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Maoria: A Sketch of the Manners and Customs of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of New Zealand.

7. (Page 146.) The Secrecy of the Maoris

7. (Page 146.) The Secrecy of the Maoris.

Two traditional instances are given of the tribal secrecy of the Maoris, but they are insignificant when compared to the national secret of their intended rising for the extermination of the European immigrants.

In 1853 the distrust caused by the rapid increase of the Europeans had become general throughout the island, and the centre and south came to the resolution to stem the current, and drive back "the tide of Pakehas." The north of the island, having been roughly handled in a former war, waited to see the success of the national movement.

The first step taken was the determination to sell no more page 196land, and the second was to establish a king in the centre of the island. The third was more difficult. In the year 1845, the Governor, Sir George, then Captain Grey, had prohibited the sale of arms and ammunition to the Maoris; and in 1853, when they commenced to agitate for the repeal of this, to them, obnoxious law, they were in point of fact disarmed; those who were not so being possessed of only a few fowling-pieces and old flint muskets. Immediately upon the arrival of Colonel Thomas Brown, the successor of Sir George Grey, the Maoris commenced to agitate for the repeal of the Arms Act, and the refrain of the song they ever sang in the ears of Colonel Brown was, "Oh, friend, the Governor! give us (let us buy) guns and powder to shoot pigeons." Perseverance was as usual successful, and the Arms Act was repealed in 1857. Even the astounding quantities of arms and ammunition purchased by the Maoris upon the repeal of the Act, failed to open the eyes of Government; and the two persons most capable of forming an opinion of the intentions of the Maoris, and of rightly estimating their high military organization, were treated as alarmists. No single instance is upon record of a European being warned by the Maoris of what they considered the impending fate of every white man upon the island, until after the Government, in the blindest ignorance of what it was doing, had already inaugurated the war of races.

In 1860 the Government began the struggle upon a frivolous pretext. A chief at Taranaki refused his consent to the sale of some land, which a few of his tribe, in consequence of a dispute, wished to sell, and Government entered upon a contest with him in childish ignorance of the nature of the conflict it had precipitated. As the war was commenced before the Maori preparations were complete, our luck saved us from yet more dire misfortunes than actually befel as, as it did in India page 197in 1857, when the mutiny burst forth before the preparations of the conspirators were perfected.

The only excuse for the fatuous ignorance of the New Zealand Ministry, is that they were mostly residents in the other island, and knew no more about the north island and the Maoris than the members of the Parliament which sits at West-minster. So crass was the obtuseness of the Stafford-Richmond Ministry, that they made the Governor write a despatch to the Colonial Secretary, the late Duke of Newcastle, saying that "twenty men and a block-house" would coerce the Taranaki Chief, William King; that is to say, the whole Maori nation. Yet the 10,000 Imperial and 5000 colonial troops, who at one time were in the field, met with very indifferent success. An idea of the scale of the Maori preparations may be formed from the fact that after the commencement of the war, and the re-enactment of the prohibition of the sale of arms, a single trader, a well-known Pakeha Maori, had sufficient interest to get out of bond in Auckland two tons of gunpowder, which he alleged he had sold to the tribe he lived amongst at Hokianga. Upon the meeting of the New Zealand Parliament in Auckland in 1860, a commission was appointed, under the name of "the Waikato Committee," to inquire into the conditions of the native people, whose existence the Government had almost ignored, or whom they had looked upon as beings of no higher an order than Australian aborigines, and whom they had treated accordingly.

The Report of the Committee was printed upon 165 pages of closely-printed long-foolscap paper, and its value may be estimated from its having "adopted, as the basis of its conclusions," the report of Mr. Fenton (ex-Waikato trader and customs officer), and his Journal of Proceedings as Resident Magistrate in the Waikato, in the years 1857–58. It demonstrated, to page 198its own satisfaction, that the system jointly recommended by the Governor and the Responsible Advisers of the Crown was calculated to effect that great desideratum, "the elevation of the mere Maori into the reasoning citizen."

Mr. Strauss, an Austrian gentleman, possessed of great knowledge of Maori affairs, tendered the Committee a letter he had written to Government in 1857, and which deserves to be rescued from oblivion:—

"Waipa, May 18th, 1857.


—I do not know in what light the Government does look upon the present ferment amongst the natives of this Island, but I do clearly see that it will eventually end in a direful visitation of God upon it; so I consider that every information relating to these affairs ought to be given to Government, in order that these events may not overtake the European settlements in a state of careless ignorance.

"Potatan u has been made king by the concourse of half the Island, and by the wish of the native population of the whole of it, those few exceptions (tribes here and there apparently not consenting to it) being a mere measure of deceit, a feint which will be abandoned in the course of events.

"The foundation of the kingship is to sell no more land to the Europeans, and to allow no public roads to pass the native territory. How impossible it is for this colony to prosper, or even to exist, if these measures are carried out, is self-apparent! Natives hoarding millions of acres of land of which they can and will make no use; New Zealand compelled to check immigration for want of a location for new-comers. Besides, criminals will, in future, be quite secured from legal prosecution by taking refuge under the wings of this new sovereign in the interior.

page 199

"Pride will uphold and strengthen this king. Ignorance will unavoidably involve him in collisions with us; and covetousness will lead these cannibal hordes to bloodshed and slaughter.

"I am, etc.,

"C. Strauss.

"To the Resident Magistrate, Waikato."

The Governor and his Ministers not only rejected the idea of taking precautions, but in the end of that year repealed the Arms Act, the then Native Minister, Mr. Donald McLean, being of opinion that "the present movement among the Waikato tribes of electing a king of their own, is not likely to be attended with any important or serious consequences, if the Government abstain from interfering in the matter."

Ten years passed away, and in 1870 the same politicians who in 1860 were "elevating the mere Maori into a reasoning citizen," were (at the point of the bayonet) still engaged in the process.

After the Government had commenced the war in 1860, a very old Maori friend of the author, one of the characters drawn in this little book, entreated him to leave the Island, assuring him that the Maoris would kill every white man, woman, and child. Of their ability to do so, they at that time entertained not the slightest doubt, saying, "The Governor has set fire to the fern at Taranaki, and the smoke will cover the whole Island."

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