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An Epitome of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs and Land Purchases in the North Island of New Zealand

[No. 12.]

No. 12.

Captain G. Grey, H.M. 82nd Regiment, to the Right Hon. Lord John Russell.

Transmitting Report on Aborigines. Mauritius, 4th June, 1840.

My Lord,—

I have the honour to submit to your Lordship a report on the best means of promoting the civilization of the aboriginal inhabitants of Australia, which report is founded upon a careful study of the language, prejudices, and traditional customs of this people.

Feeling anxious to render this report as complete as possible, I have delayed transmitting it to your Lordship until the latest possible period. Portions of it have in the interim been laid before some of the local Governments in Australia, and a few of the suggestions contained in it have been already acted upon.

But as so small a portion of Australia is as yet occupied, and the important task of so conducting the occupation of new districts as to benefit the aborigines in the greatest possible degree yet remains to be performed, I have thought that it would be agreeable to your Lordship to be put in possession of all such facts relating to this interesting subject as are at present known.

None but general principles, equally applicable to all portions of the continent of Australia, are embodied in this report, and I am particularly solicitous that that portion of it which commences at the twenty-first paragraph should receive consideration from your Lordship, as the whole machinery required to bring this plan into operation now exists in the different Australian Colonies, and its full development would entail no expense whatever upon either the Home or local Governments.

I have, &c.,

G. Grey, Capt. 82nd Regt.,
Commanding Australian Expedition.

The Right Hon. Lord John Russell, &c.

Report upon the Best Means of promoting the Civilization of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Australia.

  • 1. The aborigines of Australia have hitherto resisted all efforts which have been made for their civilization. It would appear that if they are capable of being civilized it can be shown that all the systems on which these efforts have been founded contained some common error, or that each of them involved some erroneous principle. The former supposition appears to be the true one, for they all contained one element, they all started with one recognized principle, the presence of which in the scheme must necessarily have entailed its failure.
  • 2. This principle was that, although the natives should, as far as European property and European subjects are concerned, be made ameuable to British laws, yet so long as they only exercised their own customs upon themselves, and not too immediately in the presence of Europeans, they should be allowed to do so with impunity.
  • 3. This principle originated in philanthropic motives and a total ignorance of the peculiar traditional laws of this people, which laws differ from those of any other known race, and have necessarily imparted to the people subject to them a character different from all other races, and hence arises the anomalous state in which they have been found.
  • 4. They are as apt and intelligent as any other race of men I am acquainted with. They are subject to the same affections, appetites, and passions as other men, yet in many points of character they are totally dissimilar to them; and from the peculiar code of laws of this people it would appear not only impossible that any nation subject to them could ever emerge from a savage state, but even that no race, however highly endowed, however civilized, could in other respects remain long in a state of civilization if they were subject to the operation of such barbarous customs.
  • 5. The plea generally set up in defence of this principle is that the natives of this country are a conquered people, and that it is an act of generosity to allow them the full power of exercising their own laws upon themselves. But this plea would appear to be inadmissible: for, in the first place, savage and traditional customs should not be confounded with a regular code of laws; and, secondly, when Great Britain insures to a conquered country the privilege of its own laws, all persons resident in this page 20 territory become amenable to the same laws, and proper persons are selected by the Government to watch over their due and equitable administration. Nothing of this kind either exists or can exist with regard to the customs of the natives of Australia. Between the two cases, then, there is no apparent analogy.
  • 6. I would submit, therefore, that it is necessary that the moment the aborigines of this country are declared British subjects they should, as far as possible, be taught that the British laws are to supersede their own, so that any native who is suffering under their own customs may have the power of an appeal to those of Great Britain, or, to put this in its true light, that all authorized persons should, in all instances, be required to protect a native from the violence of his fellows, even though they be in the execution of their own laws.
  • 7. So long as this is not the case the older natives have at their disposal the means of effectually preventing the civilization of any individuals of their own tribe, and those among them who may be inclined to adapt themselves to the European habits and mode of life will be deterred from so doing by the fear of the consequences that the displeasure of others may draw down upon them.
  • 8. So much importance am I disposed to attach to this point that I do not hesitate to assert my full conviction that, whilst those tribes that are in communication with Europeans are allowed to execute their barbarous laws and customs upon one another, so long will they remain hopelessly immersed in their present state of barbarism; and, however unjust such a proceeding might at first sight appear, I believe that the course pointed out by true humanity would be to make them from the very commencement amenable to the British laws, both as regards themselves and Europeans; for I hold it to be imagining a contradiction to suppose that individuals subject to savage and barbarous laws can rise into a state of civilization, which those laws have a manifest tendency to destroy and overturn.
  • 9. I have known many instances of natives who have been almost or quite civilized being compelled by other natives to return to the bush, more particularly girls, who have been betrothed in their infancy, and who, on approaching the years of puberty, have been compelled by their husbands to join them.
  • 10. It is difficult to ascertain the exact effect the institutions of a country produce upon the character of its inhabitants, but it may be readily admitted that if two savage races of equal mental endowments and with the same capacity for civilization were subject to two distinct sets of laws, the one mild and favourable to the development of civilization, the other bloodthirsty and opposed to it, the former might gradually be brought to a knowledge of Christianity and civilization, whilst precisely similar efforts made with regard to the latter might be attended with no beneficial results.
  • 11. Again, it would be unfair to consider the laws of the natives of Australia as any indication of the real character of this people, for many races who were at one period subject to the most barbarous laws have, since new institutions have been introduced amongst them, taken their rank among the civilized nations of the earth.
  • 12. To punish the aborigines severely for the violation of laws of which they are ignorant would be manifestly cruel and unjust; but to punish them in the first instance slightly for the violation of these laws would inflict no great injury on them, whilst by always punishing them when guilty of a crime without reference to the length of period that had elapsed between its perpetration and their apprehension, at the same time fully explaining to them the measure of punishment that would await them in the event of a second commission of the same fault, would teach them gradually the laws to which they were henceforth to be amenable, and would show them that crime was always eventually, although, it might be, remotely, followed by punishment.
  • 13. I imagine that this course would be more merciful than that at present adopted, viz, to punish them for a violation of a law they are ignorant of when this violation affects a European, and yet to allow them to commit this crime as often as they like when it only regards themselves; for this latter course teaches them, not that certain actions—such, for instance, as murder, &c.—are generally criminal, but only that they are criminal when exercised towards the white people; and the impression consequently excited in their minds is that these acts only excite our detestation when exercised towards ourselves, and that their criminality consists, not in having committed a certain odious action, but in having violated our prejudices.
  • 14 In the vicinity of towns, where there is a certain judicial force, and where, on account of the facility of obtaining food, the natives always congregate, it would, by a steady and determined line of conduct, be comparatively easy to enforce an observance of the British laws; but even partially to attain this object in the remote and thinly settled districts, it is necessary that each colony should possess an efficient mounted police, a portion of whom should be constantly in movement from district to district, whilst another portion, resident in a central situation, should be ready to act instantly in any direction where their presence was required. I do not apprehend this body need be numerous, for their utility would depend more on their activity and efficiency than on their numbers. It is absolutely necessary for the cause of humanity and good order that such a force should exist, for so long as distant settlers are left unprotected, and are compelled to take care of and avenge themselves, so long must necessarily great barbarities be committed; and the only way to prevent great crime on the part of the natives, and massacres of these poor creatures as the punishment of such crimes, is to check and punish their excesses in their infancy. It is only after becoming emboldened by frequent petty successes that they have hitherto committed those crimes which have drawn down so fearful a vengeance upon them.
  • 15. The greatest obstacle that presents itself in considering the application of the British law to these aborigines is the fact that, from their ignorance of the nature of an oath, or of the obligations it imposes, they are not competent to give evidence before a Court of justice, and thence, in many cases, it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain evidence on which a prisoner could be convicted.
  • 16. One mode of evading this difficulty would be to empower the Court to receive evidence from the natives in all causes relating solely to themselves without the witness being sworn, only allowing page 21 testimony of this nature to hold good when borne out by very strong circumstantial evidence; secondly, to empower the Court always to receive evidence from natives called on by a native prisoner in his defence, such evidence being subject to the before named restrictions.
  • 17. The fact of the natives being unable to give testimony in a Court of justice is a great hard-ship on them, and they consider it as such; the reason that occasions their disability for the performance of this function is at present quite beyond their comprehension, and it is impossible to explain it to them. I have been a personal witness to a case in which a native was most undeservedly punished from the circumstance of the natives who were the only persons who could speak as to certain excul-patory facts not being permitted to give their evidence.
  • 18. There are certain forms in our colonial Courts of justice, as at present conducted, which it is impossible to make a savage comprehend. I attended one quartor-sessions at which a number of natives were tried on a great variety of charges. Several of them were induced to plead guilty, and on this admission of their having committed the crime sentence was pronounced upon them. But when others denied their guilt, and found that this denial produced no corresponding result in their favour, whilst at the same time they were not permitted to bring forward other natives to deny it also, and to explain the matter to them, they became perfectly confounded. I was subsequently applied to by several intelligent natives to explain this mystery to them, but I failed in giving such an explanation as would satisfy them.
  • 19. The natives being ignorant of our laws, of the forms of our Courts of justice, of the language in which the proceedings are conducted, and the sentence pronounced upon them, it would appear that but a very imperfect protection is afforded them by having present in the Court merely an interpreter (very often an ignorant man), who knows nothing of legal proceedings, and can be but very imperfectly acquainted with the native language. It must also be borne in mind that the natives are not tried by a jury of their peers, but by a jury having interests directly opposed to their own, and who can scarcely avoid being in some degree prejudiced against native offenders. From these considerations I would suggest that it should be made binding upon the local Government, in all instances (or at least in such instances as affect life), to provide a counsel to defend native prisoners.
  • 20. Some other principal preventives to the civilization of the aborigines, in addition to those I have already stated, are: (1.) The existence of an uncertain and irregular demand for their labour: thus they may have one day sufficient opportunity afforded them for the execution of their industry, while the next day their services are not required, so that they are compelled once more to have recourse to their former irregular and wandering habits. (2.) Their generally receiving a very inadequate reward for the services they render: this, combined with their natural fondness for the bush, induces them to prefer that mode of subsistence which, whilst it is infinitely more agreeable and less laborious, procures for them nearly as great a reward as living with white people. (3.) Their not being taught that different values are attached to different degrees of labour, as well as to the skill and neatness with which it is performed.
  • 21. These impediments might all either be removed or modified in some districts by the establishment of native institutions and schools; but, in forming a general plan for their removal which would be equally applicable to all parts of the colony, a very novel difficulty presents itself.
  • 22. Imagining that a native child is perfectly capable of being civilized, let it also be granted that, from proper preventive measures having been adopted, this child has nothing to fear from the vengeance of the other natives, so that it stands in these respects nearly or altogether in the position of an European.
  • 23. If this native child is a boy who is to pay the individual who undertakes to teach him some calling, the fee usually given with an apprentice? Who will indemnify this person for the time he spends in instructing the boy before he can derive any benefit from his labour, or for the risk he incurs of the boy's services being bestowed elsewhere as soon as they are worth having?
  • 24. Until this difficulty is got over, it appears evident that the natives will only be employed in herding cattle, or in the lowest order of manual labour, which requires no skill, and for which the reward they receive will be so small as scarcely to offer an inducement to them to quit their present wandering mode of life.
  • 25. The remedy I would suggest for this evil would have another advantage besides a tendency to ameliorate it, for it would give the settlers a great and direct interest in the aborigines, without entailing any expense upon the Government. It is founded on the following facts.
  • 26. The Government, in order to create a supply of labour in the colonies, have been in the habit of giving certain rewards to those individuals who introduced labourers into them. Now, it would appear that he who reclaims one of the aborigines not only adds another labourer to those who are already in the colony, but further confers such a benefit on his fellow-settlers, by rendering one who was before a useless and dangerous being a serviceable member of the community, that this circumstance alone entitles him to a reward.
  • 27. I would therefore propose that on the production of the hereafter-named documents a settler should receive a certificate entitling him to a certain sum, which should either be allowed to reckon towards the completion of location duties, or else as a remission certificate in the purchase of land, or, in lieu of this, a grant of land; and that this sum or grant should be regulated according to a table specifying the various circumstances that are likely to occur, and drawn up by the local Government of each place where such regulation should be introduced.
  • 28. The documents to which I allude are these: (1.) A deposition before the nearest Magistrate to such settler's house that a native or natives have been resident with him constantly for the last six months, and have been employed in stated species of labour. (2.) A certificate from the Government Resident of the district that, to the best of his belief, such statement is true, for that, on his visiting the settler's house, the stated number of natives were there, and were respectively occupied in the kinds of labour described. (3.) A certificate from the Protector of Aborigines that he has visited this settler's house, that the stated number of natives were resident there, and appeared to be pro-gressing in the knowledge of that branch of industry in which they were respectively stated to be employed.page 22
  • 29. It would be further necessary that any settler who intended to endeavour to reclaim, natives should give a short notice to the Protector of Aborigines previously to the commencement of the first six months.
  • 30. Could this plan he brought into operation, the work of civilization of the aborigines would at once be commenced upon a great scale. It would not be confined to a single institution, but a variety of individuals, endowed with different talents and capacities for this work, would at once be employed on it. It is indeed rather suited and intended for the outskirts of civilization, thinly populated by settlers, than for towns, yet it is applicable to both situations; whilst its direct operation would be to induce the settler adequately to remunerate the native for, as well as to provide him with, a constant supply of labour, and to use every exertion, by kind and proper treatment, to attach him for as long a period as possible to his establishment.
  • 31. In considering the kinds of labour in which it would be most advisable to engage natives, it should be borne in mind that in remote districts, where the European population is small, it would be imprudent to induce many natives to congregate at any one point, and the kinds of labour in which they should be there engaged ought to be of such a nature as to have a tendency to scatter them over the country, and to distribute them amongst the separate establishments.
  • 32. Whilst in the well-peopled districts, where a force sufficient both to protect and control the aborigines exists, they should be induced to assemble in great numbers, for they work much more readily when employed in masses, and by thus assembling them on one point their numbers are diminished in those portions of the colony which have a small European population, and they are concentrated at a spot where proper means for their improvement can be provided.
  • 33. The first of these principles has been strictly attended to in the plan proposed in the 27th and following paragraphs of this report; the second has been carried into successful operation in Western Australia.
  • 34. In order that the work on which the natives are employed in the vicinity of towns should be of the most advantageous nature, it is necessary that it should be productive of benefit both to themselves and the Government which employs them, so that it cannot be complained of as a useless expense, whilst at the same time it should be of such a kind as to accord with that love of excitement and change which is so peculiar to this people.
  • 35. Both these ends would be attained by employing the aborigines either in opening new roads or in repairing old lines of communication: indeed, this kind of employment is singularly suited to the habits of this people; they might be kept constantly moving from post to post, thus varying the scene of their operations; one portion of the party might be employed in hunting with kangaroodogs, or fishing, in order to supply the others with fresh meat; and the species of labour in which the main body were engaged might, if they wished it, be changed once or twice in the course of the day, to prevent their being wearied by the monotonous character of their employment.
  • 36. Among other enactments which I believe would have a tendency to promote the civilization of the aborigines, and which are applicable to those districts in which for some time a great intercourse has existed between the natives and Europeans, are the following:—
  • 37. That any native who could produce a certificate (from the Protector of Aborigines) of having been constantly employed at the house of any settler or settlers for a period of not less than three years, should be entitled to a grant of land, the extent of which should be settled by the Government of the colony to which such native should belong, and that, if possible, this grant should be given in that district to which this native by birth belonged. That, in addition to this grant, he should receive a sum of money, the amount of which should be also fixed by the local Government, and which should be drawn from the funds raised by the sale of Government lands, and which sum should be expended in goats, poultry, &c., so as to enable the native in some manner to stock his land. That any native having only one wife, who produced a certificate of the civil-marriage contract having been performed between himself and her by the Resident of the district to which he belonged, should be entitled to a small reward. That any natives who registered duly the birth of any of their children should be entitled to a small reward. That some competent person should be paid to instruct two native boys in such a manner as to qualify them to act as interpreters in Courts of law, and as soon as they are found competent they should be employed for this purpose.

I believe that many other regulations, similar to these, would be found to produce a very beneficial effect.

4th June, 1840.