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

Memorandum by Dr. Edward Shortland

Memorandum by Dr. Edward Shortland.

The work of a Land Court is to discover all Native owners of any given piece of land, and to insure to a European purchaser a title with quiet possession. The political importance of this cannot be over-estimated. What greater boon to both races than an inexpensive and safe means of exchanging page 36surplus lands for cash, or other property, with mutual satisfaction? The machinery to effect this ought therefore to be simple, inexpensive, and well adapted to its work. The following points I believe to be the more important:—


Each Judge should have assigned to him a district, as large as convenient, within which it should be his duty to make himself master of the history of its Native inhabitants, affecting the titles of their lands. All such information should be recorded in convenient forms, and copies furnished at the office of the Court. This would facilitate after-investigations, particularly if made by another Judge. By confining the work of each Judge to one district, he would become more efficient within that district. I do not doubt that he might soon acquire influence among the Natives of his district of great political as well as social value. He might, ere long, possess more knowledge on Native land matters in his district than any even of themselves, and so become a recognized authority as well as a Judge.


Assessors should not have family ties in the district where they are employed, in order to be as much as possible impartial.


The surveyors to be employed should be paid officers of the Government, and form part of the staff of the Court. Natives interested should do all the work of cutting lines, and otherwise assist as required, of course without receiving any pay. Where competent, a Native should be employed as surveyor, and always some Native, while being educated as a surveyor, might act as an assistant. All surveys should be made on a uniform scale, and, whenever practicable, connected with previously determined fixed lines. Several important advantages would result from employing surveyors paid by Government. They would have esprit de corps and interest in doing their work well. There would be no temptation for fraud in deviating from a boundary-line. I lately heard of a case where deviation was made in a boundary-line after those interested in the adjoining land had left the ground, so as to include land of those parties. A Crown grant was obtained before the error was discovered.

Application for Investigation of Title.

The application should specify boundaries of land by Native names, also names of every hapu interested, and should be signed by at least one influential person of each hapu.

Investigation of Title.

After the application a preliminary inquiry should be made by the Judge on the spot, not in a formal manner, but by his visiting every neighbouring settlement. At this preliminary inquiry he should make an abstract of the title of parties interested. He should also record names of tribe or tribes and of hapus, and the names of as many as possible of the persons of each hapu, including heads of families interested. This would form the basis of a register of all the Natives of the district which he might obtain, in due time, as a natural consequence of his land investigations. He would thus do all the work which is now being done by agents paid by Natives, and he would do it much better; for, instead of fomenting jealousies of opponents as is now done by different agents, backed by the money of speculators, he might facilitate friendly compromise, at the same time that a great saving of expense would be effected.

If, after preliminary inquiry, the Court thought fit to proceed, a survey of the land should be made, after which a day should be named for more formal trial at a place the most convenient for all parties interested; and printed notices, naming the boundaries of the land, &c., and time and place of formal trial, should be posted on the land and at the neighbouring settlements, and otherwise freely circulated. At the second inquiry the Judge and Assessors should go into the case thoroughly themselves, no counsel or agent being allowed to take any part in the proceedings. English counsel are useless in a Court not constituted for the administration of English law.

Certificate of Title.

This appears to me an unnecessary complication, which it would be better to avoid.

Crown Grants.

When only one person is interested, the grant might be made free of any restrictions. When several are interested, the names of every tribe and hapu, and of the principal persons of each hapu, should be stated in the Crown grant; the persons named to have power to lease for periods not over twenty-one years, and to receive rents and divide them among the parties interested; but to have no power to sell or mortgage, being in truth merely trustees. When all parties interested are desirous to sell, the land should be advertised for sale by auction, under the direction of the Court, either in one or more lots as most for the interest of the parties concerned, a reserve price being always fixed.

It is recommended that one-half of the proceeds of the sale, after playing expenses, should be invested in Government security for the benefit of all parties interested, and not be paid off under twenty-one years; the other half only being paid in cash at the time of sale. The benefits anticipated by this arrangement are great. It would obviate the necessity of defining individual claims by survey before sale, a work of much trouble. The investing moiety of purchase-money would provide means of doing justice to minors, to a coming generation, and to any who might have suffered from unfair division of first moiety, and also form a bond of union between Natives and Europeans.

When a part only desire to sell their interests, an arrangement might be made for an equitable division of the land; one part to represent the interests of those who desired to sell, and the remainder to represent the interests of those who desired to retain their landed interests. Then the first might be sold under direction of the Court, by auction, in the manner and with the same provisions page 37as before suggested; and a Crown grant of the remainder might be given to the representatives of the hapus of those interested therein, with power to lease for terms not over twenty-one years, if so desired.

Irresponsible Agents.

The Government has in its power to keep under its own control a powerful political engine, but has handed over the active working of an important part of the machinery to irresponsible agents, whose chief interest is naturally their own private emolument. The present system of allowing agents and counsel, paid by the Natives, to fight the title of opponents in Court, before a Judge who has only the evidence thus brought before him to judge from, is the parent of much mischief. These agents set to work to get up, to the best of their ability, the case of their clients. The land thus becomes a subject of contention in a new arena into which the Natives enter with a zest, regardless of the cost, which they never stop to estimate. Old land disputes, which have slept for years, are again stirred up, to be fought out in the Land Court. Each party is eager to support its own claims and damage its opponents. Each party is backed, behind the scenes, by some capitalist, who liberally advances cash, having in view the promised security of a mortgage at a large rate of interest. The interest is not likely to be paid, nor is it expected to be paid; but a favourable time for foreclosing will be awaited. This, I have heard on good authority, is what is being done and contemplated. The future of the successful parties is not pleasant to look forward to; the unsuccessful parties are of course dissatisfied.

What if they do not respect the decision of the Court? Is the Executive prepared to enforce its decisions? We believe there will often occur cases where amicable compromise would be a fairer and safer method than a contest as now conducted in the Land Court. But how much more difficult to bring about this after angry feelings have been stimulated by such contests. Perhaps a new trial is demanded and granted: more litigation, more expense. What with fees to the Court and fees to counsel, agents, and surveyors, the action of the Court is rendered burdensome to an extent which never could have been contemplated by the Legislature. Mr. Weld predicted that the Court would prove the straw thrown out to save a drowning race. It is feared it may prove the feather which will break the camel's back. To obtain a Crown grant for a piece of land containing less than a certain number of acres is now impracticable by reason of the expense.

Payment of Officers and Fees.

Let Judges, Assessors, and surveyors be all paid from funds appropriated by the Government for Native purposes, for it concerns equally both races to facilitate the dealings with Native lands. Let fees be demanded only—(1) For survey, at a fixed rate per acre; (2) For a Crown grant, at a moderate percentage on value of property.

Such appear to me the more necessary provisions to insure satisfactory results from the working of the Land Court.

In framing a new Act would it not be wise to make it as short and simple as possible, embodying only such provisions as are more certainly requisite, leaving it to subsequent legislation to enlarge and develop further provisions as future experience may demand?

The Act should be translated into intelligible Maori: never representing technical terms by words having a Maori form but no meaning in Maori, but by a form of words which a Maori reader will comprehend.