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The Long White Cloud

Chapter VIII — “A Man-of-war without Guns”

page 127

Chapter VIII
A Man-of-war without Guns

Under his office treason was no crime;
The sons of Belial had a glorious time.


Between 1830 and 1840, then, New Zealand had drifted into a new phase of existence. Instead of being an unknown land, peopled by ferocious cannibals, to whose shores ship-captains gave as wide a berth as possible, she was now a country with a White element and a constant trade. Missionaries were labouring along the coasts and in many districts of the interior, and, as the decade neared its end, a large minority of the natives were being brought under the influence of Christianity. The tribal wars were dying down. Partly, this was a peace of exhaustion, in some districts of solitude; partly, it was the outcome of the havoc wrought by the musket, and the growing fear thereof. Nearly all the tribes had now obtained firearms. A war had ceased to be an agreeable shooting-party for some one chief with an unfair advantage over his rivals. A balance of power, or at any rate an equality of risk, made for peace. But it would be unjust to overlook the missionaries' share in bringing about comparative tranquillity. Throughout all the wars of the musket, and the dread slaughter and confusion they brought about, most of the teachers held on. They laboured for peace, and at length those to whom they spoke began to cease to make themselves ready unto the battle. In the worst of times no missionary's life was taken. The Wesleyans at Whangaroa did indeed, in 1827, lose all but life. But the sack of their station was but an instance of the law of muru. Missionaries were then regarded as Hongi's dependants. When he was wounded they were plundered, as he himself page 128 was more than once when misfortune befell him. In the wars of Te Waharoa, the mission-stations of Rotorua and Mata-mata were stripped, but no blood was shed. The Wesleyans set up again at Hokianga. Everywhere the teachers were allowed to preach, to intercede, to protest. At last, in 1838, the extraordinary spectacle was seen of Rauparaha's son going from Kapiti to the Bay of Islands to beg that a teacher might come to his father's tribe; and accordingly, in 1839, Octavius Hadfield, afterwards primate, took his life in his hand and his post at a spot on the mainland opposite to the elder Rauparaha's island den of rapine. By 1840 the Maori, if they had not beaten their spears into pruning hooks, had more than one old gun-barrel hung up at the gable-end of a meeting-house to serve when beaten upon as a gong for church-goers.1

By this time there were in the islands perhaps two thousand Whites, made up of four classes—first, the missionaries; second, the Pakeha Maori; third, the whalers and sealers chiefly found in the South Island; and fourth, the traders and nondescripts settled in the Bay of Islands. Of the last-named beautiful haven it was truly said that every prospect pleased, that only man was vile, and that he was very vile indeed. On one of its beaches, Kororáreka—now called Russell—formed a sort of Alsatia. As many as a thousand Whites lived there at times. On one occasion thirty-five large whaling ships were counted as they lay off its beach in the bay. The crews of these found among the rum-shops and Maori houris of Kororáreka a veritable South Sea Island paradise. The Maori chiefs of the neighbourhood shared their orgies, pandered to their vices, and grew rich thereby. An occasional murder reminded the Whites that Maori forbearance was limited.

But even Kororáreka drew the line. In 1827 a brig, the Wellington, arrived in the bay in the hands of a gang of convicts, who had preferred the chances of mutiny to the certainties of Norfolk Island. Forthwith Alsatia was up in arms for Society, and a triple alliance of missionaries, grog-sellers, and cannibals combined to intercept the runaways. The ship's guns of the whalers drove the convicts to take refuge page 129 on shore, where the Maori promptly secured them. The captives were duly sent to their fate in Sydney, and the services of the New Zealanders gratefully requited by an official payment at the rate of a musket per convict.

Alsatia had its civil wars. In 1831 a whaling-captain deserted the daughter of a chief in the neighbourhood in order to take to himself another chief's daughter, also of a tribe by the Bay. The tribe of the deserted woman attacked that of the favoured damsel. A village was burnt, a benevolent mediator shot, and a hundred lives lost. Only the arrival on the scene of Marsden, on one of his visits to the country, restored peace. So outrageous were the scenes in the Bay that its own people had to organize some sort of government. This took the form of a vigilance committee, each member of which came to its meetings armed with musket and cutlass. Their tribunal was, of course, that of Judge Lynch. They arrested certain of the most unbearable offenders, tarred and feathered them, and drummed them out of the township. When feathers were lacking for the decoration, the white fluff of the native bulrush made a handy substitute. In the absence of a gaol, the Vigilants were known to keep a culprit in duress by shutting him up for the night in a sea-chest, ventilated by means of gimlet-holes.

They were not, however, the only representatives of law and order in New Zealand. The British authorities in New South Wales had all along, perforce, been keeping their eye on this troublesome archipelago in the south-east. In 1813 Governor Macquarie made Sydney shipmasters sailing for the country give bonds for a thousand pounds not to kidnap Maori men, take the women on board their vessels, or meddle with burying-grounds. In 1814 he appointed the chiefs Hongi and Koro Koro, and the missionary Kendall, to act as magistrates in the Bay of Islands. Possibly the two first-named magistrates were thus honoured to induce them not to eat the third. No other advantage was gained by the step. A statute was passed in England in 1817 authorizing the trial and punishment of persons guilty of murder and other crimes in certain savage and disturbed countries, amongst which were specified New Zealand, Otaheite, and Honduras. Two others, in 1823 and 1828, gave the Australian courts jurisdiction over page 130 Whites in New Zealand. One White ruffian was actually arrested in New Zealand, taken back to Sydney, and executed. But this act of vigour did not come till the end of 1837. Then the crime punished was not one of the atrocities which for thirty years had made New Zealand a by-word. The criminal, Edward Doyle, paid the extreme penalty of the law for stealing in a dwelling in the Bay of Islands and “putting John Wright in bodily fear.” Governor Bourke issued a special proclamation expressing hope that Doyle's punishment would be a warning to evil-doers in New Zealand. Governor Darling, as already mentioned, prohibited the inhuman traffic in preserved and tattooed heads by attaching thereto a penalty of £40, coupled with exposure of the trader's name.

In England more than one influential believer in colonies had long been watching New Zealand. As early as 1825 a company was formed to purchase land and settle colonists in the North Island. This company's agent, Captain Herd, went so far as to buy land on the Hokianga Estuary, and conduct thither a party of settlers. One of the first experiences of the newcomers was, however, the sight of a native war-dance, the terrifying effects of which, added to more practical difficulties, caused most of them to fold their tents and depart to Australia. Thus for the first time did an English company lose £20,000 in a New Zealand venture. The statesmen of the period were against any such schemes. A deputation of the Friends of Colonization waited upon the Duke of Wellington to urge that New Zealand should be acquired and settled. The Duke, under the advice of the Church Missionary Society, flatly refused to think of such a thing. It was then that he made the historically noteworthy observation that, even supposing New Zealand were as valuable as the deputation made out, Great Britain had already colonies enough. When one reflects what the British Colonial Empire was then, and what it has since become, the remark is a memorable example of the absence of the imaginative quality in statesmen. But the Duke of Wellington was not by any means alone in a reluctance to annex New Zealand. In 1831 thirteen Maori chiefs, advised by missionaries, had petitioned for British protection, which had not been granted. The truth is, not only that the Empire seemed large enough to others besides page 131 the Duke, but that the missionaries stood in the way. As representing the most respectable and the only self-sacrificing element amongst those interested in the Islands, they were listened to. It would have been strange had it been otherwise. Nevertheless, the growing trade and the increasing number of unauthorized White settlers made it necessary that something should be done. Conseq+ently, in 1832, Lord Goderich sent to the Bay of Islands Mr. James Busby to reside there as British resident. He was paid a salary, and provided with £200 a year to distribute in presents to the native chiefs. He entered on his duties in 1833. He had no authority, and was not backed by any force. He was aptly nicknamed “a man-of-war without guns.” He presented the local chiefs with a national flag. Stars and stripes appeared in the design which the chiefs selected, thanks, says tradition, to the sinister suggestion of a Yankee whaling-skipper. H.M.S. Alligator signalized the hoisting of the ensign with a salute of twenty-one guns. After this impressive solemnity, Mr. Busby lived by the bay for six years. His career was a prolonged burlesque—a farce without laughter, played by a dull actor in serious earnest. Personally he went through as strange an experience as has often fallen to the lot of a British official. A man of genius might possibly have managed the inhabitants of his Alsatia. But Governments have no right to expect genius in unsupported officials—even when they pay them £300 a year. Mr. Busby was a well-meaning, small-minded person, anxious to justify his appointment. His Alsatians did not like him, and complained that his manners were exclusive and his wit caustic. Probably this meant nothing more than that he declined to join in their drinking-bouts. His life, however, had its own excitements. A chief whom he had offended tried to shoot him. Crouching one night in the verandah of the resident's cottage, he fired at the shadow of Mr. Busby's head as it appeared on the window-blind. As he merely hit the shadow, not the substance, the would-be assassin was not punished, but the better disposed Maori gave a piece of land as compensation—not to the injured Busby, but to his Government.

It has been well said of Mr. Busby that “his office resembled a didactic dispatch; it sounded well, and it did page 132 nothing else.” Nevertheless, New Zealand was in such a state that, from time to time, even the English Government had to do something, so urgent was the need for action. After dispatching their man-of-war without guns, they next year sent a man-of-war with guns. Nor did the captain of the Alligator confine himself to the harmless nonsense of saluting national flags. In 1834 the brig Harriet was wrecked on the coast of Taranaki. Her master, Guard, an ex-convict, made his way to Sydney, asserting that the Maori had flocked down after the wreck, and attacked and plundered the crew; had killed some, and held Guard's wife and children in captivity. As a matter of fact, it was the misconduct of his own men which had brought on the fighting, and even to his Sydney hearers it was obvious that his tale was not wholly true. But the main facts were correct. There had been a wreck and plunder; there were captives. The Alligator was at once sent with soldiers to the scene of the disaster to effect the rescue of the prisoners by friendly and pacific means. Arrived on the scene, the captain sent his only two interpreters on shore to negotiate. They were Guard himself and a lying billiard-marker from Kororáreka. They promised the natives ransom—a keg of gunpowder—if the captives were released, an offer which was at once accepted. They did not tell the captain of their promise, and he, most unwisely, refused to give the natives anything. All the captives were at once given up except the woman and the children, who were with-held, but kindly treated, while the natives awaited the promised payment. A chief who came down to the shore to negotiate with a boat's crew was seized, dragged on board, and so savagely mishandled that the ship's surgeon found ten wounds upon him. Yet he lived, and to get him back his tribe gave up Mrs. Guard and a child. The other child was withheld by another chief. Again a strong armed party was landed, and was peacefully met by the natives, who brought the child down, but still asked, naturally, for the stipulated ransom. The sailors and soldiers settled the matter by shooting down a chief, on whose shoulders the child was sitting, and firing right and left before the officers in charge could stop them. Next day these men made a football of the chief's head. Before departing the Alligator bombarded a pa, and her crew page 133 burnt villages and destroyed canoes and cultivations. If the man-of-war without guns was a figure of fun, the man-of-war with guns excited disgust by these doings even as far away as England. The whole proceeding was clumsy, cruel, and needless. A trifling ransom would have saved it all. The Maori tribal law under which wrecks were confiscated and castaways plundered was, of course, intolerable. Whites again and again suffered severely by it. But blundering and undisciplined violence and broken promises were not the arguments to employ against it. So long as England deliberately chose to leave the country in the hands of barbarians, barbaric customs had to be reckoned with.

From this discreditable business it is a relief to turn to Mr. Busby's bloodless puerilities. In 1835 he drew up a federal constitution for the Maori tribes, and induced thirty-five of the northern chiefs to accept it. This comical scheme would have provided a congress, legislation, magistrates, and other machinery of civilization for a race of savages still plunged in bloodshed and cut asunder by innumerable feuds and tribal divisions. A severe snubbing from Mr. Busby's official superiors in Australia was the only consequence of this attempt to federate man-eaters under parliamentary institutions.

The still-born constitution was Mr. Busby's proposed means of checkmating a rival. In the words of Governor Gipps, this “silly and unauthorized act was a paper pellet fired off” at the hero of an even more pretentious fiasco. An adventurer of French parentage, a certain Baron de Thierry, had proclaimed himself King of New Zealand, and through the agency of missionary Kendall bought, or imagined he bought—for thirty axes—40,000 acres of land from the natives. He landed at Hokianga with a retinue of ninety-three followers. The Maori of the neighbourhood gravely pointed out to him a plot of 300 acres, which was all they would acknowledge of his purchase. Unabashed, he established himself on a hill, and began the making of a carriage-road which was to cross the island. Quickly it was found that his pockets were empty. Laughed at by Whites and natives alike, he at once subsided into harmless obscurity, diversified by occasional “proclamations,” which a callous world allowed to drop unheeded.

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Yet this little burlesque was destined to have its share in hastening the appearance of England on the scene. Thierry had tried to enlist the sympathies of the French Government. So also had another Frenchman, Langlois, the captain of a whaling-ship, who professed to have bought 300,000 acres of land from the natives of Banks's Peninsula in the South Island. Partly owing to his exertions, a French company called “The Nanto-Bordelaise Company” was incorporated, the object of which was to found a French colony on the shores of the charming harbour of Akaroa, on the land said to have been purchased by Langlois. In this company Louis Philippe was a shareholder. In 1837, also, the Catholic missionary Pom-pallier was dispatched to New Zealand to labour among the Maori. Such were the sea-routes of that day that it took him some twelve months voyaging amid every kind of hardship and discomfort to reach his journey's end. In New Zealand the fact that he showed Thierry some consideration, and that he and his Catholic workers in the mission-field were not always on the best of terms with their Protestant competitors, aroused well-founded suspicions that the French had their eye upon New Zealand. The English missionaries were now on the horns of a dilemma. They did not want a colony, but if there was to be annexation, the English flag would, of course, be far preferable.

Moreover, a fresh influence had caused the plot to thicken, and was also making for annexation. This was the appearance on the scene of the “land-sharks”—shrewd adventurers, from Sydney and elsewhere, who had come to the conclusion that the colonization of New Zealand was near at hand, and were buying up preposterously large tracts of land on all sides. Most of the purchases were either altogether fictitious or else were imperfect and made for absurdly low prices. Many of the deeds of sale may be dismissed with the brief note, “no consideration specified”! A hundred acres were bought for a farthing. Boundaries were inserted after signature. Some land was bought several times over. No less than eight purchasers claimed the whole or part of Kapiti Island. The whole South Island was the subject of one professed sale by half a dozen natives in Sydney. Certain purchased blocks were airily defined by latitude and longitude. page 135 On the other hand, the Maori often played the game in quite the same spirit, selling land which they did not own, or had no power to dispose of, again and again. In some cases diamond cut diamond. In others both sides were playing a part, and neither cared for the land to pass. The land-shark wanted a claim with which to harass others; the Maori signed a worthless document on receipt of a few goods. By 1840 it was estimated that, outside the sweeping claim on the South Island, 26,000,000 acres, or more than a third of the area of New Zealand, was supposed to have been gobbled up piecemeal by the land-sharks. The claims arising out of these transactions were certain at the best to cause confusion, ill-feeling, and trouble, and indeed did so. Some legally constituted authority was clearly wanted to deal with them, otherwise armed strife between the warlike Maori and adventurers claiming their lands was inevitable. Before Marsden's death in 1838 both he and his ablest lieutenant, Henry Williams, had come to see that the only hope for the country and the natives lay in annexation and the strong hand of England.

1 See Taylor's New Zealand, Past and Present.