New Zealand in the World
4 — Vogelism
The small concessions made by the Imperial Government in 1870 should perhaps be regarded as the first-fruits of a profound change which was gradually modifying British attitudes towards life in general and colonies in particular. This change was mainly due to developments abroad. The nineteenth century was a period of strengthening national consciousness. During the first half of the century the efforts of small European nations rightly struggling to be free were viewed with calm benevolence from the Olympian heights of mid-Victorian England. But by 1870 two of these emerging nationalities had assumed giant, if for the present friendly, shape in the form of Germany and Italy. By the same year the United States had destroyed the last possibility of disruption, and the mighty force of pan-Slav sentiment had already disturbed central and eastern Europe. Pride of race was in the air, as a challenge to established powers, quite apart from the military dangers of a world where, it seemed, the future lay page 57with great powers and not with small. Further, political and strategic challenge was matched by economic competition. French, German, and American industry progressively undermined the British assumption that Britain would remain indefinitely the workshop of the world. Economic depressions arose which could no longer be regarded as a passing scourge rightly inflicted by inexorable economic laws upon the improvidence of the poor. In short, by 1870 life challenged the British race more openly and effectively than at any time since Napoleon had fled from Waterloo.
The response to the challenge was, among other things, the growing conception of Greater Britain. There awoke a new sense of pride in the imperial efforts of the British race which ushered in one of Britain's recurrent waves of patriotic fervour. It is true that the main stream of British political and economic development moved onwards with triumphant complacency towards its climax in the Diamond Jubilee of 1897, when 'England became intoxicated at the sight of her own greatness'. Nevertheless a handful of enthusiasts, whose efforts were soon to be focussed in the Royal Colonial Institute and the Imperial Federation League, strove to win public interest in Greater Britain, and a growing minority began to think there might be more truth than at first appeared in the colonists' rather insolent claim that in them resided the strength of England. (England page 58without colonies, said a New Zealander in 1870, is like Samson without hair; and it was grievous to watch Samson acting as his own barber.) Thus there arose among some British thinkers a new interest in colonies, and in a vague, sentimental way, the idea of so planning the Empire that in it the British race would find the answer to continental pan-racialism.
On the political side, this conception meant relaxing those forms of imperial control which still irritated colonies: in the seventies the Colonial Office learnt how to comment at length on colonial despatches in non-committal phrases that expressed no opinion at all. There was also a quickening interest in the share likely to be taken by colonies in the work of imperial defence. On the economic side it meant a somewhat irrational hope that industrialists would find colonial markets to replace those lost through foreign abandonment of free trade. As the optimistic argument ran, trade is equally valuable, whether with foreigners or colonists; but in one's own colonies one can rely on getting fair play: 'the natural field will not be narrowed by the unwise proceedings of men.' Further, it was argued, one's own colonies were obviously the safest place for investing the capital which was then accumulating uncomfortably fast in the mother country; and they were equally obviously the most suitable home for those would-be emigrants for whose poverty England seemed to have no remedy.
This revival of British interest in colonies was page 59particularly opportune for New Zealand, where there had arisen a prophet of economic imperialism whose influence over her destiny was comparable with that of Wakefield himself. Julius Vogel, indeed, brought Wakefield up to date in an attractive system which gave concrete form to generally current ideas. As an empty and undeveloped country, New Zealand needed immigrants and the economic equipment to give them employment. That is, she needed loans with which to build railways, roads, and bridges, and to finance immigration. Such loans could only come from Britain, and be raised by pledging the public credit; and in 1870 Vogel boldly proposed that £10,000,000 should be raised and spent in this manner during the next ten years.
There was nothing new in this plan except its magnitude. For years the provinces had been borrowing for public works, and during the Maori wars there had been frequent suggestions that borrowing for development should be made systematic. England, it was said, should remove her troops, who were virtually useless in the New Zealand bush, and send loans instead; for New Zealand's resources were cheerfully assumed to be inexhaustible, and only in need of capital for rapid development. Already New Zealand was one of Britain's best customers, sending wool and gold in exchange for manufactures, and in colonial borrowing an impressive beginning had already been made: was not 'the seven millions of page 60money we owe to the British bond holder' a useful guarantee that in the last resort Britain would not allow New Zealand to sink into utter ruin? What, then, might not be hoped for if London's purse-strings were really untied? Such arguments were taken up and crystallised by Vogel. They sounded all the more persuasive in New Zealand because the prosperity arising from the gold rushes was manifestly on the point of collapse: and London responded freely to the appeal. The result was a period of borrowing, public works, and immigration which altered the face of New Zealand.
Details of the 'Vogel boom' and subsequent reaction do not belong to this study: the broad effect was, however, to tie New Zealand to the economic system of Great Britain more firmly than ever before. Between 1870 and 1880 New Zealand's public debt grew from £7,841,891 to £28,583,231, and her population from 248,400 to 484,864; and the volume of her trade enormously increased. For example, the value of her exports of wool increased from £830,000 in 1863 to £2,702,000 in 1873, and (in spite of a disastrous fall in prices) to £3,014,000 in 1883. Thus the economic bond between colony and mother country, which was naturally slender when colonists were struggling for mere existence, grew really strong when New Zealand (often under leadership of enterprising Australians) developed her sheep industry for overseas markets. Further, refrigeration after 1882 page 61gave New Zealand two new exports: frozen meat and dairy produce. She accordingly organised herself, on the whole with remarkable efficiency, to supply Britain with the products of the sheep and the cow. British demand seemed inexhaustible, and production steadily increased. By 1900 New Zealand, with a population of three-quarters of a million, sent to Great Britain goods worth £10,000,000 each year; and in return Britain sent manufactured goods—and capital. By 1900 the public debt was nearly £50,000,000: and both debt and export trade grew formidably in the remaining years before the Great War. Thus the economic dependence of New Zealand on Great Britain, which was not decisive in 1870, became a living reality, and in fact governed the whole of the colony's internal development and social structure; and there appeared a material impulse, of enormous strength, to fortify the sentimental bond with the home country.
Sentiment, economic advantage, and a sense of isolation which grew with foreign colonial enterprise in the Pacific: these bound New Zealand closely to Britain, and since 1870 she has generally been of all colonies the most 'loyal' to the imperial connection. However, loyalty has often been consistent with a shrewd eye to her own interest and a sharp tongue to scold when those interests appeared to be sacrificed by Britain. This was, of course, particularly clear in the years immediately following the sharp anger of page 621869-70, when the feeling remained strong that the imperial connection brought more danger than benefit to New Zealand. True, that connection made it easier to borrow money: a fact recognised in 1870 by the most indignant as one of the few solid arguments against separation. But membership of the Empire restricted New Zealand's freedom in trade policy; therefore she pressed in 1871 and again in 1887 the embarrassing request that she should be allowed to negotiate her own commercial agreements with foreigners. Again, it remained an uncomfortable thought that British policy (over which New Zealand had no influence) might expose the colony to destruction by a country with which she had no quarrel. In 1870 this risk seemed too high a price to pay for 'the advantage of forming part of a great Empire', and accordingly New Zealand made the interesting but premature suggestion that her neutrality might be recognised in wars caused by British policy. Failing this, she asked for a share in determining the foreign policy by which she was to be bound; a demand which would involve some reorganisation of imperial relations.
Thus New Zealand became an advocate of what was then loosely called imperial federation amongst those who in England and overseas were groping for a new conception of the Empire. The aim was to give the colonies something approaching equality of status as partners, though junior partners, in a co-operative page 63concern. In the seventies and eighties this conception was more attractive to the prospective senior partner, Britain, than to most of the self-governing colonies, who were anxious to buttress their autonomy and were suspicious of any constitutional arrangement which would place them in a permanent minority. New Zealand, however, saw in such plans to strengthen the imperial tie a means by which she might share more effectively in controlling the wealth and power of the Empire as a whole. Vogel and his contemporaries were conscious of the disadvantages brought by membership of the Empire, and they proposed to make the most of the benefits. In particular they wanted from Britain capital and migrants (which she was willing enough to furnish) and British support in winning an island empire in the Pacific.
This rosy vision did not attract the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The expense, he wrote, would be considerable, and the benefits, such as they were, could be gathered in more cheaply by a system of consular agents, who would give 'instructions and assistance to the native authorities towards the establishment of a regular government' to protect British interests, and who might even suggest to chieftains involved in disputes with foreigners that they should refer the facts to Queen Victoria and follow her advice; without, of course, involving the Queen in any responsibility or danger of expenditure. So the matter rested: but Grey's idea did not die. On page 65the contrary it found vigorous life in the Melanesian Mission organised among innumerable islands by Grey's friend, that muscular Christian and skilful navigator, Bishop Selwyn. His ambition to make New Zealand the spiritual capital of the Pacific was the complement of Grey's more militaristic approach: and it gave to his New Zealand flock some knowledge of islanders and their problems, and some sense of responsibility. With his own eyes, and through those of Patteson, his friend and successor in the missionary field, he saw the havoc wrought in island life by European commerce and by the unscrupulous recruiters of black labour: and the knowledge so gained (crowned by Patteson's martyrdom in 1871) provided a moral basis for New Zealand's imperial ambitions.
Accordingly, when the close of the Maori wars released New Zealand's energies once more, the way had been prepared for adventure; and adventurous leaders were at hand. By this time, of the islands which had fallen within her proposed sphere of influence, New Caledonia had gone, snatched in 1851 from beneath the nose of an indignant Governor Grey to avenge 'the insult inflicted on France when an Englishman twelve years ago stole New Zealand from a French captain.' Samoa remained, however, also Tonga, the New Hebrides, and Fiji; but New Zealand had neither the power, nor as a dependency the right, to act alone. She could point the way, argue and page 66persuade: but the decision lay in London. Therefore between 1870 and 1885 New Zealand ministers offered to Britain a stream of impassioned advice in favour of a crusade of annexation in the Pacific.
The basic arguments were of the same type as those which had justified the colonisation of New Zealand herself: economic and strategic advantage, the danger of foreign expansion, and the misdeeds of irresponsible Europeans amid chaotic native society. The master mind was that of Vogel, whose boundless optimism and plain-spoken vigour irritated, alarmed, and amused the officials of Downing Street. To the head of the Colonial Office Vogel was 'the most audacious adventurer that perhaps has ever held power in a British Colony', and by 1872 the British Government had concluded that his ambitions would be satisfied by nothing less than the exclusion of all other powers, European and American, from the South Pacific. This was, perhaps, an exaggeration, for New Zealand statesmen were slightly more cautious. They merely desired Britain to annex all the islands which remained unappropriated by some foreign power, and at intervals expressed a wish to help actively in carrying out that 'great national work'.
The Australasian chorus was heard in London with cool scepticism, even with indifference. In spite of reviving interest in the Empire after 1870, the colonial-minded were still in a small minority both in government circles and among the people as a whole. Overseas politicians visiting the mother country to test public opinion about themselves were scandalised to find that, though they were occasionally lionised, thoughtful public opinion about colonies simply did not exist. If noticed at all, they were seen by the ordinary citizen as curious and distant human specimens about which touring Englishmen sometimes wrote interesting books; and as for New Zealand in particular, during the Maori wars she was vaguely page 69conceived as a remote dependency, somewhere near Australia, in which there were interminable troubles for reasons which were quite unintelligible. Thus, British politicians could not take the Pacific problem as seriously as did Australians and New Zealanders, and were by no means willing to place the navy at the disposal of colonists who had no disposition to contribute towards its expenses. Till the age of Rhodes, Chamberlain, and Kipling the Empire remained a side-line for British statesmanship. It was the fad of enthusiasts rather than a central point of policy. The feeling remained strong against careless extension of British territory, and for the time being determination to count the cost had dissipated that absence of mind through which, wrote Seeley, Britain had conquered and peopled half the world.
In these circumstances the Australian-New Zealand campaign had moderate success only. After a long fight the colonies won in 1873 the right to grant each other tariff preferences — a hard-won concession which they were remarkably unanimous in ignoring—and in the following year Fiji was annexed by Britain. This last, however, proved a disastrous victory. The British Government argued (as was true) that Fiji had been annexed because of pressure from Australia and New Zealand, and in order to serve their interests rather than those of the Empire as a whole. It accordingly invited New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria to contribute page 70towards the cost. Its professed object was not to get money, but 'to give trial and effect to the principle of joint action among different members of the Empire', and to give the thriving Australasian colonies an opportunity to assume 'their membership in the common duties of the Empire.' But the colonies refused. New Zealand, which had asked that Fiji should be included within her boundaries, would not contribute without sharing control. To ask her to do so, explained Vogel in 1876, was 'a novel proceeding, connected only with the presumed policy of casting the colonies adrift'; and he added that Britain should have made her bargain with contributing colonies before acting, instead of passing round the hat afterwards. If this were done, he said, governments must be guided by the general rule: not to 'indulge in any expenditure that can with honour be avoided.'
However justifiable, the unanimous decision of the colonies that they could with honour avoid contributing to the expenses of Fiji was bad tactics. The incident confirmed the British Government's natural suspicion that colonists always wanted everything for nothing, and whenever they pressed again for annexations, Britain took Vogel's line, and before acting asked for a guarantee that expenses would be met; preferably a joint guarantee from the whole group of Australasian colonies. But by the time they had virtually accepted this principle, in 1883, foreign colonisers had become increasingly interested page 71in the Pacific, and the British Government was strongly inclined to win their friendship by graceful concessions in a sphere so distant from herself So it turned out. A valuable part of New Guinea fell to Germany, in spite of Australian protest, and Samoa, which New Zealand regarded as her special preserve, seemed to be going the same way.
New Zealand fought hard against this conclusion. Apart from pressure for outright annexation, Vogel made in 1874 the interesting suggestion that a great chartered company, to be controlled from New Zealand, might 'earn for a reluctant Great Britain—without committing her to the responsibilities she fears—a grand island Dominion, and in the meantime save the Mother Country much danger and risk. I speak, of course, of the danger and risk of expenditure, which weigh so much with the rulers of Great Britain.' This plan, urged with vehemence and backed by a significant remark that New Zealand would have acted on her own responsibility if independent, was nevertheless firmly shelved by the British Government. So was the Act of 1883—passed under Grey's leadership in answer to a petition from Samoa—which would have given New Zealand power to annex any unappropriated island whose occupation by 'any foreign power would be detrimental to the interests of Australasia.' London still had the last word, and the colonies, when it came to the point, page 72were still remote dependencies without a voice in the direction of imperial affairs.
The British Government had, perhaps, some reason for its wish that Vogel's 'highly speculative scheme should be promptly snuffed out' in 1874; it could scarcely have placed in the rash hands of New Zealand statesmen the powers asked for by Grey in 1883; in any case German trade predominated in Samoa, and for Britain to have annexed the islands at that stage would have been a foolish affront to a friendly if ambitious country. Still, the fact remains that in dealing with Samoa (as with New Guinea and later the New Hebrides) the British Government did not take the colonies into its confidence. Thus, while negotiations were being concluded, there was a brisk agitation in Samoa—organised by private citizens who were New Zealanders—for the islands to be annexed to New Zealand. When reports reached the colony of the agreement of November 1884, which gave Germany control over the native Samoan government, intense indignation shook the New Zealand ministers and they proposed to take the matter into their own hands by sending an official expedition to Samoa. This dangerous plan was crushed by the British Government: but to placate the colonists Britain drew from Bismarck a promise not to annex the islands. Thus there was preserved the confusion of nominal Samoan independence, with everyone dissatisfied; and New Zealand was invited to pocket page 73her pride, recognise frankly 'the good claims of a great friendly power', and co-operate with Germany in developing Samoan trade.
The year 1885 was a turning point in New Zealand's attitude towards the Empire. On the one hand it was clear that she had not benefited from the imperial connection in the way planned by Vogel. Prosperity based on borrowing had subsided into prolonged economic depression, and Britain persistently refused to carry out the colonists' policy in the Pacific. On the other hand, a few months after New Zealand's maximum indignation about Samoa the threat of war against Russia caused her to see her relations with Britain from a new angle. Fifteen years before, when contemplating just such a war—caused by British policy, and against a country with which New Zealand herself had no quarrel—New Zealand had suggested that she might remain neutral. But when war actually threatened, the result was a sudden tightening of imperial sentiment. The fact was that the mere thought of war sapped that confidence on which the previous independence of spirit had been based. With Russian warships in the Pacific it was somehow no longer obvious that New Zealand would be safer as a small independent state than as an Empire country entitled to protection from the navy. Therefore, when faced in 1885 with an apparent crisis, New Zealand chose her path without hesitation. Vogel, some of whose dearest hopes had just been crushed page 74by British policy in Samoa, penned an able document advocating not separation, but imperial federation. The Government (of which he was a member) promised an expeditionary force of '1000 well-trained men, one fourth to be Maoris' and offered to pay handsomely towards the cost of 'a powerful man-of-war cruiser for the special defence of New Zealand.' This last offer was hailed by Governor Jervois as the first concrete sign of a colony's willingness to contribute towards its own naval defence; and two years later the governor's hopes were shown to be justified. At the Colonial Conference of 1887, New Zealand joined Australia in promising to find each year the sum of £126,000, in part-payment for the maintenance of Britain's Australasian squadron — a small contribution towards easing the imperial malaise which accompanied the change-over from wood to iron and from sail to steam; and, like Australia, she set about fortifying her main ports.
The Russian war scare clarified imperial relations in more ways than one. It showed that New Zealand was less critical in her loyalty than her spokesmen had suggested, and it stung the Australasian colonies into real co-operation for imperial purposes; on the other hand the sequel marked clearly a growing difference of opinion and policy between New Zealand and her principal Australian neighbours. When the naval agreement of 1887 was brought before the various parliaments, the Australians were restive. There were page 75vehement protests to the effect that the Australian colonies should maintain and control fleets of their own (a plan actually discussed at a conference of Australasian colonies in 1883) instead of paying tribute to another country in such a way as to involve the new world in the quarrels of the old. One colony, Queensland, flatly refused to ratify the agreement and deposed the Premier who had accepted it. The remainder ultimately paid up, but only after outvoting a determined minority. In New South Wales, for example, the debate was protracted for two weary nights. When at length the motion was carried, exhausted members greeted the dawn with three cheers for Australia and three for England—apparently in that order. By contrast, there were no such scenes in New Zealand.* There was, indeed, a certain amount of criticism. One member revived the 1870 suggestion of neutrality: let there be a colonial flag, internationally recognised, 'which without indicating any severance from the Mother country, would give security' in wars which did not concern the colonies directly. But only one speaker expressed himself strongly; and though his language was mild compared with that of some Australians, succeeding speakers found it impossible to express their opinions of him in parliamentary terms.
Thus in 1887 New Zealand spoke with two voices. That of Vogel was the voice of the past. It was confident and independent, willing if need be to face the world alone because in a sensible universe reason and not sentiment governed politics. But Atkinson spoke with the voice of the future: conscious that New Zealand was small and weak in a world full of potential menace, but conscious also that she was safe behind the shield of British power. In the years that followed, the spirit of Vogel was gradually ousted by the impulse towards uncritical loyalty which was fed by sentiment, by trade and finance, and by the slow decay of the sense of unshakeable security.