The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]
Work Of The Provincial Council
Work Of The Provincial Council.
It will now be convenient to revert the course of events following on the establishment of Provincial Government in Hawke's Bay. To summarise briefly the work of the Provincial Councils in the earlier days, it may be said that they were occupied with two main topic—the construction of roads and public works, and the settlement of the land question with its natural corollary, the interminable native difficulty. The first Council agreed to memorialise the Government to introduce a bill repealing the Native Lands Purchase Ordinance so as to enable Europeans to lease land from the Maoris. In 1862 the Council recommended Government to fix for all waste land sold by auction a minimum price of not less than ten shillings per acre. In 1865 a further attempt was made by Mr. J. Buchanan, to settle the disputed question of land tenure by a series of resolutions to the following effect: (1) That the Council is of opinion that the special welfare of the province and the general interests of the colony are retarded by the neglect to enforce the Land Purchase Ordinance of 1846. (2) That Europeans have occupied for pastoral purposes all the lands best suited for agriculture, and that in this way genuine settlement has been stopped. (3) That British law is thus discredited in native eyes through the tacit approval of the authorities in these illegalities. (4). That the large sums of money obtained from the leaseholders are utilised as sinews of war by the Maoris. (5). That these facts were viewed with discontent and alarm by all loyal and law abiding people. Mr. McLean—who in 1863 had been elected Superintendent after the resignation of Mr. Fitzgerald—led a party in the Council opposed to the views advocated by Mr. Buchanan; and in 1865 he moved as an amendment to Mr. Buchanan's resolutions: (1) That this Council is of the opinion that the occupation of the Ahuriri Plains by a settled population is essential to the advancement and prosperity of the province. (2) That the action of the Native Lands Act of 1862 will tend to throw these lands into the hands of large proprietors to the incalculable injury of the community. (3) That the Council is aware that the Native Lands Act is an essential feature of the policy of the colony as at present represented in the General Assembly, and there is no chance of the Ahuriri Plains being exempted from its operation. (4) That the Council recommends the imposition of a land tax on a sliding scale to prohibit the individual proprietorship of large blocks. Later in the year, however, Mr. Buchanan returned to the charge with a resolution to the effect that the true reason for the abeyance of the Native Land Purchase Ordinance of 1846 was the reluctance of the Government to bring it into operation; and that the Council desires to point out that residents without a legal claim to the land they occupy, cannot expect redress for trespass or the right to collect rents or to transfer ownership. This motion was negatived on the casting vote of the Speaker (Mr. Wilkinson); but the aggressive tone of the resolutions suggests the bitterness with which the question of land tenure was fought out in the provincial parliaments.
In spite of the constant difficulties about native lands, the relations between Europeans and Maoris were generally of the best. Thus in 1865 we find the Superintendent thanking the Wairoa chiefs for the active and zealous part they took in resisting the advance of the Hauhaus; and again, in 1866, in his address to the Council, Mr. McLean especially refers to the loyalty and devotion of the friendly natives in connection with the East Coast war. In this same address, however, Mr. McLean informed the Council that a large area of valuable land had been purchased from the Maoris of the East Cape, Wairoa and the Nuhaka districts, and that efforts would at once be made to plant settlements in the northern portion of the Hawke's Bay district. By this time the chiefs page 291 of the Ahuriri Plains had shown some disposition to lease their lands to the Government; but they had resolutely refused even to entertain the idea of absolute sale. So far as the land was concerned, the Maoris were indeed masters of the situation; and the Superintendent's address for 1868 contains some interesting particulars—derived from the census—as to their wealth and importance. “The Maori population,” said Mr. McLean, “though not represented in the statistics, possess no inconsiderable part of the wealth and the resources of Hawke's Bay. They are rich in land, cattle, and horses, sheep, and agricultural implements, and are applying themselves to industrial occupations. They are generally well disposed, amenable to law, and contribute much to the prosperity of the province.”
This picture represents a vast amount of progress accomplished during the brief years that had elapsed since settlement first began in Hawke's Bay. A few figures may give some idea of the advances made up to this time by the whole district. By 1867 there were 247,000 acres fenced—being an advance of 181,000 acres in three years—and of these 28,600 acres were in English grass. Of freehold and leasehold land the total area was 1,700,000 acres, more than half the total area of the province. The white population of Hawke's Bay in 1864 was 3770; by 1867 it had risen to 5175. Within the same period the number of buildings had increased from 738 to 1130, the number of horses from 2780 to 4713, and the number of sheep from 558,000 to 842,000. At the same time the Council had not been blind to the higher interests of the community. As early as 1864 attempts were made to extend the basis of the educational system. At the beginning of 1863 there were only three public schools with a total attendance of forty-five pupils. By 1867 there were twelve public and denominational schools with 300 pupils, and an average for all of 226; and six of these schools were conducted by British trained teachers. Meanwhile internal means of communication were being slowly provided for the settlers. By 1865 a new line of road had been cleared through the Forty Mile Bush to the Manawatu on the West Coast. Arrangements had been made for the reclaiming of swamp land round page 292 Meanee; and a report on the Napier harbour had been received from the Marine Engineer of the colony. It was not till 1873, however, that a committee was set up by the Council to enquire into the possibility of constructing a breakwater at Napier. But long before this the foundations of the provincial system of government had been shaken throughout the colony; and the agitation for the abolition of the provincial districts had made itself felt in Hawke's Bay. The unnecessary, cumbersome, and expensive officialdom of the Provincial Government had become a heavy burden; and in 1870 Hawke's Bay attempted the task of government by the Superintendent without the assistance of the Executive Council. The then Superintendent, Mr. Ormond, was always opposed to what he called “the costly and unnecessary system of ministerial go-betweens,” and this partial disappearance of the Executive from the provincial system was one of many indications of the movement that culminated, in 1875–6, in the abolition of the provinces.