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

Chapter IX. — Governor of New Zealand—continued

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Chapter IX.
Governor of New Zealand—continued.

Three Colonising Associations.
The New Zealand Land Company.

The Maoris having thus been conquered, conciliated, and organised, Grey had grave tasks before him. He had to measure himself against a not less formidable power, at least for the time—the New Zealand Company, which for a decade played a large part in English Parliamentary history, in the proceedings of the Colonial Office, and in the founding of a British colony in New Zealand. The Company was an emanation from the brain of one of the deepest political thinkers, the subtlest schemers, and the most cunning manipulators of men that England has seen. Edward Gibbon Wakefield's dedication to a colonial career was an accident, of the Darwinian sort, and it was to this 'accident' that the settlement of South Australia and New Zealand is ascribable. From the hour of the new-birth of his spirit he lived but for his colonies, true offspring of his genius. Grey was to come into personal contact with him only towards the end of his first term in New Zealand, when the Company was extinct, but he was brought into collision with the Company as soon as his hands were free of the Maoris.

Its Aims Thwarted.

It seemed specially constituted to arouse his distrust in advance, if not to excite his hostility. Its pretensions were high and its practices imperious. It virtually established an imperium in imperio. Before they landed in New Zealand, its officers and settlers, inspired by the theories of Hooker, Hobbes, and Rousseau, formed a social compact. Soon after they landed, they hoisted a flag, which was saluted by twenty-one guns from the ship page 71that brought them. They proceeded to set up a provisional government. They created a legislative and executive council, in emulation of the councils usually attached to the governors of Crown colonies, and they levied taxes. They appointed magistrates, who exercised judicial authority. They founded and named a settlement. Withal, the Company in England disclaimed all intention of establishing an independent polity. All its acts ran in the teeth of its professions. Three years later it denied, on legal authority, that the British government in New Zealand rested on a lawful foundation, and contested the validity of its acts. Governor Hobson dealt sternly with its pretensions in New Zealand, and Lord Stanley brutally suppressed its reclamations in England. Within an hour after he had learnt of the Company's proceedings at Wellington, Captain Hobson proclaimed the Queen's sovereignty over the North Island, and in another proclamation he declared the Association to be "illegal and usurping." He held its doings to "amount to high treason;" he sent an officer with a body of troops, who were authorised to "displace all persons holding office under the usurping Government;" and he ordered him to restore to all persons any property of which they had been deprived by the so-called magistrates. Finally a proclamation summoned all persons to withdraw from the Association and submit to the proper authorities. Hobson has been accused of weakness by people who mistake bluster for force and brutality for firmness, but he seems to have acted with equal promptitude and energy. His action was ominous of the attitude of the New Zealand Government towards the Company through the remainder of its history.

Its Land Purchases Fettered.

With the destruction of its independent civic existence the Company was hamstrung. For with its polity went its unrestricted power of purchasing land on its own terms. The Company might well proceed, as it did, to make extensive direct purchases of land from the natives, page 72seeing that this was one of the privileges conferred on it by Act of Parliament. The British Parliament went still further. In accordance with the Wakefield system of colonisation, the Company was empowered to sell such lands at a minimum fixed price of £1 per acre. Grey took strong exception to an arrangement that trenched upon the powers of the Governor. He also objected to any portion of the amount thus received being paid as interest on capital and dividends on stock. Surely, with injustice. Could a colonising company, in which the shareholders embarked large sums of money, be formed or conducted on any other terms than by paying dividends and interest? The directors and shareholders of the New Zealand Company had made a bad business of it, if the pecuniary returns were their only reward.

Two ordinances, annulling all land purchases made prior to the proclamation of sovereignty over the Islands, and another subjecting all such purchases made after a certain date to revision by a commissioner, smote the Company with paralysis. Thus fettered by the action of the local Government, it excited the resentment of its settlers, who described themselves as "smarting under a sense of wrong." They censured its failure to fulfil its obligations and asserted its disregard of the interests of the settlers. They complained that they were the victims of the differences between the Company and the Colonial Office. The Company retorted that the refusal of the Governor to grant the rights of self-government had turned away the tide of immigration and consequently put a stop to land-sales. It had been truer to say that, with the blood shed at the Wairau on its head, the Company was hopelessly at variance with the Maoris, who bitterly remembered its high-handed dealings and its perfidy, and would sell it no lands. Its offspring were also contributing to its difficulties. The Canterbury Association could not pay for the land it had bought of the Company and at the same time pay its way. The Otago Association was also in difficulties. The Government had practically to take over both associations.

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Its Embarrassments.

By 1848 the embroilment had reached its height, and in March of that year Earl Grey and the Company agreed to entrust Governor Grey with the uncontrolled power of deciding disputes between the Company and its settlers. Six months later the chief officer of the Company in New Zealand, Colonel William Wakefield, suddenly died, of a stroke of apoplexy. As if, when his functions had been taken from him and his mana was gone, his life naturally came to an end. He had lived for the Company, and loved it not wisely, but too well. Once more, Governor Grey had triumphed.

He assumed its chief function and acquired from the natives extensive tracts of land on easy terms. He succeeded where the Company had failed, in part because he gathered into his own hands all the powers of Government and some amount of treasure, but still more because he possessed the confidence of the natives. His manifest unbounded trust in them inspired a like trust on their part towards him.

Its Death.

We need further note only the last struggles of the expiring Company. So unprofitable had grown its transactions, and so seriously had its land sales fallen away, that its solvency was threatened, and the British Parliament had to come to the rescue. Two successive loans, amounting to £236,000, were granted in 1846 and a following year, on the understanding that they should be repaid in 1850. So unprosperous was the Company that in 1850 it could not meet its liabilities, and it petitioned to be wound up. Parliament again came to its aid and arranged that the Government of New Zealand should pay it the sum of £268,000 by reserving the sum of five shillings an acre on all future land-sales.

It is the way that colonising companies have usually ended—in virtual insolvency and in absorption by the governing State or by some other State. There is one notable exception. The Massachusetts Company merged page 74in the Massachusetts colony, and the form of government of the colony repeated the form of government of the Company. The New Zealand Company might have had a similar euthanasia. It was fashioned, and for some time it was engineered, by men who were large of heart and brain. They had conceived high ends: their object was nothing less than to annex and rule over an extensive new country, and there build up a grand new society, modelled indeed on the mother-society, but free from its defects. They rendered services of inappreciable worth: they rescued New Zealand from impending foreign domination, and they made it for ever the home of an Anglo-Saxon community. They begat on it another association of the same or a still higher type, and they aided a third association to settle still another province. Lastly, they endowed New Zealand with bodies of colonists equalled only by the colonisers of New England and never surpassed.

The Canterbury and Otago Associations.

Grey's relations with the Canterbury Association and the Otago Association were scarcely more harmonious than they were with the New Zealand Company. The friction between him and them was, indeed, constant. From the Canterbury Association, at all events, he received provocation. Arriving in Canterbury in advance of his immigrants, J. R. Godley, the agent of the Association in New Zealand, apparently just to keep his hand in, or perhaps openly to identify himself with the New Zealand Company, of which the Canterbury Association was the daughter, went to Wellington in order to join the officers of the Company and other settlers in the agitation against the Governor. Grey took a divine revenge. Years afterwards Godley admitted that he had been able to consummate his task only by "the wisdom and considerateness of Sir George Grey, who had hitherto practically given to its officers nearly the whole administration of public affairs." He took a more human revenge by thwarting the attempt made in 1851 to extend the Canterbury block.

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He was no less in constant conflict with the Otago Association, and the Rev. Dr. Burns, the spiritual head of the community, said that Sir George Grey's treatment of Captain Cargill, its civil head, had moved in him feelings of something more than Christian indignation. There can be no doubt that he was jealous of these imperia in imperio, which diminished his prerogatives, trenched upon his functions, and hardly lightened his responsibilities. The Company and the two Associations had good reason for boasting, when he left New Zealand, that they ''had given him a lively time.''