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



In 1879 the Native Affairs Department which had administered Maori schools since 1867 handed their management to the Education Department, created by the Education Act of 1877. There were fifty-seven Native Schools with 1,336 pupils.1 The Native Schools Code of 1880 provided for the operation of these schools and the establishment of new ones. The department would open a school on receipt of a petition from ten Maoris in a locality, offering 2 acres and proper title, promising to contribute towards the cost of the school building, and guaranteeing an average attendance of thirty. The department would provide a schoolhouse and a teacher's residence, fence the site and picket-fence an inner quarteracre for a teacher's garden.2 The Maoris were to elect a school committee of five whose sole function would be to provide firewood, arrange the cleaning of the school, and maintain attendance. Textbooks and cleaning materials would be supplied, and the school would provide for four hours a day, five days a week and forty-five weeks a year, instruction in English (reading, writing, spelling), the rudiments of arithmetic and geography, and, for the girls, sewing. There would be four standards of achievement, and in the upper standards there might be English composition, singing, drawing, and physical drill. Uncertified teachers would be accepted, and certified teachers would be ranked in four classes. The teacher's wife would act as sewing mistress, and basic salaries would be £80 for the teacher and £20 for his wife, with increments page 54for rank and seniority, for high attendance and high pass rates, with the possibility of, in time, earning £225.

From the start there was this element of payment by results, and it was strengthened in 1886 when salaries were made more dependent on average attendance, and in 1893, when under the stress of a depression and government retrenchment, the basic salary was reduced to £60 and increments were tied more closely to attendance and examination marks.3

The first appointee to the new post of Inspector of Native Schools was J. H. Pope who took office on 21 January 1880 and held it till December 1903 and was the architect of a policy that continued, with only administrative modifications, till 1931. Pope had been a master at Otago Boys' High School and Inspector to the Taranaki Education Board. A. G. Butchers, eulogistic historian of New Zealand education, describes him as 'characterised by conspicuous honesty and honour, and by a simple and kindly nature that eminently fitted him to work among the Maoris, whose confidence and affection he very soon gained'.4 Reweti T. Kohere recalled him: 'He was of a lovable nature and so perfectly transparent that he won your respect and confidence at first meeting. He was a big man and I never cease to wonder how much he managed to travel all over New Zealand and much of it on horseback when the roads were so bad and many rivers unbridged'.5 Until the appointment in 1893 of H. B. Kirk as his assistant, Pope travelled the length of the country, visiting each Maori school twice a year; the number of the schools fluctuating in that period between sixty-three and eighty-three. He 'rapidly' learned Maori; he wrote two Native School Readers, a textbook on civics, and another on hygiene which was voluntarily distributed by Apirana Ngata and a friend in their Christmas holidays in 1891.

From the outset the department's policy was paternalistic, but in a kindlier way than Stack's authoritarian kind of paternalism. In his instructions to Pope, the Rev. W. J. Habens, Inspector-General, said: 'In the work you are about to undertake you will have a splendid opportunity of doing good to the Maori race-an opportunity which I feel assured you will value very highly, and use with enthusiasm as well as with tact and ability'.6 All these expectations Pope fulfilled; no less paternalistic than Habens, he was dedicated, fair-dealing, and page 55
Hapuku-Mangamaunu district; some of the features (the Hapuku school, the Hapuku bridges, the railway and railway station, the present main road, and the present Mangamaunu school) were constructed after 1897

Hapuku-Mangamaunu district; some of the features (the Hapuku school, the Hapuku bridges, the railway and railway station, the present main road, and the present Mangamaunu school) were constructed after 1897

page 56sympathetic, and there is evidence of the respect in which he was held in Maori communities. He approached his work with a sense of mission which was no less than to save Maoris from extinction. Schools were to be 'the means provided for preventing their race from being wiped out before the advancing pakeha'.7 The evils which threatened the Maori people were insanitariness, improvidence, suspicion of the government, home indiscipline, land litigation, drunkenness, and living on credit from storekeepers.8 They could not resist these evils unless they were schooled in the English lower-middle-class virtues of cleanliness, thrift and foresight, self-discipline, sobriety and living within their means. The problem was urgent:

It is quite certain, too, that whatever good is to be done to the Maori in the way of educating him must be done soon. In a few years it will be too late to give him any effective help…. There will be no Maoris left to educate in districts where there have been no schools.9

The schools were to be missions of Pope's variant of European culture. In retrospect, Pope said:

It should be remembered that the problem to be dealt with was almost entirely new: it was to bring an untutored but intelligent and high-spirited people into line with our civilisation, and to do this, to a large extent, by instructing them in the use of our language, and by placing in Maori settlements European school-buildings, and European families to serve as teachers and especially as exemplars of a new and more desirable mode of life.10

Butchers gives retrospective blessing to the policy:

In the school [Maoris] were to be prepared for successful contact with the foreign social organisation which was clearly destined in a very large measure, if not wholly, to supplant their own. It was indeed, foreseen that only in proportion as the Maoris were enabled to effect a more or less successful adaptation to the new civilisation could they be expected to regain and maintain their original pride of race. Should their self-respect become irrevocably lost all hope of social and political equality with the invading pakeha would be at an end.11

page 57

Teachers were 'missionaries of civilisation generally'.12 'The entire village was their school, their hours of duty were the whole day long'.13 These instructions to teachers, signed by John Hislop, Secretary of Education, were probably drawn up by Pope:

Beside giving due attention to the school instruction of the children, teachers will be expected to exercise a beneficial influence on the natives, old and young; to show by their own conduct that it is possible to live a useful and blameless life, and in smaller matters, by their dress, in their houses, and by their manners and habits at home and abroad, to set the Maoris an example that they may advantageously imitate….

…[I]t is extremely advisable that teachers should always keep the houses and gardens neat and tidy. In this matter the natives are, as a rule, very careless. It is highly necessary that teachers should be on their guard against allowing their own habits to degenerate under the influence of surrounding negligence. They ought rather to exert a steady influence tending to the elevation of the people among whom they live.14

Teachers were cautioned against taking sides in Maori disputes and against themselves quarrelling with Maoris. 'Maoris have as good an idea as most people of what is just and fair, and in the long run they nearly always take the right side. It would seem, then, that a teacher who cannot get on amicably with the Natives, should try to earn a living in some other way'.15 Teachers were forbidden to trade with Maoris or to 'endeavour to gain pecuniary advantage' from them.16

Pope's program of acculturation included some unusual extra-curricular ventures. In 1883 he suggested that, to counteract the economic need which took Maoris away on seasonal or temporary work like gum-digging, shearing, and whaling, the department should send seeds, plants, and grain for systematic cultivation or for the production of silk and oil.17 But this suggestion got no further than the sending in the following year of mulberry, fruit, and ornamental trees to all Native Schools. Mangamaunu school received one mulberry, four peach, two apple, and two cherry trees.18 In 1884 he sent the teacher at Mangamaunu a packet of high-class tobacco seed: 'of course it would be very advantageous to them if this indus-page 58try could be established in their district'.19 English and American periodicals-the Illustrated London News, the Graphic and Harper's Weekly-were circulated to the schools and later lent to the parents. The Minister for Education, W. P. Reeves, in 1893, personally provided five magic lanterns.20

A central feature of the system was that the medium of instruction should be the English language, which in Pope's words, was 'the raison d'être of Native Schools'.21 Although teachers were encouraged to learn Maori and if they wished to be more highly classified, were examined in elementary Maori, it was specifically stated that ignorance of the language need be no barrier to appointment. Maori might be used in junior classes to explain the meaning of an English word, but it was to be dispensed with as soon as possible.22

Discipline was to be 'mild and firm'.23 Pope repeated in 1900 what he had said in 1881: 'Maori children, if properly dealt with, are very easy to manage. They take great interest in their work when they are taught intelligently; they are seldom disposed to be either sullen or disorderly'.24 Teachers were advised to avoid corporal punishment since 'native children appear to resent such punishment in a way European children have no conception of'.25

The system stood or fell by the quality of its teachers. W. W. Bird, who succeeded Pope at the end of 1903, made this observation towards the end of his own career: '… the principal factor in the attendance was the personality of the teacher. Nothing would prevent a Maori child from going to school if he felt it was worth going to'.26 Conversely Pope said: 'If the pupils have once lost their respect for and their confidence in the master, the school cannot go on at all. The children simply leave the school, and it is useless to attempt to get them to attend it'.27 Butchers endorses this: 'In normal villages there was no need to compel the children to attend a good Native School; rather they came to resent the holidays when it was closed'.28

Attendance, in the case of a poor teacher, was often a problem, and placed the adults in a difficult position, since on the one hand (as Pope said) 'Maori parents, as a rule, exercise but little control over their children, and let them do pretty much as they like',29 and on the other it was one of the duties of the school committee to see that attendance was maintained. page 59Although in 1894, the Schools Attendance Act, which already made attendance at public schools compulsory, was applied to Native Schools, Pope had little faith in prosecutions as a deterrent: 'on the whole, the permanent success of the Native Schools must depend on the amount of enthusiasm that can be aroused in connection with them through the teaching and other training of children and their parents, rather than on any external coercion that can be brought to bear by means of legislation'.30

Obviously the Native Schools policy made high demands on a staff of whom Habens told Pope on his appointment: 'many of the teachers have no knowledge of the technicalities of teaching and school-management beyond that which they have acquired in the course of their experience in the positions they now occupy'.31 As early as 1882 Pope was recommending means of getting rid of unsuccessful teachers, and in the following two years he comments on the bad effects of poor and 'listless' teachers.32 Yet in 1883 he said there was no longer difficulty in getting suitable teachers.33 It is no doubt due in part to Pope's energy and dedication and the inspiration of his twice-yearly visits that the system worked as well as it did. Sir E. O. Gibbes, Secretary of Education from 1905 to 1916, in a letter to Butchers, thought it was the attraction of Maoris themselves. There is in any case no doubt of the zeal of many of the teachers. Gibbes wrote:

There is much that is attractive in the Maori character, and to this may be ascribed the fact that a more devoted body of workers than these teachers is not to be found. During epidemics of sickness or shortage of food many of them have sacrificed themselves beyond knowledge or belief. The calls on them are multifarious, and they seem to be like Euclid's definition of a boarding-house keeper-'equal to anything.' One finds a teacher, either with some knowledge of carpentry or teaching himself as he goes along, first instructing a class of boys, and then with their aid and co-operation of the adults replacing the communal whares with good wooden houses.34

The schools were praised by Maori members of parliament, and by a conference of Maori leaders in Wellington in 1908.35

The system extended to secondary education. Promising pupils who had passed the fourth standard were selected for page 60free places in boarding-schools in the North Island, St Stephen's and Te Aute for boys, and Hukarere and St Joseph's for girls. Butchers retrospectively explains the principle of this: the boarding schools

took the brigh[t]est Maori children right out of their native environment and put them down in one wholly civilised, where for seven days and nights in the week they lived and ate and slept like Europeans. The system was costly, four times as great per scholar as the village school system, but the numbers were comparatively small and the ideal worth pursuing. This was that boarding school trainees, on completing their course, would return to their kaingas or villages as the Maori youths had done from the first Missionary schools, missionaries themselves of the new way of livinga leaven of civilisation within the tribe.36

The scheme was costly, and as Table B shows, the expenditure per head on Maori pupils between 1880 and 1900 was roughly twice that on Board school pupils. Pope more than once had to defend his policy against those who said it was a waste of money or complained at 'pampering of the natives'.37 He had the added difficulty of promoting his scheme during a period of economic depression, and though in 1888, the year after an election from which the new government was committed to retrenchment, there is a noticeable drop in the amount spent on each pupil, it is amazing that Pope was able to keep his teachers' salaries untouched till 1893. In that year he said that the cost per pupil could never again rise above that for public schools of the same size and character.38 He had also to contend with those who wanted the Native Schools transferred to the administration of the Education Boards.39 He argued that for Maori children differential treatment was needed, and that at Board schools with predominantly Pakeha rolls, Maori children would be treated with disrespect and would lose interest. He was opposed to too rapid an acculturation.40 But he claimed frequently to see the good results of his system flowering before his eyes. He attributed the improvement in Mangamaunu settlement between 1884 and 1894 to the influence of the school (though it had, in fact, been closed half of this time); and in his retrospect in 1900, he claimed that the schools were 'effecting considerable improve-page 61ments in the mental, moral and physical condition of our Maori fellow-subjects'.41

It is probable that Pope's was the best policy possible in his society and his time: there is a great difference between his understanding of Maoris and Stack's impatience. He had to carry through his scheme against the hostility or indifference of a great number of Pakehas who couldn't have cared if Maoris had died out, so long as it didn't add to their taxes. Yet the scheme was open to some criticism. Pope saw the Maori in a civic context, as a future citizen or 'fellow-subject', but-apart from his concern at their dependence on seasonal or migratory employment-not in an economic one. Pope does say once that his aim is to make Maori boys 'skilled artisans' and to acquaint them with European methods of farming and stock-raising; but (though the curriculum had been extended since 1880) the rudimentary education of the four standards was not adequate to do this.42 It was a criticism made at the time that there was no provision of scholarships to technical schools and universities. The student returning from boardingschool to the village received no further assistance and might well despair of reforming local manners. There was no provision for training Maori pupils as teachers or Maori girls as nurses or for the setting up of cottage hospitals in the villages.43 That there were in fact a few ex-pupils of Native Schools serving apprenticeships on industrial scholarships (the highest figure is fourteen in 1896), two nurse trainees in 1898, and one Maori and less than a dozen part-Maoris teaching in native schools and Maori boarding-schools, does not alter the criticism that there were not enough.44

From the hindsight of the sixties it is possible to question two assumptions on which the policy was based: that assimilation of the minority culture by the dominant culture would be most beneficial for the minority people, and that the Maori people, as was so confidently predicted at the time, were likely to die out. The exclusive use of English as a teaching medium did not result in Maoris becoming conversant with the full range of spoken English constructions and vocabulary. Since the policy came in later years to be executed by teachers who punished children for using their language at school, it impeded the use and transmission of Maori, with a consequent page 62loss in the self-respect the policy was designed to promote. In time generations grew up in some districts without a language in which they could adequately express their most complex thoughts or most intimate feelings. The successes of the system were exceptional-the ex-Te Aute boys who formed the Young Maori Party in the 1890s, for example. The schools and their teachers were often the foci of communal interest and activity, but these were unable to counteract the other social forces that were working towards Maori inferiority in health, housing, and educational attainment, which needed measures stronger than Pope's attempt to induce Maoris personally to discipline themselves in an English lower-middle-class morality. But to criticise the inadequacies of Pope's policy is to criticise New Zealand Pakeha society of the late nineteenth century. The wonder is that Pope achieved as much as he did.

It is in the light of Pope's Native School policy that one should judge the efforts of the first teachers at Mangamaunu school and measure Henry Lawson's performance.