New Zealand and the War.
The Taranaki Settlement.—The Waitara.—The Native Title.—The Waitara considered essential to the Completeness of the Settlement.—Why valued by its Native Owners.—Their Suspicion of the Settlers.—Their early determination not to sell the Land.
The Province in which the outbreak occurred is the smallest of the nine Provinces into which the Colony has been divided: but “no one can speak of the soil or scenery of New Zealand, till he has seen both the natural beauties and the ripening harvests of Taranaki, which by concurrent testimony is described as the garden of New Zealand.” From the beginning of March, 1860, to the end of March in the following year, this beautiful district was visited by the scourge of war. Its once fruitful fields and pleasant homesteads were abandoned and laid waste; the ploughshare was exchanged for the sword; and the settlers, separated from their wives and families, and shut up in an entrenched camp, within sight of the page 60 wasted labours of nearly twenty years, were for many months doing military duty under the iron despotism of martial law.
With a seaboard of about 100 miles, of which Cape Egmont is the centre, the Province extends inland from twenty to forty miles; and it comprises an area of about two millions of acres. With the exception of a narrow and irregular strip of open fern-land near the sea, the country is heavily timbered. At the commencement of the outbreak, the English population of the province amounted to 2,700 souls; and the Native population was estimated to amount to about an equal number. But not having a harbour, being difficult of access, hemmed in between an open roadstead and a dense forest, and being almost impracticable for military operations, the Taranaki district, where the question of Native title has always been unusually complicated, was not well chosen, with all its natural beauties, for the site of an English settlement.
The New Zealand Company, acting with their usual precipitancy, and ignorant as to who were the real owners of the land, dealt with a few Natives who represented themselves to have the page 61 right to dispose of it, and hardly made the shadow of a purchase before the settlement was founded. The first difficulty with which the early settlers had to contend, as at Wellington and Nelson, was the want of a clear title to the land; and it was only by the exertions of the Government that the Native title to a few blocks of land of limited extent was afterwards extinguished, and the settlers, after a period of ruinous delay, were ultimately put into peaceable possession of their homesteads.
The Waitara, a fertile, open district, watered by a small river, ten miles to the north of the town, and navigable at high water by small coasting craft, was the locality which in the first instance was fixed upon for the site of the settlement; and it was represented by their surveyer to the New Plymouth Company, by whom the settlement was originally founded, that if they were deprived of that river, they would lose the only harbour in the neighbourhood, and the most valuable district for agriculture. But this much coveted spot was not to be obtained from its Native owners; so the Company were compelled with great reluctance to lay out the town upon a much less eligible site; page 62 and for nearly twenty years the open land at the Waitara has with the Taranaki settlers been an object of almost passionate desire.
* The term rebel, in its legal meaning, is not generally understood. It was admitted by the Attorney-General (Sir John Campbell), in Frost's case, “that wherever there is a private revenge only to be gratified, a private grievance to be redressed, or a private object to be obtained, although force may be used, and although there may be an offence against the law, it does not amount to the crime of treason.” And it was maintained by Sir Fitzroy Kelly that if Frost and his followers had conspired and combined by force of arms to go and burn down the gaol at Monmouth, for the purpose of liberating Vincent and the other three prisoners that were there; and if, in order to compass that design, they had massacred a large body of the Queen's troops, though it might have been murder, and though, at the least, the very attempt would have been a high misdemeanor—generally punishable—yet it would not have amounted to high treason; because the crime of high treason consists in the compassing of some general and universal object.
* According to Maori usage, the conquering tribe never claimed the land of the conquered, unless they took immediate possession, by exercising acts of ownership, such as living upon and cultivating the soil.
As land for the purposes of the settlement had only been obtained in detached blocks, the settlers and the Natives were settled together in closer proximity at Taranaki than in any other of the page 66 New Zealand settlements. Relieved from all fear of a second Waikato raid, and following the example of their English neighbours, the Natives of Taranaki soon became extensive cultivators of the soil, and the proprietors of a large amount of valuable farming stock and agricultural implements. Comparing the condition of the resident Natives with that of their countrymen in the north, the Bishop of New Zealand remarked that “the coasting craft and canoes of Auckland may here be represented by the almost innumerable carts which may be seen on market days coming from north and south into the settlement.” William King and his people, then occupying the Waitara, alone possessed one hundred and fifty horses, three hundred head of cattle, forty carts, thirty-five ploughs, three winnowing machines, and twenty pairs of harrows; and in the year 1855 they exported agricultural produce to the amount of upwards of 8,000l.; but in the midst of the general prosperity the peace of the district was disturbed by Native feuds, and the district was soon studded over with numerous Native pahs.
The earliest and most serious of these disturbances arose out of an attempt somewhat similar page 67 to that which led to the recent conflict—an attempt to purchase land without the consent of all who claimed a voice in the disposal of it. Being exposed to a continual pressure from the settlers to acquire land from the Natives, the Taranaki Land Commissioner was always in danger of being urged into undue haste in conducting his negotiations. A piece of land was offered for sale to the then Local Commissioner (Cooper) by a Native Assessor named Rawiri; but Katatore, a man of the same Tribe, and a near relation, had always expressed his intention to retain it, and threatened to oppose any one who should offer it for sale. To test Rawiri's power to dispose of the land, the Commissioner desired him to cut the boundary line; and while he and his party were engaged in the work, Katatore and his followers cautioned them to desist; firing twice into the ground by way of warning to deter them. But they still persisted, until Katatore and his people aiming a deadly volley at them, shot Rawiri and six of his followers, and wounded several others. For a length of time afterwards the relations and followers of the contending parties were engaged in a deadly fued; and two years page 68 afterwards Katatore himself was killed. Other causes of quarrel also arose amongst them; and for a period of two or three years their progress in industrial pursuits was brought entirely to a stand.
Up to this time the settlement had never been occupied as a military post; and it is singular that, throughout those Native disturbances, the settlers suffered little direct or immediate injury; but being closely intermixed with the resident Natives, who were all well armed. who occupied numerous defensible positions, and who were not unfrequently engaged in deadly strife, the settlers naturally felt their situation to be painfully insecure; and they made repeated and urgent appeals to the Colonial Government to garrison the settlement with troops. But it was believed by the authorities that the presence of a military force would excite a feeling of jealousy and irritation in the mind of the Natives, and would tend to increase rather than to obviate the danger: and that so long as they exercised ordinary caution and forbearance, the settlers would remain uninjured: while the presence of the small force then at the disposal of the Government would be page 69 insufficient to overawe and preserve peace amongst the Natives, and be calculated to give a false confidence to the settlers, and lead them to be less careful to maintain peaceful relations with their Maori neighbours: and that military operations once commenced would end in the total destruction of the settlement. This opinion was confirmed by the Native Secretary, who, being a military man, was commissioned to make a careful examination of the ground. “The country about New Plymouth,” reported Major Nugent, “is very favourable for the desultory warfare of the Natives. With the exception of a narrow strip of land from one to five miles in breadth, extending along the coast, the country is a dense forest, intersected with numerous ravines: and, except on this strip of land, the country is most unsuited for the operation of English troops against a hostile Native force. The settlement extends along the coast for twenty miles; some of the settlers have penetrated eight miles into the forest; and a much larger force than Great Britain could spare for the whole Colony of New Zealand would be insufficient for the protection of the settlement: and in case of a collision be- page 70 tween the troops and the Natives, the settlement would dwindle into a mere military post.” The Executive Council of the Colony being at that time (1855) responsible to the Crown alone, advised that, looking to the unfavourable nature of that part of the country for military operations, every effort should be made to avoid the risk of hostilities with the Natives in the Taranaki district: and that as the then recent disturbances had their origin in the attempt to purchase land from the Natives with a disputed title, the Land Purchase Department should use great caution in entering into any negotiations for the purchase of land until the views of the various claimants should have been ascertained. Governor Browne soon afterwards arriving in the Colony, and having before him so significant an illustration of the danger of attempting to purchase land with a doubtful or disputed title, condemned the conduct of the Local Commissioner in commencing a survey before he was assured that all who had even a disputed claim to the land desired it should be sold: and he declined to make a demand for reparation, on the ground that “it could only be enforced at the expense of a page 71 general war, including sooner or later all the Tribes in the Northern Island.
After the settlers had long been kept in a state of ruinous uncertainty, the Local Government succeeded in completing the purchase of detached blocks of land of considerable extent for their occupation. In one instance, thirty thousand acres were obtained at the rate of tenpence per acre. But the land being for the most part heavily timbered, the open country at the Waitara continued to be regarded by the Taranaki settlers as essential to the extension of the settlement. This favoured spot, however, was highly valued by its original Native occupants, many of whom were at that time still absent in the South. “This also is the determination of our people,” wrote William King to Governor Fitzroy. “Waitara shall not be given up, the men to whom it belongs will hold it for themselves; the Ngatiawa are constantly returning to their land, on account of their attachment to the land of our birth—the land which we have cultivated, and which our ancestors marked out by boundaries and delivered to us. Friend Governor! do not you love your land, England, the land of your fathers, as we also love our land at Waitara? page 72 Friend, let your thought be good towards us. We desire not to strive with the Europeans; but at the same time we do not wish to have our land settled by them: let them be returned to the places which have been paid for by them, lest a root of quarrel remain between us and the Europeans.” “There are thousands of others,” says Mr. Clarke, referring to the Waikato raid, “who were not enslaved by their enemies, and who joined Rauparaha (in the South) and those of their tribe who had followed him. These parties have already returned to the possessions of their families, who claim the country by right of descent. Every acre of land there has been allotted by their ancestors to the heads of the different families, and subdivided into allotments for the different individuals: they are all marked out by natural or artificial boundaries, and each family knows what belongs to itself, and what to others. These Natives are returning to the place of their birth every day, and never will give up possession to the Europeans. One false step now must plunge us, sooner or later, into ruin—perhaps bloodshed: the Natives never will give up tamely what they consider to be their just rights.” “If the Government,” he added, “are determined to put page 73 the settlers into possession of land which we cannot convince the Natives or ourselves, honestly, that they have alienated, they must do it at the point of the bayonet.”
It was not until further disturbance had occurred amongst the Natives of the District, that the Acting Governor (Wynyard) reluctantly gave way to the importunities of the settlers, and occupied Taranaki with a military force; but, as appears to have been anticipated, the arrival of the troops in 1855, intended simply as a protection to the settlers, was regarded with suspicion by the Natives. Soon after Governor Browne's arrival in the Colony, the Government was informed that it was strongly apprehended by the Taranaki Tribe (not the Ngatiawa or Waitara) that Governor Browne would differ in his views and measures from Governor Wynyard, and that, in all probability, ere long, his word would go forth to put the troops sent down here as a protecting force by the latter, into an aggressive motion, and that thus a war between the Europeans and the Aborigines would be commenced; and being still continually urged to part with the land, the Waitara Natives were troubled by similar apprehensions, until they page 74 were visited by the officer in command of the troops, who went amongst them for the purpose of explaining the reasons for which a military force had been stationed in the district. The Chief himself appears even to have had some fear of being seized suddenly like Te Rauparaha. “I assured him,” said Major Nugent, “that nothing was further from my intention than to seize him treacherously in the night. He complained much of false statements which had been made against him in the local papers; and in proof that he had some ground for his complaints, I enclose copies of the last numbers of the Taranaki Herald, which do not disguise the wish of some of the writers in that paper to drive William King and his party away from the Waitara. Now, independently of the illegality of such a proceeding,” adds Major Nugent, “the people of the Tribe have exported produce this year to the amount of between 8,000l. and 9,000l., the greater part of the proceeds of which is spent in British manufactured goods; and consequently, indirectly, the Natives contribute a considerable sum to the revenue of the country. I have no hesitation in saying that these people, who in their position page 75 are useful and beneficial occupiers of the soil, have been on the point of being driven to become our declared enemies, and compelled to take a position in the forest, where all the discontented and troublesome characters would have assembled, and from which it would have required considerable force, and a large expenditure of money, to drive them. In the meantime the authorities would have been harassed by constant alarms, and New Plymouth might have been thrown back a generation. I think that for the present the Natives are reassured; but I cannot answer for the continuance of tranquillity between the races, so long as such inflammatory articles are published in the newspapers, in which people of much local influence do not disguise their wishes to seize upon the land of the Natives.” These suspicions, however, still continued, and Governor Browne, soon after his arrival in the Colony, reported that “various portions of land have been acquired by purchase, but there is still a deficiency: and although the greater part, and all the most respectable settlers, have abstained from expressing discontent, individuals have from time to time, by letters in the newspapers, and otherwise, shown a strong desire to expel the page 76 Natives, and take possession of the lands to which they consider themselves entitled in right of the New Zealand Company's original purchase. Such antecedents are not likely to have laid the foundation of mutual confidence, and accordingly distrust, which in most other provinces has given place to better feelings, has not done so at New Plymouth; and the old suspicion,” he added, “had been revived amongst the Natives, that the Europeans would not rest until they had slain and taken possession of that which the Maories liken to Naboth's vineyard.”