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Life in Early Poverty Bay

Powerlessness of British Law

Powerlessness of British Law.

“We have,” he says, “been rather excited in Gisborne lately by the following occurrence. Some time ago a European here was convicted of giving spirits to Natives and sentenced to a fine of £10. This was not paid and some cattle were distrained said to belong to the defendant (they ultimately proved to be the property of another person and were restored) on which the Natives, accompanied by defendant's wife, demanded restitution. This being refused they proceeded to the government property, broke down the fence, and drove away some 13 head of cattle, belonging, it seems, to our Resident Magistrate and others. There the matter rests—a pretty state of things, you will say, for a so-called British colony.

“The fact is there has been such a temporising policy adopted in all matters appertaining to the Natives the government is (here at least) treated by them with the utmost contempt. It is in fact a farce—a piece of most unmitigated humbug to place a paid magistrate anywhere without power to enforce his decisions. He can mulct the unfortunate European who has committed some trifling fault that never would have been noticed had there not been a court to apply to, but he is fairly bullied and laughed at by the Natives if he endeavours to coerce them. They use language most insulting to him when on the Bench and at other times both in and out of Court.

“Another instance of the powerlessness of the law. A store here was broken open on June 24 last and property taken away amounting to more than £50. The perpetrators were known, and the case put into the Magistrate's hands, and a decision given to amerce the parties concerned in £150 which, of course, has never been paid. I have no hesitation in saying we manage the Natives better when left to ourselves. The Court has now shared the fate of all scarecrows by being openly laughed at and defied by all parties.

“Why place a paid magistrate at the expense of the Colony of at least £500 a year in such a district—a district where he and his office are already scorned by the Natives. He is in a fair way to being equally scorned by the settlers. There have been numerous cases of crime, including one case of abduction. The latter actually took place in the Court-house in the very face of the magistrate whither a woman (a native) had gone to be married, and to whom the female clung in her terror vainly imploring that protection he could not offer. The scene that followed was magnificent. Our Resident Magistrate (notwithstanding the assistance of his clerk) the would_be bride and the bride-groom abductor and one or two others rolling on the floor together.”

On Oct. 20 1858, the Poverty Bar correspondent of the “H.B. Herald, wrote:—

“Our runanga is still in full swing. The members have now for the last few days been in full committee, taking cattle and other things from those parties who have sold in defiance of their fiats. They now say they will prevent the sale of everything, including timber, firewood, etc., unless we come to page 76 terms. At present we don't know what turn things will take. All sorts of reports are rife even to the closing the river here against vessels and not allow us to take away produce now on hand. Is it not cruel that the settlers in a British colony and supposed to be living under British rule should be subjected to such laws and annoyance without our government taking (as far as we are aware) the slightest notice.

This was followed on Dec. 3, 1858, by the following report:—

“I hear that the committee of the runanga have agreed to allow the sale of wheat provided it never rules at a lower rate here than 5s cash, but as they say we have been making a profitable ‘spec’ by sending timber to the Napier market. they have stopped that branch of our trade by stopping the sale of all timber, firewood, etc. either for sale or for home consumption. With their usual liberality they will not allow us to use the standing timber though the trees have been purchased and marked but still unused to the amount of perhaps £1000. So much for the honour of the Natives by many so loudly proclaimed.

“The idea of turning the whole of the Europeans off their properties and expelling them from the district has again been mooted. “This state of things is calmly viewed by our paternal government without even raising its voice on our behalf. We are told the poor fellows (the Natives) are in a transition stage. This has been the cry far and wide for the last 18 years i e back to 1840. How much longer it will take to transform the Native grub into a civilised butter-fly remains to be seen.

“In the interim, we pay our share of the expense of being governed without receiving the slightest advantage. In fact as a member said in the House, they have no sympathy with the ‘tobacco and blanket man.’ If so they can have none for themselves as the Government gave two or three cases of tobacco for the Treaty of Waitangi and paid the Natives here and at other places in blankets and other trade to obtain their signatures to that Treaty.”