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Sir George Grey Pioneer of Empire in Southern Lands

First Administration of New Zealand(Continued) — 1845-1853. ætat 33-4I — Chapter VII — The Governor and The Great Landowners

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First Administration of New Zealand(Continued)
1845-1853. ætat 33-4I
Chapter VII
The Governor and The Great Landowners

Investigation of land-titles in New Zealand by Captain Hobson—Governor Fitzroy's weak and vacillating policy—Important dispatch from Governor Grey to Mr. Gladstone on the Land Question—Reversal of Governor Fitzroy's policy—Legal proceedings and an appeal to the Privy Council—The famous dispute between the Governor and Archdeacon Williams—The Governor's triumph—The privileges, history, and failure of the New Zealand Company—Sir George Grey's conflict with the directors and the Colonial Secretary—His reasons for declining to pay the principal and interest on the debt— Reduction in the price of land from 20s. to 5s. an acre—Undesirable effects of the measure—Storm of opposition aroused in the Colony by Earl Grey's Instructions concerning the occupation of "Waste Lands"—The Instructions examined—Vindication of Earl Grey.

While this struggle against the natives was going on the Governor was waging war against the great landowners in New Zealand. When the natives were guaranteed in the possession of their lands by the Treaty of Waitangi, the right of voluntary alienation was not, of course, denied; but it was limited, in their own interests, by the operation of another clause which reserved the right of pre-emption for the Crown. Shortly after his arrival, in the beginning of 1840, Lieutenant-Governor Hobson proclaimed the illegality of direct purchase of lands from the natives, and intimated his intention of investigating the claims already made by European settlers. This was effected by three commissioners appointed in accordance with the provisions page 90of a bill which passed through the Legislative Council in New South Wales, with which at that time New Zealand was connected for purposes of administration. It was also stipulated that no Crown grant should be issued for more than 2,560 acres, and that, after investigation, awards should be made according to a definite estimate of the value of the land during the year in which it was purchased. The result of the inquiry was that out of 26 millions of acres claimed, Crown grants were awarded for 100,000 acres!

There was, however, another aspect of the question which British ministers at a distance of 12,000 miles did not fully appreciate. Restrictions on the voluntary alienation of land meant a diminution of income to the natives, and therefore less tobacco, and inadequate supplies of guns and ammunition. The Maoris complained of injustice, and Governor Fitzroy, in March 1844, waived the Crown's right of pre-emption, giving the settlers permission to purchase land directly from the natives provided they paid at the rate of 10s. an acre to the Government for the privilege. This was bad policy. Greedy speculators lost no time in explaining to the natives that were it not for this payment of 10s. an acre to the Government, they could afford to give them a much higher price for their land. Nor did they scruple to point out, in defiance of the best interests of the natives, that so long as this payment was enforced by the Governor it constituted clear proof that the lands were not their own, the Treaty of Waitangi notwithstanding. After the natives had made a significant display of their strength at a great feast near Auckland, the Governor, realizing his own helplessness, agreed to exact only a nominal page 91payment of one penny per acre in the transfer of land for the future. Under this proclamation 90,000 acres were alienated before the arrival of Governor Grey, who, in writing to Mr. Gladstone in June of 1846, condemned the policy of Governor Fitzroy in language that sets forth the arguments in support of the policy which he was determined to pursue.

"The effect of the mode in which the local government has allowed land to be purchased of the natives has been, in so far as the native is concerned, to lead him to desert his legitimate occupations, and instead of looking to his surplus produce as the means of acquiring European commodities, to resort to the more immediate source of wealth— the sale of land. To effect this the native with his friends frequents the vicinity of Europeans for weeks, neglecting his true interests; tract after tract of land is disposed of to the speculators, and from the facility with which he acquires European property the native is tempted to repeat again and again the operation of improvident sales of large tracts of land, of which probably he is only part owner, or to which his title is generally doubtful. The habits of indolence thus acquired become inveterate, and, as the natives are daring and well armed, undoubtedly the conquest of fresh territory from other tribes will ultimately be looked upon by them as the source of further revenue. Already their cupidity has been so excited that in some instances they have proceeded to disastrous wars among themselves, regarding portions of territory to which other claims exist.

"The effect produced upon Europeans is equally bad. Impressed by the hope of acquiring wealth by the resale of page 92these tracts of land, he neglects the legitimate pursuits of a settler, forgetting that even if a valid title had been procured to these possessions, they would be really valueless to him without an adequate supply of capital and labour. The future prospects of the Colony are becoming irretrievably ruined by this system. All hopes of the gradual improvement of the natives in the arts of industry and civilization are being destroyed; the progress of the Colony in commerce and wealth is being retarded for years, and a series of disputes are growing up between the Europeans and natives relative to landed property, which it will ultimately be found impossible to settle except by an enormous expenditure upon the part of Great Britain."

Under the influence of these convictions he proceeded to undo all that Governor Fitzroy had done. He denounced the 10s. and penny-an-acre proclamations by exposing the "corrupt administration" of paid officials. Instead of giving full publicity concerning the lands that were for sale, the knowledge was communicated only to a few; and while it was announced in the Gazette that not more than a few hundred acres would be alienated at one time, certain individuals had been "privately but officially advised" to make "separate applications on behalf of more persons than one." The result was that one speculator whose case Grey sent on for the Colonial Secretary's consideration, acquired 4,140 acres within a range of seven miles from Auckland by the payment of one horse, saddle, and bridle, five double-barrelled guns, and one pair of trousers!

After investigation he determined to divide the claimants into two classes, in order to discriminate between the mere page 93speculator and the man who intended to make use of the land. Those who had not taken possession by fencing, cultivating, or erecting buildings were to be dispossessed, and the land was to be resumed by the Government after the claimants' expenses had been paid; the rest were to receive confirmatory titles on payment of an equivalent of 10s. an acre. In a test case which was tried before the Supreme Court the judges "decided that the waiver of the Crown's right of pre-emption was null and void." In the dispute about extended grants the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Chapman decided that they were in conformity with law. Grey, who knew that he had the sympathy of the Imperial authorities, appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the case of the Queen v. George Clarke. The decision of the Supreme Court was reversed, and Grey's triumph was complete.

Among the claimants for extended grants was a member of the Church Missionary Society whose name is honourably associated with the introduction of Christianity into New Zealand. Archdeacon Henry Williams had settled down in the neighbourhood of the Bay of Islands, and in the desire to make provision for the members of his family had acquired land to the extent of 9,000 acres. In September 1843 he had been awarded 2,560 acres in liquidation of his claims by the commissioners; but the case was reopened under Governor Fitzroy, and his grants were again extended to 9,000 acres. Sympathizing so strongly as he did with missionary work, Grey endeavoured in company with the Bishop and the Committee of the Church Missionary Society, to induce the Archdeacon to give way, on the full under-page 94standing that he and the others would lose nothing more than the excessive portion of their grants.

Whether on the simple question they would have been successful had nothing else intervened, it is impossible to say. But the contents of a private dispatch written by Grey on June 24, 1846, had been divulged, and the Archdeacon took up an uncompromising attitude in opposition to the language employed by the Governor. This was the famous "blood and treasure" dispatch in which Grey affirmed that certain powerful individuals, including members of the public press, officers of the Church Missionary Society, and important officers under the Government could not be put in possession of their tracts of land "without a large expenditure of British blood and money;" and though he did not actually say it, any ordinary reader might infer from his argument that the land claims of the missionaries constituted one cause of the native discontent that led to the war in the north.

The Archdeacon who had spent so many years of his life in the service of the Maoris naturally resented so damaging an imputation, and demanded of the Governor substantiation by inquiry, or full and honourable retraction. Out of respect for the Crown's representative the Imperial authorities declined to hold an inquiry, and so, despite the appeals of the Bishop and the remonstrances of the Committee of the Church Missionary Society, the Archdeacon set his teeth, and yielded nothing to which he was not constrained by law.

Very much has been written in reference to this controversy as a balm for hurt minds, or as a vent for spleen.

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Always remembering that no explicit charge was made by-Grey, there is sufficient evidence to show that Archdeacon "Williams may be relieved from any imputation of having caused the war, and it is also clear from the letters of Bishop Selwyn and the diary of the Rev. Mr. Burrows that the Maoris preserved a respectful consideration for the missionaries and their property during the progress of hostilities. Yet it does not follow that the Governor was entirely in the wrong. What Archdeacon Williams, as a citizen, was entitled to do is one thing; what, as a missionary, it was expedient for him to do is another. It is undeniable that the Maoris were sensitive on this question of the alienation of lands, and that it was the fruitful cause of strife between them and the Europeans in after years. But there was another reason for caution. "I have never read in history, nor met in real life with a case such as the present, in which a few individuals who were sent out to a country at the expense of pious people in order that they might spread the truths of the gospel, have acquired such large tracts of land from ignorant natives over whom they have acquired a religious influence." The language is guarded and only serves to show how cleverly Grey could insinuate a charge without really committing himself. He felt, as also did Bishop Selwyn and the Committee of the Church Missionary Society, that in the interests of their calling it was eminently desirable that the missionary's motives should be absolutely above suspicion; and Grey's case appeared all the stronger at the time because the missionaries of the Wesleyan and Roman Catholic denominations abstained from the purchase of any lands for private use.

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The Colonial Secretary was heartily in sympathy with the Governor in this contention, and expressed his opinion in the most candid manner. Towards the end of 1847, the "children of the missionaries and catechists" transmitted a memorial to the Queen asking for protection in their reputations and property against the Governor. As Mr. Carleton's book in defence of Archdeacon Williams contains much adverse criticism of Sir George Grey, it is only fair to quote from the Colonial Secretary's reply to this memorial: "You will acquaint the petitioners that I have laid their petition before the Queen, but that I have not been able to recommend Her Majesty to comply with its prayer. I am satisfied that it is neither consistent with justice, nor compatible with the interests of the public or of the natives that the petitioners should hold the large quantities of land to which they lay claim. … I have merely to convey to you my entire approbation of the course which you have pursued on this subject, and my extreme regret that the petitioners have not felt willing to accept those liberal offers by which, with the concurrence of the Bishop of New Zealand, you endeavoured to effect an amicable adjustment of these questions. I have now no alternative left me but to instruct you, as I have done in another dispatch, to take measures for annulling by means of the proper proceedings before the courts of law, such of these grants as are duly pronounced to be illegal with a view to the resumption of the excessive portions of them."

In the heat of controversy Grey no doubt used language open to the charge of exaggeration, and perhaps of misrepresentation; but that is true also of his opponents. In page 97February 1849 the Archdeacon wrote to the Colonial Secretary charging the Governor with "impeaching the loyalty and integrity of the missionaries of the Church of England of New Zealand." But the President of the Committee of the Church Missionary Society in England, who had seen and read the correspondence, knew that the Governor was heartily in sympathy with the missionaries, and said so. Nor is it possible to read Grey's pamphlets, books, public speeches, and dispatches, without realizing how sincere was his appreciation of their services, and in particular of those who went to New Zealand. "It may reasonably be doubted," he said, "whether at any period of the world there has existed in any country so large a number of men who had devoted themselves to the holy calling of a missionary, so many persons who were eminently qualified by piety, ability and zeal to discharge the functions of the office upon which they had entered." It is abundantly clear from the correspondence on this question that Grey was not disparaging the missionaries, but that he was opposing a practice which might prejudice the best interests of [missionary enterprise. The Committee of the Church Missionary Society agreed with him, and the Archdeacon was removed from their service. Five years later he was restored, and Grey contended that this was done because of his own urgent application to the Society in the Archdeacon's favour.

Throughout this conflict with the speculators and the landowning missionaries Grey had been strongly supported by the Imperial authorities. He was not so successful in his contest with the New Zealand Company, which had page 98special powers and privileges conferred by Act of Parliament. So long as Colonel Wakefield directed the affairs of the Company no serious difficulties arose, but he died in 1848, and, soon afterwards, trouble began. This was no doubt due in some measure to the personality of Mr. Fox, the new agent; but it also arose out of Grey's dissatisfaction with the system adopted by the Company. One of the privileges conferred by Act of Parliament was the right of purchasing land directly from the natives. The Company was then empowered to resell at a minimum price of 20s. an acre. "It is a dangerous precedent," he argued, "to hand over the land fund of the country to irresponsible people who may not work with the Government, and who are not obliged to make public the manner in which their funds are disposed of." He objected also to the manner in which the money was being used. Half the proceeds were devoted to immigration, but the rest he declared was used to pay interest and dividend on capital and stock. Why not do in New Zealand as is done elsewhere—let the land be sold by auction, and the proceeds be put into the Treasury? Then after deducting the cost of purchase and administration let 50% of the surplus be devoted to immigration, 25% to public works, and the remainder to the improvement of the natives. Edward Gibbon Wakefield is reported to have said that the Company was founded by men with great souls and little pockets, and fell into the hands of men with great pockets and little souls. Whether Grey believed this or not, it is clear that he was turning a critical eye on the dividends of the shareholders.

By the middle of the same year he had come to the page 99conclusion that it was a mistake to insist upon the uniform charge of £ I an acre. Admitting the force of some arguments in its favour, he pointed out that the real value of some of the land in New Zealand, even after it had been beneficially occupied for some years, was not more than a few shillings an acre. Men were therefore driven to seek for depasturing licences at a time when the prosperity of the country depended on the occupation of limited runs by small families, who could be induced to make improvements by having permanent possession. He therefore asked to be allowed to reduce the price of land, or at least to modify the Act in such a way as to enable him to assess the occupied land with the stock running on it, and give the occupant the chance of buying at the assessed price.

Such convictions brought him into conflict with the supporters of the New Zealand scheme and in particular with their agent, Mr. Fox, who soon found himself in a most unenviable position. The Company had been beset with difficulties from the beginning, for the average Englishman did not care to leave his home for a country in which the natives were renowned for cannibalism; and the Wairau massacres in 1843 gave a decided check to immigration. The proceeds of land sales fell off to such an extent that in 1846 the British Parliament was obliged to render assistance by granting a loan of £100,000, which was followed by another of £136,000 on condition that the amounts should be repaid in the year 1850. This the Company found itself unable to do, and in July of that year surrendered its charter and proceeded to wind up its affairs, page 100which turned out to be a very difficult operation. Ultimately an arrangement was made with the British Parliament, and the Colonial authorities were instructed to pay to the directors capital and interest on £268,370 by reserving 5s. an acre from all future sales of lands.

Grey declined to carry these instructions into effect, and the quarrel entered upon a new phase in which the Colonial Secretary and the shareholders of the Company were arrayed against him. The Governor contended that the instructions were essentially unjust. The Company's affairs had been left in a condition of confusion and the Government was obliged to expend considerable sums of money in order to satisfy claimants: not one of the settlers had secured a valid conveyance of the land purchased from the Company, and original surveys were so incomplete that it was impossible to locate portions marked out on the map. Sometimes a new survey had to be made in order to settle quarrels between the Company and the settlers, and there were no less than 40,000 acres selected which were not yet acquired from the natives. In order to secure an equitable arrangement of these difficulties Grey proposed that some capable and disinterested person should be sent out from England in order to value the property given in compensation for losses and muddles, and deduct the amount from the £268,370, it being understood that the Government and the New Zealand Company should be bound to accept his decision. Instead of complying the directors agreed to cancel the debt provided that a sum of £200,000 was immediately paid.

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Grey replied by quoting figures, and suggesting that when the Company wound up its affairs the balance between assets and liabilities might prove to be on the wrong side. There were still 200,000 acres to be assigned to dissatisfied claimants, and the local government had already spent £10,000 in order to complete the Company's contracts. But there was another reason why he considered that the general instructions issued to him were unjust. The province of Auckland was 100 miles north of the Company's sphere of operations, and not one shilling of the Company's money had been spent there; yet the people of that province were expected to contribute to the payment of this so-called debt. He now made the further suggestion that the British Parliament should temporarily assume the debt of £200,000 until it could be decided what proportion of the debt should be paid, and also from what portion of the land revenue.

The shareholders of the Company had hitherto contemplated Grey's opposition to his instructions with some apprehension. They were now filled with alarm, and the directors complained to the Colonial Secretary that the Governor was acting in a manner "practically irresponsible," and that he had virtually refused to make the payment by neglecting to transmit any proportion whatever of the proceeds of land sales. The Duke of Newcastle, who had already written with some spirit expressing his disappointment at the delay, now called for a speedy settlement; and in December 1853, while regretting the Governor's determination "directly to disobey the instructions of Her page 102Majesty's Government," commanded him to transmit the money at once. But Grey had left the Colony when this dispatch arrived, and the debt was ultimately paid out of the first New Zealand loan!

Grey was also successful in his opposition to one of the fundamentals of the Company's scheme—the minimum price of land. Realizing their inability to grapple with the practical difficulties incident to the transfer of land, the Imperial authorities decided to entrust the local government with the power to administer Crown lands. Grey, who was still anxious to settle the small farmer on the large tracts leased for depasturing purposes, determined to use his newly acquired power by fixing the upshot price of land at 5s. an acre. Owing to the discovery of gold in Australia the price of provisions was high, and there was a good market for the produce of the small holder who would cultivate his land. There was naturally much opposition in the south from those who had paid £1 an acre for their land; but the Governor carried the Executive Council with him, and they unanimously voted that His Excellency's action was well calculated to promote the progress and prosperity of the Colony, and give contentment to the great body of the inhabitants.

Before he left New Zealand Grey travelled on foot from Auckland to Wellington over a distance of about 650 miles, and "everywhere found great satisfaction owing to the reduction in the price of land." There is little doubt that he exaggerated the sentiment in favour of his policy; nor does a survey of later events justify the opinion that he con-page 103tributed in any material way to the solution of the land problem in New Zealand by this measure. On the contrary, it may reasonably be urged that the practical outcome of his reduction was the reverse of that which he desired. Earl Grey was not deceived, for in commenting upon the measure he stated that his satisfaction would be unmixed "if the facility thus afforded to settlers of acquiring land at low prices does not lead to that speculative eagerness for the acquisition of large tracts by parties not intending to cultivate them which has so frequently produced injurious effects in new countries."

But no dispute about lands excited so much general interest as that which arose from Earl Grey's Instructions accompanying the Charter of 1846, by which the Governor was commanded to adopt means for establishing "the exclusive title of the Crown to all unoccupied or waste lands" in New Zealand, This was the "infamous design" which aroused a storm of opposition in the Colony, and was made the occasion for the transmission of memorials to the British Government solemnly protesting against a violation of established law as well as of national faith. Yet when the facts are considered dispassionately it is hardly possible to escape the conclusion that Earl Grey knew far better than the Bishop or the Chief Justice where to draw the line between sentimental indulgence and political rectitude; and this at least is certain that no Colonial Secretary asserted more clearly and forcibly than he did, that the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi should be "most scrupulously and religiously observed." The Governor knew this, and while he deter-page 104mined for other reasons to hang up the Charter, he valiantly defended his chief against the accusations which he knew to be unjust.

There were those who contended that there were no "unoccupied or waste lands" in the Colony, for the natives were accustomed to range over the country in search of game, fern-root, and fish. The agent of the New Zealand Company went to the other extreme, and declared that according to Royal Instructions native ownership was confined to the narrowest limits. Against this Grey protested in 1847, that "to deprive them of their wild lands, and to limit them to lands for the purpose of cultivation is, in fact, to cut off from them some of their most important means of subsistence." But at the same time he vindicated Earl Grey from any such interpretation by stating that the Instructions referred only to such lands as had no claimants; that they did not in any way touch the Treaty of Waitangi, and that he saw no essential difference between those Instructions and the contentions of the Chief Justice. It so chanced that Earl Grey was himself preparing a reply to the memorialists which was posted about the same time as the Governor's dispatch. They crossed on the way. But the interpretation of the Instructions was almost exactly the same in both, and the Colonial Secretary afterwards acknowledged this "with great satisfaction."

There was, however, another argument in the Instructions which gave rise to alarm. Even if it could be shown that there were no "unoccupied lands," there arose the further question—what use was being made of these lands? New Zealand was not much less extensive than the British Islands; page 105yet the native population had never reached 200,000 souls, and so there were millions of acres in the country where the naturally fertile soil was covered by the primeval forests or wastes of fern. The problem is clear, for it has been raised a thousand times.

The solution which Earl Grey offered may be fraught with danger, but it is reasonable in principle; and with the exercise of due caution may be just in application, Quoting a paragraph from the pages of Dr. Arnold he wrote: "Men were to subdue the earth, that is, to make it by their labour what it would not have been by itself, and with the labour so bestowed upon it came the right of property in it. Thus every land which is inhabited at all belongs to somebody; that is, there is either some one person or family or tribe or nation who have a greater right to it than any one else has. It does not and cannot belong to everybody. But so much does the right of property go along with labour, that civilized nations have never scrupled to take possession of countries inhabited only by tribes of savages—countries which have been hunted over but never subdued or cultivated. It is true they have often gone further, and settled themselves in countries which were cultivated, and then it becomes robbery. But when our fathers went to America and took possession of the mere hunting grounds of the Indians—of lands on which man had hitherto bestowed no labour—they only exercised a right which God has inseparably united with industry and knowledge."

With such reasoning Earl Grey clearly sympathized, and proceeded to apply it to the condition of affairs in New Zealand. To deprive the natives of any portion of the page 106soil which they "really occupied," would be in the highest degree unjust; and in determining what lands were occupied the habits of the natives were to be considered. But he also made it clear that the settlement and cultivation of tracts of land capable of supporting a large population would not be foreborne simply because an inconsiderable number of natives had been accustomed to derive some part of their subsistence from hunting and fishing on them. In all cases of resumption, however, provision was to be made for the natives by reserving areas for their use, and the increased value given to the land by settlement and development would more than compensate them for the restriction of vague and unjustifiable claims to land which they could not use; for it was the settlement of the European, the formation of roads, bridges, and towns, and the progress of public works that gave value to the land.

Earl Grey's instructions concerning the registration of native lands were no doubt impracticable for the time being because of the uncertainty of boundaries. But the Governor found nothing in them to justify the hubbub in the country. On the contrary, he informed the Colonial Secretary in 1848 that the natives had become aware that the real payment for their lands was the security they felt respecting the portion that was reserved for their use, and the increased value that was given to them by neighbouring European settlements. As to the general argument Grey would have been untrue to the convictions of a lifetime had he not sympathized with the Colonial Secretary. In effect Earl Grey had contended that while priority of occupation should be respected, the claims based upon general utility must ultimately prevail.

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The argument cuts deep, and may be applied in more ways than one. In the march of progress and civilization it would appear that people must learn to take up less room on the earth's surface by drawing more deeply from its resources.