We are arrived at a pass when the good ship _Tory_ is hurrying
southwards, bearing to the goal of all their hopes the preliminary
expedition of the New Zealand Land Company. On the track of the _Tory_
follows in dignified pursuit Her Majesty’s ship _Druid_, proud of her
distinguished burden, the first Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony
that is soon to be. The air is filled with rumours of the impending
formation of a colony by France; and, indeed, a French ship presently
flies in the wake of the _Tory_ and the _Druid_, bound, they say, for
Akaroa in the Middle Island, where many thousands of goodly acres are
already in one Frenchman’s hands. New Zealand herself, precious object
of the desire of so many, sits upon her sea-girt throne and lifts
anxious eyes to the scales of Fate, watching the quivering balance. One
arm must soon descend, weighted with her destiny. Which?
Fortunately for New Zealand, Britain had a fair start of France in
the race for possession. Unfortunately for many colonists, then
and to be, the New Zealand Company ran well ahead of the British
Government in the race for the acquisition of land. Most fortunately
for all concerned, Her Majesty’s representatives were men not afraid
to undo the tangle caused by the early dealings in land. They were men
determined to adjust upon an equitable basis all land transactions
between the white population and the brown. They were men who insisted
that the Maori, ignorant at first of the value of that with which
they parted so lightly, should not be driven from their ancestral
possessions for the price of a few old muskets, a handful of red
sealing-wax, or even an orchestra of Jew’s-harps and tin bugles.
It would be improper to refer otherwise than delicately to a past so
recent. Something must be said, but not without consideration for the
feelings of others. Moreover, the subject of the proceedings of the New
Zealand Land Company is so difficult and involved, that, save in the
briefest manner, it does not fall to be dealt with in a history of this
While the _Tory_ was ploughing through girdling oceans north and south,
the Directors of the New Zealand Company were doing all they could to
attract a good class of emigrants. They described in glowing terms the
situation, scenery, and climate of the country, eulogised their system
of colonisation, and offered, by lottery, land at popular prices, which
included the passage out of the emigrant and his household.
Fifty thousand acres in the North Island were at first offered by the
Company for purchase, and over eleven hundred emigrants–purchasers,
labourers, and their families–sailed within six months for New
Zealand, full of hope in the future.
The startling feature of the story is that the Company had no title to
land in New Zealand, nor any right to sell it. The significant lines
did not occur to them, “The man that once did sell the lion’s skin
while the beast lived, was killed with hunting him.”
After a voyage of four months, the _Tory_ dropped anchor in Port
Nicholson on the 20th of September, 1839. The shores of Cook Strait
had been for many a year the scene of fighting among the Maori and, as
first one and then another tribe came uppermost in the struggle, the
question of the actual ownership of the land became decidedly matter
for argument. It will be remembered that, by Maori law, conquest of
land constituted ownership. True; but if the conquerors of to-day were
likely to be turned out to-morrow by the recently vanquished, or by
another set of combatants, it does not need much demonstration to show
that intending purchasers would require to be very careful as to the
soundness of their own right and title, or entirely careless of any law
but that of possession.
The Company’s agent stayed not to inquire as to Maori disputes
regarding land. He ascertained through an interpreter the names of
this cape, that river, those islands, and yonder mountain, and asked
the chiefs Epuni and Wharepori of the Ngati-Awa, who had come aboard,
whether they would sell the entire landscape.
“Yes,” answered the chiefs, who had little better title to the land
than had the Company who had sold it before buying it. And so, for
a collection of articles which included blankets, guns of various
sorts, axes, spades, and fish-hooks–not to speak of Jew’s-harps,
soap, trousers, pencils, sealing-wax and cartridge-paper, the Company
acquired (justly, perhaps, in their opinion) a territory about the size
of Ireland, embracing both the east and west coasts of New Zealand.
This astonishing bargain, begun on the deck of the _Tory_, took some
months to complete, and by that time the agent had taken formal
possession of the fine bay known as Port Nicholson–Poneki in the Maori
tongue–and planned out the settlement of Britannia at the entrance
to the charming valley of the Eritonga, better known now–if not so
musically named–as the Hutt river.
Fast in the wake of the _Tory_ followed the _Aurora_ with the first
instalment of immigrants, whose feelings may be imagined, when they
realised that nobody could give or sell to them the right and title
to the lands they desired to call their own. They learned this much
in March 1840 from the Maori themselves, when, owing to its faulty
position, the settlement on the Hutt was abandoned, and the town of
Wellington founded upon the flats of Thorndon and Te Aro, which lay in
a more sheltered bay of the great basin of Port Nicholson.
Other emigrants from England and elsewhere soon arrived; the first
steamer puffed and churned its way into the harbour; and the astounded
Maori demanded anxiously whether “all the tribes had left England and
come to settle among them?” They were not disinclined to welcome the
settlers; but Puakawa and other chiefs strongly objected to part with
their lands, which they averred had been sold by people who had no
right to dispose of them.
This was sad hearing; but, if a Company choose to “buy” twenty million
acres from some fifty people whose right to sell them is hotly
disputed, it is to be expected that the ten thousand or so who claim
ownership of those acres will have something to say on the subject.
Mercifully for the settlers, the Maori near Wellington had no objection
to their lands being occupied, but merely wished to make it clear that
they had not been sold outright. So the settlers became aware before
long that the Company’s purchases were not good, and that, if they, the
immigrants, bought land of the Company, their own title to it would
be equally not good, and would in the natural course of events become
liable to investigation.
But why this concern about right and title? On the one hand are white
men desirous of acquiring land, and, on the other, coloured men who
have felt the touch of civilisation without having been greatly
influenced thereby, and who, while undeniably owning the land, use
but little of it. Why bother about their rights? Why not oppose to
the protests of the brown man the impudence of the white man, whose
argument has too often been, “What I desire I take, and what I have I
Because–and it is with keen pleasure that one can write this
truth–the story of colonisation in New Zealand is honourably
distinguished from that in some other portions of the globe, by the
righteous attitude of most of the early settlers towards the native
population in possession, and by the fact that the rights of the
original owners of the soil were clearly recognised, and forcibly
insisted upon by those in power. And the same principle is at work
True, there were many who shamelessly swindled the Maori out of their
land; but with a number of these the Crown eventually dealt very
effectually. True, also, there were not wanting those who–as ever in
a new country–advocated lead and steel as the best means of combating
objections to land transfer, and, incidentally, of “civilising” the
Maori. But of such there were too few thoroughly to leaven the lump,
and the general attitude of the white men was one of honest desire to
deal justly with the brown. Serious differences arose, but the guiding
principle was there and, despite wars and contentions, there was never
abroad that spirit of hatred which has marked some contests between the
white and the coloured races. Pakeha and Maori as a rule fought out
their quarrel fairly, with the result that they now live at peace, the
white men respecting and caring for the needs of the brown, the brown
men content to recognise the superiority of the white, and taking an
intelligent share with them in the ruling of their ancient heritage.
The Maori have been represented for many years in the Parliament of
New Zealand by men of their own race; men, too, directly descended
from powerful chiefs who strenuously opposed the Pakeha’s rule. The
newspapers announced a few months ago that a full-blooded Red
Indian had for the first time in the history of the United States taken
his seat in Congress. Comment is needless.
Whatever their title, the Company’s settlers remained where they were
for the present, and for the better ordering of matters in which all
were concerned, quickly formed a “Provisional Government,” with the
energetic and sunny-tempered Colonel Wakefield as its first president.
So, leaving the Company’s settlers in Wellington to argue questions of
title with their keen-witted opponents, let us follow the fortunes of
Lieutenant-Governor Hobson from the time of his arrival in Sydney.
Having paid his respects to his chief, Sir George Gipps, Governor of
New South Wales, Captain Hobson sailed for the Bay of Islands, where he
arrived on the 29th of January, 1840. He immediately exhibited three
documents, which gave the settlers plenty to think about.
The first was his commission as Lieutenant-Governor over _whatever
parts of New Zealand might be thereafter added to Queen Victoria’s
dominions_; the second asserted Her Majesty’s authority over all
her subjects then resident in New Zealand; the third–note it
well–proclaimed that the Queen would acknowledge no titles to land
other than those derived from Crown grants, that to purchase land from
the natives would after that date be illegal, and that a Commission
would investigate all land purchases already made.
While Lieutenant-Governor Hobson was familiarising the Kororarekans
with this last intimation, the agent of the New Zealand Company at
Wellington continued to acquire land from the Maori, irrespective of
native right and title; while immigrants as eagerly besieged genial
Colonel Wakefield for town lots and country lands, careless of _his_
right and title and, apparently, of their own insecure tenure.
So, with Captain Hobson proclaiming himself Governor over territory
yet to be acquired; with the Company selling, and the immigrants
buying, land to which neither had a proper title, the materials for the
production of a very difficult and unpleasant situation were apparent
even to inexperienced eyes.
They were so apparent to Captain Hobson, that he took with creditable
promptitude two decided steps. First, he convened at Waitangi–the
lovely “Weeping Water” in the Bay of Islands–a meeting of powerful
hereditary chiefs, to whom he proposed an agreement, historically known
as the Treaty of Waitangi.
The chiefs of the United Tribes of New Zealand by this treaty ceded
to Queen Victoria the sovereignty of their territories, and agreed
to sell lands to no other purchaser than the Crown. Queen Victoria,
in consideration of this cession of sovereignty, agreed to extend
her royal protection to the Maori, and to confer upon them all the
privileges of British subjects.
This important treaty was not carried through off-hand. Shrewd chiefs
opposed it, though the greater number present argued in its favour,
among them Hongi’s veteran lieutenant, Tomati Waka Nene (Thomas
Walker), afterwards our strong ally. No conclusion was come to until
next day, when forty-six prominent chiefs signed the treaty in presence
of a great following.
Forty-six being a small proportion of the number of chiefs of rank in
the North Island, Governor Hobson circulated the treaty by the hands of
trusted agents. The first signatures were appended early in February,
1840, and over five hundred chiefs had signed before the end of June,
very few of them accepting the presents offered by the agents, lest it
should be considered that they had been bribed into taking so important
Thus encouraged, the Governor executed the great measure which caution
had bidden him postpone, and on the 21st of May, 1840, proclaimed Queen
Victoria’s sovereignty over the Islands of New Zealand. To make matters
sure, sovereignty over the Middle Island was separately proclaimed on
the 17th of June.
Governor Hobson now took his second step. The proclamation of the
sole right of the Crown to purchase land from the natives plainly
gave him control of the acquisitions of the New Zealand Company; the
proclamation of the Queen’s sovereignty over the Islands justified him
in repudiating the Provisional Government formed at Wellington. Of the
latter he made short work, sending Mr. Shortland, R.N., the Colonial
Secretary, and a company of soldiers to haul down the Company’s flag
and replace it by the standard of Britain. The act was natural and
inevitable; but it made the Company and their representative very
bitter against Captain Hobson.
The declaration of sovereignty over the Middle Island came none too
soon; for the French emigrant ship _Comte de Paris_, convoyed by the
frigate _L’Aube_, arrived less than two months later at Akaroa, and
fifty-seven immigrants disembarked. The British flag had been hoisted
forty-eight hours earlier by Captain Stanley, R.N., and when, in face
of this, the French frigate landed six field-pieces, the captain
of H.M.S. _Britomart_ thought it time to protest. He protested so
effectually, that the French commander acknowledged his immigrants to
be settlers in a British Colony, reshipped his twenty-four pounders,
and the incident closed.
Thus New Zealand, after long delays, became a British Colony, with
her status established not only before her own motherland, but in
the eyes of Europe as well. It remained for her to shake off the
partial allegiance she owed to New South Wales, and then, with all the
confidence of youth and sturdy independence, go proudly down the path
of the future to the high destiny which awaited her.