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A compendium of official documents relative to native affairs in the South Island, Volume One.

No. 14. — Lieutenant-Governor Hobson to the Marquis of Normanby

No. 14.
Lieutenant-Governor Hobson to the Marquis of Normanby.

Her Majesty's ship "Herald," Bay of Islands, February 20, 1840.

My Lord,—

I avail myself of that clause in your Lordship's instructions by which I am permitted to correspond directly with your Lordship on subjects of importance, that it would be inexpedient to delay by transmission through the Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales.

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I trust I am not abusing that privilege in Laying before your Lordship a brief account of the condition in which I find the European and Native population in the northern parts of this Island, and in entreating your Lordship's early attention to the general state of this country.

Of society here, there can be no better account rendered than may be found in the reports already before your Lordship; but a material change has taken place, within these two years, in the avocation both of the European and Native population. The passion for land-jobbing now pervades every class; all considerations appear to be absorbed in that one object. Tracts of country, in some cases of 500 square miles, are claimed by single individuals; and it not unfrequently occurs in the late purchases, that very fair equivalents have been given to the Natives for these possessions.

This mania for land-jobbing is by no means confined to Europeans, but has extended to the Natives, who have proved quite as ready to sell their lands as the Europeans were to buy.

The Proclamation I issued, by your Lordship's order, has had the effect of stopping this traffic; but extensive mischief had been done before its promulgation, and in some cases the disaffected white people have used it as a means of exasperating the Native mind against the Government; although the more industrious portion of the New Zealanders receive it as a proof of the advantages my presence will confer on them.

I greatly fear that the conflicting claims for land that will be brought under the consideration of the Commissioners who are to be appointed to investigate them will create a violent ferment through every class of society, both Native and European. I know perfectly well the former will resist the execution of all awards that may be unfavourable to them, and that it will require a strong executive, supported by a military force, to carry such decisions into effect. The grounds of contention are manifold. First, considerable tracts of lands were sold some years ago for a sum which bears no proportion to the present price, and this exasperates the Natives, and impresses on their minds that they formerly were in every case overreached and cheated, whilst in fact the old purchases were quite as just as those of a more modern date; the former being made without the hope of British interference, whilst the latter were effected with a certain knowledge that Her Majesty's Government would extend to this country the benefits of civil institutions and legal protection. It would be needless to attempt explanation to the Natives of these subtleties, which are infinitely beyond their comprehension.

The treatment of fraudulent claims may be easily disposed of by restoring the land in all such cases to the original possessors; but there will be a great many most unreasonable demands made for restitution, and much discontent will prevail if they are rejected.

Another very frightful germ of discord will be found in the conflicting claims of Natives to land in right of conquest, all which have arisen from the suggestions of interested Europeans.

According to Native custom, war has not conquest for its object. But when the tribes under Hongi overran the country about Kaipara on the west and Wangaroa on the east, Englishmen who were on the spot endeavoured to secure for themselves the valuable forests of those districts, and they treated for possession of them with the conquerers. Remonstrance followed from the beaten party, and the most inflammatory means were resorted to to induce the tribes under Hongi to defend their acquired right. The Natives were tired of war; Hongi had received a wound, of which he afterwards died; so that a compromise was easily effected, by which certain Englishmen were permitted to exercise proprietary rights over these forests. Nothing could be more loose than their titles, but they were supported by violence and threats, and much of the land has since passed into other hands.

Since the passion for jobbing has been excited in the Native mind by the comparatively high price of land, these old claims have been revived; and it frequently happens that the same lands are sold by the conquerors and the vanquished respectively to different Europeans. The Natives have a feeling of pride in these matters, and they each defend the right to sell with extraordinary pertinacity. I do not profess: to be yet sufficiently well informed of all the intricacies of this question, but I will inquire into and sift it; and when I know thoroughly the full merits of the case, I will not fail to report them to your Lordship, and to impress them on the minds of the Commissioners. My present object in noticing it is to show your Lordship how many sources of disagreement exist between Natives and Europeans, and how requisite it is that the executive government should have a force at command that will enable it to act with vigour—not, I hope, by the hostile employment of troops, but by the moral effect their presence will produce.

Other grounds of quarrel between the Europeans and Aborigines, though of less importance, are equally liable to produce mischief; one of these is the trespassing of cattle on provision grounds. The Natives will not hesitate to shoot or destroy cattle that trespass, especially on their beds of kumera (sweet potato), which are considered sacred; and if redress cannot be obtained, Englishmen will retaliate, and bloodshed will follow. In cases of this nature, the law would be quite inoperative without an adequate physical power to enforce it.

I am instructed to employ a police force and to embody a militia. Both these measures will be requisite, but they will not supersede the necessity for a regular military force that will always be available, and whose appearance will be sufficient to repress disorder and discourage resistance of the law.

With respect to my own position, as regards my authority, I did myself the honor to refer the question to your Lordship, in a letter dated in the first week in August, 1839, which I quote from memory, the copy not being on board, whether in my subordinate capacity as a Lieutenant-Governor of a dependency, under a Governor-in-Chief, I had the power to appoint or to suspend magistrates or to remit the punishment of criminals The answer I received was, that "all the powers necessary for the proper conduct of your office will be conferred on you by Acts of the Governor or Legislature of New South Wales, who will also make the necessary provision for the establishment of Courts of justice in New Zealand."

As my instructions were given to me in confidence, I was deprived of the advantage of consulting with persons better skilled than myself in law; but it certainly appeared to me impossible for the Governor to delegate to me any portion of that prerogative, which he himself holds but in trust from the Crown; nor could I suppose that such a fact would be overlooked; nor that it was deemed page 26 unnecessary to confide in me the prerogative of mercy, or the appointment of magistrates, as enjoyed by all other Lieutenant-Governors. I therefore concluded that my legal view of the case was erroneous; but I find, on consulting with Sir George Gipps, that I was not in error, and that these powers are withheld from me. In the present case, considerable inconvenience to the public service will be experienced; I have with me but one magistrate of whose services I can avail myself, and I find it necessary, in support of the authority of Her Majesty's Government, which has long been partially established here, to leave that officer in charge of this much-frequented port. I am therefore without any one whom I can employ at Port Nicholson, or elsewhere, be the necessity ever so pressing; nor can I appoint to the office, and a delay of several months may occur before I can procure from New South Wales a person legally entitled to act.

I have been subject likewise to great inconvenience and responsibility from being deprived of the assistance and advantage of a Colonial Secretary, or a legal adviser. I foresaw, and expressed to your Lordship my prediction, that no gentlemen suited for offices of such trust could be found in New South Wales, who were not already in better circumstances than the limited means of a new Colony could afford them. The fact has proved so. Although Sir George Gipps used every effort to procure proper officers, none could be found at once qualified and willing to hold the appointments; and at this moment I see but little prospect of being immediately relieved from the dilemma.

I have not yet had any communication with the emigrants who were sent from England by the Association, nor am I informed of the numbers that have arrived, but I have heard that several ships have reached Port Nicholson; that a town has been laid out, and is in progress of building; and that all the land for many leagues round their station has been purchased from the Natives. I am about to sail, when the wind permits, for the ports to the southward, and will visit Port Nicholson as early as possible.

Having stated to your Lordship that I considered it essential for the support of Her Majesty's authority in this country that troops should be stationed here, I beg to add, that owing to the dispersed state of the British population, and the number of points that must be guarded, I consider that not less than four companies of a regiment should be applied to this service. This force, with the frequent visits of ships of war and the assistance of police and militia, will, I think, be sufficient to maintain the dignity of the Crown and secure the due execution of the laws.

I beg once more to request your Lordship's early attention to the affairs of this country, and have the honor to remain, &c.,

W. Hobson,

The Most Hon. Marquis of Normanby,
Secretary of State for the Colonies, &c., &c.