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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 63

Chapter V. — Julius Vogel

page 13

Chapter V.

Julius Vogel.

Exegi monumentum ære perennius.

A man so various that he seemed to be
Not one, but all mankind's epitome.
Strong in opinions, always in the wrong,
Was everything by starts, and nothing long,
And in the course of one revolving moon.
Was chymist, fiddler, statesman, and buffoon.

Throughout the Australasian Colonies no public man has, during the last five years, attracted to himself so much attention as Julius Vogel. Before 1869 he was mainly known as part proprietor and editor of the Otago Daily Times. Coming to this country from Victoria at that time when the discovery of rich goldfields in Otago had drawn thousands of energetic colonists from Australia Felix to the rich goldfields of South New Zealand, Mr. Vogel—already connected with the press—commenced the publication of the Otago Daily Times. After a little time he began to take a part in Provincial politics, and ultimately obtained a seat in the House of Representatives, There are in some men's lives strange vicissitudes and events. Twenty years ago Mr. Vogel kept a small chemist's shop at Avoca, in Victoria; and Mr Kerferd, the present Premier of that Colony, was just about to put up a little brewery at Beech worth. Who could then have forecast the present? One at the head of the first and most wealthy of England's Colonies, and the other Premier of New Zealand, engaged in gigantic schemes of public work, and borrowing millions from European capitalists with the same equanimity which he might have then shewn in taking five shillings for a box of "Singleton's Golden Ointment." Mr. Vogel's introduction to the General Assembly was at least romantic. A writ had been issued for the return of a member to the House of Representatives for one of the electoral districts of Dunedin. Mr. Gillies, the father of the late Superintendent of Auckland, being Returning Officer, repaired to the appointed place of nomination to perform his duties. Mr. Vogel, as editor of the Otago Daily Times, in lieu of an ordinary reporter, also attended. The time was one in which men were making money rapidly. The Otago goldfields were very prosperous. Politics were at a discount; they did not pay. Especially was this the case in reference to the politics of the General Government, for at that time the Provinces were everything. When the scene of operations was reached Mr. Gillies began to read the writ to the solitary auditor, Julius Vogel. There was no candidate, no proposer, no public. Suddenly Mr. Vogel thought—"I will be elected!" He went instantly to the adjacent Provincial offices; asked two gentlemen (one of them since dead) to come out and nominate and second him, and with them came back to where Mr. Gillies yet stood patiently waiting for the return of the future dictator of New Zealand. By this time, however, a crowd was gathering. One man, attracted by the somewhat remarkable circumstance of an elderly gentleman reading a public announcement to nobody, stood to listen; while Mr. Albert Devore, now a solicitor practising in Auckland, on his way to one of the Courts, also attracted by the peculiar appearance, joined him. Then page 14 returned Mr. Vogel and the two gentlemen. He was duly proposed, seconded, and declared elected, and the six people separated. The two gentlemen whose services launched Mr. Vogel upon his political career returned to their official toil, little dreaming of the part they had taken in the history of New Zealand. The strange man who stopped, with with open mouth, to listen to Mr. Gillies reading to nobody, and who himself supplied an auditory, came there for a moment unknown, and then passed away into the unknown from whence he came. Mr. Devore is a rising solicitor, and Mr. Vogel is Premier of New Zealand. His career, however, as a member of Parliament is uninteresting until in the year 1870 he astonished the country, and indeed all the Colonies of this group, by enunciating a bold and enterprising scheme, called by himself "The Public Works and Immigration Policy." Abundant criticism was evoked both in New Zealand and Australia by the proposed measure, but without much opposition it became law. The main features of the scheme are sketched elsewhere. Its windings and ramifications have been the main objects of public attention during the last four years, and even now, although the three famous Resolutions have asserted their right to absorb the notice of the people, yet it must be remembered that but for the working out of that policy these Resolutions would not have appeared perhaps for twenty years. The progress of continued borrowing and our increasing liability have compelled the Ministry to bring at last the questions of Provincialism and the Land Fund to the bar of public opinion. For five years Mr. Vogel has been the real strength of the Cabinet, and it may perhaps be of advantage to examine the career of one who is destined either for good or evil, to leave his mark upon New Zealand's history. Julius Vogel is a little above the medium height. Dark hair and eyes. In manner, when it pleases him, pleasant; or the contrary. In speech somewhat abrupt and jerky, and of a comprehensive although not well-balanced mind. He has what very few statesmen possess—a strong and even over-mastering imagination, and a highly sanguine temperament Fruitful in expedients to arouse admiration or to avert defeat he is in no way scrupulous as to the instruments he employs to achieve his ends, nor the means by which those instruments are secured. With him in a high degree "success is virtue." Extravagant in his private life, he gauges his public expenditure by the same scale. His continued success is largely attributable to his knowledge of men and his power of using them. During the last four years he has, with the exception of about a month, managed to secure a majority in the House. Something of this is to be credited no doubt to the presence in the Lower Chamber of so many who, as we have seen, are mere hangers-on and dependents upon the favour of individual Ministers or the Cabinet collectively. Allowing, however, for these, it is strange that a majority of members could still be found to follow the lead of Mr. Vogel although it led them to different points of the compass and to contradictious unmistakable. One session Mr. Vogel solemnly announces that Provincial institutions are necessary, and the majority see it clearly. Next session the master sees that, Provinces are an obstruction, and straightway his obedient servants alter their former opinions and adopt his. The next Mr. Vogel solemnly pledges himself to continue the Provinces in existence, and attempts to alter the page 15 established law of the land, and give them once more that power to borrow, which had not long before been forbidden as being highly inimical to the public welfare. Still again his faithful followers change their ideas—for it would be sacrilege to call them beliefs—and even indecently threaten the Upper House because, in the exercise of a wise and prudent discretion, the Council put a drag upon such preposterous legislation. And, at last, after they had heard publicly from the Ministry, that no organic change was about to be introduced during the session just closed, and had smilingly and warmly agreed to it, they one and all supported the three startling Resolutions of Mr. Vogel. Few men will forget the exquisite satire of that scene in Hamlet where Polonius enters to Hamlet with a message,—
  • Hamlet.—"Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?"
  • Polonius.—By the mass, and 'tis a camel indeed."
  • Hamlet.—"Methinks 'tis like a weasel."
  • Polonius.—"It is backed like a weasel."
  • Hamlet.—"Or like a whale?"
  • Polonius.—"Very like a whale!"

There are some members of the present Assembly who would willingly—nay, who do each session—play Polonius to the Hamlet of Julius Vogel, and until they are driven out of the halls of legislation the country will not be safe. They first pass resolutions, and then ask what those resolutions mean. As a politician Julius Vogel is unscrupulous, but clever; as a financier, bold even to recklessness; as a debater, plausible; as a Minister, tricky, and deceitful. He conciliates those who may be useful to his plans, and adapts his measures of conciliation with wonderful adroitness to the peculiar weaknesses of each individual character. Whatever be the verdict which posterity may pass upon Julius Vogel it is, at least, certain that he possesses in an eminent degree that perception of the character of others which so largely enables all successful men to keep others in accord with themselves and antagonism with their opponents. To Sir George Bowen, who loved ease and a well-timed geniality, and to Sir James Fergusson—somewhat impatient and ambitious—he seems to have been equally acceptable. Cleverer, in his own peculiar way, than either, he managed to preserve with both the most friendly relations. Indeed the only men who, being either his friends or indifferent to him and strangers, have become aliented are those who, like Mr. Waterhouse, Mr. O'Rorke, and Mr. Macandrew, have been suddenly driven off by some swift turn or change which Mr. Vogel deemed necessary, but which they could not endure; or men like Mr. Firth, who, quietly observant of passing tilings, have for a long time seen that the peace and welfare of the Colony are being desperately imperilled by the rash and headlong financial course which he has adopted. He has been singularly favored by that capricious goddess—Fortune. The last four years have been wonderfully prosperous, and would have been so without the Public Works and Immigration policy. Wool has reached a price which has increased the wealth of the Colony—according to the statement of well-informed men—by about ten millions since 1869. The Maories, broken by their long succession of wars and losses, were unable to offer a determined resistance to the onward march of the Pakeha. So far as England and her Colonies have been concerned the world has rested in perfect peace. page 16 No great financial or commercial panic has, like the stormy cyclone, spread ruin and despair on our shores. Our credit, aided and sustained by the wonderful wealth, stability, and expansion of the Colonies of Australia, has been excellent. No circumstance has occurred to dim the brightness, or break the serenity of the past four years. And Julius Vogel has been clever enough to take advantage of all this, and in his last utterances at Auckland, claims it as the natural consequence of his own pet plan. But amid all this outward, and to a large extent temporary and fictitious prosperity, there has been gradually festering a large mass of rottenness and corruption. Nothing has been debated in the Legislature but the increase of, or catching at, material prosperity. No measures of public utility have been attended to or thought of, and where some Bill possessing any real intrinsic merit has been introduced it has been passed, or else thrown out, with an indecent haste which clearly revealed the little interest taken by members in anything outside the gambling political scheme in which they were engaged. The massive features of a truly great character are entirely wanting in Julius Vogel. He possesses imagination, but no originality. He has indeed a remarkable faculty of absorption. One source of his influence is the peculiar talent he enjoys of taking in the thoughts of others and then recasting them. None of his plans are the genuine fruit of his own brain. The Public Works and Immigration are not only a mere expansion of an ordinary colonial practice, but are in New Zealand adapted by Julius Vogel from Stafford. The Conservation of Forests he obtained from other sources. The Polynesian trading scheme has been agitated by Mr. Sterndale, Mr. W. J. Hunt, and Mr. Coleman Phillips for years. His three Resolutions do none of them originate from him. He is not the man that we could imagine leading the way at a risk of personal danger, or self-denial, or self-sacrifice in a struggle for any lofty national principle. His are not the thews that throw the world. His statecraft is essentially and entirely mercenary. At this critical period of the history of New Zealand, partly from irritation, partly from a selfish desire to buy a new support from the three most united votes of New Zealand, and partly pushed on by men behind more far-seeing than himself, he has started questions of infinite importance to his country,—the manful and honest handling of which would prove his fitness to be the Premier of this colony. And this is the moment that he chooses to go to England for the purpose of borrowing more money. When the feelings and convictions of a large section of the people have been outraged,—when he has coolly proposed to defraud the public credit and the people of New Zealand by making a gift of the public lands of the South Island to the provinces of Canterbury and Otago,—when he has obtained the assent of the wretched and corrupt majority of the House of Representatives to his startling and violent plans—he then quietly leaves the country, and hands over the moulding of the future constitution of the Colony to some unknown lawyer, who is to go forth and learn from the intellectual Chairmen of Country Road Boards how to frame a system of Government which shall make New Zealand famous. It is difficult to understand how a free people can tolerate this conduct. To many men, however, it is fast becoming a question as to how far the people of New Zealand are entitled to be called free. When Mr. Vogel addressed his page 17 constituents at Auckland prior to his departure for England the people did not appear to approve of all his actions. The next morning the Southern Cross—a paper belonging partly to Mr. Vogel himself, and edited by one of the followers of Mr. Vogel in the House, a being who in the presence of his patron dare not call his soul his own—contained a long and virulent article, partly directed against the writer of these pages and partly against the people of Auckland. The people were distinctly threatened. Because they had dared to express dissent from Mr. Vogel, Mr. Vogel's flunkey burned with indignation. They had insulted the great man, and they would suffer for it. They would remember it to their sorrow! And the people of Auckland took the threats meekly and in fear. Some of them even regretted that they had not followed the miserable lead of the parasites and panderers who hang around the Premier, "Let us eat any amount of dirt," say these. "Let us fall down and worship the golden calf. What matters honesty or freedom? It is better for us to fawn upon the Premier, who has the dispensing of the borrowed millions, than to indulge in expensive ideas. We may be pointed at and scorned; but let those laugh who win!" Cowards and slaves in spirit, you are not fit to breathe the air of liberty! You are a blot upon a free people. Follow your natural instincts. Be dictated to by Mr. Vogel's newspapers and Mr. Vogel's servants, who sit in their editorial chairs; but do not interfere with the liberties of others, or it may chance that you also will repent it! Mr. Vogel has completely demoralised the Lower House. He has bribed some of the members as Provincial representatives; he has secured others by constant promises of individual preferment. In one session a Bill was proposed to appoint a Board of five members of the House at very largo salaries, and it is said that the seats were pledged to fifteen men; but luckily the Bill was thrown out. A million and a-half of money, according to Mr. Vogel's own statement, was given to purchase the adherence of the Provinces, while a warm supporter of the Government said from his place in the Assembly that he believed if this had not been done the Ministry could not have held its seat for eight and forty hours. One Minister appoints himself to a Resident Magistracy. Strange rumours are afloat in connection with another as to the destiny of a sum of three thousand pounds on the purchase of the "Luna" steamer. Accusations are made against others in relation to the purchasing of vast estates from the native owners. The corruption has spread downwards. In no dependency of Great Britain have so many complaints been made of the conduct of Magistrates as in New Zealand during the last five years, and even lately the Colony has been ringing with a Judicial scandal, affecting seriously the truthfulness and honesty either of a Judge of the Supreme Court or one of the District Court. But complaints against Magistrates have been more than useless. So gross is the administration of justice in many of the Courts of this Colony that men will sooner put up with a loss or an act of tyranny than bring their case before a tribunal which they believe will decide against them irrespective of the merits of the cause, and from whose judgment there is practically no appeal. The whole system of the administration is wrong. It begins with the Supreme Court. The five Judges are scattered far and wide. Each resides in the same district for many years—ten or it may be twenty—there is no page 18 change. They meet only twice a-year, when a few cases—generally reserved on trifling and technical points—are considered in a full Court, then called the Court of Appeal. It so happens that the Judges of New Zealand are men well known and equally respected. They are men of highly-conscientious minds, who are above a base action or an unworthy motive. Each has to live say for fifteen years in a small community, in which but few people can ever meet him in society on anything like equal terms. He lacks the advantage of converse and argument with his brother-judges. He wields a power over the Supreme Court which is for all practical purposes despotic. To say that a man can do this without gradually becoming more kindly-disposed to some than to others, without raising some legal practitioners to that happy state where they are said to have "the ear of the Court," while others are regarded with but ordinary complacency—and without contracting friendships and antipathies which must, however unconsciously, influence the purest mind—is to say that he is more than mortal. Besides this, there grows up a grave uncertainty as to decisions of law on disputed points. I have argued a case before one judge on certain grounds, and he unhesitatingly decided against me; I have argued the same case on precisely the same grounds, and against the same antagonist, before another judge, three months afterwards, and he as unhesitatingly gave it in my favor. I have seen a practitioner almost always successful before one judge, and almost always unsuccessful before another, while there seemed no appreciable difference between his arguments, the weight and solidity of the grounds upon which those arguments were urged, or the justice of the case he supported. The people are wearied of these lonely tribunals. There never will be a satisfactory Supreme Court in New Zealand till there is a powerful Central Court of at least three judges, always sitting at the capital city of the Colony. Then there will be a strong Bench and a strong bar. Then the people will have a "Supreme Court" in truth, and then the legislation of the country will not be conducted in the beggarly, ridiculous, and slipshod manner in which it is at present. It will then no longer be a shoddy legislation, but the country will get statutes which do not need tinkering, and repealing, and altering, and amending every session. From this digression let us return. Julius Vogel has done much to demoralize the people. Such promises have been made to them of immediate and great prosperity that they are no longer patient enough to toil and wait for ordinary success. The laws of the land also have been notoriously broken, especially by the wealthy and by people in authority, since the present Ministry came into power. Complaints have been made, but in nearly every instance instead of the wrongdoers being punished the law has been altered to shield them. It was thus with the Stamp Act. It was thus with the Winding-up Act. It was thus with the Native Lands Act. It was thus with the Timber Floatage Act. It was thus with the Petty Sessions Act. The Ministry have let contracts to their friends without calling for public tenders, and have allowed their friends to throw up contracts when to have carried them out would have been a loss to them but a gain to the country. By means such as these the present Assembly has been corrupted, and although in each large centre of population Mr Vogel and his friends have secured the services page 19 of the newspaper press to a very large extent, and placed in charge—especially in one or two places—the very meanest and most servile of the members of the mean and servile majority in the House of Representatives, yet the public mind retains no respect whatever for its Parliament, and they hold it up to continual ridicule and continual contempt. The very extremes of character and ability have been ascribed to the Premier. To some he is a bold and unscrupulous adventurer. He is called by some an honest and upright Minister, anxious only for the welfare of his adopted country, and toiling with vast courage and conduct for her welfare; while others stigmatise him as a mere political swindler, waiting only a fair opportunity to retire from the scene of his trickery and spoliation. But one thing is certain—whether he be a clever rogue or a heaven-sent statesman—he has been by far the most prominent man in the Colonies for the last five years. His name is deeply carved for weal or woe in the annals of this country, and future historians will mark as the one solitary figure which stood out in bold relief in New Zealand during the last five years the figure of Julius Vogel. His voice introduced the vast policy of borrowing in 1870, and now his hand has placed upon the table of the public mind these Resolutions, which are destined to exert a mighty influence upon the future of New Zealand. Thus, irrespective of his own purposes, and beyond his own hopes and fears, he has set in motion forces and principles which will act, and work, and grow, when the hand which now writes these lines is stilled in death, and all that remains of Julius Vogel shall be the

"Storied urn or animated bust,"

which will tell to our children's children the history of a man in many ways remarkable.