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An Epitome of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs and Land Purchases in the North Island of New Zealand

No. 24 — Copy of a Despatch from Governor Fitzroy to Lord Stanley

page 34

No. 24
Copy of a Despatch from Governor Fitzroy to Lord Stanley.

General Report on the Land Question.

My Lord,—

Auckland, l5th October 1844.

With the Blue Book of this colony for the year 1843 is an explanation of the reasons which have hitherto delayed its transmission, and which have prevented its contents from being satisfactory. Although not in the colony during the period referred to, I have collected some authentic information respecting the past and existing state of the colony and its prospects, some of which I will now place before your Lordship in as succinct a form as possible.

Referring in the first instance to the state of the colony at the end of 1843, and during the previous time: At the first establishment of British authority in New Zealand the most extravagant notions were entertained of the expense to be incurred and the forces to be employed by Great Britain Examples of extravagance were too readily followed. Money was then abundant at Sydney, and speculators were very sanguine. The consequences to this young colony were most pernicious. Every one lived beyond his means; and many borrowed money at exorbitant rates of interest in order to buy land, especially town allotments and water frontages: Speculations of the most absurd kind prevailed for a time, and numerous were the allotments purchased at high prices by persons who thus exhausted their means, and then found themselves utterly unable either to build or cultivate. Houses were built which could not be used; farms were bought which could not be stocked; and of course great distress has been the consequence. Had the land been bought at a cheap rate, the means exhausted in purchase might have been employed in cultivation, and the colony would have been self-supplied with most things, in a very short time, after which there would have, been exports.

I should be wanting in candour did I not acquaint your Lordship that the system of selling land here at a high upset price did, much to augment these evils. A temporary supply of funds was undoubtedly raised, which made a show of prosperity; but my Lord, how precious was, that show? The thousands: of pounds drawn from thoughtless, settlers, who believed a thriving, city was to be raised by some immediate process, were, the, very seeds of prosperity, which should have been scattered on the land. Had the Government; retained possession of a considerable quantity of valuable land, and let it on lease, as at Singapore, a moderate, but certain and increasing, revenue, might, have, been - raised. I am also found, to inform, your Lordship that the measures adopted to wards, those earlier settler so who had-really acquired tracts, of land by; fair purchase tended to much harm. Those speculators who assumed to have purchased many thousands, nay, millions, of acres never could have substantiated any claim, because they never had made valid purchases; but there were many whose purchases seemed large on paper, however valueless much of their land might be, who had fairly acquired a few hundred, or a few thousand, acres of land, with the full consent of: the aboriginal owners; and these persons not only suffered much from delay, expense, uncertainty, and inability to make any progress during three years, but the Natives who had sold to them became exceedingly irritated, taking up their cause and saying, "If the Queen acts thus towards her own people, what will she do to us? "The interference, for instance, with Mr. Fairburn's property, however necessary in his case, raised acommotion among the Waikato tribes, which caused great alarm, but was hushed up although they were then so irritated as to be on the point of rising against the local Government; and they are the most powerful tribes in New Zealand.

While it was the object of the local Government to raise as much money as possible by the sale of lands, irrespective of the real interests of the settlers and the colony, it was of course an object to take as much as possible from the old settlers, with the view of those lands (not reverting to their original owners, but) becoming disposable for sale by the local Government Such a step as selling those excess lands was happily never attempted, however generally contemplated. The Natives would never have allowed it to take place; and the attempt to do so would have injured the character of the Queen's Government very seriously, if not irretrievably, so tenacious are the Natives of what they consider to be strict justice. As yet it is quite impossible to make them comprehend our strictly legal view of such cases.

Owing principally to these causes above mentioned, there was a great, stagnation in the colony after the first two years of excitement had passed. The public revenue diminished rapidly. Trade diminished, because there were then neither exports nor funds. People livedon the remains of whatever capital or property they had not expended. No titles to land were issued Government payments became tardy and uncertain; salaries were allowed to be several months in arrear, the local Government having neither money nor credit; and to this unhappy condition was the colony reduced, not withstanding its extraordinary natural resources, at the termination of the year 1843. The prospects of the colony at the end of that year were very gloomy. The value and extent of mineral resources were then unknown. The fertility of the soil and the excellence of the climate were comparatively useless without capital and without a market. Salaries of Government officers were four months in arrear Contingent payments were overdue by Government for an equally 1 long period and the feelings between the two races were not merely questionable, but becoming daily less satisfactory.

I have, &c

Robert Fitzroy

The Bight Hon. Lord Stanley, &c.