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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 23

In the Matter of Dr. Buller's Petition, Extracts From the Official Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Public Petitions Committee of the House of Representatives in the Session of 1877

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In the Matter of Dr.Buller's Petition.

Wellington: Printed at the Office of James Hughes, Lambton Quay.


In The Matter of Dr. Buller's Petition.

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Public Petitions Committee.

[In the Petition of Walter L. Buller, of Wellington, Barrister-at-law, alleging an unsatisfied claim of £500 against the late Provincial Government of Wellington, and praying the House to make provision for the same.]

Dr. Buller examined.

Q. The Chairman.—You state a distinct promise was made by Dr. Featherston, Superintendent, that when these negotiations were complete you would receive £500 in addition to your salary?

A. Yes. If the negotiations were successful, there was to be a bonus on the conclusion of the sale of the block. 1 commenced on that understanding the negotiations which lasted over several years. The shortest way of putting my case is to shew what Dr. Featherston said on the 3rd October, 1873.

Dr. Featherston to the Superintendent of Wellington.

7 Westminster Chambers, London, S.W. October 3rd, 1873.

Sir,—I feel it my duty to bring once more under the notice of the Provincial Government of Wellington the special services rendered to the Province by Mr. Walter Buller, in the acquisition of Native Lands, and to request that you will do me the favour to have this letter, with its enclosure, printed and laid before the Council at its next Session.

What the nature and value of Mr. Buller's services generally were, I have endeavoured to show in the enclosed Statement. But I desire here more particularly to point out that these services extended over a continuous period of six years; that for a large portion of that time they were voluntarily and cheerfully given, without any fee or reward; that during the three years that Mr. Buller's time was wholly devoted to the purchase of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block he received nothing page 4 from the Provincial Treasury but his General-Government salary and an allowance for forage, barely sufficient to cover his actual travelling expenses; that the work in which he was so engaged was of the most arduous and harassing kind, to say nothing of the personal discomfort it involved; and that, after the travelling allowance had ceased and Mr. Buller had returned to his General-Government post, he was required to attend, at his own expense, and for many weeks together, sittings of the Native-Lands Court, for the purpose of proving the title to the Block.

The final judgment of the Lands Court, after repeated hearings, confirmed the validity of the purchase in every respect, an award of only 6200 acres being made to the non-sellers.

The Province is now in quiet and undisturbed possession of a magnificent estate, and is reaping the full benefit of the Rangitikei-Manawatu purchase.

Under these circumstances I feel quite sure that the Council, if the subject be fairly brought before it, will not refuse to take into favourable consideration claims which have been so frequently and so fully acknowledged.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your most obedient Servant,


I. E. Featherston,

Agent-General for New Zealand. His Honour the Superintendent, Wellington.

Statement of Mr. Walter Buller's Services.

As far back as June 1864 the Superintendent of Wellington, in his opening Address to the Provincial Council, bore testimony in the following terms to the assistance he had received from Mr. Walter Buller in the purchase of the Upper Manawatu Block of 250,000 acres:—

"After long and weary negotiations and many disappointments, I am happy at last to announce to you that a Memorandum of Agreement for the sale of the Upper Manawatu Block has been duly signed, that all the owners have, after repeated runangas, agreed to the terms, and that the final Deed of Purchase is being prepared * * * It would be both ungenerous and unfair if I did not take this the earliest opportunity of publicly acknowledging the invaluable services page 5 rendered in this matter by Mr. Walter Buller. Had it not been for his cordial co-operation and for his indefatigable exertions to induce the natives to come to reasonable terms, the sale would in all probability have been postponed for an indefinite period."

Mr. Buller neither asked nor received any remuneration from the Province for the services rendered on that occassion. He shortly afterwards negotiated the purchase, on very favourable terms, of the Paretao and the adjoining Block in the Lower Manawatu—both important acquisitions, as the land was urgently required for the Government township of Foxton.

Towards the end of 1864 negotiations were commenced by the Superintendent for the purchase of the Rangitikei-Manawatu Block of about 260,000 acres, the title to which was in dispute between the Ngatiapa, Ngatiraukawa, and other tribes; and Mr. Buller, who was at that time Resident Magistrate at Manawatu, rendered further valuable aid by attending all the public meetings of the tribes concerned, and negotiating with the chiefs. In his Address to the Council in 1865, His Honour again adverted to Mr. Buller's services, stating that it afforded him "peculiar gratification" to do so.

Mr. Buller, having afterwards been removed to Wanganui as Resident Magistrate, was applied to again in October 1865 by the Superintendent to assist him in the purchase; and by his own consent an arrangement was made with the General Government, whereby he was detached for this special service, with the understanding that his salary whilst so engaged should be charged against the Land-Purchase Department. In addition to his own ordinary salary, Mr. Buller merely received from the Provincial Government an allowance of 17s. per diem to cover all travelling expenses, but with the understanding that, when the purchase was completed, the Council would be asked to vote him an honorarium.

The Superintendent, in announcing the successful purchase to the Provincial Council in May 1866, spoke as follows:—

"I need not say that you are mainly indebted to Mr. Walter Buller (whose services it will be my duty on a future occasion to bring under your special consideration) for the successful issue of these long, difficult, and delicate negotiations."

The purchase-money was paid over to the natives in December 1866; and in the following April the Superintendent, in his opening address to the Council, said:—

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"I venture again to express a hope that the Council will (knowing how much the successful issue of these long-pending negotiations is due to Mr. Buller) bestow upon him a substantial recognition of his valuable services."

The Government accordingly placed a sum of £500 on the Estimates. The following Report of what ensued is taken from the 'Wanganui Chronicle' of that date. * * *

Further complications having afterwards arisen in the district, Mr. Buller was called upon to assist the Provincial Government in proving their title to the Block in the Native-Lands Court. He assisted Mr. Fox as Counsel for the Crown at Otaki, and the Attorney-General in Wellington, during sittings of the Court extending altogether over a period of nearly three months. Mr. Buller prepared lengthy briefs, and got up the whole of the evidence at those protracted hearings. He was afterwards entrusted with the management of the surveys in the District; and the Hon. Mr. Fox, in his place in the House of Representatives on the 20th July, 1870, bore high testimony to the manner in which Mr. Buller had "overcome the difficulties by his patience and perseverance."

The Honourable the Premier, in a letter to Dr. Featherston, dated November 6th, 1869, said:—

"The Government have also to request that you will convey to Mr. Walter Buller, R.M., who has assisted you through the whole of this transaction, its sense of the able manner in which he appears to have fulfilled the difficult and arduous duties entrusted to him."

A month later (December 4th) the Provincial Secretary, Mr. Halcombe, wrote as follows to Mr. Buller:—

"We had fully intended to bring on the grant to you this Session; but the unfortunate news of the stoppage of the survey, the conflict about the exclusion of the volunteers, and the extreme poverty of the Province, all rendered the present an inopportune time for such a proposal. We therefore deferred the matter, but with the full intention of bringing it forward next Session."

The Session, however, of 1870, passed over without any action being taken in the matter.

In the Session of 1871, the subject was brought forward by a private Member (Mr. Pearce), who was a Member of the Government when the grant was first proposed in 1866. The following Report of the debate

which ensued is taken from the ' Wellington Independent' of that date.

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On the Council going into Committee on Mr. Pearce's motion,—

The Provincial Treasurer, after explaining the views of the Government, said, "he thought that, considering the long time that had already elapsed in dealing with this matter, it would be the wiser course to delay it a little longer. The Government had no wish to act in a hostile spirit; on the contrary, they were desirous to act as liberally as might be. In order to prevent the motion being finally disposed of, he would move that the Chairman should leave the Chair."

Mr. Pearce thought the course taken by the Government was not a bold one, was in fact timid. They first admitted the valuable nature of Mr. Buller's services and the substantial claim he had upon the Province, and yet they wished to indefinitely postpone the question on the ground that the Government could not then afford it. Procrastination in this instance amounted almost to repudiation. The Council had over and over again admitted the claim of Mr. Buller. It was not a gratuity that was asked for, but the fulfilment of a promise made by the Superintendent and sanctioned by the Council. * * *

Mr. Pearce's motion was ultimately lost by a majority of one, the Government voting against it.

The implied promise on the part of the Government to bring it forward on a subsequent occasion has never been redeemed, and Mr. Buller is still without any substantial recognition of his services.


I. E. Featherston.

London, October 3rd, 1873.

Hon. Wm. Fox examined.

The Chairman.—Dr. Buller stated to the Committee that a promise had been made to him of £500 in consequence of the success which attended his negotiations for land in the Manawatu Block and that this money has not been paid, and petitions the House that it should be paid. The Committee wish to ascertain the particulars.

Q. Have you any personal knowledge of the matter?

A. Yes, I have much knowledge on the subject. I was connected officially and personally as a Minister of the Crown with all the transactions from the commencement to the termination, and had also personal information from Dr. Featherston from time to time, for whom I acted personally as Counsel for the Crown in the trial before the Land Court page 8 at Otaki. I had also information from Dr. Buller himself, and from other authentic sources.

Q. Who made the promise of £500?

A. It was made specifically by Dr. Featherston as Superintendent of the Province, not as Land Purchase Commissioner, but as Superintendent of the Province. There is evidence of that in this document (the printed statement put in by Dr. Buller). The claims of Dr. Buller were brought before the Provincial Council after Dr. Featherston ceased to be Superintendent, or while he was absent in England. The matter was postponed, but the claim appears to have been recognised by the Provincial Executive. I may say in general terms, referring to contents of the printed statement before mentioned, that except as to what occurred in the Provincial Council, I entirely confirm every word contained in it.

Q. Yes, but before there can be any legal claim against the Provincial Government it must be concurred in by the Council. Was that done?

A. Possibly Dr. Buller's claim would break down if taken on a legal basis. I look upon the claim in an equitable point of view. It was acknowledged on all sides in the Council that Dr. Buller had such a claim.

Q. Mr. Richmond.—It was never put upon the Provincial Estimates?

A. Yes, it was, and all the provincial authorities, the Provincial Secretary, the Provincial Treasurer, and Solicitor in the Council—they all admitted the merits of the claim, though it was not convenient at that moment to settle the matter, and it was virtually put off to a more convenient season.

Q. The Chairman.—When was this promise made?

A. Before Dr. Buller entered upon his duties, when he was transferred from the Resident Magistracy of Wanganui to the office he held under Dr. Featherston—from an easy position to an arduous one. * * *

Q. What was the reason he had not got this money paid as had been promised?

A. For this reason; the purchase could not be said to be completed with certainty till well on in 1869. At that time Dr. Featherston was employed by the General Government on a mission to Melbourne, and on his return from Melbourne he was sent to England. Then he returned and was soon after appointed Agent-General. The last page 9 occasion I recollect of his acting in reference to the Manawatu purchase was when a decision of the Land Court had been given in his favour in 1869, and he then sent up surveyors to lay off the reserves made for the natives. Immediately after that he left for England. * * *

Q. What was the reason the vote was struck out?

A. It was lost by one vote.

Q. That motion was rejected?

A. Yes, but on grounds which did not in the least affect the claim. The members of the Provincial Government all spoke in favour of the claim in the debate in the Council. You will find that the whole of the expressions of opinion were in favour of the substantial merits of the claim. * * *

Q. The Hon. Mr. Gisborne made a very serious charge against Dr. Buller—in fact of cheating?

A. Against which Dr. Buller completely vindicated himself. Dr. Buller was for seventeen years in the public service, and had worked laboriously during that time. He had for seventeen years worked in various capacities as Clerk, Resident Magistrate, Land Commissioner, &c. He had never more than two months leave of absence in seventeen years, but he was entitled to a long leave of absence according to the rules of the service. It was simply what he was entitled to after such service, and had nothing to do with the Manawatu purchase. I know that when he went home objection was taken to his earning money as Dr. Featherston's secretary while he was on leave, and the matter was talked about, and his qualifying for the Bar was also remarked upon. But he might, during his leave, have gone on the Continent or amused himself in any way he liked. He chose, however, to be industrious, and rendered good services to Dr. Featherston in return for the salary he received. I repeat, that neither his leave of absence, nor his salary as secretary to Dr. Featherston in England, had anything to do with the Manawatu purchase, and were in no respect given as a reward for his negotiating it. * * *

Q. Was Dr. Buller to have the £500 whether the Government could produce any title or not?

A. Of course it was implied that a good title would be obtained.

Q. Did he get the signatures?

A. The block under negotiation, included about 250,000 acres of land. The title was vested in five tribes resident at and about the block, and as far as Hawke's Bay and Wanganui river. There were page 10 four of the tribes agreeable, and a small part of one hostile. Dr. Buller negociated with the whole of these tribes. He obtained the signatures of one thousand seven hundred odd of the members of those tribes, and obtained a complete transfer of their interest in the land; that is, so far as the four tribes and a large part of the fifth were concerned. There were about sixty dissentients of one tribe who said, we have an interest in this land and we won't sell it to you at all. The interest in the land stated by them was, that nearly the whole block belonged to them, and the other four tribes had no interest in it at all. The matter was referred to the Land Court, with three judges and native assessors. The Court sat nearly fifty days at Otaki, Counsel being heard on both sides. I was Counsel myself for the Crown, and the Court entirely confirmed Dr. Buller's purchase from the tribes. The Court, at the same time, recognised the right of the sixty dissentients to some interest in the land—an indefinite interest. The Court entirely confirmed the right and ownership of the 1700 men and women whose signatures Dr. Buller had obtained, and decided that the other sixty had only obtained the land they held there by gift, and on sufferance from those from whom Dr. Buller had purchased. The quantity of land to which each was entitled, was not decided by that action at Otaki. The sixty were acting under the instigation of what is commonly called a Pakeha-Maori, who made successful efforts for a re-hearing; which they obtained. Two new judges were appointed, and also new assessors, to both of which the then Government (Mr. Stafford's) agreed. The re-hearing took place before Judge Maning and Chief Judge Fenton, and fresh assessors. The Court sat in Wellington, and they again sat for nearly fifty days. The matter was thoroughly sifted again, and the substantial result that they had no title was in favour of Dr. Buller's purchase, confirming it and limiting the rights of the sixty dissentients to 6,000 acres only out of the 250,000, so that Dr. Buller's purchase of the block turned out exactly what he had always asserted, that he had bought the whole block, minus the interest of those sixty people. He had got 244,000 acres out of 250,000 acres, and the claims of the dissentients were limited to the small portion mentioned. * * *

Mr. A. F. Halcombe examined.

* * * * *

Q. On what ground was Mr. Pearce's proposal refused in 1871?

A. On two or three grounds. I was the person who chiefly moved page 11 in opposition to the matter being then dealt with. The reasons were in the first place, that we were not then in actual possession of the block; next, that the Province derived no actual benefit from a declaration of our possession; and the third reason was that the Province was then exceedingly poor and could not pay its police and other officers, and we could not therefore go into questions of that kind. * * *

Q. Mr. Dignan.—Supposing you did remain in office, and the Provincial Council to meet, would you consider yourself bound to bring it forward?

A. Most decidedly. I should have considered I was bound in honor to bring it forward, because I consider the Government was pledged to do so.

Q. Did you think the claim was of such a nature that the Council would sanction it?

A. I have no doubt it would.

Q. Was the award to be in land or cash?

A. The proposal was to give it in cash.

* * * At the time we were absolutely unable to pay

our policemen, and the question was whether or not we should have to throw ourselves into the hands of the General Government. We felt under these circumstances that we had no right to give way to those claims which partook of the nature of a gratuity, and that we had no right to give away any land or money while we were unable to pay our policemen and meet those pressing claims upon us. We felt the matter might just as well be delayed for a year or two, and that the claim would come with better grace from Dr. Buller .when we were actually in bonâ fide possession of the land. Our poverty, and the fact that we were not in quiet and perfect possession of the land, were the reasons why we considered the claim should be delayed.

Q. Did you regard this in the light of a gratuity or a liability?

A. Partly in the one way and partly in the other. Originally it was a gratuity, but as it had been placed on the Estimates and was only delayed, we came to the conclusion that it was a liability. * * *

Q. The Chairman.—Were you aware, when a member of the Government, that any promise was made by Dr. Featherston?

A. Dr. Featherston always led me to believe that he had made a promise to Dr. Buller. * * *

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Q. It does not appear that Dr. Buller has completed the peaceable purchase of that block?

A. I don't think that is fair. He bought the land from persons declared by repeated sittings of the Native Lands Court to be the real owners. Others who were declared not to be owners raised questions and a row and had to be bought off. But Dr. Buller bought from the persons who were declared by two special sittings of the Native Lands Court to be the owners.

Q. Had those persons bought off by the Government no claim whatever?

A. So it was decided by the sittings of the Native Lands Court. * *

Sir William Fitzherbert examined.

* * * I have before observed that Dr. Featherston had a very high opinion of Dr. Buller, and the Committee must remember that he had a better opportunity of judging on that point than I had; but this I will say, that to-day reviewing the past and looking at the evidence and memoranda on the subject, I am more convinced than ever, that a more perfect purchase was never made. The province of Wellington was deeply injured; it was defrauded of a large sum of money, but the chief injury lay in the fact that its settlement was seriously retarded. I firmly believe that 10,000 more people would have been in the province of Wellington to-day, had it not been for the action of the General Government with regard to the Manawatu. As to Dr. Buller, I may say at once, I think it is exceedingly hard that a gentleman who had been employed by one high in authority, should suffer from the political differences that arose on that occasion. * * * I think Dr. Buller should be paid, and paid by the Colony only, and if this Committee should see fit to so recommend, I should regard that as a proper though tardy recognition of valuable services. But if the payment is to make a charge upon the Provincial District of Wellington, I will do my utmost to oppose it in Committee of the House, because that would be adding insult to a deeply injured province, and I speak with an accurate knowledge, though I myself was not mixed up with the transactions. * * *

Q. Did the Provincial Council ever recognise this claim of Dr. Buller's?

A. I think it would have been carried without a dissentient had a page 13 vote been taken, but for the question pending between the province and the Colony, and in regard to which the province was so badly treated. The Government ruled the House, the House submitted, and the province was oppressed.

Q. At any rate, it was rejected whenever it came before the Council, from whatever cause?

A. Yes. But it was not rejected upon its merits. * * *

Q. You consider the claim a good one?

A. As against the Colony.

Q. But not as against the Province?

A. Certainly not.

Mr. Burns.—Is it your impression that when Dr. Featherston made the promise to Dr. Buller, he meant that the Province should pay the £500?

A. Undoubtedly, at the time. But he also intended that the Province should get its just rights as against the Colony.

Mr. Henry Bunny, M.H.R., examined.

* * * * *

Q. Then you think if the Provincial Council was now in existence they would vote the money?

A. I think so.

Q. Was not Dr. Buller paid for the work he performed?

A. He never received a penny piece as far as I know. He received nothing from the Province. I do not suppose Dr. Buller, when taken from his duties and placed at the disposal of the Superintendent, was likely to agree to that at a less salary than he got from the General Government. No doubt there was a great deal of labor, and it was not measured as work usually done by going into an office at nine and coming away at five. There was a great deal of night work in Maori whares, holding meetings with natives, &c.

Q. From your knowledge of Provincial matters, you think he is entitled to the money?

A. If I were in the Provincial Council, I would support the claim.

Q. Now, all old claims such as these, have come upon the Colony for settlement. Do you consider the Colony is justified in taking into consideration this claim. Leave of absence was granted Dr. Buller, and page 14 he was kept at home, besides all the other et-ceteras he received from the Government. Should they not be taken into account?

A. Certainly not. There was a liability that should be met by the Provincial Council. If that liability still existed, I do not see why it should not be liquidated now. * * * *

Q. Was it not found necessary for the sake of preserving peace, to give back some of the land?

A. Yes; I believe the sale of the Manawatu-Rangitikei block was completed as fully as one man could complete it. Except for the reason that the peace of the country might be endangered, we could have established our title in the Supreme Court.

Q. What I wanted to know was—Dr. Buller was employed to extinguish the native title to the satisfaction of the Natives and Europeans. Did he do so?

A. Dr. Featherston was employed for the purpose of acquiring the Manawatu-Rangitikei Block. He had Dr. Buller's services assigned to him. I am not prepared to go into the particulars of the title to the land in any shape or form. I am right in saying that the native title was fairly extinguished over the whole block, reserves excepted, and the certificate of title was published in the Gazette. After that, certain claims were put forward. Sir Donald McLean thought it wise in order to preserve the peace of the country to give some of the land back. * *

Q. Mr. Tole.—He claims £500?

A. Yes.

Q. Do you think he has any case?

A. I think he has in liquidation of his services.

Q. Would you state on what grounds?

A. We could be only guided in the matter by Dr. Featherston. * *

James Hughes, Printer, etc., Lambton Quay.