A Dark Chapter from New Zealand History
Exiles—Their Lands—a Compliment—Gratitude—Imbroglio—a Superintendency Lawyer and Land Shark—Punic Faith—"District Police Act"—Interests Clash—Compensation—a Muddle—"Soft Sawder "—No Go—Annexation.
The East Coast Hauhau prisoners were deported to the Chatham Islands in 1866, to the number of 187, of the worst characters; their women and children were permitted to accompany them. Land, seeds, and implements were allotted each man; they were well fed and clothed, and a guard of 25 men was placed over them. One of the prisoners was the spy Te Kooti, who had planned an ambush to murder an escort party.
The Chathams are well adapted for expatriation purposes, their nearest point being 400 miles from the mainland of New Zealand. When the prisoners arrived, the Chathams were inhabited by 46 Europeans and a small number of Morioris and Maoris; the former were aborigines of the Chathams, who had been conquered by the latter.
Upon the restoration of peace, a problem of difficult solution presented itself, viz., the administration of Hauhau lands. In accordance with Maori usage, those lands were so minutely divided and mixed up with lands owned by loyal natives, that the greatest tact and intimate acquaintance with native customs and land tenures were requisite in him who should be entrusted with the unpleasant task, in order that injustice might be avoided. There is no subject upon which a Maori is so sensitive as that of his land: but so confident were the natives in Mr. M 'Lean's impartiality, that the whole of their lands were placed at his disposal, by the unanimous desire of all concerned. There is not another man in New Zealand to whom such a compliment would be paid; and if the land question remains unsettled to this day, the fault is attributable to Mr. page 10Stafford and his colleagues. It has been shewn that, by his conquest of the East Coast, Mr. M 'Lean had paved the way for its speedy and peaceful colonization. At this juncture ministers stepped in, and, jealous of his unrivalled influence with the Maoris, meanly tried to filch the laurels he had won. The administration of the East Coast was practically transferred to themselves, and Captain Biggs, a highly meritorious officer, but quite incapable of dealing with a question of such magnitude, was appointed to negotiate between them and the natives.
Consequences followed that might have been foreseen. The natives, irritated and bewildered at the seeming refusal of the Government to accept their liberal offer through Mr. M 'Lean, whilst another agent was treating for the very lands included in that offer, became first suspicious, and finally disaffected. Between the date, however, of their offer to place all their lands at Mr. M 'Lean's disposal and the disaffection alluded to, the natives had taken an important step and petitioned the Assembly that Poverty Bay and East Coast districts might be annexed to the province of which Mr. M 'Lean is Superintendent. Such a proposal was "gall and wormwood" to ministers; accordingly, they played into the hands of Mr. Whitaker, and thereby prevented the proposed annexation and consequent settlement of those districts, though they were well aware that at that very time Mr. Whitaker, the Superintendent of Auckland and a General Government Agent, was breaking the law, and assisting to prevent a settlement of the Poverty Bay land question, by negociating, through his agent, with rebel Hauhaus, for the cession of the Poverty Bay oil springs and other lands.
The recognition of rebel claims by a person holding such a high position, led to similar dealings of the most irregular description, involving breaches of faith with the loyal natives, whose confidence became weakened by the treatment they experienced after the valuable services [unclear: rendered] by them in the East Coast campaign of 1865, while the assurance of those lately in rebellion greatly increased, and led both to deny what had been at first unanimously approved, viz., the justice of the principle embodied in the Outlying Districts Police Act of 1865, which asserts, that "expenses incurred in suppressing rebellion should be borne out of lands of the insurgents."
By 1867, manifold conflicting interests had grown up in Poverty Bay and East Coast districts, in the shape of land purchases and page 11leases of runs, which of necessity interfered with a settlement of out-standing claims. A committee of the House of Representatives had eschewed the right of East Coast settlers to compensation for losses sustained in 1865. This led to some of those settlers applying for and obtaining compensation from rebels in land. The consequence of all this was that complication after complication arose, until the land question became an unintelligible web of confusion to ministers, who, seeing no other way of escape from a serious dilemma, called Mr. M'Lean to the rescue.
But though they had by their injudicious meddling marred the fairest prospect that ever presented itself for settling a question of vital importance to the whole colony, and were compelled to ask the assistance of the man whose influence they envied and tried to undermine, their peddling policy was perceptible to the end; even whilst they gave Mr. M'Lean to understand they had no doubt though "the opportunity for carrying out good arrangements had long passed by," and the question "had become complicated by circumstances which greatly increase the difficulty;" and whilst they were constrained to admit, that if any solution of the difficulties could be arrived at, it would be solely through his exertions.
In truth, the difficulties in the way of a satisfactory solution were well nigh insuperable. Nevertheless, Mr. McLean, whilst pointing out that in his opinion not much could be achieved in the settlement of the land question, agreed to go, if Ministers would indicate what they proposed to do. He afterwards proceeded to the East Coast, but fresh complications arose. Finally his exertions were rendered nugatory by the criminal negligence that precipitated the massacre of Poverty Bay.
There can be no doubt that Mr. McLean earnestly desired the settlement of the East Coast lands question, in common with every settler interested in the welfare of those districts, and it was essentia' for the welfare of his own province that the East Coast should be occupied by a European population. But apart from that consideration, the high and influential positions held by him for so many years must enable him to take a more comprehensive survey, embracing not a part only but the whole of the colony, and to act as he thinks best for the general welfare.
It has been insinuated that Mr. M'Lean desired the annexation of a certain district to Hawke's Bay province, from personal considerations, and that the petitions presented to the Assembly upon page 12the annexation question from natives and Europeans were fictitious. Both insinuations are false. With respect to the first, it ought to be known that Mr. M'Lean desired the Poverty Bay district to be administered by a Commission. The annexation petitions were the spontaneous expressions of the opinions of a very large majority of native and European residents in the Poverty Bay districts, who, seeing the advantages enjoyed by their neighbours, desired to share in those advantages, and to have their district administered by the man who saved them from destruction.