New Zealand in the World
3 — Self-Reliance
By 1870 the problem of controlling its Maori citizens was solved for New Zealand governments by the extinction of Maori military power; and by that year (or soon afterwards) the attitude of the Europeans towards their own government and towards the mother country had become clarified along more or less orthodox lines. In the colony's earliest days European settlers were not more easily governable than the Maoris themselves. From the first they had been scattered round the coast in substantial townships, where public opinion could become formidably coherent. These settlements were so separated geographically, and their development was so different, that for practical purposes they were almost separate colonies. Moreover, the inhabitants of each settlement (with the possible exception of Auckland) were politically minded to a remarkable degree. No doubt the numerical majority of immigrants were mechanics and farmers, too busy earning their living to be greatly concerned with the rights page 36of man, but the tone was set by an active minority, which normally controlled the local press, and, later, the provincial councils. This minority was the fruit of deliberate policy. Wakefield aimed at transplanting to the new world a slice of British society, complete in its hierarchy. If the transplanting process were skilfully performed, he argued, colonists could avoid the usual bitter period wherein the amenities of life must be sacrificed in the mere struggle for existence. On the contrary, in a colony rightly planned those amenities could be fully preserved in the safe hands of British gentlemen, whose status would be protected by the possession of adequate land, and the provision through ingenious devices of docile and industrious labourers.
These ideas were widely accepted and acted upon. Gentlemen from England, Ireland, and Scotland transported themselves, their way of life, and their material possessions to the new antipodean Britain. They took it for granted that the fields of prosperous farmers would be enclosed by hedges of gorse and hawthorn, across which gentlemen would hunt: 'Deer and hares we must positively have,' wrote J. R. Godley, 'as well as partridges and pheasants', and in the meantime, exiles gathered what pleasure they could from wild pigs (reputed descendants of those landed by Cook) and native duck. Over their solid English breakfast, those fortunate enough to receive it read a belated Times with meticulous care, page 37and all praised the local press because it showed signs of offering a passable substitute. Ambitious ladies strove to follow the fashion of London, if not of Paris, and struggled to preserve the culture that lived in pianoforte music and elegant needle-work. True, these efforts to live in New Zealand the life which would have been normal in Surrey did not altogether succeed. Economic pressure was powerful, and even the chosen leaders of society tended to succumb to the life of rude and uncultured plenty. Much remained, however, and up to the present time overseas visitors find in New Zealand, to their own delight and that of their hosts, the unmistakable atmosphere of provincial England.
The transference of British ideas to New Zealand was of capital importance in the political sphere. In spite of economic crises—even of starvation—in the British Isles, the middle of the nineteenth century was a time of solid self-confidence for the British people. The navy ruled the waves, and thus made easy the distribution of British manufactured goods throughout the world's markets. Parliamentarianism, Liberalism, nationalism seemed to spread visibly and without opposition except from the worn-out forces of the past. Nation after nation approached gradually to the British formula of solid materialist hierarchical democracy. Indeed, many Englishmen assumed that this formula had an ultimate value for humanity which would ensure universal triumph just as soon page 38as less enlightened races had passed through the necessary but (probably) short period of tutelage. British ideas, then, might be expected to survive because of their evident rightness; but right was well armed. Foreign soldiers had not successfully attacked Britain since 1066. No Englishman could remember in all modern history a war which had ended with British acknowledgment of defeat, except on that one occasion when Englishmen living in America—with the notable help, it is true, of Frenchmen and Spaniards—had vindicated the basic principles of Britain's own constitutional liberties. Trafalgar and Waterloo seemed to sum up a tradition of unbroken success in war which was unique among nations of the nineteenth century, and which made it in the literal sense unthinkable that Britons might become slaves.
Racial self-confidence enabled the gentleman-pioneer to look with a critical eye on the conduct of any Englishman less exalted than the Sovereign herself. Governor and secretary of state were fellow citizens, as much subject to criticism by New Zealanders as by Londoners. And criticism was not restrained by the thought that obedience might be the condition on which Englishmen overseas enjoyed their own way of life. Colonists could talk of independence, even of abandoning the mother country when she was hard pressed by powerful enemies, without any great sense of personal risk. They took page 39for granted that, come what might, they would in fact still enjoy that freedom and prosperity which was bound up with British citizenship.
This assumption permitted wide freedom of speech and action, and men with such ideas in mind found much to criticise in early New Zealand. Within the country they were not free, for they were ruled by a governor over whom they had no control whatever; and the country as a whole was ruled despotically from London. Therefore New Zealand constitutionalists fought a twofold battle: to gain control over the local executive, and to free that executive from British interference. Their ample fund of indignant vituperation was shared between 'Nero on the spot' and Nero's inaccessible superiors of the Colonial Office. Abuse was, of course, spiced by occasional gratified praise, and to say the least it is doubtful whether the majority of colonists shared fully in the discontent of their political spokesmen. However, by 1854 there was a chorus of criticism from all the settlements of New Zealand. Attacks against autocratic government on the spot were given spice by the bitter distrust felt by many colonists for Governor Grey, and, as for the Colonial Office, they described it as ignorant, careless, and meddlesome. Unworkable instructions were sent to governors, they complained, and doctrinaire secretaries of state regarded New Zealand as a convenient social laboratory wherein experiments could be tried without risking the explosions which page 40similar action would produce in Australia.* As late as 1853 a journalist could not find words to express his detestation of British colonial policy. When thinking of it, he said, his fellow colonists 'pace to and fro, with hasty stride, with clenched hands and blanched cheeks, vowing they will not submit.'†
In practice the link between governor and Colonial Office was much weaker than it appeared on the surface. Mails were irregular and desperately slow, and a governor who wrote urgently to London for advice and instructions might have to wait a year or more for an answer. Further, even in that age when letters were of enormous length and men were not afraid to enter into the minutest details of complicated problems, the most conscientious official could merely attain to book knowledge of the difficulties which faced the governor from day to day, and of the reasons which guided his decision. It was, then, impossible to administer New Zealand from London. The only possible plan was to choose governors carefully, and then trust them until it was shown that wrong appointments had been made. In general, and in spite of irritating interference upon occasion, this fact was recognised in the Colonial Office, notably by the two men who have been most savagely criticised on the ground of interference, namely, James Stephen and Earl Grey. They both stated emphatically that the governor must use his discretion, subject of course to British supervision and British control of general policy: but even in matters page 42of general policy the advice of an able governor was often decisive with his official superiors.
This position was only dimly apprehended by politically minded colonists. It was clear to them that constitutional principles were violated, for New Zealanders lived without representative institutions. It was clear, too, that there were endless and irritating delays in communicating with the governor in Auckland and with the Colonial Office in London. Finally, for whatever reason, policies were enforced which did not have local popular approval. It seemed to colonists that London stood in the way of New Zealand's development by its undue sympathy for natives: the case for humanitarianism generally seemed more convincing to officials than to colonists. Similarly with the case for a high price for land. In short, practical grievances added warmth to constitutional controversy, and without ceasing to specify each detailed complaint, colonists summed up the whole in a comprehensive demand for full self-government.
This demand was partly met by the prospect of representative government under the Constitution Act of 1852, but—re-defined in terms of responsible government—was theatrically presented in 1854 by the first House of Representatives, led by Wakefield himself, and was referred to England by Acting-Governor Wynyard. By this time no British cabinet would be likely to resist on principle a colony's page 43demand for self-government in local affairs. The British Parliament's attitude towards colonies then and for years afterwards was basically indifferent —even bored. Humanitarianism had modified indifference by the addition of a sense of duty: it was not decent to throw colonies out of the Empire before they wished to go, and while they remained British possessions care must be taken to see that the white man's burden was worthily borne. Again, the Colonial Reformers, who fought with robust energy for a recognition of the Empire's importance desired on principle that which most of their contemporaries desired through apathy: that colonists should be left to manage their own affairs. They were, moreover, allied with the Cobdenites, who believed that political control was not necessary to preserve for England the profits of colonial trade. In short, such Englishmen as took any interest in the matter agreed, for one reason or another, that New Zealand should be allowed to govern herself. Accordingly, the British Secretary of State answered Wynyard by return post, cordially agreeing that 'the system known as responsible government' should be set up.
Almost overnight New Zealand ceased to be a remote dependency almost without political rights, and became a self-governing colony. She was, however, still very far short of independence. At that time statesmen could face with equanimity the idea that the page 44Empire must break up; but till the moment for separation arrived all agreed that the mother country must retain some control over her colonies. Even the most vehement Colonial Reformer agreed that foreign policy must be controlled from London, and most people went much further. As it was cogently argued, a colony must either be inside the Empire or outside; and being inside meant British control over matters of imperial concern, and even a certain right to be interested in a colony's domestic policy. After all, it could be said, colonies were immature societies which could benefit greatly from the mother country's political wisdom if the fruits of that wisdom could be tactfully brought to their attention; while their mistakes must, if sufficiently serious, be corrected.
Such reasoning was accepted by the vast majority of those who reasoned on the matter at all, whether in England or in New Zealand. Consequently, though New Zealand was given 'self-government' in 1856, her colonial status was admitted by all. The legal subordination of her Parliament was clear. It could work only within the field allotted it by Britain. Its daily proceedings were under the eye of an imperial officer. Its laws must not be repugnant to the laws of England, and could be disallowed by the British Government. Foreign relations were controlled from London; naturally enough, for though New Zealanders eagerly read European news, they felt no personal concern. For example, the outbreak of the page 45Crimean war passed almost unnoticed in press and Parliament, beyond an emotional loyal address and the suggestion that the Maoris might be tactfully prepared to repel a Russian invasion; there was no sign of the panic felt in Sydney and Melbourne. In general, war and peace, and all matters which concerned the Empire as a whole were trustfully left in the hands of those whom they concerned, and who had leisure to attend to them: the British Government and its representative, the governor.
Under the new regime the governor's position was complicated and sometimes delicate. In the main he was simply a constitutional sovereign. In so far as the very small may ape the very great, he played the same part in New Zealand as Queen Victoria herself played in Britain, and his constitutional powers were modelled upon hers: that is to say, they were vague but large, and were only defined after hard thought and painful controversy. It was never intended, however, that the governor should be a gilded rubber-stamp; on the contrary he was an important element in a balanced constitution, and his action might, on occasion, be decisive in internal politics. For example, he was always entitled to ask for full information about policy, and his ministers, if intent on action he disliked, must at least face the disagreeable task of listening to and answering his comment. Again, if ministers asked that Parliament should be dissolved, or additional members appointed to the Legislative page 46Council, or a criminal pardoned, there was at first no absolute rule to show the governor whether they should be given their way or not. He had to consider the circumstances and use his discretion. However, in such cases his judgment could not be, like that of the Queen, theoretically independent. She was appointed by no visible agency to whom she could apply for advice on practical issues: he was chosen by a British cabinet minister whose enquiries, advice, and reproof pursued him continually. Accordingly he naturally reflected the general ideas of the British Cabinet and the Colonial Office. He was in fact the main channel by which British wisdom could permeate the councils of colonial statesmen, and cases of difficulty could be referred to London for decision. Therefore, constitutional sovereign of New Zealand as he was, he necessarily acted to some extent as representative of an outside authority in cases where the Queen might be compelled to act independently.
Again, in matters which concerned the Empire as a whole, the governor was definitely a British agent. Just what these matters were remained uncertain, for both mother country and colonies as a whole preferred to be vague and to muddle through to clarity only when the need arose. As regards New Zealand, however, it was clearly understood that native policy remained an imperial affair. In 1856 this was probably inevitable. The British Government traditionally thought of itself as guardian of native interests, and itpage 47distrusted the colonists. With some reason it suspected them of being more interested in separating the Maoris from their land than in promoting Maori welfare. On the other hand, colonists, while irritated by British sympathy for natives, realised the military importance of British troops and the economic importance of military expenditure in a young colony. Therefore, though in 1856 New Zealand took control over most of her own internal affairs, native policy, which was clearly of fundamental importance for the colony's future development, was kept nominally in imperial hands.
In short, in 1856, New Zealand was admittedly a dependency; but evolution at once began in direction of that anomalous position called 'Dominion status', an evolution shared by all the other 'self-governing colonies'. In the main it has not been New Zealand who has fought for greater independence, and she has rarely felt aggrieved merely on principle. Her complaints have generally had a practical basis, and she has been eager to allow troublesome questions of constitutional principle to be quietly forgotten. 'We do not object to England retaining the power to interfere. We only ask that the power should not be exercised.' On such a basis it was natural that relations with an indulgent mother country should develop comparatively smoothly: and with some notable exceptions the issues that did arise were settled without serious friction. However, though New Zealand page 48rarely crusaded for colonial rights, she shared the fruits of her more energetic brethren's efforts. As years passed the powers of the governor were destroyed or allowed quietly to die: the Imperial Government interfered less and less with local affairs: and the colonies assumed increasingly the powers and posture of independent countries. Such was the general trend of imperial development in which New Zealand shared, not on the whole as a pioneer, but as a partner who ultimately became extremely uneasy at the enterprise of her colleagues.
Wiremu Thompson: 'The General is in disgrace, you say, and the Queen's troops are to be sent away, and the volunteers and rangers are coming against us. Then, Kingi, the sooner we surrender, the better.'
In this heated atmosphere colonists talked of separation from the motherland, just as they had done twenty years before when indignation against the autocracy of Governor Grey reached fever-heat and the English language lacked words to describe the iniquities of the Colonial Office. But in 1869 and 1870 the talk seemed more serious. In those days it was a dogma widely accepted in both colony and mother country that separation was only a matter of time. Their minds full of misleading analogies drawn from family life, statesmen argued that young nations, like young men, must if healthy wish in due course to set up homes of their own, assuming the privileges and burdens of manhood. If, then, separation must come some day, why not now? Many page 52colonists believed sincerely that the British Government in 1869 wished to hasten the day; and that, if it did not, at least it took care to withdraw from New Zealand all possible benefit from its dependent status. Of what use was it to belong to a great empire if no help was forthcoming when (on its own showing) a colony was fighting for its very life against insurgent natives? The question was asked by responsible politicians, and the answer given that the imperial connection was profitless. It brought a promise of defence to the last man and the last shilling in case of foreign war. But, it was argued, foreign war could only come through British interests, which might expose New Zealand to attack from a Russo-American alliance; and against such an attack Britain could only afford a negligible defence. It followed that the promise of protection was in fact worse than useless; New Zealand would be safer as a small independent state.
Such arguments naturally pained the Imperialists of 1869-70. Even more painful was the suggestion of friendship with the United States, a country then regarded with traditional suspicion in England and with traditional friendship in New Zealand. Twenty years before, colonists, when consumed with irritation against the Colonial Office, professed to think longingly of the United States, whose flag was seen so often on visiting whalers, and whose gold-mining outpost in California provided so promising a market page 53for New Zealand foodstuffs. So again in 1869 they told each other that the United States gave generous help to frontiersmen struggling with Indians at a time when Britain brutally told New Zealanders to manage the Maoris as best they could. In both England and New Zealand it was widely believed that an independent New Zealand would gravitate towards the American sphere, perhaps through commerce, perhaps through outright annexation. In 1870 Fox, as Premier, tried somewhat ostentatiously to promote that gravitation. His hope was for increasing trade, beginning with duty-free admission of New Zealand wool to the American market, and he scandalised the Foreign Office by suggesting that the New Zealand and American governments should discuss the matter directly, instead of through London. To him the opening up of the San Francisco route seemed destined to speed up the separation from England and the drift towards America; and, said a member of Parliament apparently with general approval, if an infusion of American blood should be added to New Zealand's existing advantages, none could doubt that she would soon become one of the world's greatest countries.
In short, in 1869 and 1870 colonial irritation with British policy led to widespread talk about separation and about the advantages of remaining independent if thrown out of the Empire, or of joining the United States with whom, it seemed, New Zealand might share a tradition of hostility to Britain. However, page 54such talk, though picturesque and forceful, was superficial and transitory. No colonist, however indignant, thought of 'cutting the painter' hastily or cheerfully. New Zealand's wish was clearly not that the imperial tie should be broken, but that its terms should be modified to her advantage. Nor were her spokesmen unanimous in indignation. In the middle of 1870 both Houses of the New Zealand Parliament debated with lengthy eloquence whether or not to censure the Imperial Government for its recent conduct. The net result was a resolution by the Council that it was in New Zealand's interest to remain within the Empire, and, for the rest, to bury the hatchet; but in the preceding discussion distinguished men expressed the view that the various New Zealand governments had made a great fuss about nothing, and had most indecently striven to insist that the whole British Empire should be managed according to the notions of its smallest and most distant dependency. Indeed, the main point on which all speakers agreed was that 'the great heart of Britain' still beat to a friendly and imperial note, whatever might be the tone adopted by transitory secretaries of state: and there was an unmistakable underlying hope that 'our great mother at home' would by a frank imperial gesture win again the hearts of her children overseas.
The hope was promptly gratified by the granting of the colony's 'last prayer to the mother country': the guaranteeing of a loan which was at first intended page 55to finance the repression of natives but which (this proving unnecessary) was applied to immigration and public works. This concession was hailed as a small 'sign of contrition and reform' on the part of Britain; and 'that little gleam of light, that little tendency towards softness of manner' was followed by a marked change in the tone of imperial despatches. The result was almost instantaneous. In August 1870 Governor Bowen could report that New Zealand's old loyalty had been rebuilt; that 'even those who, five months ago were all agog for separation from England and annexation to the United States are now loyal again.' Thus within a few months Britain and New Zealand were reconciled: the fire of colonial indignation had died down to a warm imperial glow. The prodigal had returned.