Memorandum on Legal Acquisition of their Homesteads by Europeans.
The pre-emptive right in favour of Europeans residing in certain districts, to be proclaimed for the purpose, to purchase homesteads, is very deserving of consideration, and one for which some provision appears necessary by way of enactment of the General Assembly, in order that such right of pre-emption may be legally exercised. I submit that such purchases should not be indiscriminately allowed, but that they should be confined to certain districts that might from time to time be proclaimed, parties residing in which districts, and acquainted with the Native customs and language, might be allowed to negotiate with the Natives for their own homesteads, and make the payment to the Nativespage 56 in the presence of a Government officer, whose duty it should be to witness the transaction and see the boundaries defined. In some instances the person who surveyed the homestead might, if an accredited agent of the Government, perform this duty. The question of price would be settled between the European and the Natives concerned. The price to be charged to the purchaser before issuing a Crown grant should, I think, be 10s. an acre, less a sum equal to the average price paid by the Government for adjoining lands in the same district; or a fixed deduction of, say, 3s. an acre; without reference to the price paid by the European settler to the Natives. In case of the Government acquiring the homestead from the Natives, the settler would of course have to pay the Crown 10s. an acre for its grant, with the addition of such sum in excess of 3s. an acre as the Government may have paid for the land. The size of such homesteads should not probably exceed 640 acres, and care should of course be taken that the pre-emptive right was not exercised so as to interfere with future town-sites, or necessary public reserves or ferries. The pre-emptive right should only apply to actual occupants who have made certain improvements and resided at least three years on the land, as without some such provision the right might be open to abuse.
In the Waipa and other districts which I have visited in the Auckland Province, there are persons residing on lands which they obtained from the Natives upwards of twenty years ago. On these lands some of them have made considerable improvements, but they have not as yet any legal title to it. I am aware that the Government incur a certain amount of responsibility in issuing such grants, as the Europeans might, in the event of any difference with the Natives, expect the Government to maintain them in possession. In most cases, however, where Europeans have resided a long period of years on their homesteads they have married Native wives, and their chief object in obtaining a title would be to enable them to leave the land with an undisputed title to their children; so that difficulties with this class of occupants need not be so much apprehended as if they obtained a grant with a view of disposing of the land afterwards to other Europeans, who might in many instances be strangers to Native habits and customs, and might therefore have frequent quarrels and disputes with the Natives, which in remote districts beyond the protection of British law would probably embarrass the Government. These difficulties may no doubt be obviated by the Governor's reserving the option of issuing such grants on the respective merits of each case only, and in such districts as may be from time to time proclaimed.