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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]

Colonists and Maoris: — an Unwise Governor

Colonists and Maoris:
an Unwise Governor.

Meantime the friction with the natives was on the increase. At the Waitara, refugees returned from Kapiti stopped a survey party by the simple process of sitting down in the roadway in front of it; and the Waikatos, who claimed most of the land in the district by right of conquest, occasionally used threatening language towards the settlers. The proclamation issued by the Acting-Governor, Mr. Shortland, prohibiting the settlers from exercising any form of ownership on the land claimed by the natives, served to obstruct all further sales; and at last Mr. Spain, who had been authorised to investigate the Company's claim, paid his long-promised visit to Taranaki. Mr. Spain was an English barrister, who came out in 1841, and had already helped to assign to the natives “many places comprised within the boundaries claimed by the Company.” In company with Colonel Wakefield he now came to Taranaki to arbitrate between the colonists and the Maoris; and in June, 1844, he issued his decision. He assigned to the New Zealand Company the whole of the 60,000 acre block forming the New Plymouth settlement, with the exception of the native reserves, forming one-tenth of the whole area, and small portions set aside for the Wesleyan mission and for “Dicky” Barrett, whose faithful services to the settlers were thus requited. In return for all this the natives were to receive as compensation the sum of £200, and naturally enough this failed to satisfy them. The very day that Mr. Spain gave his award a lengthy petition was drawn up by Wiremu Kingi and several other Ngatiawa chiefs, pointing out that they had been dispossessed by the Waikatos, but that the land really belonged to them, while the Waikatos alone had received payment for it. “We love the lands of our ancestors,” ran this impressive document; “we did not receive any of the goods of Colonel Wakefield; it was wrong to buy the land which belonged to other page 23 men. There are many chiefs to whom this land belongs who are now at Waikanae and Arapaoa. It was love for the land of our forefathers that brought us back to these lands. Friend Governor, our thoughts are that those lands were never settled by the Waikatos; and when we embraced Christianity, we learnt the rules of the Gospel, and to dwell in peace. This, also is the determination of our people; Waitara shall not be given up; the men to whom it belongs will hold it for themselves. There was not a single man of the Ngatiawa tribe who received the payment of Colonel Wakefield. These are the only men
Normanby, Showing Mount Egmont.

Normanby, Showing Mount Egmont.

who took the payment—the men of Ngamotu and Puketapu, and they had no right in Waitara. The Ngatiawa are constantly returning to their land, on account of their attachment to the land of their birth—the land which we have cultivated, and which our ancestors marked out and delivered to us. Friend Governor, do you not love your land—England—the land of your fathers, as we also love our land at Waitara? Friend, let your thoughts be good towards us. We desire not to strive with the Europeans; but, at the same time, we do not wish to have our land settled by them; rather let them be returned to the places which have been paid for by them, lest a root of quarrel remain between us and the Europeans.”

Governor Fitzroy, who was not only inexperienced, but emotional and easily prejudiced, seems to have been completely captured by the eloquence of the natives, and to the dismay and wrath of the Europeans, he proceeded at once to disavow Mr. Spain's decision. He came down to New Plymouth, gathered the natives together, and informed them that their claims were just, and would be upheld. “He therefore declared the whole settlement forefeited,” says Mr. Wells in his “History of Taranaki,” “and induced the Maoris to accept £350 in goods, money, and animals as a full compensation and completion of payment, for a block of land at and around the town, containing about 3,500 acres. The consequences of this insane act were crushing. After all the excellent speeches at Plymouth, after all the hopes that had been excited, after thousands of pounds had been spent, and hundreds of simple-hearted people had left their homes, traversed the seas, and established themselves in the wilderness, the settlement was diminished to the dimensions of a nobleman's park. What was perhaps the most unjust part of the business was, that the £350 paid to buy back the township, and a small block of land behind it, was taken from the New Zealand Company. By this act was laid the foundation of quarrelling and bloodshed. To it is to be attributed the deaths of Rawiri and Katatore, and also the Taranaki war.

“For years the settlement pined under this almost overwhelming affliction, and the only wonder is that it was not entirely broken up. As soon as the Governor's decision was made known, the exulting Maoris commenced a series of persecutions upon all the settlers who were living outside the lines of the reduced settlement. One by one they sorrowfully came in, abandoning their newly reclaimed fields, which soon reverted to a state of nature, containing here and there a thorn or some other very hardy British plant, to prove to another generation that Britons had made an attempt to cultivate that part of the wilderness.

“If the Governor had felt that the manumitted slaves should receive payment for their share of the land, it was in his power to have ordered payment to be made to them. He, however, did not so act, but chose rather to give back the entire settlement to the natives, and then re-purchase with the funds of the Company, the township and its suburbs. To injury the Governor added insult; when the simple-minded Devonshire and Cornish peasants attempted to remonstrate with him, and plead the cause of their families, he told them they were all trespassers, and deserved transportation. Years after this transaction, when discussing the events of 1844 over the winter's evening fire, the conclusion universally come to by the settlers was, that Governor Fitzroy was insane, and the fact of his afterwards dying by his own hand seems to show that that conclusion was not far from the fact. Not only ought the decision of Mr. Commissioner Spain to have been accepted, armed as he was both with Imperial and Colonial jurisdiction in the matter, but there are strong grounds for believing that the Company's claims ought never to have been brought into his Court.”

“Governor Fitzroy's decision,” writes Mr. Seffern, “had a crushing page 24 effect upon the settlement. The operations of the New Zealand Company were suspended, and its officers dismissed. If the Governor had felt that the manumitted slaves should receive some payment, it was his place to have recommended the British Government to send out the money for that purpose, but not to upset an award made by Mr. Commissioner Spain, a British Government officer sent out specially from England to adjust matters between the natives and Europeans. The Governor added insult to the injury done to the simple-minded hard-working Devonshire and Cornish settlers, who attempted to remonstrate with him, pleading that they and their families would be ruined, for he told them ‘that they were trespassers, and deserved transportation.’ He said this to the men who had broken up their homes in England to settle in a new country, on land which was unoccupied and a wilderness till they arrived. They paid high prices for the land they had commenced to cultivate, but by the insane act of Governor Fitzroy, there was every chance of their being ruined for life.”

The not unnatural effect of the Governor's action upon the natives, was to make the Ngatiawas very self-confident and over-bearing. The Waikatos, who had released their captives when they themselves were converted to Christianity, were incensed at the arrogance of those who had so lately been slaves. But Governor Fitzroy was determined at all costs to propitiate the Maoris. He held several meetings in the Taranaki district, and at last, chiefly through the skilful negotiations of Mr. Donald McLean, he arranged to purchase from the Ngatiawa a block of land of 3,500 acres, for which the New Zealand Company, through Mr. Wicksteed, paid £50 in cash and a miscellaneous assortment of guns, blankets, hats, print, calico, and other “trade.” All the settlers in the district were to be removed to holdings within the boundaries of the “Fitzroy Block,” but at Mangaoraka and elsewhere, the colonists were on such good terms with the natives, that they were allowed to remain unmolested. Generally speaking, it may be said that at this stage of the settlement's growth the relations between Maori and European were distinctly amicable. But there was a party in existence in those days who were not slow to put the blame of all the trouble with the natives on the shoulders of the Europeans, charging them with persecuting the Maoris, and otherwise dealing unjustly by them. One of the most unbiassed persons living in the midst of both races, was the Rev. Samuel Ironside, and he, writing to the New Zealand “Spectator,” published in Wellington on the 5th of November, 1844, says: “I hesitate not to say that during a residence of more than twelve months in this settlement, so far as I have observed, the settlers have been uniformly kind and considerate towards the native population. There have been disputes and misunderstandings between the races, but they have arisen mainly out of circumstances over which the settlers have no control; and it has given me pleasure to witness the forbearance of the white people towards the natives, under the very painful and discouraging circumstances in which they have been placed, through the non-settlement of the land question.”

But the Europeans were naturally incensed at the action of the Governor in setting aside Mr. Spain's award, and Colonel Wake-field, representing the New Zealand Company, protested most vehemently against the steps that Governor Fitzroy had taken. Mr. Spain, who had emphatically declared that the Company was fairly and justly entitled to the whole 60,000 acre block taken up by them, resigned his position and left the colony. As an inevitable result of the uncertainty in which all European titles of land now stood, there was hesitation and lack of enterprise apparent among the colonists, and consequently lack of employment and some discontent among the poorer classes. But in spite of all these difficulties, the settlement continued to progress. The grain and potato crops in 1845 were exceptionally heavy; and several important industries had already been started. Messrs White and Gallingham had put up a sawmill as well as a flour mill, and Mr. Josiah Flight had cultivated English flax with considerable success. By the end of 1845, statistics show that there were 635 acres in wheat, 128 acres in barley, and over 350 acres laid down in vegetable gardens. It was estimated that the surplus for export during the coming autumn would be 267 tons of flour and 1,600 bushels of barley, as well as a considerable quantity of salt pork. But the very advantages that the settlers now enjoyed prompted the natives to resent the intrusion of the whites among them. Once more there was trouble at the Waitara; and the rumours of Heke's defiance of the British authorities at the Bay of Islands, and the threatened attack of the Ngapuhi upon Auckland, encouraged the malcontents to take up an aggressive attitude towards the Europeans.