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

Bay of Islands.—Respecting Compensation for War Losses. Downing Street, 10th June 1846

Bay of Islands.Respecting Compensation for War Losses.


Downing Street, 10th June 1846.

I have received your predecessor's despatch, marked "Separate," of the 30th October last, accompanied by a memorial from above forty persons, formerly resident at Russell, in New. Zealand, soliciting compensation for the losses sustained by them in consequence of the destruction of that town by the Natives in March of last year.

This claim raises, or involves, a general principle of great practical extent, and of very wide and general application. It is the principle that British subjects who have settled themselves in the immediate vicinity of uncivilized tribes of men, and who may subsequently become the victims of their hostility, are entitled to throw on the British Treasury the losses consequent on any such attacks, if they can show either that there was not sufficient military force at hand for their protection, or that a sufficiently vigorous and skilful use was not made of that force, or that the British Government or its officers were guilty of any such error or oversight in their transactions with the tribes in question as may possibly have provoked or increased their hostility to the settlers. It is alleged in the memorial that such has been the invariable rule or practice in all such cases.

To this general assertion it is impossible to subscribe. The memorialists have quoted no solitary instance of the kind they mention, and I am not aware of the existence of any. Neither the ancient British settlers in North America, nor those who in recent times have settled in Western or in South Africa, ever received from the Government compensation for the losses they incurred by the devastation and plunder of their settlements by the savages in their immediate vicinity. They emigrated not in the service of their country, but with a view to advantages, real or imaginary, and included, or ought to have included, the danger of barbarous invasion as one of the most serious risks of that speculation.

In the present case the claimants cannot even allege that their settlement in New Zealand was encouraged or approved, or even known, by their own Government. They resorted thither before the Treaty of Waitangi, and before the Government was reluctantly compelled by the unauthorized emigration of British subjects to that country to negotiate for a sovereignty which they had deprecated as an undesirable, if not injurious, acquisition. When at length that sovereignty was assumed, the Government gave the utmost possible publicity to the fact that it was impossible to withdraw from the British Army a garrison adequate to the protection and defence of the settlers.

If errors, either civil or military, were subsequently committed in the administration of the Government of the colony, I cannot admit that to those errors alone, or chiefly, are to be attributed the attacks of Heke and his followers on the Town of Russell; and, even if I could make that admission, I could not assent to the inference that the British Treasury are bound to pay both for the expense of the warfare and for the losses of the settlers. The Government and their local officers, civil and military, were all placed in a situation in which it is scarcely probable that any degree of foresight, skill, or courage could have averted all risk of such evils. They were drawn into that situation by the precipitancy of others, not by any ill policy of their own. Besides, it is a new and page 42startling doctrine that the Queen's subjects are individually entitled to compensation for any losses in which the honest errors, political or military, of the Queen's Government may involve them.