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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

In New Zealand, 1840—1877

page 33

In New Zealand, 1840—1877.

Dr. Lang is of course not aware that the system against which he protests so strongly, has been for the last ten or twelve years in full and very "extensive operation" in the North Island of New Zealand, under the sanction of laws made by the Parliament of a British Colony, and assented to by several British Governors.

The Commission to inquire into alleged land sales by natives, established by Sir George Gipps, was confirmed and continued in its functions by Governor Hobson when New Zealand became, in 1841, independent of New South Wales. The result was that all the claims were very largely curtailed, and some declared null and void; so that land monopoly was stayed for a time; although the acknowledgment of the unextinguished title of the natives to all but a very small portion of the Company's claim, and the apathy of Government as to itself extinguishing the; native title in those parts of the Colony, almost entirely arrested the sale of lands and creation of an immigration fund, stopped colonization, and led to the Company's dissolution: which did not, however, take place until, by its aid, the Otago and Canterbury settlements had been established on the "sufficient price" system, in the South Island where the Native title was extinguished with ease, on account of the fewness of Natives.

The "land-sharking" interest in the northern part of the North Island, however, proved too strong for Governor Fitzroy, in 1844. He was persuaded by interested parties that the discontent of the Natives, and the rebellion of Johnny Heke, at the Bay of Islands, proceeded from the Customs' duties and the maintenance of the Queen's right of pre-emption. He arbitrarily waived this right, and allowed private persons to buy directly from the Natives, on paving one penny per acre to the Government. He also abolished Customs' duties, and proposed to supply the deficiency by a tax on property and income, neither of which then existed to any appreciable amount. For these and other vagaries he was recalled, and Sir George Grey succeeded him in 1815.

The Queen's right of pre-emption was resumed before any great amount of mischief had resulted from its brief abandonment.

It was, of course, contrary to law for Europeans to hold land by lease direct from the Natives: but the actual practice was first connived at in the Wairarapa plain, near Wellington, where "squatters"—properly so called in this instance—began to settle with live stock on those terms in about 1817; extending their operations gradually to the Hawke Bay district. And it was never stopped until leases and sales of land by Natives to private persons became legal.

In about 1818, the stoppage of colonization in consequence of the non-extinction of Native title became so apparent that a special Department of Government was organized by Sir George Grey for the purchase of Native Lands, and Mr. Donald McLean, who was then Inspector of Native Police, was placed at the head of it as Chief Commissioner. It soon became the most powerful branch of the Government, and the officer at the head of it was only second in power and influence to the Governor, who was uncontrolled by any representative institutions until he left the Colony at the end of 1853, after proclaiming the Constitution, miserably hampered both by his "cheap land" regulations, and by calling six Provincial Legislatures and Governments into action before the General Assembly was in existence to control them.

During the five years of the Land Purchase Department's infancy, it effected very little in buying land for the Government; and the interest of the Tenants of the Natives grew more powerful under its fostering wing, instead of diminishing, as it would if more land had been bought for Government. The officials who ought to have so bought, were really in covert alliance with the Tenants, so that scarcely any land was bought for the Crown until the Tenants were ready to buy it for themselves under the delusive "cheap land" regulations which were adopted by the Provincial Legislatures of the North Island, in the only two important ones of which—Auckland and Wellington—the land-monopolists secured majorities and formed the Governments.

The same interest has secured a majority in the General Assembly, ever since its first meeting in 1854, and up to the present time.

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So soon as 1862, this interest was acquiring so much power, that legislation was initiated, which tended towards the abandonment of the State's right of pre-emption In 1865 this was yet more nearly accomplished, and the legislation of 1873 crowned the achievement. It became only necessary for the Natives to obtain a title for themselves recognised by "Native Land Courts," with special Judges appointed on account of their exceptional ability as "experts" on that intricate subject, and then the Native grantee could sell to anybody he chose!

Under this law, which selfish politicians gravely deluded the people into believing was urgently necessary, in order to prevent the Natives from rebelling against the restriction to one official customer, a state of things rapidly grew up, quite as mischievous as those protested against by Dr. Lang and Sir George Gipps in 1839: with the heavy additional aggravation that the whole proceeding was perfectly legal, and sanctioned as well as aided, and even partaken in, by the Officers of the Native Land Purchase Department, from its most insignificant officer to its very Chief, Mr. Donald McLean. These facts were as long as possible kept from public knowledge; gentlemen high in office uttering and echoing the convenient doctrine, that these were private transactions between the Natives and the buyers; and that even the Parliament of the Colony had no right to order their publication! It actually did order it in 1871; but Mr. Donald McLean got the House to sanction his official neglect of the order in 1872. He became Chief of the private land-purchasing interest, worshipped by its beneficiaries, Minister for Native affairs, and one of the Governor's responsible advisers for seven years. He was knighted for his services to the colony as the successful "pacificator" of the Natives. He resisted as long as he could the growing dissatisfaction of some public men at the continuance of the system under which the agents, whose duty was to purchase land from the Natives for the public, grew rich on the proceeds of purchasing for themselves and for private individuasl influential among certain classes of electors interested in the enormous legal monopoly: but towards the end of his career, after allowing that he had, while Chief of the Department, bought land privately for his own benefit, and declaring his belief that he was perfectly justified in doing so—to which a large majority of the House of Representatives assented—he yielded so far as to say the practice should cease for the future.

But he was no longer interested in it. He was about to withdraw from public affairs for a time, it was understood on a visit to England, when death removed him. He had been for about 28 years a paid servant of the public, in some high capacity connected with the relations between the Government and the Natives. His personal estate alone was sworn to ask about £105,000; the value of his landed estate is not publicly known, but commonly reported as worth £15,000 a year besides.

It is no wonder that other persons in high political station, or well connected in high financial quarters, have availed themselves of the lawful opportunity to buy Principalities for their own benefit; regardless of the obstruction which the creation of so many large estates, left for a long while in no more productive condition than that of wild pasturage, throws in the way of active progress in colonization, and of the establishment of thousands of happy homes. What is it to them that these vast sheep-runs are "locked up" against improvement and greater production by the settlement of mankind? All they care for is that, at a small cost, they can each say, "I am monarch of all I survey;" free of both rent and taxes, and protected in their tenure by Government without contributing more than the merest trifle to its cost, until "political" mil ways shall pass through or near their vast estates, and enable them to sell at a fabulous profit on the meagre consideration which the Native owners have often half spent before the transaction is complete.

Sir Donald McLean, with his faithful praisers, and imitators, effectually "pacificated" the Natives.

For the cruel process of "skinning" the Native eels alive is something like this: A would-be buyer, or partnership of buyers, with plenty of money, or creditor both, at their command, begins by luring an influential chief, who claims a large share in page 35 the ownership of the coveted tract, into habits of extravagance and indebtedness. The buyer docs not always do it directly. Some "merchant," commission agent, cattle dealer, shrewd attorney, or publican, is often the unseen, but not sleeping agent, if not partisan in the job. He manifests unbounded confidence in the Native's "great expectations" from his landed property. He accommodates the "intelligent Chief" with almost unlimited credit. The Natives are no longer to be tempted by Birmingham fowling-pieces, powder, coarse blankets, iron pots, tomahawks, or "gew-gaws and trinkets" generally. A Chief with land to let or sell, so long as he has not passed his title through the Land Court and obtained his Crown grant, now indulges in a "gay life" in Auckland, Napier, Wellington, or Wanganui. He dresses like an English gentleman, and rides about with his wife, or wives, and daughters, in broadcloth riding-habits and gold chains (with gold watches to them), lives sumptuously at an hotel, smokes good cigars and plays at billiards with the idle English bigwigs, drinks champagne, and goes to parties; has an account at the Bank, and money in both pockets. Some in Hawke's Bay have been known to engage daucing-masters to go up country and teach the ladies of the family European airs and graces. Some, on the other hand, take to strong drink, horse-racing, betting, and cards, after the example of the less reputable of their young British tenants.

At the convenient time, the bland "merchant" intimates that he should like some sort of settlement from the dark butterfly: the balance is getting heavy and some of it must be cleared off. The "intelligent Chief "must be "skinned alive!"

"I got no money," says Mr. Pomare.

"But you have plenty of land," says Mr. Softly, of the highly respectable firm of "Softly and Skinflint." One of the partners is Chairman of the local Chamber of Commerce. The other, a Member of Parliament.

"No, I got none lett," replies the unabashed debtor; or, "Ah, I no got him through the Court; no karanati (grant) yet. Taihua! (presently!)"

In the former case, Softly says:—"Why, what have you done with it all? You were in grants for many thousand acres."

"I sold my mana (right or power) to Maka Hinu (AngliceMcFat; a high official of the Native Land Purchase Department).

"Well! you haven't spent the money he paid you? What have you done with it?"

"I got no money!"

"What did you get then?"

"I got Maka Hinu puka puka poromihi e nota" (McFat's writing-promissory notes).

"Oh, ah!" smiles Softly, who had begun to manufacture a serious face for the occasion. "Then you bring them to me, and Skinflint and I will see what we can do with them."

The promissory notes are discounted. I have heard of cases in which the paper has been done at 50 per cent. The former lord of the soil gets a civilized account, duly receipted, and marked "E. & O. O." Perhaps a small balance in ready cash, or a little extension of credit, neither of which last long. Pomare is lucky if he has kept, a hut and a potato-field for himself, to which he can retire, and reflect 011 the benefits of civilization, free trade, and the paternal tendencies of the revered Sir Donald McLean's Native policy.

McFat enjoys a "nice little dinner" with Softly and Skinflint. Over their wine, or toddy, the promissory notes are eancelled, and the other leg of the triangular account made, with an elastic pair of compasses, equal to the first. Then they have a preliminary chat over the next civilizable Maori who is to "go through the Court," and how many sheep to the acre his "block" will carry. Their ways may be roundabout, but they know how to "square the circle." They neither hurry nor starve over the process. If the land has not passed through the Court when the merchant calls attention to his account, who so ready as Softly to recommend a capital "agent," who will manage all the Court business to perfection, find him a good purchaser, and look page 36 after the interests of both Native proprietors and White purchasers, or lessees, "for a consideration"? What if the agent be brother, or brother-in-law, or partner of the purchaser? What if he be a relative, or connexion, or intimate friend of a high officer in the Land Purchase Department? So much the better! As far as friendship can pledge its experience and the advantages of its official knowledge and position, the whole business will go all the more smoothly. The Native title will be successfully "rushed through the Court." Outside matters will be as swimmingly conducted. No competitive offer from the Government will disturb Pomare from the sense of honour which binds him to give his indulgent creditor the pre-emptive right even over the Government, and certainly over all private competitors.

Under this most pernicious system, there is not the slightest chance of a man of small means buying direct from the Natives. The Government will not get the block, because the Government's agents, even if eager to compete, are not justified in binding a possible vendor by mortgage or bill of sale before he has got his title. The owner of savings from labouring industry has no spare funds, wherefrom to advance money or goods on good faith or written security to a Native with "expectations" of a share in a grant. Ten or more Natives are included in the grant of a large tract; the would-be buyer must keep them all in good humour by promises or advances, and must be on the watch for outside claimants who lie back for a higher consideration after the consent of a portion of the likely grantees has been positively given, or reliably promised. Agents who are "experts" in the particular art of dealing with Native land-sellers must be retained by fees as against any competing buyers. Surveyors have often to be prevented beforehand in the same way from engaging to do the work for anyone else, whenever the Natives shall have so far consented that the survey may be begun. In some cases, live stock has to be bought and placed on the land as a warning to competitors that that claim is "pegged out," or as a security to the Natives that the would-be purchaser will not abandon his undertaking if some obstinate joint-grantee should stick out for too high a price, or absolutely refuse to sell at all. Thus it is only men "with plenty of money at command" that eon engage in this Native Land Purchase speculation, and the land can only pass into the hands of such buyers as possess the means of making large advances, and of providing for large final payments in the lump, although at a small acreage rate.

Even if Natives could receive individual grants, and under them each Native could sell one acre or twenty acres at a time, as the Government can if it buys a block from the Natives, the latter would not readily adopt that method of parting with their ownership. A Native is intensely proud of being connected with a large transaction, attended with much fuss and display of influence and wealth. He would feel it an indignity to sell "that little bit of land" to a "poor beggar" in a working dress with but a few pounds in his pocket. He likes to boast of his dealings with the pakeha rangatira, or white "gentleman:" and his notion of that definition is strictly financial; it means with him the white man whose heavy cheques are honoured by every Bank and cashed by every tradesman,—whose promissory notes are cheerfully discounted by the largest merchant in the district, who has a constant habit of carrying sovereigns in his purse and notes in his pocket-book, and who can send to the South for countless herds and flocks to put on the promised land, if called upon, or allowed to do so.

Thus the system for the disposal of Native lands to British colonists not only produces no public fund for the promotion of immigration, the construction of public works, or the payment of interest on the borrowed money, by which works that will soon greatly raise the value of the land in question have already been constructed; but it locks up large tracts of land from populous settlement more tightly than even "cheap land" regulations for the disposal of the public estate to private persons; because the Native land is absolutely not to be purchased in small lots by men of small means. Where Government alone sells the land, if the price is too low a great deal of it will fall into the hands of monopolists, but small buyers will be able to get some, and a revenue of some kind, to be laid out for the benefit of all the purchasers and the public, will be created. Where Natives alone sell to private persons, wealthy page 37 firms and individuals are secured against any competitors except from among their own class,—each purchaser can buy a larger quantity than he could of public land, because the price is always lower than the price of public land of the same quality in a similar situation in any part of the Colony,—and no public revenue, even of the smallest amount, for any public purpose whatever, is created by any one of the transactions.

Of course, it is no longer lay or clerical missionaries, of more or less apostolical character, or "the merest adventurers," or "men arrived in New Zealand without a shilling in their pockets, but who had had influence enough to obtain credit for small quantities of slops, muskets, powder, rum, and tobacco in Sydney or Hobart Town," who engage in the profitable speculation of renting or buying Principalities from the Natives.

Runholders in Canterbury, or Otago, successful enough before the onward march of colonization in those parts of the Colony threatened them with an invasion of freeholders, and unwilling to pay 80s. or £2 per acre for the freehold themselves, were naturally tempted by the example, and in many cases persuaded by the advice, of experienced Northern colonists, to acquire large landed estates, first by lease, but with a view to establish—by putting stock on them—personal pre-emptive rights so soon as the Native title should be extinguished. Recent discussions in the House of Representatives have shown that even a Governor was personally instrumental, during a visit South, in forming a Company to engage in this speculation on a large scale, though he withdrew from the adventure before its practical development. High officials, Members of both Houses of the Legislature and their relatives, connections, and intimate friends, and especially relatives and friends of leading Directors of the New Zealand Bank, which monopolizes all the Government banking business and exercises a powerful influence over the elections throughout the Colony: such are the leaders of the Native land purchasers, duly licensed by law, and heavily primed with credit at the Temples of Mammon.

Mr. Moorhouse's great "Murimotu" conception, which, whether immaculate or not, is still in the agonies of labour, is only notable by the largeness of its scale among the numerous "good things" of the kind now in progress. The block coveted by Mr. Moorhouse's employers is situated in the Northern part, of the Rangitikei and Wanganui Districts; and is one-ninth larger than Middlesex, or more than twice as big as Rutlandshire. One of the would-be proprietors has described it, in conversation, as fully fit to carry one sheep per acre all the year round in its present wild state. If only used for that purpose, it would thus carry 200,000 sheep, and furnish a net yearly income, at 4s. 9d. per sheep, of £ 47,500 to its proprietors.

Mr. Ballance, now Commissioner of Customs and Minister of Education, is Member of the House of Representatives for the Rangitikei District; which is drained by the rivers whose head-waters flow through the fertile Murimotu plain, where grass, timber, and water are plentiful all the year round. He thus, during last Session, spoke of the transaction, and of its probable consequences:—

"Will anyone tell me that a person with small means coming out from England can go into the market and compete for land—that he will fathom all the trickery and chicanery which we know is necessary in order to acquire Native land? Will anyone tell me that small settlers can acquire land under this B II? I say that the whole history of the Colony shows this, and no one can deny it, that as against the settler of large means, who can employ different means of bribery, the small settler has no chance in the world. This is the universal opinion. Now we find North island and South Island capitalists at the present moment engaged as far as they possibly can in preventing the settlement of the West Coast of the North Island. They are acquiring thousands of acres in the Murimotu plains. Will anyone tell me that this is in the interest of setttement, or that under a proper Act this could have been allowed to take place? I have been over the land, and I know that it is at the present moment nearly the only available land in that part of the island Jit for settlement. This is the kind of work which has been carried on under the Native Land Act of 1873 The enormous speculators and capitalists employ a great number of Native Agents, and thus debar the men of lesser means from a fair chance of acquiring any land whatever."

I can also speak personally as to the excellent quality and situation of the land in and about the Murimotu plains, having travelled across two different parts of them in the year 1842-3; when I could have bought the whole block for a mere trifle had I chosen to make the attempt.

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I will here quote the opinions of two or three other Members with regard to the Bill alluded to, which was one designed to smooth away difficulties in .the way of dealers in Native lands, and to render the process easier and more certain than ever.

Mr. Lusk, Member for Franklin (Auckland), said:—

"It appears to me that in the framing of the Hill no regard whatever has been had either to the best interests of the Native population or to the best interests of the European population, but the regard that seems to me to be a regard for the interests of capital and capital only. It appears to me that this is a capitalists' Bill. It is a Bill to enable the Native lands of New Zealand to pass into the hands of a lauded aristocracy, and I can conceive no worse policy that could be introduced into a country situated as this is than a policy of that kind."

Mr. Taiaroa, of Otago, Member for the Southern district:—

"This Bill is called a Native Land Courts Bill. I propose to call it a Bill to plunder Natives out of their lands."

Sir George Grey:—

"I believe it to be a Bill to rob the Europeans and Natives."

Mr. Travers, part of whose speech I have already quoted at p. 5, said:—

"This Act would have a tendency to create a pauper race of Natives, and to compel them to congregate round the head, as it were, of disaffection in the King country, in consequence of their pauperism. They would look at the land for which they had received Is. 6d. or 2s. an acre, and they would threaten the country unless justice were done to them. I do feel with reference to legislation of this kind that it is fraught with danger, and I cannot say how anxious I feel as a settler in regard to this matter. It has a teudeney of a dangerous character, and it appears to me to favour speculators."

Mr. Travers holds a different opinion from mine as to the actual process and effect of Sir Donald McLean'S. Native "policy." After highly praising that gentleman's official action, he added:—

"In a little time, or to paraphrase the words of Shakspere, 'ere the shoes were old with which they followed his poor body to the grave,' we find all his policy abandoned, all his efforts to bring the legislation of the Colony into a condition in which harmony would reign between the races, scattered to the winds for the sake of bringing in a measure, the effects of which will be to flood the North Island with land-sharks and sharpers, and bring about a wholesale confiscation of the lands of the Natives, not for any wrong they have done, but a confiscation to be promoted by the coffers of banks and men of large means who will employ unscrupulous agents, ready to trade upon the weakness of the Natives and reduce them to poverty. If carried out to its ultimate result, such a policy must bring about a condition of things disastrous to the best interests of the country."

Whether the particular Bill pass into law or not, I have very little hope that the system above described will be overturned, or the proceedings under it arrested, until all the very cream of the North Island shall have passed into private hands, in large blocks. If no alteration of the law is effected, this "heavy blow and great discouragement" to the healthy colonization of the North Island will be aggravated by the fact, that the plundered Natives will be discontented, and the whole country may become involved once more in costly operations to quell riot and punish outrage : while the land swallowed up by the few fortunate speculators will furnish no revenue till after the transactions are complete.

It is true that whenever the land has become private property, it will become liable to income and property tax just as though it were bought from Government; but no part of the payment, whether saved or squandered by the Natives, can be directly called upon for a contribution to the Land Fund, as in public land-sales. And even during the period before the purchaser from the Natives parts with portions of his estate at a vastly enhanced price to more useful proprietors, or himself puts it to any more productive use than wild pasturage, the tax on income derived from it will be but small.