The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62
During a recent visit of the Hon. the Minister for Lands to Christchurch early in the present month, I deemed it my duty to wait upon him and point out that there was every indication of considerable distress falling upon the labouring classes, during the ensuing winter; and I urged him, with the object of counteracting, to some extent, this anticipated distress, to push forward any scheme of land settlement which would tend to attract working men into the country districts before the winter. The Minister of Lands has since issued fresh regulations, dealing with "Homestead Associations" and "Village Settlements." The importance of these regulations, and the numerous enquiries which I have had for information regarding suitable land for settlement, the conditions upon which land is taken up, and the various systems of tenure, have induced me to publish the regulations referred to, with some general remarks on the Land Laws. The Crown Lands Guide published annually by the Minister of Lands is somewhat bulky, and moreover, does not contain the Land Regulations, which from an educational point of view are very valuable. In a small pamphlet such as this, all that I can expect to do, is to give an outline of the Land Laws, with the hope that my remarks may put persons desirous of settling upon the land, in the way of obtaining some information on the subject, and fostering a spirit of enquiry.page 2
The public must of course always recollect, that in each centre there is a Land Office, with officers whose duty it is, to supply the fullest possible information, and it is to these offices intending settlers should go. If the persons who find they cannot get the information they require at the Land Office of the district, were to communicate with the head office in Wellington, and also to state their grievances in the public press, they would be furnished probably with what they wanted. A business letter can always be sent free of postage if it is addressed officially as follows:—"The Hon. the Minister of Lands, Wellington."
In Canterbury the land suitable, and immediately available for small settlement, does not exist, so that there is in this part of the Colony an initial difficulty to combat. Working men in Canterbury must either wait for legislation, which will place in the hands of the Government suitable land, or they must go to seek land in other parts of the colony. In a less degree I understand this state of things exists also in Otago. Disloyal as it may appear to the Canterbury people, to suggest that her working men should go to make homes for themselves in the North Island, I prefer to see this than to witness the continuation of a process which has gone on for years past, and is still going on, viz., the exodus of our best workers to the other colonies. It is to be hoped that during the coming session of Parliament some means may be found of providing land in Canterbury and Otago suitable for small settlement, so that people in these portions of the colony may be able to get land in their own provincial district. A suggestion made recently, and worthy of the most careful consideration, is to give power to public bodies in which reserves are vested, to exchange their reserves for crown pastoral lands page 3 producing the same revenue. The idea, if carried out, would liberate a certain quantity of good land: not at once, but as the present leases fell in. But the land thus rendered available would probably be used for the formation of village settlements, and would be insufficient in area to permit of its being used for farm homesteads and general settlement. The same remark applies, probably, to any scheme of state acquisition of private lands. Money is not available for any scheme of state resumption to an extent sufficient to enable the Crown to provide land for settlement on anything like a large scale. The most that can be hoped for is, that the state will acquire a few blocks in localities where there is no crown land, and an urgent need for small settlement. This is by way of showing that the field for land settlement is and must be for many years to come, in the North Island. Speaking broadly, it is to the north men must go to get land.
The men who have been leaving our shores are not the men who are reduced to an extremity of want, or men of the class who become a burden on the Charitable Aid Boards. They are those who see a bad time coming, and leave before their savings are all dissipated.
These are the men we can least afford to lose. In my humble opinion, a large percentage of those who have formed the exodus of the last few years, have done so owing to the difficulty of getting suitable land upon which to settle. The best proof I can give of this, is to narrate what has come under my notice: not once, during the last three months, but many times. Men have come to me and stated their case something in this way—" I have a growing family, and money or money's worth to the extent of about £1oo. I have been used to hard work and a country life. I want to get a piece of land on which to make a home—I have page 4 looked over the Canterbury land, and there is none left in the hands of the Crown, worth settling on. I desire to get information about land in the North Island, but I don't know how to get that information. I cannot find out anything from the Land Office in Christchurch, beyond having the description of the land read to me from the Crown Lands Guide. I have been told that there is good land in the New Plymouth, Wellington, and other districts up north; but if I go to hunt for that land, it will cost me from;£1o to £15 before I can select a suitable block; and then, if it is a good block, other persons besides myself, many of whom will be land-speculators, will apply for the land, and then there will have to be a lottery between the various applicants; so that in spite of my expenditure of money and time, I may not get the land after all. With this uncertainty before me, I think it is 'not good enough.' I prefer to go to Australia. I must leave here for I am gradually going to the bad."
This is a story which I have heard frequently of late. It is useless to try and persuade men in this frame of mind, that Australia is not so good a place for the working man as New Zealand; and I am bound to admit that the view they take with regard to the difficulty of getting land is only reasonable. Some of the obstacles in the way of land settlement can only be removed by legislation; but an improved administration of the department can remedy many of the evils. For instance, I never could see why, when any block of land is opened in the north, full particulars should not be given of it in the south at the various land offices. It would cost very little also, compared to the value of such information, to have maps of each survey district at each land office, so that the fullest information might be obtained. Again, a practical man with a knowledge of the available land for page 5 settlement, and a love for the cause he advocated, could be of immense service to settlers, by going about the country in order to give information publicly about the land in other districts, and explaining the different methods of taking up land. For a working man to hear things explained by one having a knowledge of the subject, and to be able to ask questions on points he cannot understand, is much better than endeavouring to get the requisite knowledge for himself from 'a Crown Lands Guide,' or from talking to his fellow workmen on the subject at the street corners. When difficulties exist, they are always magnified, and other difficulties are suggested which have no foundation. Why should not a government advertise the good points of a country in the same way that a private company or individual runs a trade. If we want to retain our population and gain more, we must not only make our country attractive, but we must let her good points be known far and wide. An example may illustrate my meaning more clearly. Our most valuable asset, next to our land, is our scenery, coupled with the fact that our summer season is contemporaneous with the European winter. New Zealand has the beauties of Switzerland and Italy combined, and yet what do we do to attract tourists? Very, very little! Consequently we have only a few dozen visitors where we should have thousands. We are too respectable to advertise, and too indifferent to care. The individual citizen is as lethargic as the state. Surely it is time to wake up.
It is heart-rending to see our population making up their minds to leave a country containing the land, resources, and climate we possess. In many cases it is a strong, intelligent New Zealander, educated at no small cost to the colony, and brought up to hard work and country life—in fact the very class of man we most want to retain. The page 6 present Government claim, and I believe truthfully, to be anxious to keep such men in the colony, and to promote the settlement of our people on the lands.
Now is the opportunity for men, anxious to make a home for themselves in the country, to correspond to the effort made by the Government to help them.
The expense of selection and uncertainty of acquisition which I have referred to, are beyond question two very serious difficulties in the way of getting land.
The point I desire to call particular attention to is the opportunity afforded by the "Farm Homestead Regulations" to minimise these evils. A perusal of the regulations will show, that 25 or more men may form themselves into an association for the purpose of taking up a block of land for a farm homestead. The conditions are of a most liberal character, one regulation providing that the first two years' rent, may, instead of being paid in the ordinary way, be added to the upset price of the land, upon which the rent in the third and subsequent years is assessed.
If intending settlers form themselves into an association as suggested, the cost of selecting a suitable block of land would be very small per head, and there would be no uncertainty with regard to getting the land. In all probability also, the land having to be in one block, would be of better quality, than land which had been open for some time, and had the eyes, or best portions, picked out of it. It is true a block of land, suitable and large enough, might be somewhat inaccessible; but even that might prove a benefit, as, if inaccessible there would be roading to be done, the expenditure on which would help the settlers over their most trying time, which is the time that must elapse before the land can be made to bring in a return. Other page 7 advantages will suggest themselves; but a by no means inconsiderable one is, that for such a body of men the Government would, doubtless, utilise a government steamer to carry the men and their belongings to the port nearest their new home.
The association, as far as I can see, might frame rules which would enable the block of land to be sub-divided and allotted among the individual members of the association; or the rules might provide for the working of the block on the co-operative principle.
The limits of this pamphlet forbid my dealing at any greater length with this question of co-operative lands settlement. A word of warning may not be out of place. It is absurd to suppose that every working man is suitable for a settler. The life is a hard one, and requires a special aptitude of body and mind. No greater evil could happen to the cause of land settlement than that unfit men should be encouraged to go on to the land, who would never cease to clamour for state help, in the direction of abatement of rent, exemption from improvement conditions, and the like. New Zealand s destiny is, I believe, to be a nation of small farmers; but the men who go to make for themselves a home in the bush, must be thrifty, steady men, with stout hearts, determined to put up with hardships, and do without the state feeding bottle.
The roading of Crown lands and the opening up of land for settlement are works no government can longer ignore, much less a Government elected to assist the people of the colony to settle on the land. No person can travel through the North Island off the beaten tracks and not see the great work that has to be done in the way of roading. Bad roads and bad Native land laws are two page 8 great barriers to settlement. Each evil would have created a revolution in any but a British colony. Remedy these two evils and the North Island must progress with wonderful rapidity, and carry a large and thriving population to share the large burden of taxation the colony has to carry. To a person comparatively ignorant of native land laws, it seems incomprehensible that the native question should have baffled one government after another for years past. This question is too serious a one to remain unsettled any longer, as in the present uncertain state of the law, enterprise and settlement are almost at a stand still.
In these remarks I have endeavoured to keep free from party politics. My one desire is to bring the question of Land Settlement into greater prominence, to enable men to find out something about our land and land laws, and to induce our bone and sinew to reflect before leaving New Zealand.
March 31st 1891.