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The Long White Cloud

Chapter IX — The Dreams of Gibbon Wakefield

page 136

Chapter IX
The Dreams of Gibbon Wakefield

Twin are the gates of sleep: through that of Horn,
Swift shadows winged, the shapes of truth, are borne.
Fair wrought the Ivory gate gleams white anigh,
But false the dreams dark gods dispatch thereby.

The founder of the Dominion now comes on the scene. It was time he came. The Islands were neither to fall into the hands of the French nor remain the happy hunting-ground of promiscuous adventurers. But the fate which ordained that Edward Gibbon Wakefield should save them from these alternatives interposed in the way of the great colonizer a series of difficulties from which any mind less untiring and resourceful than his must have recoiled. The hour had come and the man. Yet few bystanders could have thought either the hour propitious or the man promising. The word colony was not in favour when William the Fourth came to the throne. It was associated with memories of defeat and humiliation in America, and with discontent and mutterings of rebellion in Canada. Australia was scarcely more than an expensive convict station. Against the West Indian planters the crusade of Wilberforce was in full progress, and the very name of “plantation” had an evil savour. South Africa promised little but the plentiful race troubles, which indeed came. The timid apathy of the Colonial Office was no more than the reflex of the dead indifference of the nation. None but a man of genius could have breathed life into it. Fortunately the genius appeared.

Though the name of Gibbon Wakefield will probably be remembered as long as the history of Australia and New Zealand is read, the man himself was, during most of his active career, under a cloud. The abduction of an heiress— page 137 a mad freak for which he paid by imprisonment and disgrace—deprived him of the hope of ordinary public distinction. For many years he had to work masked—had to pour forth his views in anonymous tracts and letters, had to make pawns of dull men with respectable names. This and more he learned to do. He found information and ideas for personages who had neither, and became an adept at pulling strings and manipulating mediocrities. All things to all men, plausible to the old, magnetic to the young, persuasive among the intellectual, impressive to the weak-minded, Gibbon Wake-field was always more than the mere clever, selfish schemer which many thought him. Just as his fresh face and bluff British manner concealed the subtle mind ever spinning webs and weaving plans, so, behind and above all his plots and dodging, was the high dream and ideal to which he was faithful, and which redeemed his life. He saw, and made the commonplace people about him see, that colonization was a national work worthy of system, attention, and the best energies of England. The empty territories of the Empire were no longer to be treated only as gaols for convicts, fields for negro slavery, or even as asylums for the persecuted or refuges for the bankrupt and the social failures of the Mother-country. To Wakefield the word “colony” conveyed something more than a back yard into which slovenly Britain could throw human rubbish, careless of its fate so long as it might be out of sight.

His advocacy revived “Ships, Colonies, Commerce!” as England's motto. But for colonies to be worthy, they must be, not fortuitous congregations of outcasts, but orderly bands of representative British citizens, going forth into the wilderness with the consciousness of a high mission. From the outset his colonies were to be civilized communities where men of culture and intellect need not find themselves companionless exiles. Capital and labour, education and religion, were all to work together as in the Mother-country, but amid easier, happier surroundings. For Wakefield conceived of his settlements not as soulless commercial outposts, but as free, self-governing communities.

How was all this to be brought about? Whence was the money to come? Whence the organizing power? At that point came in Wakefield's conception of the sale of waste page 138 lands at a “sufficient price.” He saw the immense latent value of the fertile deserts of the Empire. He grasped the full meaning of the truth that the arrival of a population with money and industry instantly gives good land a value. His discernment showed him the absurdity of giving colonial lands away in indefinite areas to the first chance grabbers, and the mistake of supposing that wage labour would not be required in young countries. His theory, therefore, was that colonizing associations should be formed in England—not primarily to make money; that these bodies should hold tracts of land in the colonies as capital; that the sale of these lands at a “sufficient price” to intending colonists, selected for character and fitness, should provide the funds for transporting the colony across the earth, for establishing it in working order on its land, and for recruiting it with free labour.

The numerous ex post facto assailants of Wakefield's theory usually assume that he wished to keep labour divorced from the soil and in a state of permanent political and industrial inferiority. That is sheer nonsense. There are few more odd examples of the irony of fate in colonial history than that the man who warred against the convict system, fought the battle of colonial self-government, was ever the enemy of the land-shark and monopolist, who denounced low wages, and whose dream it was that the thrifty, well-paid colonial labourer could and should develop into the prospering farmer, should be railed at in the Colonies as the enemy of the labourer. The faults of Wakefield's “sufficient price” theory were indeed grave enough. But compare them with the lasting mischief wrought in New Zealand by Grey's unguarded scheme of cheap land for everybody, and they weigh light in the balance. Later on I shall return to Wakefield's system and its defects. Here I have but to say that, as a temporary expedient for overcoming at that time the initial difficulties of a colony, it ought not to be hastily condemned. It has long ago been abandoned after working both good and evil, and in the same way the schemes of Church Settlement Wakefield made use of are now but interesting chapters of colonial history. But we must not forget that these things were but some of the dreams of Gibbon Wakefield. At the most he page 139 regarded them as means to an end. His great dream of lifting colonization out of disrepute, and of founding colonies which should be daughter-states worthy of their great mother, has been no false or fleeting vision. That dream, at any rate, came to him through the Gate of Horn and not through the Ivory Gate.

By Wakefield it was that the Colonial Office was forced to annex New Zealand. In the face of the causes making for annexation sketched in the last chapter, the officials hung back to the last. In 1837 a body of persons appeared on the scene, and opened siege before Downing Street, whom even permanent officials could not ignore. They were composed of men of good standing, in some cases of rank and even personal distinction. They were not traders, but colonizers, and as such could not be ignored, for their objects were legitimate and their hands as clean as those of the missionaries. They first formed, in 1837, a body called “The New Zealand Association.” At their head was Mr. Francis Baring. Their more prominent members included John Lambton Earl of Durham, Lord Petre, Mr. Charles Enderby, Mr. William Hutt, Mr. Campbell of Islay, Mr. Ferguson of Raith, Sir George Sinclair, and Sir William Molesworth. The Earl of Durham was an aristocratic Radical of irregular temper, who played a great part in another colonial theatre—Canada. Sir William Molesworth did much to aid the agitation which put an end to the transportation of convicts to Australia. For the rest, the Association thought the thoughts, spoke the words, and made the moves of Gibbon Wakefield. Yet though he pervaded it sleeplessly, its life was but an episode in his career. He fought against the convict system with Molesworth and Rentoul of the Spectator. He went to Canada as Lord Durham's secretary and adviser. He was actively concerned in the foundation of South Australia, where his system of high prices for land helped to bring about one of the maddest little land “booms” in colonial history. And as these things were not enough to occupy that daring, original, and indefatigable spirit, he threw himself into the colonization of New Zealand. He and his brother, Colonel Wakefield, became the brain and hand of the New Zealand colonizers.

For years they battled against their persistent opponents page 140 the Church Missionary Society and the officials of the Colonial Office. The former, who hit very hard at them in controversy, managed Lord Glenelg, then Colonial Secretary; the latter turned Minister after Minister from friends of the colonizers into enemies. Thus Lord Melbourne and Lord Howick had to change face in a fashion well-nigh ludicrous. The Government offered the Association a charter provided it would become a joint-stock company. Baring and his friends refused this on the ground that they did not want any money-making element to come into their body. Moreover, in those days joint-stock companies were concerns with unlimited liability. The Association tried to get a bill of constitution through Parliament and failed. Mr. Gladstone spoke against it, and expressed the gloomiest apprehensions of the fate which the Maori must expect if their country were settled. New Zealand, be it observed, was already a well-known name in Parliament. The age of committees of inquiry into its affairs began in 1836. Very interesting to us to-day is the evidence of the witnesses before the committee of that year; nor are the proceedings of those of 1838, 1840, and 1844 less interesting. In the third of the four Gibbon Wakefield, under examination, tells the story of the New Zealand Association. In 1839 it became the New Zealand Land Company. Baffled in Parliament, as already described, the colonizers changed their ground, decided to propitiate the powers, and become a joint-stock company. Having done so, and subscribed a capital of £100,000, they tried to enlist the sympathies of Lord Normanby, who had just succeeded Lord Glenelg at the Colonial Office. They found the new-made Secretary of State very affable indeed, and departed rejoicing. But, like many new-made Ministers, Lord Normanby had spoken without reckoning with his permanent officials. A freezing official letter, following swiftly on the pleasant interview, dashed the hopes of the Company. They were getting desperate. Lord Palmerston had, in November 1838, promised them to send a consul to New Zealand to supersede poor Mr. Busby, but the permanent officials thwarted him, and nothing was done for eight months. At last, in May 1839, Gibbon Wakefield crossed the Rubicon. As the Government persisted in treating New Zealand as a foreign country, let the Company page 141 do the same, and establish settlements there as in a foreign land!

Since repeated efforts to obtain the help and sanction of the English Government had failed, let them go on unauthorized. Secretly, therefore, the ship Tory, bearing Colonel Wakefield, as Agent for the Company, was dispatched in May to Cook's Straits to buy tracts of land for the Company. He was given a free hand as to locality, though Port Nicholson was hinted at as the likeliest port. With him went Gibbon Wakefield's son, Jerningham Wakefield, whose book, Adventures in New Zealand, is the best account we New Zealanders have of the everyday incidents of the founding of our colony.

Arriving in August among the whalers then settled in Queen Charlotte's Sound, Colonel Wakefield enlisted Dicky Barrett's services, and, passing on to Port Nicholson, entered into a series of negotiations with the Maori chiefs, which led to extensive land purchases. Ultimately Colonel Wakefield claimed that he had bought twenty millions of acres—nearly the whole of what are now the provincial districts of Wellington and Taranaki, and a large slice of Nelson. It is quite probable that he believed he had. It is certain that the Maori, for their part, never had the least notion of selling the greater portion of this immense area. It is equally probable that such chiefs as Rauparaha and Rangihaeata, who were parties to the bargain, knew that Wakefield thought he was buying the country. Fifty-eight chiefs in all signed the deeds of sale. Even if they understood what they were doing, they had no right, under the Maori law and custom, thus to alienate the heritage of their tribes. Had Colonel Wakefield's alleged purchases been upheld, the Company would have acquired nine-tenths of the lands of no less than ten well-known tribes. The price paid for this was goods valued at something less than £9,000. The list of articles handed over at the Wakefield purchases is remarkable enough to be worth quoting:—
300 red blankets148 iron pots
200 muskets6 cases soap
16 single-barrelled guns15 fowling-pieces
8 double-barrelled guns81 kegs gunpowder
2 tierces tobacco2 casks ball cartridges
15 cwt. tobacco4 kegs lead slatespage 142
200 cartouche boxes600 pencils
60 tomahawks204 looking-glasses
2 cases pipes276 pocket-knives
10 gross pipes204 pairs scissors
72 spades12 pairs shoes
100 steel axes12 hats
20 axes6 lb. beads
46 adzes12 hair umbrellas
3,200 fish-hooks100 yards ribbons
24 bullet moulds144 Jews' harps
1,500 flints36 razors
276 shirts180 dressing-combs
92 jackets72 hoes
92 trousers2 suits superfine clothes
60 red nightcaps36 shaving-boxes
300 yards cotton duck12 shaving-brushes
200 yards calico12 sticks sealing-wax
300 yards check11 quires cartridge-paper
200 yards print12 flushing coats
480 pocket-handkerchiefs.24 combs
72 writing slates

The purchasing took three months. While it was going on Henry Williams and other missionaries urged the chiefs not to sell. But with the goods spread out before them—especially the muskets—the chiefs were not to be stopped. The Wakefields justified the transactions on the ground that population would rapidly make the ten per cent. of the country reserved for the natives more valuable than the whole. Gibbon Wakefield talked airily to the parliamentary committee next year of a value of 30s. an acre, which, on a reserve of two million acres, would mean three million sterling for the Maori! Nothing can justify the magnitude of Colonel Wakefield's claims, or the payment of firearms for the land. But at the bottom of the mischief was the attempt of the missionaries and officials at home to act as though a handful of savages—not then more, I believe, than sixty-five thousand in all, and rapidly dwindling in numbers—could be allowed to keep a fertile and healthy Archipelago larger than Great Britain. The haste, the secrecy, the sharp practice, of the New Zealand Company were forced on the Wakefields by the mulish obstinacy of careless or irrational people. Their land-purchasing might have taken place legally, leisurely, and under proper Government supervision, had missionaries been business-like, page 143 had Downing-Street officials known what colonizing meant, and had Lord Glenelg been fitted to be anything much more important than an irreproachable churchwarden.

Meanwhile the Company had been advertising, writing, canvassing, and button-holing in England, had kept a newspaper on foot, and was able to point to powerful friends in Parliament and in London mercantile circles. By giving scrip supposed to represent plots and farms in its New Zealand territory, it secured numbers of settlers, many of whom were men of worth, education, and ability. The character of the settlers which it then and afterwards gave New Zealand may well be held to cover a multitude of the Company's sins. Towards the end of 1839 its preparations were complete, and, without even waiting to hear how Colonel Wakefield had fared, the first batch of its settlers were shipped to Port Nicholson. They landed there on 22nd January, 1840, and that is the date of the true foundation of the colony. But for some weeks after that New Zealand remained a foreign country. Not for longer, however. In June 1839 the Colonial Office had at length given way. What between the active horde of land-sharks in New Zealand itself—what between the menace of French interference, and the pressure at home of the New Zealand Company, the official mind could hold out no longer. Captain Hobson, of the Royal Navy, was directed to go to the Bay of Islands, and was armed with a dormant commission authorizing him, after annexing all or part of New Zealand, to govern it in the name of Her Majesty. In Sydney a royal proclamation was issued under which New Zealand was included within the political boundary of the colony of New South Wales. Captain Hobson was to act as Lieutenant-Governor, with the Governor of New South Wales as his superior officer. On 29th January, 1840, therefore, he stepped on shore at Kororáreka, and was loyally received by the Alsatians. The history of New Zealand as a portion of the British Empire now begins.