J. Grant Johnson, Esq., to D. McLean, Esq.
In compliance with your letter of the 25th April last, I proceeded to Port Cooper in the steamer "Zingari," and after personally communicating with Mr. Brittan, the Commissioner of Crown at Christchurch, and, after making myself acquainted with the previous history of the land question in this Province, I proceeded to Akaroa for the purpose of carrying out the award of Mr. Commissioner Mantell for settling the Native claims, which, from the information I have been able to gather, appears page 10to have been, that the Natives should relinquish all their lands in Akaroa in consideration of receiving a reserve of five hundred acres at Onuku on the north side of the harbour, and a sum of one hundred and fifty pounds in money.
I had several meetings and long discussions with the Natives, with a view of inducing them to accede to these terms, and the result has been that they have refused to submit to them, and would rather incur the risk of being dispossessed by force, which alternative, they inform me, was given them by His Excellency the Governor.
The instructions which you furnished me with, are based upon the supposition That the Natives are in the occupation of land which they have ceded to the Crown, whereas upon a careful investigation of the case, it does not appear clear that the Crown has acquired any title to the land which it is sought to dispossess the Natives of, and their statements are so clear and satisfactory that they have never with their knowledge and consent sold all their possessions, that I am unable to adopt the course which I would under other circumstances feel it my duty to pursue, of compelling them to quit those lands, or in the event of their not doing so, abide the alternative which has been intimated to them.
Two deeds exist in the French language, purporting to convey the whole of Banks' Peninsula to Captain Langlois and M. Belligny on behalf of the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, neither of which contain any provision whatever for Reserves for the Natives of Port Cooper, Port Levy, Pigeon Bay, or Akaroa, and it is very evident that the Natives of those places, numbering at that time several hundreds, could never have made a bona fide sale of the whole of Banks' Peninsula without an understanding that some portions were to be left for themselves. No doubt, some Natives were induced to sign conveyances giving up the whole Peninsula, but, I am informed by old residents here, that many of them were so averse to their land being sold to the French Company, that they died in chagrin, rather than partake a share of the payment.
The Nanto-Bordelaise Company's claim has never been examined before the Commissioners appointed to enquire into and report on claims for Grants of Land in New Zealand, and as that Court was directed by law to guide their judgments by good conscience and equity, we may fairly assume that it would have, on consideration of the before mentioned circumstances, excluded the lands the Natives denied having sold from the Nanto-Bordelaise Company's purchase.
The original Commissioners, however, declined entering into the case, the purchase having been made subsequent to the Proclamation prohibiting the purchase of land from the Natives.
When it was afterwards desired to have the question settled, the Agent for the Nanto-Bordelaise Company could not be found, and Lord Stanley, when Secretary of State for the Colonies, taking into consideration the amount expended on emigration by that Company, ordered a Grant to be made out for them of thirty thousand acres.
The New Zealand Company purchased the claims of the Nanto-Bordelaise Company, and, in virtue of other subsequent arrangements, whatever lands the New Zealand Company possessed, have reverted to the Crown, but, through all these proceedings, the original question as to what extent the Native Title has been extinguished by the French Company has never been decided; and, as I am directed to let the Natives understand that there is no desire on the part of the Government to act otherwise than with the strictest justice towards them, I am not in a position to point out to them that the Government possess lands in virtue of a sale to the French Company, the validity of which has always been denied by them, and has, moreover, never been established by any competent authority to have existed.
These Natives have pointed out certain portions of land which they acknowledge having sold to the French, and this is the block on both sides of the harbour now occupied by the settlers, chiefly under the Nanto-Bordelaise Company's Title; the remaining parts, those at present in dispute, were, they state, by a mutual understanding between them and Mr. Belligmy, the French Company's Agent, to be left for their use, or in other words, not to be considered as having been sold to the French.
The Natives of Akaroa have furnished me with a nominal return of their numbers by which they count 140 souls, and possess 48 head of cattle, besides horses, and unless an annual decrease in their numbers takes place, the land, offered to them will scarcely be sufficient for the subsistence of themselves and their cattle; but, the greatest hardship they complain of, is compelling tow distinct tribes who have hitherto resided on opposite sides of the harbour, to live together, the tribe, on the south side being unwilling to come over to the north and reside on the reserve there, which, they conceive, belongs to the party on the north side—and who would view them as intruders?
However unreasonable this objection may appear, it is a repugnance which all Natives have to interfere with each other, and in other parts of the Islands of New Zealand, the system of laying out reserves without considering local circumstances has been found not to answer.
On the formation of the Canterbury settlement, when the possession of Banks' Peninsula became necessary for the purposes of colonization, Mr. Commissioner Mantell, finding that the incomplete nature of the French purchase had not by any means fully satisfied the Native owners of the soil, extinguished their claims over the district around Port Cooper for a sum of two hundred pounds, and secured to them an adequate reserve for their wants; Port Levy was also purchased by the same gentleman for a like sum, with a similar reserve, and had the same liberal policy been at that time extended to Akaroa, the Natives say that all differences on the subject would have been avoided, and that they merely wish the same treatment to be meted unto them as was granted to the other tribes inhabiting the Peninsula.
The Natives have now offered to make considerable concessions, and to give up the whole of the disputed land on the south side of the harbour, except a portion of the part on which they now reside, about 400 acres in extent, which is covered by their cultivations, and contains the burial places of their dead.
They have been born on that side of the harbour, have always lived there, and cannot be induced to remove to the North side, and if compelled to leave that place they will cross the mountains on the south side of the harbour to the "Little River," a locality also much desired by the European settlers, which the Natives offer to abandon in the event of their obtaining the reserve they wish, so that in fact nothing will be gained by withholding it from them.
In the event of this being granted to them the proposed reserve on the north side at Onuka can be curtailed in extent, to meet the requirements of the small tribe, these numbering about 40, and I am not certain whether the pecuniary consideration which I am authorised to pay will be required at all, as they have not entered into a discussion with me on that subject, the matter at issue being the position and extent of reserves for their actual use and subsistence.
It is not in my power to report, except in a general way; the terms which the natives will agree to, as I have confined myself to investigation bearing on the facts of the case, and have not made them aware that I have taken a different view to that which they suppose is entertained; so that should the Government decide on other measures, I have been careful that it should not be compromised by any admission on my part which the Natives might afterwards misconstrue into a breach of faith on the part of a public servant.
I much regret the loss of time that must ensue in communicating with you, but I do not feel myself justified in acting without further instructions on the subject, and I shall remain at Akaroa until I receive your intimation of his Excellency's pleasure as to the further steps to be taken, and, if the Government should feel disposed to alter their views from the new light, which I may venture to say I have thrown on the subject, I have the honour to request that I may be empowered to lay out two suitable reserves for the wants of the Natives. One on the north and the other on the south shore of the harbour and I will take care to communicate with the Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Province and avoid including any land in the Native Reserves over which the Provincial Government may have admitted any rights or vested interests on the part of the European population to be exercised.
I have, &c.,
John Grant Johnson,
Commissioner P. N. L.
P.S.—Enclosed is a copy of a plan to illustrate the purchases alluded to in the report, and also a return of the Natives who have to be provided for.
J. G. J.