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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 IX The New Zealand Constitution

page 121

First Administration of New Zealand
1845-1853. ætat 33-4I
Chapter IX The New Zealand Constitution

Earl Grey's Charter of 1846—Suspension of the Charter by Governor Grey— Difficulties concerning the Native Franchise—Grey's true reasons for suspending the Charter—Attacks on the Governor by Mr. Fox and the Settlers' Constitutional Association—New constitution prepared and transmitted by Sir George Grey— Examination of the principles underlying his scheme of government—Proofs of his attachment to liberal institutions—Close of a brilliant administration in 1853— Departure for England.

The defect in Sir George Grey's native policy becomes more apparent by a study of the events associated with the establishment of representative government in New Zealand. Had it been possible to prepare the Maoris for taking part in Colonial administration in as little time as it took to undermine the authority of the chiefs all might have gone well. But in the history of human affairs destruction has ever been much easier than construction, and so it proved with the natives of New Zealand. Sir George Grey determined to "hang up" Earl Grey's constitution, and asked that it might be suspended for four or five years on the ground that the time was inopportune. The country was in an excited condition about the Instructions, the irritation caused by the alienation of large tracts of land had not subsided, and although he sympathized with Earl Grey page 122in his arguments about land settlement, there was another section of the charter which, if carried into effect, would place the natives in a position of inferiority, insult their pride, and possibly give rise to a native rebellion. He referred to the clause which denied the right of voting to all those who could not read or write English.

In support of his argument Grey pointed out that in the North Island there were, among the Europeans, 3,157 adult males in civil life, and 2,948 belonging to the military profession, while the native population was estimated at 105,000 souls; and since the Maoris were consumers of British goods, and the revenue was derived mainly from indirect taxation, he pointed out that a small portion of Her Majesty's subjects would have the right of taxing and governing the majority of another race under representative government, because the qualification for exercising the franchise practically excluded the Maoris from the privilege of voting. Instead of risking another war by altering the constitution at once, it would be better to wait till the European population had increased, till the arms and ammunition of the natives became exhausted, the irritating question of land claims settled, and the natives better fitted to take part in the administration of affairs by reason of their progress in civilization. "It is better," he said, "to err on the side of prudence and not to incur the risk of the fearful evils which would ensue from another rebellion, for the sake of acquiring one or two years earlier that which must certainly within so short a period be obtained." The Imperial Government was impressed with his argument, and in process of time he was informed that the Charter was to page 123be suspended for a period of five years. Meantime he was given discretionary power to establish any part of that constitution which, with the advice of his council, might seem expedient.

In 1848 he therefore proceeded to inaugurate Representative Provincial Councils, and the tranquillity and progress of the country so far exceeded his expectations that in 1849 he believed representative government might be introduced without danger in two years' time. Instead of acting upon this hint the Colonial Secretary asked Grey to make suggestions for a new bill that was already under consideration. The Constitution of 1846 had been suspended partly because the Governor had complained of the injustice done to the natives by practically excluding them from the franchise. It is only just to point out that in transmitting his suggestions Sir George Grey could offer no real solution of the difficulty which was likely to arise from a minority of Her Majesty's subjects governing the majority of those of another race who bore so great a share of the burden of indirect taxation. And in the "Heads of the Proposals" Earl Grey pointed out that the Governor's instructions were so vague on this point that Her Majesty's Government had resolved not to establish any special native franchise, but to trust in their advance and the acquisition of property to enable them by degrees to take their share in elections along with the inhabitants of European race. The final constitution as revised by Sir John Pakington arrived, and during the elections about one hundred natives voted.

Sanguine as Grey was for the success of his native schemes, he could hardly have imagined the Maoris would page 124be fitted to take any considerable part in representative government by the year 1853. Reading between the lines of the dispatches which he wrote before 1850 it would appear that the suspension of the Charter of 1846 was due mainly I to his anxiety for the welfare of his native schemes, and for the maintenance of that personal ascendency which he was rapidly acquiring over the natives themselves. He foresaw that if representative government were established, his own control would necessarily be limited by the will of his responsible advisers here as elsewhere; and if he believed that he was better able to administer native affairs than a cabinet, or a cabinet co-operating with the Governor, the conviction was amply justified by later events. Under Earl Grey's constitution he pointed out that the natives would not be represented; but so long as he was Governor they had the right of appeal to him, and that was sufficient guarantee that their interests would not be neglected. His policy was working well, why not give it time to make a deep impression by cultivating a stronger sympathy between the two races? There can be no doubt that one cause of the failure of the Maori war during Grey's second administration was the dual control by the Governor and his responsible advisers on the Colony. But that war was probably due in no slight measure to the defect already pointed out in the Governor's native policy. While he was in the Colony he took the place of a chief of chiefs in New Zealand; the Maoris called him "father" and were deeply attached to him. But he left the Colony at the close of 1853, and the elections for that year had proved conclusively enough that the natives had no real interest in or page 125attachment to British institutions. The result was anarchy in Maoriland, and the advent of Wiremu Tamihana the "Kingmaker," who tried in his own way to solve a problem that was perhaps insoluble.

It is not surprising that many of his contemporaries should have attributed his suspension of the Charter to a love of despotic power and a dislike of popular government. It cannot be denied that Grey was an autocrat; but it is impossible to prove that he was opposed to the control of government by the people. Meetings were held in all parts of the country denouncing the suspension, and petitions were sent to the Imperial authorities urging the immediate establishment of representative government. Mr. Fox attacked "the enemy of liberal institutions" and the Settlers' Constitution Association supported him. But they misjudged the Governor, and the Colonial Secretary knew it. When the final draft of the Constitution Act was sent out in 1852 Sir John Pakington wrote at the conclusion of the accompanying instructions: "I have great pleasure in entrusting to yourself the conduct of this very important measure, and in the commission of these extensive powers to the colonists of New Zealand, Her Majesty's Government have had abundant opportunities of recognizing in the correspondenc which has taken place on this subject between yourself and their predecessors, your strong attachment to liberal institutions and the able manner in which you and your council have both prepared the way for their introduction, and urged on the Imperial Government the necessity of speedily creating them as soon as the temporary difficulties which induced you at first to advise their suspension had passed away. They page 126are in fact fully aware that the measure itself now reduced into law owes its shape in great degree to your valuable suggestions."

This is a sufficient refutation of the argument of Mr. Fox, Mr. Dorset and the Settlers' Constitution Association. But it may be desirable to emphasize a point so often misrepresented. "My object throughout has been to leave the colonists the most unlimited power of selecting those men whom they may judge to be most able and fitted to represent their interests." So wrote Sir George Grey in transmitting his suggestions to the Colonial Secretary; and a comparative study of the scheme which he drew up, Earl Grey's "Heads of Proposals" and Sir John Pakington's final draft, proves that he was prepared to go to greater lengths than either of his superiors. Against Earl Grey he contended that the Provincial Councils should consist of wholly elected members, and that in each province there should be an elected superintendent. Sir John Pakington ultimately decided to alter the "Heads of Proposals" in order to admit of these provisions; but instead of granting an elective Legislative Council as Sir George Grey desired, he insisted on the members being nominated for life.

If any further refutation of his misunderstanding critics be desired it may be found in his recommendation to the Imperial authorities that a low rate of franchise should be adopted. On March 18, 1849, he informed the Colonial Secretary that the poor men who came out from England to New Zealand were the most enterprising and intelligent of their class; that they soon acquired property, were obliged to consider titles and wills, and that they took part in the page 127work that would naturally fall to an aristocracy in England. They were, in short, the bona fide settlers of the country, and he sincerely hoped that the franchise would not be limited to wealthy housekeepers and merchants who only came to make a fortune and go home again.

Sir George Grey was an autocrat in the sense that he was unable to work harmoniously with those who shared responsibility with him; but not in the sense that he opposed liberal institutions. On the contrary, it is clear from his first administration in New Zealand that just as he was determined to settle the small farmer on the land, so he had made up his mind that the humble colonist should have a voice in the government of the country.

Grey left New Zealand for England on the last day of 1853, after conducting the administration for eight years with extraordinary ability and success. "When I consider the condition in which you assumed the government, the difficulties with which you had to contend, and its present state, there can in my judgment be no doubt of your title to the respect and gratitude of the inhabitants whether of native or of European race." High praise and worthy of record, since it came from Earl Grey, to whom he had been responsible as Governor for so many years. In the Colony he had made enemies, but they were comparatively few. The great heart of the people sympathized with him, and it is the work which he accomplished during this administration that New Zealanders recall when they speak of "Good Governor Grey."