The Maori King
Chapter I — Introductory
I first landed in New Zealand in May, 1860, just after the out-break of the Taranaki war. The entire colony was at that time absorbed in watching the struggle that was going on between a handful of ill-armed savages and the Queen's well-disciplined soldiers, and in speculating on the probability of the whole Maori population rising to join in the conflict.
People in Auckland were especially anxious about the course that would be taken by the tribes living on the Waikato River, upon whose forbearance the very existence of Auckland appeared at that time to depend. A range of forest hills was pointed out from the town of Auckland, extending from east to south, and not more than twenty miles distant. Beyond these hills, the stranger was told, lay the Waikato country, inhabited by fierce warlike Maories, whose armed bands could at any moment swarm through the hill-side forests into the plain below, to burn the houses, drive off the cattle, and tomahawk the settlers.
It was said that these dreaded tribes had some years before declined all further connexion with their British rulers, and set up a king of their own. Their choice had fallen on a very aged page 2 warrior, named Potatau,1 one of that nearly extinct race of Maori heroes who had been not only conquerors but cannibals. Very little was known by the colonists about this monarch's foreign or domestic policy, except that it was said he would allow no more native territory to be sold to the British Crown; and as the Taranaki war had arisen from the resistance of a turbulent chief, Wiremu Kingi,2 to the sale of land, it seemed not improbable that the sympathies of the Waikatos would lead to their supporting his cause in arms, and in what better way could they aid him than by making a raid upon the rich and defenceless settlement of Auckland?
The result of our government of the Maories, thus seen in New Zealand, was marvellously inconsistent with the story usually told in England. It had always been said that the Maories possessed remarkable capacities for civilization, that they had been treated with singular kindness and perfect justice, and were happy and prosperous under British rule. It was natural to inquire the cause of such unfortunate results.
The story turned out to be strange and interesting.
1 [ (c. 1800–1860.) Te Wherowhero, a great chief of the Ngatimahuta tribe; took part in tribal wars of the 1820s and 1830s. Elected first Maori King in 1858 and took title of Potatau I. For his genealogy, see AJHR, 1860, F-3, Appendix B.]
3 [White man; foreigner.]
4 [Representative institutions were introduced by the constitution of 1852; the first General Assembly met in 1854; the first responsible ministry was formed in 1856.]
2 [Benjamin Yates Ashwell (1810–83). Church Missionary Society missionary; founded stations at Te Awamutu (1839) and then at Taupiri.]
What most struck me, in this my first visit to Waikato, was the strange contrast between the material poverty and the mental attainments of the people. In all outward signs of civilization of Maories proved to be extremely backward; their houses, clothing, food, and way of eating were of the most barbarous description; but in reasoning, especially on political topics, in making provision for their own government, and for the education of their children, they exhibited unexpected cleverness and good sense. There were at that time numerous village schools (which, unhappily, war and excitement have since swept away), founded and managed entirely by the natives themselves. The school-houses were large and neatly built, and the scholars cleaner, better lodged, and better mannered, than the neighbouring natives. The sexes were carefully separated. The girls wore clean print frocks; the boys blue cotton shirts and duck trowsers. The pupils could invariably answer simple questions on religion, read their own language well, and in some schools showed a knowledge of arithmetic that filled me with surprise. I also passed court-houses, originally built under the guidance of a European magistrate—Mr Fenton2—whence writs were still issued and where cases were still tried. At every village the alleged murder was temperately but eagerly discussed, and clever arguments advanced in support of their unanimous demand that the murderer should be given up to them for trial.
1 [The situation was more dangerous than Gorst suggests in the following passage. The Maori teachers advised Ashwell to send his visitors back to Auckland; and Wiremu Tamihana told Gorst at least to take his wife there. He did so, and advised Selwyn of the situation. The Bishop immediately set out to meet the war party. For the events following, see below, pp. 98–100. This incident is also narrated in J. E. Gorst, New Zealand Revisited (1908), pp. 119–129, and in the ‘Letters and Journals of the Rev. Benjamin Y. Ashwell to the Church Missionary Society’ (unpub. typescript, Auckland Institute and Museum).]
2 [Francis Dart Fenton (1821–98). Native Secretary, 1856; magistrate in Waikato, 1857–8; Chief Judge of Native Land Court, 1865–81. See below, Chapter VI, for an account of his work in the Waikato.]
A few days later a war-party of about 300 men passed Taupiri in three large canoes, headed by Wiremu Tamihana, or, as Europeans call him, William Thompson,1 who, since the recent death of Potatau, the king, was considered the greatest man in Waikato. Potatau's son, Matutaera,2 who had succeeded to the vacant throne, was a weak man, entirely under Tamihana's influence. The war-party stopped at Taupiri, and the chief came on shore to beg Mr Ashwell not to be alarmed. He said that, whatever happened, Mr Ashwell's house and family were ‘tapu’ (sacred), and no one would dare to meddle with them. He also invited me to continue my journey up the country, and especially pressed me to visit his schools at Peria, in the Thames Valley, offering to send with me a young chief, a cousin of his own, to guard against the least risk of danger.
1 [Tarapipipi, (?–1866), a chief of the Ngatihaua tribe; also known as Te Waharoa, after his equally famous father.]
2 [Tawhiao, or Potatau II (1825–94). ‘Matutaera’ is the Maori form of Methusaleh. His genealogy is published in AJHR, 1860, F-3, Appendix.]
It appeared to me, even at that time, that the history of this effort of a barbarous people to create a system of internal administration for themselves must be in itself curious and worthy of record. Under a rude form of government of their own invention they had done more for themselves than we had ever done for them. Person and property were as safe on the Waikato as in the town of Auckland. Even during the excitement and irregularity consequent on the Taranaki war, neither traders nor missionaries suffered from violence. Strangers like myself traversed the country without risk. I was informed that tribal wars, which had formerly been frequent and bloody, had been entirely stopped, and that the king's magistrates had successfully put down the traffic in spirits.
1 [Sir George Edward Grey (1812–98), Governor of South Australia (1841–5); of New Zealand, (1845–53 and 1861–8); of South Africa, (1854–61); Premier of New Zealand, (1877–9).]
A residence of eighteen months in the neighbourhood of Rangiaowhia and Kihikihi, among the most violent of the king's partizans, and the frequent journeys on horseback which I made through the neighbouring districts during that period in discharge of my duties, gave me abundant opportunity of observing the practical working of the Maori king's government. A nearer view revealed its defects as well as its excellences. Constant intercourse with native chiefs of every shade of temper and opinion acquainted me with their own story about the causes of their revolt against our rule, their disposition towards our race, and the reason of their persistently holding aloof from Sir George Grey. It is but common justice to state here, that although the presence of an officer of Government in the midst of them was extremely distasteful, I was not only never treated with rudeness, but was everywhere received with the utmost kindness and hospitality. I was never plundered of a single article of property, nor subjected to the least injustice; and finally, when they broke into open insurrection, not only were all Europeans living amongst them spared, but not a cow, nor a horse, nor any kind of property, was taken from us. Our houses, our furniture, and all goods which could not be removed, were, four months after the war had begun, still remaining as we left them—untouched and unharmed.
It appears to me that the story of how a deadly quarrel arose between such a race and rulers so well intentioned cannot be unimportant or uninteresting. But there is, moreover, another reason why this episode in our colonial history ought to be examined. New Zealand has been recently quoted as a proof of the impossibility of civilizing barbarous races. It is urged that, wherever the brown and white skins come in contact, the former must disappear, and that the old fashion once pursued by our page 8 forefathers in the back woods of America was a more merciful, because a more speedy, way of doing the inevitable work than the lingering modern method which has superseded it. Against a theory which thus despairs of justice and humanity, this book is meant as a protest. It may be our own Christianity and civilization are so imperfect, that our efforts to Christianize and civilize others are not likely to be very successful; and of this, no doubt, New Zealand is a case in point. But I hope to be able to convince the reader that the unhappy quarrel with the Maories has been the result of errors which might have been avoided by wiser people then ourselves, and that therefore the task we undertook and failed to accomplish was not an absolute impossibility, but only an impossibility to us.