Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

New Zealand and the War.

Chapter VI

page 116

Chapter VI.

Question of Title.—Disastrous Consequences to the Taranaki Settlement, from the forcible Occupation of the Waitara.—Popularity of the Government Policy.—Debates in the General Assembly.—Sir William Martin's Pamphlet on the “Taranaki Question.”—“Notes by the Governor.”

The question of title,” it has been said, “is one on which persons not versed in the intricacies of Native usage cannot expect to form an independent judgment; and, in the management of Native affairs, the Governor of New Zealand commonly acts with the assistance of the Officers of the Native Department, who from their knowledge of the language, character, and customs, of the Natives, are supposed to be qualified to give him accurate information and reliable advice.” But, from the published records of the Office, it does not appear that the Native Department was consulted either as to the validity of the purchase, or as to the expediency of driving William King and his people from the Waitara, and of taking page 117 possession of the land by military force. Experience, however, has long since proved that no menaces of military interference were likely to have any effect upon men who from their childhood have been accustomed to regard it as a point of honour to shed their last drop of blood for the inheritance of their Tribe; and as not six months before the commencement of hostilities the Governor had himself reported that “the immediate consequences of any attempt to acquire Maori lands without previously extinguishing the title to the satisfaction of all having an interest in them, would be an universal outbreak, in which many innocent Europeans would perish,” it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that, by whomsoever he was advised, he was entirely misled as to the completeness of the inquiry into the validity of the title, and as to the probable consequences of driving from their homesteads an influential Chief and his people by military force. But before the Governor of New Zealand can form a sound and independent judgment on important Native questions, he must have time to become acquainted with Native usages, modes of expression, and habits of thought. The late page 118 Governor was no doubt told that William King had always been the one great obstacle to the progress of the settlement; that he had not only refused to sell his own land, but had interfered to prevent the sale of the land of others; that Te Teira and those who offered the block of land at the Waitara for sale, had an absolute right to sell it; and that whatever might be the case in other parts of the country, there existed no tribal right at the Waitara to prevent the claimants from disposing of it; that the interference of William King was an unwarrantable assumption which he would not venture to maintain; that no danger of an armed resistance need be apprehended; and, that by showing a bold front, the Governor would completely overawe him, and lay a solid foundation for the prosperity of the settlement, and earn for himself the character of the most spirited and enlightened ruler who had ever administered the Government of New Zealand. But unfortunately the persons by whose opinions the late Governor appears to have been guided, were not in a position to give him reliable advice; and urged to find an outlet for the settlers, and counselled by his Ministers that the page 119 time had arrived when it was necessary that his authority should be supported by the bayonet, he determined to occupy the land by military force.

The certain consequences of this unusual proceeding soon became apparent, and the blindness of those who urged the Governor to resort to force was visited upon the unfortunate settlers in a manner the most painful and humiliating. Within less than a fortnight after the adoption of the “vigorous policy” recommended by the Council of the Province, and which they declared would be attended by no danger of an outbreak, the Superintendent reported “that, with the exception of about ninety persons, the whole of the settlers had abandoned their homesteads, and were concentrated in the town; that, in a small town intended for a population of 1,000, upwards of 2,500 were crowded, and that nearly 500 of them were living upon rations supplied at the public expense: and he suggested that in point of economy, and for other reasons, it would be expedient to deport women and children to the number of about 600 from the Province.” Whether or not their claims were valid, it was page 120 now evident that the Natives who had been forcibly dispossessed would not submit to see them set aside by force, and since blood on both sides had been shed, the Governor became alive to the dangerous consequences of commencing a survey before he was assured that all who had even a disputed claim to the land desired it should be sold. He now reported to the Duke of Newcastle that a much larger number of Troops than had hitherto been asked for would be necessary to maintain possession of the Colony at all; that he had written to the Governors of the Australian Colonies, requesting them to send him such support as they were able; and that hitherto he had considered that 2,000 men, with a strong Company of Artillery, would have enabled him to bring such a force into the field suddenly as would extinguish the first sparks of rebellion; but that he was now compelled to say that he believed 3,000 men, a steam gun-boat, and a steamer of war, would be necessary for some time to come, to ensure the maintenance of peace. Following closely upon repeated assurances that the purchase of the land had been completed fairly—that it was not disputed by any one—that the Chief page 121 of the Waitara had never asserted any title to it—and that no real opposition was expected from him—this startling intelligence surprised the British Cabinet, and drew from Sir Cornewall Lewis, then acting as Colonial Minister, a grave and significant reply.

Many months, however, elapsed before the public generally was aware how little can be effected in New Zealand by military force; and, with the insignificant number of Troops at his disposal, the situation of the Officer in command was painfully embarrassing. The Pahs of the insurgents were invariably taken, but the occupants as certainly succeeded in making their escape; and instead of gaining credit for capturing their strongholds, Colonel Gould, after being involved in an unequal contest with a formidable enemy, in an impracticable country, was given to understand that “the Maories construe escape into victory,” that they must be “made to feel our power both to protect and to avenge,” and that it was expected he would find some means of striking an effective blow against them. At the same time, however, the Governor was anxious to avoid unnecessary bloodshed; and two months after page 122 the commencement of hostilities he requested that Colonel Gould “would abstain from all interference with William King, unless he should himself commence hostilities.” He afterwards repeated the request, and for some time there was an almost total cessation of active operations. But, unfortunately for the Officer in command, it was not then generally known that he had been prohibited from taking the offensive and attacking William King; so his unexplained inaction naturally bore the appearance of a want of energy and enterprise; and, failing to gain any decided advantage over the insurgents, Colonel Gould was assailed on all sides with the bitterest abuse.

The danger of rousing the Natives into an armed resistance was now sufficiently apparent; for with more than 2,000 British troops in the province, with the sea close at hand for the base of our operations, and with five ships of war on the New Zealand Station, the insurgents, inferior to ourselves in arms, numbers, and equipment, soon had the whole district in their power. The settlers, who bore their accumulated misfortunes with wonderful spirit, and who for several months were crowded together in a state of page 123 helpless inactivity within the narrow limits of the town,* had the mortification to see their homesteads set on fire and their cattle driven away within less than a mile of the military post. Those who ventured beyond the limits of the lines were liable to be waylaid and shot; the road to the Waitara, not more than twelve miles distant, could only be traversed in safety with a powerful military escort; and instead of convincing the Natives of our power “to protect and avenge,” our protecting power, as had been frequently foretold, was seen to be practically limited within gunshot of the camp.

It appears to have been determined that the public should have no opportunity of expressing any opinion either as to the justice or policy of occupying the land by a military force; thus the determination of the Executive to have recourse to force, in case of need, to gain possession of the land, was designedly concealed, on the ground that the public discussion of the question would have been likely to produce more harm than good;

* The area within the trenches, in which nearly the whole population were for a length of time cooped up, did not exceed thirty acres.

page 124 and when, to the astonishment of the community, martial law was proclaimed, few of the settlers were sufficiently informed on the subject to form any opinion of the merits of the case. It was officially stated by the authorities that the Native was in arms against the Queen's sovereign authority; that the Chief of the Waitara had never possessed or asserted any title to the land; that he was a lawless and turbulent member of a powerful and mischievous anti-land-selling league; that the title of the seller had been carefully investigated, and found to be valid; that to enforce the purchase would be to protect the weak against the strong, and would tend to the speedy acquisition of large tracts of valuable land, not only in the Province of Taranaki, but in other parts of the country. Under these circumstances, and looking to the opinion frequently expressed by the Governor, of the danger of attempting to buy land with a disputed title, it was naturally believed that the Government would not have risked a Native insurrection by enforcing the purchase of a small tract of land, the title to which was open to the slightest doubt. And, as the expenses of the war were to be borne by Great page 125 Britain, the local Government, on opening the session, informed the General Assembly that they had received from all parts of the Colony assurances of sympathy and support. Seeing that these statements were made on the authority of the Government, it is hardly surprising that their policy was afterwards supported by a majority in both Houses of the Colonial Parliament. In the Upper House, the war party were as three to one, and the former Attorney-General of the Colony was the only member who raised his voice in opposition. In the House of Representatives, parties were more nearly balanced. The Ministers confidently maintained the validity of the purchase, but they showed no desire to have the case investigated by competent authority, and they succeeded in defeating a motion for a Committee of Inquiry. But Native interests were not without powerful advocates in the Assembly; and the case of the Natives was supported with great spirit by the Superintendent of the Province of Auckland, the Superintendent of the Province of Wellington, by the leader of the opposition, by the Chairman of Committees, and by other leading members of the Assembly.
page 126

“Whenever land was spoken of,” said Mr. Carleton, “the suspicion of the Natives was raised. The influence of the Native Secretary's Department had been entirely destroyed by its having been connected with the Land Purchase Department; the Governor had lost his influence through having become the chief land broker. The Natives felt that the Governor was no longer a judge between themselves and the Land Purchaser.” And he maintained that inquiry should be made into the circumstances of the case; and, if injustice should be found to have been done, that restitution should be made. “The land,” he declared, “was the bone in this case; if wrongly acquired, we had to give it up. For the quarrel was not confined to Taranaki; we had lost the confidence of three-fourths of the Natives, who believed that the intention of the Government was to take their lands by force. If we desired to avert a war of races, we must begin by placing ourselves recti in curiâ. War was a heavy responsibility. It was all very well for those outside the House to rant about ‘putting down the Natives,’ but the case was very different within. They had votes; each Member in the House exercised one-fortieth part page 127 of the Government of the country. They knew what a fearful thing it was to have upon their conscience the reckless shedding of blood in an unjust cause.”

The leader of the opposition, afterwards Colonial Prime Minister, Mr. Fox, attacked the policy of the Government without the slightest affectation of reserve. “Having,” as he declared, “neglected the machinery of friendly influence and of political institutions, having taught the Natives that they were regarded as a separate and independent people,” his Excellency next invited them to arm themselves for the impending struggle! In 1857, long after the King movement was in full progress—long after the signs of disaffection were manifest to every one—his Excellency, for no assignable or conceivable reason, repealed, by proclamation, those wise restrictions on the sale of arms and ammunition which his predecessor had imposed; and thus, not only invited, but enabled the Natives to do what they had since most effectually done—arm themselves to the teeth, from one end of the Island to the other! And now, having prepared them for the struggle, he took steps to bring it on. He effected this importunate, this ill-judged, this page 128 ill-timed, this incomplete purchase of that miserable 600 acres, of which we have heard so much. Why did he, at such a critical time, add this culminating cause of war to the others less threatening? Why was it necessary to buy, why necessary to survey, why necessary to take possession, at this particular crisis? I greatly fear, sir,” the honourable member continued, “that other motives operated in producing the inconsiderate rashness with which this purchase was effected—unconsciously, perhaps, to his Excellency, but, nevertheless, influencing his mind. When I reflect on the fact that ever since the reversal of Mr. Spain's award the settlers at Taranaki have looked with a longing eye on the fat and fertile fields at Waitara—when I remember that the Native Minister is a representative of the Province of Taranaki and doubt not that his constituents often pressed him on the subject—when, above all, I refer to that petition of the Provincial Council of Taranaki which proposes to the Governor to compel a dissentient minority, or even majority of the Natives, to divide their common lands with a view to a sale, and which assures his Excellency that he need not fear to attempt such compulsion, page 129 ‘because the dissentients would be few in number, and incapable of offering any resistance,’ I cannot help fearing that his Excellency has been influenced by a pressure from without, which has forced him into a course from which the least foresight ought to have withheld him.”

“While honestly and conscientiously believing,” said Dr. Featherston, the Superintendent of the Province of Wellington, concluding an eloquent speech, “that the war is an unjust and unholy war, I cannot but feel that we are placed in a most painful position; for while, on the one hand, any retreat or vacillation in carrying on the war might be most disastrous to both races, it is, on the other hand, most shocking to urge that we should go on shedding blood in a cause which we believe to be unjust. I cannot but express an earnest hope that we may be able to devise some means of bringing the conflict to a close without compromising the dignity of the Crown, or the safety of both races. I would remind you that, as the Natives have not in this House any representatives of their race, we are bound by a sense of justice—by that love of fair play which ever has been, and, I trust, ever will be, the distinguishing character- page 130 istic of our nation—to protect their interests; to mete out equal justice. For my own part, I know of no higher duty that can possibly devolve upon this House than to prove to the Natives that it is a tribunal to which an appeal for redress will never be made in vain. I can conceive no means so calculated to restore the confidence of the Natives in the justice of the Government (which has been so entirely destroyed by these transactions), as a determination evinced by this House to protect them from acts of injustice, no matter how high the powers by which they are perpetrated. Such, I repeat, is the most sacred duty that can possibly devolve upon this House.” And a large portion of the time of the session was afterwards devoted by the House to a patient and a painstaking endeavour to grapple with the difficulties of the Native question; and one of the oldest and most trusted friends of the Natives was able to record his opinion “that the rights of the Natives were nobly vindicated by the independent representatives of the people.”*

* The Superintendent of the Province of Wellington, in his speech on opening the Council of the Province, expressed similar opinions. “It is satisfactory to be able to report the continuance of friendly relations between the Colonists and Natives of the Province. That such relations have been maintained during the past eventful year is owing, under Providence, in a great degree to the mutual confidence which twenty years of friendly intercourse have established, but still more to the part which your representatives took in the session of the General Assembly, in insisting on that investigation into the title of the disputed land which now, after repeated refusals to grant it, and after virtual military defeat, the Governor has himself proffered in the terms of peace proposed by him to the insurgents. The conduct of your representatives on that occasion removed from the minds of the Natives suspicions of the intentions of the Colonists towards them, allayed the alarm and irritation which the unjust seizure of the Waitara land had provoked, and was, I do firmly believe, the means of averting from this province, calamities greater than that which has well nigh blotted out its unfortunate neighbour from the map of New Zealand.”

page 131

Some time after the termination of the session, and when the question had been freely discussed in the Assembly, and time had been allowed for patient inquiry and calm consideration, the late Chief Justice of New Zealand published a pamphlet on the “Taranaki Question.” There is, probably, no individual, not in the Colony, whose judgment on the subject is entitled to greater weight. “The name of Sir William Martin,” the late Governor had not long previously informed the Secretary of State, “is never mentioned without respect either by Native or European; and his experience and intimate acquaintance with the Maories cause him to be an undisputed authority in everything relating page 132 to them.” The pamphlet itself was admitted by those whose policy it impugns to be “the fullest, the calmest, and the most able exposition of the views of those who condemn the Taranaki war.” “No right of a British subject,” says Sir William Martin, “is more clear or more precious that this; that the Executive Government shall not use the force at its command to oust any man from his land, or deprive him of any right which be claims, until the question between the Crown and the subject has been heard and determined by some competent tribunal—some tribunal perfectly independent of the Government, wielding the powers of a court of justice, and subject to the same checks and safeguards. This is a fundamental principle of our English Government; not only of our English Constitution, but, of necessity, a fundamental rule of all free and constitutional Governments everywhere. For, without it, the subject has no security against the aggressions of the Government. If the Government can decide the matter in its own way, and through its own dependent agents, and then take what it claims, the subject is at the mercy of the Government.” * * * At the Waitara, for the first time, a new page 133 plan was adopted. The Governor, in his capacity of land buyer, was now to use against subjects of the Crown the force which is at his disposal as Governor and Commander-in-Chief. If this new principle was to be adopted, a new practice also became necessary. Those subjects of the Queen against whom force was to be used had a right to the protection of the Queen's Courts before force was resorted to. It is not lawful for the Executive Government to use force, in a purely civil question, without the authority of a competent judicial tribunal. In this case no such authority has been obtained, no such tribunal has been resorted to. The Government thus undertook to obtain possession of the disputed land by force, to awe the opponents into submission by a display of military force. We, the English subjects of the Queen, dislike nothing so much as being intimidated into the relinquishment of a right. Why should a Maori dislike it less? On the contrary, the pride and passion of the race, the patriotism of each clan, have always centred on this point. To fight for their land, to resist encroachment even to the death, this has been their point of honour. A Chief, who should yield to intimidation in such a page 134 case, would be degraded in the eyes of the people. The one question to be asked was this:—Was it lawful for the Government, under the circumstances, to take possession of the land by armed force? There could be only one answer,—it was not lawful.”

So grave a condemnation of the proceedings of the local authorities, coming from so competent an authority as the late Chief Justice of the Colony, was sufficient to raise a serious doubt as to the justice of the war; and it is not surprising that the promoters of it were provoked to take the somewhat unusual course of publishing an official reply. In the voluminous body of “Notes” bearing the title, in the first issue, of “Notes by the Governor on Sir William Martin's pamphlet,” nearly twelve months after the public had been officially and positively told that “Te Teira's title had been carefully investigated and found to be valid, and that it was not disputed by any one,” it was admitted that “the title of the settlers to part of the block is certain; the Government contends that their title to the whole is probable.” Thus it would seem that there was nothing but a probability on which to rest a justification for provoking and page 135 prolonging an agrarian war. Though described in the first edition as “Notes by the Governor,” the internal evidence was conclusive that they were not written by the Governor himself. The “revised copy” appeared without the Governor's name, and it would be doing Governor Browne an injustice to believe that, when he gave his sanction to the publication, he was even cognizant of its contents. He would hardly describe Sir William Martin as an object of universal and deserved respect, and as an undisputed authority on Native affairs, and immediately afterwards attempt to show that he is no authority whatever—charge him with giving a false colouring to his statements—with making use of partial and misleading quotations—with being shifty, uninformed, and untrustworthy,—suggesting answers which too often give a false colouring to the subject under discussion, and which do not tend to make the Maories loyal subjects,—and immediately afterwards put forward a public notification requesting that further discussion of the subject should henceforward cease. Commenting on a passage in Sir William Martin's pamphlet, in which the late Chief Justice suggests that the “new policy” of the Government may page 136 have found favour with the Colonial public partly because it was profitable, the writer of the “Official Notes” tauntingly remarks, “The imputation on the Colonists of New Zealand of mere cupidity, which is conveyed by the sentence cited, should have been spared,”—a taunt which can hardly have been penned by the Governor, who, referring to the unoccupied land of the Natives, had recently informed the Secretary of State “that the Europeans covet these lands, and were determined to enter in and possess them, recte si possint, si non quocunque modo; that this determination becomes daily more apparent, and that neither law nor equity will prevent the occupation of Native lands by Europeans, when the latter are strong enough to defy both the Native owners and the Government.” Nor is it probable that the late Governor, the author of so plain an imputation, should immediately afterwards have arrived at the conclusion set forth in the “Official Notes,” that “the desire for the acquisition of territory springs from far deeper feelings than the mere love of acquisition or of property;”—that the Colonists, to whom he had imputed that neither law nor equity could prevent their occupation of Native land when they page 137 were strong enough to defy the Government, “see in the extension of British territory a guarantee for the extension of British law, and for the establishment of British sovereignty.” But the promoters of the war now began to be seriously irritated to find the justice of their proceedings gravely called in question by competent authority; and all who opposed them were unsparingly condemned. The Chief of the Waitara, who had formerly been declared by the Officer in command of the Troops, on account of his services in the South, to be deserving of more consideration than any manifested towards him by the local authorities of Taranaki, was now described as “in all respects an essential savage, varnished over by the thinnest coating of Scripture phrases.” The late Chief Justice of the Colony, who only two years previously had been acknowledged to be “an undisputed authority,” was now treated in the “Official Notes” with but scant courtesy. Archdeacon Hadfield, who had not long previously been described by the Governor “as being more thoroughly acquainted with the Maories than any European in the country,” was now entirely set aside as an authority; and the Archdeacon for whose “Christian character and talents, page 138 zeal and unwearied perseverance,” the Governor had not long before expressed his admiration, was now alluded to with a covert sneer; while the clergy who, in 1856, were officially reported “to have done more to tranquillize the country than any other class of persons,” were now denounced as little better than political firebands.