Title: Henry Lawson Among Maoris

Author: William H. Pearson

Publication details: Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd, 1968, Wellington

Digital publication kindly authorised by: Paul Millar

Part of: New Zealand Texts Collection

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Henry Lawson Among Maoris



South Island Maoris early recognised that their best hope of survival lay in education. Before establishing this claim it is necessary to dispose of definite assertions to the contrary made by J. W. Stack, Inspector of Native Schools in the South Island for the Native Affairs Department. Though Stack's part in the founding of Mangamaunu school was brief and initial, he had some effect on aspects of subsequent Native School policy, and I shall quote him at length because he represents one end of a spectrum of attitudes of those who claimed a desire for Maori advancement:

it must be borne in mind that the education of the Native children is being carried on against the determined opposition of a large portion of the adult population…. It is hardly possible for those who have not experienced the senseless opposition offered by many of the Natives to the attempts made to educate their children to understand how people usually so intelligent can refuse to avail themselves page 47of those institutions which alone can restore their race to a position of influence in the State. The absence of schools supplies the Maoris with a good cry that they are neglected; when they are provided with them they either do not send their children, or if they do, they seem at pains to hinder their advancement in learning. Only in a few solitary instances do the parents render hearty assistance to the teacher and encourage him in his arduous work. It is hopeless to expect any improvement as long as the Maoris believe that by letting their children grow up in ignorance they are strengthening their claims to compensation for their lands.77

Stack reported prejudice against the school among parents at Motueka and passive resistance from the children.78 Mackay in 1868 reported difficulty in persuading Kaiapoi parents to pay their proportion of fees: 'they seem to be entirely imbued with the idea that the Government ought to provide schools for them free of cost in fulfilment of promises made to them in former years'.79 Stack reported opposition to schools at Wairau, Arowhenua, and Moeraki and related it to 'claims for unfulfilled promises'.80

Stack's mixture of dedication and impatience shows him to be one of those aggressive cultural mediators who became angry and frustrated when the people of the minority they work among prefer to follow their own counsel. There are several cases of his wishing to impose on Maoris the values of his own culture. In 1874 both he and Mackay commended the military type of discipline enforced by the master at Kaiapoi school, but in 1879 (after the school had been closed and reopened) he complained that the parents were apathetic and ungrateful.81 He complained of Maori children's dislike of restraint and of the inability of parents to force them to attend school; he regretted the Maori habit of holding meetings and taking their children with them.82 He even recommended that children should be taken away from parents opposed to education. He objected to parents having any say in school matters and was shocked that at Waikouaiti the school committee had the power to decide (with the master) whether or not European children should be admitted.83 He recommended that school committees should not be allowed to interfere with teachers and he thought the best teachers were those who knew no Maori.84 His model for a future Maori society was in page 48fact a replica of a three-class European society: an upper class of hereditary land-owning rangatira; a middle class of small land-holders with the opportunity of moving, by dint of thrift and industry, into the upper class; a landless class of workers.85 Yet he knew enough to have been more charitable:

Then the colonisation of the country, and the entire change of his position from being lord of the soil to a tolerated occupier of a very small portion, appears to have bewildered and paralyzed the faculties of the Maori. Look where he will, he is hemmed in by customs and laws he does not clearly understand. He feels a stranger and a foreigner in his own land. He can no longer fish, and shoot and hunt without permission…. Everywhere law confronts him and casts a shadow on his path…. The future offers no hope! He cannot look forward to his children entering upon some honourable career now closed to him, for they precede him to the grave. Under such circumstances can we wonder at Maoris moping about their huts and feeling disinclined to work, content to make spasmodic efforts occasionally to supply their absolute wants.86

Stack knew the reason for the opposition to schools in much of the South Island. It was, as he acknowledges in two places, that the Ngai-tahu feared that by accepting education from the government they might compromise their claims for more equitable compensation for their land.87 Some account of this is necessary, though it is only indirectly relevant to the Ngaitahu of Mangamaunu.

More than four South Island blocks of land were involved in the unsettled claims for compensation, but the main block in dispute among the Ngai-tahu was the block known as 'Kemp's purchase' or 'the Ngai-tahu block', covering the whole of the east of the South Island from Kaiapoi to the Otago Heads, and purchased by Kemp in 1848, a purchase attended, according to the Ngai-tahu, by threats and by promises that had not been fulfilled. They claimed that Mantell who had completed the purchase had promised them schools and hospitals.88 The reserves set aside were insufficient for living off, and they had assumed that though they sold their land they would still have the right to gather wild food from it.89 An assembly of Ngai-tahu at Kaiapoi in 1874 agreed to petition the government for compensation, but apart from a generally favourable page 49report on the petition in 1876, nothing was done till a joint committee of both houses, sitting three times between 1888 and 1890, set apart areas of land to provide for individuals of the Ngai-tahu who were found to be landless or insufficiently provided for.90 The relevance of this claim* to Mangamaunu Maoris is that though they had no interests in Kemp's block, they had received a share of the initial payment from kinsmen in villages further south, and that fifteen Kaikoura Maoris (including Mary Jacob) were given land out of the 13,000 acres set aside for Marlborough Maoris after the joint committee's recommendation.92 Its broader relevance is to the question of the keenness of South Island Maoris for education. There are several witnesses to this, including Stack himself who said that among Maori parents 'schools are regarded as one of the chief civilizing agencies', and acknowledged in more than one place Maoris who valued education.93 In 1872 Mackay reported in Nelson, Marlborough, and the West Coast, a strong desire for schools and for instruction in the English language.94 In the same year, A. H. Russell, Inspector of Schools, reported to the Native Minister that the desire for instruction in English was as strong in the South Island as in the North.95

* That a later government thought there had been injustice is clear from the Ngai-tahu Claims Settlement Act, 1944, when the payment, over thirty years, was authorised of £300,000 in settlement of all outstanding Ngaitahu claims.91