New Zealand and the War.
Military Operations.—War risked without Preparation.—Power of the Insurgents Underrated.—Repulse of the Troops at Puketekauere.—The out-Settlers driven in.—Women and Children sent to the neighbouring Provinces for safety. The Taranaki Settlement virtually destroyed.—Impracticable Character of the Taranaki Country for Military Operations.—The Insurgents keep the Field. — Embarrassing Position of the Governor.—Sudden Cessation of Hostilities.—Terms of Peace.—Difficulty of Warfare in the Bush.—Cost of the War.—Change in Public Opinion.—Waikato “King Movement.”—Change of Ministry.—Sir George Grey appointed Governor.—The Colony saved from a General War.
Apart from all question as to the justice of their proceedings, the local authorities incurred a serious responsibility in risking a collision with the Natives, especially in a land question, without first making adequate preparation for the safety of the settlers. It had long before been clearly pointed out by Sir George Grey, that the interval between the isolated English settlements was occupied by a formidable Native race, armed with rifles and double-barrelled page 140 guns, skilled in the use of them, addicted to war, and such good tacticians, that we had never succeeded in bringing them to a decisive encounter. It had also been pointed out, only a short time previously, by some of the Northern settlers, that “in case of an outbreak, protection cannot be afforded to those who are most exposed to danger, except by a military force strong enough to garrison every isolated farmhouse.” Yet in the face of experience, and against all reasonable expectation, it was thought that a simple demonstration—the mere landing of two or three hundred soldiers on the beach at Taranaki—would intimidate the Chief of the Waitara and his people, and prevent them from offering any resistance to our occupation of the land. And with the insignificant force at that time in New Zealand, and before reinforcements could be procured either from England or the neighbouring colonies, actual hostilities were commenced; and the example set by ourselves of beginning the war by destroying the property of the Natives after driving them from the land, was speedily followed by their Southern Allies with the most ruinous consequences. It imme- page 141 diately became apparent that with the town to protect—having to maintain possession of the debateable land—and with the Southern Natives to keep at bay, we had enough to do, with the small force then at our command, even to hold our own.
Englishmen find it difficult to believe that any coloured race can make a stand before them in the field; and, until they have met the Maories on their own ground, our officers invariably underrate their military prowess. But in the attack on Puketekauere, both officers and men, who had only just landed in the Colony, found that they had to deal with no despicable antagonists. Armed with the rifle and the bayonet, and supported by artillery, our troops were driven from the field, to the astonishment of the insurgents themselves, by a Maori force not more than double the number of our own troops—having no artillery, without a single bayonet, and armed only with common muskets, fowling-pieces, and double-barrelled guns. During their retreat our troops were so closely pressed by the insurgents that our dead were left upon the field, and a number of the wounded also were abandoned to page 142 their fate. The day but one following, our dead were buried by the enemy, within a mile of our camp, and within range of our own guns. From that day, all who were engaged in this untoward affair were taught that, both in point of generalship, as well as on account of their energy and courage, the Maories, even in comparatively open ground, are a formidable enemy—a conviction which they carried with them unimpaired throughout the whole campaign.
Even before we involved ourselves in the conflict, it had almost become an axiom that if you would have a settlement destroyed, garrison it with Troops. General Pratt—who, on succeeding Colonel Gould in command, found, as he reported, “the settlers driven in from their farms, their cattle seized, and other property destroyed, many of their houses burnt, the enemy in the immediate vicinity round the town, an attack on it avowedly threatened, and the place crowded with women and children, whose only safety was the presence of the troops,”—was not long in discovering that he was engaged in a novel species of warfare, in an impracticable country, and against an active, daring, and formidable page 143 enemy; and that in superseding Colonel Gould, he had succeeded to a thankless office and a difficult command.
As soon as he had made provision for the safety of the settlers, who were all crowded together within the entrenched portion of the town, General Pratt commenced operations in the field. But the moving of a body of Regular Troops, with heavy guns and a long line of bullock drays laden with supplies, through a rugged country, without roads or bridges, and intersected in every direction by forest, and swampgullies and streams, was a difficult, expensive, and unprofitable undertaking. Whenever they were attacked, the Natives abandoned their defences as soon as they became untenable, and always succeeded in securing their retreat; and notwithstanding his exertions, the General was unable to bring them to a decisive encounter. Though he drove them from their strongholds in every direction, and in the course of a few weeks captured and destroyed nearly thirty of their Pahs, his services were by no means gratefully acknowledged: and, like Colonel Gould, he had the mortification to be reminded that by page 144 the Maories their escape would certainly be regarded as a victory.
In urging the general Government to ignore the Tribal right, and to pursue a “vigorous policy,” the Provincial authorities of Taranaki had represented that a large proportion of the Natives themselves would cordially support us, and that the remainder would, from the smallness of their number, be incapable of offering any effectual resistance. But the adherents of William King, including reinforcements from Waikato and the South, already amounted to about 1700 men; while Teira's supporters, who received rations, and a shilling a day each from the Government, never exceeded 300. Nor had they in truth the spirit of the insurgents; and finding themselves in a false position, they were for the most part unable to act with much cordiality in our cause. In addition to our 300 Native allies, the British forces now amounted to 2,300 men, but the difficulty of carrying on war either with honour or profit in a wild country, abounding with natural fastnesses, now began to dawn upon a few unprejudiced minds. The Governor now saw that, even with a body page 145 of the Queen's Troops considerably outnumbering the insurgents, unless some decisive advantage were speedily gained, the war might be continued indefinitely. Seeing, too, how disastrous the war had proved to the unfortunate settlers, the local authorities, who had incurred the responsibility of provoking it, became impatient for some unmistakeable success; and they were urgent that the General should adopt a system of guerilla warfare. “I have no doubt,” wrote the Governor, “that a system of sudden, secret, and constant attacks, when and where they least expect it, will so distress the Natives in your neighbourhood, that when their allies return, both parties will be disheartened and glad to end their trouble by submission.” The General, however, was of a different opinion. He had never probably seen an unencumbered Englishman stumbling over the slippery roots of a New Zealand forest in the vain attempt to keep up with the nimble footsteps of a Maori, with a load of forty pounds weight upon his back; but he had seen enough to know that if “it is by the legs, and not by the arms, victories are gained,” it was in vain to attempt to distress the Maories page 146 by a system of guerilla warfare carried on on their own ground by Regular Troops, dependent upon a regular commissariat, and no match for the enemy in their local knowledge or in their power of moving through the bush; and as regards the capture of the Natives, the General reported that the attemps he had made to surprise them had convinced him of the hopelessness of all endeavours to prevent their escape from any place which they did not intend to defend.
“Pahs in the open country,” also reported the Colonel commanding the Engineers, “will be invariably left on the approach of a hostile force. Capture of the Pah,” he added, “may be in all cases calculated upon confidently with little loss; but capture of the defenders, with the experience already gained, will never be effected.” The only course which remained for the General was to show the Natives that their strongest position could be approached, turned, and captured with little loss to the invaders: a system of tactics which proved indeed very galling to the enemy, but which, in the face of much adverse criticism, required no small amount of page 147 moral courage on the part of the General steadily to carry into effect.
The contest had now continued for upwards of eight months. At its commencement it was generally expected, even if we should be unable to put down the insurgents with a high hand and by striking a decisive blow, that a few months of active warfare would exhaust their ammunition and supplies; but excepting a few, who had had an opportunity of witnessing the difficulty of military operations in our former Maori wars, the public were entirely ignorant of the resources of the insurgents. In common with the Natives throughout the country—partly through an evasion of the law, and partly through the operation of the relaxed regulations of the Government—they had recently been abundantly supplied with arms and ammunition. Besides what had been supplied to them in contravention of the law, nearly eight thousand pounds weight of gunpowder, more than 300 double-barrelled guns, and nearly 500 single-barrelled guns, had in the short space of nine months not long previously been permitted to be sold to the Natives with the sanction of the authorities. If, as occasionally happened, page 148 lead ran short amongst them, they made use of Puriri or other hard-wood bullets; and to economize percussion-caps, they sometimes used them over and over again, pressing the broken edges together, and reloading them with the detonating matter on the tip of a vesta match. Being in possession of the country, living at free quarters, and following Napoleon's plan of making the war support itself, the insurgents were thus enabled to continue to keep the field, and, without incurring any serious loss, to give to the Troops no small amount of harassing and unprofitable occupation; and, foiled by their skilful and cautious tactics, the General had long to wait for an opportunity of meeting them on equal terms.
At the commencement of the outbreak it was declared by the Provincial authorities that the insurgents would soon be starved out, and that “shut up in the forest by an overpowering force in the open land, and harassed by irregulars in their retreats, they could hardly be supposed to have subsistence for a longer time than twelve months.” But it was not the Natives, but the Troops and the settlers, who were really page 149 harassed and shut up; and so far from wanting the means of subsistence, it was reported of the Natives nearly a year after the commencement of hostilities, “that since the rebels were located at Waireka (a few miles' distance from the town), they had collected a large number of cattle and horses, which are sent from time to time to the Ngatiruanui country; that they were living in clover, that they had plenty of potatoes which were taken from the settlers' cultivations, and as much beef and mutton as they could eat.” More than a year after martial law had been proclaimed, and when there was a military force in the Province of more than 3,000 men, exceeding the number of Natives in arms against us, the settlers of Taranaki addressed a Memorial to the Governor, stating “that the position of this settlement is very critical, and the results of the present system of carrying on the war most unsatisfactory. That notwithstanding the presence of a very considerable military force in this Province, it is yet unsafe for any person to venture beyond the outposts, in consequence of the country being continually overrun by small bands of marauding Natives within rifle- page 150 shot of the barracks. That within the last fortnight a large number of valuable houses belonging to the settlers have been burned, and great numbers of horses and cattle have been carried off by such marauders; and recently a most estimable settler has been waylaid and butchered. That the proximity of these bands, and the known existence of large bodies of Natives a short distance from the town, cause great uneasiness to the inhabitants, who feel that an overwhelming force might be brought against it at any moment without warning.” The most sceptical were at length painfully convinced that the statement of one of the numerous writers on New Zealand, formerly regarded as humorous exaggeration, was really expressed in the language of soberness and truth; and that if military protection is to be effectual, it will be necessary to have “a sentinel for every cow, and a sergeant's guard to attend upon every labourer.”*
* Power's New Zealand.
As may be readily imagined, the position of the Governor had for some time been most embarrassing. From the first, both the justice and the policy of the war had been gravely called in question. From an early period it was seen that the ground had been ill-chosen for a contest by regular troops; and, after a struggle protracted for upwards of a year, it was obvious that little page 152 progress had been made, and there appeared to be but little prospect of reducing the insurgents to submission. The Governor was no doubt persuaded that he was engaged in endeavouring to maintain the supremacy of the Crown; but he had already been reminded by Sir Cornewall Lewis that a policy which requires the continual presence of a large force carries its condemnation in its face; and he was now told by the Duke of Newcastle that, instead of being an Imperial question, the contest was regarded by her Majesty's Government as “peculiarly a Settlers' war,” or as a “quarrel with William King;” and, finding himself involved in a protracted and fruitless contest for the attainment of an object which a large body of her Majesty's Maori subjects regarded as unjust, it is not surprising that the Governor now seized the earliest opportunity of bringing the contest to an end. Nor had the insurgents anything to gain by prolonging it. It was beginning to be apparent to them that they were unable to make an effectual stand before our troops, and that General Pratt was able surely, and with little loss, to dislodge them from any position they might attempt to defend. They page 153 were advised also by their friends that they might appeal with confidence to the justice of the Crown, but that it was in vain to defy its power; that while they were in arms, their complaints would not be listened to; and that they must first cease fighting, before their wrongs could be redressed; and after a period of great suffering to the Taranaki settlers, and after continuing for upwards of a year, the war came suddenly to an end—like all our Maori wars, however, without an agreement between the contending parties, and without any decided advantage on either side. Terms of peace were talked of and offered by both, but hostilities were allowed to cease before any conditions were finally agreed upon.
A few weeks before the termination of the war, William Thompson, a Waikato Chief, who had always prided himself on being a peace-maker, went down to Taranaki in the character of mediator, and with the view of inducing the contending parties to leave their differences to be determined by the judgment of the law. On arriving at the seat of war, he applied to General Pratt to grant a truce for three days, that he might confer with King and his allies; but as no page 154 satisfactory terms were afterwards proposed to the General, the fighting was resumed on the fourth day. A few days afterwards the head of the Native Land Purchase Department arrived from Auckland, instructed by the Governor to hear what terms the insurgents had to offer; and he had a meeting with William Thompson and about 100 of William King's Waikato allies. In the course of the conference, Thompson stated that the Waitara land was the cause of the quarrel, and that it would have been well if a conference of Chiefs had taken place before the commencement of hostilities; that the Natives did not fully comprehend the views of the Government; and that as they were an ignorant people, it was necessary that the Governor and the Europeans, who had great wisdom, should inquire into and adjust the quarrels arising between the two races. The meeting, however, broke off without any agreement having been arrived at.
At the conference which was held between William Thompson and William King, a number of the Waitara Natives, and the leading men of their Waikato and Ngatiruanui allies, were present. After an interchange of diplomatic courtesies page 155 between the two Chiefs, it was agreed by all present that the subject of dispute—the land at the Waitara, and the question of peace or the continuance of war—should be left to the decision of William Thompson; and in little more than half-a-dozen words, and with the air of brevity and decision of the head of a grand army, the Chief of Ngatiawa dismissed the allies to their respective homes, and, so far as Taranaki was concerned, almost instantly brought the contest to an end.
William Thompson.—“Waikato! Return home.
“Te Atiawa! To Ngatiawa.
“Let the soldiers return to New Plymouth.
“As for the Waitara, leave it for the law to protect.”
And in obedience to his command, both the Ngatiruanuis and the Waikatos retired from the field; and the public, not knowing what had taken place behind the scenes, were astonished to see the Waikatos suddenly break up and disappear like a dissolving view. Shortly afterwards, the page 156 Governor having heard that the Waitara Natives were willing to make peace, and having determined to treat separately with the several bodies of insurgents, proceeded to Taranaki; but either because they could not agree as to the place of meeting, or for some other reason, William King and the Governor never met, and the Chief of the Waitara and a number of his people soon afterwards retired inland, without having come to any terms. The terms proposed by the Governor were accepted by a remnant of the Waitara Natives who remained upon the ground, and peace was hastily concluded with them. The Troops were withdrawn from the various redoubts, and marched into the town; and shortly afterwards, to the bewildered astonishment of the Taranaki settlers, three-fourths of the whole military was suddenly removed from the Province. To satisfy the unfortunate settlers—who were unable to see what advantage they were likely to obtain, after all their sufferings, from a war thus suddenly brought to an end, leaving many of their cultivated farms in the possession of the insurgents, who now claimed them by right of conquest; without indemnity for the past, security for the page 157 future, or any guarantee for the continuance of peace—the Governor was reported to have informed them that “the terms granted to the Ngatiawa were determined on with a view to simplify the issue in the present struggle; that it had been called a land quarrel, but though it arose out of a land quarrel, it was itself a question of jurisdiction; and that it was thought right by himself and his Executive Council to rid the issue of this extraneous matter at once, and that he thought the settlers would shortly see that this was right. The land-league, he believed, was broken up for ever in Taranaki; and as the Natives, now that its pressure was gone, were desirous to sell land, all that was necessary for the consolidation of the settlement would, he had great hopes, be very soon obtained.”
In the terms proposed to the Ngatiawa, or Waitara Natives, who, it was admitted by the Government, had been fighting for what they believed to be their rights, it was declared by the Governor that “the investigation of the title and the survey of the land at Waitara would be continued and completed; that the land in possession of her Majesty's forces would be divided amongst page 158 its former owners, with a title by grant from the Crown; that the plunder taken from the settlers must be restored, and that the Waitara insurgents in future must submit to the Queen and to the authority of the law.” Regarding the ground of quarrel from the Governor's point of view, the terms offered by him were reasonable and moderate; and after having published a manifesto more than a year ago, declaring “that Te Teira's title had been carefully investigated, and found to be good; that it was not disputed by any one; that payment for the land had been received by Te Teira, and that the land now belonged to the Queen,” the Governor showed no small amount of moral courage in declaring, at the end of a year of destructive warfare, that the investigation of the title should be continued.” But, looked at from the Native point of view, the proposed terms appeared less satisfactory. The Chief of the Waitara and his people having been driven from their homes, as they believed, by lawless violence, and having taken up arms only in defence of what they believed to be their rights, regarded the conditions offered by the Governor as both one-sided and unjust.
In the conditions offered to William King's page 159 Waikato allies, it was required that there must be from all submission to the Queen's sovereignty and to the authority of the law; from those who were in possession of plunder, restoration; and from those who had destroyed property, compensation. To the Ngatiruanuis similar terms were proposed, accompanied by a declaration that whenever the individuals charged with the grave offence of killing unarmed settlers and children should be taken, they would be brought to justice and dealt with according to our law. In the declaration addressed to the Waikato Natives accompanying the “terms of peace,” they were informed by the Governor that submission to her Majesty's sovereign authority required that “rights be sought and protected through the law, and not by a man's own will and strength; that no man in the Queen's dominions is permitted to enforce rights, or redress wrong by force; but that he must appeal to the law.” To this it was objected by the Natives, that as regards the Waitara it was the Governor himself who had been the law-breaker; that instead of appealing to the law, or without due inquiry, he had himself driven William King and his people from their homesteads by “his own will and strength.” The page 160 Waikato Natives were told also at the same time that “a large number of the adherents of the Native King had interfered between the Governor and other Native Tribes in matters with which they had no concern.” “With reference,” replied William Thompson, “to the going of the Waikatos to Taranaki, for which we are reproached by the Pakehas, hearken, and I will tell you. It was Potatou who fetched William King from Kapiti; he was brought back to Waitara, to his place. That was how the Ngatiawa returned to Taranaki. I look, therefore, at this word of yours, saying that ‘it was wrong of the Waikatos to go to Taranaki.’ In my opinion it was right for Waikato to go to Taranaki. Come now, think calmly. Raukitua, Tautara, and Ngatata were blood relations of the Waikatos. It is not a gratuitous interference on the part of the Waikatos. They were fetched; they were written for by Wiremu Kingi and Hapurona by letter; and that was why Te Wetine Taiporutu went to that war. * * * These were the grounds for Waikato's going, the bringing back (of William King) by Potatou, out of friendship to William. In the second place, because of their relations, Raukitua, Tautara, and Ngatata; the page 161 third, they were written for; the fourth, Potatou's word that land-selling should be made to cease. These were all the grounds of Waikato's interference. If the Governor had considered carefully, Waikato also would have considered carefully; but the Governor acted foolishly, and that was why the Waikatos went to help William King. For William King was a man who had not been tried, so that his fault might be seen in justification of inflicting severe punishment. You mock us, saying that this Island is one, and the men in it are one (united). I look at the Pakeha, who madly rushed to fight with William King. Had he been tried, his offence proved, and he had then been contumacious to the law, their interference would have been right, as his conduct would have been trampling on the law. As it is, that side (the Pakeha) has also done wrong. According to your word, that side is right; according to mine, also this side is right; but I think that side is wrong.” A somewhat similar reply was made by Renata. “All that Waikato desired,” he objected, “was to have an investigation; and for a long time, as far as talking could accomplish, they intervened between the combatants; and for a long time, whilst the page 162 Governor was quarrelling with his son, the Waikato were strenuously smothering their feelings of sympathy. But when at length the war became permanent, then they arose to shield him (William King) from the weapon of him who was placed over him. Ought they to have given him up to darkness (death)? This is my custom: if my Chief is gently punishing his children, they are left to settle their own differences; but if I see him lift a deadly weapon, then I get up to interfere. If he thereupon turns round upon and kills me, it cannot be helped. That is a good kind of death in my—the Maori's—estimation.”
“About the word relative to the murders,” wrote William Thompson, addressing Governor Browne, “my opinion is decidedly that it was not murder. Look, Ihaia murdered Te Whaitere; he caused him to drink spirits, that the senses of Te Whaitere might leave him. He was waylaid, and died by Ihaia. That was a foul murder; you looked on, and made friends with Ihaia. That which we regard as a murder you have made naught of; and this, which is not a murder, you call one. This, I think, is wrong; for the Governor did not say to William King and the Ngatiruanui, page 163 ‘Oh, do not kill those who are unarmed.’ Nor did he direct that the settlers living in the town should be removed to Auckland, where there was no fighting, and there stay; for he knew that he had determined to make war at Taranaki; and he should therefore have told his unarmed people to remove out of the way; he did not do this. Had he even said to the Ngatiruanui, ‘Friends, do not kill the settlers,’ it would to some extent have been a little clearer.” With regard to the claim for compensation, and for the restitution of plunder, we unfortunately ourselves destroyed the property of the Natives whom we had driven from their homes, and laid ourselves open to William Thompson's not unreasonable retort: “With reference to the property of which you say that we are to restore what remains,—that also I do not consider right. Hearken to what I propose with respect to that. The Governor was the cause of that. War was made on William King, and he fled from his Pah. The Pah was burnt, with fire; the place of worship was burnt, and a box containing Testaments: all was consumed in the fire; goods, clothes, blankets, shirts, trowsers, gowns, all were consumed. The cattle were eaten by the soldiers, page 164 and the horses, one hundred in number, were sold by auction by the soldiers. It was this that disquieted the heart of William King, his church being burnt with fire. Had the Governor given word not to burn his church, and to leave his goods and animals alone, he would have thought also to spare the property of the Pakeha. This was the cause of the Pakeha's property being lost (destroyed). When William King was reduced to nakedness through the work of the Governor, he said that the Governor was the cause of all these doings. They first commenced that road, and he (William King) merely followed upon it.”
In the course of the struggle the Maories fairly fought their way to the good opinion of the English General, who was not slow to express his earnest hope that “this unhappy internecine war,” with a “manly and high-spirited race,” should be brought as soon as possible to an end. For obvious reasons the war was not popular with the military who were engaged in it; and throughout the campaign the officers in command were most inconsiderately judged. Instead of blaming their own rashness in plunging the Colony, without due preparation, into a costly war, its promoters sought page 165 to impute our disasters to the incompetency of the Officers in command, and blamed them for failing to accomplish impossibilities. But the responsibility for our failures must be shared by the great majority of the public, who have been too slow to recognize the fact, long since established beyond all doubt, that, man for man on their own ground, and in bush-fighting, the Maori is quite a match for the British soldier; that, in point of generalship, they are by no means inferior to ourselves; and that, against superior numbers, we have never yet gained a victory over them. Yet in the face of that experience we have continued to employ Regular Troops—trained to act in masses and under a system of parade discipline and on ground impracticable for the ordinary operations of Regular Troops—against the Natives of New Zealand, who are always led by experienced Chiefs to whom the art of war has been the study, the delight, and the practice of their lives; and we are then surprised at the small measure of our success, and but too ready to attribute our failures to the incompetency of the unfortunate Officer in command. In describing the difficulties of warfare in the New Zealand bush, those who have been page 166 engaged might echo the account given by General Turreau of the difficulty of carrying on a war in La Vendée. “It is assuredly a difficult task,” says the revolutionary general, “to make war in the midst of such obstacles as bristle in the streets of La Vendée. You can never arrange before-hand your order of battle with the rebels (royalists); you know not on which side to fight, whether you will be attacked in flank or in rear, and what dispositions the country will permit of your making. The rebels, favoured by the accidents of nature, have tactics of their own which they understand applying to their position and local peculiarities. Assured of the superiority which their manner of fighting gives them, they only fight when they like.
* * * * *
“If you repulse their attack, the rebels seldom dispute the victory; but you gain little benefit, for they retire so rapidly that it is very difficult to overtake them in a country which hardly ever admits the employment of cavalry. They disperse, they escape across fields, hedges, and bushes, knowing all the paths and by-paths, what obstacles interfere with their line of flight, and how to avoid them. * * * * *page 167
“In general, this war is so singular in its character, that one requires long practice to understand it. A general officer, whose education has been formed by ten campaigns on the frontier, finds himself much embarrassed in La Vendée. I appeal to all generals who have been summoned from the frontiers to this fearful La Vendée whether they had formed any idea of such a war till actually engaged in it? Whether the trained soldiers disciplined after the manner of Nassau and Frederick are as formidable opponents, or display such skill and courage, as these fierce and intrepid marksmen of the Bocage and Lourouse? I ask them if they can imagine a war more cruel and harassing to soldiers of every grade?—a war which ruins the discipline and subordination of an army, and makes the French soldier lose that invincible courage which has so often triumphed over the armies of England and Austria? I believe I have said enough to show that the chief obstacles to military operations in La Vendée arise from its natural features.” After being exposed to much ignorant criticism for his careful tactics in the bush, it must have been gratifying to General Pratt to find that, in the judgment of the page 168 Home Authorities, his operations “were well and judiciously carried out;” to receive a public acknowledgment of his services for bringing to a close “a war of a peculiar and difficult character;” and to receive the thanks of the Colonial Minister “for the valuable services which he had rendered to the Colony.”*
* “Many people had thought,” General Pratt is reported to have said, on referring to his New Zealand campaign, “that a New Zealand war could be brought to a speedy and rapid termination, by the striking of some decisive blow that would at once awe and paralyze the Maori. But people holding these opinions could not have read, or, if they had read, must have forgotten, the history of all former New Zealand wars. Neither could they have given a fair consideration to the impracticable nature of the country, and the warlike character, habits, and tactics of the athletic New Zealander. In a country singularly adapted for bush warfare, the plan of the Maories was never to expose themselves in ‘the open,’ but always to occupy such positions as were most difficult for an attacking party, which no party could approach without receiving great loss from the enemy, and from which the defenders had always a secure retreat; a retreat by which they could neither be intercepted nor surrounded. The only occasion on which the Maories departed from that cautious style of warfare, they met with a most signal and complete defeat; and he had reason to know that they were loudly censured and upbraided by their tribes for their rashness in that instance. It would have been easy enough for him to have ordered—and the brave soldiers under him would willingly have obeyed the order—a rush on these positions; but the proceeding would have been attended with heavy loss on our side, and trifling loss on the part of the enemy; and he felt satisfied that he was stating the truth, when he said that, so far from such conduct being calculated to bring the war to a conclusion, the effect would only have been to make the campaign prolonged and universal. Now having such a foe to contend with, and having such a country of mountain and forest, swamp, gully, and fern, to operate in, and having with him a most excellent Commandant of Engineers, in the person of Colonel Mould, and a most excellent Staff, at the head of which was an officer now present, he determined upon attacking the enemy somewhat in his own style, and, by sap and redoubt, showing him that his strongest position could be approached, turned and captured, with little loss to the invaders. He had reason to know that this mode of proceeding on the part of the English force was inexpressibly galling to the Maories. They found themselves thus driven from position after position which they had occupied and fortified with care, without the power of inflicting any injury upon those opposed to them; until they could stand it no longer, and accordingly they made a most fierce attack on the English advanced redoubt. This gave an opportunity to Colonel Leslie and the gallant 40th the power of showing how slanderous were the statements which had been circulated against them. The result was well known. Now, he felt the most perfect confidence, that when the history of this war was written, when the whole truths came out, and when mis-statements were cleared up, full justice would be awarded to the expediency and wisdom of the course adopted, and to the patient endurance and gallantry of the English Troops.”
During the continuance of the war, the productive industry of the Province was brought entirely to a stand, and the whole European population crowded together within the narrow limits of a small portion of the town, suffered severely from sickness, anxiety, and harassing suspense. Both in men and money, and in the page 170 destruction of property, the cost of the war was by no means inconsiderable. Our casualties amounted to 210; viz. 67 killed and 143 wounded, several of whom afterwards died of their wounds; and the extraordinary amount of sickness, the result of over-crowding and other causes, carried off upwards of 100 of the Taranaki settlers. The loss of life on the side of the Natives has not yet been clearly ascertained, but there is reason to believe that it amounted to about 150. In addition to the ordinary cost of the ships and troops employed, the expenses of the war paid by the Imperial Commissariat amounted at least to half a million sterling. To the Colony itself for Militia, Volunteers, relief and other expenses, the cost amounted to more than 200,000l. The neighbouring Province of Auckland also suffered severely from the sudden and complete check which was put to a stream of immigration which was yearly adding some thousands to the population of the Province. But it was the unfortunate settlers of Taranaki by whom the sufferings of the war were most severely felt. “Their losses,” says the Memorial addressed by them to the General Assembly, “are variously estimated at from 150,000l. to a quarter of a page 171 million sterling. Two hundred houses have been burned; horses, cattle, and sheep have been killed or driven off; fencing has been destroyed; noxious weeds have overrun the cultivated lands, and the agricultural part of the community have been deprived of their means of subsistence.” In its indirect effects, the war was still more disastrous; and it is to be feared that a feeling of antagonism has been excited between the Natives and the settlers, which will not easily be removed.
At the end of nearly a year of war, an Official Notification was published in the New Zealand Gazette, stating that “disaffection was spreading through the Maori population;” complaining that the “justice and legality” of the policy of the Government had been impugned by persons of “high authority” in various parts of the Colony; and warning the Colonists that an Englishman's privilege of freedom of speech could not any longer be exercised without danger to the State; and a body of Englishmen conscientiously believing that a portion of her Majesty's own subjects were being “unjustly and illegally” treated, were officially requested page 172 to remain silent, and to abstain from publicly criticising or censuring the conduct of the Executive until their policy should have received its final condemnation. It is no doubt possible that a people, through misgovernment or by the mismanagement of their Rulers, may be brought into such a condition that the authorities may honestly believe that even the truth may not be spoken without danger to the public safety. But, as has been said of a policy which requires the continual presence of a large force, a policy which requires the silence of conscientious men of high authority carries its condemnation on its face.
But during the progress of the contest, public opinion underwent a material change. So long as the merits of the case were imperfectly understood, it was reasonable that the public should believe that the Local Authorities had exercised a sound discretion in enforcing the purchase of the land, and at the outset, the supporters of the war formed a large majority. Many of them had been taught to believe that the land had been fairly purchased; that William King was a lawless disturber of the public peace, and that page 173 in opposing the Governor and his Ministers, he had been guilty of actual rebellion. Others thought that even if the Governor had been wrong, it would be unbecoming to recede; and that as we had entered into the struggle, the rebellious Chief must at all hazards be put down. Many rejoiced at the prospect of seeing the Maories thoroughly subdued; while others, believing that the Tribal system was about to be broken up, had confident expectations of a large extension of territory, and of abundant outlets for their flocks and herds. But, however various were the motives of the war party, they were all agreed in advocating the “vigorous prosecution” of the war. Its policy and justice, however, were warmly called in question by a small but influential minority; and the cause of the Natives was supported by them with great zeal and spirit. Those who were regarded as the best authorities on Native questions were almost unanimous in condemning the war on the ground of its injustice: many who were less clear as to the validity of the purchase believed that it was an act of madness to risk a general war by attempting to take possession of land page 174 with a doubtful or disputed title; and that so far from showing their disloyalty by opposing the war, its opponents believed that they should more worthily maintain the true dignity of the Crown and the character of the nation by preventing an act of injustice being done in the Queen's name, than by seeking to promote the triumph of a questionable cause. And for the first time in the Northern part of the Colony, the whole community were divided by a great public question. Ordinary party ties were suddenly broken, and in many instances those who for years had been opposed to one another were now ranged together on one side. After the nature of a majority, the war party were disposed to be tyrannical: adverse opinions were barely tolerated, and impatiently heard; ready evidence was given to wild stories of imaginary plots; those who ventured to express an opinion unfavourable to the war were either publicly held up to odium for giving encouragement to rebellion, or were privately denounced as disloyal to the Crown; and but that they were Englishmen, living under a free Constitution, the opponents of the war would certainly have been page 175 intimidated and put down.* But as the facts of the case gradually came to light, public opinion underwent some change; and before the war was brought to an end its justice appeared less clear, its policy was frequently called in question, and the opinion was becoming general that it had been blindly commenced, feebly conducted, and that after a fruitless waste of life and property, it had been brought to a hasty and unsatisfactory conclusion. And the Ministers who had advised the Governor to risk the war, finding that it had been productive of nothing but disastrous results, and that the Home Authorities regarded it simply as a “Settlers' war,” now appeared by no means unwilling, so far as the original cause of quarrel was concerned, to bring the war at the Waitara to an end, and to hazard an imperial contest at the Waikato for the suppression of the Maori King.†
* The recent experience of America has proved that “free institutions” give no security against the most flagrant acts of tyrannical despotism.
† “Great pains have been taken to submerge the Waitara Land Question under that of the King Movement; but it must be remembered that until the declaration of war they were perfectly separate. Great stress has also been put upon the necessity of ‘upholding her Majesty's supremacy.’ Perhaps it will startle the reader when I assert that among all her Majesty's Maori subjects, there is not one at this moment more loyal in disposition than Wiremu Kingi himself.”—Remarks, &c. by G. Clarke, late Chief Protector of Aborigines.
But, in addition to the virtual destruction of the settlement, the war at Taranaki had cost three quarters of a million; and the settlers in other parts of the Island, with the experience of Taranaki before them, and believing that the Government were prepared to take up a new ground of quarrel in another province, and to march the Troops into the interior to enforce the submission of the Waikato Tribes, and to put down the Maori King, now became alarmed lest war might be brought to their own doors, and find them unprepared. A committee was therefore appointed by the Assembly to report upon the military defence of the Colony; and a deputation of Representatives of the Province of Wellington earnestly warned the Governor not to risk war a second time without making timely provision for the safety of the principal settlements. The Superintendent of the Province (Dr. Featherston), who was the chief spokesman, said that “they came in their capacity of Representatives of the Province of Wellington, to point out to his page 177 Excellency how utterly inadequate the forces at present stationed there would be to afford almost any protection in the event of a rising among the Natives. They regretted to be obliged to inform his Excellency that though peace had hitherto been preserved, and that though some considerable time after the commencement of the war at Taranaki there was every reason to believe that the great bulk of the Natives would continue loyal and well-affected; yet, owing to various causes, a feeling of intense distrust of the Government had within the last few weeks taken possession of the Native mind; large numbers were giving in their adhesion to the “King movement,” and in fact almost the whole Native population might be said to be preparing for a war which they deemed inevitable. What the Natives said was simply this, that as long as the war was confined to Taranaki, they looked upon it as a dispute between the Governor and William King about land, which would be settled sooner or later without their being dragged into a quarrel; but that if the war was carried by the Government into other parts they could and would only regard it as a proof of the determination of the Government to page 178 attack and destroy them in detail, and that they would be forced to take part in the war. Even the most loyal Chiefs—those who had proved themselves staunch allies of the Government—declared that if war was carried into the Waikato country it would be the signal for a general rising; they might not themselves join, but their tribes would make common cause with the Waikatos. Since they had been in Auckland they (the members) had seen and heard enough to satisfy them that there was a strong probability of military operations being undertaken in the Waikato country.
The Governor, in a semi-official publication, is reported to have informed the deputation that 20,000 soldiers could not protect all the out-settlers; that in the event of an attack they would have to take refuge in the centres of population — build block-houses as the settlers at Taranaki had done, and defend them: and that war carried on in a country where wealth and property are scattered broadcast must be attended with great loss and very serious consequences. That the terms he had proposed to the Waikatos he intended should be insisted on; and that he page 179 believed at the first shot that was fired in the Waikato there would be a general rising of the Tribes connected with the King Movement in the several Provinces. But the Government who had already burdened the Colony with a heavy debt for a disastrous war were prevented from provoking a second war on a still more costly scale, being shortly afterwards defeated on a vote of want of confidence, and displaced by a Ministry desirous of avoiding a renewal of the war. The Home Authorities also being satisfied at length that “little effect had really been produced by the military operations at Taranaki,” and that disaffection was spreading through the country, and feeling that no expedient should be left untried to arrest the growing evil, determined for the second time to avail themselves of the peculiar qualifications and experience of Sir George Grey; and commissioned him to proceed at once to New Zealand to take the place of Governor Browne, and the Colony was opportunely relieved from the imminent risk of a still more general war.*
* “Downing Street, 25th May, 1861.
“Sir,—I have perused with much anxiety the intelligence respecting the progress of the Native war, which is contained in your despatches, recently arrived.
“I cannot but perceive that, in spite of some symptoms of a desire on the part of the Natives for the restoration of peace, little effect has really been produced hitherto by the military operations at Taranaki; and that, notwithstanding all the efforts of yourself and your advisers, the disaffection of the Maories is extending itself to those Tribes whose amity, or, at least, whose neutrality, has hitherto been hoped for, and is assuming a more organized form, and a more definite object.
“I am far indeed from ascribing this untoward course of events to those who are responsible for the conduct of affairs in New Zealand. On the contrary, I recognize with pleasure the sound and impartial judgment, the integrity, intelligence, and anxiety for the public good, which have characterized your government of the Colony for nearly six years. The present conjuncture, however, renders it necessary for her Majesty's Government to leave no expedient untried which is calculated to arrest the course of events now unhappily so unpromising; and, at the same time, to provide for the future difficulties, which there is only too much reason to anticipate, even if the war should happily be soon brought to a conclusion.
“Having regard, therefore, to the peculiar qualifications and experience of Sir George Grey, now governing the Cape of Good Hope, I have felt that I should be neglecting a chance of averting a more general and disastrous war if I omitted to avail myself of the remarkable authority which will attach to his name and character as Governor of New Zealand.
“I trust, therefore, that you will not feel it as any slight on yourself that I should have determined to place the Government of the Islands in his hands at a moment when your own term of office has all but expired, and you would have no opportunity of providing against those future difficulties to which I have referred. I hope that, in doing so, I shall not deprive the Crown for any long period of the advantage of your services.”