New Zealand and the War.
State of New Zealand at the time of the Outbreak.—Political Status of the Native Race.—Dangerous Consequences of a Collision foreseen.—The Maori Tribal System.—Maori Tenure of Land.—Cause of the Insurrection.
* The Governor is commonly, but erroneously regarded as the “Representative” of the Crown. “Not in fact,” says Lord Brougham; “he does not even represent the Sovereign generally, having only the functions delegated to him by his Commission; and being only the officer to execute the special powers with which the Commission clothes him.” And the Maories have always been taught by authority to regard the Queen personally as their ruler and governor, who, though far away, is ever mindful of their interests; and to whom, if wronged, they are to appeal as one ever willing to listen to their words.
Letter of Governor Grey to Te Whero Whero, dated 31st of October, 1858.
[After stating the gracious answer of the Queen to the memorial addressed to her by the Chiefs of Waikato, the Governor proceeds to say:—]
“My good Friends—These are the words of the Queen to you. I add a few words of my own. Listen to them. You thought trouble was coming upon you, so you wrote your loving thoughts to the Queen, and disclosed your fear to her. The Queen was not deaf to your appeal, but attended to it immediately; and quickly came her letter to remove your anxiety. Quite full is her letter of words of love and kindness, in return for your love to her.
“Learn from this, that though the Queen is far away, yet her love is nigh, and reaches you speedily. Her mindfulness of you is near at hand to protect you. If you shall think hereafter that you are trampled on by any person whomsoever—be patient. Let not the heart in its ignorance be excited and led by wrath into wrong. On the contrary, write your thoughts to the Queen, for you see her willingness to listen to your words.
“From your loving friend,
Before the commencement of the Taranaki insurrection. New Zealand was in a state of profound peace. For a period of several years, friendly relations had been maintained between the settlers and the Natives, and the Colony had been making steady progress in agriculture, page 47 commerce, population, and wealth. Upwards of thirty millions of acres—more than half the area of the whole of the islands—had been obtained from the Native owners, for purposes of colonization; internal feuds had almost ceased; a growing desire for the establishment of law and order amongst themselves was showing itself amongst the Natives in all parts of the country: and with wise government and prudent conduct on the part of the settlers, there appeared to be a fair prospect of uninterrupted prosperity and peace.
For several years after the Colony was founded, the Governor was advised by a Council appointed by and responsible to the Crown, and who held their offices by a permanent tenure: but his advisers are now responsible to the Colonists alone, and are liable to be frequently changed. When this important alteration in the form of Government was effected, it was proposed by the Governor that, as to Native affairs, both power and responsibility should continue with the Governor as before, but that the Ministers should have the right of tendering their advice. The risk of weakening the Governor's power, and of exposing him to be influenced by the page 48 varying and irresponsible counsels of successive Administrations holding office at the popular will, was regarded by many as a serious danger; and it was foretold that the Chiefs, if neglected by the Head of the Government, and left to be dealt with by subordinates, would gradually secede from communication with the authorities, forming leagues and schemes of which the Government would have no cognizance: that they would thus become estranged, and that when they came to be feared and suspected, there would be the constant risk of the Governor being driven by the Ministers to use the Troops against them; and that the country would not be safe for six months after the question of peace and war had been entrusted to a Ministry who had the command of the Queen's Troops, but who were themselves neither responsible to the Colonists nor to the Crown.
In terms, at least, the New Zealand Constitution makes no distinction of race. The Natives are acknowledged to be the owners of the soil—to have, in fact, a right of proprietorship like landlords of estates; but it has been denied that they have such an interest in it page 49 under the Native tenure as to entitle them, within the meaning of the Act, to vote at the election. In return for their cession of the sovereignty, we have undertaken to impart to them the rights and privileges of British subjects. Yet we have given them no voice in the Government of the country, while we tax them for its support. They are not entitled by law to act as jurors: and they are not tried by a jury of their peers if they offend against the law. Though acknowledged to be the owners of the soil, we have given them no constitutional tribunal by which conflicting claims to land may be judicially determined. If a Colonist resists a threatened injury to his person, or his property, he exercises a right common to every English subject of the Crown; but when the Maories, to whom we have covenanted to impart these rights, attempted to assert and maintain them, they were denounced as rebels, and immediately subjected to the authority of military law. When it was urged in their behalf that before being subjected to martial law, they were entitled to have their claims considered and determined by the civil tribunals of the country, a doubt was raised page 50 whether they are so far British subjects as to be entitled to the rights and privileges of a subject of the Crown; and those who attempted to aid them in obtaining justice were charged with disloyalty to the Sovereign, and their interference was declared by those who were then in authority to amount to a public danger. We are more scrupulous than the French in our professions of regard for the rights of the coloured races who may be subject to our rule; but we have given our French neighbours some ground to maintain that the difference between their system of colonization and our own, is in truth more theoretical than real.
But the colonization of these Islands having been undertaken on the avowed principle that the rights of the Aborigines shall be carefully respected, the project has always been regarded as an experiment in which the national credit was at stake. The first Governor was instructed that the Native inhabitants should be the objects of his constant solicitude; that there was no subject connected with New Zealand which the Queen, and every class of her Majesty's subjects, regarded with more earnest anxiety; that the page 51 dread of exposing any part of the human race to the dangers which had commonly proved so formidable to Native tribes when brought into contact with civilized men, was the motive which for a length of time dissuaded the occupation of New Zealand by the British Government; and it was enjoined upon the first Governor, that amongst the principal objects to be aimed at by him, was the protection of her Majesty's Native subjects from cruelty and wrong; the establishment and maintenance of friendly relations with them; and the prevention of the diminution of their numbers; and that to save them from the calamities of which the approach of civilized men to barbarous tribes had been the almost universal herald was a duty too serious and important to be neglected. Having been engaged for upwards of twenty years in this great experiment, and not without some prospect of success, it is humiliating to have to record that a number of her Majesty's Maori subjects took up arms to defend themselves from what they believed to be the injustice of their rulers; and that a demand was understood to have been made upon Great Britain by the Colonial Native Minister for an “indefinite page 52 expenditure of blood and treasure,” in order to subdue them.
The late Governor had not been many months in the Colony before he discovered, and, like his predecessors, pointed out the danger of provoking a conflict with the Natives. “In any real trial of strength between the Natives and Europeans there can be no possible doubt,” reported Governor Browne, “as to the result. But it is not less certain that pending its duration a vast amount of life and property would be destroyed: numbers of thriving settlers would abandon their houses: immigration would entirely cease; and a great expense would be entailed on the mother country. In other words,” he added, “the prosperity of the Colony would be annihilated for years after the termination of a struggle as successful as could be desired.” It had been declared also by one of the numerous writers on New Zealand, referring especially to that part of the country which became the seat of war, that the land might have been wrested from the Natives, but that fighting, however successful, must have been attended with some deplorable result. The Natives might have been driven off, but their revengful feelings thus page 53 excited, who, in a scattered agricultural community like this, was to ensure the remote settlers against the attack of some marauding band? Certainly not the soldiers. “Peaceful purchase, on the contrary,” the writer adds, “is attended with many excellent results.” Six years previously the then Native Secretary had recorded his opinion, “that military operations in the Taranaki district would prove fatal to the prosperity of the settlement for some time to come, as the settlers would have to concentrate themselves in town, for the protection of their wives and families, and their properties in the meantime would go to ruin.” And more recently, the late Governor had informed the Colonial Minister, “that the immediate consequences of any attempt to acquire Maori lands, without previously extinguishing the Native title to the satisfaction of all having an immediate interest in them, would be an universal outbreak, in which many innocent Europeans would perish, and colonization would be indefinitely retarded.” Yet after having acquired more than thirty millions of acres of land under a system satisfactory, in the main, both to the buyer and the sellers, a “new policy” was believed by the page 54 Natives to have been attempted, and the Province of Taranaki was plunged into a civil war, by an attempt to obtain possession, by military force, of Native land with a doubtful or disputed title.
When we first became acquainted with New Zealand, the whole country from the North Cape to Stewart's Island was parcelled out by natural or other well-known landmarks amongst the numerous tribes and families who form the Maori race. Each community holds its land in common; but every individual member, besides having a general interest in the Tribal property, may acquire by inheritance, by his own labour, or otherwise, a possessory or holding title to a specific portion, but he is not allowed to exercise a disposing power over it. “It is right,” said an intelligent Chief, “that every individual should be free to sell his own bushel of wheat, potatoes, and corn, for they are produced by the labour of his hands; but the land is an inheritance from our ancestors,—the Father of us all.” And so general is the Tribal system, that in the opinion of the Head of the Native Department (1856), “no Native can claim an individual title to land in the Northern Island. There is really no such thing as individual title page 55 that is not entangled with the general interest of the Tribe; and often with the claims of other Tribes, who may have emigrated from the locality.”
The common property is, in fact, the bond which binds together the members of the Tribe; and it would be inconsistent with the Tribal system if an individual could alienate away from the Tribe any portion of territory; for all the members have not only a present right in the uncultivated or unappropriated land, but also a reversionary interest in those portions of the land which have already been appropriated by other members of the Tribe; and it would be fatal not only to the Tribal system, but to the existence of the Tribe itself, if individuals had the power of their own free will of alienating to a stranger any portion of the common land. Nor does the Chief himself hold land on any different tenure. In addition to a general interest in the common property, he has frequently, like some of the ordinary members of the Tribe, a possessory or holding title to some specific portion of it; but he is not recognized as having the power at his own individual will of separating it from the common stock, and selling it to a stranger. From page 56 his superior ability and position, he exercises a powerful influence over their deliberations: he has also an influential voice as to the sale or disposal of the common land: yet if all were desirous that a portion of it should be sold, he would hardly have the power by virtue of his Chieftainship to put an absolute veto on the sale: nor could he, on the other hand, without the consent of the Tribe, undertake to dispose of any portion of the Tribal land; his duty being to act as the guardian of the common property, and to give expression to the common will.