Mr. Maning to Mr. Fenton.
Sir,—Office of Native Land Court, Hokiamga, 24th June, 1867.
In compliance with your request, I have the honour to report on the working of "The Native Lands Act, 1865," in this district.
I shall first remark on those points to which you have called my attention—namely, the difficulties encountered, the state of the surveys, and the effect produced by the working of the Act; and shall add any remarks which I may think pertinent or likely to elucidate any part of the subject, though, from the great increase and pressure of business in this office and the necessity of preparing for a Court to be held here in a few days, I scarcely have time to give the subject the full consideration I could wish before writing.
The chief difficulties which have had to be encountered in bringing the Act to work arise from the fact that this, the Bay of Islands District, including Hokianga, is the district which was first settled in by Europeans—the European population in Hokianga thirty years ago having been double what it is now, and at the Bay of Islands at least equal to the present; and the difficulties, therefore, which have arisen from this cause are to a great extent peculiar to this district, and may be stated as follows (1.) The Natives in former times having sold great numbers of blocks of land in every part of the district, many or most of which passed subsequently into the hands of the Government. This would, under the most favourable circumstances, give rise sometimes to questions and disputes respecting boundaries; but it appears evident that the Government surveys, or oftener the representation of the position of the land surveyed made on the survey plans, are in many cases incorrect, and the difficulties, disputes, and page 25suspicions arising from this cause alone have been most serious and obstructive to progress. The Natives, after the experience they have had of the working of the Act, do not suspect any deliberate intention to dispossess them of any part of their lands; but the difficulties arising from intermingled claims of the settler, the Government, and the Natives, still remain. Every Court, however, that is held will reduce this difficulty in some degree by ascertaining and finally settling the respective boundaries of Native and European claims. (2.) Not a few families and individuals, having sold in former times fully as much land as they could well spare, and being now particularly desirous to raise funds to pay for the survey and fees necessary to the procuring Crown grants for land Which they have retained (which lands, I may remark, are as a rule, almost without exception, of a far more valuable description than those which have been sold), have, being without any surplus lands to sell, endeavoured to raise the requisite funds by either bringing unfounded claims into Court or by opposing the more legitimate claims of others, with the intention of selling the land which they hoped to obtain by these means. This, together with the old Maori feuds and jealousies not unfrequently existing between the parties, led frequently to a fierce spirit of contention, making the most extreme caution, consistent with progress, necessary in the procedure of the Court, to avert violence and bloodshed. This danger had, however, to be deliberately undergone for several months. It is now much lessened in consequence of parties making false oppositions to claims finding that their pretensions are subjected to a searching investigation, and, if false, exposed; whereas it had been at first their belief that the mere fact of the opposition being made would cause the claim to be dismissed, and therefore that at the least they could obtain a bribe from the true owners of the land for withdrawing the opposition, so that the claim could be entertained. At the first Courts more than half of the Native claims were opposed in this way. (3) The other difficulties in the first working of the Act are chiefly such as are common to other districts, and chiefly arising from the desire of Natives to secure as much land as possible, under grant from the Crown, without much regard for the rights of others.
Altogether the difficulties and danger in the first operations of the Land Courts were such, at least in this district, as would have been insurmountable were it not that the Natives perceive that "The Native Lands Act, 1865," satisfies a great want and vital necessity of the Maori people, by offering them a means of extricating themselves from the Maori tenure, and obtaining individual and exclusive titles for land. That most of the middle-aged and younger Natives take this view of the matter is beyond a doubt, as is proved by many circumstances, some of which I shall notice further on, and it is to this that we owe the very marked and increasing authority which the Native Land Court has obtained in this district and, I believe, generally in the country.
That disputes and even cases of violence may occur about the division of lands is not at all unlikely amongst a people who value land now more than ever, and who, like the Ngapuhi, are ready to take arms on a small occasion Every Court, however, which is held, and every block of land which is adjudicated upon, will render the recurrence of these land disputes more and more unlikely, merely by defining precisely and finally the boundaries of the lands of tribes and individuals, and thereby removing the causes for contention.
I think it may not be irrelevant here to remark that a very erroneous idea has been prevalent amongst Europeans as to the wishes and feelings of Natives in reference to the tenure of land. It has been thought that, because previous to the arrival of Europeans in this country the Natives did not hold their lands by individualized and exclusive titles, according to our ideas of what such titles should be, they neither wished to do so nor could understand the benefit of holding land in that manner; but the Natives are, in fact, remarkable for their fondness of appropriating individually every kind of property, land included, and the reason why they have not hitherto held their lands by exclusive individual titles is that before the arrival of the Europeans in this country it was impossible to do so.
In reference to the state of the surveys, I have only to say that I believe the surveys made under the Act are very correct, every possible precaution having been taken to insure their being so previous to their being accepted as such by the Courts, and all lands which have been adjudicated upon in this district have been surveyed. There are also a number of blocks of land surveyed which will before long be claimed in the Native Land Court.
The first sitting of the Native Land Court in this district took place on the 6th of March, 1866, or fifteen months ago. Since that time I have put on record 223 claims: of these, 17 were transferred to the Court at Mangonui for hearing, and I believe, have been adjudicated upon. One hundred and forty-three claims have been finally adjudicated upon by the Native Land Court in this district, and the remaining 63 claims should be finally disposed of at the Courts to be held during the next two months.
The blocks of land for which orders have been given are for the most part from fifty acres to one thousand acres in area. There are, however, blocks of two, five, seven, and ten thousand acres. Between one-half and two-thirds of the above land has been secured to the Native owners inalienably; the remainder they have power to sell. The average value of the alienable land is, say, about 5s. per acre; the average value of the inalienable land is, as compared to the value of the alienable, about five to one, or £1 5s. per acre; in fact, £2 per acre has been, not long ago, refused for 10,000 acres of land which is not nearly so good or valuable in any respect as the Whakatere Block of 11,000 acres, and for which a certificate of title has been issued to the tribe, and not to individuals; but it is the intention of the Native owners to subdivide Whakatere into over a hundred individual holdings, according as they can raise the funds to pay the expense of doing so; and in many cases, where three or four or more persons are named in grants, it is their intention ultimately to subdivide the lands, so that each man may hold his own share under a separate Crown grant; and I have no doubt that the Natives in this district will carry out this intention to a very great extent, though it will take them some time to accomplish it fully.
The cost which Native owners of lands have had to pay per acre for surveys and fees in bringing their lands before the Court ranges from 10d. per acre to £1 per acre, according to the size of the blocks, small claims costing proportionately more than large ones; and it results from this that very many Natives have paid for their own inalienable lands at all the intermediate rates per acre between. page 2610d. and £1, which they do willingly merely for the privilege of holding their lands by grants from the Crown, and as individual property.
The land for which, as I have mentioned, £2 per acre was on a late occasion refused is unimproved land near Kaikohe, which has not yet been claimed in the Native Land Court, but that it and every acre in the district will be claimed ultimately is certain.
It is a circumstance worthy of note that during the last twenty or twenty-five years scarcely any first-rate land has been sold in this district, very little of that purchased either by the Government or settlers being nearly so valuable as the lands retained by the Natives for themselves. In one district of Hokianga where there are large and numerous tracts of the very richest alluvial soil—forinstance at Waima, at Waimamaku, at Waihou, at Mangamuka, at, Utakura, at Manganuiowe, at Omunia, at Whakarapa, and many other places—no block of really good land has ever been sold at all at any time —certainly not to the extent of twenty acres of first-rate land has been sold; the consequence is that there is not in the large and fertile district of Hokianga one settler engaged in-farming, or who has land capable of being cultivated profitably, and the European inhabitants are therefore, all who have any capital at all, engaged in commercial pursuits, and the others—labourers chiefly—in the timber trade. Another consequence is that the large tracts of fertile land which I have mentioned remain uncultivated, but there are signs appearing of a change for the better; and this brings me to that part of the subject which you have desired me also to report on, that is to say, "The effects produced by the working of the Native Lands Act in this district."
As it is but fifteen months ago that the first Court under the Native Lands Act was held in this district, and as it is but quite lately that the Crown grants have been issued nere in any number, it is scarcely to be expected that in that time any very great progress would appear in a movement the success of which would create to a certainty a completely new set of circumstances with regard to the Maori people—a revolution in fact—which must of necessity displace barbarism and bring civilization in its stead; for the difference between a people holding their country as commonage and holding it as individualized real property is, in effect, the difference between civilization and barbarism. Such changes are not rapid, but there are nevertheless evidences not to be mistaken that the Natives are perfectly in earnest and alive to the benefits to be obtained by holding lands as individual property, and which benefits, if obtained by them, must reflect also upon the European population. In many places in the district the Natives are putting up substantial and expensive fences, chiefly done by European labourers. Indeed, I think some Natives are trying to do more in this way than they can accomplish. Two farms in this part of the district, the Crown grants for which were amongst the first issued, are already fenced round, the land cleared, and grass sown, and sheep (about 200) on them. I heard yesterday a Native agreeing with a European to put up two miles of fence on a fine piece of land which the Native feels sure he will get a title for. There are also many instances of Natives beginning to build better and more expensive houses than they have hitherto been accustomed to live in, and employing European carpenters for that purpose. The perceptible amount of progressive effect is certainly not yet very great, but it is sufficient to show that the Natives, especially the younger men, are moving in the right direction, and it is certain that they would never have gone to the expense which they have if the land had been held by them as formerly by the old Maori tenure. Everywhere Natives may be heard speaking of projected improvements, and I think that nothing but a want of sufficient capital prevents them from making a very rapid progress in bringing, their lands into cultivation The fact of the Natives in this district having for so many years kept back all the choice and richest of their lands under many temptations to part with it, the fact of their having lately refused £2 per acre for land good, but not the best, and the alacrity with which they have availed themselves of the Native Lands Act, would show that in retaining their lands they have been all along acting from a set and intelligent purpose, and with a not unenlightened view to their own future interests; and in this is the best hope for the eventual success of the Native Lands Act, already successful in a small degree, and which, in my opinion, holds out to the Maori people their last chance of temporal salvation.
The only suggestion which I would make for any amendment or alteration of the Act of 1865; is that I think, it would be advantageous if section 50 of that Act were amended so as to allow that less than five persons who wish to subdivide their lands may do so in the same manner that, according to that section, more than five now can. This would facilitate the subdivision of lands, a thing, I believe, desirable; and I am of opinion that before many years scarcely any two Natives will be content to hold a piece of land jointly. Indeed they are already wishing to subdivide, and in several cases-have cut the subdivision-lines on the land, and will no doubt soon apply to the Court to have the subdivision legally confirmed.
With respect to the Act of 1866,1 have no suggestion to make I can only say I think it were better entirely repealed, with perhaps the exception of the 11th section—which section, however, I think hardly necessary.
I have, &c.,
F. E. Maning.
F.D. Fenton, Esq.,Chief Judge, Native Land Court, Auckland.