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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

First Administration of New Zealand — 1845–1853. æeat 33–4I — Chapter VI — The Blast of War

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First Administration of New Zealand
1845–1853. æeat 33–4I
Chapter VI
The Blast of War

Captain Grey's assumption of the government of New Zealand during a Maori war —Causes of the war at the Bay of Islands against Heke and Kawiti—Conference between the Governor and the Maori chiefs—Rejection of the Governor's ultimatum and renewal of hostilities—Capture of the rebel pah Ruapekapeka—Successful termination of the war in the north—Outbreak of hostilities in the south near Wellington—Attacks on Rangihaeta—The Governor's strategy—Seizure and capture of Rauparaha at Porirua— Another outbreak near the Wanganui River—Treaty of Wanganui and close of the war in 1848—Examination of the charges made against Grey in his conduct of the war—The seizure of Rauparaha justified—The execution of "Martin Luther" condemned.

Captain Grey had been watching the course of events in New Zealand with much interest when news arrived of a disaster at Ohaewai. It so chanced that Captain Hay-was staying with him at the time, having called at Adelaide on his way to Sydney. Realizing the gravity of the situation in New Zealand the Governor took nearly all the money out of the Treasury, collected all the arms and ammunition in the stores, and placed them on board the vessel under the command of Captain Hay, whom he induced to proceed forthwith to Auckland. A few days after he had set sail the Elphinstone, a frigate of the East India Company's Navy, arrived, and Captain Grey "to his great surprise" received orders to proceed at once to New Zealand, and assume the government of the country.

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He reached Auckland in November 1845, shortly after the arrival of the money and supplies under Captain Hay, who may or may not have marvelled how bread cast upon the waters does sometimes return after a few days!

On November 18, 1845, Grey assumed the responsibilities of office under the title of Lieutenant-Governor, and proceeded without delay to the Bay of Islands, round which hostilities had been carried on.

War had broken out originally because of an interference with trade. Captain Hobson had levied a duty which fell chiefly on American goods, and the result was a rise in the price of tobacco. This irritated the natives, and, during the administration of Governor Fitzroy, feeling became more and more intense. One day in the early part of 1845 a mischievous American told them that the flag at Kororareka was the cause of all the trouble, and Heke, unable like the rest of the natives to understand the influence of indirect taxation, resolved to cut the flagstaff down. Governor Fitzroy went north and attended a conference with some of the chiefs at Waimate. He undertook to withdraw the customs duties, and Walker Nene, the faithful ally of the English Government, promised to maintain peace. Trade soon revived, and the flagstaff, which of course had nothing to do with the point at issue, was again set up. But the natives had associated it with their deprivation, and once more Heke cut it down. The Governor thereupon offered £100 for his capture, to which he replied by offering a similar sum for the capture of the Governor. The flagstaff was erected for the third time, and on this occasion was sheathed in iron. But iron was page 74not tough enough to resist Heke's determination, and on March 11, 1845, he cut it down again.

War broke out, and, during its progress, another dispute arose about the alienation of native lands. On this question the Maoris were very sensitive, and some of the chiefs had refused to sign the Treaty of Waitangi, although the full exercise and undisturbed possession of the lands and estates, forests, fisheries, and other properties which they might collectively or individually possess were guaranteed to them. Some were afraid that it was only an indirect attempt to deprive them of what ultimately was the real source of their subsistence. "It is from food that a man's blood is formed, and it is land which grows his food and sustains him. Never part with your land." So ran the Maori proverb; and it was on the understanding that they had not done so that a majority of the chiefs accepted the sovereignty of the British Crown in return for Her Majesty's protection.

Grey met the chiefs in conference, and "in the most public manner, and in the strongest terms on repeated occasions" assured them that he had been "instructed by Her Majesty most honourably and scrupulously to fulfil the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi; that no portion of their lands should be alienated without their consent; and that they were free to sell or hold as they pleased. But one thing they must understand for the future—that if once they sold their land to the Pakeha 1 it was gone for ever. As for Heke and Kawiti, who had rebelled against the Government, they should be punished. Governor Fitzroy

1 White man.

page 75had already issued a proclamation setting forth the terms under which he would accept their submission. By one of them the abandonment of certain specified lands was demanded. "No," said Kawiti, "if they want our lands let us fight on." After making full inquiry for himself Captain Grey decided not to set up the objectionable flagstaff again; but he wrote a letter to the rebels Heke and Kawiti asking if they were willing to accept the terms offered by Governor Fitzroy. Kawiti, face to face with an ultimatum, inclined toward peace; but he was overborne by Heke, and a contemptuous refusal was returned to the Governor. This meant war.

The active rebels under Heke and Kawiti were well armed and strongly fortified in a rugged part of the country; but they did not amount to more than 700. There was, however, another class of natives who under the guise of neutrality were watching the course of events, intending eventually to throw in their lot with the stronger party. Grey determined to give them no alternative but to make up their minds at once. He took the field himself and called upon all loyal subjects to follow him. A native force officered by British troops was enrolled in accordance with the plan adopted in Cape Colony and the Ceylon Rifle Corps. Each soldier received 10s. a month, and a daily ration of one pound of flour and an ounce of sugar. Lord Stanley in his instructions had committed the question of native alliances to the Governor's discretion. Grey assured him that a native force would be a good institution especially in occupying a wood or lining a river. The friendship of well-disposed chiefs such as page 76Walker Nene, Macquarie, Moses, Noble, and Rewa was assiduously cultivated, and a measure to prohibit the importation of arms and warlike stores for the use of natives, and to regulate the sale of those already within the Colony, was passed through the Executive Council.

The rebel forces were divided into two parts. Kawiti was strongly fortified at Ruapekapeka, Heke was twenty miles away to the south-west. Grey sent a small force to keep the latter in check while a decisive blow was struck at the former. Ruapekapeka was a strongly fortified camp surrounded by two rows of palisades, consisting of tree trunks one or two feet in diameter, and in height about fifteen feet above the ground. Between the rows was a space of three feet, in which there was a ditch with earth thrown up to make a parapet inside. The interior of the camp was furnished with huts, underground passages, bomb-proof holes, and caves roofed over with the branches of trees covered with earth to the depth of three or four feet. The rebels inside numbered about 500; the attacking force consisted of 1, 173 Europeans, and 450 friendly natives under Walker Nene. They had in addition several big guns and rocket tubes.

Firing began on the last day of the old year, but it was not till January 10 that two small breaches were made. Next day being Sunday the besieged evidently expected a temporary cessation of hostilities, and ventured outside to cook their food. But the friendly Patuone with some followers, together with a few British soldiers under Captain Denny, crept cautiously up to the pah, and in the face of a volley from those inside rushed through page break
Walker NeneFrom a Photograph in the Grey Collection. Auckland Public Library

Walker Nene
From a Photograph in the Grey Collection. Auckland Public Library

page 77the openings made by the guns and engaged in a sharp fight, which ended in the capture of the fort.

This was enough to break the back of resistance in the north. Heke and Kawiti's forces melted away, and Walker Nene was sent by the rebels to intercede for peace, and say that they were willing to suffer punishment by surrendering their lands. They only asked for a small reserve by which they might support themselves and their families.

Grey had struck hard and quickly; but the olive branch was no sooner extended than it was grasped with both hands. The Maoris have in many respects degenerated in recent years; but in the middle of last century they displayed qualities which won the admiration of their antagonists and entitled them to rank among the noblest of savages. Writing to his friend Sir Samuel Davenport in 1846, Grey paid high tribute to their merits: "They are in many respects a noble race … they are splendid warriors, very eloquent, very sensible of praise, very proud; yet easily led. I always take a large force into the field with me, and they have shown at times as much devotion to me as if I was one of their most highly prized chiefs. Indeed they have won all my feelings and sympathies in their favour by their conduct to me." The Governor had not been in the country a year before he realized that when the Maori had pledged his word he could be splendidly loyal. With such foes he resolved to deal in the spirit of unqualified generosity by granting a free and unconditional pardon.

His policy of firmness and kindness was justified by page 78results. On May 20, when he paid his next visit to Kororareka, Kawiti came on board his ship, and in the presence of native chiefs and British officers fully acknowledged his fault, and expressed his lasting gratitude for the generous manner in which he had been treated. Heke remained sullen and discontented for a time; but he, too, sent peace offerings to the Governor before the close of 1846, and grateful messages. The natives in the north gave no further trouble, and Heke died of consumption in 1850, not, as is sometimes asserted, from the effects of a thrashing administered by his wife.

The war in the north was succeeded by an outbreak in the south on the Hutt River, which flows into Port Nicholson about seven miles from the place where the city of Wellington stands. Trouble had been brewing for some time, and the alienation of native lands was the cause of it. In less than three months after his arrival Colonel Wakefield, the agent for the New Zealand Company, reported that he had purchased land from the natives extending from the 38th to the 43rd degree of South Latitude on the West Coast, and from the 41st to the 43rd degree on the East Coast. But when the immigrants began to settle on the land it was clear that the Maoris did not regard the transaction in the same light as Colonel Wakefield, and strife began.

Much has been written in Mr. Rusden's History of New Zealand to show how the Maoris have been cheated of their lands by the European settlers. If it be true that history should be written in an impartial spirit this is undoubtedly one of the works that ought to be consigned to the flames; and in any case there can be no doubt that the page 79author has attributed to malign intention what was due, in the great majority of cases, to misunderstanding arising from the fundamental differences in the form of tenure that prevailed among the English and the Maoris. There was no such thing as private ownership of land in New Zealand, and no individual had a right to sell what was the common property of the tribe. The great difficulty which the immigrants, and later on the Government, had to contend with, was in giving satisfaction to all the claimants in case of alienation; and this was aggravated by the extraordinary nature of the grounds upon which the Maoris came to think that a claim to some proprietary right might be urged.

The language of Judge Maning is no doubt somewhat exaggerated; but he was a friend to the Maoris, and no better explanation of the insuperable difficulties incident to land transfer can be given than by quoting from a famous passage in his Old New Zealand: "I really can't tell to the present day who I purchased the land from, for there were about fifty different claimants, every one of whom assured me that the other forty-nine were humbugs and had no right whatever. The nature of the different titles of the different claimants was various. One man said his ancestors had killed off the first owners; another declared that his ancestors had driven off the first party; another man, who seemed to be listened to with more respect than ordinary, declared that his ancestor had been the first possessor of all, and had never been ousted, and that his ancestor was a huge lizard that lived in a cave on the land many years ago; and sure enough there was the cave to prove it. Besides the principal claims there were an immense number of secondary ones … one page 80man required payment because his ancestors, as he affirmed, had exercised the right of catching rats on it. Another claimed it because his grandfather had been murdered on the land, and—as I am a veracious pakeha—another claimed payment because his grandfather had committed the murder! … It took about three months' negotiation before the purchase of the land could be made; and indeed I at one time gave up the idea, as I found it quite impossible to decide who to pay."

This may be the language of exaggeration, but it is not misleading. In point of fact the British Government did recognize the claim of a native who argued its validity by affirming that he had seen a ghost on it! Can it be wondered that the transfer of native land was the most fruitful cause of misunderstanding and strife in New Zealand? Or that Captain Grey deemed it necessary to point out to the chiefs in the north that once they sold their land to the pakeha it was gone for ever? He was now obliged to go south in order to insist upon the same point by force of arms. Colonel Wakefield's claims had been investigated by Commissioners, and the extent of his purchases was greatly reduced; but the natives in the vicinity of the Hutt River disputed his claim to the fertile land along its banks. Governor Fitzroy had paid an additional £300 to satisfy the contestants; but the strife continued, and in 1846 the war in the south began under the personal direction of Captain Grey.

If the war in the north illustrate the Governor's capacity for decisive action, that in the south proves his strategic ability. He had noted that when Ruapekapeka was taken page break
Judge ManingAuthor of "Old New Zealand." From a Photograph in the Grey Collection, Auckland Public Library

Judge Maning
Author of "Old New Zealand." From a Photograph in the Grey Collection, Auckland Public Library

page 81the supplies were exhausted, and that, had they not been overcome by force, hunger would soon have driven the natives out. Grey now decided to allow the rebels to fortify their pah, and after mustering all his available men, cut them off from their basis of supplies by surrounding them.

One vital point he failed to reckon with, like so many other leaders in New Zealand. Every important Maori pah had an escape door at the back, leading out into thick forest or marsh. It was so here. Effectually cut off from communication with the cultivated lands, the natives simply retired to the hills, where there was an abundance of fern-root, and made raids upon the settlers from time to time. In one of these a party of rebels stole past the British troops and murdered an old man and a little boy in the most barbarous manner. The situation became more and more critical, and Grey's plans widened. Rangihaeta was on the heights above Porirua at the head of a harbour called by the same name. Grey now determined to seize that town in order to strike a decisive blow against him.

There was, however, one difficulty. A very wily old chief by name of Rauparaha was at that time settled in Porirua, and Grey could not be certain whether his sympathies were with Rangihaeta or the British Government. Throughout April and May he regarded Rauparaha's professions of friendship as genuine, but altered his mind in July, and after his visit to Otaki determined to capture and make him prisoner. About an hour before dawn on July 23, a mixed company of 130 men left H.M.S. Driver, and made their way under cover of darkness to Rauparaha's house. After having completely surrounded it a party page 82entered and found the old man asleep. He was seized and, amidst violent protestations, taken on board, and afterwards transferred to H.M.S. Calliope. When Rangihaeta heard of it he moved down from the hills with a force; but it was too late, and Rauparaha remained a prisoner till, in the following year, Te Whero Whero and Walker Nene pledged their words for his future good conduct, and promised to keep him in the north till the Governor felt that it was safe to allow him to return to his tribe in the south.

This capture made a deep impression on the natives, for, according to the New Zealand Spectator, Rauparaha lost caste among them, and was regarded as little better than a slave. Whether this be true or not, after events show that the seizure of Rauparaha marked a turning-point in the history of the struggle. Attacks were still made upon the settlers, but the rebels were driven further up the Horokiwi Valley to take refuge among the more distant tribes.

The third and last struggle with the natives during Grey's first administration commenced when on April 16, 1847, a midshipman of H.M.S. Calliope accidentally shot a native through the head in the neighbourhood of the Wanganui River. According to Maori custom it was necessary that blood should be atoned for by blood, and shordy afterwards a woman and four children were murdered by a party of natives led by Rangihaeta. Five of the murderers were seized by the friendly Maoris, handed over to the authorities, and most of them were executed by court-martial. This led to a general outbreak, and the Governor, who by this time had a considerable knowledge page 83of the Maoris, settled down near the town of Wanganui, blockaded the stream, and resisted all the attempts of the rebels higher up the river to lure him to an attack.

Finding this method of conducting warfare uncommonly dull, the natives announced their satisfaction in the number of soldiers killed, but declined to ask for peace. Grey had made up his mind that they should. The blockade was continued, and no trade was permitted between the rebels and the people of Wanganui. There was something peculiarly distasteful to the native mind in this kind of warfare: no fighting, no glory, hardly anything to eat but fern-root, and worse than all—no tobacco! Where now were the feasts of kumeras, pigs, and eels with which the heroes of old were accustomed to gorge themselves? What was a smoke of dried leaves compared to a pipe of strongly-flavoured tobacco? There was excitement in the contest with an embodied foe; but this persistent struggle against their own inward cravings brought them to their knees. The Governor received a letter asking for peace, and on February 21, 1848, the treaty was signed which brought hostilities to a close.

The war in the north had been quickly ended and it brought Grey much credit; but some of the charges made against him for his conduct of the war in the south are worthy of consideration. There was an outcry against him in Wellington because, after the rebels escaped from the valley of the Hutt, he stopped on the edge of the forest instead of pursuing them into the interior. The same charge was afterwards made against Sir Duncan Cameron at a time when Grey was quarrelling with him during his page 84second administration. It is interesting, therefore, to notice what the Governor said in his own defence in writing to the Imperial authorities.

After explaining that the system of warfare in New Zealand was utterly different from that which was carried on in Europe he explained that, "if the enemy retire into a dense and mountainous forest of almost boundless extent, and our troops are directed to pursue them, the simple result is that the enemy are driven farther into the forest, and our troops are ultimately after a heavy loss compelled to retire upon the open country and their supplies." The experts may be left to decide on the merits of this contention, provided they remember how little of the country was opened up in 1846, and do not overlook the proportion between the European and native populations in that year.

Much more has been said and written about the seizure of Te Rauparaha. It is quite true that there was no conclusive evidence to prove that he was carrying on secret negotiations with Rangihaeta, or that he was in league with the Wanganui tribes to carry out a scheme for the destruction of British soldiers. Grey did receive a letter signed by Mamaku, a chief of Wanganui, stating that Rauparaha was in communication with "a former rebel and bad fellow" of that district, and that a party of hostile natives was marching along the coast to join Rangihaeta if possible. He showed the letter to Rauparaha, "watched him narrowly;" but the chief "gave no sign of implication." Another letter to the Wanganui tribes signed by Rauparaha came into his possession, but Grey admitted that it might have been a page 85forgery. Yet even if all this be granted it does not prove that he was without justification in making the capture on grounds of expediency. As Governor he was bound to take precautions for the safety of the troops. Rauparaha and Rangihaeta were only a few miles apart. If the former's professions of friendship were genuine he would be a source of strength; if not, then immediately Grey moved to attack Rangihaeta on the hills, Rauparaha would fall on his rear, and a terrible disaster to British arms would inevitably ensue.

There was certainly nothing in Rauparaha's previous career to reassure Grey. He had been associated with some of the most diabolical acts of treachery and revenge in the history of the native tribes of New Zealand; and chief among them was his destruction of the people of Akaroa in 1830, with the help of an incarnate fiend whose name was Stewart. Even in the absence of positive evidence it was necessary to take the utmost precautions when dealing with such a ruffian, and though in April and May the Governor believed in his sincerity, he began to suspect him in June, and about the middle of July had come to the conclusion not only that he was the directing head of a formidable conspiracy, but that "under guise of assisting us" he was doing everything in his power to prevent the capture of Rangihaeta. It is not without some significance that Rangihaeta should have made some effort to rescue Rauparaha, and that he afterwards composed a Lament in his honour, while he was a prisoner on board H.M.S. Calliope.

There would in all probability have been much less criti-page 86cism of Grey were it not for the fact that many of the Maori chiefs were men who rarely broke their promise. Governor Fitzroy bore testimony to this, and so did Sir George Grey in later years. "There is something in the native character," wrote Bishop Selwyn in 1845, "which disarms personal fears in those who live among them, and are acquainted with their manner. All suspicion of treachery seems to be at variance with the openness and publicity of their proceedings." Such a testimony gave rise to an unpleasant reflection that the dignity of the British Crown may have been unduly compromised when Her Majesty's representative stooped to an act which many of the Maoris did regard as treacherous, and of which they reminded him during the early years of his second administration. But it is well to realize the danger of generalizing even about the sense of honour among the Maori chiefs. Judge Maning knew them better than Bishop Selwyn, and it is impossible to study his book without realizing that guests were ofttimes restrained from making their hosts the victims of their treacherous designs only by a consciousness of weakness. And the same conviction is borne in upon the mind by a study of Maori legends. It is not necessary to question the substantial accuracy of Bishop Selwyn's remark, whilst affirming that, on occasions, the Maori could descend to the basest acts of treachery. And apart from generalizations the fact is undeniable that Grey had to deal with a notorious traitor at Porirua.

But whatever may be urged in favour of the capture of Te Rauparaha, there is little to be said in defence of the execution of Wareaitu, better known by his baptismal name page 87"Martin Luther." After the pursuit of the rebels up the Horokiwi Valley some prisoners were brought back to Porirua to be tried by court-martial. One of them was Luther. He was charged with aiding and abetting the murderous proceedings near Wellington; but on Grey's own admission at a later time there was no actual charge of murder preferred against him. On the evidence adduced nothing more could be proved than that he was at Rangihaeta's pah when it was the resort of murderers; that he was in arms with that chief when the latter had been surprised, and was in company with a band of murderers. Yet Luther was sentenced to be hanged, and a soldier had to be bribed with gold to induce him to carry the sentence into effect.

Even had the proceedings of that court-martial been regular Luther should not have been tried by it, for Wellington was not under martial law, and he was entitled to a fair trial in the court there. But in point of fact the tribunal itself was condemned by the Imperial authorities.

Wareaitu was a brave and distinguished man highly respected among those who knew him, and Grey's excuse that his execution would be a guarantee of safety to the settlers only serves to show how indefensible the execution was. It is so entirely opposed to the spirit of his native policy that one is driven to suppose that he was too deeply engrossed in other matters to revise the decision of the court. Be this as it may the responsibility lies at his door, and there is nothing in the correspondence that took place between him and the Colonial Secretary to mitigate the severity of the judgment pronounced by Dr. Thomson page 88that "Luther's death is a disgrace to Governor Grey's administration."1

1 See Arthur S. Thomson's Story of New Zealand, Vol. II., p. 140. It may be of interest to add that among Sir G. Grey's papers I have found a number of criticisms in his own handwriting on certain statements made by Mr. F. J. Moss in his School History of New Zealand. Many of these criticisms are written in his own defence; but there is no reference to Martin Luther, nor any attempt made to clear up the difficulties suggested by Mr. Moss in connection with the execution.