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The War in New Zealand.

Chapter IV

page 43

Chapter IV.

Important Events overlooked—Thompson and King Natives hold aloof—Governor Grey visits Lower Waikato—His Reception—Offer made to refer Waitara Question to Arbitration refused—Further Attempts at Pacific Solution—Governor goes to Taranaki—Determines to give up Waitara—Takes Possession of Tataraimaka—Natives murder Escort, 4th May—Governor gives up Waitara—Distinction between Governor Browne's War of 1860, and that which now commenced.

There is in England a class of persons who live, or whose cause lives, by "sensation." Their minds appear to get into a "hustings" state; they exaggerate and high-colour whatever supports their views, while they ignore or misrepresent any amount of facts which make the other way. In discussing the New Zealand question, which unfortunately they are very fond of doing, these persons generally overlook the events of the year and a half which elapsed between the arrival page 44of Governor Grey and the renewal of hostilities at Taranaki in May, 1863. They assert that the war which then commenced was identical in its merits, or, as they express it, "as iniquitous" as that under Governor Browne; and putting out of sight altogether a course of deliberate action, extending over eighteen months, which had for its object the pacific adjustment of the Waitara dispute, they assert that "we did not endeavour to make any terms with the natives, but the one thing we called upon them to do, was to lay down their arms and cease to be rebels."* The object of the present chapter will be to endeavour to show by a simple record of facts, how entirely untrue and unfair is the view taken by these persons.

When the truce referred to in the last chapter was made, William Thompson, who represented the Maories, said:—"Let the law have the care of the Waitara; let a good man from the Queen investigate the case—that is, some person sent by the Duke of Newcastle, to suppress the troubles

* Lord Alfred Churchill, Ab. Pro. Soc. Report, 1865, p. 20.

page 45in this land." William King had previously put Waitara into Thompson's hands, appointing him in the most solemn manner, his plenipotentiary to settle the pending dispute about it with the Govern or. When Governor Grey arrived, we naturally looked to Thompson to make advances. He made none; but with the other leaders of the King party, held himself aloof. Tamati Nopera, an uncle of the king, a chief of very high rank and great influence, who was living near Auckland, was induced to visit Thompson and the other King leaders, to endeavour to persuade them to make overtures to the Governor, or at all events to come to Auckland to see him. When Nopera returned I was present at his interview with the Governor. It was too evident that his visit to Waikato had done him no good. He was reticent, and formal to the last degree, and did nothing but fence with the Governor about words. The interview was a very protracted one, and the Governor was obliged at last to terminate it abruptly. Shortly after this the Governor visited by invitation a friendly chief in Lower Waikato. There was a very large gathering of friendly natives, but no chief of the page 46King party of any note made his appearance. Two inferior men of that party, who professed to be delegates but had no credentials, wrangled with the Governor for some hours at public gatherings on the merits of Kingism. It had been hoped that the leading men of the party would have availed themselves of this opportunity of meeting the Governor in their own district, where he had come unattended by any but a few civilians. He waited some days, and then returned to Auckland a good deal chagrined at the result.

This conduct of the Waikatos was altogether irreconcilable with the idea that they wished for peace. Sir George Grey had during his previous administration been on the most friendly terms with them; he had been most liberal towards them in the distribution of ploughs, mills and other things; he had been personally acquainted with most of the leading chiefs; and yet when he came in the character of "the good man sent out by the Duke of Newcastle to investigate Waitara, and suppress the troubles in the land," they absolutely ignored his presence in the country and abstained from all communication page 47with him. This was not the course which men of candour, honestly desiring peace, would have pursued.

I was so deeply impressed with the conviction that before any good could be done "Waitara" must be disposed of, that before the Governor returned to Auckland from Waikato, I proposed to him that I should go to the upper part of the district, see thompson and the leading chiefs of the King party face to face, and propose to them, in the Governor's name, to refer the Waitara question to arbitration before a tribunal of two Europeans and four Maories, three to be appointed by the natives, and three by the Governor,. His Excellency assented, and I went. Thompson was absent from the district; but I found nearly the whole of the other leading chiefs of the King party assembled together at Hangitikei on the Waipa river. At my request they met me in a full public assembly, and I then formally proposed to refer Waitara to arbitration, in the manner already mentioned. The reply was that Waitara had been placed in the hands of Thompson, and whatever he might decide would be accepted by page 48the rest.* I waited in Waikato several days for Thompson, and sent several messengers to places where he was said to be. At last I was obliged to return to Auckland, without seeing him; but I left a letter for him, informing him of the offer I had made to the other chiefs. At the end of a fortnight I received a reply dated 21st of January 1862 from him. It was a disingenuous and evasive document, and distinctly stated that "he would not now agree to Waitara being investigated." Coupled with his conduct towards the Governor, I could only regard this letter as proof that Thompson was playing us false, and that he was not really desirous of removing the great stumbling block in the way of re-establishing friendly relations between his people and the Government.

However, we were determined to persevere. The influential tribes at Hawkes Bay had sympathized strongly with Waikato and William King on the Waitara question; but they had abstained

* See Journal of Events, C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 13.

See Thompson's Letter and subsequent correspondence, C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 13, p. 14, &c.

page 49from mixing themselves up in the quarrel between them and the Government. On being told by me that Thompson had declined to refer Waitara to arbitration, they expressed great surprise and disappointment, and wrote to Thompson to know if it was true. They were told distinctly in reply "that the Waikatos disapproved of the proposal to investigate Waitara;" and they were snubbed for their interference. They, however, did not give the matter up. A great meeting of natives was to be held in Waikato in Oct. 1862, to discuss the prospects of Kingism, and thither a strong deputation of the Hawkes Bay natives went. The Bishop of New Zealand also attended it. He preached a sermon, and made a speech urging the Waikatos most earnestly to accept the proffered arbitration. The Hawkes Bay deputation honestly pressed the subject; but neither bishop nor deputation could prevail; and the matter was got rid of very summarily, much as it might have been in our Parliament, by moving the previous question.*

* Report of Peria meeting, C. P. P. 1863, E. No. 12.

page 50
In the following January, the Governor, accompanied by a single interpreter, and unannounced, visited Ngaruawahia, the usual residence of the king. The king was absent; but the Governor had a long interview with Thompson, the general tenor of whose conversation was a determination to support the King movement, and to resist the introduction of steamers on the Waikato river; while, on the other hand, he appears to have intimated that Waikato would not interfere to prevent the Governor from resuming possession of the Tataraimaka district and other lands from which the Taranaki settlers had been driven, and of which the natives still held armed occupation.* Nothing very encouraging, however, resulted from this interview; and the Governor was obliged by illness to return to Auckland without seeing any of the other leading men of the King party. He seems from this time to have made up his mind that it was hopeless to endeavour any longer to induce the Waikatos to adjust the Waitara question by amicable means. He appears, however, to have determined to wash his hands of it

* Southern Cross, Supplement, Jan. 1863.

page 51by any means and at all risks, and he shortly afterwards went to New Plymouth to carry out his plans upon the spot. In doing so I think, as a matter of policy, he was quite right, and had he done it in the right way, none, except those whose partisanship for Governor Browne might have warped their judgment, could possibly have objected. But there was a complication in the matter, and it baffled him. At the very last moment he took a wrong course, and the fruits of all the patient forbearance, all the diplomatic skill, all the anxious care to avoid a renewal of hostilities, which had been exercised for eighteen months, were thrown away in a day. The complication referred to was this:—

About fifteen miles south of the town of New Plymouth lies the district of Tataraimaka. This district had been purchased during Sir George Grey's previous administration, in 1848 or 1849. There had never been a shadow of a doubt as to the validity of the purchase; and it had been occupied by European settlers for ten years, holding under Crown grants. During the Taranaki war of 1860-1 the settlers were driven from this page 52district by the insurgent natives, and their homesteads ravaged and destroyed. The natives had ever since retained armed possession of it. It was impossible that this could be permitted to continue; and when the Governor went to Taranaki in April 1863, he had, according to the plans he had decided on, to do two things—to give up Waitara and to retake Tataraimaka. By one of those unfortunate errors which are apt to befal those who are too much given to "diplomacy," he, for some unexplained reason, reversed the process: without even giving a hint of his intention to surrender Waitara, he sent soldiers to occupy Tataraimaka. The resident natives at first made no opposition, but they instantly sent to Waikato for orders. The orders, signed by the fighting general of the King party and other leading chiefs, were, "Begin your shooting." They were promptly obeyed. On the 4th May 1863 an ambuscade of natives attacked a small escort party convoying some carts between Taranaki and Tataraimaka, and barbarously murdered Lieutenant Tragett, Dr. Hope, and eight rank and file of the Queen's troops. The Governor page 53then committed, if possible, a greater error then, his first. With the utmost precipitation he announced that Waitara was abandoned, and that the purchase from Teira would not be completed. This step, immediately following the murder of the escort, was regarded by the natives, hostile and friendly alike, from one end of the islands to the other, as the result of fear, and an indication of unmistakeable weakness on our part. It greatly encouraged our enemies, and did more to shake the attachment of our friends than any other event which had ever happened.

I think the facts I have recorded establish beyond all question a broad distinction between the war of 1860 and that of 1863. If Governor Browne was morally wrong in provoking the former, it must be admitted that during the first eighteen months of Governor Grey's administration, no means were left untried to induce the natives to adopt a course by which the cause of contention might be amicably got rid of. The sole responsibility of the renewal of the war in 1863 rests on Thompson and the other members of the Waikato tribes, who refused our repeated page 54and most liberal offers, to refer the matter in dispute to arbitration, and who, when the Governor retook Tataraimaka, though they themselves had no personal interest in Taranaki, ordered the resident natives to commence the work of blood. Certainly those who say that "no attempt was made to offer terms to the natives, but that we called upon them only to lay down their arms and cease to be rebels," very grossly misrepresent the facts. Governor Grey never called on them to do anything of the sort during the first year and a half of his administration; he made no aggressive movement, unless by friendly argument, against Kingism; and he punished no one for participation in the insurrection of 1860. If ever the olive branch was held out in sincerity it was during that period. Had it been accepted as sincerely as it was offered, all questions of difficulty between the Government and the natives might have been amicably adjusted, all the bloodshed which has ensued might have been spared, and the two races might have continued to occupy in harmony and peace the fine country which has ample room for both.