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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 38

Mr. Rees's Meeting

page 12

Mr. Rees's Meeting.

To the unprejudiced mind; and to those susceptible of reasonable and unjaundiced impressions, the address Mr. Rees delivered in the Masonic Hall on Monday night last, will be a welcome earnest and instalment of the many good things in store for Poverty Bay. As an all-round address on matters of general importance, it was the host that has ever been delivered in Gisborne. It was thoroughly and well connected; the subject-matter of it was the outcome of a thoughtful mind, and formed a syllabus of circumstances connected with the East Coast, the importance of which it is not easy to estimate.

We were glad to hear Mr. Rees attack, in medias res, the principal offending head of the Hydra—the Native titles—which, par excellence, is the bugbear and great opponent to settlement and prosperity. There was a vigor and manly outspokenness of language employed by Mr. Rees that left little doubt of his sincerity, even in the minds of his bitterest opponents. The most sceptical of—what we shall call for the sake of convenience—the Anti-Repudiation party, must have been convinced that the plans laid, and means employed by Mr. Rees—for the purpose of untying the Gordian knot, which has so long twisted its gnarled cords round the very throats of the settlers—have the merit of originality and honesty combined. Nothing, to our mind, can be more candid, or more entitled to the most favorable consideration, than the expressions of a man who brings with him the means of immediate and prospective relief from pecuniary and financial embarrassments; and pledges his reputation on the result. Mr. Rees is a very sanguine man, but he is no theorist. He is too much of a lawyer to be speculative beyond the boundary lines of cither prudence or redemption. He has faith himself in the work that lies before him; and that, of itself, is an important factor in working out the sum of mundane possibilities. Mr. Rees sees that a great future awaits the East Coast generally, and Poverty Bay in particular. He is cosmopolitan in his views; and his belief in the timely fruition of a great scheme, nerves him to carry it on in the face of all possible opposition—and we commend him for it. A man of less sanguine temperament—one less inured to the hardship and toil of political and personal strife, would either not have attempted the work at all, or, if he did, would have thrown up the sponge, and submitted to an ignominious defeat. Not so Mr. Rees. He is a far-seeing, but practical enthusiast, who puts his shoulder to the wheel, and pulls our cart out of the mud for us, while wo—to our shame be it said—sit on the way-side and call upon Jupiter for help.

"I feel fully persuaded," says Mr. Rees, "that the country cannot have "prosperity until the titles of the lands "are clear and distinct. Capital is shut "out so long as the land-titles are uncertain. An end is put to any hope of "harmony ever existing between the two" races of this Colony so long as this "state of things prevail." Now can the most rabid opponent of Mr. Rees deny the truth of these self-evident theses? But there are men—too many in their influence, if not in their numerical strength—still to be found who, while they theoretically admit the truth of these theses, practically deny it in their course of dealing with the Natives, which, if it be not what might be termed lawless, is opposed to the good government and peaceable settlement of the country. Mr. Rees finds Chaos and a Cimmerian darkness brooding over the land, and he says, "Follow" me, and I will give you light." Either he is a charlatan and an impostor of Gog and Magog stature, or he is the saviour of the district. But how shall we decide which character he personates until we see the result of his labors? Mr. Rees says, "It cannot be denied that "the present condition of native titles "is eminently unsatisfactory; and if the "question of their legality were staved page 13 "off for a few years, it would not improve "matters." Experiences on the East Coast of New Zealand bear but too correct a testimony to allow of the slightest attempt at refutation of this; while every settler of Poverty Bay knows but too well that its comparatively backward state is solely attributable to a most nefarious and ill-advised bartering—we cannot call it dealing—in Native lands. This much being conceded, it surely cannot be maintained that the man who can emancipate us from the evil effects of a system which has been built up from the force of bad examples, ought to be hounded down as an enemy to both races, and a foe to every principle of right, justice, and morality towards either!

Now, what are Mr. Rees's proposals Shortly, they are these: That Trustees and Committees are elected to take charge of all the lands, the Native owners of which consent to have them administered. The Committees will decide as to the best means of dealing with the several blocks, and have absolute control, in conjunction with the Trustees, over them. Lessees will be liberally, fairly, and honestly dealt with; they will be guaranteed as much of their holdings as they can afford, or care to buy, and the remainder will be thrown into the market for bona fide settlement. It will then be optional for any one to buy the fee simple of these lands, and in the most convenient and profitable way, namely, on a system of deferred payments, the principal sum bearing interest at the rate of six or seven per centum. Truly, it may be asked—Would any European amongst us, if he had an opportunity, offer such advantageous terms If Mr. Rees counselled the Natives to sell out entirely the whole of their possessions; or if he were trying by insidious means to possess himself of fat slices, as the manner of some is, he might be looked upon with suspicion; and his regard for the interests of European settlement would be blown to the winds. But the element of Conservatism that permeates his scheme; and the reservations and conditions proposed so that the advantages should be mutual, are so dead against those hypotheses, that it seems to be more difficult for an honest mind to asperse him as an enemy, than to commend him as the best friend the district ever had. And if we require results to cement our belief, lot us look around. Already the tree has borne fruit; of which Maraetaha, Pakowhai, and Whataupoko blocks are instances. In the latter case, the difficulties that for some time stood in the way, are all but completed for the immediate survey of all the lower portion opposite the town of Gisborne. A traffic drawbridge will be thrown over the river, and some thousands of acres of the most fertile land in the Colony will, ore long, be settled with a thriving population Mr. Roes might well pause in his address, and ask if these things are not something to be proud of! But, it is not in isolated places, or even in the whole of Poverty Bay, that Mr. Rees proposes to carry on his work. He has received urgent requests from Natives all over the Island to go over and help them; and it must be a matter of hearty congratulation to know that, not until Mr. Rees has got well advanced in the gigantic undertakings in hand, on this Coast, will he budge from the post of duty. Mr. Rees says what is quite true. He has taken upon himself an enormous responsibility; and, instead of meeting with factious opposition, he ought to calculate on the support of every true settler. For our own part, we say—Go on. Turn not to the right, nor to the left. Let actions redeem words; and as teeming multitudes pour into the place; as the returning thousands of capital which have passed our doors in the past, seek again this field for investment, the name of W. L. Rees will be handed down to posterity as the greatest benefactor the East Coast of New Zealand—if not the whole Colony—has ever seen.