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Life of Sir George Grey: Governor, High commissioner, and Premier. An Historical Biography.

Two Philo-Maoris

Two Philo-Maoris.

Against the principles stated in the despatches of Earl Grey and incorporated in the juridical portion of the new Constitution the two leading men already named took up strong ground. In later days high officials of the Colony seemed always to have an animus against the poor Maoris; in the earlier days they had a pronounced bias in their favour. After Grey himself the Maoris never had better friends than Bishop page 56Selwyn and Chief-Justice Martin. Through long terms of office and protracted lives these eminent men appeared to hold a moral brief for a race which, without their advocacy, would, in New Zealand at least, have been friendless indeed. On this supreme occasion, when the rights and the future existence of the race were at stake, both of them stepped into the breach and hazarded their good name as well as their official position in the defence of the Maoris. Selwyn not only recorded his "formal and deliberate protest" against the principles avowed by Earl Grey; he stated that he was resolved "to use all legal and constitutional measures" to assist the natives "in asserting and maintaining" their "rights and privileges as British subjects." Chief-Justice Martin printed, but did not publish, a pamphlet on England and the New Zealanders. Both were sent to the Secretary for the Colonies by the Governor. If the Bishop's appeal was, like Antigone's, to "the infallible, unwritten laws of Heaven," the Chief-Justice's appeal was to the consensus of jurists. Earl Grey, in his turn, might have appealed to the practice of the United States, which, in those very years, was setting the maxims of its own eminent jurists at defiance.

Two points specially invite notice. Long afterwards, when the disastrous Waikato war was raging, Bishop Selwyn expressed the belief that "the new Constitution" (which was to supersede the rejected Constitution of 1846) was the ultimate cause of the war. He meant, of course, the power conveyed by it to take the lands of the Maoris without the consent of the tribes. It was truly so. The exercise of that power, against which he was now contending, was the real cause of the war.

Next, the Chief-Justice predicted that, if these Royal Instructions were carried out, and the Maoris came to believe that their secure possession of their lands was threatened, "the Christian religion will be abandoned by the mass of those who now receive it.'' The prediction was fully realised only sixteen years later. Selwyn then wrote that the rise and acceptance of the new Hau-Hau or page 57Pai Marire religion (religion of "Good Tranquillity") were the outcome of the aversion of the Maoris for everything English.

A petition, signed by Selwyn, Martin, and many others, and protesting against the Constitution and the Instructions, was presented to the Governor and forwarded by him to the Colonial Office. The Wesleyan Missionary Society in London took the same view. Naval officers, who had been travelling through the native districts, made known the dread of the Maori chiefs at the threatened loss of their lands. All possible influences conspired against the unfortunate measure.

It is indeed doubtful if any proposals emanating from the Government of the Mother-country ever met with such serried opposition. Mr. Rees states, manifestly on authority, that if he had been required to carry the Instructions into effect, Grey would have resigned his office, and the assurance is confirmed by contemporary evidence. According to Bishop Selwyn, Grey assured both Selwyn and Chief-Justice Martin that he "neither could nor would carry them into practice in New Zealand." The other high officers of the Colony were no less determined. The Chief-Justice put forth a keen discussion of their legality and a strong protest against them, and, after flinging this firebrand into the Colonial Office, he declared that it was for the Home Government to determine whether he could fitly retain his office. The Bishop of New Zealand was no less emphatic. "A little more," he said, "and Lord Grey would have made me a missionary bishop, with my path upon the mountain wave, my home upon the rolling deep.'' His clergy were as outspoken as their chief. Earl Grey's despatch, wrote Archdeacon Maunsell, "strikes at the very root of the life and liberty of the aborigines." The only course open to sons of the missionaries would be to leave in sorrow the country which they were civilising and had won for the British.