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The Long White Cloud

Chapter X — In the Caudine Forks

page 144

Chapter X
In the Caudine Forks

I would rather be governed by Nero on the spot than by a Board of Angels in London.—John Robert Godley.

Though Governor Hobson landed in January, the formal annexation of the Colony did not take place until May. He had first to take possession; and this could only be effectually done with the consent of the native tribes. The northern chiefs were therefore summoned, and came to meet the Queen's representative at Waitangi (Water of Weeping). Tents and a platform were erected, and the question of annexation argued at length. The French Bishop Pompallier appeared in full canonicals. Certain chiefs had been well coached to oppose the new departure. Behind the scenes, too, that worst of beachcombers, Jacky Marmon, secretly made all the mischief he could. On the other hand, Henry Williams, representing the Protestant missionaries, threw his weight into the scale on the Governor's side and acted as translator. While many of the chiefs were still doubtful, if not hostile, Waka Nene, the most influential of the Ngapuhi tribe, spoke strongly and eloquently for annexation. His speech gained the day, and a treaty was drawn up and signed.

By the preamble, Queen Victoria invited the confederated and independent chiefs of New Zealand to concur in Articles to the following effect:—


The Chiefs of New Zealand ceded to Her Majesty, absolutely and without reservation, all their rights and powers of Sovereignty.


Her Majesty guaranteed to the Chiefs and Tribes of New Zealand full, exclusive, and undisturbed possession of their Lands and Estates, Forests, Fisheries and other properties; but the Chiefs yielded to Her Majesty the exclusive right of Pre-emption over page 145 such lands as the proprietors thereof might be disposed to alienate, at such prices as might be agreed upon.


Her Majesty gave to the natives of New Zealand all the Rights and Privileges of British Subjects.

Nearly fifty chiefs signed the treaty there and then, and within six months—so energetically did the missionaries and Government agents carry it throughout the tribes—it had been signed by five hundred and twelve. Only about one chief of first-class rank and importance refused to sign it. This was that fine barbarian, Te Heu Heu, whose home lay at the foot of the great volcanoes by Lake Taupo on the plateau in the centre of the North Island. Te Heu Heu was the last of the old heathen warriors. Singularly fair-skinned, and standing fully six feet high, he looked what he was, a patriarch and leader of his people. Scoffing at the White men and their religion, he defied Governor and missionaries alike until his dramatic end, which came in 1846, when he and his village were swallowed up in a huge landslide. At present, as he could neither be coerced nor persuaded, he was let alone. For the rest, it may fairly be claimed that the Maori race accepted the Treaty of Waitangi.

They had very good reason to do so. To this day they regard it as the Magna Charta of their liberties. They were fully aware that under it the supreme authority passed to the Queen; but they were quite able to understand that their tribal lands were guaranteed to them. In other words, they were recognized as the owners in fee simple of the whole of New Zealand. As one of them afterwards expressed it, “The shadow passes to the Queen, the substance stays with us.”

At the same time Governor Hobson had announced to the White settlers by proclamation that the Government would not recognize the validity of any of their land titles not given under the Queen's authority. It is not easy to see how else he could have dealt with the land-sharks, of whom there had been an ugly rush from Sydney on the news of the coming annexation, and most of whom as promptly retreated on finding the proclamation to be a reality. At the same time his treaty and his proclamation were bound to paralyse settlement, to exasperate the entire White population, and to plunge the infant colony into a sea of troubles. Outside the missionaries page 146 and the officials everyone was uneasy and alarmed. All the settlers were either land-owners, land claimants, or would-be land purchasers. Yet they found themselves at one and the same time left without titles to all that they thought they possessed, and debarred from the right of buying anything more except from the Crown. And as the Governor was without funds, and the Crown, therefore, could not buy from the natives, there was a deadlock. Space will not admit here of a full discussion of the vexed question of the land clause in the Treaty of Waitangi. As a rule civilized nations do not recognize the right of scattered handfuls of barbarians to the ownership of immense tracts of soil, only a fraction of which they cultivate or use. However, from the noblest and most philanthropic motives an exception to this rule was made in the case of New Zealand, and by treaty some sixty to seventy thousand Maori were given a title guaranteed by England—the best title in the world—to some sixty-six million acres of valuable land. Putting aside the question of equity, it may be observed that, had not this been done, the Maori, advised by the missionaries, would certainly have refused their assent to the Treaty. The millions sterling which have had to be spent in New Zealand, directly and indirectly, in acquiring Maori land for settlement, supply, of course, no argument whatever against the equity of the Treaty. When honour is in the scale, it outweighs money. Yet had Captain Hobson been able to conceive what was entailed in the piece-meal purchase of a country held under tribal ownership, it is difficult to think that he would have signed the Treaty without hesitation. He could not, of course, imagine that he was giving legal force to a system under which the buying of a block of land would involve years of bargaining, even when a majority of its owners wished to sell; that the ascertainment of a title would mean tedious and costly examination by courts of experts of a labyrinth of strange and conflicting barbaric customs; that land might be paid for again and again, and yet be declared unsold; that an almost empty wilderness might be bought first from its handful of occupants, then from the conquerors who had laid it waste, and yet after all be reclaimed by returned slaves or fugitives who had quitted it years before, and who had been paid for the land on page 147 which they had been living during their absence. Governor Hobson could not foresee that cases would occur in which the whole purchase money of broad lands would be swallowed up in the costs of sale, or that a greedy tribe of expert middlemen would in days to come bleed Maori and settler alike. Yet it would have been but reasonable for the Colonial Office to exert itself to palliate the effects of the staggering blows it thus dealt the pioneer colonists of New Zealand. They were not all land-sharks; most of them were nothing of the sort. It was but natural that they felt with extreme bitterness that the Queen's Government only appeared on the scene as the friend and protector of the aborigines. For the Whites the Government had for years little but suspicion and restraint.

It would have been only just and statesmanlike if the recognition of Maori ownership had been accompanied by a vigorous policy of native land purchase by the authorities. But it was not. Captain Hobson was only scantily supplied with money—he had £60,000 sent him in three years—and did not himself appear to recognize the paramount need for endowing the Dominion with waste land for settlement. He is said to have held that there need be no hurry in the matter, inasmuch as the steady decrease of the Maori would of itself solve the problem. Over eighty years have passed since then, and the Maori race is by no means extinct. But Captain Hobson, though a conscientious and gallant man, was no more imbued with the colonizing spirit than might be expected of any honest English naval officer. Of such money as he had he wasted £15,000 at the outset in buying a site for a town in the Bay of Islands on a spot which he quickly had to abandon. Moreover, he was just what a man in his irksome and difficult position should not have been—an invalid. Within a few weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi he was stricken with paralysis. Instead of being relieved he was left to be worried slowly to death at his post. To have met the really great difficulties and the combination of petty annoyances which beset him, the new governor should have had the best of health and spirits. The complications around him grew daily more entangled. In the north the excellent settlers, who with their children were to make the province page 148 of Auckland what it is, were scarcely even beginning to arrive. The Whites of his day there were what tradesmen call a job lot. There were the old Alsatian; the new speculator; genuine colonists, rari nantes; a coterie of officials and the missionaries, regarding all with distrust. The whole barely numbered two thousand. Confronting the Whites were the native tribes, who, if united and irritated, could have swept all before them. Hobson, a man accustomed to command rather than to manage, was instructed to control the Maori by moral suasion. He was to respect their institutions and customs when these were consistent with humanity and decency, otherwise not. How in the last resort he was to stamp out inhuman and indecent customs was left unexplained, though he asked for an explanation. Certainly not by force; for it would have been flattery to apply such a term to the tiny handful of armed men at his back. Troops were not sent until the war of 1844. During the five years after that the defence of New Zealand probably cost the Imperial Government a round million, the result of the starving policy of the first five years.

Moreover, for the reasons already sketched, the English in New Zealand formed a house divided against itself. The differences in the north between Maori officials, Alsatians of the old school, and settlers of the new, were sufficient to supply the Governor with a daily dish of annoyance. But the main colony of New Zealand was not in the north round Governor Hobson, but in Cook's Straits. There was to be found daily increasing the large and antagonistic element being brought in by the New Zealand Company. With an energy quite unchecked by any knowledge of the real condition of New Zealand, the directors of the Company in London kept on sending out ship-load after ship-load of emigrants to the districts around Cook's Straits. The centre of their operations was Port Nicholson, but bodies of their settlers were planted at Wanganui, at the mouth of the fine river described in the first chapter; at New Plymouth, hard by the Sugar-Loaves, in devastated, almost empty Taranaki; and at pleasant but circumscribed Nelson in the South Island. Soon these numbered five times as many Whites as could be mustered in the north. Upon them at the very outset came the thunderbolt page 149 of Governor Hobson's proclamation refusing recognition to their land purchases. Of this and of the land clause in the Treaty of Waitangi the natives were made fully aware by the missionaries. Rauparaha, before told of and still the most influential chief near Cook's Straits, was exactly the man to take advantage of the situation. He had taken the muskets and gunpowder of the Company, and was now only too pleased to refuse them the price they thought to receive. It was, as already said, impossible to justify all, or nearly all, of Colonel Wakefield's gigantic purchase. But it was certainly incumbent on the Government to find a modus vivendi with the least possible delay. On the one hand they had thousands of decent, intelligent English colonists newly landed in a savage country, and not in any way responsible for the Company's haste and ignorance. The settlers at any rate had paid ample value for their land. They had given £1 for each acre of it. Angry as the English Government had been with the New Zealand Company for the defiant dispatch of its settlers, Lord John Russell had instructed Hobson's superior, Sir George Gibbs, that the emigrants should be regarded with kindness and consideration. On the other side were the native tribes, who, as the price of land went in those days, had certainly received the equivalent for a considerable territory. There was room for an equitable arrangement, just as there was most pressing need for promptitude. Speed was the first thing needful, also the second, and the third. Instead of speed the settlers got a Royal Commission. A Commissioner was appointed, who did not arrive until two years after the Governor, and whose final award was not given for many months more. When he did give it, he cut down the Company's purchase of twenty million acres to two hundred and eighty-three thousand. As for land-claims of private persons, many of them became the subjects of litigation and petition, and some were not settled for twenty years. Why three or four Commissioners were not sent instead of one, and sent sooner, the official mind alone knows. Meantime, the weary months dragged on, and the unfortunate settlers of the Company were either not put in possession of their land at all, or had as little security for their farms as for their lives. They were not allowed to form volunteer corps, though living in face of page 150 erocious and well-armed savages. Yet the Governor who forbade them to take means to defend themselves had not the troops with which to defend them. To show the state of the country it may be noted that the two tribes from whom Colonel Wakefield bought the land round Port Nicholson quarrelled amongst themselves over the sale. The Ngati-raukawa treacherously attacked the Ngatiawa, were soundly beaten, and lost seventy men. At first, it is true, settlers and natives got on excellently well together. The new-comers had money, and were good customers. But as time went on, and the settlers exhausted their funds and hopes, they ceased to be able to buy freely. And when they found the Maori refusing to admit them to the farms for which they had paid £1 an acre in London, feeling grew more and more acute. The Company's settlement at Port Nicholson was perversely planted just on that place in the inner harbour which is exposed to the force of the ocean. It had to be shifted to a more sheltered spot, and this the natives denied they ever sold. That was but one of a series of disputes which led to murder and petty warfare, and were hardly at an end seven years later. The settlers, though shut out of the back country, did, however, hold the townland on which they had squatted and which is now the site of Wellington, the capital of the Dominion.

Cooped up in their narrow plots by the sea, Colonel Wakefield and his settlers established a provisional Government. Captain Hobson, hearing probably some very exaggerated account of this, sent down his Lieutenant, Mr. Willoughby Shortland, in a Government vessel, with sailors and marines, to put down this act of insubordination. Mr. Shortland, who suffered from the not uncommon failing of a desire to magnify his office, made the process as ridiculous as possible. He began by stealthily sending a scout on shore at daybreak to haul down the Company's flag in Wellington and hoist the Union Jack instead. Then he landed amongst the settlers, who had gathered to welcome him, in the fashion of a royal commander sent to suppress a rebellion. The settlers consoled themselves by laughing at him. Apart from one circular visit occupying two months, Captain Hobson himself kept sedulously away from the southern settlements, and stayed page 151 in the north, then a longer journey away from Wellington than Australia is now. Under the rather high-sounding title of Chief Protector of the Aborigines, Mr. Clarke, a missionary, was appointed to be the Governor's adviser on native matters; yet Mr. Clarke, the settlers complained, was a larger land claimant than any of themselves. It is not to be wondered at if a feeling grew up among the New Zealand settlers directed against both officials and missionaries, which at times intensified to great bitterness, and which took many years to die down. Fifty years later its faint relics might be observed in a vague feeling of dislike and contempt for the Colonial Office.

The New Zealand Company, however, cannot be acquitted of blame in more respects than one. The foundation of the Wakefield theory rested on a secure supply of useful land. This not available, the bottom dropped out of the whole scheme When the Company's estate in New Zealand was put into chancery, the Wakefield system could not, of course, work. Not only were the Company's purchases such as could not be sustained, not only did the directors hurry out thousands of settlers without proper knowledge or consideration, but they also committed a capital error in their choice of localities for settlements. Wellington, with its central position and magnificent harbour, is undeniably the key of the Islands. It was in after years very properly made the seat of government, and is always likely to remain so. But it was an almost criminal error on the part of the Company to plump down its settlers in districts that were occupied and certain to be stubbornly held by warlike natives. Nearly the whole of the South Island had no human occupants. Shut off by the Kaikoura mountains from the more dangerous tribes, the east and south-east of that island lay open to the first comer. Moreover, the country there was not only fertile, but in large part treeless, and therefore singularly suited for rapid and profitable settlement. It is quite easy to see now that had the New Zealand Company begun its first operations there, a host of failures and troubles would have been avoided. The settlement of the North Island should not have been begun until after an understanding had been come to with the Imperial authorities and missionaries, and on a proper page 152 and legal system of land purchase. This and other things the Company might have found out if it had taken early steps to do so. The truth is that the first occupation of New Zealand was rushed, and, like everything else that is done in a hurry, it was in part done very badly.

So little was known or thought of the South Island that sovereignty was not proclaimed over it until four months after the Governor's arrival in the north, and even then the royal flag was not hoisted there. The consequence was a narrow escape from an attempt by the French to plant a colony at Akaroa in Banks's Peninsula. The French frigate L'Aube put in at the Bay of Islands in July 1840, bound for the south. Her captain, hospitably entertained by Hobson, let fall some incautious words about the object of his voyage. Hobson took the alarm, and promptly dispatched the Britomart to hoist the English flag at Akaroa. Thanks to bad weather, the Britomart only reached the threatened port a few days before the Frenchmen. Then it was found that an emigrant ship, with a number of French settlers, was coming with all the constituent parts of a small colony. The captain of L'Aube, finding himself forestalled, good-humouredly made the best of it. A number of the immigrants did indeed land. Some of them were afterwards taken away to the Marquesas Islands in the South Seas: others remained permanently settled at Akaroa. There around a bay, still called French Bay, they planted vineyards and built cottages in a fashion having some pathetic reminiscences of rural France. There they used to be visited from time to time by French men-of-war; but they gave no trouble to anyone, and their children, by removal or intermarriage, became blended with the English population which in later days surrounded them.

Captain Hobson had to choose a capital. After throwing away much good money at Russell in the Bay of Islands, he saw that he must come further south. A broader-minded man might have gone at once to Wellington, and planted himself boldly amongst the English settlers. But the prejudice of the officials and the advice of the missionaries combined with Hobson's own peculiar views of the Cook's Straits colonists to keep him in the north. From his dispatches it is clear that he regarded the immigrants in the south—one of the finest page 153 bodies of settlers that ever left England—as dangerous malcontents of anarchical tendencies. As he would not go to Wellington and take his natural position at the head of the main English Colony and at the centre of New Zealand, he did the next best thing in going to Auckland. In pitching upon the Waitemata isthmus he made so good a choice that his name is likely to be remembered therefore as long as New Zealand lasts. By founding the city of Auckland he took up a strategic position which cut the Maori tribes almost in half, and selected a very fine natural trading centre. The narrow neck of land on which Auckland stands, between the winding Waitemata on the east and the broader Manukau Harbour on the west, will, before many years, be overspread from side to side by a great mercantile city. The unerring eye of Captain Cook had, seventy years before, noted the Hauraki Gulf as an admirable position. Hobson's advisers, in choosing it as his seat of government, are said to have been the missionary, Henry Williams, and Captain Symonds, a surveyor. As the capital of the Colony, it was the wrong place from the first. From every other standpoint the selection was a master-stroke. Twenty-four years later Auckland ceased to be the capital of the Colony; but though in this she had to yield to the superior claims of Wellington, she could afford to lose the privilege. First in size and beauty, she is to-day second to no other New Zealand city in prosperity and progress.

In 1841, however, by way of making as bad a start as possible, little Auckland began with a land boom. Forty-four acres were sold at auction by the Government for £24,275. Small suburban lots a few months later fetched £45 an acre, and cultivation lots £8 an acre. For one or two picked city frontages as much as £7 10s. a foot was paid. The hanging up of the northern land claims, and the inability of the Government to buy native land while it refused to let private persons do so, joined, with a trade collapse in Australia, to make the condition of the Auckland settlers soon almost as unenviable as that of their fellow-colonists in the Company's settlements.

Governor Hobson died at Auckland after ruling New Zealand for a little less than three years. His best monument is the city which he founded, and the most memorable verdict page 154 on his life is written in a letter addressed by a Maori chief to the Queen. “Let not,” said this petition, “the new Governor be a boy or one puffed up. Let not a troubler come amongst us. Let him be a good man like this Governor who has just died.” When these words were written, the judgment of the English in New Zealand would have been very different. But time has vindicated Hobson's honesty and courage, and in some important respects even his discernment. He anticipated the French, baffled the land-sharks, kept the peace, was generous to the Maori, and founded Auckland. No bad record this for the harassed, dying sailor, sent to stand between his own countrymen and savages at the very end of the earth, and left almost without men or money! If under him the colonists found their lot almost unbearable, the fault was chiefly that of his masters. Most of his impolicy came from Downing Street; most of his good deeds were his own. It must be remembered that he was sent to New Zealand, not to push on settlement, but to protect the natives and assert the Queen's authority. An English sailor, he did his duty.1

1 In 1916 New Zealand soldiers inhabited as portion of their Soldiers' Club in London the house in Russell Square in which Governor Hobson's daughter had lived for many years. She had died a few months before, and her husband, Sir Alexander Rendell, gladly gave his house to the New Zealanders free of rent.