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Letters from Early New Zealand


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The islands of the New Zealand group in the South Pacific were first sighted and named by the Dutch navigator, Abel Tasman, in the middle of the seventeenth century, and their coasts were explored and mapped by Captain James Cook a hundred and thirty years later, but there were no permanent European residents in the islands until the second decade of the nineteenth century. In the eighteen-twenties and thirties there were many projects for their colonization, but none of them were carried out, and the only white inhabitants were some hundreds of disorderly whalers and fugitive convicts and beachcombers round the Bay of Islands, and a few devoted missionaries working among the Maori tribes of the North Island.

New Zealand colonization was very much in the public mind during the later 'thirties, and the dispute between the New Zealand Association, which was inspired by the colonising enthusiasm of Edward Gibbon Wakefield, and the Church Missionary Society, who wished to preserve the rights of the Maoris, became one of the most hotly discussed topics of the time. The best and most progressively-minded men in English public life took sides for and against the idea of pressing upon a Government reluctant to undertake fresh colonial and native responsibilities the need for the annexation of New Zealand to the British Empire, Arguments for and against were pitched on high moral or patriotic grounds, but to the minds of most Englishmen what carried weight was the purely practical consideration that if we did not protect our considerable material interests by occupying New Zealand, it was very certain that we should be supplanted by our French competitors.

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In 1838 the semi-philanthropic New Zealand Association, which was ineffective as an executive body, was superseded by the New Zealand Company, organized by Wakefield on the pattern of the chartered colonizing companies of the seventeenth century. It was intended to embark at once on practical settlement on lands purchased from the Maoris, and when the Government refused to sanction their plans, Wakefield and his supporters resolved to carry them out without the authority or commission of the Crown, They sent out a party of emigrants and began the colonization of the district round Port Nicholson, where the modern capital of Wellington stands, although they had no clear title to the lands on which they settled and their precipitate action involved the Company in acute disputes that lasted many years.

However, the Government were at last driven to take action in the face of a serious threat of French annexations in the South Island. In the autumn of 1839 it was resolved to proclaim British sovereignty over the whole of the islands, and Captain William Hobson was commissioned to proceed from New South Wales and enter into treaty with the Maori chiefs. The Treaty of Waitangi was accordingly arranged with the chiefs of the North Island who had assembled, and was despatched to the rest of the chiefs who had not been present. The British flag was hoisted by Hobson on 6th February, 1840, and by this symbolic act the Queen's sovereignty was proclaimed over the whole of New Zealand. But in order to prevent French designs effectively it was necessary to go further, and in July, Governor Hobson despatched Captain Stanley to perform acts of sovereignty and hold courts at Akaroa, in the South Island, where it was known that the French were actively planning to establish a settlement. The margin by which this danger was averted was the very narrowest. Stanley arrived at Akaroa only on August 10th, the very day before the French colonists appeared off the coast, and he had just sufficient time to hoist the flag and hold a court as a sign of effective occupation. However, this was sufficient to avert the challenge, for the French, commander was not prepared to shoulder the heavy responsibility of an affront page ixthat might lead to war. New Zealand thus effectively came within the British Empire, and the possibility of its peaceful and undisputed colonization in every part was placed beyond doubt.

Meanwhile, the colonists sent out by the New Zealand Company were labouring to establish themselves in the face of great difficulties on the lands round Port Nicholson, while in England the Company was rent by serious conflicts. Gibbon Wakefield quarrelled bitterly with his earlier supporters and cut adrift from the Company with the resolve to make a fresh start elsewhere, and he cast his eyes on the fertile and almost uninhabited plains of the South Island, where there were so few Maoris that few difficulties of native land-ownership were likely to be encountered. As the apostle of systematic colonization he had written much, and with an attractiveness of style and pungency of argument that carried conviction to many of the younger men of the time who were seeking for a new gospel of British progress.

During the 'thirties the centre of much progressive thought, especially among the younger Tories, was in Oxford. We usually associate the Oxford Movement only with its religious and ecclesiastical ideas, and we tend to forget that it was also a movement with high social and political aims, such as came to be associated in later years with the party of young Tory enthusiasts known as "Young England". John Robert Godley, born in 1814 as the son of an Irish landowner, was an undergraduate of Christ Church in 1833, when the Movement began, and he was intimately associated with some of its most active and inspired promoters. The effect upon his mental outlook at the impressionable age of nineteen was profound, and it coloured the whole of his subsequent life. Though he was deeply religious, it was not so much the theological and doctrinal sides of the Movement that affected him; he does not seem to have been greatly interested in the questions of ritual and doctrine that caused so great a public stir, but he was profoundly moved by the social and political ideas of the Movement's leaders, and he resolved to inform him-page xself thoroughly upon the economic conditions of the time, both in the Irish distress with which from his family position he was called to deal, and in England and America. After leaving Oxford he travelled extensively in Europe and the United States, and when he returned to Ireland to take up his duties as a magistrate and a Poor Law Guardian, he could approach his problems with a full and orderly mind, far more amply stored than those of most young men of similar position.

He believed that the Ideas of the Oxford Movement were peculiarly adapted to provide a corrective to the evils that affected the State. They commended to the rich and powerful classes austerity, self-denial and charity and the recognition of the rights of their poorer brethren, while to the lower classes, as he wrote they "preached respect for authority, unquestioning faith, humility and resignation—all that is most opposed to the spirit of wild licentious democracy which seems to threaten us". But he realized that the Movement, despite its extraordinary progress between 1833 and 1843, could only be gradual in its effect upon the popular mind and that it could not immediately cure the economic distress in which the country was plunged. For that some more drastic remedy was needed, and he turned to emigration and colonization to find it.

At that date he had not met Wakefield personally, but he was familiar with his writings and was greatly impressed by them. It was under the influence of their ideas that in 1845 Godley submitted to the Government a bold scheme for the assisted emigration of a million Irish, but this did not commend itself to the authorities of the Colonial Office, much to his disappointment. He also received a set-back to his plans by his failure to enter Parliament for an Irish constituency, and this caused him to turn with greater energy to Wakefield's schemes for a new colony in New Zealand. Such a scheme had been worked out for an exclusively Church of England settlement as early as 1843, before Wakefield had finally broken with the New Zealand Company; by 1845 it had advanced so far that the Colonial Office had instructed the Governor to purchase lands in the South Island on which the new settlement might be placed, page xibut matters had then hung fire because of Wakefield's serious breakdown in health, which prevented him taking any public part in the furtherance of the project.

Godley's accession was of vital and invigorating importance. His appeals for support met with a ready response among the adherents of the Oxford Movement, and especially among those who shared in the political ideas of "Young England". It was the religious character of the proposed settlement that attracted their enthusiastic support, and though they were tories they were very liberal in their ideas of the need for colonial autonomy. The local government should have the right to do within its own territory "without check, control or intervention of any kind everything that the supreme Government can do within the British Isles, with one exception, the prerogative of regulating relations with foreign powers". There was unmistakably here the full content of Dominion status, as we now call it, and Godley must be honoured among the founders of the modern Empire-Commonwealth by reason of the soundness and liberality of his ideas.

The secession of many of the prominent supporters of the Oxford Movement to Roman Catholicism in 1845 made it increasingly distrusted and unpopular, but Godley, himself an unwavering Anglican, saw the opportunity of proving the essential soundness of the Movement and its power to contribute to the relief of the national economic distress by the successful establishment of a Church of England colony on the Canterbury Plains with its capital at Christchurch, named after his own College, and its port at Lyttelton, named after his own close friend and supporter.

As Godley's own writings prove, he had the mind of a practical statesman infused by a conscientious sense of public duty, and when he took over the lead in the scheme, he was able to introduce many desirable modifications into Wakefield's somewhat impracticable plans, so that he was really the essential founder of the settlement.

By 1847 the scheme was going forward with vigour, and intending emigrants were being recruited among all classes. Godley had no personal aims or ambitions to serve, and his obvious disinterestedness and sincerity were among the page xiigreatest attractions to those who wished to found new homes for themselves in New Zealand. The plans that he evolved and directed were essentially practical and well-conceived, so that from the beginning the Canterbury Settlement avoided the pitfalls that had marred so many earlier colonial schemes He desired to see "a complete segment of English society" established in the Southern hemisphere with high standards or life, religion, education and culture, and with patient and unremitting energy he pressed forward.

In September, 1849, before the whole of the preliminary arrangements were completed, Godley was attacked with chronic laryngitis, probably accelerated by his incessant exertions, and he became seriously ill. The physicians ordered him to cease work and take up his residence in Madeira, but he could not reconcile himself to this enforced inactivity, and he determined instead to go out to New Zealand for a definitely limited period of three years and to supervise the establishment of the new Canterbury Settlement on the spot. In this determination he was supported by his devoted young wife, Charlotte Wynne, to whom he had been married three years before. Though she had a young son, Arthur, a child or only two years old, she resolved to accompany her husband and share with him his temporary sojourn in a distant land. In the determination to leave England for a time and take up the work of a practical colonial leader Godley was not moved by any hope of personal profit or even to gratify his ambition. His motives were entirely disinterested, but his decision was of vital importance to the colony, for it gave to it in its critical formative years a leader, of first-rate ability and experience of government, who carried the settlement through its inevitable early difficulties with certainty and the avoidance of the factions and disputes that had hampered so many earlier ventures. The general unity and happy circumstances of the infant settlement were largely attributable to Godley's personal tact and charm and his undoubted capacity for leadership.

Into the story of the colony it is unnecessary to enter. That story has never yet been fully studied from the original documents, but this historical defect is now in process of being remedied by the investigations of Mr. Maurice Knight page xiiiof Christchurch, New Zealand, a member of my seminar in the Institute of Historical Research. It was he who first directed my attention to the Godley MSS. which provide him with the core of material necessary for his serious historical study. By the side of the papers of John Robert Godley himself there are preserved a unique series of personal letters from Mrs. Godley. They are not concerned with politics or material progress, but they are of extraordinary and almost unique interest as providing a graphic picture of the social circumstances of a new colony. Their charm and vivid characterization have made them of fascinating interest to me, I am honoured by the willingness with which Miss Eleanor Godley has consented to accept my advice and help in their printing, and I feel certain that the letters cannot fail to be as amusing and interesting to Mr. and Mrs. Godley's family and descendants as they have been to others who have had the privilege of reading them. It is Miss Godley's filial piety that has made the preparation of this book possible, and I feel certain that it will form a lasting memorial to the brilliant father and mother to whom she has paid so much devotion.

Arthur Percival Newton.

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