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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 44

Chapter II. The Maoris—immigration and Public Works

Chapter II. The Maoris—immigration and Public Works.

During these years, while the provinces were under the guidance of the superintendents, the two large islands made a somewhat unequal progress. Agriculture advanced more rapidly in the South Island, and the discovery of gold in Otago in 1861, and in Westland three years later, attracted a large additional population from the neighbouring colonies, and from England and America. In the North Island settlement was impeded by the wars with the natives, which have led to a popular fallacy concerning the colony, which ought to be removed, and that is, a belief that we are intermingled with or surrounded by Maoris, a brave, intelligent, but imagined to be cruel race, who at any moment may rise page 18 in rebellion and attack peaceful settlers. There never was a greater delusion. The Maoris are now as quiet and orderly as their white neighbours. The idea of another Maori war is in the eyes of a colonist ridiculous. Ten years ago the back of the Maori people as a fighting race was broken. A large extent of country was confiscated, and many men taken prisoners and tried by the Supreme Court. A hundred of them were sent to Dunedin prison to fulfill their term. We saw the miserable column land from the steamer and march to the jail. An old gray-headed man, supported on each side, brought up the rear. When he entered the court-yard he sank down on the ground exhausted. On the roll being called he did not answer, and was found to be stone-dead. There are only 45,000 Maoris altogether; of whom 20,000 are females. Of the males, 7000 are under fifteen, and a proportion are old and infirm. The greater number of the tribes are in friendly relations with the government, and ready to take the field in support of law and order if occasion required. Several of the chiefs hold commissions as officers in the New Zealand militia. The establishment of English-speaking schools is changing the habits of thought in the rising generation. In 1877 the total number of the Maori children receiving education was 2235, at a cost to the colony of £10,740. The calling several of the leading chiefs to the Legislative Council, and the election of four Maori representatives to the Lower House, have had the happiest effect. The Maori leaders now find that the floor of the Parliament House is a much better arena for the redress of their grievances than the palisaded pah and rifle-pit.

We can bear witness to the eloquence and dignity displayed by the Maori members in the House of Representatives. They are most pointed in their attention to all the forms of the House; and as an instance of their acuteness, we may mention the following incident. In 1871 a large party assembled in caucus, to endeavour to oust the government of the day. It was considered expedient to take the ministry by surprise; and owing to the standing orders requiring previous notice of a motion, there was a difficulty about it. A Maori member suggested that the motion of no confidence should be made when the resolution was moved that the House do go into a Committee of Supply, this being the only time a motion could be put without previous notice. This suggestion shewed how closely and intelligently the forms of the House had been studied by this native legislator. The great preponderance of page 19 the European race also renders the idea of a native war an absurdity.

The population of the colony is now 414,412, against 45,000 Maoris. Since the imperial government withdrew the troops ten years ago, we have been taught to be self-reliant. We have a force of 800 armed constabulary, more than equal to cope with anybody of Maoris disposed to be troublesome. Of the constabulary, 437 are employed on ordinary police duties. We have also an efficient Volunteer force, properly equipped, numbering 8032 officers and men. The boys at school capable of bearing a carbine are all thoroughly drilled, and wear uniform on parade. We require no imperial aid to protect us from internal disorder. Then so far as the South Island, the seat of agriculture, is concerned, there are next to none of the native race to be considered. The mass of the Maori population is in the North Island, there being 43,598 there; and only 1932 in the South Island, the latter being widely scattered in small reserved settlements, and rarely seen beyond them. A man might be a lifetime in the South Island and never meet with a Maori. There may be in some parts of the North Island lingering remnants of the old fanaticism; but these are fast fading away under the influence of roads, railways, and agriculture; and it would be as reasonable to expect another Highland rebellion in Scotland as another Maori war. No one thinking of New Zealand either as a field for investment or for settlement, ought for a moment to look upon the Maori element as deserving the least consideration, further than this, that the land which could produce and maintain so noble and handsome a race as the Maoris undoubtedly are, must be admirably adapted for the support of a population having capital and skill to turn its resources to profitable account.

We have often seen at Government House elegantly dressed Maori belles going through the figures of a set of quadrilles with as much grace and appreciation as their fairer vis-à-vis. The dusky matrons, wives of chiefs, richly and fashionably dressed, but with tattooed lips, would cluster round their lithe and handsome daughters, and view their performance with intense and admiring interest. One of these girls was nicknamed Grace Darling, from her having on one occasion swum out to a wreck and rescued two men. Many of the Maoris who have let their lands, live in affluence, some of them keeping their carriages. A silent change is going on, working like leaven, which will gradually assimilate both races in page 20 habits of thought, manners, and civilisation. In the meantime old tastes will occasionally crop up. A chief was strongly urged to drain a shallow lake on his land. 'Why?' he asked. 'The land,' he was told, 'would keep so many sheep if improved.' 'Who,' said he, 'would care for mutton when they could get eels?'

The extension of settlement, the making of through roads between the provincial capitals by the local executives, and increasing commercial transactions, led to a greater community of feeling among the inhabitants of the different provinces than had previously existed, and paved the way for the introduction of Sir Julius Vogel's grand national system of railways, and the requisite immigration of labour. In 1870, parliament gave effect to his proposals, and the construction and administration of the railways, and the introduction of immigrants, which had hitherto been managed by the provincial governments, became vested in the general government. In the development of the public works department, the lines of demarcation between the provinces became entirely obliterated. It was inexpedient to incur the cost of maintaining separate accounts of the railway revenues in each province, and there was a general feeling that the time had arrived for placing the provinces among the things that have been. It was not without a keen struggle that this was done, but public opinion was too powerful, and the Assembly formally decided on the abolition of the provinces in 1875, and the Act came into operation a year later.

The general government had proceeded with great spirit in the construction of railways and telegraphs; and to meet the increased demand for labour, they poured into the colony a stream of immigrants, landing on its shores in eight years 93,000 souls, at a cost of a million and a quarter. These have proved of great service in the progress of the colony. In general, they were of the right sort, but occasionally a few black sheep would escape detection. Men accustomed to a particular department in a special trade found they had committed a mistake. A glass-eye polisher had no customers, and girls bred in factories did not prove to be the best domestic servants. Several women, inmates of an Irish workhouse, palmed on the colony by a philanthropic blunder, proved of little use. The mass of the immigrants who were sober and industrious, soon discovered that they were in a land of Goshen. By the machinery of building societies they became possessed of houses of their own, in which, owing to their page 21 good wages, they were enabled to live in a degree of comfort to which they had been previously strangers, and at the same time to liquidate punctually the instalments due to the societies. It has been gratifying to notice the prosperous career of many of these immigrants who had arrived friendless; to see how soon their children were able to add materially to the family income; and to observe how often it happened that those who began colonial life as servants, soon became masters themselves, employing others. Indeed, as regards the colony, it is almost unnecessary to dwell upon its attractions for working-men and female servants. It is acknowledged to be their earthly paradise.

The ordinary labouring men work eight hours a day. They have plenty of the best to eat, plenty to do, with an agreeable sprinkling of holidays, and receive eight shillings a day of wages. A single man can board luxuriously for eighteen shillings a week; and if he be sober and industrious, he cannot fail, if blessed with health, to realise in a short time a few hundred pounds. We know one of our leading grocers in Dunedin, a man of substance, who came out to the colony not many years ago, and immediately engaged himself as a farm-servant at £50 yearly wages and found. Having a good kit of clothes, his whole expenditure during his first year amounted to one shilling. This left him £49, 19s. as a nest-egg; his circumstances have improved ever since, and now he is independent. Female domestic servants, if well trained, get high wages, from £30 to £50 a year, and are able with ease to save money. The cook in our household went home to Scotland as a saloon passenger in 1878 to see her mother, and returned after spending three months in Britain. She arrived in November, and never saw the land on her mother's farm, it being covered with snow. Her patience became exhausted, and she sailed for New Zealand much dissatisfied with her native climate. Her trip must have cost her £100, but she thought nothing of it. Young women of that class may get married if they choose, but colonial marriages are sometimes too hastily entered into. We have had in many instances, as a magistrate, to grant a quasi dissolution of the bonds of matrimony, and issue a protection order in favour of the wife, on account of the desertion or drunkenness of the husband. There, as elsewhere, the married life is not always a prize; but if a blank be drawn, there is some compensation to the wife, as if she be active and industrious, she has no difficulty in gaining a page 22 respectable livelihood by her own exertions. A sense of this renders the wives more independent than a similar class at home.

After the abolition of the provinces, the local government was left in the hands of elected county councils in rural districts, and municipal councils in towns and cities. Full powers have been conferred on these bodies to enable them to carry on the functions of local government in a most efficient manner. They can impose assessments, borrow on the security of the rates, and pass necessary bye-laws, having all the effect of a statute. To render the burden on the ratepayers as light at first as possible, the general government—in addition to the revenue raised by assessment, and from the rents of reserves with which the corporations were endowed, and also from tolls, pontages, and license fees—have given assistance, by returning to the county councils part of the proceeds of the sale of crown lands, sold within their bounds, and by grants in aid from the consolidated revenue. As the ability and resources of the local governing bodies increase, these contributions from the general government will be diminished and finally withdrawn. If the local councils are true to themselves, they ought not to hesitate to assume the entire responsibility of the management of their own affairs, and to restrict the action of the central authority to those departments of state administration which are of general concern. Strict local supervision is the best mode of insuring that no greater taxation shall be imposed than is absolutely necessary, and there being no privileged class of rulers, every settler will have it in his power to see that the local finances are economically and faithfully expended.

While these political changes were going on, the prosperity of the settlers was steadily progressing, at first slowly, but afterwards, as trade and commerce extended, and the means of internal communication improved, with unexampled rapidity. Much simplicity and an almost total absence of crime prevailed in early days, and the peculiar idiosyncrasies of individuals had full play, as used to be the case with the 'characters' we remember in our ancient Scottish burghs. The general government perpetrated a job in sending to Otago in its primary stage a judge of the Supreme Court, Mr Justice Stephen, at a salary of £800 a year. He remained two years without having a case to try. The only case in court with which he was connected was one before the justices of the peace, in which he was defendant. He was summoned for an page 23 assault. A full bench of justices turned out, among whom was the defendant's solicitor. The defendant conducted his own case. In an impassioned speech, he admitted the charge, and after descanting on the provocation he had suffered, wound up by appealing to their worships whether it was at all reasonable, or for a moment to be supposed, that 'he should wait the slow and tardy progress of the law.' To the astonishment of the public, the bench dismissed the case.

With no criminals to be tried at quarter-sessions, it is not to be wondered at if the office of jailer at Dunedin was next to a sinecure. The principal occupants of the jail used to be a few runaway sailors. They were treated with great indulgence, being sent out by day to work. On Saturday evenings they were sent to the store for provisions, always with the injunction: 'Now, lads, be sure that you return in time; if you don't, mind you'll be locked out!' One incorrigible drunken randy, who had been repeatedly imprisoned, became so unruly one day, that she was turned out of the door of the prison into the street, that being a greater punishment than the enjoyment of the comforts inside provided by 'Mr Monson.'