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The Long White Cloud

Chapter XI — Through Weakness into War

page 155

Chapter XI
Through Weakness into War

A while he makes some false way, undebarred
By thwarting signs, and braves
The freshening wind and blackening waves,
And then the tempest strikes him.

In 1842 it took eight months before an official, when writing from New Zealand to England, could hope to get an answer. The time was far distant when the results of a cricket match in the southern hemisphere could be proclaimed in the streets of London before noon on the day of play. It was not therefore surprising that Hobson's successor did not reach the Dominion for more than a year after his death. Meantime the Government was carried on by Mr. Secretary Shortland, not the ablest of his officials. He soon very nearly blundered into war with the Maori, some of whom had been killing and eating certain of another tribe—the last recorded instance of cannibalism in the country. The Acting-Governor was, however, held back by Bishop Selwyn, Chief Justice Martin, and Swainson the Attorney-General, a trio of whom more will be said hereafter. The two former walked on foot through the disturbed district, in peril but unharmed, to proffer their good advice. The Attorney-General advised that what the Acting-Governor contemplated was ultra vires, an opinion so palpably and daringly wrong that some have thought it a desperate device to save the country. He contended that as the culprits in the case were not among the chiefs who had signed the Treaty of Waitangi they were not subject to the law or sovereignty of England. Though it is said that Dr. Phillimore held the same opinion, the Colonial Office put its foot upon it heavily and at once. Her Majesty's rule, said Lord Stanley, having once been pro- page 156 claimed over all New Zealand, it did not lie with one of her officers to impugn the validity of her government.

Mr. Shortland's day was a time of trial for the land claimants. After nearly two years' delay Mr. Spain, the Commissioner for the trial of the New Zealand Company's claims, had landed in Wellington in December 1841, and had got to work in the following year. As the southern purchases alone gave him work enough for three men, Messrs. Richmond and Godfrey were appointed to hear the Auckland cases. By the middle of 1843 they had disposed of more than half of 1,037 claims. Very remorselessly did they cut them down. A well-known missionary who had taken over a block of 50,000 acres to prevent two tribes going to war about it was allowed to keep 3,000 acres only. At Hokianga a purchaser who claimed to have bought 1,500 acres for £24 was awarded 96 acres. When we remember that among the demands of the greater land-sharks of the Dominion had been three for more than a million acres each, three for more than half a million each, and three for more than a quarter of a million each, we can appreciate what the early Governors and their Commissioners had to face. The Old Land Claims, now and afterwards looked into, covered some eleven million acres. Of these a little less than one twenty-second part was held to have passed from the natives, and was divided between the Crown and the claimants. A number of the Church of England missionaries had to go through the ordeal with the rest. Some twenty-four of these, together with members of their families, had, between 1830 and 1834, bought about 216,000 acres of land from the natives. The Commissioners cut down this purchase to about 66,000 acres. Even then there was some litigation and much bitterness. Some of the very missionaries who had been most prominent in thwarting and denouncing the land purchases of the New Zealand Company were themselves purchasers of land. As may be imagined, the criticisms directed at them were savage, noisy, and often unjust and exaggerated. Years afterwards Governor Grey became involved in this miserable controversy, which only slowly died away when he passed ordinances that did much to settle doubtful and disputed claims.

Not all the missionaries laid themselves open to these page 157 attacks. Neither Hadfield, Maunsell, nor the printer Colenso were amongst the land-buyers, and the same honourable self-denial was shown by all the Catholic missionaries and by all the Wesleyans but two. Nor were the lay land-claimants always ravenous. Maning, the Pakeha Maori, had paid £222 for his 200 acres at Hokianga. At Tauranga £50 had been given for a building site fifty feet square, in a pa. At Rotorua the price given for half an acre had been £12 10s. Many of the most monstrous claims, it may be noted, were never brought into court.

In the Cook's Straits settlements Mr. Spain strove to do equity. The very sensible plan was adopted of allowing the Company to make some of their incomplete purchases good by additional payments. But this, which might have brought about a tolerable adjustment in 1840, led to little but delays and recriminations in 1843. After three years of stagnation the Company was as exasperated and impecunious as the settlers. The positions of Colonel Wakefield in Wellington, and his brother and fellow-agent, Arthur Wakefield, in Nelson, were almost unbearable. It is hardly to be wondered at that the latter, in June 1843, committed the very great mistake which led to the one misfortune from which the unhappy Dominion had so far escaped—war.

In the north-east corner of the South Island lies the grassy valley of the Wairau. Rich in alluvial soil, open and attractive to the eye, and near the sea, it wanted only greater extent to be one of the finest districts in the Islands. The Company claimed to have bought it from Rauparaha and Rangihaeata, whose ownership—for they did not live in it—was based on recent conquest and on occupation by some members of their tribe. The chiefs denied the sale, and, when the Company's surveyors came into the valley, warned them off, and burned down the huts they had put up. Commissioner Spain was coming almost at once to try the dispute as to the title. But the delays and vexations of the previous years had infuriated Captain Wakefield. He looked upon the chiefs as a pair of “travelling bullies” who wanted but firmness to cow them With hasty hardihood he obtained a warrant for the arrest of Rauparaha on a charge of arson, and set out to arrest him, accompanied by the Nelson police magistrate, at the head of page 158 a posse of some fifty Nelson settlers very badly equipped. Rauparaha, surrounded by his armed followers, was found in a small clearing backed by a patch of bush, his front covered by a narrow but deep creek. The leaders of the arresting party crossed this, and called on the chief to give himself up. Of course he defied them. After an argument the police magistrate, an excitable man, made as though to arrest him. There was a scuffle; a gun went off, and in the conflict which followed the undisciplined settlers, fired upon by hidden natives, and divided by the stream, became panic-stricken, and retreated in confusion, despite Wakefield's appeals and entreaties to them to stand. As he could do nothing with them, Wakefield held up a white handerkerchief, and with four gentlemen and four labourers gave himself up to Rauparaha. But Rangihaeata had a blood-feud with the English. A woman-servant of his—not his wife—had been accidentally shot in the fray. Moreover, some time before, another woman, a relative of his, had been murdered by a White, who, when tried in the Supreme Court, had been acquitted. Now was the hour for vengeance. Coming up wild with rage, Rangihaeata fell upon the unresisting prisoners and tomahawked them all. Captain Wakefield, thus untimely slain, was not only an able pioneer leader, but a brave man of high worth, of singularly fine and winning character, and one of whom those who knew him spoke with a kind of enthusiasm. Twenty-two settlers in all were killed that day and five wounded. The natives, superior in numbers, arms, and position, had lost only four killed and eight wounded. So easily was the first tussle between Maori and settler won by the natives. In the opinion of some the worst feature of the whole unhappy affair was that something very like cowardice had been shown on the losing side. Naturally the Wairau Massacre, as it was called, gave a shock to the young Dominion. The Maori triumphantly declared that the mana (prestige) of the English was gone.

A Wesleyan missionary and a party of whalers buried the dead. No attempt was ever made to revenge them. Commissioner Spain visited Rauparaha, at the request of the leading settlers of Wellington, to assure him that the matter should be left to the arbitrament of the Crown. The Crown, as page 159 represented by Mr. Shortland, was, perhaps, at the moment more concerned at the defenceless position of Auckland, in the event of a general rising, than at anything else. Moreover, the philo-Maori officials held that Rauparaha and Rangihaeata were aggrieved persons. A company of fifty-three Grenadiers was sent to Wellington and a man-of-war to Nelson. Strict orders were given to the disgusted settlers not to meet and drill. On the whole, in the helpless state of the Colony, inaction was wisest. At any rate Mr. Shortland's successor was on his way out, and there was reason in waiting for him. Now had come the result of Hobson's error in fixing the seat of government in Auckland, and in keeping the leading officials there. Had Wellington been the seat of government in 1843, the Wairau incident could hardly have occurred.

Not the least of poor Mr. Shortland's troubles were financial. He inherited debts from his predecessor. Indeed, the New Zealand Treasury may be said to have been cradled in deficits. In 1841 Hobson's expenditure had been £81,000 against a revenue of £37,000, most of which was the product of land sales. In 1842 the revenue was £50,000, of which only £11,000 came from land sales; and in 1843 this source of income fell to £1,600. The southern settlers complained, truly enough, that whilst they found much of the money, nearly all of it was spent in Auckland. In 1844—if I may anticipate—Mr. Shortland's successor had the melancholy duty of warning the Colonial Office that to meet an inevitable outlay of £35,000 he could at the best hope for a revenue of £20,000. Mr. Shortland himself, in 1843, tried to replenish the treasury chest by borrowing £15,000 in Sydney. But New Zealand, which has borrowed many times that sum at about three per cent, interest, could not then raise the money at fifteen per cent. Mr. Shortland next drew bills on the English treasury, which were dishonoured, though the Mother-country afterwards relented so far as to lend the sum, adding it to the public debt of the Colony. Finally, the Governor, who on arrival superseded Mr. Shortland, made a beginning by publicly insulting that gentleman. With proper spirit the Secretary at once resigned, and was sent by Downing Street to govern a small island in the West Indies.

If neither Captain Hobson nor Mr. Shortland found official page 160 life in New Zealand otherwise than thorny, their career was smooth and prosperous compared to that of the Governor who now appears on the scene. Admiral —then Captain —Robert Fitzroy will have a kind of immortality as the commander of the Beagle—Darwin's Beagle. His scientific work as a hydrographer at the Admiralty is still spoken of in high terms. He was unquestionably a well-meaning sailor. But his short career in New Zealand is an awful example of the evils which the Colonial Office can inflict on a distant part of the Empire by a bad appointment. It is true that, like his predecessors, Fitzroy was not fairly supported by the authorities at home. They supplied him with neither men nor money, and on them therefore the chief responsibility of the Colony's troubles rest. But a study of his two years of rule fails to reveal any pitfall in his pathway into which he did not straightway stumble.

Captain Fitzroy was one of those fretful and excitable beings whose manner sets plain men against them, and who, when they are not in error, seem so. Often wrong, occasionally right, he possessed in perfection the unhappy art of doing the right thing in the wrong way. Restless and irascible, passing from self-confidence to gloom, he would find relief for nerve tension in a peevishness which was the last quality one in his difficult position should have shown. An autocratic official amid little rough, dissatisfied communities of hard-headed pioneers was a king with no divinity to hedge him round. Without pomp, almost without privacy, everything he said or did became the property of local gossips. A ruler so placed must have natural dignity, and requires self-command above all things. That was just the quality Captain Fitzroy had not. It was said that the blood of a Stuart king ran in his veins; and, indeed, there seemed to be about the tall, thin, melancholy man something of the bad luck, as well as the hopeless wrong-headedness, of that unteachable House.

For he landed at Auckland in November 1843, to find an ample legacy of trouble awaiting him. The loyal and patriotic address with which the Aucklanders welcomed him was such as few Viceroys have been condemned to receive at the outset of their term of office. It did not mince matters. It described the community as bankrupt, and ascribed its fate to the mistakes and errors of the Government. At New Plymouth


page 161 a similar address declared that the settlers were menaced with irretrievable ruin. Kororareka echoed the wail. Nor was the welcome of Wellington one whit more cheerful—a past of bungling, a present of stagnation, a future of danger: such was the picture it drew. It was not much exaggerated. On the coasts of New Zealand some twelve thousand colonists were divided into eight settlements, varying in population from 4,000 at Wellington to 200 at Akaroa. Not one of them was defensible in military eyes. There were no troops, no militia, no money. Neither at Wellington nor Nelson had more than one thousand acres of land been cleared and cultivated. Labourers were riotously clamouring for work or rations. Within fifty miles of Wellington was Rauparaha, who, had he appealed to his race, could probably have mustered a force strong enough to loot and burn the town. Some wondered why he did not; perhaps Hadfield's influence amongst his tribe supplied the answer.

Governor Fitzroy began at his first levée at Wellington by scolding the settlers, inveighing against the local newspaper, and grossly insulting Gibbon Wakefield's son when he was presented to him. At Nelson he rated the Magistrates after such a fashion that they threw up their commissions. He then went to Rauparaha's pa at Waikanae, near Kapiti. A dozen Whites were with the Governor; five hundred Maori surrounded the chief. After lecturing the latter for the slaughter of the captives at Wairau, Fitzroy informed him that, as the slain men had been the aggressors, he was to be freely forgiven. Only one utterly ignorant of the Maori character could have fancied that this exaggerated clemency would be put down to anything but weakness. Even some missionaries thought that compensation should have been demanded for the death of the prisoners. As for the settlers, their disgust was deep. Putting together the haste, violence, and want of dignity of his proceedings, they declared that the new Governor could not be master of his own actions. That Gibbon Wakefield's brother should have been savagely butchered and not avenged was bad enough; that his fellow-settlers should be rated for their share in the disaster seemed a thing not to be endured. The Maori grew insolent, the settlers sullen, and for years page 162 afterward a kind of petty warfare lingered on in the Wellington district.

Governor Fitzroy was no more successful in Taranaki. There the Company, after claiming the entire territory, had had their claim cut down by the Commissioners' award to 60,000 acres. Even this was now disputed, on the ground that it had been bought from a tribe—the Waikato—who had indeed conquered it, and carried away its owners as slaves, but had never taken possession of the soil by occupation. When Colonel Wakefield bought it, the land was virtually empty, and the few score of natives living at the Sugar-Loaves sold their interest to him readily enough. But when the enslaved Ngatiawa and Taranaki tribesmen were soon afterwards released through the influence of Christianity, they returned to the desolated land, and disputed the claim of the Company. Moreover, there were the Ngatiawa, who, led by Wiremu Kingi, had migrated to Cook's Straits in the days of devastation. They claimed not only their new possessions—much of which they sold to the Company—but their old tribal lands at Waitara, from which they had fled, but to which some of them now straggled back. On this nice point Captain Fitzroy had to adjudicate. He decided that the returned slaves and Ngatiawa fugitives were the true owners of the land. Instead of paying them fairly for the 60,000 acres—which they did not require—he handed the bulk of it back to them, penning the unhappy White settlers up in a miserable strip of 3,200 acres. The result was the temporary ruin of the Taranaki settlement, and the sowing of the seeds of an intense feeling of resentment and injustice which bore evil fruit in later days.

Nor did Captain Fitzroy do any better with finance than in his land transactions. His very insufficient revenue was largely derived from Customs duties. Trade at the Bay of Islands had, by this time, greatly fallen away. Whalers and timber vessels no longer resorted there as in the good old Alsatian days. Both natives and settlers grumbled at the change, which they chose to attribute to the Government Customs duties. To conciliate them, the Governor abolished Customs duties at Kororáreka. Naturally a cry at once went up from other parts of the Dominion for a similar conces- page 163 sion. The unhappy Governor, endeavouring to please them all, like the donkey-owner in AEsop's Fables, abolished Customs duties everywhere. To take their place he devised an astounding combination of an income-tax and property-tax. Under this, not only would the rich plainly pay less in proportion than the poor, but a Government official drawing £600 a year, but owning no land, would pay just half the sum exacted from a settler who, having invested £1,000 in a farm, was struggling to make £200 a year thereby. The mere prospect of this crudity caused such a feeling in the Dominion that he was obliged to levy the Customs duties once more. His next error was the abandonment of the Government monopoly of land purchase from the Maori. As might be expected, the pressure upon all rulers in New Zealand to do this, and to allow private bargaining with the natives for land, has always been very strong, especially in the Auckland district. Repeated experience has, however, shown that the results are baneful to all concerned—demoralizing to the natives, and by no means always profitable to the White negotiators. When Fitzroy proclaimed that settlers might purchase land from the natives, he imposed a duty of ten shillings an acre upon each sale. Then, when this was bitterly complained of, he reduced the fee to one penny. Finally, he fell back on the desperate expedient of issuing paper money, a thing which he had no right to do. All these mistakes and others he managed to commit within two short years. Fortunately for the Colony, he, in some of them, flatly disregarded his instructions. The issue of paper money was one of the few blunders the full force of which Downing Street could apprehend. Hence his providential recall.

Before this reached him he had drifted into the last and worst of his misfortunes, an unsuccessful war, the direct result of the defeat at the Wairau and the weakness shown thereafter. It was not that he and his missionary advisers did not try hard enough to avert any conflict with the Maori. If conciliation pushed to the verge of submission could have kept the peace, it would have been kept. But conciliation, without firmness, will not impress barbarians. The Maori were far too acute to be impressed by the well-meaning, vacillating Governor. They set to work, instead, to impress him. They invited him to a page 164 huge banquet near Auckland, and danced a war-dance before their guest with the deliberate intention of overawing him. Indeed, the spectacle of fifteen hundred warriors, stripped, smeared with red ochre, stamping, swaying, leaping, uttering deep guttural shouts, and brandishing their muskets while their wild rhythmic songs rose up in perfect time, and their tattooed features worked wildly, was calculated to affect even stronger nerves than the Governor's.

It was among the discontented tribes in the Bay of Islands, where Alsatia was now deserted by its roaring crews of whalers and cheated of its hoped-for capital, that the outbreak came.

In the winter of 1844 Honé Heké, son-in-law of the great Hongi, presuming on the weakness of the Government, swaggered into Kororáreka, plundered some of the houses, and cut down a flagstaff on the hill over the town on which the English flag was flying. Some White of the beach-comber species is said to have suggested the act to him by assuring him that the flagstaff represented the Queen's sovereignty—the evil influence which had drawn trade and money away to Auckland. Heké had no grievance whatever against the Government or colonists, but he and the younger braves of the Northern tribes had been heard to ask whether Rangihaeata was to do all the Pakeha-killing? At the moment Fitzroy had not two hundred soldiers in the country. He hurried up to the scene of disturbance. Luckily Heké's tribe—the Ngapuhi—were divided. Part, under Waka Nené, held with the English. Accepting Nené's advice, Fitzroy allowed Heké to pay ten muskets in compensation for the flagstaff, and then foolishly gave back the fine as a present and departed. Nené and the friendly chiefs undertook to keep peace, but failed, for Heké again cut down the flagstaff. This, of course, brought on war definitely. The famous flagstaff was re-erected, guarded by a block-house, and a party of soldiers and sailors were sent to garrison Kororáreka. As H.M.S. Hazard lay off the beach in the Bay and guns were mounted in three block-houses the place was expected to hold out. Heké, however, notified that he would take it—and did so. He marched against it with eight hundred men. One party attacked the flagstaff, another the town. The twenty defenders of the flagstaff were divided by a stratagem by which part were lured out to repel page 165 a feigned attack. In their absence the stockade was rushed, and, for the third time, the tlagstaff hewn down. During the attack the defenders of the town, however, under Captain Robertson, of the Hazard, stood their ground and repulsed a first attack. Even when Robertson fell, his thigh-bone shattered by a bullet, Lieutenant Philpotts, taking command, had the women and children sent safely on board the ships, and all was going well when the outnumbered garrison were paralysed by the blowing up of their powder magazine. The townsmen began to escape, and a council of war decided to abandon the place. This was done. Lovell, a gunner, would not leave his piece until he had spiked it, and was killed, but not before doing so. Bishop Selwyn, landing from his mission ship in the Bay, had been doing the work of ten in carrying off women and children and succouring the wounded, aided therein by Henry Williams. To Selwyn, as he toiled begrimed with smoke and sweat, came running a boy, young Nelson Hector, whose father, a lawyer, was in charge of a gun in position on one of the hillsides outside the town. The boy had stolen away unnoticed, and crept through the Maori to find out for his father how things stood. The bishop offered to take him on board with the women, but the youngster scouted the notion of leaving his father. “God bless you, my boy!” said the big-hearted Selwyn; “I have nothing to say against it”; and the lad running off, got back safely. Out in the Bay the American corvette St. Louis lay at anchor. Her men were keen to be allowed to “bear a hand” in the defence. Though this could not be, her captain sent boats through the fire while it was still hot to bring off the women and children, and gave them shelter on board. The scene became extraordinary. The victorious Maori, streaming gleefully into the town, began to plunder in the best of good tempers. Some of the townspeople went about saving such of their goods as they could without molestation, indeed, with occasional help from the Maori, who considered there was enough for all. Presently a house caught fire, the flames spread, and the glowing blaze, the volumes of smoke, and the roar of the burning under the red-lit sky gave a touch of dignity to the end of wicked little Kororáreka.

Loaded with booty, Heké's men went off inland in high page 166 spirits. Three vessels crowded with the rained Alsatians sailed to Auckland, where for a while the astonished people expected nightly to be roused from their beds by the yells of Ngapuhi warriors. Our loss had been thirty-one killed and wounded, and it was small consolation to know that, thanks to +he ship's guns, the Maori's had been three times as great. The disaster was a greater blow to the English mana than even the Wairau Massacre. But the settlements showed spirit everywhere, and under the stress of the time the Governor forgot some of his prejudices. Even those much-suspected people, the Wellington settlers, were allowed to form themselves into a militia at last.

Thanks to the divisions among the Ngapuhi, Heké did not follow up his victory. Troops were procured from Sydney, but they had no artillery. The natives relied on their pa or stockades. These, skilfully constructed by means of double or triple rows of heavy palisades, masked by flax and divided by shallow ditches which did duty for rifle-pits, could not be carried without being breached by cannon. A fruitless attack upon one of them soon demonstrated this. The pa, called Okaihau, though strong in front, was weak in the rear. Four hundred soldiers, supported by as many Ngapuhi friendlies under Waka Nené, marched against it. Fruitlessly Nené advised the English colonel to assail the place from behind. The Colonel, who had seen Nené yelling in a war-dance, and looked upon him as a degraded savage, approached the front where Okaihau was really strong. As he had no guns he tried the effect of rockets, but, though terrified by the strange fire, the defenders gained heart when they found that the rockets hit nothing. They even charged the English in the open with long-handled tomahawks, and only fell back before a bayonet charge in regular form. After skirmishing all day and losing fifty-four in killed and wounded with but negative results, the English retreated to Auckland to request artillery. Waka Nené carried on the fighting on his own account, and in a skirmish with him Heké was badly wounded. Guns were fetched from Australia, and Heké's men were brought to bay at their principal pa, Ohaeawai. Colonel Despard commanded the besiegers, who outnumbered the defenders by more than three to one. After bombarding the palisades for some days, page 167 the colonel, in defiance of the advice of his artillery officer —who declared there was no practicable breach—ordered an assault. Two hundred soldiers and sailors were told off for the duty, and at four o'clock on a pleasant, sunny afternoon they charged up a gentle, open slope to the simple-looking stockade. Only two or three got inside. In a quarter of an hour half the force were shot down, and the survivors only saved by the bugle-call which Despard ordered to be sounded. Forty, including a captain and two lieutenants, were killed on the spot or died of their wounds. Sixty-two others were wounded. Gallant Lieutenant Philpotts, the first through the stockade, lay dead, sword in hand, inside the pa. At the outset of the war he had been captured by the natives whilst scouting, and let go unharmed with advice to take more care in future. Through no fault of his own he had lost Kororáreka. Stung by this, or, as some say, by a taunt of Despard's, he led the way at Ohaewai with utterly reckless courage, and, to the regret of the brave Brown men, his enemies, was shot at close quarters by a mere boy. The wounded could not be removed for two days. During the night the triumphant Maori shouted and danced their war-dance. They tortured—with burning kauri gum—an unfortunate soldier whom they had captured alive, and whose screams could be plainly heard in the English camp. Despard, whose artillery ammunition had run short, remained watching the pa for several days. But when he was in a position to renew his bombardment, the natives quietly abandoned the place by night, without loss. According to their notions of warfare, such a withdrawal was not a defeat.

Such are the facts of one of the worst repulses sustained by our arms in New Zealand. It will scarcely be believed that after this humiliation Captain Fitzroy, on missionary advice, endeavoured to make peace—of course, without avail. Heké became a hero in the eyes of his race. The news of Ohaeawai reached England, and the Duke of Wellington's language about Colonel Despard is said to have been pointed. But already the Colonial Office had made up its mind for a change in New Zealand. Fitzroy was recalled, and Captain Grey, the Governor of South Australia, whose sense and determination had lifted that Colony out of the mire, was wisely selected to succeed him.