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

No. 45. — Extract from a Despatch from Governor Grey to Earl Grey

No. 45.
Extract from a Despatch from Governor Grey to Earl Grey.

On the Instructions received to maintain Good Faith with the Natives.

My Lord,—

Government House, Auckland, 15th May, 1848.

In reference to the discussion which took place in Parliament in the month of December last upon the subject of the instructions regarding the lands of the Natives of this country, which your Lordship had issued to me in your despatch of the 23rd December, 1846, I have the honour to state that it did not, at the time I received those instructions, appear necessary to me to address any observations to your Lordship upon the subject, because I distinctly understood those expressions of your Lordship which have been objected to as not being intended by you to be applicable, to the present state of New Zealand.

In the same manner, when some of the inhabitants of this colony petitioned Her Majesty, representing that your Lordship's instructions were opposed to the principles of equity and justice, and positively impracticable, and fraught with the most imminent danger to the lives and property of the colonists, and when the same petitioners complained to Her Majesty of the injurious effect of the silence I maintained as to whether I would or would not carry these instructions out, I felt it my duty to refrain from admitting that the tenor of your Lordship's instructions was such as they maintained; and I would not state that the local Government would not act in any manner opposed to the principles of equity and justice, because such a statement on my part would have been an admission that I had received instructions of such a nature from your-Lordship. Whereas, as I stated to various of the petitioners, your Lordship had expressly instructed me most scrupulously to fulfil whatever engagements had been contracted with the Natives, and had at the same time declared it as your opinion that no apparent advantage should be suffered to weigh against the evil of acting in a manner either really or even apparently inconsistent with good faith.

The simple question in reference to these instructions appeared to me to be, Did I clearly understand your Lordship's intentions, and had you spoken in language which, made clear to me your views upon the very difficult subject of the lands claimed by the Natives of this country? I felt that your Lordship had done this, and a positive proof is afforded that I did understand your Lordship, because; after the lapse of eighteen months from the issue of those instructions no one can point to a single act opposed to the principles of equity or justice which has been done in fulfilment of them, or under the pretext of being in any way sanctioned by them. And at the present moment, not, only have none of those evils fallen upon this country which it was predicted would flow from these instructions, but, on the contrary, I believe that New Zealand was never before in so peaceful and prosperous a state as it is now.

I should also state that I understood your Lordship's instructions of the 23rd December, 1846, as conveying to me your Lordship's ideas as to the strict limits within which the law applicable to such cases confined in each direction the authority which, upon behalf of the Crown, I was to exercise over page 49the lands of the Natives. I also understand that by the principles there enunciated by your Lordship the strict legality of any acts of mine in reference to these lands would be tested, but that to my own discretion was left the task of deciding in how far these strict legal principles were applicable, to the existing state of things in New Zealand; and I did not understand your Lordship as in any degree absolving me from the very serious responsibility of not permitting acts of cruelty arid injustice to be committed under the colour of such proceedings being justified by strict rules of law. Indeed, there was an evident necessity of considering the principles enunciated by your Lordship in reference to the peculiar state of New Zealand; for, even, if those principles were admitted to be abstractedly true they related to the rights of two parties, one of which parties it would have been impossible to have induced to assent to them; and as this party was a very powerful one, and composed for the most part of very loyal subjects who were disposed to make very great concessions to meet; the views of the Government, the question which would always arise would really be, "Would it be better to endeavour at all hazards to enforce a strict principle of law, or to endeavour to find out some nearly allied principle which should be cheerfully assented to by both parties, and which would fully secure the interest and advantages of both?

I think that such a principle may now be considered as having been found. Your Lordship is aware that on my arrival-in this country I found that the Crown's right of pre-emption over the lands belonging to the Natives had been waived; that a reckless spirit of bargaining for lands between the Natives and European speculators was in progress; that rebellion prevailed in several portion of the country; that it was asserted that the Natives would never submit to the Crown resuming its right of pre-emption, and would never permit it to exercise such rights; that I conceived it my duty, at all hazards, to resume and enforce this right; that various opinions were formed by opposing parties as to the policy and wisdom of this step; that for a long period of time the public here seemed to doubt whether the local Government could or would dare to persevere in such a line of policy; that petitions upon the subject were addressed to Her Majesty; that efforts were made to obtain the disapproval of the Home Government to the line of policy which I had pursued; that notwithstanding these representations Her Majesty's Advisers afforded me their warmest approval and support; that the local Government continued steadily to adhere to this line of policy, and that the result has been constantly increasing prosperity for the colony, and almost daily augmented confidence in the Government upon the part of the Native population, and, I believe, a perfect conviction in the mind of every sensible man in the country, not only that the Government can maintain the Crown's right of pre-emption but that the strict maintenance of this right is the best guarantee for the future welfare of the Natives, and is even recognized as such by themselves.

As far, therefore; as I can understand the, position of the country in reference to the lands of the Natives it is this: that the Native population would, to the best of their ability, resist the enforcement of the broad principles which were maintained by Dr. Arnold; but that they will cheerfully recognize the Crown's right of pre-emption, and that they will in nearly all—if not in all—instances dispose, for a mere nominal consideration, of those lauds which they do not actually require for their own subsistence. Even further than this: in many cases, if Her Majesty requires land, not for the purpose of an absentee proprietary, but for the bona fide purpose of immediately placing settlers upon, the Native chiefs would cheerfully give such land up to the Government without any payment, if the compliment is only paid them of requesting their acquiescence in the occupation of these lands by European settlers.

In opposition to the opinions which have been so generally expressed to your Lordship by such high authorities in the northern part of this Island—that there is no waste land in this colony which can be appropriated to the Crown without purchase—I beg to state that it is my belief that even in the most densely inhabited portions-of the northern part of this Island there are very large tracts of land claimed by contending tribes to which neither of them have a strictly valid right; and that, when these tracts of country come to be occupied by Europeans, the Natives will chiefly relinquish their conflicting and invalid claims in favour of the Government, merely stipulating that small portions of land, for the purposes of cultivation, shall be reserved for each tribe. An instance of this kind has recently occurred, in which an extensive and valuable tract of country has been in this manner ceded to the Government.

The only instances in which I have known the Natives either to resist the occupation of their lands by the Europeans, or to demand exorbitant prices for them, are those eases in which the lands were not validly purchased before a considerable European population was placed upon them; and the Natives, thus becoming aware of the value that had been given to their lands, and actuated by motives of self-interest, refused to part with them for a nominal consideration, but insisted on receiving a price bearing some slight relation to the actual value of the lands at the time the purchase was completed. The obvious means of avoiding this difficulty for the future is for the" Government to keep its purchases of-land sufficiently in advance of the spread of the European population. Moreover, these cases almost naturally and inevitably, took «"place upon the first sudden pouring-in of a large European population into a country with whose language, customs,, and laws relating to land they were almost wholly unacquainted; and I do not think there is any probability whatever of "the recurrence of such difficulties for the future.

The other cases in which I have seen the Natives resist the occupation of their lands by the Europeans were evidently unjust, or in those cases in which the Natives, relying upon their own power and despising the strength of the Europeans, have acted from the feelings of the love of plunder and war which are common to all barbarous or semi-civilized people, and, actuated by these motives, have attempted to take the lands of the Europeans from them, and subsequently have pillaged their property, destroyed their villages, &c. It is quite obvious that upon the first occupation of this country by Europeans some excesses of this kind must, have been anticipated, and that they must even still be occasionally looked for.; but that each recurring one will cause less anxiety to the Government than those which have, preceded, and that after a very "few years it is "to be hoped that such" events will wholly cease to take place.

page 50

I now proceed to state how I have endeavoured, in practice, to give effect to your Lordship's intentions, as contained in the 13th chapter of the Royal Instructions, headed," On the Settlement of the Waste Lands of the Crown." In the first place, I have strictly maintained the Crown's right of pre-emption. Secondly, although I am fully conscious of the wisdom of the regulations which have been issued by your Lordship regarding the registration of the land of the Natives, I have thought it more expedient to make this matter of registration of the lands of the various. Native tribes a work of much time, rather than to hurry it on too rapidly.

To require at once the whole of the Native tribes to come in within a certain period to register their claims to land would be to raise throughout the entire Island the question of the territorial limits of the various tribes; which limits ever since Europeans have had any knowledge of the country have been the frequent source of their international disputes and wars. Such a step would also excite their suspicions in reference to the intentions of the Government. Many of the distant chiefs would also probably deem a compliance with such a demand as a virtual renunciation of their power and rights, and would therefore refuse to comply with it; and, having once thus, placed themselves in a position of hostility to the Government, would be very slow to give it their confidence again. Without a general survey also of the Island, and without the boundaries of the claims of the different tribes being in some way marked upon the ground and mapped, the mere registration of these claims would afford but little information, and would be productive of but slight utility.

I have therefore deemed inexpedient to disturb the present tranquillity of the country by calling upon the Natives generally to register their claims to land; but I have taken care, in as far as possible, to keep the land purchases of the Government so far in advance of the wants of the European settlers as to be able to purchase the lands required by the Government for a trifling consideration. What has been done was to extinguish absolutely the Native title to the tract purchased, but to reserve an adequate portion for the future wants of the Natives, which reserves were registered as the only admitted claims of the Natives in that district; and they have been furnished with plans of these reserves, and with certified statements that they were reserved for their use, which documents are somewhat in the nature of a Crown title to the lands specified in them, are much esteemed by the Natives, and accustom them to hold land under the Crown, which is an extremely desirable object to attain. This mode of proceeding also renders the labour of registration very trifling, secures the perfectly accurate registration of all such claims as are entered, and gives to the act of registration the appearance of a boon conferred by the Government, instead of clothing it with a compulsory character. I have also no doubt that, in process of time, when the Europeans require the more distant districts of the country, the Natives will have wholly forgotten and have abandoned many invalid claims to tracts of country which would now be urged.

The only instances under this system in which the Government has had to pay any large price for the lands are those in which the settlement of a large European population in the district, before the purchase of the lands had been fully completed, had given a value to them, of which the Natives were well aware; but proper precaution on the part of the Government will prevent such circumstances occurring again, and the Natives are every day becoming more and more aware of the fact that the real payment which they receive for their waste lands is not the sum given to them by the Government, but the security which is afforded that themselves and their children shall for ever occupy the reserves assured to them, to which a great value is given by the vicinity of a dense European population. They also gradually become aware that the Government spend all the money realized by the sale of lands in introducing Europeans into the country, or in the execution of public works, which give employment to the Natives and a value to their property, whilst the payment they receive for their land enables them to purchase stock and agricultural implements.

I think that these principles of proceeding are well suited to the present circumstances of the country, and to the probable future wants of an agricultural population, such as the Maoris are. They also present these advantages: that all questions relating to lands which are settled by them are finally adjusted, and that they create no embarrassments which would preclude the Government from adopting any better system that may be devised.

I have &c;

The Right Hon. Earl Grey, &c. G. Grey.