy of pressing the colonists to undertake their own defence which was to have such far-reaching results. This is what Merivale wrote: “Arm your militia; organize a police; stand on your own defence; and depend on it the Maoris will not meddle with you. Do not rely for your defence on soldiers whom we have not to send, whom we strongly suspect you wish for more on account of their expenditure than for any other reason, and who after all would not serve you as well in this kind of warfare as yourselves, if armed. But the difficulty of using any part of this language is, that hitherto we have used an opposite course of policy, and it must be said, very successfully. Lord Derby and Lord Grey met the demand from the colony by a very considerable supply of soldiers; and there can be no doubt that their presence contributed, perhaps as page 29 much as Governor Grey's own singular qualities, to the remarkable tranquillity of the years 1847-54, now so much threatened. The settlers are now numerous enough to protect themselves without the aid of soldiers, but such self-protection would doubtless be attended by the usual barbarizing results of frontier conflicts, and the progress, such as it is, already made by Maori civilization, would be stopped. Therefore I think it is on the whole rather satisfactory that the Governor has so far yielded to these fears as to concentrate some 300 men at Taranaki, and hope the precautions may prove sufficient.”
Sir William Molesworth's minute, written in his beautifully neat hand, was: “When Lord Derby and Lord Grey were in office, New Zealand was governed from this country, and therefore it was the duty of the Home Government to provide for its internal tranquility. Since then New Zealand has obtained representative institutions and responsible government, and, enjoying its sweets, it ought also to bear the burdens of self-government. One of the chief of those burdens is the preservation of internal tranquillity. I think the inhabitants of New Zealand ought to be told that they must prepare to rely on themselves to defend themselves against the natives. They must arm their militia. They must organize a police. They must keep upon good terms with the Maoris, and, as the land has been made over to the local government, all disputes with the natives about land, are local questions with which the Imperial Government has no concern, and to settle which disputes the Imperial Government cannot be expected to maintain a body of troops in the colony. If we send 2,000 or 3,000 soldiers whenever any one of these petty communities apprehends a Maori row, there will be plenty of such rows. For such a body of troops creates a public expenditure of great importance in such a place as New Plymouth. I think these views should be expressed to the memorialists in clear and distinct though conciliatory terms. In existing circumstances, and having the troops to spare, the Governor has probably done right in concentrating 300 men at New Plymouth.”
Governor Gore Browne, who arrived in New Zealand on September 6, made a summary of the Taranaki question in a despatch of November 19, 1855. The agent of the New Zea- page 30 land Company, he wrote, had purchased a tract of land of 70,000 acres from the only inhabitants, about sixty Maoris. The tribe to whom the lands belonged had been conquered and enslaved by a more powerful tribe of the Waikato. In course of time they recovered their liberty, returned to New Plymouth, and demanded the restitution of their land. Commissioner Spain was sent to investigate. With certain exceptions he declared in favour of the New Zealand Company's purchase. His finding was overruled by Governor FitzRoy. “This just decision,” Browne stated, “which has also proved a very politic one, prevented the New Zealand Company from fulfilling its engagements with the settlers, and caused great dissatisfaction, and, in some cases, distress.” A certain section of the population advised force to secure land from the Maoris. “In the autumn of last year Mr. Cooper, sub-commissioner of Crown Lands, was induced to commence a survey of some native lands which had been the subject of a native feud.” Katatore opposed the survey, and shot Rawiri and six of his followers. “I have disapproved of Mr. Cooper's conduct in commencing a survey before he was assured that all who had even a disputed claim to the land desired it should be sold, and have declined to make a demand for reparation which could only be enforced at the expense of a general war, including sooner or later all the tribes in the Northern Island.” Gore Browne criticized the action of W. W. Turton, a Wesleyan missionary, whose letters to the newspapers had aroused the Maoris' suspicions that the Europeans would not rest until they had “slain and taken possession of” that which the Maoris likened to Naboth's vineyard. “It is scarcely necessary to add that a much larger force than that now stationed in New Zealand would be required if British law were to be established and upheld in the Native as well as the European settlements.”1
1 C.O. 209, 131.
Merivale, in a long minute on this despatch to John Ball (Under-Secretary for the Colonies), said that none of those responsible for the framing of the Constitution meant to make the superintendent anything more than president of a Legislative Assembly. “It was left to the general and local legislatures to give him executive power, if they thought proper. The provincial ordinances herewith sent disclose at last (what was never revealed to us before) how this has been done. I see nothing illegal in the general purview of these ordinances, though there may be here and there a mistaken assumption of power. But it is a great misfortune that this step has been taken by the Provincial Governments—not by the Central, as it ought to have been. There were several reasons for this. In the first place Governor Grey committed what I must now think a serious error, though I am bound to say that none of us anticipated the consequences, when he convened the provincial legislatures before the general, thereby giving them the start in action, and time to acquire an independent hold on popular opinion. The Act seems to have limited the same time for both (six months after its proclamation). In the next place the government fell on Governor Grey's leaving, into the hands of a temporary administrator quite unfit to deal with such a contingency as the establishment of a new Constitution. Thirdly, the House of Representatives discredited itself at the outset by an unseemly squabble for place and power, and the General Legislature has ever since been almost in abeyance.
“As to the appointment of a Lieutenant-Governor, there are no funds wherewith to pay such an officer.”1
John Ball, Under-Secretary of State, in a minute to Labouchere, wrote: “In the passage which I have underlined, Mr. Merivale has indicated the only means that I can perceive for
escaping from the very difficult position in which we are placed by the present constitution and especially by the practical results of the way in which it has been brought into operation. The existence of elective superintendents, if these are to continue to be political officers exercising considerable power and patronage and dealing (together with their councils) with all the concerns of government, is a most serious evil and will tend, I fear, to infuse into the entire New Zealand society a spirit of faction and adherence to local cliques rather than principles …. The only real … remedy is, in my opinion, to be sought in the increased power and consideration of the Central Legislature.”
With reference to Auckland and New Plymouth, the writer concurred with Merivale “in thinking that if the amount of protection which is demanded is to be continued, the Crown should obtain in return a restoration of that executive power which never should have passed into the hands of the local elective functionaries.” “I may observe that on this point it is essential that the instructions to the Governor should be of the most precise and definite character. With the present feeling of insecurity, the Governor will be very reluctant under any circumstances to let the 58th Regiment go, but it seems necessary to give him formal instructions not to retain troops in either Auckland or New Plymouth unless the necessary conditions are complied with. But the precise question now to be settled is what conditions should be required. In one of his minutes on this subject I understood Mr. Merivale to suggest that a temporary suspension of the present constitution is what he thinks most advisable. My own opinion (is) that it would be far better to take the opportunity for practically reducing the provincial bodies to little more than ordinary municipal functions without suspending, transferring not to the Governor but to the Governor in Council all the powers and authority usually vested in the Executive. The measure as to New Plymouth would require some modification in this respect. From both provinces some moderate contributions to the cost of military defence may be fairly demanded, but it should, I think, be very moderate, limited to the cost of barracks for additional men now maintained in these provinces. If political concessions page 34 are to be sought for, I think it would be well to say less about the charge for military protection being thrown on the colony than in the draft despatch of May 28.”
Labouchere's instruction was: “Write to the War Department that under present circumstances I am of opinion that it would be better not to withdraw the Regiment. Inform them of the Governor's request that the troops be armed with Enfield rifles. State that we intend to instruct the Governor to ask the local authorities to bear a certain proportion of the expense of barrack accommodation, etc.” Labouchere also directed that a letter should be sent to the Admiralty expressing the opinion that it was of great importance that a ship of war should at once be sent to New Zealand.1
A despatch of the Governor from Auckland, dated February 14, 1856, in connection with the murder of a Maori woman by an American at Auckland, drew from Merivale the following minute: “This despatch is very serious—not only New Plymouth but Auckland itself, if not in danger, is evidently in alarm. I do not think sufficient attention has ever been paid to the enormous difficulty of managing natives with ‘responsible’ government, or with the expectation of it, where those natives are numerous and quarrelsome. Personal influence alone can control them, or else a superior military force. The first is incompatible with a popular system of government in these small communities. Even the second, a disagreeable alternative at best, is difficult to reconcile with civil independence. I believe far the best thing for New Zealand would be to withdraw Auckland and New Plymouth back again under Crown Government; to increase the military force there, and to leave the other settlements, which are under no apprehension from the natives, to govern themselves. And I daresay the European settlers would be content enough to submit to a ‘Suspending Act’ for a limited time, such as that which passed in 1847, in exchange for greater security and greater military expenditure. But if it is too late for all this, as may probably be the case, then I doubt whether any good will really be done by increasing the force. Self-governing communities must aid at least in protecting themselves from such dangers.”1page 35
In a despatch of March 12 Governor Gore Browne expressed the view that all dealings with the native tribes should be reserved to him alone. Merivale's minute was: “I do not think it possible, with advantage, to withhold native affairs from the cognizance of responsible advisers, the matter being so closely connected with other points of domestic administration.”1 Several years were to elapse before this view prevailed, and much might be written of what would have happened had it prevailed at once. But we are concerned too closely with the findings of a track through a tangled forest of fact to spare time for the by-paths of speculation.
A Colonial Office memorandum, prepared for Labouchere on August 8, set out: “By your despatch of 28 November last the Governor was told in the usual terms that New Zealand would henceforth be expected to contribute to its own military defence. This has been entirely disregarded, and it may be taken as generally true, that no expenditure whatever will be devoted to such a purpose, so long as troops are maintained by this country. Even contribution towards barrack accommodation at New Plymouth has been resolutely declined, both by the general and provincial governments. The only governments concerned are those of Auckland and New Plymouth, where the Governor says (by a very incredible piece of political arithmetic, however) there are 49,000 natives capable of bearing arms, against 4,000 British.2 Under these circumstances the Governor has determined on retaining the 58th. When the drafts have arrived there will be about 1,700 men in New Zealand of the 58th and 65th. In this detention Lord Panmure acquiesces…but answers that the colony ought to pay for all the force employed there.
2 Gore Browne later altered his figure from 49,000 to 30,000 (C.O. 209, 141).
Labouchere's minute in reply was dated August 26: “I believe that the best course will be to retain the troops in New Zealand for the present as they are now, but insist on the colonists paying the barrack accommodation which may be required for any number exceeding one thousand, directing the surplus number to be sent away after a certain date if the accommodation is not provided. Write to Lord Panmure accordingly.” On October 21, 1856, Governor Browne was informed of the decision arrived at and told that unless he should be soon able to report that barrack accommodation had been provided, the Government would feel it necessary to issue peremptory orders for the withdrawal of the troops from the districts concerned.1
In a private letter to Merivale dated April 29, 1856, Gore Browne referred to a minute he had drawn up on the view he took of his relation to his responsible advisers. Section 2 of the minute was:
On matters affecting the Queen's prerogative and Imperial interests generally, the Governor will be happy to receive their advice, but when he differs from them in opinion, he will (if they desire it) submit their views to the consideration of Her Majesty's Secretary of State, adhering to his own until an answer is received. Among Imperial subjects the Governor includes all dealings with the native tribes, more especially in the negotiation of purchases of land.
In the House of Representatives on April 25, 1856, Henry Sewell expressed the view that it was right that the Governor should reserve native affairs to his own control until the colony was prepared to say to the mother-country: “We are ready to take on ourselves our own defence and the charge of the military.” “We have,” he said, “no right to ask for more, or to take into our own hands the exclusive control of matters which may involve the mother-country in a war of which she will bear the cost.”1
1 See below, p. 148.