HC Deb 12 April 1861 vol 162 cc530-40

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [11th April]. That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair; " and which Amendment was, to leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words 'while this House is prepared to contribute all the aid in its power to the Executive in putting down rebellion in Her Majesty's Colony of New Zealand, yet, having regard to the Treaty of Waitangi, it would rejoice to hear that the difficult and complicated question of the title to the block of land at the Waitara is to be the subject of inquiry before a special tribunal immediately on the re-assertion of the Queen's authority,' "—instead thereof.

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to he left out stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


said, it appeared to him, on a very careful consideration of the circumstances of the case, that the course pursued by the Governor of New Zealand had been justified on too high a ground. The best that could be said, was that with the purest intention the Governor, acting on the advice of persons more selfish than himself, had been betrayed into a fatal error, and into a war with persons who were only maintaining those rights which the Government was bound to respect. So far back as seventeen years ago there was a desire on the part of the Government to get this land; then William King claimed a right to it. The settlers were early acquainted with the advantageous position of this land; they knew that the title to it was in dispute amongst the natives, and they did not cease constantly to endeavour to occupy it. The Treaty of Waitangi was early found to be very inconvenient, and they would find that during Lord Derby's Administration a letter was written strongly urging the Government of the colony to respect this treaty; this alone showed that even at that time there existed a de sire to evade it. They next found Mr. M'Lean admitting in the fullest way that there did exist this tribal right, and that William King asserted it in the strongest possible manner by saying that he never would give the land in question up. If the supporters of the course taken by the colonial authorities had contented themselves wite saying that the British population could have made better use of the land than the natives, he could have seen some reason in their statement, but they said that the proceedings of the Governor were entirely in the right, and those of William King entirely in the wrong. It was curious enough that the Motion of the hon. Baronet was pretty much in the same terms as the language of the Duke of Newcastle writing to Governor Browne.

The Duke said that, after examining all the papers, he could not make out clearly where the right lay. Notwithstanding this admission, the Government now claimed absolute praise for the Governor. Although he thought that much might be said in exoneration of the Governor's conduct, yet the despatch of the Colonial Secretary ought to be respected, and, therefore, as a means rather of strengthening the hands of the Government than of weakening them, he should support this Motion.


I wish, Sir, to say a few-words upon the question, which is, in my apprehension, a very plain one, although it has been disfigured, enlarged, and inflated by party spirit to a degree which no one who is not tolerably familiar with such things in the colonies could have imagined possible. The question admits of being stated in a very few words. The colony of New Zealand is part of the dominions of Her Majesty and is inhabited by two races—the English or European, and the Native or Maori races—the English race holding one part, and the Maori race the other part of the Northern Island. By the Treaty of Waitangi, entered into with the New Zealand chiefs, the Queen has the right of extinguishing the native title to land. By that treaty, by which she confirmed to the chiefs, tribes, and individuals whatever property they had, it was stipulated that she should have the right of buying up—what we call the right of preemption—of extinguishing the native title to land; that she should, in order to prevent collisions and mischiefs of that kind, be the mediator between the settlers and the natives in matters of that kind. In the year 1859 the Government of New Zealand entered into an agreement by which a number of families who were joint owners, as joint tenants, of a large piece of land on the southern bank of the Waitara River, in the settlement of New Plymouth, agreed to sell it to the Crown. The contract was made according to the usual fashion of the natives, the chief laying a mat down before the Governor, which was emblematical of covering the land which he was to have. A chief named William King came forward, and made a claim in this exceedingly pregnant language:—He said, "The land is theirs"—that is, the persons' who were selling it to the Government—"but I will not allow them to sell it;" and the whole question upon which the civil war in New Zealand has arisen is whether that chief was justified in making that claim. That is really the whole question which we have to consider; and I must say that when I looked at the papers it seemed to me to be one exceedingly easy of solution. The chief did not not give any reasons, did not appeal to any court, or tribunal, or authority. He merely put forward his own will and determination. He spoke like a Sovereign to a Sovereign, an equal to an equal. He is a subject of Her Majesty, but be spoke to Her Majesty's representative in a tone of absolute and unmitigated defiance. If there could be the least doubt upon this point it would be removed by a few extracts which I have culled from different declarations which be made upon the same subject. For instance, on one occasion he said, "I hold the land in my hand, and I will not let it go." Again, "Selling land causes the approach of death," meaning that there existed a Land League—a sort of riband conspiracy—in New Zealand, of which he was a recognized and important member, which would kill all those who sold land to the English. Again, speaking of the sellers, "They have floated it, but I will not let it go to sea." "What I say is the boundary for the Pak-chee (English) is Waitaha"—a place about forty miles off—"let them remain there;" thus issuing absolute orders to the colonists. Again, he wrote to the Governor, "If you hear of any one desirous to sell land within these boundaries, don't pay any attention to it; this is all." He also told Mr. Paris, the Government agent for the purchase of land, "It is enough, Paris; their bellies are full with the sight of this money you have promised them, but don't give it them; if you do, I won't let you have the land, but come and cultivate it myself." The House will observe that this chief began by saying that he had no property in the land, that the property was in the sellers, but that he would not allow them to exercise their rights, and ends by saying that he will come himself and take possession of the land to which he admits he has no right, rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the English. This is a very simple case. It really amounts to this—that this chief, strong and confident in his power, defies the English Government, and claims a right to intervene between those who wish to sell their land and the Government who wish to buy it, and to forbid the sale. He does not claim that right under any law or custom, but merely in virtue of his own will and of the power which he can exercise.

Out of that all this difficulty has arisen. The Government sent persons to measure the land; the measurement was interfered with by force; one act of violence led to another, and they have led to the lamentable struggle in which we are now engaged. I think I have said enough to show that this is no question of law or right, but merely a question of the assertion of sovereignty and of defiance of the English power. But there is more behind. At the time of which I have been speaking there was in New Zealand a league, of which William King was a principal member, called the Land League, the purpose of which was to prevent any more land being sold to the English. The natives find that as the English occupy more and more land they are hemmed within narrower and narrower limits, and are in danger of disappearing before the advancing race; and as a remedy they have entered into this league to prevent the purchase of land by Europeans. They have also set up a native king, and established a confederacy of native states under his authority. These two facts account for the conduct of William King in this matter. He spoke with confidence, because he was carrying out the policy well known to have been agreed upon in the councils of the chiefs, and because he knew that he was asserting that which he had strength to make good. It, therefore, seems to me that if this question was to be decided by the New Zealand blue-books I might stop there. I have shown that the reason why we are at war with the natives is simply and solely because a number of chiefs have combined to set up a native king against us, have intimidated, or if necessary killed, those who were willing to sell land to us, and have, by so doing, thrown of their allegiance to the Queen, their Sovereign as well as ours, and have obliged us to assert the Royal authority by force. But there is in New Zealand a party which sympathizes keenly with the natives. The members of that party think that New Zealand ought to be for the New Zealanders, look upon new colonists as encroachers and interlopers, and would gladly see them limited to their present position, or even encroached upon by the natives.

Notice taken that Forty Members are not present. House counted, and Forty Members being found present,


resumed:—It appears to me that the conduct of William King only admits of one interpretation; but it has been sought to give another gloss to it. It it stated that in putting this veto on the sale of land he was exercising a legal right by the custom of New Zealand. It is asserted that there is a joint ownership, sometimes in families and sometimes in the whole tribe, and that this chief, William King, was acting on behalf of the whole tribe in asserting the right, to veto the sale of any part of the property of the tribe. It may be required that such a right should be strictly proved, and the burden of proof lies on those who say that when parties are willing to contract for the sale and purchase of land a chief may come forward and forbid the contract. Upon this point it is quite wonderful the quantity of questions that must be made out, and the imperfect evidence by which they can be sustained. You must make out, in the first place, in whom the ownership of this land lies—whether in the tribe or in the families. Then you must make out clearly what the custom is; how the tribe is to signify its dissent to the purchase, whether by a majority or by unanimity; what are the powers of the chief, and whether he can act independently of the tribe, in which case the tribe would have no power; or whether he acts as the spokesman and agent for the tribe. Next, it must be as certained who is the chief; whether he is a chief, admitted to be so by the whole tribe, or only by a section, or only one of several chiefs of sections. These questions involve enormous difficulty, and, when the state of society in New Zealand is considered, the difficulty increases. How does the case stand? I might merely stand on the defensive, and say that no proof has been adduced of any such tribal right as that asserted. I might say that there is no proof that this man, William King, is the chief—it being proved, in fact, that he is not—or that any agreement had been come to by the tribe, or any part of it, to veto the purchase, or that he acted as their agent. The presumptions are all the other way. About twenty-seven of this tribe went to the south to Cook's Strait—some said on a fishing, others stated on a murdering, expedition; and, while they were away, their land was seized by another more powerful tribe, by whom the first tribe were broken up and dispersed. While they were so dispersed the New Zealand Company undertook to purchase from the tribe who expelled them this very piece of land among others. The sale was referred to the Commissioners of the Govern- ment, who had all the powers of a court of justice in trying the question. William King was present at the trial, and made no sort of objection to the award in favour of the purchase from the conquering tribe. Then Captain FitzRoy came, and very unhappily, I think, refused to carry out the award, but at the same time he notified to the natives that he would purchase from them any of their lands which they wished to sell; thus again showing that he had no idea, after that long examination, that there was any power of veto in William King. Sir George Grey, who succeeded, acted on the same principle. Afterwards William King applied to the natives who had expelled the old tribe to be allowed to return, and he went to live on the northern side of the river; thus implying that he felt he had no jurisdiction on the south side; and when another large block of the land was sold he never said that he had a veto on the sale, but represented that he ought to have some of the purchase-money; but his claim was over-ruled, and he got no purchase-money. That is the position of the man who claims the right of forbidding any person to sell land forty miles from the place in question. Yet, under these circumstances, it is contended that this man's right is clear and manifest; that he has the undoubted right of veto, which right a great many say never existed in any one; that he was, therefore, entitled to stop the sale; that consequently we are withholding his right from him, and that this caused the war. Now, it was quite clear, even if he had the right, that he put himself in the wrong, because he ought to have appealed to some umpire or arbitrator to decide between him and the Government. It seems to me clear that he had not the right of vetoing the sale of land which the proprietors were willing to part with; and, even if he had, I think it is a right which the Government ought not to recognize, as not being consistent with the Queen's sovereignty in those islands where the Government has the right of pre-emption of these lands. Further, I can imagine nothing so impolitic as the allowance of such a right. New Zealand is a place where persons who have made money in Australia, and especially in the goldfields, go to settle. They are accustomed to the use of weapons, and if the principle should be acted on of keeping these persons out of the land, and preserving it for the natives, in a few years, or perhaps sooner, the bar- riers within which we seek to confine them will be overthrown, and a contest of life and death will ensue between them and the natives, the horrors of which it would be difficult to describe. Then as to the desirability of establishing a tribunal to deal with these supposed rights, the case admits of no tribunal, for William King refuses to acknowledge any power except his own will. No tribunal would meet the case, for the claimant of the sovereign power and veto is one who if twenty tribunals decided against him, would concede nothing except to force. Whatever may be the origin of our quarrel with the New Zealanders, the time has long passed when we can search very narrowly into the immediate causes of the present war. To do so would be just as absurd as after the capture of Delhi and the disasters at Cawnpore to institute an inquiry as to the precise causes of the mutiny in India. The meaning of the war no one can misunderstand. It is a struggle for sovereignty and dominion. The natives hope to drive the English into the sea, while the English, on the other hand, fight for that which they possess, and with the expectation no doubt, of cowing the whole of the country. The New Zealanders have set up, as it were, a King against our Queen, and have virtually repealed the Treaty of Waitangi by endeavouring to reverse our land policy. That the House of Commons should at this moment and under these circumstances pass a Resolution evincing any doubt as to the expediency of the conduct of the Government would be as bad as if our troops were to undergo two or three serious defeats. The passing of this Resolution would in all probability be attended with most disastrous results, for if when the news reached the colony the war should still be subsisting, a protracted struggle would ensue, and much slaughter would be inflicted. I, therefore. trust that the House will not agree to the Motion under its consideration.


said, that no man's opinion was more entitled to respect in dealing with colonial affairs than that of the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken; but details of colonial matters could rarely be discussed with advantage in that House; and when a colonial question was mixed up with questions of title and native claims, which had baffled the efforts of those who had investigated the matter on the spot, discussion here became an absurdity. How little such a question could be usefully debated in the House of Commons, was evinced by the significant occurrence which had taken place during the right hon. Gentleman's speech. How ably and fairly it was debated by those on the spot is known to all who have read the papers. War was now actually raging, and an essential preliminary to the settlement of the present dispute, and inquiring the exact effect of the Treaty of Waitangi was that the war should be brought to an end. The opposite views upon the question at issue had been most ably represented by the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Selwyn), whose opinions were deserving of the utmost weight; but, he must admit that, if the censures of the latter upon the conduct of the Governor of New Zealand were justified, it would so far as be could see, be utterly impossible for the future that native lands could be sold at all. But, be that as it might, it was, he thought, quite clear that the war which was now raffing; must be brought to a close before the question would really admit of discussion. We must proceed upon the principle of castigatgue auditque, and he regretted to say that the probability of concluding the war might be rendered more doubtful if the report of the present discussion were to reach the colony before its termination. He might add that, in his opinion, the Treaty of Waitangi must be respected; the more so by ourselves, because in its negotiation we were the only party who understood what was being done; but it should be borne in mind that since it had been entered into the affairs of New Zealand had ceased to be conducted in Downing Street; that a representative Constitution had been granted to that colony; that its inhabitants were entitled and resolved to manage their own affairs; that the interests of the natives had been always carefully consulted by the Colonial Legislature; that the native interests were provided for; that they were themselves eligible and electors to the Legislature; that the Government judiciously had in this instance sided with them, and they were not unbefriended; and that no persons could be more concerned for the prosperity of the natives than the colonists themselves; for the prosperity or adversity of the natives produced an immediate and corresponding effect upon the colonists. They were the persons who were massacred, whose property was destroyed whenever the natives broke out into discontent and turbulence. If, therefore, they could not trust to the honour of the colonists they might trust to their interests. That being so, the first thing he hoped which Parliament would do when the war was concluded would be to revise the Constitution Act of 1853. He thought the system should, as far as possible, be acted upon of leaving the colonists to manage their own affairs, instead of encouraging them to look to that House, involving the mother country in expenses and implicating Parliament in their affairs in a manner that could do them no good while it did us a great deal of harm.


said, he had heard no answer to the speech of his hon. and learned Friend, the Member for the University of Cambridge, on this question. It was useless for them to attempt to decide on the question of legality, for the Governor himself admitted that the question was a doubtful one. He regretted exceedingly the tone of the Government, and the entire want of conciliation which they had exhibited. There could be no doubt that, however it began, the war must be put down; but there was no necessity for harsh expressions such as those used by the Members of the Government who had spoken. He had hoped that some declaration would be made, giving the natives an assurance that the treaty would be adhered to, and that measures would be taken to clear up the misunderstandings that had arisen; but not a word of that kind had fallen from the Government. On the contrary, there had been expressed a determination to press forward the interests of the colonists, in contradistinction to those of the natives. Where could the natives of New Zealand look if not to the Queen and Parliament? The right hon. the Vice President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Lowe) had asserted that William King had never made claim to the land in dispute; but the extracts from the blue book, read yesterday by the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University, showed distinctly that he had asserted such a claim. And he thought that the Under Secretary for the Colonies was not justified in applying the expression "morbid sentimentality" to the interest which many took in the rights of the natives. He must repeat that he regretted extremely the tone taken by the Government, but he saw no use in further continuing the debate.


was sure, from what he knew of Governor Browne, that he would never be guilty of injustice towards the natives, for his feelings, he could aver from his personal knowledge, were most strong in favour of that race. He hoped the House would consider the difficult circumstances in which he was placed before it passed a censure upon that officer.


denied that any vote of censure was intended against the Governor. All they asked was that some tribunal should be appointed to settle the questions in dispute, instead of driving the natives to despair and following a course that must ultimately lead to their extermination.

Question put:—

The House divided:—Ayes 38; Noes 24: Majority 14.

Main Question put, and agreed to.