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England and the Maori Wars


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This book was originally intended simply to fill a gap in the history of New Zealand by giving the results of the first examination of England's policy during the Maori Wars, based on the original documents. As the work went on, however, it became more and more obvious that the Maori Wars provided the opportunity for working out in practice theories of Imperial defence and colonial self-government which changed the whole character of the Empire. Was it possible to throw on the colonists the onus of self-defence without cutting them off from the Motherland? Was it possible to include in colonial self-government control of native races protected by treaty with the Motherland? Was it worth while to retain colonies at all if they were to be almost entirely independent?

These questions were by no means easy to answer without practical experience, and the manner in which successive Secretaries of State put them to the test of experience in New Zealand and elsewhere is of great interest to those who wish to understand the Empire as it is to-day. The manner of the testing may have been rough and ready, with inadequate precautions against failure, but the test had to come sooner or later. If Gladstone and Granville seem to us unconscious of the risks they ran with the tender plant of Imperial unity, there is nevertheless something well worthy of attention in the political philosophy of the late 60's. To the policy of retrenchment in colonial expenditure more lasting merit may be ascribed than a mere lowering of taxation, while even the opposition to the Liberal Government's policy towards New Zealand produced important Imperial results. The great influence exerted by the Royal Colonial Institute, now the Royal Empire Society, can scarcely be questioned, and it was the policy of withdrawing Imperial troops from New Zealand and “leaving the colonists to their fate” which led to the meetings from which the Institute emerged.

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From whatever standpoint we look at the Maori Wars, they have interesting aspects. As this introduction is written the question of the transfer of native territories in South Africa from the administration of the British Government to that of the Union Government is prominently before the public. The Secretary of State for the Dominions has repeated in the House of Commons the assurance that before such transfer takes place the wishes of the inhabitants of the territories will be consulted. No such consideration was given to the Maoris when the British Government, in order to secure the withdrawal of the Imperial troops, decided to transfer control of native affairs to the New Zealand Government. In handing over the task of interpreting the Treaty of Waitangi to a Government engaged in a bitter struggle with the other party to the treaty, the British Government took, no doubt, considerable risks with its own honour. The alternative policy of creating a Maori protectorate with Imperial officers to assist the Maoris in ruling themselves might conceivably have averted the long and costly warfare which we have to describe. From motives which are discussed in the narrative the British Government chose to trust the colonists of New Zealand to find out from bitter experience that a benevolent native policy paid best in the long run. For many years after the wars the Maori problem was left to solve itself through the extinction of the race, believed to be inevitable. It was a Maori movement which arrested the fatal process and put new life into the people. To-day the Maoris are increasing in numbers more rapidly than their white neighbours, and the Maori King moves in 1938 to Turongo, his new home in the old capital, Ngaruawahia. The reed house of the first Maori Kings is gone. The idea of Maori kingship persists.

In this book we are dealing with the darkest period in the chequered story of New Zealand and one which still influences the relations of Maori and white man. The causes and results of the Maori Wars are imperfectly understood to-day, and only great episodes of the struggle, such as the Maori defence of Orakau, the British disaster at the Gate Pa, and the raids of Te Kooti, have made any appreciable page 15 mark on what may be called the collective memory of New Zealand. We should not forget that a localized struggle about a plot of land into which, it may be said, “some one blundered,” became a widespread war of extermination. A British officer who took part in this war wrote: “You must remember we were fighting without gloves, and that it was war to the knife.” He was excusing the acts of a Maori leader of friendly natives who summarily executed more than a hundred captured followers of Te Kooti—and there were many other things done on both sides during the war which could be justified only by some such plea. One of the remarkable things about the struggle is that it was never entirely a war of race against race. Even at the worst periods there were always some tribes who remained faithful to the British cause, and though some of the “friendly” Maoris at times exasperated the commanders of the troops, it is questionable whether, without them and such leaders as Te Kepa and Ropata, the followers of the Maori King, of Titokowaru, and of Te Kooti would have been subdued—or rather, forced to refrain from aggression—even in ten years. Inter-tribal rivalry had devastated New Zealand with war for centuries, and even the menace of white domination could not produce unity in the ranks of the Maoris. That a part of the race could hold superior forces of Imperial and colonial troops at bay for so long a time is a remarkable fact, which will, it is hoped, add interest to this volume.

The Maori Wars raised problems of colonial policy which demanded the close attention of successive British Governments, and which attracted the equally close attention of newspapers in many lands, missionary bodies, and societies interested in the welfare of native races. In Australia there was naturally keen interest in these wars, as Imperial troops were sent from there on the outbreak of hostilities and large forces of military settlers were raised later. In Canada, at the same time, the question of Imperial responsibility for local defence was being settled and the events leading to the “withdrawal of the legions” from both Canada and New Zealand were very closely related. There was also a very close connection, as will be shown in the volume, between page 16 events in South Africa and New Zealand, for both these countries were confronted by a difficult native problem. The wars in New Zealand undoubtedly influenced British policy in the Pacific generally, and reluctance to annex other island groups which might involve similar controversies and expense was perhaps not unnatural.

As the story of the wars unfolds, we realize why this decade is so important in the history of the British Empire. “The broad road leading to Imperial disarmament lay plainly ahead,” writes Dr. A. Folsom in her account of the formative years of the Royal Empire Society, while books like Studies in Mid-Victorian Imperialism, by the Danish historian, C. A. Bodelsen, strengthen the conviction that in the struggle of the Maoris against Imperial troops and the colonists more than local issues were decided. “It was the belief,” writes Bodelsen, “that the Gladstone Government was about to cut the colonies adrift and that their treatment of New Zealand was part and parcel of a deliberate scheme for bringing about such an event, which started the new Imperialist movement.”

One of Lord Granville's despatches to New Zealand, dated March 21, 1869, divided the Press of London into two camps. The Times, Daily News, and Morning Post supported Lord Granville, but the Spectator wrote on July 24: “It is clear that Mr. Goldwin Smith's colonial ‘policy’ the policy, that is, of shaking off the colonies as too burdensome … has not only been accepted by the existing Government, but that they are acting on it.” The Standard (Conservative) wrote on October 13: “By a minute of Lord Granville it has been decreed that there shall be no colonies.” Bodelsen says that the tone of this particular despatch “would hardly have been admissible in a note to a foreign Power under strained relations.” It was, as we shall see, but one of a series of communications which had the effect of causing New Zealand to consider seriously annexation to the United States. This effect, almost unimaginable to-day, is the more significant in view of the hostile relations between England and the United States arising out of incidents during the American Civil War.

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“The decade 1861–70 may fairly be called a critical period in British Imperial history, for it was during those years that tendencies in England towards the disruption of the Empire reached their climax, …” wrote R. L. Schuyler, in the Political Science Quarterly (December, 1921). “This subject, however, received little or no notice in the standard histories of England or in the biographies of the leading statesmen of the day. Perhaps this is not to be wondered at, since the insularism of English historians, against which Seeley lodged a memorable protest a generation ago, has been only slightly modified since his day, and the revival of Imperialism in England during the last fifty years has no doubt predisposed Englishmen, as historians, against dwelling upon what, as citizens, they would prefer to forget.”

We are certainly inclined to forget many aspects of Imperial history in the nineteenth century which contain lessons for us to-day, and to take for granted many conceptions which were very far from being generally accepted during the period with which we are dealing in this volume. The American War of Independence had effectually quenched enthusiasm for colonies, and even the burning faith of Wakefield, Buller, Durham, and the rest of the Colonial Reformers scarcely sufficed to revive it. Missionary enterprises prompted by the evangelical revival of the 20's were of great importance in promoting interest in far-off lands. The humanitarian motives of the missions and the disinterested enthusiasm of most of the missionaries did not always result in complete sympathy with the local authorities, and both in New Zealand and South Africa there were differences of opinion which produced misgivings in England and consequently affected colonial policy very considerably. Kaffir wars in South Africa followed by Maori wars in New Zealand had the not unnatural effect of producing a reaction against heavy colonial expenditure. Where withdrawal of the British flag was impossible this reaction itself produced another important effect. It smoothed the way for colonial self-government, since colonies that governed themselves were less expensive than those governed from page 18 Downing Street, and economy was becoming the watch-word of British colonial policy. In discussing British policy in South Africa, C. W. de Kiewiet remarks1 that, “although it directed numerous protests against the native policy of the two republics, the British Government was at no time after 1854 prepared to sacrifice men or money in pursuit of purely native interests.” It is from the year 1854 that our story begins and we shall have to observe how it came about that the British Government found itself forced to sacrifice many men and much money not “in pursuit of purely native interests” but in pursuit of interests which, it maintained, were almost exclusively those of the settlers.

The Kaffir War of 1851 may be taken as the beginning of a new and eventful era in British colonial policy. It prompted Cobden to write: “The proper cure for these recurring wars is to let the colonists bear the brunt of it. This must be done by first giving them the powers of self-government, and then throwing on them the responsibility of their own policy. They would then be very careful to treat the neighbouring savages with justice.”2 The war also prompted the cry that the colonists welcomed wars fought for them by Imperial troops. That cry was to be repeated many times before the Maori Wars were over.

In England and New Zealand (1926) the present writer traced from original documents the relations of the two countries down to the eve of the Taranaki War of 1860. In this volume the story is continued. The writer has relied mainly on original documents and contemporary newspapers to reveal the true motives of British policy during a period which was characterized by an almost complete lack of understanding between the mother-country and the colony. He has attempted to examine as much as possible of the information that was actually before the Colonial Office, in order to show how far its policy towards the colonists was just and reasonable. All the material sent home by the Governors—despatches, ministerial memoranda, reports of

1 British Colonial Policy and the South African Republics.

2 Cobden to H. Richard, March 13, 1851. J. A. Hobson, Cobden, the International Man, p. 75.

page 19 debates, newspaper cuttings, and private letters—has been read, and also much of that forwarded by newspaper correspondents to London journals. Every reference to New Zealand in The Times for more than twenty years has been consulted and that journal becomes one of the chief characters in our story. For local impressions of the warfare and Colonial Office policy, the file of the Taranaki Herald in the library at New Plymouth was examined. Great attention has been paid to the evolution of the Colonial Office despatches, for the successive minutes of the different officials are, of course, not available in New Zealand, and without them it is not possible to decide whether despatches were framed by the permanent officials and merely signed by the Secretary of State, as Sir George Grey contended. The writer has thought it advisable in a work of this kind, where the original material in England is being covered for the first time, to allow the actors in the story to speak for themselves. It has not been possible to report fully the parliamentary debates on the subject of New Zealand affairs, but the general trend of the main debates is indicated.

Accounts of the major battles of the different campaigns, founded on the official War Office reports, have been included in the narrative, but no attempt is made at a detailed military history. A careful examination of the local sources for such a history has been made by Mr. James Cowan, and his two volumes, The New Zealand Wars and the Pioneering Period, published by authority of the Minister of Internal Affairs, absolve the present writer from the necessity of adding still further to what is of necessity a long work. As the issue of further volumes of New Zealand Historical Records to cover the period after 1840 is not likely to be undertaken in the near future, the writer has felt that it would be of real value to give in full some of the historic despatches and minutes of the period. A certain amount of duplication is caused by the method employed, but, as the aim is to give a detailed study of policy during a period which must necessarily be treated in summary fashion in books dealing with the whole history of New Zealand, it is hoped that the advantages of the method outweigh the disadvantages.

Material for this volume had been collected over a period page 20 of ten years, and the main outlines of the story were drawn up without referring to secondary authorities. These were later consulted, and references inserted where they seemed to be called for. Memoirs and biographies of the period contain many letters and contemporary judgments of great interest and value. An example is The Letters of Lord Blachford (edited by G. E. Marindin, 1896). Blachford, then Sir Frederic Rogers, was Permanent Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1860 to 1871, and some of his views of his different chiefs may be quoted here as an introduction to the successive Secretaries of State of the time.

“The Duke of Newcastle was an honest and honourable man, a thorough gentleman in all his feelings and ways, and considerate of all about him. To me he was always kind…. It was said of him that he did not remember his rank unless you forgot it, and the expression well hit off his relations to his subordinates. In political administration he was painstaking, clear-headed, and just. But his abilities were moderate; and he did not see how far they were away from being sufficient for the management of great affairs—which, however, he was always ambitious of handling….

“Cardwell was just and kind, clear-headed and hard-headed, industrious, very accurate and enormously safe, especially in regard to matters of which the House of Commons might have cognizance. In fact, he seemed always to feel on his trial before the House of Commons; and I have occasionally felt that his dread of a Parliamentary scrape sometimes supplied the place of thorough force of character…. And it is to be remarked that in nine cases out of ten his guide would be a true guide—the House of Commons seeing in ordinary cases what is not honest or not for the public interest…. He took pains not to make enemies, and bore no ill-will to his opponents.

“Lord Carnarvon became at once a friend more intimate than Cardwell, both because there was more warmth in him, and because there was the bond of a common feeling in Church matters.1 He was a great contrast. He had not Cardwell's hard-

1 The Tractarian movement had “the sympathy and counsels” of Rogers (Dict. Nat. Biography). He was one of the founders of the Guardian newspaper.

page 21 headed desire so to do the work that statesmen and Parliament following statesmen, should see it was done well, but he had more of a generous desire to effect worthy objects and also more, I think, of a wish to shine before the public and to distinguish himself in the ordinary sense of the word.”

The Duke of Buckingham was “a thoroughly honest and kind-hearted man, with a rough but friendly manner, not without shrewdness, and clear-headed, but with a natural turn for detail, which he had indulged as Chairman of a great railway, 1 till it injured his capacity as a Minister.” Lord Granville was “the pleasantest and most satisfactory chief of those under whom I served.” “He trusted his subordinates in matters of detail—and would act vigorously in what may be called ministerial as distinguished from departmental policy.”

Of Rogers himself his writings, letters, and minutes give a clear picture. A contemporary at Eton of W. E. Gladstone, G. A. Selwyn, and A. H. Hallam, he had a brilliant academic career, taking, like Cardwell, a double first at Oxford in classics and mathematics. He was elected a Fellow of Oriel and became an intimate friend of John Henry, afterwards Cardinal, Newman, who said “that of all his friends Lord Blachford was the most gifted, the most talented, and of the most wonderful grasp of mind.” Other close friends of Rogers were Gladstone and Dean Church. He was an able and conscientious administrator, inclined perhaps to be over-critical of some of his chiefs and of the politicans of the communities he had to deal with, but not imbued with any exaggerated ideas of his own importance.2 His wide experience in the Emigration Office, from which he had helped, as he wrote, to send more than half a million settlers to Australia and New Zealand between 1846 and 1860, and in the Colonial Office for the following eleven years, did not endow him with complete prophetic vision. In 1885 he wrote: “I had always believed—and the belief has so confirmed and consolidated itself that I can hardly realize the possibility of anyone seriously thinking

1 The London and North-Western, from 1853 to 1861.

2 “Have you any views as to the use of a peer?” he wrote to Sir Henry Taylor. “Viewing the title as a reward of exploits, perhaps I ought to propose myself as Baron of Heligoland or Wagga-Wagga.”

page 22 the contrary—that the destiny of our colonies is independence; and that, in this point of view, the function of the Colonial Office is to secure that our connection, while it lasts, shall be profitable to both parties, and our separation, when it comes, as amicable as possible.” Such a view, held by an official so highly placed, helps to illustrate the critical importance for the Empire of the years we are about to describe.