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The New Zealand Wars: A History of the Maori Campaigns and the Pioneering Period: Volume I (1845–64)

(Chapter 16) — The Maori King Movement

(Chapter 16)

The Maori King Movement

Bishop G. A. Selwyn strongly sympathized with the Maori aspirations for self-government, which he considered were an indication of a desire for a better kind of government than that which they had. He thought the Maoris' desires might have been directed into lawful channels. “I never knew or read of any people,” he told a Committee of the House of Representatives in 1863, “so entirely desirous of law as the New Zealanders.” In 1860 Selwyn had sent Governor Gore Browne a memorandum in which he made the following important suggestions embodying a large measure of home rule for the Maoris:—

“If the central district of the northern Island, including Waikato, Taupo, Rotorua, Opotiki, Waiapu, and Poverty Bay, were formed into one or more provinces, a simple system of elective and representative government, under immediate sanction of the Governor, might probably be brought into operation. The form of government, as in the Swiss cantons, need not be in all parts exactly the same, but might be adapted to the wishes and customs of particular tribes, provided that in all cases two fundamental points were adhered to—that the chief magistrates and councillors should be recommended by the tribe and confirmed by the Governor, and that all regulations made by them should require the Governor's assent. It would probably be found possible to bring these chief magistrates together in a general council, and many regulations made at such a meeting and assented to by the Governor might be held to be binding upon all the tribes. This system ought to rest at first upon voluntary compact, and rather to be offered as a boon than enforced page 445 by authority, because while the native people are thirsting for better government they are not without fear of oppression. The tone of some of the English newspapers has given them sufficient reason to expect the usual fate of a race assumed to be inferior.”

Selwyn, reviewing this proposal after three years, considered that such a scheme of government might either have absorbed the King movement or have allowed it to remain standing by itself in the midst of other and better systems carried on under the direction of the Government. He thought the Maori could have been moulded easily into any system that would elevate the race and tend to union and social amalgamation with the Europeans. It was most essential that there should be tribunals for land; without them no system of government would be useful.

Sir George Grey accepted some of Selwyn's ideas, and on his last visit to Ngaruawahia before the war, when he met the principal Kingite chiefs, with the exception of Tawhiao and Rewi, propounded a scheme of self-government in a last effort to reconcile the two races. Grey summarized the proposals in these words in a despatch some years after the war (27th October, 1869) to Earl Granville, Secretary of State for the Colonies:—

“Whilst large bodies of troops were in the country, and before the war commenced, I paid a visit to the Waikato tribes, who I believed were resolved upon a formidable outbreak. The whole of their principal chiefs met me, with the exception of the Maori King, who was ill; and I, to those chiefs, with the full consent of my responsible advisers, offered to constitute all the Waikato and Ngati-Maniapoto country a separate province, which would have the right of electing its own Superintendent, its own Legislature, and of choosing its own Executive Government—and, in fact, would have had practically the same powers and rights as any State of the United States has now. There could hardly have been a more ample and complete recognition of Maori authority, as the Waikato tribes would within their own district—a very large one—have had the exclusive control and management of their own affairs. This offer was, however, after full discussion and consideration, refused, on the ground they would accept no offer that did not involve an absolute recognition of the Maori King and his and their entire independence from the Crown of England—terms which no subject had power to grant, and which could not have been granted without creating worse evils than those which their refusal involved.”