England and the Maori Wars
Chapter 19 — Conclusion
On this note we may perhaps leave the tangled story of the Maori Wars, in the hope that what has been selected from the vast mass of documentary material will help towards a better understanding of the most critical decade in the colony's history—a decade which must also rank as of vital importance in the history of the Empire.
The New Zealand colonists, dispersed over a large territory and menaced by a brave and warlike race, complained of lack of sympathy and blamed the permanent officials of the Colonial Office for the treatment meted out to them. But we have seen that the successive Secretaries of State were at considerable pains to master all the details of the correspondence and outline the nature of the replies to be sent. Though Sir F. Rogers inherited some of the odium unjustly attaching to James Stephen, and although he did become at times very impatient with the persistence of the colonists in their demands upon the Mother Country, he cannot justly be charged with responsibility for the misunderstandings that arose. In Maori affairs, he rightly held, “everything depends on the handling,” and it was the men on the spot whose policy decided peace and war. It was his lot to be permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1860 until 1871, and he was therefore involved in almost the whole course of the negotiation which we have had to describe. A few months after his retirement he was raised to the peerage as Baron Blachford of Wisdome in the county of Devon, and, as New Zealand was only one of the colonies for which he was responsible for more than ten years, it can readily be agreed that he had abundantly earned his reward. The hard-hitting George Higinbotham perhaps exaggerated the influence of Sir Frederic, as he certainly exaggerated his term of office, when he said in that speech on November 2, 1869, which we have previously page 397 quoted: “I believe it might be said with perfect truth that the million and a half of Englishmen who inhabit these colonies, and who during the last fifteen years have believed they possessed self-government, have been really governed during the whole of that time by a person named Rogers. He is the chief clerk in the Colonial Office. Of course, he inspires every Minister who enters the department, year after year, with Colonial Office traditions, Colonial Office policy, Colonial Office ideas … If you merely send home a despatch presenting a statement of your grievances, and inviting the Colonial Office to consider them, the Colonial Office will consider them. The Colonial Office will consider them until you, and half a dozen sets of your successors, have gone ‘the way to dusty death,’ politically … What is this Colonial Office system? It is a mere straw image of official intrigue and unlawful arbitrary interference. If you reason with it, you degrade yourselves. If you go to it, and strike it in the face with the back of your gloved hand, you will see it tumble in a heap at your feet, and the morrow after you have done so you will be establishing in this country a government which has never yet existed.”1 There is more than a hint in this passage of Buller's famous description of the Colonial Office a generation before, and there is undoubtedly some truth in the picture. The Colonial Office, accustomed to more or less complete power, was a little slow in adjusting itself to the new age of Colonial self-government, but in the case of New Zealand, at least, there was no attempt to reserve undue powers to the Home Government. Indeed the complaint of the colonists was that full responsibility was prematurely placed on their shoulders.
1 Bowen, Thirty Years of Colonial Government.
Of the relative merits of the troops engaged in the Maori Wars it is possible to speak with some confidence after reading the various accounts—official and unofficial—of the different engagements. When the wars began, the Maoris, as Captain Pasley, R.E., records in his Sketch of the War in New Zealand (1862), “made no secret of their own conviction that one Maori was equal to three soldiers in the fern and nine in the bush.” Though this flattering notion had been “rudely dispelled,” Pasley makes it clear that in their struggle with the settlers the Maoris had some distinct advantages. They had never lost the knowledge of the art of war which had been engrained in their race for centuries. The settlers, however, had never learned it. “They were very like people of their class in England, excellent material for soldiers, fine ‘food for powder,’ but altogether destitute, generally speaking, of the special qualifications for guerilla warfare which they were commonly supposed to possess.”
John Featon, in The Waikato War, gives a vivid picture of the first days on active service of the Auckland militia in 1863: “Not accustomed to anything approaching strict discipline, and used to the great freedom and independence of colonial life, it was some time before the militia and volunteers could be made to understand their true position, which event only took place when many of them got into serious trouble for disobedience of orders, and found themselves in the military cells page 400 minus their thick crop of curly black or brown hair, as one well-known citizen-soldier sadly remarked, looking more like convicts than gentlemen volunteers.”
We have seen that there were some failures on the part of the colonial troops, but as the campaigns developed and attractive offers of land grants were made to those who served, the standard of the local forces improved greatly. It was from the militia that the Forest Rangers who served with great distinction under Jackson and von Tempsky were recruited, and they proved equal to the task of meeting the Maori at his own game of swift and silent approach through the bush.
1 For a description of Maori fortification by a Royal Engineer, see Pasley, op. cit., pp. 28–30.
The support of the Maoris who remained friendly to the British during the struggle was of considerable material value. The motives of the support varied considerably and its extent fluctuated greatly. Although the friendly Maoris sometimes disappointed expectations, they played, under leaders like Te Kepa and Ropata, a notable part in the concluding stages of the wars. They had obvious advantages in knowledge of the country and the tactics likely to be adopted by their opponents. Almost as important as the active support of friendly tribes in the war areas was the abstention from the struggle of the tribes inhabiting the country north of Auckland. Had they joined the hostile Maoris the position of the town would have been precarious indeed. Age-old hatreds existing among the Maoris precluded unity of action, and even the fiery cross of Hauhauism failed to destroy the barriers between tribes taught for generations to regard fighting each other as a sacred duty. Another factor in keeping some tribes friendly was the policy of providing pensions and perquisites for chiefs with considerable influence. Sir George Grey was very successful with this policy in his first governorship, but in his second term of office, with expenditure largely controlled by a responsible ministry, the results were not so spectacular.
With Imperial troops, colonial militia, and friendly Maoris arrayed against them, the hostile Maoris maintained their struggle longer than could reasonably have been expected. Much has been made of their inferior equipment, but William Swainson, in New Zealand and the War (1863), recorded that Wiremu Kingi's followers were abundantly supplied with arms and ammunition, partly through an evasion of the law, and partly through the operation of the relaxed regulations of the Government. “Nearly 8,000 pounds weight of gunpowder, more than 300 double-barrelled guns, and nearly 500 single-barrelled guns had in the short space of nine months not long previously been permitted to be sold to the natives with the sanction of the authorities. If as occasionally happened lead ran short amongst them, they made use of puriri or other hard- page 402 wood bullets.” Captain Pasley states that the arms generally used by the Maoris were double-barrelled guns, which were much more effective at close quarters than rifles. Of their fortifications he adds: “It is exceedingly difficult to make a serious breach in the stockades of a pa by artillery fire, even at short range; and any attempt to climb over or cut them down must be made at a distance of only a few feet from the muzzles of the guns of the defenders, who, being themselves well under cover, are able to overwhelm the storming party by a close and destructive fire.” We have seen in the narrative how lead was smuggled to the hostile Maoris from Auckland, and there is no doubt that trading with the enemy helped to prolong the contest.
How far did the profits from this illicit trade and from the more legal channels of army contracting influence the colonial attitude towards the war? Critics of the colonists attached great importance to these profits as a motive for an aggressive policy, but it is difficult to imagine that the settlers as a whole could reap, or even think they could reap, a balance of profit from the presence of troops, when that presence implied a state of war throughout the North Island. William Swainson estimates the cost of the first Taranaki War to the colony at £200,000 and the individual losses of the Taranaki settlers were believed to be between £150,000 and £250,000. “Auckland also suffered severely,” he states, “from the sudden and complete check which was put to a stream of immigration which was yearly adding some thousands to the population of the Province.” John Featon, in The Waikato War, shows how the calling out of the militia dislocated trade in Auckland and caused great losses. Individuals benefited from army contracts, but the community suffered severely from the cessation of immigration and from the rigours of military service undertaken without sufficient training or proper commissariat arrangements.
1 See p. 64.
There can be little doubt that land was the root cause of the New Zealand wars. Renata, a Maori leader, is quoted by Swainson as asking: “Who is the Maori that is such a fool as to be mistaken about the sovereignty or supremacy of the Queen of England? Or who will throw himself away in fighting for such a cause? No, it is for land; for land has been the prime cause of war amongst the Maoris from time immemorial down to the arrival of the Pakehas in this island of ours…. The Queen's sovereignty has been acknowledged long ago; had it been to fight for supremacy, probably every man in this island would have been up in arms, but in the present case the fighting is confined to the land which is being taken possession of.” At the end of the first war in Taranaki, Captain Pasley wrote these prophetic words, published in 1862: “The Waikatos, the proudest and most powerful of the native tribes, now acknowledge the utter hopelessness of a contest with the power of England; but they would probably not shrink from war, even to the death, rather than abandon their rights of property in the soil…. The possession of the land is the only means of safety that they see before them, and it is, perhaps, to be expected that they will cling to it with desperate pertinacity.”
If their ancestral lands were dearer to the Maoris than their life blood, possession of large areas of fertile land was necessary for the colonists. They were willing to pay a reasonable price, but, as the Land League increased in influence, it became almost impossible to acquire land by peaceful means. Though the Treaty of Waitangi guaranteed to the Maoris the undisturbed possession of their lands “so long as it is their wish and desire to retain” them, their unwillingness to alienate the land which remained to them was regarded by a section of the colonists as an offence. Pressure of the Taranaki settlers on the Government, exercised through the Native Minister, C. W. Richmond, representative of Taranaki, must be deemed a chief cause of Gore Browne's action in making the fatal Waitara purchase. But that pressure, comprehensible as it was in the cramped page 404 state of the settlement, must not be regarded as absolving the Governor from the responsibility of precipitating the struggle. The Church Missionary Society, in a memorandum published in 1861, wrote: “The interposition of the military was uncalled for under the circumstances of the case.… No transaction subsequent to the Proclamation of Martial Law can affect the question of the justice or policy of its issue. Whatever opinion he entertained on the points involved in the land question, beyond all controversy the paramount consideration is the precipitancy of the appeal to arms.” This assertion seems indisputable, and the act of Lieutenant-Colonel Murray in putting the proclamation of martial law into force when he did seems to have been wrong. Impolitic it certainly was, since the settlers in the vicinity of New Plymouth were wide open to attack and the friends of the Maoris were given good reason for protest. That Sir William Martin, Bishop Selwyn, and a large proportion of the missionaries and clergy supported the Maori cause in the Taranaki War doubtless had some effect in stiffening resistance to the troops, for there was little that passed in the European settlements of which the Maoris were unaware. But it is probable that the chief effect of the division of European opinion is to be seen in the way in which the war was allowed to lapse, more or less by mutual consent.
In the later wars of the decade European sympathy had considerable influence, notably in converting General Cameron from aggressive to Fabian tactics. The rise of fanaticism, the cannibalism of Titokowaru, and the excesses of Te Kooti naturally eliminated much of the sympathy felt for the Maori cause, though there is abundant evidence that moderate leaders like William Thompson never lost the good will of many Europeans.
The principal New Zealand ministers of the period were Stafford, Fox, Whitaker, and Weld. Stafford was in power from 1856 to 1861 and again from 1865 to 1869, so that he must be held responsible for much of the policy of the local Government. The wars began in his first period of office and the Te Kooti and Titokowaru campaigns disturbed his second term. Fox came into power in 1861 with a peace policy, but the influence of Whitaker made their combined administration page 405 of 1863–4 notable for the persecution of a rigorous confiscation policy which tended to prolong and embitter hostilities rather than to bring them to an end. The chief feature of the programme of the Weld ministry was “self-reliance,” which, as we have seen, had more than one meaning. The different interpretations attached to it caused, like most other things in this period of conflict, lively controversy. Beyond argument, however, is the fact that reservation of final authority in native affairs to the Governor had proved ineffective in the conditions existing at the time of trial. With economy as the overriding consideration in the mind of the Imperial Government, there were never adequate funds for any constructive native policy. The New Zealand ministers would not provide money to be spent at the Governor's discretion, and, without money, the Governor's powers became almost entirely negative. He could oppose ministerial plans but carry out none of his own. The result was that little or nothing was done and the Maori King movement was correspondingly encouraged.
Division of authority and false economy were perhaps the most prominent aspects of New Zealand history during our period. When the Imperial Government finally insisted on the transfer of native affairs to local control, so that the policy of withdrawal of troops could be enforced, there was no longer division of authority in native affairs. The Native Department was under normal ministerial control, and public opinion in Britain and New Zealand was the only check on native policy—apart from that more directly exercised by the hostile Maori tribes. Confiscation of land on a wholesale scale was the chief method adopted to discourage Maori aggression, and it cannot be said that it proved strikingly successful. As time went on more moderate counsels prevailed. Limits were set to confiscation and conciliatory measures, such as the provision for Maori Members of Parliament, were adopted. When the colony had to face the consequence of its own blunders, more care was naturally taken than when Imperial troops were available. Blunders still occurred, but they were due to unpreparedness and reluctance to incur expenditure rather than to undue pressure on the Maori race. The Maori Wars are sometimes quoted as examples of British “Imperial- page 406 ism” in its worst sense, but this view is scarcely borne out by our survey. New Zealand was first acquired by treaty with the Maoris and not by war, and the Imperial Government was very far from aggressive in its attitude to the natives. For the greater part of the period we have been considering, its primary object was to get the Imperial troops out of the country as quickly as possible.1 The manner in which the colonists neglected even elementary measures of defence, as soon as the first flames of war died down, encouraged further outbreaks, but the colonists' policy, apart from the first ill-considered scheme of wholesale confisaction, a typical war-time measure, cannot be considered aggressive. The main body of settlers wished to treat the Maoris fairly, as Bishop Selwyn, Archdeacon Hadfield, and other friends of the native cause recognized. The tragedy of the time was that, from the conflict of policies and motives, leading to controversy and war, no one leading principle—and no single leader—emerged quickly enough. For this physical reasons may be blamed to some extent. The months that separated Downing Street from Government House, the weeks that separated Auckland from Wellington, played their part. But there were moral reasons for failure as well. The British Government hoped that Sir George Grey's knowledge and prestige would solve the New Zealand problem. Private sorrow and ill health, which seemed to alter the Governor's character at this period, probably exercised a greater influence on the history of New Zealand than is generally understood.
1 Dr. de Kiewiet, in his latest book, The Imperial Factor in South Africa, states that Britain neither wished nor intended to spend vast sums in South Africa: “The British Government made it almost a rule of conduct to pay only for disasters.”
A period of depression and despair about the future has been succeeded in the Maori mind by one of greater hopefulness of outlook. The events with which we have been dealing shaped and are still shaping the destiny of a whole race. “The King movement persisted and still persists,” writes Dr. I. L. G. Sutherland, in The Maori Situation (published in 1935). He emphasizes the effect on the life and mind of the Maori people of their ten years' struggle with the white man. Though we have been primarily concerned about the policy of the British authorities in New Zealand affairs, we have seen enough of local events to realize that the Maoris had much justification for those fears which led to the Land League and the King movement. The Treaty of Waitangi did not settle the relations of white man and Maori. The shadow which the Maoris then thought they were conceding proved all too substantial. But there is very little in the policy pursued by the Colonial Office which can be construed as anti-Maori. On the Governors and local Government must rest the main responsibility for default in the first duty of a government—to provide appropriate administrative machinery. “The only wrongs you redressed were those against yourselves,” said Renata, “as for those all over the breadth of the country, you left them unnoticed. The enemies he (the Maori King) had to fight were the crimes of the Maori….”
1 The Changing Maori, p. 49.
1 Cambridge History of the British Empire, vol. viii, p. 421.
2 British Colonial Policy and the South African Republics, p. 266.
1 Cambridge History of the British Empire, vol. viii, p. 441. The quoted references are to a minute by Kimberley on a despatch of Barkly to Kimberley, May 31, 1871.