New Zealand in the World
2 — Into the Imperial Fold
Into the Imperial Fold
Between 1788 and 1830 the British Government ponderously made up its mind that it did not wish to colonise New Zealand; meantime, however, European influence penetrated New Zealand. Whalers of many nations skirted its coasts, but owing to the colonisation of New South Wales, British influence predominated on land. Neither the governor in Sydney, nor the occasional presence of warships at the Bay of Islands could prevent this British penetration from producing the most violent disorders, which meant that New Zealand, in spite of the intelligence and courage of its native people, suffered the evils without the benefits of European colonisation. These facts, realised in Sydney, penetrated slowly into official consciousness in London. The process was all the slower because missionary headquarters in England, like the Colonial Office itself, were slow to follow the opinion of men with the local knowledge. The result was a period of hesitation, during which official reluctance to do anything at all page 18was gradually overcome by the increasingly evident impossibility of leaving things in New Zealand as they were. During this period the fate of New Zealand hung in the balance.
The main outward and visible sign of hesitation was the British Resident, James Busby. He was sent to the Bay of Islands because the contact of Europeans with Maoris could no longer be left entirely unregulated, but he was left without power to fulfil his mission. The title of 'Resident' was adopted from Indian practice. It was given to British agents associated with Indian princes, who in fact ruled states of a kind understandable by Europeans. Busby, however, was accredited to an indefinite number of Maori chieftains, who were not organised at all, and who had neither the will nor the power to place the resources of a native state at Busby's disposal. He had therefore to rely on whatever support he might get from his superiors in Sydney, supplemented by help from visiting warships. He asked that two of the carpenters who, he hoped, would build his house, should be appointed constables, but this modest request was turned down. Busby therefore had to deal single-handed, aided by such moral force as he could muster, with his difficult task.
That task was not only to supervise, in some sort, the intercourse of Englishmen and natives, but also to deal with the added complication of conflicting European influences. Of these the most important page 19was that of the French, for French whalers came to New Zealand waters in increasing numbers, and the fear that France had ambitions in these parts was strengthened by her activity elsewhere in the Pacific. As with England, her attention was turned again towards colonisation in the first half of the nineteenth century, and for the same reasons. There was commercial depression in the motherland and talk of overpopulation; it seemed that remedy for both might be found in colonisation. France, it was argued, could only maintain her growing population by expanding her trade, and colonies rightly placed would protect the existing whaling industry, and open the way to further commerce. Thinking thus, colonial-minded Frenchmen followed with attention and envy the course of British expansion, including the plan of convict-colonisation; they hoped that France might some day follow or even anticipate British action. This line of thought pointed to New Zealand, in which Frenchmen had long been interested. Indeed, if the Maoris remembered well their encounter with the 'tribe of Marion', that tribe in turn preserved memories of Maori ferocity, and of the wealthy land wherein the Maori dwelt. Some Frenchmen at least grieved to think that yet another promising territory was apparently being devoured by British greed, and urged (apart from economic arguments) that the prestige of France and the interests of the Catholic page 20church demanded that Britain should in this instance be forestalled.
As was the case in England, the Government was indifferent and slow to move, but there were plentiful rumours of French colonisation. To some extent these rumours definitely helped Busby in the eighteen-thirties. They were sceptically regarded in London, but were naturally taken much more seriously by the men on the spot. In particular, the missionaries, hitherto the most zealous opponents of British colonisation, had no intention of keeping Britain out merely in order to open the way to France. They positively encouraged the chieftains to look to London for protection against the 'tribe of Marion', and their attitude was bound to bear fruit in time. The Maoris' petition for British protection in 1831 produced no more impressive result than the appointment of Busby. But the fear of French colonisation, if London could be induced to take it seriously, would be bound to produce the same effect as in previous years, when scattered settlements were founded round the coasts of Australia, not because England wanted more Australian colonies, but because she was determined that France should not have them.
To this extent, then, French interest in New Zealand smoothed the way for Busby by giving a basis of co-operation with local missionaries. But it also provoked him to actions of doubtful wisdom. The period of Busby-hesitation was naturally one of page 21compromise, disappointments, and curious unworkable suggestions. One of the most interesting of these suggestions was that some reality might be given to the official theory of Maori independence by organising the tribes into a state which would be virtually under the control of competent Europeans. The plan was tried not long afterwards in various Pacific islands, for example in Fiji and Samoa. In New Zealand it was hastily improvised to deal with the adventurer Baron de Thierry, whose grandiloquent language at that time concealed his impotence (at least from ill-informed Englishmen in New Zealand), and who gave concrete expression to the constant threat of French interference. To confront the Baron with a fait accompli, Busby organised the 'United Tribes of New Zealand' in October 1835, with a national flag and an elaborate constitution based on that of Great Britain herself.
These actions, dismissed as a silly farce by the Governor of New South Wales, were approved by the British Government, which claimed paternity of the new state and promised continuing support. Actually, 'this attempt to federate man-eaters under parliamentary institutions' was merely the logical conclusion of the British Government's policy, and had no more substance than had the Baron de Thierry's empire. But the policy on which it was built lived on. Nor was it merely ludicrous. Guided, no doubt, by ill-informed humanitarianism, it was at page 22least the result of an attempt to base European relations with coloured peoples on something higher than commercial greed, racial prejudice, or mere chance. In those days, Englishmen whose business it was to deal with natives took enormous pains to inform themselves of facts, and thus to understand and to avoid the evils which had obviously attended recent colonisation. This atmosphere of honest though not always successful effort was the background to Busby's constitution for Maori warriors and also to the Treaty of Waitangi.
Nevertheless, in spite of all the efforts made on the spot or in London, British policy was based on a misconception, namely, the belief that Maori independence existed or could have been maintained if once established. European weapons and the needs of European trade had transformed Maori life before Busby landed at the Bay of Islands. So much Maori land had been sold in that region, and so much settlement had taken place, that control was actually being transferred from the Maori to the white man. This process continued at an accelerating pace during Busby's term of office, particularly after 1837. 'Land sharks' trained in the technique of speculation in Australia, bought with all the greater vigour when the trend of events made it increasingly plain that British colonisation could not be long delayed. These facts were clearly understood by the government of New South Wales, by the missionaries in New Zealand page 23, and by those in London who read and gave due weight to their despatches. However, eloquent as were the facts that could be produced by those with local experience, New Zealand's fate was decided by events in Europe rather than in New Zealand herself. Maori and missionary, merchant and settler, played a passive part in this final drama which decided the terms on which New Zealand was to enter the European system.
The main battle for New Zealand was fought on the outskirts of British politics. Only the British Government could establish a new colony, and the Government's official advisers were the officials of the Colonial Office. These, headed by James Stephen, had excellent reasons for scepticism about the judgment of colonial enthusiasts. Their knowledge of recent colonial history showed only too clearly how ardent hopes had been perpetually disappointed, and how derelict colonies had been painfully nursed back to life at great expense to the British taxpayer. Stephen, moreover, was not only an official guardian of that taxpayer's interests; he was also a distinguished representative of British philanthropy. The white man's burden was for him no euphemism for commercial exploitation. It was indeed a heavy burden, to be carried neither with pleasure nor with profit but with a grim satisfaction, and not to be recklessly increased. And if Stephen's historical knowledge argued that colonisation was bad business, it argued page 24no less forcibly that it was bad philanthropy; for native peoples European colonisation seemed to be merely the prelude to slow and painful extermination.
Stephen was, therefore, the formidable opponent of official intervention in New Zealand. Its formidable champion was Gibbon Wakefield. He, like Stephen, was deeply influenced by the utilitarian and philanthropic movement, but his conclusions from recent colonial experience were totally different. Both agreed as to the evils that had occurred. Stephen was inclined to argue that these evils arose inevitably when colonisation was once undertaken; Wakefield found in an analysis of their causes a ground of hope for the future. According to his principles, he said, colonisation in the future could be both excellent business and successfully humanitarian. The actual details of his principles are well known. By selling land at a 'sufficient' price, he hoped to introduce into the new country capital and labour, blended in the right proportion, so that English society could be transplanted in its essential features to the new world. His colonists were not to be pioneers, suffering the hardships of a crudely creative life. They were to be English gentry, churchmen, and labourers, who could live in a new country the life to which they had been reared. This new country, moreover, would present opportunities for fruitful and balanced development, which would appeal to all those who wished to see the British character developing in an page 25atmosphere free from the stresses and inevitable drawbacks of an old and depressed society. Fresh from the disappointment of seeing the South Australian plan escape from his control and thereby suffer shipwreck which was perhaps deserved, he turned to New Zealand—which, as he rightly pointed out, was already being colonised with utter lack of system, but which might still be saved and give shining proof of the soundness of his principles.
However, Wakefield's success in promoting the colonisation of New Zealand was due less to the questionable scientific cogency of his arguments than to the skilful propaganda with which he supported them. In particular this enabled him so far to hasten British action as to defeat a last-minute challenge from France.
In 1838 the old arguments in favour of French colonisation were suddenly focussed by the arrival in France of a whaling captain, Langlois, who reported that he had actually bought from the natives of Banks Peninsula a promising site for a new colony. Like Wakefield in England, he set out to organise support for the venture, and he succeeded in enlisting the support of men of much the same type. The Ministry of Marine was interested, partly perhaps because of the underlying possibility of forming a new convict settlement in some part of the new colony. A number of merchants and prominent statesmen including the King himself took up the idea, and eventually there page 26was organised the Nanto-Bordelaise Company to carry out the plan in co-operation with the French Government. There followed a campaign for support; emigrants were gathered; and eventually an expedition was sent forth under the protection of a capable and tactful naval officer, Lavaud.
* In May 1840, the month in which Hobson proclaimed British sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand, the British Government said it had no objection to French colonisation there.—Sweetman, The Unsigned New Zealand Treaty, Chapter i.
The decision favoured Britain; and even if Lavaud's men had been allowed to establish themselves quietly under the French flag, it is doubtful whether France had then enough colonising energy to develop the settlement in a way comparable with British enterprise farther north. Indeed, as was soon to be shown in such places as Tahiti and Hawaii, French ideas of colonisation were still very different from those gaining strength in Britain, and if Akaroa had been left undisturbed it might for the time being have proved to be merely a large-scale whaling station of a type already familiar. As it turned out, the net result was the establishment of a small group of Frenchmen in a British colony. Akaroa flourished for some years as a port of call for whalers and kept its French atmosphere. But as the whaling trade decayed so did Akaroa. The children of settlers did not learn the French crafts which had been practised by their page 28fathers. As people drifted away, the town became a picturesque survival, a French garden-village which could bring no element of French culture into the Anglo-Saxon fibre of New Zealand.
This was in part a legacy of the past. Though last-minute hesitations were cast aside, the conditions on which New Zealand entered the Empire were governed by the broad policy of which those hesitations were the symptom. For example, the fiction of Maori independence was kept up to the last. Hobson negotiated the Treaty of Waitangi with Maori chieftains and their missionary advisers, and obtained (with some difficulty) the cession of sovereignty over New Zealand, in return for legal recognition of the natives' ownership of their land. The whole transaction, as seen by the eye of the law, is somewhat obscure. Its broad result, however, was that New Zealand became a British colony with the consent of the principal Maori chiefs, who with their people received a status which was new in British colonial experience. The way was thus opened for a continuation of that humanitarian native policy which animated both the missionaries and the Colonial Office. British rule, in short, was not designed to enable Europeans to exploit the people and resources of New Zealand with greater ease and perfection. Rather it was intended to be the instrument for creating a new and just balance between the two races, which would preserve all that was good in Maori life. This view of native policy, followed with greater or less consistency and page 30intelligence by the early governors, brought British authority into frequent conflict with colonists and settlers, and even with natives willing to sell their land recklessly; for it led to continual irritation on the part of enterprising men who saw the operation (to their benefit) of basic economic laws being tampered with, even obstructed, in the name of a treaty rashly concluded in order to placate 'naked savages'.
However, the attitude of mind which prompted Hobson to negotiate the Treaty of Waitangi was fundamental in British colonial policy at that time, and even if that had not been the case it is doubtful whether Hobson could have adopted a policy radically different. The British Government, in spite of local opinion, continued to neglect Captain Cook's sensible advice that Europeans who settled in New Zealand must possess overwhelming physical force. Its traditional policy was otherwise, and, moreover, it hoped in defiance of experience that the new colony would cost it nothing. Hobson was therefore instructed to spend as little money as possible, and was sent to New Zealand as yet another 'man-of-war without guns'. The hundred soldiers later provided by the Governor of New South Wales would obviously have ceremonial rather than military importance in the event of trouble. Accordingly, Hobson (and his immediate successors) had to govern by the cunning of their diplomacy, together with their own prestige and that of a distant sovereign. For years after 1840 page 31the Maoris possessed an overwhelming military superiority over the whites. They were also, in fact, the country's most active citizens. As wage-earners, producers, consumers, and taxpayers they were the backbone of New Zealand's economy in the years when the European colonist was slowly and painfully winning his way to security. Accordingly the early governors had to face the fact that the vast majority of their subjects were Maoris, who were entrenched in a strong legal position, who had the physical force and determination to protect their rights, and whose co-operation was indispensable if the colony was to survive.
As can now be perceived, the policy of Europeanisation made it virtually impossible for the British Government to attain the objective which it sincerely desired: the incorporation of the Maori race within the Empire on equitable terms. It also helped directly to precipitate the wars which broke that race's military strength in the eighteen-sixties. The causes of the Maori wars cannot be discussed here in detail. It must be recognised, however, that the object of one of the most influential groups of Maori 'rebels' was to build up a solid organisation which could enforce law and order through native agencies; for Europeans reigned but did not rule. It is certain, too, that so long as natives remained unorganised they would become easy prey, piecemeal, to insatiable European speculators; nor could the good will of governor and secretary of state protect them. However, the attempt by the Maoris themselves to set up an influential Maori king failed, as it was in the long run bound to fail, before the combined force of British arms and British culture. By 1870 it was page 34abundantly clear that for the outside world New Zealand was to be a country of Europeans and of Europeanised Maoris. Maori culture was, indeed, not dead. In later years it was to make its mark in the national life with a new confidence, when Europeans and Maoris alike turned at last from the fatal policy of race-fusion based on uncritical native acceptance of all things English. But this renewed understanding of the value of Maori culture in the people's life has had no appreciable influence on her relations with overseas countries.