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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

Second Administration of New Zealand — (Continued) 1861-1868. ætat 49-55 — Chapter XV Discord and Failure

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Second Administration of New Zealand
(Continued) 1861-1868. ætat 49-55
Chapter XV Discord and Failure

The British and Maori forces contrasted—Circumstances advantageous to the Maoris— Maori valour at the siege and capture of Orakau Pah—Failure of the war owing mainly to discord and disunion—Disputes between the Governor and the Premier, Mr. Fox, concerning the prisoners on the hulk Marion and the confiscation of native lands—Quarrel between Sir George Grey and the Lieutenant-General, Sir Duncan Cameron—Assumption of military powers by the Governor—Capture of Wereroa Pah without loss—Examination of the correspondence between Sir George Grey and Sir Duncan Cameron—Resignation and departure of the Lieutenant-General.

The Maori war was a dismal failure. It dragged on its weary course for nearly ten years, and ended with concessions against which the Government had contended. Grey was not altogether deceived. He had striven to avert war by all means consistent with the dignity of the Crown; for he realized the difficulties of carrying on hostilities against the natives in their own country. He informed the Colonial Secretary at the close of 1861 that no brilliant or decisive victory could be looked for, and that the war entered upon would in all probability be a very protracted one. He spoke more truly than he knew, or cared to confess at the close of his administration. Writing to the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos in reply to the dispatch announcing his successor, he begged to be permitted humbly to represent to Her Majesty "that in the year 1861, a rebellion having broken page 207out, I was once more specially sent here, and that it is again my happiness upon being removed by your Grace's advice to leave New Zealand in a state of tranquillity and returning prosperity."

That New Zealand was a prosperous country in 1867, despite all the fighting, may be conceded; but it was not in a state of tranquillity. The report of Judge Maning has already been quoted, and his statement may be supported by facts. Notwithstanding Grey's capture of Wereroa Pah and the successes achieved by General Chute in the west, the natives were still thirsting for glory and revenge. Soon after the arrival of Governor Bowen disturbances occurred at Patea and Opotiki; and Te Kooti landed at Poverty Bay determined to give no quarter and to ask none. The Colonial Parliament had for a time adopted the self-reliant policy, then wavered and ultimately went back on it; and, after Governor Bowen had called for reports from all parts of the country, he recommended that a garrison of two battalions of the line should be retained in New Zealand in addition to the Colonial force, and that fresh settlements in exposed and dangerous districts should be prohibited.

But if Grey's desire to make a favourable impression constrained him to misrepresent the actual state of affairs, he was not disposed to use ambiguous language about the failure of a war which when measured by the insignificance of the enemy and the results obtained was, he believed, "unparalleled in our history." If this opinion cannot be maintained absolutely, an inquiry into the actual fact proves at least that it cannot be far from the truth. In 1864 General Cameron had under his control 10,000 regular page 208troops, 5,000 military settlers, a troop of field artillery, up-to-date implements of war including Armstrong guns, five frigates and sloops of war, a naval brigade of 300 men, two ocean-going steamers, and seven river boats. Against these forces it must be remembered, as a consideration of first-rate importance, that the Maoris were divided into two camps, of which one was not only friendly to the English, but ready to take up arms against the rebels. Moreover, it will be seen at a glance by reference to the war map, that the rebels themselves were separated by a belt of country inhabited by the Arawa, who inflicted a severe defeat on those who were travelling from the east to join their comrades in the Waikato district. It is certain that there were never more than two-thirds of the Maoris in rebellion—probably not more than 2,000 in the field against us at any one time—and the greatest number that took part in any engagement did not exceed 600. They were without cavalry, and had only three old pieces of cannon, which were soon abandoned as useless.

Disagreeable as is the impression arising from reflection on these facts and figures, the Maoris had certain advantages which ought not to be overlooked. They were in complete possession of the centre of the island, to which in time of stress they could retire, and from which they could make an attack upon the enemy without any warning. It is only necessary to try and cut one's way through a New Zealand scrub now-a-days to appreciate the force of Tamihana's remark that "the forests were their bulwarks." So were the swamps near the Waikato, where the growth of manuka was strong enough to provide efficient cover, and the flax-leaf page 209rigid enough to ward off bullets. Had it been possible to starve them in their retreats the case would have been entirely different; but wherever there was fern-root the Maori could not only sustain life but flourish.

It is true that no large force ever confronted the European troops; but that was one of the greatest difficulties with which the European leaders had to contend. Ofttimes after weeks of sapping the soldiers would capture a pah only to find it deserted; and the most serious injuries sustained by the British troops were inflicted by small parties of Maoris lying in ambush, or rushing upon them unawares. The great difficulty was not so much in overcoming as in finding the enemy.

But among their advantages must be reckoned some that reflect great credit on the Maoris. It is now generally conceded that they were skilful engineers, and many of them had a soldier's eye for situation. The pahs were generally constructed so as to make the best use of swamp, hill, or thicket. Mr. Fox has contended that "closely invested, these waterless entrenchments were mere traps; and had we contented ourselves with merely surrounding them, and abstained from throwing away ammunition and lives in vain attempts to storm them, the Maoris must in every case have walked into our lines at the end of forty or fifty hours." The criticism is not without point, and it will not be forgotten that after Ruapekapeka during his first administration Sir George Grey adopted a policy somewhat similar in the valley of the Hutt. But neither will it be forgotten that instead of walking into their lines the Maoris retired to the forests. And so they did in point of fact after page 210nearly every investment during the war under consideration, even after Wereroa Pah, which Mr. Fox considered such a brilliant success. The civilian's plan seems simple enough, but had he been called upon to put it into effect he would probably have refrained from setting down the number of hours to mark the precise limit of Maori resistance "in every case." In the construction of his pah the Maori probably gave more attention to the means of exit than any other detail. It was part of his genius for eluding the enemy, and therein lay the secret of his extraordinary success.

These facts have been used by some writers to throw discredit on the valour of the natives, just as the elusive tactics of the Boers during the late war in South Africa excited some suspicion concerning their reputation for bravery. But there were times when the Maoris, like the Boers, had opportunities of proving themselves, and one of them was the siege and capture of Orakau Pah, which was one of the most interesting episodes of the war, and practically brought the Waikato campaign to a close.

Just at the end of the first quarter of 1864 Brigadier-General Carey heard that the natives were entrenching themselves on a rising piece of ground which was surrounded on three sides by swamp and manuka or tea-tree scrub. Under cover of darkness he marched from Awamatu with 1,000 men, and at dawn on the last day of March had so arranged his troops that Orakau Pah was completely surrounded, and escape seemed impossible. Between the rear of the pah and the swamp two detachments of the 40th Regiment were placed in two lines. Impatient of delay the Brigadier-General page 211made two assaults which were ineffective, and so he settled down to sapping under the protection of gabions. On the morning of April 2 they were close to the entrance and ready to bring their Armstrong guns into action.

Lieutenant-General Cameron, who had arrived with 1,000 additional troops, decided not to interfere with the Brigadier's plan of operations, but sent a message to the natives calling upon them to surrender. The answer was worthy of the best traditions of the race: "This is the word of the Maori; we will fight for ever, and ever, and ever." A second message was sent, asking them to send the women away. But they declined, saying "the women will fight as well as we." And so they did, for the hospital returns included a large proportion of women from Orakau.

The firing began and the natives were pressed back into the interior of the pah; but there they held their own till pressed by hunger and thirst they were obliged to make their escape through the back of the pah over the two lines of the 40th Regiment; and they reached the swamp without sustaining any serious injury! Major Von Kemp caught them on the other side of the swamp and about 200 were shot down. The bravery of the Maoris may have been exaggerated by some writers; but the history of this war reflects credit on their valour. "Let us not linger on and die of old age, rather let us die as does the shark, fighting to the last." So ran the Maori proverb, and the old fire still burned in the defenders of Orakau Pah. But the failure of the war is not to be accounted for by the skill and bravery of the Maoris, nor by the advantages of their position. The real causes were the defects in the native page 212administration of New Zealand, and the bitter protracted quarrels among those who were at the head of affairs. Sir George Grey knew that the war had been a miserable failure, but he does not appear to have realized how far that was due to avoidable causes.

It has already been suggested that the antagonism between the Governor and his ministers prevented the former from acting with that dispatch which is desirable and even necessary in a crisis. But this was only one episode in a long struggle which arose out of the system of divided responsibility in the conduct of native affairs. When the Governor recommended that this department should be placed on the same footing as other departments in New Zealand, he believed that his own superior knowledge and personal ascendency over the natives would secure him in the practical control of affairs. But Mr. Fox was Premier, and he was not the man to relinquish authority without a struggle. He and the Governor had been antagonists during the first administration, and, though they were in agreement on some points at the beginning of the war, it soon became apparent that their respective policies were fundamentally different.

Sir George Grey was determined to strike hard so long as the rebels resisted; but he had also made up his mind to deal generously with them in case of submission. The Premier inclined to the belief that severity was, in the long run, the kindest policy; and that the punishments inflicted should be sufficient to deter others, and so bring the war to a speedy close. It is difficult to discuss the differences between them without creating an impression more unfavourable to Mr. Fox than history justifies; and it may be page break
Sir William FoxFrom a Painting in the Auckland Public Library

Sir William Fox
From a Painting in the Auckland Public Library

page 213necessary to point out that he was a kind-hearted man who favoured no disparagement of native claims in striving after the good of European settlers. The difference between him and the Governor was one of policy, and events were by no means uniformly in favour of the latter.

In Auckland harbour lay the hulk Marion, on which the authorities decided "to place the natives who were captured after the battle of Rangiriri. Mr. Fox was of the opinion that the natives were well cared for, and in good health; but the Governor declared on the authority of the "principal medical officer" that the hulk was "a most unfitting place," and that the condition under which the prisoners lived was driving their friends and acquaintances in the country to a state of desperation. He therefore proposed that they should be released on parole, and tried later by the ordinary courts of justice. This gave rise to a dispute, and Grey ultimately wrote to the Imperial authorities asserting that the honour and dignity of the British Crown were at stake. The Duke of Newcastle replied by instructing him "to act against the advice of his ministers" provided he was satisfied that the prisoners were unjustly treated. Ultimately the Governor had his way, and the natives were placed on the Island of Kawau, after promising to make no effort to escape. But they broke their word, reached the mainland, and became a terror to the neighbouring settlers.

The memoranda on this subject between the Governor and the Premier were many and bitter. In one of them the Governor expressed his conviction that "any captured New Zealand chiefs generously treated would never break conditions as to residence or otherwise into which they had page 214entered, to obtain liberty." In another Grey blamed his ministers for the escape of the prisoners because they had been carelessly guarded!

The dispute about the confiscation of rebel lands during the war excited more interest, and ultimately led to the resignation of the Fox ministry. The Imperial authorities suspected, and the military authorities in the Colony proclaimed, that the war was undertaken to afford an opportunity for the seizure of more land. There can be no doubt that many of the settlers desired greater freedom of purchase than had been permitted under the native department during the administration of Grey's predecessor; and it was under pressure from the Executive Council that Governor Gore Browne had taken the steps which led to war in the first instance.

But it would appear, on investigation, that the settlers have been too readily condemned. The adjoining map shows the distribution of Native and British settlements on the arrival of Sir George Grey in 1862. Considering that the natives made so little use of their lands, and that the populations were nearly equal at this time, it would appear that considerable restraint had been exercised, though mainly no doubt through the influence of leading men like Bishop Selwyn, Chief Justice Martin, and the missionaries of the various denominations. It is impossible to substantiate any general charge of injustice against the colonists in their transactions with the Maoris concerning the transfer of land. In point of fact the Maoris were often more anxious to sell than were the Europeans to buy.

While this may be admitted, it is nevertheless true page 215as an act of policy that the government representing the views of the settlers were in favour of more extensive confiscations than was the Governor. In a memorandum dated September 6, 1864, Grey committed to writing his own opinion of the difference between him and his ministers: "they look to the acquisition of territory as a means of aiding by its sale in defraying the expenses of the war, and of being devoted to military settlements … he views it as a punishment to deter other natives, and as proportioned to guilt in each case." In reply ministers contended that the Governor's "notion of justice to the Maoris excluded the notion of justice to the Europeans." Through many long and dreary pages of memoranda the controversy continued, till the Governor issued proclamations in accordance with his own views, leaving the people and posterity to judge between him and his responsible advisers. Thereupon the Fox ministry resigned.

Once again Grey knew that he could reckon on the sympathy of Imperial ministers, who regarded themselves as trustees for the Native rights. They were exceedingly anxious that the Colonial government should give the Maoris no just reason to think that their former actions were due to a desire for confiscation of territory, and prior to the outbreak of the war a dispatch on the subject had been transmitted containing a passage carefully worded, but very significant: "England will help all the more readily if she finds the colonial aims not at the subjugation of the Maoris so much as at making them prosperous and contented subjects." When the question of confiscation was referred to the Imperial authorities, Mr. Cardwell silenced all page 216opposition by stating that the war would not be sustained by blood and treasure from England, if it were protracted by measures taken in defiance of the Governor. The Imperial authorities had therefore decided that no land was to be confiscated unless the Governor had first personally satisfied himself of the justice of the confiscation in each particular case.

In his book on the Maori War, Mr. Fox says that "the campaign between Sir George Grey and General Cameron seems to have been by far the most vigorously prosecuted of any which has ever been carried on in New Zealand." Mr. Fox was by no means destitute of a sense of humour, and the omission of any reference to the campaign carried on between himself and the Governor was no doubt due to the fact that he attributes the failure of the war chiefly to the antagonism of other people in authority. In that contention he is probably right, but he uses a two-edged sword, and the thrust cuts almost as deeply into his own reputation as that of others. Yet the quarrel between the Governor and Sir Duncan Cameron was, perhaps, more serious in its effects; for while Grey was hampered by the Premier's opposition, he could ultimately proclaim and enforce his own conviction; but he was dependent upon the Lieutenant-General for putting his instructions into effect, and, when the latter become discontented and defiant, the war dragged on so slowly that the administration was paralyzed. And when the Governor finally determined to assume the actual conduct of operations he undertook risks that brought him into conflict with the authorities in England, and could only be justified by complete success if at all.

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When Grey was appointed in 1861 the Imperial authorities invested him with the greatest possible powers. In addition to the authority of Governor-in-Chief he was entrusted with the responsibility of Vice-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of the forces. He was, therefore, Sir Duncan Cameron's superior officer, and it was Grey himself who denned the limits of their respective authorities in the following words: "The Governor who is Commander-in-Chief is responsible to Her Majesty for the safety and welfare of the Colony. He gives orders for such a distribution of Her Majesty's forces as may appear to him fitted to attain these ends; for the formation and march of detachments and escorts; and generally for such military service as the safety and welfare of this part of the Queen's possessions may appear to him to require. The duty of the General is to regulate the military details regarding the distribution of the forces ordered by the Governor, and the manner in which the detachments shall be formed and composed rests also with the General, who is responsible that all these arrangements are conformable in every respect to the instructions issued by the Governor."

Whether this be an accurate statement of their relative positions or not may be left to military experts to decide; but it is clear even to the amateur, from the course of events, that Grey exceeded his powers in at least one conspicuous instance.

The Waikato campaign had been succeeded by another near Taurango harbour, and in 1865 the Lieutenant-General was instructed to march to the south-west, where, besides carrying on the usual operations, he was to keep open the page 218road between Wanganui and Taranaki, and guard a portion of it by means of blockhouses. But by this time the Lieutenant-General had become utterly tired of the war, and in a dispatch to the superior officer in England made serious charges against the Governor and his ministers: the purchase of the Waito-tara block of land was, he declared, an "iniquitous job"; the war had been undertaken in order to confiscate land; and the colonial authorities cared little how many soldiers were lost so long as their policy was carried out.

There were already serious differences of opinion between the Lieutenant-General and the Colonial ministers. He insisted that the troops should be comfortably housed in winter quarters; they believed it was undesirable in so mild a climate to suspend operations in the winter at all. He declined to allow his soldiers to pursue the enemy far into the interior; they believed it was the only possible way to exhaust the enemy and end the war. Judging by the issue of events it would appear that the ministers were right, though it has not been proved that troops trained with a view to European warfare were fitted for such work. But Sir Duncan's heart was no longer in the war. He marched so slowly, and kept so near the coast, that the Maoris called him in derision "the lame sea-gull."

Ministers not only complained of this; they ventured to criticize his plan of operations. Some miles to the west of the Wanganui River the natives were strongly entrenched at a place called Wereroa Pah. In his march westward Sir Duncan made up his mind to leave this behind him in possession of the rebels. Ministers protested, and the Lieutenant-General replied that if he were to carry out the plan of operations page 219already suggested and capture this pah, 2,000 additional troops would be required. The Governor declined to recommend this and stated his reasons, to which the General replied, "All the reasons you mention for not deciding to apply for reinforcements are to my mind the strongest reasons why they should be applied for." Such language betrays Sir Duncan's weakness, and the logic of fact turned against him in the next few weeks. Colonel Weare had asked permission to advance along the road from Taranaki to a distance of 94 miles with a force of 600 men, leaving only 34 miles for the General to traverse, including 18 miles to Waitotara, which was well-known country. Altogether there were not more than 1,500 natives along the whole route, some of whom were friendly, and when Sir Duncan did proceed he only met with serious opposition at one place from 150 natives.

Wereroa was still in possession of the rebels, and as it was generally regarded as "the centre and focus of disaffection," the Governor determined to attack the place himself.

The pah was situated on a lofty piece of ground at the junction of the Koie and Waitotara streams, which run through valleys between precipitous heights of 300 to 400 feet. It was triangular shaped, and the side representing the base was strongly fortified so as to resist attack. But there was one point of weakness, and Grey detected it. The right bank of Koie stream commanded the greater portion of the pah, and there was a piece of land jutting out above the Waitotara from which the remainder could be attacked.

But his plan of attack carried him further afield. Horei Kerei, the orderly of his staff, had spent his boyhood among page 220these hills and knew every track in the neighbourhood. Those who constructed the pah did not dream that a hostile force would pass through the dense forest of difficult country to occupy Karaka in the rear, cut off communication with the interior, and so intercept supplies. But this was the essential feature of Grey's plan of attack. After placing detachments immediately round the pah, Major Rookes was placed in command of a militia force and directed to capture the height. He moved off at 12.30 p.m. on Thursday while it was raining, plunged into the forest, and reached the top of the range after dark. Their tents had been left standing to mislead the natives, and make the force near the pah appear as strong as possible.

The risks were very great, for Grey had only 473 men all told; but he was not acting without some justification, for Captain Brassey was in sore straits in Pipiriki, and in sending an appeal to Major Rookes added a postscript unintelligible to the natives—"Sumus sine rebus belli sunt." The Governor was anxious to push matters to a crisis at Wereroa in order to set free a portion of his small force for the relief of Captain Brassey. Fortune favoured him from the beginning. Cheers were heard from the heights on Friday, and the Governor knew that the redoubt had been taken. Soon afterwards Captain Ross came down with the good news that 50 natives had been captured. To conduct these down the hill the Governor dispatched 40 friendlies from his already attenuated force. At half-past one on the following morning another message from Major Rookes informed the Governor that the pah had been evacuated. One hour later a note was written to Captain Brassey promising help at page 221once, and Wereroa was occupied at daylight without the loss of a man.

It was an achievement worthy of record, and the Colonial authorities regarded it as a complete refutation of General Cameron's argument for reinforcements. Even Mr. Fox exulted in the victory, and lavished high praises on his old enemy the Governor in order to discredit the General.

But far too much has been made of the incident, for it had but little effect on the progress of the war, and the circumstances had altered very materially since the time at which Sir Duncan had decided to pass it by. Many natives had left Wereroa in the interval, and when the Governor undertook the conduct of operations the rebels inside the pah were divided into two hostile parties. Colonel Weare had even reported that they desired to make terms and capitulate, and it was in the knowledge of this that the Governor opened negotiations with the rebels shortly before planning his attack. Moreover Sir Duncan had given another reason for postponing the attack on Wereroa which, if insufficient, ought not to be disregarded. Nukumaru was only a few miles distant, and, after seizing that, he believed the natives in Wereroa would be seriously hampered in making any attack from a base so isolated, and might even be forced to abandon it.

The essential injustice of the attempt to discredit Sir Duncan is most apparent, however, on a careful examination of the correspondence that took place between him and the Governor. After the Lieutenant-General had given his reasons for postponing the attack on Wereroa he became page 222aware that unfavourable criticisms upon his plans were being made by the Governor and his ministers. He thereupon wrote a letter asking the Governor to state plainly whether, in the face of the report sent on to him, he desired an attack upon the pah at once. The Governor declined to commit himself, and evaded personal responsibility by stating in reply that Sir Duncan had really answered the question when he decided it would cost too much. But on his own showing it was the duty of the General to make his arrangements "conformable in every respect to the instructions of the Governor." Sir Duncan was quite right, therefore, in pointing out that whatever recommendations the Lieutenant-General might make, the responsibility of deciding rested with the Governor: "I had formed, and could form, no decision," he contended, it being my duty to regulate the operation of the troops under my command in accordance with the views and wishes of your Excellency."

But if Sir Duncan had suffered disparagement more than he deserves in this case, there is little to say in his defence when considering the charges which he made against the Governor and his responsible advisers. Sir Duncan proved that he was a gallant officer by his heroic conduct on the ridge at Koheroa,1 and he prosecuted the Waikato campaign page 223with a vigour that was commended by the Governor in glowing terms in the dispatches which he wrote to the Imperial authorities. He was a brave man and a capable officer, but when he entered the arena of political controversy he comported himself no better than commanders of like temper and capacity are prone to do. In their own blunt and somewhat inconsiderate way, military leaders in New Zealand were far too much disposed to attribute the war to a desire for confiscation. Much more reliable is the testimony of one who was ever a friend to the Maoris, and a vigorous opponent of land-grabbing. "In defence of the colonists of New Zealand, of whom I am one," wrote Bishop Selwyn in 1862, "I say most distinctly and solemnly that I have never known a single act of wilful injustice or oppression committed by any one in authority against a New Zealander."

Sir Duncan Cameron's charges against the Governor and his ministers were all founded in error. The origin of the war has already been discussed at length; but to accuse Sir George Grey of participation in such "iniquitous job" as the unlawful seizure of native lands was absurd; to say that he and his ministers cared little how many lives were sacrificed so long as their policy was carried out was so palpably unjust that he deserved the rebuke which Grey was able to administer when he took Wereroa Pah without a single casualty on the British side. That blow struck home, for on his way to England Sir Duncan could not refrain from publishing articles in Australasian newspapers denouncing the Governor-in-Chief of New Zealand. It remains to his credit, however, that, realizing page 224how serious were the consequences for the public service, Sir Duncan had, some months before, tendered his resignation to the Secretary of State for War, and was about to take his departure when the capture of Wereroa was announced.

1 The incident is worthy of record. Quite unexpectedly they came upon the enemy, and at 70 yards received a heavy lire from their rifle-pits. The ridge was narrow and the check threw the soldiers into confusion. There was nothing left but to rush the pits, and the General ordered a charge to which the men failed to respond. Cap in hand Sir Duncan jumped to the front, and moved rapidly to within 20 yards of the rifle-pits before he was overtaken. The Maoris were dislodged by the soldiers owing to the personal heroism and example of the leader at a critical moment.