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The War in New Zealand.

Chapter III

page 34

Chapter III.

Purchase of Waitara by Governor Browne—Hostilities at Taranaki 1860-61—Truce arranged by W. Thompson—Governor Browne prepares to invade Waikato—Probable Consequences of Invasion—Governor Browne recalled—Governor Grey appointed—Peaceful Solution anticipated.

In the month of November, 1859, Governor Browne visited the settlement of New Plymouth. He had an interview with a number of the natives of the district, and announced publicly that if any of them wished to sell land he was prepared to buy, on their showing a good title. A native named Teira (Taylor) rose up immediately and offered to sell a block of 600 acres at Waitara. The principal chief of Teira's tribe, William King, declared he would not allow the land to be sold. The Governor intimated that if Teira proved his title he would complete the purchase; and he left the investigation of the title in the hands of Mr. Parris, an assistant land pur-page 35chase commissioner. After some month's negotiation, Parris reported the title good; 200l. was paid to Teira "on account," and the Governor sent a party of surveyors to mark the boundaries. The surveyors were stopped by William King's party, soldiers were sent by the Governor, and in a few days fighting began.

Hostilities continued till 21st May, 1861. The natives intrenched themselves in strong positions. Our troops followed their example and shut themselves up in the town of New Plymouth. But the natives did not confine themselves to their strongholds; they ravaged, and, with the exception of the town, utterly destroyed the whole of the flourishing little settlement, which extended over some twenty miles in length, by six or eight deep. The whole of the European population were either driven into the town—their houses and homesteads desolated and destroyed—or they left for other settlements. A few unimportant skirmishes, in which we gained little advantage, and the capture of an empty pah or two, were all the military operations on our side for several months. At page 36length a new general arrived (Pratt), and he undertook the reduction of one of the strongholds of the natives by sap. Before he accomplished it, a truce was made, and the first campaign of the war came to an end; having resulted in nothing except the utter destruction of the settlement of Taranaki.

The truce was effected by William Thompson, a leading Waikato chief, representing the King party and Waikato. Shortly after hostilities commenced, the Waikato tribes, who lived some 200 miles off, and had no personal interest whatever in the land dispute between the Governor and William King, sent down a strong contingent to assist the latter. They had scarcely arrived when they were surprised by our troops and suffered severe loss. Thompson availed himself of the opportunity of going down and proposing a suspension of hostilities. He was successful: a truce was arranged between him and Governor Browne; the Waikato contingent returned home, and the Taranaki resident natives abstained, for the present, from any further active hostilities.

The colony was taken entirely by surprise by page 37the war. Unbroken peace had prevailed, without either wars or rumours of wars, since the termination of those in Cook's Straits, in 1846. When this new war commenced there were not ten persons outside of the Native office who knew that the colony was on the eve of a conflict. It was during a two years' parliamentary recess; the administration of native affairs was in the hands of the Governor and his non-responsible native secretary. Withdrawn from the direct control of the colonists, it had come to be regarded as a mystery, only to be comprehended by a few experts; and, as a general rule, no colonist ever knew what was going on in reference to the political affairs of the natives, or their relations to the European Government. The campaign commenced during the recess, and it was not till after the war had been going on for some time that the Assembly was summoned, and information laid before it as to the causes of the outbreak. There was a great difference of opinion among the members. A majority of those of the Northern Island, who lived among the natives, and knew something of their customs and land laws, though page 38the Governor wrong, and that William King was justified in opposing (though, of course, not by arms) Teira's attempted sale. A majority of Middle Island members who knew nothing about the natives, actuated mainly by feelings of loyalty and of personal regard for the Governor, supported him. Of the whole House of representatives he had a considerable majority with him; of the Legislative Council a still larger proportion. His ministers conceived themselves to be so strong that they, very foolishly, opposed and defeated a motion for inquiry into the causes of the war. Had it been granted, it is very probable that a way would have been discovered to adjust the difficulty, and get the colony out of the critical position into which the act of the Governor had precipitated it.

Immediately after the truce was made, in May, 1861, the Governor called on the natives by proclamation, to make submission and take the oath allegiance. Very few did; and as the year wore on he made his intention known of invading Waikato, to compel submission and punish those tribes which had joined in the page 39Taranaki disturbances. The Assembly met again in June, 1861. It was now winter, but by September (the New Zealand spring) it was understood operations would commence. General Cameron had arrived and had expressed his anxiety to find some employment for his soldiers. To the old colonists of the Northern Island the prospect was most gloomy, particularly to those in its southern portion. We were well aware of the preparations which the natives had made for war; we knew that we ourselves were entirely unprepared, almost without arms, untrained, unorganized, and scattered over large tracts, with our families and properties exposed to attack on every side. The Wellington members sought an interview with the Governor, and asked him if it was true that he intended invade Waikato. He said it was, and that he had no doubt that the first shot fired there would be the signal for a general rising all over the island. We call his attention to our unprepared and unprotected state. He said we must build redoubts and defend ourselves, as the colonists at Taranaki had done. As that settlement had page 40been swept as bare as the floor, we thought this a poor prospect, and told him so. He replied that "War is not made with rose-water."* After this we said no more, though we thought a good deal; for it appeared to us that the colonization of twenty years was about to be destroyed, and that ruin was preparing for the colonists of the Northern Island. And had the intended invasion of Waikato been attempted with the small military force under General Cameron's command, and with the colony so unprepared as it was at that date, nothing but the most fearful disasters could have ensued. If, with nearly 15,000 men, and two years' preparation, he was barely able to drive back the invading Waikatos from Auckland in 1863, what would have been our position if the invasion of their country had been attempted by us with a force of barely 3,000 men, and the colony altogether unprepared? We may well be thankful that we were spared the calamities that must have inevitably followed.

Before, however, the season was sufficiently page 41advanced to admit of military operations, two important changes took place. The war Ministry was defeated in the Assembly, and one which its opponents termed "the Peace-at-any-price Ministry" took its place. The majority which had supported the Governor in what he had done had evidently not confidence in what he was about to do. As, however, he would, in invading Waikato, have acted on his own responsibility as an imperial officer, the change of Ministry would probably have had little effect but for the other event referred to. This was his own removal from the Government. The Home Government found the position of the colony becoming serious. It determined to entrust the reins to other hands, and by a despatch full of complimentary language, expressing approval of what he had done, and continued confidence in him, the Governor was informed that he was superseded by Sir George Grey, formerly Governor of New Zealand, and then of the Cape of Good Hope. The colony had now breathing-time, and the hope revived that we might yet escape the horrors of an insurrection of three-fourths of the native race. Sir page 42George Grey arrived in September, and the spring opened upon us without the renewal of hostilities. We ventured to believe that the hatchet was buried.

* C. P. P. 1861.