The East Coast Settlement Bill
A Bill, having the above title, will be introduced into the House of Representatives when Parliament meets in May. It is a private Bill, dealing with very large private interests; but it will also affect vary greatly the public well-being of the whole colony. I therefore venture to explain its meaning. I do so for the purpose of soliciting public scrutiny; and, I hope, for an expression of public opinion upon the merits of a scheme, which if carried out, will mark the point of a new departure in the question of dealing with Native Lands.
Between the Wairoa River and the East Cape, upon the East Coast of the North Island of New Zealand, lies a district of great fertility, possessing natural advantages, not exceeded in any part of the colony. The soil is rich and well watered, the climate genial, the means of access convenient. Along the course of the sea frontage of this region are at least three excellent natural harbours, at Mahia, Gisborne, and Tologa Bay. There, also, four or five large rivers find their outlet to the sea. In that wide area forming parts of Cook and Wairoa Counties, and comprising nearly two millions of acres of land, there are at present only some four or five thousand Europeans residing; nor until some change in the tenure of land takes place, is it probable that this number will be largely increased. This is not owing to natural circumstances, nor, as I have said, to a sterile soil. It is duo to the complicated condition of landed tenure. The portion of the North Island contained within the limits above-mentioned is rich enough to support the whole present population page 2 of the colony. Perhaps one hundred and fifty thousand are owned by Europeans in fee simple. The title to portions of this land, however, is disputed by the Natives, or is so intermixed with land still belonging to them, owing to want of subdivision, that it is comparatively valueless. Perhaps five hundred thousand acres are owned by the Government in different blocks, but those lands are at the present for the most part useless, as roads and bridges are required to render them available for profitable human settlement. The remainder, upwards of thirteen hundred thousand acres, is Maori land, of which the greater part has passed the Native Lands Court under some act of the Assembly, and is now held by the Natives, not under their old tribal and hereditary custom, but from the Crown. That which is yet really Native land, and held as such, can easily be made to undergo the same process and thus become accessible for settlement. This one million three hundred thousand acres of New Zealand soil, in every way fit to support and enrich a numerous population, is now almost entirely a barren waste. It can, however, be settled without the expenditure of any public money, the bestowal of any public favor, or the granting of any monopoly.
Before explaining the plan of the proposed measure, it is necessary to shew the difficulties which now oppose the progress and development of the East Coast. Lands held by the Natives in that district under the Crown, are generally owned in large blocks and by very numerous bodies of proprietors. It is not unusual to find two, or even three hundred names in a title to a single estate. As a matter of course, among these are many married women and children. It is impossible that lands so held can be cut up for ordinary settlement, or small holdings. Even the preliminary step of surveying for sub-division would always be opposed by some of the Native owners; but if the lands were once "cut up" (which, however, is beyond possibility), then the expense and trouble of obtaining so many signatures from all parts of the country, and going through the long and page 3 expensive but necessary forms incidental to Native deeds, would amount to more than small pieces of the land were actually worth.
Moreover, very extensive areas of these lands are inalienable by reason of the provisions of the "Native Lands Act 1867," under which Act they passed through the Native Lands Court. They cannot be sold; they cannot be mortgaged; they cannot be leased for more than twenty-one years; neither can they be sub-divided until the expiration of any existing lease. Between Gisborne and Tologa Bay, a distance of more than thirty miles, nearly all the lands are in this position.
Through the whole district the individual blocks are, as a rule, very large. They run from one thousand to sixty thousand acres. Throughout this territory of such great extent, and inferior to no part of the Australasian Colonies, in those qualities and capabilities which attract the favorable notice of men, all growth is stayed, and all progress is paralysed. It is practically impossible to get a title to the land; and without some certainty of tenure, men will neither bestow their capital nor their labor upon the soil.
|1st.||All the owners, as a rule, will not join in any one deed.|
|2nd.||In the ranks of the proprietors are generally to be found married women and children.|
|3rd.||It is impossible to cut up and sub-divide the blocks for settlement, and they are too large for individual holdings.|
|4th.||Great areas of these lands cannot be sold either in the whole or in part, and these comprise some of the most valuable lands near Gisborne.|
Before the East Coast can advance, such obstacles to progress must be removed. They are insurmountable.
The question at once arises—Is it possible to remove the obstacles and so throw open these lands for bona fide settlement on advantageous terms, without coercing the Native owners, and without casting upon them or the European settlers a pecuniary loss?
It is possible to do this, and also to do much more.page 4
"The East Coast Settlement Bill," if it becomes law, will enable all Native owners of land in the district, including infants and married women, to sign for each block a deed of trust, vesting in trustees, chosen by the Native owners themselves, the whole property in the land conveyed. These trustees will be aided by a Committee, also chosen by the Maori owners of the lands to be affected; and these trustees and committees, like the directors and managers of a Joint Stock Company, will have full power, but subject to strict supervision and control, to deal with the subject matter of their trust: to cut up, to lease, to sell, to part, and to divide the lands.
It may be said—Some of the Natives will not agree to do this. What of them ? The answer is not difficult—Let the shares of such Natives be set apart in the Native Land Court, and their own land given to them, under the existing laws which provide for the partition of Native lands, and still subject to present restrictions. But this, though a possible, is not a probable contingency. Generally the Native tribes, from Wairoa to Waiapu, have already consented to the plan, herein set forth, and it is at their request that the proposed Bill is being introduced. By the Bill it is proposed that committees shall have power to determine what share each hapu, each family, and if necessary each individual possesses in the common property.
Thus nearly all the difficulties would disappear, and the land could be "cut up," leased, sold, and conveyed as easily, and as cheaply as an estate held by any member of the community, under an ordinary Grant from the. Crown. There still remain, however, the lands to the north-east of Gisborne, which the Act of 1867 will not permit to be sold. The Bill gives power to place such lands under trust also, and removes from them a restriction which now prevents their being dealt with.
The Native owners of these blocks, to a large extent, have consented to assign their lands to Trustees, and in truth have already in great part signed the necessary deeds. The Euro- page 5 peans who hold leases in this particular district (and under these restrictions,) are three in number. One holds in lease twenty-four thousand acres in Kaiti and Pouawa, another twenty-one thousand acres in Whangara, the third twenty-eight thousand acres in Paremata and Mangaheia, in all seventy-three thousand acres, running in a straight line from the postoffice, in Gisborne, for thirty-five miles to the north-east. Two of these have already agreed to terms for the surrender of their leases to the trustees; the third is willing to do so if Parliament gives the trustees the necessary powers. I have before said that these lands under restrictions as to sale, are among the most valuable upon the East Coast. On the south-west, when extended, they touch the town of Gisborne. Upon Kaiti, a part of Gisborne must be built, and upon the shore of that block also a breakwater will be erected. On the north-east Paremata and Mangaheia surround Tologa Bay and the Government township of Uawa. At the present, time only a few shepherds and a few sheep occupy this tract of country.
It is certain that there are now in the colony very large numbers of persons who are willing and able to take up good land on deferred payments, wherever that land may be. Many classes of the community are concerned in this desire. Both in the North and South there are young and active men, the sons of settlers, who, unable to procure land in the immediate vicinity of their homes, would gladly secure freeholds for themselves elsewhere. In every town and district there are not a few to whom the obtaining a piece of good land on which to settle and work out a livelihood would be a boon. Working men's clubs, too, in every centre of population, would gladly co-operate to secure for many of their members such pieces of land. Hundreds of families already in the colony, who fought in justice to be considered, can, and will avail themselves of the advantages which this proposed measure will enable the Maori trustees to offer. I have received reliable information from Belfast, which page 6 tells me that if these lands are thrown open as the promoters of this Bill desire they should be, hundreds of farmers from the North of Ireland, men of good character, of great energy, and of substantial means are willing to emigrate and make homes upon the Maori lands of the East Coast. I am also informed that a similar desire has been expressed by many of the same class around Edinburgh and Glasgow, while I hear of repeated enquiries from farmers in Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire, Somerset, and Devon.
The subject matter of the Bill may be viewed in two aspects; one as it affects the Maoris, and the other as it may affect Europeans who wish to avail themselves of the facilities offered for the aquisition of Native lands.
As affecting the Maori owners, the trustees will have—
Firstly, to select such lands in each block as may be necessary and convenient for the dwelling places and cultivations of the different hap us and families interested in the particular property.
Secondly, to make such reserves as may be deemed advisable for schools and charitable or other like purposes; for roads, for townships, and for recreation and pleasure; and
Thirdly, to divide the nett proceeds arising from each block in the fairest and justest manner possible, subject to the general charges arising from costs of schools, hostelries, building and repair of houses, fencing, etc., etc.
|1.||To cut up the lands for lease and sale in suitable areas and positions.|
|2.||To offer these lands for sale or lease upon such terms as to classification, price, times of payment, amount of interest or rent, and otherwise, upon such conditions as may attract settlers by their liberal nature, and yet yield a reasonable revenue to the native proprietors and vendors. It is easy to perceive that the trustees will be able to offer the land on very easy and liberal terms.page 7|
|3.||To devote a reasonable and proper portion of the returns from the lands to the prosecution of useful works—i.e. harbours, roads, and bridges. This Bill provides for works of this kind to be constructed.|
|4.||To choose suitable sites for special settlements for farmers and others from the colony and from the United Kingdom.|
These, briefly, are the leading objects of the "East Coast Settlement Bill."
|1.||To pay off mortgages and encumbrances now existing.|
|2.||To pay all debts due by the Maori owners of these lands.|
|3.||To construct necessary or useful public works.|
The trustees are to be incorporated, and though possessing large powers, are placed under efficient control; all their transactions are to be patent and open to those concerned; and provision is made for the audit of their books and accounts.
It is not possible in a short paper such as this, to point out all the advantages which will result to individuals and to the community from the successful accomplishment of the scheme proposed.
To those Europeans already settled upon the East Coast it means the realisation of hopes which have buoyed them up through years of war, toil, and privation. To the district it means a speedy advance in prosperity, while to the colony it means an accession to population and to wealth.
If these proposals are given effect to by act of the Legislature, it is confidently believed that the beginning of the end of Native difficulty will have been discovered. Nearly all Native troubles have arisen in connection with the possession and the disposal of Native lands. To a law so easily understood, and arriving at page 8 such worthy objects as those proposed, I believe all the tribes will give their assent.
By the Bill all interests are conserved; existing rights are respected. Every Native will be a share in the benefits arising from the occupation, the leasing, or the sale of his ancestral lands, Each individual of the Native race interested will feel that he has committed the care of his land to fit persons, and that he is safe.