Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

A great coloniser : the Rev. Dr. Thomas Burns, pioneer minister of Otago and nephew of the poet

Chapter VI. — The Proposed New Colony

page 52

Chapter VI.
The Proposed New Colony.

And now, dear countrymen, we sympathise with you in your feelings, which are no doubt tender, in leaving the land of your fathers—it may be for ever—and are persuaded that as Scotchmen you are not likely soon to forget your last view of its rocky shores as these fade and disappear in the distant horizon. Other lands, rich and sunny though they be, will, to those who have reached maturity, still want the tender associations of early life, and the hallowed recollections of a Scottish Sabbath with its simple but effective accompaniments. She expects you will be distinguished among the natives of other lands for your high moral bearing, your honest and persevering industry, and your habitual reverence for God and the things of God.—Pastoral Address of the Presbytery of Paisley to Emigrants, October, 1839.

The New Zealand Company lost no time in getting to work. Despite the opposition of the Colonial Office, under Lord Normanby, to a proposed settlement in New Zealand, the ship Tory was dispatched from England on May 5, 1839, with Colonel William Wakefield, the brother of Edward Gibbon, on board, accompanied by representatives and experts chosen by the Company, as a preliminary party commissioned to prepare the way for a new colony in the vicinity of Cook Strait. This event marks an epoch in the history of New Zealand, for it helped to determine the priority of the British over the French in the claim to future colonisation, and it led directly to the establishment of the settlement at Port Nicholson, on which Wellington now stands. With the accession of Lord John Russell to the Colonial Office a more favourable attitude was adopted towards the New Zealand Company, although Mr (afterwards Sir) James Stephen, the influential Under-secretary, continued for many years to oppose all such efforts at colonisation. The page 53Church Missionary Society and the Wesleyan Missionary Society denounced the proposed settlement of Europeans in New Zealand as being inimical to the interests of the Maoris. The energetic secretary of the Church Missionary Society, Mr Dandeson Coates, was in constant and sympathetic communication with Stephen.1Zeal for the missionary cause and consideration for the Natives lest they should be ruined by contact with the white race were the chief motives of these men in seeking to check colonisation, especially by the New Zealand Company, which they distrusted as a capitalistic venture. And, while we all today rejoice in the acquisition of the Dominion to the Empire, few, looking backwards over the intervening history, would be willing to deny that the fear of the evils of civilisation was entirely without justification.

Agents of the Company were busy in Scotland and elsewhere on behalf of the colony. Glasgow and the West of Scotland had committees at work to recruit emigrants, who were to take their departure from the Clyde. The first Scottish colony in New Zealand was the direct result of the activity of the Company and the sympathetic cooperation of the Church of Scotland. To celebrate the sailing of the Bengal Merchant, a great colonisation dinner was held in October, 1839, at the Trades Hall. Speeches were delivered by the Rev. Norman Macleod (the great "Dr Norman" of later days) and Sheriff Alison (afterwards Sir Archibald, the historian of Europe). Prophecy, mingled with a certain ignorance, amuses us in the page 54verse of the Poet Laureate, Southey, who was quoted with fervour by Alison in the course of his oration:—

Come, bright improvement in the car of time, And rule the spacious world from clime to clime. Thy handmaid, Art, shall every wild explore, Trace every wave and culture every shore; On Zealand's hills, where tigers steal along And the dread Indian chants a dismal song; Where human fiends on midnight errands walk And bathe in brains the murderous tomahawk; There shall the flocks on thymy pastures stray, And shepherds dance at summer's opening day. 2

The Bengal Merchant sailed from the Clyde on October 31, 1839. It was indeed an historic occasion. The Lord Provost of Glasgow went on board prior to the weighing of the anchor, with a large party of visitors, and addressed the emigrants, who numbered 161, reminding them that "they were about to lay the foundation of a colony which in time might become a great nation, a second Britain."

Accompanying the party was the Rev. John Macfarlane, who for three years had been in charge of Martyrs' Church, Paisley. He was appointed to be minister to the Presbyterian settlers, and received £900 from the Church of Scotland in advance on his stipend of £300 per annum for three years. Mr Macfarlane thus became the first minister sent out from the Homeland to attend to the spiritual needs of the white settlers. The colony, which was started at Port Nicholson on the arrival of the Bengal Merchant early in 1840, together with the Cuba, the Aurora, the Oriental, and the Adelaide, which sailed at various dates from Gravesend, was not characterised as a class settlement, nor were the preparations made beforehand in harmony with the ideals of the page 55Wakefield scheme. The whole enterprise was somewhat marred by haste and lack of forethought, defects which were not entirely avoided in the later establishments of the New Zealand Company at New Plymouth and Nelson. Mr Macfarlane's appointment as minister to the emigrants was made possible by the assistance of the Colonial Committee of the Church of Scotland. The first settlement in Port Nicholson was on the plain beside the Hutt River, but ere long it was moved to the head of the bay, where Wellington now stands.3

The year 1840 will ever be memorable in the annals of New Zealand, not only on account of the planting of the colony in Port Nicholson, but because of the Treaty of Waitangi, on February 12, between Captain Hobson, the first Governor, and the Maori chiefs, who thereby acknowledged the sovereignty of Queen Victoria in return for British protection. Also the New Zealand Journal was started by the Company in London on February 8, and it continued to publish the news affecting colonial developments for many years. In the same year, on May 15, a number of influential men met in Glasgow to petition the Queen and Parliament to annex the Islands of New Zealand and to thwart the French, who were proposing to establish a penal settlement there. The movement for emigration to New Zealand was still progressing, and in Glasgow, and Paisley, the big weaving centre, meetings were held for the furtherance of this object. A memorial was prepared and signed by more than 3000 Scottish working-men asking Lord John Russell, then Colonial Secretary, for a free passage and a small piece of land, if only for "a cow's grass and a kail yard"—a pathetic page 56evidence of the condition of the people. "Taking Paisley as an index, in a population of 44,000, one quarter, or 11,000, were actully out of work and starving. Others were working 16 hours out of the 24 to keep body and soul together on a pittance of seven or eight shillings a week."4But few were found ready to make the long and hazardous voyage to the distant islands inhabited by the warlike Maoris. It was known also that the settlements were disturbed by troubles and dissensions among the white colonists. Thus by 1842 the first stage of emigration to New Zealand from Scotland had come to a close for all practical purposes.

In one of his letters Thomas Burns refers to his interest in emigration to New Zealand as having been especially aroused in 1837, probably just after the completion of the new church building at Monkton. In all the succeeding years he doubtless kept in touch with the movement, reading all that was in the press on the subject, and, as likely as not, seeing the Spectator, the Colonial Gazette, and the New Zealand Journal when they appeared. The statement has been made that he was deeply interested in the Scottish party that left in 1839, and that he was present at the dinner which was addressed by Macleod and Alison. He was familiar with the main events that transpired in the tardy colonisation of New Zealand, and he knew of the setback which came when Lord Stanley took office in the Peel Government in succession to Lord John Russell as Secretary for the Colonies, in August, 1841. The later rise of the definite New Edinburgh scheme must have claimed an even greater share of his attention and interest.

On July 28, 1842, Mr George Rennie appears on the scene as the champion of a fourth proposed colony in New page 57Zealand. On that date Mr Rennie wrote his letter to the directors of the New Zealand Company. That letter was published shortly afterwards, with correspondence from the Company, in the Colonial Gazette, and it appeared also in Chambers's Journal, which claimed to have the largest circulation of any such periodical in Scotland. The suggestions probably emanated from "Wakefield and Rennie in consultation with each other. The letter proposed that a fourth colony—that is, in succession to Wellington, New Plymouth, and Nelson which had just been planted by the Company—should be established. It must, he said, be different from all others by being thoroughly prepared for; by having all necessary surveys done, roads made, and wharves built before the settlers actually arrived. Also, there should be adequate provision for religion and education, beyond what had been suggested in the past. Capitalists and labourers were to be represented in due proportion, according to the needs of the settlement. An area of 100,600 acres was sufficient, divided into 1000 suburban sections of 20 acres each and 1000 rural sections of 80 acres each. For the town 600 acres were to be held for streets, roads, wharves, reserves, etc., and 400 acres were to be divided up into 1600 sections of a quarter acre each; of these 600 were to be kept for sale at an advanced price of £25. One "allotment" was considered to include a town, a suburban, and a rural section, and it was valued at £125. The proceeds of the sales were to be shared by the New Zealand Company and a fund devoted to emigration and public works.

This communication was signed by Mr Rennie, "on behalf of a body of persons who contemplate the formation,, under the auspices of the Company, and on the plan herein sketched out, of a settlement in New Zealand, to, be situated on the eastern coast of the Middle Island."5 page 58After some deliberation the directors approved generally of the proposals, provided that public support and Government assistance should be forthcoming. They threw the responsibility for the further promotion of the scheme upon the shoulders of Mr Rennie. The breach between the Company and the Government was wide enough, and the directors did not wish to appear as suppliants for more favours from the hands of the grim Lord Stanley. There was no official recognition accorded to the Company by the Government for the lands already purchased in New Zealand, running into millions of acres, and until a clear title could be secured from the Crown the affairs of the Company appeared to be in very great jeopardy. This difficulty, however, was apparently soon surmounted by the Government's recognition of a grant to the Company on the basis of one acre for every five shillings actually expended in the settlements, provided that the Maori title to the land had been genuinely transferred to the Company. With that proviso the directors came into possession of a million acres. The investigation of claims was entrusted to a Mr Spain, a special commissioner, who was dispatched to Wellington for the purpose. In May, 1843, the way seemed to be open for a definite advance with the new scheme, and it soon entered upon a fresh phase as a distinctly Scottish and Presbyterian enterprise.

Who was this Mr Rennie, who looms up so suddenly in the course of events connected with the movement of emigration from Scotland? Dr T. M. Hocken, amid many wonderful services to the history of Otago, has earned our gratitude for the biographical sketch given in his book. George Rennie was a comparatively young man of 30 years of age when he entered the lists on behalf of Scottish colonisation. He had quite an interesting career page 59behind him, as "agriculturist"—blessed word of the period, like "Mesopotamia"—as artist and sculptor, familiar with the antiquities and masterpieces of Rome, as a reformer in politics, ship building, and the lay-out of London park lands, as an ex-member of the House of Commons—after a year's representation of Ipswich—and now as a promoter of a colonial undertaking from Scotland, involving his own prospective departure for the Antipodes as the superintendent as soon as success should grace his plans. The question of his fitness to be the leader of such an enterprise will ere long occupy our minds, as we come upon the clash of controversy which ensues between him and the Free Church representatives, and the question recurs as we follow the fortunes of the hardy settlers amid the rough hills and plains of Otago. But let none of these differences of opinion blind us to the valuable services which Mr George Rennie gave to the early stages of the movement when it was most in need of a champion.

Early in 1843 a name to be forever associated with the foundation of the new colony comes under our notice. Enter William Cargill! By appointment he calls upon Mr Rennie, and they agree to approach the Company again with modified proposals. Cargill was nearly twice Rennie's age, but he was still full of energy and resourcefulness. He could claim descent from Donald Cargill, covenanter and martyr. William Cargill was born on August 28, 1784, at Edinburgh, and educated at the High School of that city. He had seen much active service in the British Army, first in India and then in the Peninsular War. He was seriously wounded at Busaco, but later was able to rejoin his regiment, the 74th Highlanders, and he was afterwards promoted to the rank of captain. In 1821, having retired from the army, he was attracted by the colonies, and thought on more than one page 60occasion of emigrating to Canada. However, he settled down to banking pursuits, and remained for the most part in London. This experienced, sagacious officer was keenly interested in Mr Rennie's proposals, and became more and more completely associated with the scheme. Under the hands of Rennie and Cargill, and in the light of the great event of the Disruption, the distinctively Scottish and Presbyterian undertaking was shaped, and was presented once more in a modified form as a scheme for the patronage of the New Zealand Company.

The idea of a sectarian colony was not originated by Rennie and Cargill. As already stated, Wakefield had suggested such a basis of settlement in his earlier writings. But it had been taking definite form (as a practical plan for an Anglican community overseas) some years before the enterprise which we associate with Canterbury was launched. A letter addressed by Wakefield to his sister, and undated, but evidently written in May, 1843—after "the settlement of our differences with Stanley," to quote part of the postscript—reveals the design of the coloniser:

The project of a new colony in New Zealand is so nearly ripe that I want to talk with you and Charles about it. It will be a Church of England colony—that is, the foundation fund of the colony will contain ample endowments for religious and educational purposes in connection with our Church exclusively. A body of colonists will be formed here in conjunction with eminent clergymen and laymen of the Church of England, and this body will mature the plan and offer it to the New Zealand Company, by whom it will be accepted. The project, which is mine own, is warmly approved, and will have the zealous support of the Church and eminent laymen. Dr Hinds, who is here, will work at it. 6

But at this juncture the formation of the Free Church of Scotland gave a new turn to events.

1 See "The Colonisation of New Zealand," by J. S. Marais; chap. II on "The Opponents of Colonisation," and chap. III on "The Genesis of the New Zealand Company."

2 Glasgow Constitutional, October 26, 1839.

3 See "History of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand," by Rev. John Dickson, M.A., for a fuller account of the Wellington Church in relation to the early days of the settlement.

4 "Contributions to the Early History of New Zealand" (Otago), by T. M. Hocken, p. 5.

5 Colonial Gazette, No. 195.

6 Quoted by Marais, "Colonisation of New Zealand," p. 310.