Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

The War in New Zealand.

Chapter II

page 19

Chapter II.

Origin of previous Wars in New Zealand—Effect on Native Mind—They Accumulate Arms and Ammunition—Apparent Peace at Period of Governor Grey's leaving the Colony—The Land League—The King Movement.

It is commonly asserted by writers in England on New Zealand affairs, that all the hostilities with the natives which have occurred in the colony have originated in disputes about land. No statement can be further from the truth. The first war we had was in the year 1844, with John Héke, and a section of the Ngapuhi tribe at the Bay of Islands. It had absolutely no reference at all to any question about land, but originated solely in the personal ambition of Héke, and his belief that the introduction of law, order, and customs duties under British rule, were driving away the whaling vessels with which he had carried on a not creditable trade. The page 20war in the Hutt and West Coast of Wellington, in 1845, may be said to have involved a shadow of a dispute about land, the principal aggressor making a claim to a district which had been sold to us and occupied for years, and which he endeavoured to enforce by the murder of unarmed and unoffending settlers. But his claim, whatever it was, was not generally supported by the other natives of the district, the majority of whom took our side and carried arms on our behalf. The next collision was at Wanganui, in 1845. The pretext for it by the natives was an accidental discharge of a pistol in the hands of a midshipman in H.M. Navy, by which a chief was wounded in the cheek. Five young men of the tribe "took payment" for the injury to their chief, by barbarously murdering the family of Mr. Gilfillan, an unoffending settler who lived in the neighbourhood. The murderers were tried under martial law by Captain Laye of H.M. service, and hanged. A portion of the Wanganui tribes took up arms—another portion took our side, and a very uneventful war of some months' duration ensued. These were all the wars we had before page 21that of 1860. None of them were very serious; each lasting only a few months, and rather dying out of inanition on the part of the natives, than being terminated by any very decisive victory on our part. The reasons for this no doubt were that there was really nothing to fight about; while the tribes with which we came into collision were divided among themselves, and quite as many sided with us, as became our opponents. In these respects these wars differed from those in which we have been engaged since 1860; which involve well-defined issues, and in which we have opposed to us a formidable combination of several entire tribes, including the largest, the most warlike, and most influential.

These earlier wars, however, had one very important effect. They entirely destroyed the prestige which the Queen's troops had previously enjoyed in the eyes of the natives. Our operations were conducted with so little military skill; our disasters were so serious and so many; the losses of the natives were so small, and they outwitted and out-generalled us on so many occasions, that though for the reasons above page 22stated fighting ceased, yet a feeling of supreme contempt for the soldiers became permanently and generally impressed on the native mind. The only superiority on our part which they would admit after these wars, was the possession of greater resources in the shape of arms and ammunition, a conclusion which stimulated them to the acquisition at any cost of means which alone they believed to be wanting to give them an absolute superiority in case of future hostilities. Governor Grey very wisely threw all the difficulties he could in the way of their acquiring "munitions of war;" and by imposing restrictions on their sale he succeeded in reducing it to pretty nearly the limits of a smuggling trade. Governor Browne unfortunately relaxed the restrictions imposed by his predecessor, and within the three following years the natives purchased and stored up not less than 50,000l. worth of arms and ammunition,* which, with what they had previously accumulated, sufficed to supply, probably, every adult native in the islands with a

* Government returns in 1861.

page 23serviceable fire-arm, and the means of using it for several years of active warfare. It was no doubt the possession of such resources, combined with the estimate formed of the military prowess of our troops, which emboldened the natives, when they thought the time had arrived, to defy the power of the British nation.

After the termination of the Cook's Straits wars, the natives for a time settled down to peaceful pursuits, and seemed to be only desirous of emulating the colonists in agricultural industry and commercial enterprise. These efforts were encouraged by the Government with liberal, not to call it profuse support, and for three or four years, what has been called the "flour and sugar policy" prevailed. Mills more numerous than they could use were erected for them at the public expense—millers and engineers paid to work them; ploughs, harrows, threshing-machines, carts, and other agricultural implements were scattered broadcast through the country, particularly among those tribes which have since gone most deeply into the rebellion; and it really appeared as if the Maori race, recognizing the page 24dignity of labour, was at last going to qualify itself for a place among civilized people by a life of industry and the gradual progress social Organization. At all events, it seemed to justify the glowing pictures which Governor Grey, at the period of the termination of his first administration, drew in his despatches to the home Government, parading the advancement of the native race, and their attachment to his rule, and leaving it to be inferred that he had solved the problem which had baffled all other statesmen, of rescuing a savage race from the annihilation usually attendant on its contact with a civilized people. There were, however, not a few persons in the colony who had no faith in the "flour and sugar policy"—at least when unaccompanied by means of regeneration which might strike their roots deeper into human nature. They failed to discover either in the practical action of Governor Grey, or in the numerous despatches which he addressed to the Colonial Office, any indications that he appreciated the real difficulty of the position of the Maori race—their political relations towards the European portion of the community of which page 25they were to form a part. He left the colony without having either established or suggested any policy or any institutions by which that difficulty might be conquered; and that at a most critical period, when the bestowal of representative institutions rendered it impossible longer to evade a difficulty, the pressure of which was little felt while colonists and natives both remained under the "Paternal rule" of the Colonial Office, equally debarred of all political power.

Notwithstanding the hopeful signs of material prosperity which existed at this period, two small clouds had already arisen on the horizon, which were pregnant with the storms which have since burst upon the colony. These were the Land League and the King Movement. They both originated about 1848, during Governor Grey's first administration; but seem not to have attracted any special attention at that period, either from him or any one else. As these movements have both exercised a most important influence on the recent difficulties in the colony, if indeed they did not constitute their sole basis, it is necessary to say a few words in explanation of them.

page 26
I.The Land League.—From the period of the foundation of the colony, there existed a great difference between the feelings with which the colonists were received by different tribes. All were apparently glad to see us in the country. Some, simply for what they could get out of us; others, both for that, and because I really believe they liked us as neighbours and friends. Political reasons weighed with many. The Ngatiwhatuas, for instance, occupied a district which lay between the two greatest and most warlike tribes in the islands, the Ngapuhi and the Waikato. These latter tribes were always at war, and when Waikato invaded Ngapuhi, viâ Ngatiwhatua, they usually gave the latter a backhanded blow in going or coming. So when Ngapuhi invaded Waikato, they, in their turn, "gave them a dig" in passing; and as these invasions were annual, the position of Ngatiwhatua became something worse than that of Belgium used to be among the belligerents of Europe. In short, as they told me on one occasion, "if you English had not come they would have eaten us up between them." When we did come, Ngatiwhatua pressed on our page 27acceptance the district where Auckland stands, and by getting us to occupy the intervening tract, they obtained the best possible security against the renewal of the raids through their own country, which had kept it in a continual state of desolation and alarm. Similar motives, no doubt, operated with many other tribes, and there were and still are many tribes who are willing to sell almost any land they have, it being a mere question of price between us. There were other tribes, however which appeared, only to welcome us to the country on account of the good things we brought with, and who would have been glad to see us who would have been glad to see us confined to a few towns where they might buy tobacco and blankets, and find a ready market for their fish and potatoes. From the very first they refused to sell land; and in some of the largest and most fertile districts, such as Waikato, not an acre had been sold by them to the date of the beginning of the present war, except a few very small pieces, disposed of to shoemakers, carpenters, and other artificers whose personal services they desired to have at their own doors. page 28These tribes cultivated a very few acres themselves, while thousands of square miles of fertile land lay unproductive and entirely useless to the human race. As they saw other tribes selling land and colonization progressing, they became alarmed lest the day should arrive when they should be persuaded to sell their own lands, and so admit among themselves the advancing wave of European immigration. The idea of an anti-land-selling league suggested itself, or was suggested to them; and most of those tribes which desired to hold the colonist at arms' length, joined it. So long as they confined themselves to a resolution not to sell their own lands, their right to establish such a league could scarcely be denied; but before long it assumed a more aggressive character. In many instances when tribal lands would have been sold by the vote of the majority, the influence of the league brought to bear upon them by distant tribes encouraged the minority to hold out; and when the league became as it did closely identified with the King Movement, the overawing power of the latter was thrown into the scale to prevent alienation. Many page 29tribes, however, continued to repudiate the interference of the League and of the King; and even while the war was at its height, several hundred thousand acres were sold to the Government by the Ngapuhi, the Ngatiwhatua, the Manawatu, the Waitotara, and other tribes. It is evident that these large tribes would regard with little favour the advice of certain persons in England given to the New Zealanders, not to sell their land at all; and still more the foolish suggestion which those persons made that its sale should be absolutely prohibited by law. The League, however, was a great fact; a great impediment to the progress of the colony; and a great obstacle to the harmonious intercourse of the two races Nevertheless, no attempt was ever made by the Government to interfere with it, except by persuasion and argument.

The King Movement.—Notwithstanding the paternal government of the Colonial Office, and the liberal distribution of flour and sugar, the great tribes which held themselves aloof from the colonists, felt that they were not governed; at all events what government there was among page 30them was not to their liking. As early as 1848, the idea was entertained among them of appointing a king of their own. Their conceptions on the subject were no doubt exceedingly vague. They had never had among themselves any national head, nor any regular or constitutional form of government. But they had imbibed some notions of our institutions, and they had studied in the Old Testament the history of monarchy among the Israelites. The result, so far as it ever took a definite shape, became a sort of parody of the two. At first a mere blind groping after a better form of self-government than they possessed, meriting the sympathy of all men, it rapidly degenerated into something little else than antagonism towards the Europeans and an attempt to prescribe the limits of peans, and attempt to prescribe to limits of colonization At the time of the commencement of the present war (1862) it presented the following features:—An elected king, a very young man of no force of character, surrounded by a few ambitious chiefs, who formed a little mock court, and by a body-guard without shoes and with very tight stocks, who kept him from all page 31vulgar contact, and from even the inspection of Europeans, except on humiliating terms; entirely powerless to enforce among his subjects the decisions of his magistrates; an army, if it might be called so, of 5,000 to 10,000 followers scattered over the country, but organized so that large numbers could be concentrated on any one point on short notice; large accumulated supplies of food, of arms, and ammunition; a position in the centre of the island from which a descent could be made in a few hours on any of the European settlements; roads prohibited to be made through two thirds of the island; the large rivers barred against steamers, so that nine-tenths of the country was closed against the ordinary means of travel and transport; the Queen's law set at utter defiance; her magistrates treated with supercilious contempt; her writs torn to pieces and trampled under foot; Europeans who had married native women driven out of the king districts, while their wives and children were taken from them, unless they would recognize and pay an annual tribute to the king; all this accompanied by an exhibition of the page 32utmost arrogance, and undisguised contempt for the power of the Queen, the Governor, and the Europeans.

Many believe (I do so myself) that in its early stages "kingism" might have been moulded into something useful, and have proved the means of elevating the native race, by the introduction of institutions subordinate to, and in harmony with, the European government of the colony. The opportunity, however, was lost. Governor Browne's responsible advisers induced him to make the attempt, and it was attended for a time with considerable success; but his non-responsible native secretary persuaded him to abandon it, advising him that if he left kingism to itself, it would die a natural death. In making this fatal error, the Governor acted in opposition to the advice of his responsible advisers, and by virtue of the absolute power reserved to him in native affairs by the Imperial Government.* The natural consequence of the laisser faire system

* The history of the King movement and the part taken by Governor Browne in reference to it, were thoroughly investigated by the Waikato Committee in 1860. See it in C. P. P., 1860.

page 33soon followed. Kingism rapidly gained strength, and, "left to itself," it soon developed the features I have described, which, it will be admitted, were absolutely irreconcilable with the existence of the Queen's authority and the presence of the constitutional government established in the colony. When to these features it added an open declaration of war, by ordering, in the king's name, the murder of the Queen's subjects, as we shall presently see was the case, there was no possibility of any further tolerance of the existence of an institution subversive of all order, and openly aggressive against the authority of law.