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The Life and Times of Sir George Grey, K.C.B.

Chapter XXXIX. — New Zealaxd Affairs Fhom 1853 To 1861

page 306

Chapter XXXIX.
New Zealaxd Affairs Fhom 1853 To 1861.

"When sorrows come, they come not single spies
But in battalions."

Sir George Grey landed in Auckland on the 26th September, 1861 The history of New Zealand for the eight years which had elapsed since the Constitution was brought into force, had been one of singular expansion and misfortune.

The Maoris viewed the introduction of the new Government at first with suspicion, and at last with open enmity. They understood the Government of the Queen as administered through her representative. When the swift campaign of Ruapekapeka had been brought to a close, and Sir George Grey, by mingled firmness and conciliation, had subdued and disarmed all opposition, they submitted willingly to the rule of a firm, a vigorous, and a friendly hand.

The Governor was indeed a great chief. He could call for assistance and advice upon his Council; but in himself rested the powers of legislation so far as they were concerned, and his hand wielded the rod of sovereignty. If they were injured or wronged by Europeans or other natives, the Governor's ear was open to their page 307cries for assistance. His arm was equally strong to punish and to protect. If they needed advice, the Council Chamber of the Governor was always accessible. If they desired aid for schools, for churches, for flour-mills, for farming implements and stock, they appealed to the Governor, and not in vain.

With their plaintive farewells to Governor Grey, and the pathetic songs which followed him as he left the shores of New Zealand, the old order of things closed and passed away.

When the first Parliament met in Auckland under the Constitution, many Maori chiefs gathered on the spot now occupied by the Supreme Court, and watched with anxiety and forebodings the installation of the new system of government. They could not understand its meaning. Some of the leading chiefs determined to test both the power and disposition of this new authority.

They sent a request to the Government for assistance to build a flour-mill in the Waikato. They soon found that the old direct and personal rule of the Governor had gone for ever.

The system of responsible and party government in New Zealand was inaugurated by a party struggle. In the heat of this political conflict the Maori request was slighted, and the chiefs retired to the Waikato, convinced that a dark day had dawned for the native people.

Gradually these separation between the two-races, widened, until in 1859, only five years after Sir George Grey had left the colony in perfect peace, the conflict at the Waitara again lit up the flames of war, which burned fiercely, though intermittently, for over ten years. Nor had the introduction of local self-government been more fortunate in its aspect towards and influence upon the European colonists. As soon as the strong hand of Sir George Grey was removed from the reins of power, the aggressive and acquisitive spirit of a large section of the early colonists asserted itself strongly. The wise and beneficent laws concerning the acquisition of land, and its taxation, were set aside. In provinces where there were valuable waste lands of the Crown available for settlement, laws were speedily passed which enabled those who had political power or official position to monopolise great territories, and stop the expansion of that system of settlement which Sir George Grey had fondly believed to be permanently established. Thus in the Wellington and page 308Canterbury provinces especially, and in Nelson and Marlborough also, wide tracts of valuable land were seized upon by those who subordinated their public position to their private ends.

The number of the European population had greatly swollen, not only by natural growth, but by the constant influx of fresh colonists. The infant settlements of Otago and Canterbury had expanded into populous and thriving communities. Commerce, manufacture, agriculture, as well as flocks and herds—all had increased.

There was an utter want of sympathy between—the settlers and the Maoris in New Zealand. Jealousy, distrust, and suspicion existed on both sides. A very slight breath of air was needed to fan the smouldering embers of discontent into the destroying flames of war. Such a state of affairs could not last long. The events which led to the actual outbreak were these.

The European colonists in New Plymouth (which had been originally founded by the New Zealand Company) clamoured for land upon which to settle. The Government, under Colonel Gore-Browne, proceeded to purchase from the natives such tracts as they were willing to sell. At the Waitara, near New Plymouth, a large area of fertile soil offered many advantages for occupation, and was much coveted by the Europeans. On a part of this land a native chief, Wi Kingi, who with his people had been for many years converted to Christianity, had built a township, where almost in European fashion his people dwelt. Their cottages were surrounded by fields and cultivations. The school house was regularly filled with children. Morning and night the church bell called the people to their simple worship. It would have been difficult in any land owned by a savage race, or in any country suddenly brought under the dominion of an alien people, to find a community more peaceful or more happy than Wi Kingi and his tribe at Waitara by the sea.

Of all the spots in New Zealand, filled as the islands are with places of surpassing beauty, no locality possessed more natural attractions than the district surrounding this native village. Journeying from Auckland to Wellington by the West Coast, the eye of the traveller rested with unalloyed pleasure upon the Maori township, surrounded by its pleasant fields, backed by the lofty glories of Mount Egmont. Peaceful and sequestered, the very last thought page 309to be suggested in the human mind would be that this spot was to become the theatre where should be waged the first conflict of a bloody and expensive war.

Conflicts had taken place between the followers of Ihaia and Wi Kingi at the Waitara, in which blood had been freely shed; and the people at Taranaki became restless and alarmed. Peace was, however, made between the contending natives in June, 1858.

In March, 1859, Governor Browne went to New Plymouth. He was welcomed by both Europeans and natives. The European settlers were pressing and persistent in their applications for land on which to make homes. The Governor held a meeting with the Maoris, and caused it to be made known that he desired to purchase land for the Europeans. At the meeting Teira rose, and offered to sell to the Government the territory on the south bank of the Waitara. The Governor agreed to purchase if the title were found to he in Teira and his people. Teira thereupon laid a mat at the feet of the Governor as a testimony that the sale was completed.

Wi Kingi, who was present, immediately rose. He called upon the Governor to listen to his words. He would not permit Waitara to be sold. Waitara was his. He would not give it up. Never! Never! Never i

Immediately after the repetition of his immutable purpose, Wi Kingi called upon his people, and, followed by them all, withdrew from the meeting.

The Government then proceeded to purchase the Waitara from Teira. Wi Kingi protested against their action, and still declared the land was his. He affirmed that this had been admitted by Governor Grey, and that upon the original map of the district would be found the surveyor's line marking the boundary between his land and that which Teira or Ihaia or any other chief had power to sell. No such plan was, however, found; and Commissioners were sent by the Government to inquire as to the title.

Before these Commissioners Wi Kingi refused to appear. He alleged that they were servants of the Government, and would therefore be influenced against him. He demanded that a proper tribunal should be appointed—a Judge of the Supreme Court, or some other impartial and independent authority. This was refused. Wi Kingi gave no evidence, and the Commissioners reported in Teira's favour. page 310The Government thereupon bought from him and gave notice to Wi Kingi and his people to leave the land.

Surveyors sent by the Government were removed from the land by the women belonging to Wi Kingi's tribe. Soldiers, volunteers, and militia, in their turn, drove the Maoris off the disputed territory with great carnage, and the whole coast became involved in a war which, during the next two years, became general.

Teira's object in selling was not so much the desire to assert title, as to be revenged on Wi Kingi and his people. A Maori girl had deserted Teira's son, to whom she was engaged, and transferred her affections to a favourite nephew of Wi Kingi. The latter acknowledging the indignity which, according to native custom, had been offered to Teira, sent thirty sovereigns and a valuable horse as a peace offering to the offended chief.

Teira brooded over the insult. The money and the horse were not a sufficient atonement. The savage passions of his ancestors, dominant in him, demanded a more serious payment. "Utu" could only be satisfied by blood. To embroil the proud and high-spirited chief with the Queen's Government would wash away in reddened streams all traces of the insult which had been offered to him and to his hapu. Thus, as in other lands and other times, disappointed love, treacherous revenge, and war, went hand in hand.

Many years afterwards, when thousands of lives and millions of treasure had been expended, a competent tribunal did take evidence and hear the case, which showed without the shadow of a doubt that the land belonged to Wi Kingi. Teira himself admitted Wi Kingi's superior right. Wi Kingi and his witnesses did not appear, but the evidence adduced by his antagonists was so conclusive in his favour that the Judges of the Native Land Court were convinced that they were bound to give judgment for him. Startled by the peculiar' position of the case, and remembering that the title to the Waitara had been the cause of a dreadful war, the Judges adjourned the court to deliberate upon the course they should pursue. Wi Kingi was not only not before the Court. He had not applied for the exercise of its jurisdiction. It was, however, evident that a verdict must be given against the. applicants then appearing. Such a verdict, openly pronounced, would involve momentous results. It was, indeed, not only of Colonial, but Imperial importance.

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With the concurrence of his brother Judges, Mr. Fenton, the Chief Judge of the Native Lands Court, sent a memorandum to the Government of the day requesting that a Minister might come to New Plymouth and decide upon the step which the Government would deem it necessary to take.

His request was complied with. One of the Ministers—said to be Colonel Russell—visited the town where the Court was sitting, and took upon himself the conduct of the proceedings. What arrangement was made with the native applicants it is impossible to say. But when the Court again opened, no one appeared in support of the application; the case was indefinitely adjourned for want of prosecution; and to this day the title to the Waitara has never been determined.

The blood, the treasure, the national good faith which we so freely wasted in that terrible conflict must be placed to the account of the Colonial and English Governments in the pages of history.

The unhappy dispute between Wi Kingi and the Government was aggravated by appeals made to a new authority, which had meanwhile come into existence in the person of the Maori King, who was none other than Sir George Grey's old and trusted friend Te Whero-Whero. After Grey's departure, and the establishment of responsible government in New Zealand, the Maoris, believing themselves to be injured and rendered practically helpless by the new system, had determined to make, a king among themselves.

On the 14th of July, 1857, Te Whero-Whero, under the name of Potatau, formally accepted the Kingship, and sent a message to that effect to the different Maori tribes. The restrictions which Sir George Grey had placed upon the sale of ammunition and firearms to the natives had been removed by his successoi', acting on the advice of his responsible advisers. The remonstrances of those who foresaw the evil effects of such a course were overruled. The Maoris became eager purchasers of firearms, powder and lead. Their old weapons were also repaired to an extent which was not permitted, by Sir George Grey.

Thus, while on the one hand the Colonial Government was alienating the affections and arousing the fears of the Maoris, it was, on the other, permitting, almost inviting the tribes to arm them; selves for war.