Land Tenure in the Cook Islands
The stated objects of the Land Court were to increase productivity from native farms and to open unused lands for European settlers. The question of productivity from native lands will be dealt with later, and attention will now be given to the effectiveness of the policy of European settlement. This policy assumed three premises - firstly that there were large areas of fertile land lying waste, secondly that page 201 the Maori population was dying out, and thirdly that the unused land would be made available for settlers by one means or another.
1 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1899:23.
2 Fox and Grange, Soils… 41.
3 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:49, and Gudgeon to Mills 28.5.1903 NZPP A3 1904.
4 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:50.
5 Fox and Grange, Soils… 41.
6 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:50.
7 Fox and Grange, Soils… 41.
The second premise, that of a dying Maori population, was supported by the demographic data then available. At the turn of the century, however, the decline ceased. The policy-makers cannot be blamed for not knowing that, almost from the moment of annexation of the Cook Islands, an upward trend of population growth was occurring throughout the length and breadth of the Pacific.1 Though the population had reached its lowest ebb in the 1870s and had subsequently risen, this data was probably not available to the Administration. The censuses of 1895, 1901 and 1902 did show a slow downward trend, and combined with knowledge of rapid population decline in the first three decades after contact (which Gudgeon was aware of and quoted) he was no doubt justified in assuming that the decline would continue. The rate of decline shown by the three censuses mentioned, however, was quite slow, and hardly justified the assertion that ‘at no very distant date the present native population will either die out or become so much reduced in numbers that it will be necessary to replace them with a foreign population’.2 In fact, the population increased steadily from 1902 onwards.
1 McArthur, Populations… passim.
2 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1902:55.
2 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1903:24.
3 Gudgeon, NZPP A3 1904:70.
4 Hansard volumes 125–30 passim.
5 Minutes of meeting of 28.4.1903 NZPP A3(b) 1903.
In 1905 the Minister still hoped that a settlement programme could be effected by persuasion rather than compulsion, and reported that numerous applications for land had been received from prospective settlers, though as yet the government was unable to give them any assurance as to its availability.2 He nevertheless promised to compile details of surplus lands for the information of settlers, and hoped that the islanders would soon be induced to lease them more readily. In the following year the situation was unchanged. Indigenous opposition to foreign settlement remained firm, and was supported throughout by the London Missionary Society, which, in addition to its constant pastoral contact with the people, published the only periodical in the vernacular. Referring to the situation in Rarotonga in 1906, the editor pointed out that ‘there are only 8,000 usable acres to be divided amongst 2,000 natives…. There does not seem to be much land left to lease’.3 The survey of the island, which was by then well advanced, confirmed the view that there was much less fertile land than had previously been supposed. With opposition from within the territory and little support from Wellington, the settler question faded quietly away.
1 Gudgeon to Mills 12.9.1904 NZPP A3 1905.
3 Te Karere January 1906.
4 By settlers is meant foreigners (invariably Europeans from 1900 onwards) whose livelihood was obtained from the production of export crops.
1 NZPP A3 1907:6 and NZPP A4 1920:48.
2 Hansard 247:336.