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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

Second Administration of New Zealand — 1861-1868. ætat 49-55 — Chapter XIV — The Maori War

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Second Administration of New Zealand
1861-1868. ætat 49-55
Chapter XIV
The Maori War

Absence of effective control in Maoriland—Wiremu Tamihana’s reforms—Election of a Maori king——Formation of land 1eagues—Ejection of Wiremu Kingi from Waitara in 1859—Suspension of hostilities and appointment of Sir George Grey in 1861—His efforts to secure peace—Scheme for the organization of the native tribes—His attitude toward the Maori King—Hopelessness of the situation owing to a want of trust in the Government-Preparation for war—The tragedy of Omata—The critical event in Sir George Grey's conduct of negotiations—Investigation of evidence concerning the conflict between him and his responsible advisers—The case considered on grounds of law and expediency—]ustification of the Duke of Newcastle.

From the time of Sir George Grey’s departure at the end of his administration in 1853 the Maoris had drifted toward a condition of anarchy which is well described in the Maori King by Mr. Gorst, who had knowledge of them at first hand, for he had served as Resident Magistrate before the outbreak of the war at Awamutu in the heart of the "King country." What he says of the procedure in a native Runanga in 1861 is confirmed by the official reports for that year ; and after carefully reviewing the situation he expressed the opinion that "the only remedy that can ever cure the evils of that distracted Colony is the establishment of some government that can make itself obeyed.”

That also was the opinion of the more enlightened among the Maoris. British institutions having failed to page 193 Preserve Order, they determined to follow the example of the Pakeha and set up a king, who, with the aid and advice of a council, might evolve order out of chaos. Thus it was that Wiremu Tamihana,1 reflecting on the misfortunes of his Countrymen, turned over the pages of his Bible in search of a remedy, and his eye caught this paragraph: " One from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee; thou mayst not set a stranger over thee which is not thy brother," Taught by the missionaries to reverence the teaching of their sacred book, these lines from Deuteronomy sank deep into his soul. Henceforth he determined to identify himself with the movement, and he became known to history as the "Kingmaker." After the outbreak of the war the necessity for more effective organization became apparent, and the movement received a powerful impulse. Hence there existed in New Zealand two authorities, the Governor, assisted by his responsible advisers; and the Maori king, advised by a council of chiefs; but both authorities recognized the Sovereignty of the Queen.

Side by side with this development of kingship was another movement that ultimately became inseparably associated with it. In the early days, before the proclamation of British Sovereignty and for some time afterwards, the "Pakeha Maori " was regarded as a most valuable possession by the native tribes. He taught them how to carry on trade with white people, by means of which they were able to purchase supplies of tobacco which were essential to happiness, and ammunition and guns which were page 194 indispensable in case of conflicts with neighbouring tribes. Every effort was made to induce the Pakehas to settle down among them. Life was made easy and comfortable for them; and they were accorded privileges which invested them with the powers and dignity of princes. In 1840, when British Sovereignty was proclaimed over New Zealand, the Pakeha's star was in the zenith. But as settlements were formed in various parts of the country, and the two races came into closer contact with each other, the need for an intermediary became less urgent. After 1845 his star began to decline.

During Grey's absence in South Africa the attitude of the Maori toward the settlers underwent a radical change. So long as the Pakehas were comparatively few in number no territorial problem presented itself forcibly to the minds of the Maoris. But it soon became apparent to them that while their numbers were declining, the European population was rapidly increasing, till in 1858 the census returns showed that in both islands there were 56,049 natives, and 59,413 whites! In 1840 many of the chiefs had refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, thinking it was merely a trick to deprive them of their country. Others who believed in the treaty began to realize, later on, that the situation was becoming critical, and land leagues were formed with the object of preventing any further alienation.

With this movement also Wiremu Tamihana became identified. In March 1862 the tribes met at Wanganui to discuss matters of policy. The Kingmaker could not go; but wrote them a letter saying, "I have say from Aaron about your determination to hold possession of the land.

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Wiremu Tamihana From a Photograph in the Grey Collection, Auckland Public Library

Wiremu Tamihana From a Photograph in the Grey Collection, Auckland Public Library

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That is good. Be strong to hold to your lands. There are three things we must hold to: the Almighty, the King, and the land."

Had the Maoris been united the difficulties of the Imperial Government would have been enormously increased; but the dispute which gave rise to the war in 1860 will serve to show that they were not.

Near the mouth of the Waitara River, a little to the north of New Plymouth, lived two chiefs, Teira and Wiremu Kingi. The former intimated his desire to sell some of his land, but the latter objected. A meeting was held, and three reports of the interview have been preserved. Mr. Parris, the district commissioner, gave one, the natives another, and a third was given by the Reverend Mr. Whitely, who may be considered less directly interested than the others. According to his version, Mr. Parris asked, "Does that piece of land belong to Taylor (Teira)," and Kingi replied, "It belongs to Taylor with all of us; but as he is setting it adrift to sea I shall seize it and drag it ashore again." The land was sold; but Kingi refused to quit. Soldiers were sent to drive him out, and the war began. After some fighting in which neither side gained any real advantage, a truce was arranged by Wiremu Tamihana. But there was no peace, and they were ready to fly at each other's throats, when the announcement was made that Sir George Grey was returning from South Africa to take charge of the administration.

"In calling upon you to proceed to New Zealand they (Imperial ministers) have been mainly influenced by the hope that your intimate knowledge of the Maoris, the reputation page 196which you enjoy among them, and the confidence with which you formerly inspired them may enable you to bring this deplorable warfare to a close earlier than might be in the power of any other man." But in writing these lines to Sir George Grey the Duke of Newcastle carefully cautioned him against any appearance of weakness, for "it would be better even to prolong the war with all its evils, than to end it without producing in the native mind such a conviction of our strength as may render peace not temporary and precarious, but well grounded and lasting." Destiny decreed that no such consummation should be attained during Sir George Grey's administration. At the instance of Governor Bowen, Mr. F. E. Maning sent in a report on the state of affairs, which furnished a reliable account of the relations between the two races in 1868, and the following extract gives a faithful impression of his views: "Years of war, followed by a doubtful armed truce, the result of physical exhaustion on the part of the natives, and of great pecuniary expenditure impossible to be longer continued on ours." Grey's dispatches in 1867 were more optimistic; but he wanted to make a good impression on the Imperial mind at the close of his administration.

Sir George Grey arrived in New Zealand on September 26, 1861, and assumed the government on October 4. Before a month had passed he wrote a dispatch to the Colonial Secretary which showed that he was in complete accord with the judgment afterwards expressed by Mr. Gorst. "What is really wanted in the Waikato district," he said, "is the establishment of law and order … there is page 197no man or body of men in it with whom we can treat as having power to bind others." This unsatisfactory condition of things he ascribed to neglect, declaring that matters had been left very much where they were when he left in 1853—as far as the natives were concerned. He therefore applied himself to the organization of the native districts at once, and after consultation with his responsible advisers published a scheme for the introduction of local government, by which the native portions of the North Island were to be divided into about twenty districts, each containing six hundreds. From the Runangas of each hundred, two representatives were to be sent to act as assessors or magistrates in the District Runanga, which was to be presided over by a Resident Commissioner. In each hundred there was to be a native constable in receipt of a salary of £10 a year and his uniform, and a warden drawing a salary of £30 a year. The District Commissioner was to be assisted by twelve other officers chosen by the Governor from among the native representatives, and they were to be paid from £40 to £50 a year.

Subject to the allowance of the Governor, the District Runangas were to have power to erect and maintain schools and hospitals, to decide disputed land questions, and enforce sanitary laws. The education of the natives, secular and religious, was to be carefully attended to, and special efforts made to induce European clergymen of English, Wesleyan, and Roman Catholic churches to go and settle amongst them. "I feel so strongly the benefits which would result from this plan," wrote Grey, "that did it rest with myself I would pay from public funds part of the cost of the page 198introduction of such clergymen into the country, and their establishment here when they arrive." But that was a matter for his responsible advisers to consider, and they were not so enthusiastic. The Governor therefore tried to induce the natives to allot sufficient land for the maintenance of religious teachers.

Meantime Grey was using all his personal influence to cultivate the friendship of the chiefs and win them over to his side. He travelled among them, held conferences, and was generally received in a friendly spirit. Nevertheless he became more and more conscious that their sympathies were divided, and some of them were definitely hostile. This was in the highest degree embarrassing, and the Governor was disappointed. "You will point out to them," wrote the Duke of Newcastle, "that it will not be possible for Her Majesty to do them all the good she wishes unless they will receive you in the spirit of openness and good-will," Had Grey been able to reckon on such a spirit his difficulties would have been comparatively slight. But he could not. Many of his old friends among the chiefs were dead; others knew him only by reputation, and there was a lack of confidence which thwarted him at every turn. Time after time the Maoris professed their loyalty to the Queen, and of this Sir William Martin made much in his pamphlet; but as the Duke of Newcastle pointed out, neither Sir William nor the Maoris seemed to realize that submission to the royal authority was unmeaning, unless it included submission at least provisionally to the officer through whom that authority is directed.

In this observation the Duke went to the root of the page 199difficulty, for it became clear that if the authority of the Governor conflicted with that of their King, some of the tribes were determined to uphold the latter. There were those who, like Governor Gore Browne, were disposed to treat the King movement with contempt; others thought with Mr. Fox, that in the, early years it might have been recognized and turned to account; others, again, regarded it as an act of rebellion which should be "settled once for all." Grey's opinion differed from all these. In organizing the native districts in 1861 his object was to make the Maoris dependent on the British Government for their salaries, and "to break the native population up into small divisions rather than teach them to look to one general Maori Parliament." Outwardly he treated the King movement with respect; but he was working assiduously for its destruction by trying to enlist the sympathy of the Maoris for British institutions. But this was precisely what he failed to do. He visited them, and argued with the chiefs in conference; but without avail. "I find in many of them at present," he wrote, "a sort of sullen determination to maintain their government at all costs." The correspondence that passed between Tamihana and the chiefs only serves to show that Grey had not misjudged them. "Beware of the wolf," he wrote; "the wolf is the Governor who is trying to beguile."

Against such a feeling Grey was helpless, and all his plans for reconciliation were misunderstood. The natives not only refused to make use of his courts, but regarded his magistrates as spies, and his schools as seminaries for the education of traitors. As Governor, he was bound to page 200take every precaution for the safety of the Europeans by making roads and constructing forts. These, he explained, were only to facilitate trade and protect the traffic passing along the Waikato River. But the military force was not diminished, and the Maoris placed a very different construction on his acts. Their adherence to the King movement presented the real difficulty, and everywhere the Governor went he was pressed to explain his attitude toward the King. For a long while he evaded the question; but at last, during a conversation with Tamihana near Taupiri, he said. "I shall not fight against him with the sword, but I shall dig round him with good deeds till he fall of his own accord." Whether he used the words in italics or not has been questioned, but there can be no doubt that some such phrase was implied. In any case the effect on the Maori mind would have been much the same; for it was at least clear to them that the Governor was opposed to their King. Soon afterwards one of the friendly chiefs, Te Hapuku, wrote a letter warning him to take care lest he should be shot, "because exceeding great has been the anger of the Island toward you on account of your having said that you would dig round it on all sides, and so the King movement would fall of itself." The bullets that laid low Captain Tragett and his followers on the beach near Omata at the outbreak of the war were, it was said, intended originally for the Governor and Sir Duncan Cameron; but there is no proof of this.

After securing the Waikato border the Governor decided to go to New Plymouth in order to settle a long-standing grievance concerning the occupation of two blocks of land.

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The English were still in possession of Waitara, from which the Maoris considered that Kingi had been unjustly ejected. To the south of New Plymouth was another block from which the European settlers had been unjustly driven by the Maoris. A big meeting was held at Waikanae, and there the natives decided not to relinquish Tataraimaka till Waitara had been given up. As a result of exhaustive inquiries into documents of various kinds, the Governor had come to the conclusion that while the natives had no real claim to Tataraimaka, their contentions about Waitara were in the main just. He therefore decided to seize the one and abandon the other.

Without making any public declaration to this effect he ordered Lieutenant-General Cameron to march south, and on April 4, 1863, Tataraimaka was recaptured without opposition. Grey was agreeably surprised, and accepted it as an indication of fair weather. "Your Grace will, I am sure, be gratified at the happy turn events appear to be taking." But he was deceived: it was only the lull before the storm. On the morning of May 4, Lieutenant Tragett, Dr. Hope, with two sergeants and four privates of the 57th Regiment, were travelling along the beach in the direction of New Plymouth, when without any warning a party of natives lying in ambush fired upon them. Some were killed, others mortally wounded, and brutally cut about the head with tomahawks. Private Kelly was the only one who was fortunate enough to escape. He made his way toward Tataraimaka, where he told his melancholy tale. Grey had striven hard for peace; but having failed he was determined to strike hard, and "to inflict on those chiefs a punishment page 202of such a nature as will deter others from hereafter forming or attempting to carry out designs of a similar nature."

There seems to have been a general consensus of opinion both in the Colonies and in England that Sir George Grey made a grievous mistake of policy in not declaring his intention of abandoning Waitara before he instructed General Cameron to seize Tataraimaka. It was undoubtedly a blunder, but there is no adequate recognition of the difficulties under which the Governor was labouring.

After the introduction of Responsible Government in 1853 the administration of native [unclear: a] was still retained by the Governor. Responsible ministers complained of this, and on his arrival in 1861 Grey recommended that the native department should be placed under the Colonial government, and on the same footing as other business of State. The Imperial authorities agreed, but in doing so they did not understand that their officer was divested of all responsibility. In 1862 there were in New Zealand 5,500 officers and men, for whose support the Imperial Government was paying £350,000 and the Colonial Parliament £27,500. Next year the force was increased, and the financial burdens became correspondingly great. While, therefore, the Governor was bound to seek the advice of his ministers, he was answerable to the Imperial authorities for the use of Imperial money. The Colonial Parliament had the power to make laws for the natives, and to tax them; but on questions of policy involving the issue of peace or war the Governor had the last voice; and he might have declared his intention of abandoning Waitara despite the objections urged by his ministers.

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That he had made up his mind to do so there can be no manner of doubt. The records preserved among the dispatches at Wellington bear sufficient testimony to the exhaustive nature of his inquiries into the subject; and the "new facts" which he claimed to have discovered did not fail to make some impression on the minds of those who were arrayed against him. Those facts were: that Wiremu Kingi was in occupation when Teira wished to sell the land to Governor Gore Browne, and he had plans to prove it; that according to the report of the interview which appeared in the Taranaki Herald Kingi had given a reason for his opposition to the sale; and, lastly, that the purchase from Teira had never been completed, since he had only received £100. "My settled conviction is," he wrote, "that the natives are in the main right in their allegations regarding the Waitara purchase, and that it ought not to be gone on with. I have given the same opinion to my responsible advisers,"

Incomplete as are the entries in the Memorandum Book there is sufficient to prove that this was so. On April 22 the Governor advised ministers "to proclaim the abandonment of Waitara and also the forfeiture of the £100 to Teira." But they demurred, stating that they had it on the evidence of Mr. Parris that although Kingi may have been in residence at the time, the proprietary rights of the sellers to the greater portion of the block would be found on investigation to be valid. On May I he wrote again, urging his anxiety to settle the Waitara question by abandonment. But his advisers held to their point, and intimated their opinion that the quarrel at Waitara was not page 204really as to land, but "jurisdiction and sovereignty." On May 4 a further memorandum from the Governor expressed the opinion that in relinquishing the lands at Waitara there would be no abandonment of any rights of sovereignty. That was the day of the massacre which made any further negotiation practically hopeless. "I take great blame to myself," wrote Grey to the Colonial Secretary, "for having spent so long a time in trying to get my responsible advisers to agree to some plan of proceeding. I think, seeing the urgency of the case, that I ought perhaps to have acted at once without, or even against, their advice, but I hoped from day to day to receive their decision."

In point of fact that decision had been given, and so far as the claims of justice are concerned it is difficult to see where his ministers were wrong. Part of the land, they affirmed, belonged to Teira: nobody seemed to deny that. Why should he be prevented by Kingi from alienating what was his own? They recommended, therefore, that an inquiry should be held into the extent of Kingi's claims; let that be abandonéd, and the rest might be dealt with at a later time. Even admitting all the discoveries made by Grey, this was in accordance with justice. Nor is it easy to dismiss the second argument advanced by ministers, that the question of "jurisdiction and sovereignty" was involved in Kingi's resistance. He had not only tried to prevent Teira from selling his land, but had also proclaimed that no more land for a distance of forty miles along the coast was to be sold to the Pakeha! The Duke of Newcastle agreed with the Colonial ministers that this was "an interdict of a rebellious character," and in the page 205assumption of such authority Kingi must be "inflexibly resisted."

If the matter were one for consideration purely on legal grounds there can be little doubt that Colonial ministers were fully justified in their opposition; and, so far, the Duke of Newcastle was in agreement with them. But it was not. The relations between the natives and Europeans were critical and war was impending. Many of the Maoris felt convinced that Kingi had been unfairly dispossessed, and a sense of injustice was rankling in their minds. The Governor wished to abandon Waitara not only as an act of justice, but also because it was politic to do so. "I know," he wrote to the Duke, "that we both stand at the bar of history, when our conduct to the native race of this country will be judged by impartial historians, and that it is our duty to set a good example for all time in such a most important affair." The Duke's reputation suffers no disparagement from a careful and exhaustive inquiry into the most reliable evidence. On grounds of policy Sir George Grey was undoubtedly right; but in making the abandonment of Waitara a question of justice he went too far. This was the Duke of Newcastle's contention at the time. He was quite willing to sanction the abandonment of Waitara as an act of policy, "even though that course goes beyond what I believe strict justice to require." No more equitable observation could have been made on this important and difficult question concerning the renewal of the war in 1863.

1 i.e. William Thompson : there were only sixteen letters in the Maori alphabet.