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Reminiscences of The War in New Zealand


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The best method of governing the natives of the Islands of New Zealand having been a continual source of discussion up to the present time, it would be well to consider the policy adopted by the Home Government, and the result obtained; for when Great Britain took possession of these Islands, the policy hitherto adopted by civilised nations towards savages was altered. Instead of assuming sovereignty over them, and then dealing out the benefits of civilisation, as they could comprehend and enjoy them, a treaty was made whereby they were acknowledged the lords of the soil, and on their part they agreed to sell their land as the Government required, for immigration purposes. This agreement the Maories fell into readily; the waste lands of the country were of no value to them, as they were alike unable and unwilling to cultivate more than was required for their own gardens; neither could they regard their land as hunting grounds, as the North Americans did, for no animals existed except the rat, nor bird, with the exception of the pigeon or parrot, for them to make an article of food of. The uncultivated lands of New Zealand were nothing but barren fern wastes and bush, which the natives offered in miles to the first settlers for a blanket or a gun. But as the British Government began this policy, so would it carry it through, and page vithe early settlers (the pioneers) were made to disgorge the gifts of the natives, and pay a fair price before any lands were alienated. It was the absolute worthlessness of the waste lands in the eyes of the natives on our first arrival that led to all the after disputes; for, finding the land after the Pakehas' improvements changing hands amongst ourselves at much higher prices than they originally obtained for it, they not only began to increase their demands, but to protest against former sales; and to appease them, many large blocks of land were repurchased by the Government at a considerable increase, to be, after all, given back to the native owners in order to avoid a war. And so cunning had the natives become, that in the blocks offered by them for sale, they not only managed to include thousands of nearly useless acres, but to mark out all the best parts as reserves, so that by the time the Government had paid for the presents necessary during the negotiations, the agreed price per acre, expenses of survey, &c., &c., they were in many instances considerable losers by the transaction; and the natives, finding that the more they demanded the more they obtained, the chiefs, being mostly native assessors with good salaries, finished by entering into a league, proclaimed a king, and declined to sell any more land. Thus was a treaty founded in good faith and love for our fellow man, be he black or white, upset by the avarice or obstinacy of the parties benefited.

On the day I landed at Taranaki twenty-seven years ago, Sir George Grey, then Governor, was arguing with the natives at a meeting held on the beach the question of the Waitara block, already twice purchased by the Government. Negotiations for the quiet occupancy of this block had then extended over a period of ten years, page viiand at last was only settled by conquest after ten years' further patience, backed by inducements of expensive presents of flour, sugar, blankets, and guns. So let no one accuse the Government of not keeping their part of the treaty as well as their patience. Governor Gore Brown, who had in the meantime succeeded Sir George Grey, was a man eminently adapted to govern the natives, being possessed of too much firmness of character either to trifle, or to submit to being trifled with. Finding that all previous negotiations had failed, and that the more he gave way the greater were the demands, he decided to occupy the Waitara lands so fairly purchased, a resolution which led to the results I have taken upon myself to relate. From the commencement of the war in 1860 down to 1864, the colonial forces took only a subordinate part in the campaign; but the time was at hand when they would have to take the field not as auxiliaries as heretofore, but as principals unsupported by the Imperial troops, and depending solely on their own exertion for success. The Imperial forces, in consequence of representations made to the British Government by the commanding officer (General Cameron), were being slowly but surely withdrawn, and that at a most critical time—when the spread of the Hauhau religion through the Island had embroiled us with the whole Maori population, with the exception of the Napuhi tribes of the extreme north. Perhaps it was as well it was so, for to this circumstance we owe the self-reliant policy of Messrs. Weld and Stafford; and whatever difference of opinion may exist as to the wisdom of that policy, it had the effect of training the settlers into a firm and well-grounded belief of their capability, if well handled, of dealing with the Maori difficulty in its worst page viiiform. The Taranaki settlers, where the war commenced, probably fought and suffered more than any other men in New Zealand; yet they would laugh at the idea of not being a match for the most active and daring of their foes. With the political aspect of affairs as the war proceeded, I shall not deal; they have already been treated by abler pens than mine; my task, self-imposed, is a lighter one—a simple narrative of events, of skirmishes and expeditions grandiloquently called campaigns, in which the colonial forces of this country took a more or less prominent part.