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

No. 58. — Extract from Memorandum of the Hon. C. W. Richmond

No. 58.
Extract from Memorandum of the Hon. C. W. Richmond.

General Principles of Native Policy.

The policy of the British Government in relation to the aborigines of these Islands might on the first settlement of the country have assumed either of two shapes: it might have addressed itself to the maintenance of the Natives as a separate race under distinct institutions and a Government wholly or in great measure independent of the ordinary Colonial Government; or, on the other hand, it might have been directed to promote the eventual absorption of the Maoris into the European population.

Under the former policy it might naturally have been sought rather to maintain than to obliterate such Native customs as were not repugnant to humanity; and it would have been essential to set up and rigidly to guard a territorial division between the races. The neglect of this latter precaution has for ever rendered such a policy impossible in New Zealand. All the principal maritime ports of the colony are in the hands of the settlers, who, year by year, extending themselves towards the interior from twenty different centres, come in contact with the Natives at fresh points; so that there no longer remains any other alternative than the extinction of the Maori race, or its union under one Government with the European settlers. However difficult, therefore, the latter enterprise, the mode in which the country has been colonized leaves no choice but to attempt it.

There are some who, considering what a chasm intervenes between civilization and barbarism, and how impassable the boundaries of race have generally proved, are of opinion that the fusion of the two peoples is a moral and natural impossibility. These persons refer to the statistics of population, which, according to the most accurate estimates hitherto made, show a decrease in the numbers of the Natives at the rate of about 20 per cent, in every period of fourteen years., They point to the relative paucity of Maori females, and to the abnormal mortality of the race, especially amongst the children, as facts which make certain its extinction within a short period. Such considerations induce to the abandon-page 59ment of the work of civilization as hopeless, and favour the adoption of a merely temporizing policy. The race, it is said, is irredeemably savage. It is also moribund. All that is wise or safe to attempt is to pacify and amuse them until they die out—until the inscrutable physical law at work amongst them shall relieve the country from the incubus of a barbarous population, or at least shall render it practicable to reduce them to the condition, for which Nature has intended them, of hewers of wood and drawers of water. An exclusive reliance on the personal influence with the Natives of particular individuals, and on the effect of gifts and flattery upon the more powerful or more turbulent chiefs, would be the natural features of such a policy; which, by its demoralizing, influence, would realize the expectations of its advocates, and render the annihilation of the Maori race both certain and speedy.

To the present Advisers of the Crown in New Zealand such a policy appears false, cowardly, and immoral. In common with the whole intelligence of the community whose opinions they represent, they believe it to be at once the interest and the duty of the colonists to preserve and civilize the Native people. Though not blind to the indications of physical decay which the race exhibits, nor to the great difficulties in the way of policy and fusion, they do not permit themselves to despair. And they believe that the true course—a course which, however small, the prospect of success, the British Government would still in honour and conscience be bound to pursue—is to take all possible measures for bringing the aborigines as speedily as may be under British institutions.

In order to the correct apprehension of the position of the Native question it ought to be fully understood that the British Government in New Zealand has no reliable means but those of moral persuasion for the government of the aborigines. It is powerless to prevent the commission by Natives against Natives of the most glaring crimes. Within the last twelvemonth blood has been spilt in Native quarrels in at least four different places in the Northern Island,—at New Plymouth, the Bay of Plenty, Hawke's Bay, and the Whanganui River,—in one instance within the limits of a British settlement. In the cases, which happily are not numerous, in which aggressions are committed by Natives against settlers, the Government is compelled to descend to negotiation with the Native chiefs for the surrender of the offender. The development of the material resources of the extensive wilderness still in the hands of the Natives, which comprises nearly three-fourths of the total area and some of the most fertile portions of the. Northern Island, depends absolutely on their will. Without their consent it is impossible to survey, or even to traverse, the country; much less could the Government undertake the execution of roads, bridges, or other public works in Native territory. Considerable difficulty was lately experienced in the establishment of a mail route between Auckland and Napier, though the mail-bags were carried by Maoris. And, it was very recently represented by the chief permanent, officer of the Native Department that it would be inexpedient, and even dangerous, for the Government to make a gift to certain Waikato Natives of a few bags of clover-seed, lest the present should give rise to disputes respecting the ownership of land, and the Government be blamed by the Natives for having introduced among them a cause of dissension. These instances may serve to illustrate the nature of the present relations of the Colonial Government with the Natives.

Whether a Government reduced to such timid shifts, and with nothing beyond a moral hold upon the allegiance of a self-willed, suspicious, and warlike race, can succeed in subjecting that race to the salutary restraints of law, and in preserving it from the destruction which must result from a continuance of its own barbarous usages, is a problem which remains to be solved. There can be no doubt that the presence of an increased military and naval force of sufficient strength to command respect for the British power—now very lightly esteemed by the New Zealanders—would greatly forward any efforts for the permanent amelioration of their condition. In the legislative measures proposed and carried by the present Government it has, however, been assumed as a condition, and steadily kept in view, that the colony will remain practically destitute of any force available for the maintenance of law and order amongst the Natives, and that reliance must be placed solely on the good sense of the people and their innate capacity, under wise guidance, for self-government.

Accordingly nothing more has been attempted than to facilitate the voluntary acceptance by the Natives of English" institutions. And, fortunately, many Maoris are sufficiently intelligent and far-, sighted to perceive the necessity for promptly taking advantage of such a facility. The old Maori regime is falling into decay, whilst a substitute is naturally sought in a spontaneous imitation of British usages. Native chiefs in various places affect to administer justice with the forms which they have observed to be used in the Police Courts of the colony, and attempts have been made at many Native villages to enact and put in force local regulations on various subjects. The leaders in the movements are mostly young men of standing, educated at the Mission, schools, who, though they appear destitute of requisite knowledge, judgment, influence, and force of purpose to effect, unaided, the needed reforms, may yet, it is hoped, be counted upon to second the endeavours of a European Magistrate.

The policy of the British Government in. New Zealand has generally been identical in its main purpose with what is now proposed. It seems, however, to have been expected that the Natives in the neighbourhood of European settlements would naturally aggregate themselves about the centres as so many nuclei of civilization, adopting the laws and usages of the settlers, and resorting to the European tribunals for the settlement of their differences. This expectation, if such there were, has been in a great measure disappointed, and the social organization of the two races remains as distinct as ever,. even in the immediate vicinity of the towns. In a few cases Magistrates have been stationed in purely Native districts. But placed there independently of the will of the people, and utterly without power to enforce their own decisions, their position has been a false one, and they have done nothing to supply the needed reconstitution of Maori society. It appears to the present Advisers of the Crown that there has been no proper adaptation of British institutions to the present condition of the aborigines. It is unreasonable to expect that they should accept our laws without those local modifications of detail which even British citizens require. It is now therefore proposed to attempt to operate from Native centres by means of institutions English in their spirit, if not absolutely in their form, devised to supply the peculiar necessities of the Native tribes, and to secure their confidence and support.

I have &c;

C. W. Richmond.

Auckland, 29th September, 1858,