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New Zealand in the World

1 — Isolation

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Throughout her history New Zealand has been curiously detached from her Pacific environment. The voyage to Australia is short though stormy. Groups of islands to the northward in some measure link it on the one hand with Asia and on the other with America. Yet New Zealand thinks and acts as part of Europe, living in virtual isolation from the ancient cultures of the East and from the energetic modern people of North America. To this day New Zealanders see Asia, America, and Europe through the eyes of London. They inhabit a detached outpost, using modern perfection of communications constantly to refresh cultural and economic associations with England, instead of to forge links with Pacific neighbours. Thus has the course of history falsified expectation. Ninety and a hundred years ago colonists of vision were calmly confident that New Zealand was destined to be the centre of a great empire. Through her, British culture and probably British rule seemed destined to spread page 2through the islands of the Pacific. New Zealand's geographical situation, her resources, and climate seemed to them to indicate an imperial destiny so plainly that words were scarcely needed to expound nature's plans. This is a dream that has never quite ceased to haunt New Zealanders; it has its monuments not only in the records of history but in the rule now exercised over small island groups far detached from New Zealand. But in the main Englishmen, like Maoris, have lived in a New Zealand insulated from her South Sea environment. In the case of Englishmen, however, the bond with the motherland has remained vital, and for a period which is long in the life of a modern people it has shown little or no sign of weakening. In the case of the Maori, on the other hand, the bond between those who migrated and those who did not was broken comparatively soon.

This isolation of the Maori is a curious fact in Polynesian history. At times which can only be surmised, the Polynesian peoples spread eastwards through the Pacific islands. Driven by the spirit of adventure and by pressure of over-population, they equipped themselves with great sea-going canoes which, according to some authorities, went as far east as America, and southwards even beyond New Zealand. This eastward movement was in some ways comparable to the great westward movements of those peoples who now inhabit Europe and North page 3America. At times when Normans and Danes voyaged and conquered in European waters, Polynesians voyaged in the Pacific in vessels as finely constructed and skilfully navigated, and with spirit as intrepid. As part of this great movement New Zealand was invaded by Polynesians who had been driven by love of adventure or by pressure of war or hunger to embrace the speculation of distant colonisation. Maoris and Englishmen alike came to New Zealand because home conditions encouraged the enterprising to seek a fuller life elsewhere. The colonists who left Tahiti in the fourteenth century, like those who left England in 1840, set out on a bold, though not a desperate venture. They had faith in the skilled navigators who would guide them to their destination by knowledge of stars, the sun, and currents—as well as of the mysterious spirits who ruled the universe. They went to a land which had already been found, and to some extent settled, by men of their own race.

By the fourteenth century, indeed, New Zealand had already been populated, at least round the northeastern coast, by earlier and more mysterious colonists. Maori tradition paints these original inhabitants as a backward race, perpetually distressed by New Zealand's chilly climate, and hankering after the warmth of their homeland. Little is known of their origins, but it is guessed that among their ancestors were some Melanesians from the New Hebrides, driven hither by a storm. Thus were bequeathed to page 4the Maori race a strain of Melanesian blood, the characteristic curved line in art forms, and the habit of constructing fortified villages or pas. By the fourteenth century a large Polynesian element had already mingled with these Melanesians as a result of small migrations which began, perhaps, one thousand years ago. Certainly the later arrivals in their turn quickly mingled with—and dominated—their backward predecessors.

The main migrations of the Maori's ancestors probably took place between 1250 and 1350, and during that period New Zealand had an organic connection with Polynesia. There was a recognised route from Tahiti to New Zealand, via Rarotonga and the Kermadecs, and canoes went northwards as well as south. But migration and contact both ceased about 1350. This was no doubt partly on account of the exceptionally long voyage involved, but it was partly a matter of general Polynesian history. The force of the great wave of migration had spent itself. There is not much reason to think that the spirit of enterprise had waned, but probably the economic spur which had driven on the migrants was removed. The island peoples found a rough balance between food supply and population, and gradually confined themselves to voyages which were less spectacular, though by no means without danger. As for those who had migrated to New Zealand, they probably found that the work of conquering a new country page 5left little time and inclination for long ocean voyages. However this may be, the period of frequent voyages between Tahiti and New Zealand closed at a time when European sailors, creeping cautiously down the coast of Africa, scarcely dared to go beyond sight of land. Thus it happened that the Maori people lived in New Zealand for four centuries virtually without contact with the outside world. During this period they developed a culture of their own upon a Polynesian base, and a way of life which wrung reluctant respect from Europeans who were only too prone to class all coloured people as barbarians. A cool climate and the need for labour and ingenuity developed in the Maoris qualities of energy, character, and intellect which distinguished them sharply from most of the native peoples of the Pacific.

New Zealand's isolation was scarcely broken by the first recorded European visit, that of the Dutchman, Tasman, in 1642. Tasman indeed had a few days of unhappy contact with the Maoris. They understood no word of the speech which the Dutchmen had gathered from New Guinea and the Spaniards from the Solomons, and a boat was savagely attacked by Maori war canoes. Four Dutch sailors were killed—the name Murderers' Bay commemorated their death—and Tasman sailed northwards without landing. He drew maps of the coast which he skirted but did not closely examine, and guessed that it might be part of that great southern continent believed by page 6some to fill the region which we call the South Pacific Ocean. Thereafter a strip of New Zealand coast appeared on the world's maps, but Tasman's visit was not followed up by other Europeans, and so did nothing to establish any regular contact between New Zealand and the outside world.

However, the tide of European expansion was rising strongly. Scientific curiosity urged that the mystery of the southern Pacific should be probed; merchants looked for gain in the most unlikely quarters; and rivalry between maritime nations spurred all to sustained efforts. Thus in the eighteenth century repeated voyages added each a little more to man's knowledge. But New Zealand remained unvisited until the central problem of the Pacific was firmly grasped by the greatest of modem seamen, James Cook. The occasion of Cook's first voyage was the determination of English scientists that the transit of Venus should be adequately observed, but underlying his instructions are the two eighteenth-century motives: curiosity and commerce. What lay south of the regular track followed by navigators across the Pacific? And might not the unknown present possibilities of fruitful trade to its discoverers? Thus Cook was instructed to sail south after observing the transit at Tahiti and seek the southern continent. Only if he failed to find it was he to sail to the shadowy land whose western coast had been noted by Tasman, and page 7whose one known place of possible refreshment was marked on European maps as Murderers' Bay.

The voyages of James Cook were decisive for this country's relations with the outside world. On the one hand, they made it clear that there was no great wealthy continent lying in the South Pacific. On the other, they made known the basic facts about New Zealand. Scientific curiosity was half satisfied by Cook's reports, and half whetted. As for commerce, New Zealand seemed as promising as any temperate country still unoccupied. Cook mapped the coast with almost miraculous accuracy, and he gave valuable descriptions of the Maoris, of the country's resources in timber and flax, and of possibilities for whaling and sealing. But New Zealand remained a territory of fascinating possibilities for the scientist and for the merchant. Further, the reports of the voyage had great publicity throughout Europe. Other sailors visited New Zealand soon after Cook; but he more than any other man introduced New Zealand to the attention of the civilised world. Indeed Cook was so favourably impressed that there was a distinct possibility of its being colonised almost immediately.

In the years following the War of American Independence, Great Britain was seeking a site for a colony which would enable her to resume the convenient practice of punishing criminals by transportation. A temperate climate was necessary, for convicts sent to tropical Africa incontinently died, page 8and men's thoughts turned to the newly-discovered lands in the Pacific, of which Cook had taken possession in the name of George III. If Cook himself had been asked to recommend a site for a British colony, it is reasonable to think that he would have named New Zealand, which he frequently visited and highly praised. But Cook was dead, and Joseph Banks, his scientist companion of the Endeavour's great voyage, preferred New South Wales, whose barren coasts seemed to him more suitable (even for convicts) than the ferocity and cannibalism of the Maori. Public opinion and Parliament, in so far as they noticed the matter at all, agreed with Banks in this. An effort was indeed made to find an even more promising site near the mouth of the Orange river in temperate Africa. This failing, Banks's plan of using New South Wales was revived, and an expedition hurriedly gathered. Captain Arthur Phillip was appointed first governor of the new territory, and the colony of New South Wales was formally proclaimed at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.

James Cook had written in 1770 that the Maoris, though cannibals, would make admirable neighbours to colonists who were well armed with physical force and guided by a spirit of justice; but Englishmen, without necessarily doubting Cook's word, felt safer among the backward aborigines of New South Wales, and so New Zealand was not chosen as the new colony's headquarters. For many years after 1788, page 9however, there was a widespread belief that New Zealand was a British possession. The early governors certainly regarded New Zealand as being within their dominion: a territory for which they had some responsibility, and which they could use if they thought fit. As late as 1814 Governor Macquarie claimed formally that New Zealand was a dependency of New South Wales. The Maoris looked to the government at Sydney for protection against their European tormentors, and, in an attempt to afford that protection, Macquarie issued regulations to govern trade with New Zealand, and appointed two senior missionaries to act as magistrates there. These measures were quite ineffective, owing to the lack of force on the spot, and Sydney merchants seem to have accepted this position. They thought of New Zealand as a detached and somewhat unruly dependency—a place where, as was often the case on the mainland, the governor lacked power to enforce his orders, so that the European must fend for himself.

The question of whether New Zealand was legally a dependency of New South Wales depended on a vague phrase in the governor's commission. He was given authority over the mainland of Australia within prescribed limits, and 'over all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean' within the latitudes assigned to New South Wales itself. As the greater part of New Zealand lies within those latitudes, the governor's authority depended on the word 'adjacent', which page 10was repeated in the commissions issued to governors of New South Wales for half a century. Nor was the matter settled in 1825 when the southern boundary of New South Wales was moved to 39° 12', for the part of New Zealand then most important for British colonisation lies north of the new boundary-parallel. It passes roughly through New Plymouth and Hawke's Bay. Therefore, as far as the governor's commission was concerned, the doubt remained. By allowing certain elasticity for the word 'adjacent' as applied to islands in the South Pacific, one may argue plausibly that after 1788 the Governor of New South Wales had as much legal authority in New Zealand as in any other part of the colony where there was as yet no regular white settlement.

No man can tell what lay in the mind of the clerk who wrote and the minister who approved the word 'adjacent'. Probably neither they nor their immediate successors gave any particular thought to the matter, but before it began to cause difficulties the policy of the British Government had become clear. In 1817 Parliament passed an Act (57 George III, c. liii) which included New Zealand among 'those islands and territories not within His Majesty's Dominions'; and the Government's replies to would-be settlers made it plain that it neither regarded New Zealand as British nor intended to claim any authority over it. There was then little impulse towards colonisation, and in England it was above all the missionaries who page 11were interested in such territories as New Zealand. But the missionary societies, already influential with the Colonial Office, were impressed by the evils of European colonisation rather than with the benefits which it conferred upon native peoples. Convinced as they were of the white man's duty to succour the heathen, they regarded secular officials and secular merchants alike as hindrances to the great work. The occasional visit of a ship-of-war in New Zealand waters might serve a useful purpose: but on land chieftain and missionary should reign supreme.

In England then, the Government, probably without deep consideration, made up its mind that New Zealand was not British, but in those days of slow communication and unanswered despatches a policy decided (or taken for granted) in Whitehall was not necessarily acted upon in the South Pacific. As seen from Sydney, the legal position remained somewhat obscure even after the Act of 1817. In 1825, for example, the New South Wales attorney-general asked in vain for a ruling whether or not the governor's commission give him authority in New Zealand. From the first, too, the men on the spot had an optimistic view of the possibilities of the trade whose beginnings they had watched, and a less acute fear of incurring expenditure than was natural in London.

When the colonisation of New South Wales was first seriously suggested, those interested assumed that commerce would soon build a solid connection page 12across 'the mere fourteen days' run' which separated Sydney from New Zealand. Thus could Englishmen command New Zealand's limitless supplies of timber, which grew at the water's edge in unexampled size and quality, and of flax from which (it was said) could be made everything from finest linen to canvas and rope stronger than those made from European material. In some measure, these hopes materialised, for within a few years there sprang up a brisk trade in New Zealand products, a large proportion of which passed through Sydney. As early as 1792, a party of sealers was deposited at Dusky Bay, where in the space of a year they collected 4,500 seal-skins, built themselves a boat of 150 tons burden, and reported with enthusiasm on local game, timber, and climate. Other sealers followed, sending their skins largely to the China market, and killing so efficiently that before many years the trade itself was dead. By this time, however, New Zealand had developed another trade. About 1829 whalers, who had hitherto operated mainly on the high seas, took to the bays of the New Zealand coasts, where the 'right whale' was known to calve. This trade brought to New Zealand waters fleets of whaling ships, mainly English and American, but also French, Portuguese, and Dutch, through whom New Zealand entered the main stream of world commerce.

The whale trade naturally helped to link New Zealand with the neighbouring coasts of Australia, but page 13the main articles of commerce between the two countries were the two native products of timber and flax. Timber was cut for the navy, as well as for private trade. Vast quantities of scraped flax were also sent from New Zealand to Sydney, where the demand for flax was so great that the labour involved in satisfying it injured the health of the Maori race as a whole. Sydney merchants could sell that which the Maori must have or perish: muskets and ammunition with which to wage their traditional tribal warfare. This had now become, as never before, a matter of life and death, of dominance or of extinction. Therefore the women slaved at the production of flax, and European weapons poured into the country. With it there came a certain amount of material for whalers; but muskets and flax formed the essentials of a trade which brought wealth to powerful groups of Sydney merchants.

The activities of whalers and merchants naturally helped to bring New Zealand to the attention of the government of New South Wales; and so did the activity of missionaries. British missionary effort had a worthy representative in Sydney in the person of Samuel Marsden, since 1793 chaplain in the convict settlement. He became interested in New Zealand through meeting numerous Maoris who, with the old adventurousness of their race, joined British ships, and so passed to Sydney and beyond. Marsden conceived the ambitious aim of converting this magnifi-page 14cent race to Christianity, and in 1814 the first mission settlement was established in the Bay of Islands. The earliest missionaries were not models of perfection. Like lesser men, they bought land, traded, and sometimes had friction with natives and with fellow Europeans. But at least they could present European culture in a higher light than could most of the whalers, merchants, and escaped convicts. In the years following 1814, then, European penetration of New Zealand proceeded through two main streams of influence—the commercial and the missionary. Merchants and missionaries were given grudging support from London; but both could command whatever assistance the Governor of New South Wales could afford.

From the first, indeed, some of the colony's leading officials had taken a keen personal interest in New Zealand and its affairs, and in 1793 a curious episode brought a British lieutenant-governor on a visit to New Zealand. Lieutenant-Governor King, then in charge of Norfolk Island, pleaded earnestly that he should be provided with some Maoris to show his convicts how to treat the New Zealand flax which abounded on that island. At length his request was officially heeded, and two Maoris were duly kidnapped and forwarded to him. They were 'Woodoo' and 'Tookee', whom King reported to be a warrior and a priest respectively, and who in an hour taught all that they knew of the women's art of flax scraping.

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However, the Europeans were impressed by their guests, and in the faith that the Maori would report well of British hospitality, Lieutenant-Governor King determined to return them himself to their native land. This he did in November 1793, and during a ten days' visit did some brisk trade and made the first recorded compact between a Maori chieftain and a representative of the British Crown.* He also gathered material for an enthusiastic report about New Zealand. 'From the North Island,' he wrote, 'enough flax might be procured to clothe all the inhabitants of New South Wales, for trifles such as axes, hoes and carpenters' tools, knives, and good lead'; and he threw in the direction of the British Government the broad hint that this promising country might well be settled with himself in charge. This well-meant suggestion brought no response that has been recorded, but the argument in favour of settling the country remained. Governor Macquarie urged it as a step towards increasing trade, which he thought would make a military settlement a paying proposition. Some years afterwards it was urged again by Governor Darling, in whose view the chronic disorder of the whaling settlements was a scandal crying for remedy. These were official recommendations, and they were echoed in different forms by missionaries, merchants, philanthropists, and would-be officials, who for their several purposes page 16desired that British authority should be firmly established in New Zealand.

To all suggestions that it should take a lead in the matter the British Government returned cold answers or none at all. In its view the value of the prospective trade was exaggerated, and if merchants, thinking otherwise, proposed to make money through permanent settlement in New Zealand, let them do so —without the help of British soldiers. As to disorder arising from the whaling trade, that was plainly deplorable, but after all, wrote the Admiralty in 1832, most of New Zealand's trade was carried on by Americans. Thus did British authorities damp down local enthusiasm. It is significant that when James Busby came to New Zealand as a 'man-of-war without guns', his lack of armament was entirely due to the policy of Whitehall, not to that of Sydney. The local legislative council said that it was useless to send a Resident without armed force. Every governor who reported on the matter agreed. Even the missionaries recognised that it was folly to have a Resident without power to enforce his authority. Yet in face of this, when the Admiralty was asked to 'afford such assistance as may render the presence of the British Resident effective', it directed that a ship of war should 'occasionally be sent to New Zealand', and when there should limit its activity to receiving on board those British subjects who asked for this form of protection.