Minute by Ministers on the
Position of the Colony at the Date of the Arrival of Sir George
Grey: chiefly in
relation to the Native Insurrection.
Ministers assume that Sir George Grey has been put in possession of all information which had reached the Home Government down to the 5th of June last, which would include the events in the month of March; or possibly to the beginning of April.
It is unnecessary to offer any comments on the origin or progress of the Taranaki war, with the particulars of which Sir George Grey is no doubt fully acquainted to the above dates. Actual fighting ceased on the 13th or 14th of March last; the Waikato contingent returned home, accompanied by Wiremu Kingi and a few followers; whilst Hapurona, Kingi's fighting general, and a portion of the Ngatiawas, submitted themselves and accepted the terms of peace offered by the Governor. The Ngatiruanuis and Taranakis also returned home, and the British force, with the exception of one regiment, was removed to Auckland.
There were three distinct offers of terms of peace by the Governor to the different tribes who had been engaged in the insurrection: First, those addressed to the Ngatiawas; second, those addressed to the Ngatiruanuis and Taranakis; third, those addressed to the Waikatos. The first have been subscribed by a portion of the Ngatiawas, including Hapurona, but not Kingi. But; although a cessation of hostilities has resulted, the terms imposed on the Natives have not been fulfilled. The second have been rejected. The third were laid before a very large runanga of Waikatos at Ngaruawahia on the 7th June last. The reply of the runanga neither accepts nor rejects, but suggests that the Governor should give time for discussion and consideration. A letter from Wiremu Tamehana, the leader of the King movement, of the same date, rejects the terms; but he subsequently addressed another letter to the Governor, June 7th, of a less argumentative and positive character. Thompson cannot be regarded as the mouthpiece of the Waikato tribe as a whole, though he probably represents, or at least at that time represented, the sentiments of a majority, and exercises much influence both in Waikato and elsewhere. A brief memoir which appeared in a late Auckland paper illustrates his position at this crisis. It was written by a gentleman who has had peculiar opportunities of making himself acquainted with the subject.
Owing to the lateness of the season and the unprecedented wetness of the winter all military movements have been necessarily suspended from the period of the return of the Waikatos to their own country. It is understood, however, to have been the intention of Governor Browne to insist on the submission of that tribe, and their acceptance of the terms offered to them in May.
Early in July a change of Ministry took place. A prominent feature of the policy of the new Ministry consisted in their desire to set on foot negotiations with the Natives of a practical character, by personal communication, in the hope that amicable discussion might lead to a peaceful solution of the difficulties in which the relations of the Government and the Natives were involved. The Ministry proposed that a preliminary meeting should be held between Tamehana and some of the Ministry at Tuakau, and then, if there proved to be a prospect of a satisfactory, result, that Tamehana, should meet the Governor at Auckland or elsewhere. These views met His Excellency's concurrence. Replies were sent to Tamehana intimating that the desired meeting should shortly take place. Matters were in this state when the announcement of the appointment of Sir George Grey led to the suspension of all important measures connected with the Natives, either of a military or diplomatic character.
The attitude of the Waikatos is at present one of suspense. They say that they will not give up the King movement—that the appointment of Sir George Grey as Governor will not induce them to succumb; they must hear what he has to say. They will remain quiescent. They do not wish to fight; but, if they are attacked, they will fight to the last man. These are probably the statements of a majority of the tribe; but there is a considerable section of them who are opposed to the King movement, and other tribes elsewhere, particularly the Ngapuhis and northern Natives; and some of them are reported to be, exerting themselves to induce others to abandon it. It is probable, however, that if war should ensue the bulk of the Native population to the southward of Auckland would gradually drift into it. The Waikatos are the backbone of the present great movement, whether called the King movement or known by any other symbol.
The Kingship is not, in the opinion of Ministers, an essential ingredient in that movement, further than as a rallying cry and as representing in some degree ideas of self-government and separate nationality. But many of the other tribes which support the movement and call themselves Kingites would admit of no claim to supremacy on the part of the Waikatos. Their views on the subject of the great agitation which has been going on for some years are probably not well defined; but the pervading idea of the bulk of those who support the movement aims at independence and freedom from interference on the part of the British Government. It is less an idea of collective national independence than a desire of the different sections of population to be let alone as they are, to manage their own affairs after their own fashion; and if, as between them and us, they should achieve, the independence they aim at, its immediate result would be a struggle for supremacy and intertribal hostilities among the several sections of which the confederacy is made up. They further imagine that, while they suffer from interference with their liberty of action on the part of our page 75Government, they derive no substantial benefit or protection from its paternal care. The Government, they say, does not suppress crime except where a European is concerned. On the other hand, they point to the result of their own rude efforts at the establishment of institutions, including in many places judicial tribunals, as having already produced practical fruits of better government than our institutions, as hitherto worked, have conferred on them. How the runanga was worked, see Mr. Fenton's journal of 1857, the Report of the Waikato Committee, and letter from Waikato settler, appended. In addition to this desire for law, order, and social elevation, jealousy on the subject of their lands has been a very strong motive in creating this movement. They are dissatisfied with the present system of land-purchasing, and suspicious that the sole aim of the Government is to induce them to sell their land; and, whatsoever may be the merits of the Taranaki case, there is no doubt; it has contributed very greatly to the growth of this feeling.
The foundations of the King movement may then be summed up in a few words. They are a desire for good government, a conviction that our rule does not give it, jealousy on the land question, and certain crude ideas of independence.
Ministers are persuaded that, had the task of patiently framing and embodying suitable institutions (commenced some four or five years ago) been persevered in, shape might have been given to the Natives' confused ideas, and their acquiescence secured in some general system of government which might have strengthened the bonds of union between the two races. The lapse of time, and still more the Taranaki war, have not only rendered this task much more difficult in itself, but created or developed an inflammable and dangerous temperament in the Native mind which a very small spark may at any moment cause to break out into a blaze. This, however, only makes the task more difficult, not altogether hopeless.
The Natives of New Zealand are, as Sir George Grey is aware, a deliberative people. Deeply impressed with the value of the King movement, which embodies at present the one political idea of the race, they are not likely to abandon it unless some more attractive and at the same time solid substitute is offered. To give practical effect to what is good in that movement, by institutions adapted to their habits and capacities, while at the same time we persuade the Natives to reject whatever in it may be antagonistic to the authority of the British Government, ought to be our aim. To effect this, time and forbearance and the personal action of the highest officers of the Government are necessary conditions.
It has been argued that direct communication between the Governor and the Waikatos at this crisis would not be consistent with the dignity of the Crown, that no further overtures on our side can be made, that the terms already offered must be unconditionally accepted, and that submission must be enforced with the sword. If we were dealing with a civilized people, long accustomed to the usages of great nations, and versed in the rules of international law, such arguments might have weight. But when we consider that the New Zealanders are a people barely emerged from barbarism, and groping their way from darkness to light, for the most part without help, it is not towards them that such an argument should be used. Nor should it be forgotten that they are British subjects: a character which imposes upon us the obligation to win, rather than to enforce, their allegiance. They have of late years attained a remarkable appreciation of the advantages of law and order, as administered and maintained by themselves. It wants but little more to induce them to accept at our hands a better law and more perfect order; not confined solely to their own social wants, but involving the proper regulation of those relations which spring from the juxtaposition of the two races, and which can only be harmonized under the rule of one supreme head extending its protection equally to both.
A resort to force in the case of the Waikatos will almost to a certainty involve all the tribes south of Auckland. "The first shot fired in Waikato," Governor Browne said on a late occasion, "will be the signal for a general rising." On the other hand, many of the tribes alluded to, who would make common cause with the Waikatos in case of war, are far from being so wedded to the King movement as hot to be open to be detached from it by persuasion and argument. Only a small part of the Natives have been in overt insurrection; except the Ngatiruanuis and Taranakis, no whole tribe has been committed. Such of the Waikatos as took part in the Taranaki war did so on their own individual responsibility, and not as the result of any tribal action. Admitting that these individuals and the Ngatiruanui and Taranaki Tribes have placed themselves in a position to justify severe treatment, why should the larger part of the Waikatos, and all the other tribes who have taken no part in the insurrection, be included in the same sentence?
The object of Ministers in this memorandum is not so much to suggest to Sir George Grey the course to be pursued as to put him in possession of the facts of the case at the present moment. It may not, however, be out of place if they indicate certain courses of action which might suggest themselves as those to be pursued. First, there is the assumption of a position resting on the demand of unconditional submission to the terms already offered, or to any other of a similar character. It will be inferred, from what has already been said, that this is not recommended. Second, the Governor might place himself in direct communication with the insurgent Natives, condone them for their past conduct, give them assurance of a desire to meet their wishes, and yield whatever they might ask. This is a course not to be recommended. Third, the Governor might instal himself at Auckland without making any direct overture to the insurgents. It is pretty certain that before long he would be visited by many of the most influential chiefs belonging to or connected with the Waikatos; indeed, with all the other tribes. Friendly communication with them in a spirit of firœnness and conciliation, accompanied by acts of personal kindness, would result in their return to their tribes in a temper which would probably go far to promote a pacific solution of difficulties. Sir George Grey would have in the meantime the opportunity of making himself fully acquainted with the position of the question, and arranging his own plans for the future. Then will be the time for direct personal communication with the larger bodies of Natives.
Sir George Grey will find the circumstances of the colony greatly changed since the period of his previous administration. Whilst its resources are greatly increased, its weak points are multiplied also. Large districts, remote from towns, have been occupied by considerable populations more or less page 76 scattered, but all substantially unprepared for self-defence in case of a general insurrection. In the Province of Auckland the city and the outsettlers as far as Otahuhu at least, might be considered as pretty safe within the military lines, while the northern parts of the province lie among friendly Natives. The whole population of the Province of Hawke's Bay, however, numbering between two and three thousand souls, is scattered over an area of some three millions of acres, on isolated sheep farms, the homesteads on which are generally several miles apart. In the Wairarapa district of the Province of Wellington are some two thousand souls, being partly on runs or in small-farm communities of two or three hundred souls each, and intermixed with a body of Natives several hundreds in number, who can be reinforced by thousands at a few hours' notice from Hawke's Bay, Manawatu, Taupo, and other districts. In and about Whanganui, scattered over an area of somewhere about a million acres, are from two to three thousand souls, accessible by large bodies of Natives. All these populations have large quantities of live stock, extensive cultivations, farm-buildings, mills, and other fixed but destructible property. The Natives are also much changed within the last seven years. The political agitation already referred to has done much towards making them forget old feuds, and united them to a great extent in a common cause. They are also much better prepared for war than formerly. In 1857 the restrictions which Sir George Grey imposed on the sale of arms and ammunition were released to an extent which may be said to have thrown the sale open. According to an estimate based on the Customhouse returns, the Natives expended on arms and ammunition during the succeeding three years a sum approaching, if it did not exceed, £50,000. This may seem almost incredible. It is a fact, however, that small parties of Natives have purchased at one time whole tons of powder. While, therefore, the supplies in the hands of the Natives are insignificant compared with our resources, and insufficient; for any lengthened operations, and have been no doubt lessened by the expenditure on the Taranaki war, they are undoubtedly sufficient to carry destruction into all the settlements of this Island.
The King party is so organized in the Island that, in case of war commencing in Waikato or elsewhere on the basis of the King movement, but a short time would elapse before concentrated attacks would be made on every district occupied by Europeans. It need hardly be said what would be the result in the way of destruction of life and property. Governor Browne stated that 20,000 troops would not enable him to do more than protect the centres of population. At least half, probably two-thirds, of the population south of Auckland would be at the mercy of Natives.
As regards the military resources of the colony for aggressive purposes, the Governor will no doubt receive full information from the Lieutenant-General. It is sufficient here to state that there are a little over six thousand troops in the colony: of these, one regiment is at Taranaki, four hundred men at Wanganui, four hundred at Hawke's Bay, and three hundred at Wellington. The remainder are concentrated around Auckland. As regards colonial defences, there are a Militia, partially but very insufficiently organized, and a few Volunteer corps. These bodies can at best be looked to as a protective force of a character purely local, the existing law not allowing of their "mobilization" to a distance of more than thirty miles. They are very inefficiently supplied with arms and ammunition, and very imperfectly trained, while the organization of the force requires au entire change. A report of the Joint Committee of both Houses of the Legislature is appended, which will throw some light on this subject. The Governor's attention is particularly called to the resolutions of the House of Representatives referred to in that report, and also to a memorandum of an interview between Governor Browne and a deputation of Wellington members on the subject of the defence of that province, a copy of which is annexed.
Another point to which the attention of the Governor ought to be directed is the impossibility of providing places of refuge for the women and children in case of a general war. From fifteen to twenty thousand of these would have to be provided with house-room and food, in towns already over-crowded, and no means of making such provision exists without very considerable warning beforehand.
The foregoing remarks have reference to our relations with the Natives, and the policy towards them in general. There are, however, some special circumstances which will demand Sir George Grey's serious attention.
The present state of the Taranaki settlement is this: The main body of the troops have (as already stated) been withdrawn. The place is now garrisoned by a single regiment, the principal part of which is stationed in the town or its immediate neighbourhood a small party being stationed in a blockhouse at the Waitara, on the land which has been the subject of dispute. This place is almost cut off from communication with the town, and is a position of considerable risk in case of war. The Militia at Taranaki has been called out, and is on actual service under proclamation of martial law. There is also a small but very effective corps of Volunteers. Many settlers and their families have left the place. During actual hostilities a large number of women and children were removed to Nelson, but many of them have returned. The ordinary industrial occupations of the settlement have been for the most part abandoned or suspended. The farms are in general left uncultivated, and much of the land is returning to the state of nature, and is being overrun with Scotch thistles and gorse from the fences. The farmhouses and buildings, except close to the town, have been destroyed.
The Ngatiruanui and Taranaki Natives remain in a state of passive insurrectionary sullenness; refuse submission to the terms proposed, retain possession of large quantities of the settlers' stock carried off during the war, have stopped the mail though carried by Natives, and threaten death to all Europeans who venture beyond certain lines, so that no one dare travel beyond a few miles from the Town of New Plymouth on the one side or Whanganui on the other. The Tataraimaka Block, purchased from the Natives, and which has been parcelled out into thriving farms, for the most part under cultivation, may now be said to be practically in the possession of the insurgents. The homesteads of the settlers, their fences and cultivations, have been destroyed: and no settler will incur the risk of going on his own land. In fact, the Natives boast that they hold the land by right of conquest.
This state of things cannot, in the opinion of Ministers, be suffered to continue.
As regards the policy to be pursued in reference to the settlement of Taranaki, several courses are open. First: Matters may be left as they are; in which case the settlement will by degrees dwindle page 77away. Settlers will abandon it, particularly with the temptation of neighbouring gold fields presented to them. It will become practically a military post, but to be maintained at heavy cost, without definite object; for the restoration of the settlement under such circumstances would be hopeless. Second: It may be abandoned altogether—a suggestion which would not, it is imagined, be for a moment entertained. In fact, to abandon it would involve a loss of prestige dangerous to the colony generally. Third: Vigorous measures may be taken to re-establish our position. And this appears to Ministers the true policy. If there must be a war, it is better far that it should be at Taranaki than elsewhere. For whatever mischief could be inflicted on British settlements by a state of war has been done there. The penalties of war have been already paid. Besides this, the case of the Ngatiruanui and Taranaki Natives is the one which presents the fewest grounds of sympathy with other Natives. They engaged in the quarrel without provocation, and were guilty of gross outrages. Their present attitude is one of such open hostility as in the eyes of well-affected Natives themselves would not merely justify but demand on our part active measures against them, and retribution for the wrongs done. Added to this, if operations were carried on with a view to open up and establish military communication by roads between Taranaki and Whanganui, such operations would be attended with some facilities, and in the end with great patent advantages.
Ministers are of opinion (so far as they can presume to offer an opinion involving military considerations) that firm and decisive action should be taken in this direction. They believe the effect would be in no long space of time to bring the Ngatiruanuis and Taranakis into submission. The settlement of Taranaki might then, in the end, be re-established on a safer basis, and enabled to recover and extend itself. It is not improbable that hostile operations in the Taranaki country would draw towards it some portion of the Natives of other districts. Such a possible result would not, in the opinion of Ministers, be a sufficient reason against the course of action which they recommend. The time and manner of commencing such operations would require distinct consideration. The first object appears to be, as far as possible, to win back the allegiance of the bulk of the Native people, and to place the settlements in an effective position of defence. Ministers do not apprehend any aggressive movements on the part of the Natives as likely to result from the course which they recommend, except against the settlements of New Plymouth and Whanganui. There appears to Ministers no inconsistency in dealing with the main body of the Natives, the Waikatos in particular, with a gentle and even friendly hand, and endeavouring by all legitimate means to recall and attach them to us; and at the same time assuming a stern and decisive attitude towards the Ngatiruanuis and Taranakis, with a view to compel from them material guarantees for their future good behaviour.
One other topic requires to be brought under Sir George Grey's consideration, namely, the recent gold discoveries as affecting Native policy. The fact of paying gold fields existing in New Zealand is now placed beyond a doubt. The auriferous district extends through the Northern and Middle Island from Cape Colville downwards. Already there are signs of a large influx of population, directed at present to the Otago Gold Fields, but which will in all probability spread to the Northern Island, particularly in the direction of Coromandel. What may be apprehended is, lest gold-seekers should force themselves into Native districts against the will of the Native owners, the result of which would probably be a collision between the races, leading to fresh political complications. It will, in the opinion of Ministers, be the duty of Government to guard against the risk by all means in their power. If the Natives could be prevailed upon to open their country to gold-mining enterprise the political difficulty would be solved, whilst at the same time the material interest of the colony, and of the European and Native races, would be advanced. This subject, however, will scarcely demand much attention at present, unless richer gold fields shall be discovered in the Northern Island than have hitherto been found.