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Through Ninety Years

Chapter XV

Chapter XV.

Missionary Land Purchases, Origins and Consequences.

In accordance with the Church Missionary Society's regulations, its missionaries in New Zealand were each entitled to a small salary and a ration, plus a small allowance for each child under fifteen years of age. There was also a final grant of £50 when a child reached the age of fifteen, this being regarded as a provision for education and apprenticeship.

In a country so far removed from civilisation, such a limited provision offered the recipients little prospect of earning a livelihood. Thus the missionaries who had considerable families to start in life, were exercised as to the future of their children.

In April, 1831, the C.M.S. Committee resolved to represent to His Majesty's Government the situation of the Society's missionaries, and to request that their children be placed on the same footing with regard to grants of land as those of the Chaplains in New South Wales, where each son was granted 2,500 acres of land and each daughter 1,250 acres. In 1833 the Missionaries Local Committee asked the Home Committee to arrange that each child should receive a grant of 200 acres of land on reaching the age of 15 years instead of the final grant of £50. Neither of the above requests appears to have been acted upon.

During the next four years Archdeacon Henry Williams and other missionaries purchased from the natives, mainly with their own funds, certain blocks of land for the benefit of their children. As the sons grew page 116 up, these lands were taken possession of and farmed by them.

On January 1st, 1840, Sir George Gipps, Governor in Chief of New South Wales, under whose jurisdiction New Zealand then was, caused legislation to be passed by his Council prohibiting all purchases of land from natives in New Zealand after that date. This legislation was passed in anticipation of the arrival in New Zealand of Captain Hobson to negotiate the Treaty of Waitangi, and was confirmed by him. All claims to land purchased prior to 1st January, 1840, were to be submitted to the Land Claims Court, and Crown Grants were to be issued for such areas as were approved by the Court.

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, a feeling of antagonism against the Government soon grew up amongst the natives at the Bay of Islands who were disappointed at their declining prosperity due to the fact that fewer ships called to purchase their supplies, and the imposition of Customs duties, encouraged also by some of the more unscrupulous foreigners who taunted them with having sold their freedom.

This created a feeling of loss of “mana” (prestige) and they at length rose in revolt under the Ngapuhi chief, Hoani Heke, and attacked the flagstaff at Kororareka in July, 1844, as has been already mentioned in Chapter VII. This conflict assumed serious proportions, Kororareka was sacked, and considerable fighting ensued before peace was restored in January, 1846, after Governor Grey had come to New Zealand to succeed Governor FitzRoy.

Governors Hobson and FitzRoy had both spoken most highly of the assistance given them by Archdeacon Henry Williams and other missionaries in their negotiations with the natives, but when His Excellency, Governor Grey, arrived in November, 1845, he apparently paid no regard to the official records of his predecessors which must have been at his disposal, and gave credence to the reports of persons who were opposed to the missionaries and their work, and he took up a hostile attitude towards them.

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In a series of dispatches to the Home Colonial Office he impeached the loyalty and integrity of the missionaries. In one of these, sent in June, 1846 (known afterwards as “The Blood and Treasure” dispatch), he stated that the missionary holders of Crown Grants for lands bought by them could not be put in possession of their lands without the expenditure of British blood and money.

This statement was absolutely unfounded, as Archdeacon Henry Williams's sons were, and had always been, even during the war with Heke, in peaceful occupation of their land. Some fifteen months later the Governor himself admitted to a missionary deputation that when sending this dispatch he had been influenced by the recent conflict in the Hutt Valley between the European settlers and the natives, though this fighting had no connection whatever with Heke's war in the north.

As already mentioned above, Archdeacon Henry Williams had purchased land for his children between the years 1833 and 1837; when the Land Claims Court was set up after 1840 he submitted his claims to it and received its awards, and his Crown Grants were duly issued.

It must be borne in mind that at that time mails usually took about six months to pass from New Zealand to England, and a like time for return, so it was twelve months after Governor Grey's dispatch was sent before it was heard of in New Zealand, and a similar time must have elapsed after it was first known, before a refutation of such unfounded statements could be in the hands of the Church Missionary Society.

The substance of Governor Grey's Blood and Treasure dispatch was in due course sent to the Church Missionary Society, and coming from such an authority it was assumed to be true. The Parent Committee at once in February, 1847, sent instructions to its men in the New Zealand Mission that they were to relinquish forthwith any land, the possession of which was likely to lead to dispute.

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They were also to refer to the Governor and the Bishop the decision as to the maximum quantity of land any missionary might retain for his own use and benefit. In regard to such other portions as they might have already occupied, or of which they could obtain peaceable possession, they were at liberty to sell these, make them over to their children, or place them in trust for the benefit of the aborigines, as they might think proper.

This communication reached New Zealand in July, 1847, and was the first intimation to the missionaries of the accusations against them. The missionaries sent a reply to the Committee concurring with its resolutions, and the instructions were duly carried out.

As Archdeacon H. Williams had bought the land for the benefit of his children, and did not wish to keep any for his own use, it was therefore unnecessary to seek from the Governor and the Bishop a decision as to the quantity he might retain, and he did not do so, but the Parent Committee's instructions and the missionaries' action thereon did not, however, suit the Governor, who chose to put a different interpretation on the instructions than the terms clearly conveyed.

The Bishop agreed with him and used all the influence he could to induce the holders of the Crown Grants to give them up to the Governor, who further insisted that the Grants were illegal, and brought an action in the Supreme Court for their recovery from the missionaries. In this he failed, as two of the Supreme Court Judges fully confirmed to the holders their right to the Grants. Archdeacon H. Williams's transfers of their land to his children could not be completed until this action had been settled.

Notwithstanding the Governor's admission as to the circumstances which influenced his first dispatch, he repeated his accusations to the Home Colonial Office on August 2nd, 1847. This communication would have reached England about the same time as the C.M.S. Committee received information as to the unreliability of the Governor's first dispatch.

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When the Bishop met the Central Missionary Committee in September, 1847, he urged the holders of the land Grants to consent to the Governor's demands for them to be given up. After frequent long discussions on the point, Archdeacon H. Williams, much against his better judgment, agreed to give up his land Grants provided that Governor Grey would either substantiate the charges he had made against the missionaries, or honourably retract them.

The Governor did neither, and as there appeared to be no prospect of the fulfilment of his conditions, Archdeacon H. Williams later withdrew his consent, and in due course carried out the Parent Committee's instructions of February, 1847. He considered that handing over the title deeds would be tantamount to admitting the truth of the accusations, which he repudiated entirely.

It is difficult to account for the attacks made by Governor Grey on the missionaries, and the support given him by the Bishop. It has been suggested by some that the attacks were made partly to obtain possession of the lands for public purposes, and partly to divert attention from the real cause of the fighting against the natives. Colour is given to the former of these by the fact that some of the land of one man who submitted to the Governor was used for the settlement of military pensioners.

It is interesting to notice that a few years later, in 1853, Governor Grey sought and obtained the assistance of Rev. Samuel Williams, second son of Archdeacon H. Williams, whom he persuaded to come to Hawke's Bay to assist in maintaining peaceful relations between the Europeans and the natives.

That the Governor's statements regarding the missionaries were without any foundation is shown by an incident related to the writer in conversation many years later with the late T. C. Williams, Archdeacon H. Williams's fourth son, who at the time of Heke's war was farming with his brothers some of the land purchased for them by their father.

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They were grazing cattle and supplying beef for the troops. On one occasion T. C. Williams was driving a mob of bullocks to the camp and found it difficult to keep them to the track which was unfenced, and at some points led through areas of bush where the cattle endeavoured to break away. He had begun to fear he would lose control of them, when he was relieved to see the brown face of first one native and then another appear in the bush on both sides of the path, until he had several of them assisting to conduct his wayward charges to their destination. This does not indicate any obstruction from the natives to the missionaries' sons farming the land of which they were in peaceful possession.

Another story of those times may also be told. Someone asked a native why they allowed the missionaries' sons to supply meat to the soldiers who were fighting against them. The native's reply was “The soldiers cannot fight if they do not eat.” This indicates the Maoris' idea of the etiquette to be maintained even between combatants.

In dealing with the question of the land Grants to missionaries, the members of the C.M.S. Parent Committee were influenced by Governor Grey's repeated accusations, and by Earl Grey's statement to them that Governor FitzRoy's land Grants were illegal. As indicated by the Secretary's statement in 1851 when Archdeacon W. Williams met the C.M.S. Committee, there was also an evident misunderstanding by some at any rate of the members of the Committee as to the dates when the land purchases had been made. As Archdeacon Henry Williams persisted in his refusal to yield to the Governor's demands, being thus prejudiced against its missionaries, the Committee finally resolved in November, 1849, to sever his connection with the Society.

It was in July, 1847, that the missionaries first heard of Governor Grey's accusations. During the next three years many long discussions on the subject took place among the C.M.S. missionaries in New Zealand, and considerable correspondence had passed between them and the Bishop and the Parent Committee of the C.M.S. before Archdeacon Henry Williams received the Committee's page 121 ultimatum of November, 1849, which did not come into his hands until May 23rd, 1850.

A reviewer of a thesis written by Mrs. E. W. Wilson, M.A., entitled “Land Problems of the New Zealand Settlers of the Forties” and published in 1936, says “she gives her estimate of two early Governors, FitzRoy and Grey, and makes out a good case for her conclusions.

“Regarding the land purchases of the missionaries, still used occasionally as a convenient stone to fling at the Church, Mrs. Wilson sums up (page 100) as follows: ‘Though it is to be regretted that the extent of some of the missionary grants gave colour to the accusations of their enemies that they used their positions to forward their personal advantage, it has, the writer thinks, been proved that adequate compensation was given to the natives, and that the acquisition of the land in no way harmed either the natives or other colonists, while the grants were upheld by the law of the Colony.

“‘On the other hand, there can be no doubt that Governor Grey's attempts to upset the grants were influenced by personal animus against several of the grantees, and that he failed altogether to substantiate any of the accusations made against their honesty or loyalty.’ “

This is an interesting and independent commentary on the subject matter of this Chapter.

Dean Jacobs of Christchurch in his book on “The History of the Church of England in New Zealand” deals with the subject matter of this Chapter in Chapter V beginning on page 151. He there writes fully of Bishop Selwyn's and Governor Grey's visit to England which led to the restoration of Archdeacon Henry Williams to his post as missionary under the C.M.S.

With reference to the assertion sometimes made, that in buying land the missionaries had taken advantage of their positions, it may be mentioned that the Rev. Henry Williams did not buy any of the land at Waitemata when he knew that Captain Hobson had decided in 1840 that this should be the site of his seat of government.