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Colonial Chiefs, 1840-1889

Issue date: 
Thursday, 30 March 1995
The Hon Dame Catherine Tizard, GCMG, GCVO, DBE, QSO

Good evening.

As the programme says, the subject matter of this presentation tonight is "Early vice-regal representation in New Zealand between 1840 and 1889, from Sir George Gipps to Colonel T. Gore Browne, from Governor Grey to Sir William Jervois": fifty years.

The fifty-year time span means there are several aspects of the topic we can only glance at, in passing.

In essence though, all these Governors were working in an environment which had two fundamental themes - sovereignty and imperialism on the one hand, and what we would now call bi-culturalism. And in front of that intellectual horizon, many profound social, technological and economic changes were taking place.

Describing these changes is rather like mapping one of those South Island rivers that braid their way from the mountains, down to the sea - it's extremely complicated tracing all the different watercourses. Yet some of the braids are more important than others.

For example, one significant change in the early days was a jump in Maori living standards. It was uneven, but real and substantial. Steel tools, the potato, fruit trees, grain, pigs and other meat animals, soap, woven fabrics - these are just a few of the things that translated, almost instantly, into a better life for Maori up and down these islands. Just as important were inventions like better agricultural machinery and techniques, money and a vast range of new scientific, technical, cultural and religious knowledge and belief. These things had all profited other cultures. Many Maori too, quickly saw they could be of revolutionary benefit, so many tribes eagerly bore the costs of trading and living with immigrant strangers.

Amongst the Europeans, the extremes of racism were not usually evident, but many settlers made up for that lack with an outrageous ethno-centrism, which was unremarkable in its time. Consequently, many settlers were perfectly happy to manipulate the law to secure more land - the communications gap between the two cultures was several miles wide.

Another profound change: thirteen years after the signing of the Treaty, raw as the colony still was, New Zealand had assumed responsibility for much of its own government. The phylogeny of this self-government can be measured by the rapid decrease in executive power of the early governors.

And another: when the New Zealand Wars started, as James Belich has noted, the Imperial Government in Westminster threw in troops and money. It was the only way Imperial forces were able to win. Maori won most of the military victories. What they lost was the economic war.

The early Governors themselves are of varying importance.

Our first didn't live here - Sir George Gipps. He preferred Sydney and back then, it might even have made sense.

The second, Hobson, the first resident, seems to have been an honourable man, but his health gave out. Nor did London ever give him much support.

Fitzroy would appear to have had good intentions, but they were accompanied by a manner that absolutely enraged many settlers. He didn't last long as a professional colonial administrator. His subsequent career as a weather forecaster ended when he committed suicide after he was told that his forecasts were more often wrong than right.

Next, was George Edward Grey's first term. He was an autocrat, a manipulator and intriguer and, as revealed in his despatches to the Colonial Office, closed-minded and a liar when he judged it prudent to be so. He was also hugely ambitious.

Thomas Gore Browne - not a great villain, but not Mr Sensitivity either.

Then back to Grey - who angled for and won a return posting, and, with a minimum of scruple, proceeded to engineer a war.

After Grey, Sir George Bowen, Sir James Fergusson, the Marquess of Normanby, Sir Hercules George Robert Robertson and Sir William Jervois.

But we shall come back to these men - the story of New Zealand as a nation-state actually began well before any of them were appointed. It begins before the Treaty in the tentative, begrudging and reluctant actions that in the end, led to the British assumption of sovereignty. Until 1838 or 1839, London's aim was always to delay that day.

Busby's position for instance, was an invidious one - a manifestation of the Colonial Office's crossed fingers. Busby was the "man-of-war without guns." It was hardly a fair description, as he was a peaceable man - and a good winemaker - but an accurate metaphor nevertheless. Instead of a real position, he was given a ceremonial role that would have much better suited a later decade. In a later era, his role would have looked just like that of a modern Governor-General - someone whose exclusive role was to symbolise the unity of society and the continuity of government.

Prior to Busby, there was steadily increasing contact between explorers, traders, early settlers and Maori. From the Colonial Office's European point of view, this contact, and the subsequent events and developments, were making New Zealand harder and harder to ignore. There were sailors, missionaries, vagabonds, escaped convicts and traders, living or visiting here in growing numbers. Nationals from several countries were settling. Individuals and companies, British and French, were beginning to make ambitious plans for colonisation.

For the very early traders, there were gaps in British commercial law. For instance, New Zealand-built ships could not be entered in British shipping registers - in 1829, it was decided that two New Zealand-built ships were stateless. Busby thought to solve the problem by "recognising" a pre-existing nation state. He and some Waitangi chiefs invented a flag in 1834 to furnish the legal form.

The British didn't mean this to be taken particularly seriously of course - when there were upsets and disturbances later on, ships and men were sent in from Australia with instructions to sort things out, by force if necessary. There was no perceived need to consult an existing national authority. Its proclamation was seen merely as a convenient fiction. Nevertheless, because of this and earlier actions, and in spite of New Zealand having been defined in British law as "not within Her Majesty's dominions," the country was coming within Britain's sphere of influence, rather than that of the French or the Americans.

The year following, 1835, Busby hoisted the flag fiction further by encouraging the creation of a body called the United Tribes of New Zealand. Here was Busby trying again to establish a credible sovereign body, complete with regular assemblies, which could and would make formal decisions. Busby's short-term goal this time was to frustrate a posturer named Charles de Thierry as he tried to assert his self-proclaimed status of Sovereign Chief of New Zealand.

You would think that de Thierry could have been safely ignored by Busby and the Colonial Office but instead, Busby and London seem to have started fussing. Faint echoes of the fuss can still be heard in the eventual content of Hobson's instructions.

There was something else that began to change between 1835 and 1840. It was probably Normanby, the Colonial Secretary of the day, who started altering the prescriptions of the missionary societies and indigenous peoples' protection groups that had previously dominated Britain's New Zealand policy. Little by little, more attention was given to the technical legal question of sovereignty and what must be done to acquire it. London's objective became to regularise the status of the territory. In other words, the powers-that-were wanted things tidier.

Acquiring sovereignty became the goal of England's representatives. The acceptability of British title would be enhanced if this acquisition was well managed. As we know, 155 years later, its management was slipshod. Waitangi was a ridiculously hurried affair. The drafting of the Treaty itself was semi-improvised. The standard of translation was dreadful. There is no agreeably clear way of distinguishing between what was said and what was meant.

A few years later, Browne made a remark about the Treaty's effect, which we'll come to shortly.

But before finally going on to look at some significant events from the lives of the early Governors, there is one last big scene-framing issue to consider. This issue begins in questions like, who were the two peoples who came to share this land? What were the significant factors that shaped their relationship during the terms of the Governors in the forty-nine years that followed? And how important were the differences between the cultures?

Well, the short answer is, vitally important and hugely significant. There simply are no questions in the world as vexed as those which have to be discussed cross-culturally.

For one thing, cross-cultural disagreements are conducted not only in terms of "right and wrong," but also "us and them." And as a Permanent Under-secretary for the Colonies named Sir Frederic Rogers once observed, "it may be universally laid down that when Society is sharply divided into Classes, the interest of one class cannot be safely left to the guardianship of the other."

The lack of safety comes from the lack of legitimacy, or even of visibility, for claims based in an alternative view of the world. Claims of legitimacy founded in a completely different value system will be so misty as to be nearly impossible to make out - and what is not seen is always ignored.

And we should remember that the settlers, when they started flooding in, were a driven and hungry lot. They were thousands of miles from their original homes, their backs to the sea and trying to start anew. Check to progress could quickly turn into desperation. Any cause or pretext that could be parlayed into land and living space became acceptable. In addition, from the first, the organised settlers from Britain didn't know a thing about the Treaty - and couldn't be bothered finding out. The Treaty had been signed before their time.

Then there is the difficulty of cross-cultural understanding. In 1978, Dame Joan Metge noted, "Where members of different cultural groups...come together in formal and informal situations, misunderstandings and tensions arise even where there is the greatest goodwill on both sides, misunderstandings which the parties themselves find hard to explain." If there is something less than the greatest of goodwill, the problem is going to be that much greater.

What we saw everywhere in New Zealand was tension between Pakeha and Maori, nearly all the time. Settler forbearance was in short supply, Maori anxiety was rising. But the potential for conflict didn't only arise because of competition for land. For the Europeans, Maori ways were deeply threatening - constant or semi-constant feuding, wars in particular, and customs such as muru, or revenge-raiding, on settlers who could live miles from the unrelated actual offender.

Another point: in the meeting of the Maori and the European, one of the things we see when we look back is a clash between, not just cultures per se, but also types of culture. The people of the land lived and breathed within an oral culture. The world view of the Europeans had been formed by living with books and the printed word for hundreds of years.

McLuhan offered a useful way of thinking about this topic - the medium shapes the message. An oral culture and a literate one will tend, if you accept McLuhan's idea, to have sharply divergent ways of thinking about people, things and significant institutions.

You look at something, or you listen to something, in utterly dissimilar ways. A literate and visual world view will focus on different values, ideals and qualities, from an oral world description.

Literacy encourages us to see how things are distinct from one another, rather than how connected everything is. Once you invent writing and paper, knowledge is much more easily stored, accumulated and passed along - individuals have access to the knowledge that it previously took a whole group to hold and put to use. And with easier storage and access, ideas can be separated from the people who think them.

After a while, literate cultures become good at creating abstract order and symbolic hierarchies - people like Governors can be distinguished from the offices they hold, for example. The level of identity becomes that of the individual, rather than the group. Time and space can be subdivided.

And you can afford to have nuclear families falling out of previously-tribal villages. Outside the extended family, the now-smaller family's gaze tends towards what is yet to come - particularly the prospects for the next generation.

An oral culture must continue to cluster around its elders, minstrels and tohungas - they alone will have had the time to learn and organise most of what the culture has discovered. The problem is that your key people need continual replacement. That's horribly expensive and it means culture-wide knowledge accumulation is a slow business. Also, redundant knowledge must be dumped because memories are finite - hence, for example, the rarity of any mention of the moa in Maori oral biology.

But there are compensations. Oracy promotes connectedness between people. By describing the world in genealogies, legends and in oratory, you automatically create story circles. And if you have to use your natural environment as the source of all your metaphors - your frame for all important relationships - you also strengthen your sense of place: you become people of the land in a particularly intimate way.

As well, in New Zealand, the cultures were unequal economically - Maori were not far above the level of subsistence. Nearly everyone had to join the pool of general labour to help gather and produce food. Taonga were treasured because they were so rare; precious to the point that all significant objects were known by name.

The English on the other hand, had become literate and then industrial, which permitted much greater specialisation in the roles of individuals. Settlers had "treasures" certainly, even many of them, but they were only rarely uniquely valuable.

Compared with the Maori, different abstractions, ideas and symbols were valued highly. Instead of a mountain or a river, what was more often held sacred by the settlers were concepts like one's ties with the mother country or a rarefied national identity. The ritual and ceremonial roles of colonial governors, for instance, were taken very seriously.

But that's enough scene-setting. It's time to start looking at the early Governors in their context, and forming some opinions about who they were, about what they thought important and the significant developments during their terms of office.

Yet we won't spend much time with Sir George Gipps if you don't mind. There are only two matters in which he sticks out, for me, and they both fit tidily into Hobson's story.

One of the startling things in Claudia Orange's book about the Treaty of Waitangi is the sense you get, even after 15 decades, of just how small Hobson's expedition was. The official party, excluding the crew of HMS Herald, numbered just eight: a sergeant and three New South Wales mounted police, plus Hobson's entire civil service establishment of - four. Yet as small as the group was, it was hyperactive from the moment it arrived.

The afternoon that Hobson made land, 29 January 1840, invitations were sent to be printed so they could be delivered quickly to the local chiefs. Then, Hobson straight away got down to drafting the terms of the agreement, seemingly without anything like a near-final text to guide him. Busby was also involved with the drafting and delivered his contribution to Hobson on the 3rd. With changes and emendations, this became the final English text by 4pm on the 4th. Henry Williams the missionary translated it into lame Maori overnight, with all the resulting confusion about the use of the words "kawanatanga" and "tino rangatiratanga." Then it was read publicly the very next day, in the late morning.

Well, you already know what happened - the Treaty was signed on the sixth and Hobson became formally a Lieutenant-Governor, meaning that the hostile naval captain assigned to him by Gipps, could no longer insist on giving him only the 11-gun salute that was due to a Consul. Hobson could not now be denied 15 guns. A further 15 months on, one wonders how much it might have galled Captain Nias to salute Hobson with the 19 guns due a full Governor.

As for Hobson's gubernatorial career, it was drawing to a close almost as it started - while copies of the Treaty began circulating for additional signatures, Hobson fell ill for the first time - a stroke it is thought.

An interesting detail is that there is a costing for the British side of the Treaty exercise - the Colonial Office account for the formal acquisition of sovereignty of New Zealand was 3,635 18s for general expenses, plus gifts valued at 562 1s 5d.

Gipps surfaces one last time in this version of the story because of his comments on the Treaty after he'd read it - he pointed out that the text of the Treaty was ambiguous about important matters. As you can tell, Sir George was good at understatement. In the dispatches to London that accompanied news of the Treaty's signing, it's clear that the two men interpreted its purpose and provisions quite differently. A Colonial Office Permanent Under-Secretary wrote later that, if the differences between Gipps and Hobson had been registered in London by the new Colonial Secretary, Russell, "there can be little doubt that it would have been at once disallowed by Her Majesty's Government."

But as for Hobson himself, he was not on the New Zealand scene for long enough to fully understand the size of the problems that were to face his successors - less than three years after his arrival, after further severe illnesses, he died. The least talented of the Shortland brothers in New Zealand was left in charge as Administrator for 15 months, until the arrival of Fitzroy.

In the end, the impression left by Hobson is of a likeable and principled man, but one who had to stand nearly alone. It is likely that had he served out his term, he would have been the target for some of the abuse directed at our second Governor, Fitzroy. He had only two competent staff - Swainson, his Attorney-General, and Sir William Martin, who was his Chief Justice, both of whom arrived in late 1841. Like Fitzroy afterwards, Hobson was given practically no support to do his job, little money, few people, and with the exception of the two singled out, little talent in his tiny official establishment. He therefore had no effective way to moderate the quarrels that were already roiling, following the first waves of European immigration. You can only conclude that, while he and Fitzroy shared most of the same disadvantages, Hobson was a more likeable man - and not nearly so good at igniting fury in the hearts of the arriving settlers.

By the time Fitzroy arrived less than three years after the Treaty, there were already bitter divisions between new and old settlers, as well as between settlers in different regions. Some Maori wanted to be able to sell land direct to settlers without the Crown's intervention. Another on the rapidly-lengthening list of problems was the selling of land by Maori without the full and exclusive right to do so. Other Maori resented the questioning of their mana when previous land sales were scrutinised by the new government. In every area, Fitzroy's administration was in difficulty. Like Hobson before him, Fitzroy felt forced to issue unauthorised credit notes to pay for everything and at one stage, he waived the Crown's right of pre-emption on land sales. The way he did that was also of questionable legality.

The criticism of Fitzroy grew strident - the virulence of the feelings expressed both in public and private is startling, even after all these years. One of the tamest criticisms at the time, for example, is from the Nelson Examiner. The paper hints at Fitzroy's illegitimate royal descent by stating that the early impression that he was singularly fitted for office would never have been challenged had he not, unfortunately, been called upon to actually hold one. As I said, that was marvellously mild. After reading some of the other comment, a modern-day defamation lawyer would probably tell Fitzroy to alert his bank manager to stand by for large deposits, on a regular basis.

Perhaps the last straw as far as the colonists were concerned, was that Fitzroy was held to be part-responsible for the sack of Russell and the loss of the first of the major clashes between European troops and Maori - in this case, his Imperial soldiers against the force commanded by Hone Heke and Kawiti.

He seems to have broken under the strain at about that time and began to speculate wildly about his imminent assassination, and that "the Catholics" were out to get him - if the afore-mentioned assassins didn't get him first, I imagine.

But the Colonial Office's confidence in him had already been shaken by the reports reaching them via the New Zealand Company's backers in England - the result of the settlers' perception that Fitzroy seemed almost to go out of his way to confront, challenge, reproach and offend them. The upshot was that the Government in London replaced him after only two years.

Opinion about Fitzroy has recently come to recognise that he was given an impossible job, one for which nobody would have had the necessary political skills, but one which he nevertheless tried to carry out. The New Zealand Encyclopedia noted that the departure of his household "was regretted by those who knew them best. Their uprightness and piety were mocked at by the uncouth, but such high-mindedness was for some time to be rare at Government House." Not at all the case these days, I assure you.

Now we come to Grey's first term.

Of the 49 years from the signing of the Treaty to 1889, Grey was Governor for more than 14 of them. Without doubt, he is a central figure during our first half century as a nation state.

He began his first term, in November 1845, at the ripe old age of 33. He also began with a huge advantage over his two predecessors. It's clear that some of what Hobson and Fitzroy had been telling the Colonial Office had finally sunk in - that to run New Zealand required "more time, more trouble, more men and more money." So Grey was given twice the money for administration and double the salary. And a lot of troops.

Another change was in the tenor of the new Governor's instructions. Previously, London had ignored the flood of migrants and tried to refuse all the expense it could, or to alter military dispositions that centred on India. New Zealand had been regarded more as a protectorate than a colony.

Grey was to preside over the change in direction, away from the treatment of New Zealand as a Maori protectorate, to its governance as an offshoot of the mother country. This distinction had been mooted before - Stephen for example, the Permanent Under-Secretary who a few years before had written the first draft of Hobson's Instructions, increasingly modified the policy of protection in favour of rapid "amalgamation" of the Maori in a settler-run system. Like others, including the missionaries, he appreciated that the Maori were not "mere wanderers" or herdsmen. Rather, they were "a people among whom the arts of Government have made some progress; who have established by their own customs a division and appropriation of soil; who are not without some measure of agricultural skill and a certain subordination of ranks, with usages having the character and authority of law." Notice, by the way, the reassurance taken from the "certain subordination of ranks" - the idea that a class system is worthy of automatic respect.

Now, amalgamation was the destination. The historian Alan Ward once characterised the Victorian point of view: " ... though a superior kind of barbarian the Maori was a barbarian nevertheless, not capable, without tutelage at least, of exercising actual command, co-equally with settlers, of British-style government and legal institutions."

There are three things about Grey that appear to be keys to his character. The first is that he was an autocrat and an egotist. He treated his wife, Eliza, for instance, absolutely abominably. The second, that he appears to have been fiercely ambitious, happy to sacrifice scruple for personal success, as long as he thought he would get away with it. The third is that he unquestionably believed in the rightness of his view of what was best for New Zealand - as rapid as possible an expansion of European settlement and the policy of amalgamation.

The policy of assimilation of a native people within a settler society was one that he had first tried to realise during his term as Governor of South Australia. Like his contemporaries, he took it for granted that European customs, philosophies and standards of conduct, being so evidently superior to those of tribal life, were sure to be welcomed. But of course, this ignores many things; just to begin, the idea that the individual - European, aboriginal and Maori - is the best judge of his or her own happiness. Nor does it consider whether or not a tribal hunter, gatherer and cultivator, accustomed to fairly free movement through a large territory, "will readily find himself at ease when dressed in unfamiliar clothes,...put to strange daily tasks, and expected to speak a strange language and conform to new rules of conduct amongst foreigners who regarded him as an inferior." The quote by the way, is from Rutherford's biography, "Sir George Grey."

But before he could get on with other colonial business, Grey's first New Zealand sojourn began with the battle at Ruapekapeka against Hone Heke and Kawiti.

Through most of New Zealand's history, this was represented as a victory for the imperial forces - the pa was captured and then Grey magnanimously concluded a generous peace with the losers. What has become clearer recently, is that Ruapekapeka was indecisive. It failed to reverse the result of Ohaeawai, the first of many instances where Maori generals lured their European counterparts into frontal assaults on what are termed "new pa," and mauled them severely. Only the lack of Maori numbers stopped routs turning into slaughters, the usual result when an army was comprehensively defeated on a European battlefield.

The Northern War taught Grey that Europeans could not simply order events as they wished - for years to come, the settlers would be at considerable risk should they offend local custom. Luckily, there was a lot of co-operation between the races. But there was also much friction, which continued to increase for the next two decades - time and time again, the historical record turns up cases of individuals from the two cultural backgrounds talking past each other.

With the enormous benefit of hindsight, it is easy to see how some disputes arose. Indeed, with neither people having a clear understanding of the way the other saw and ordered the world, big disagreements were absolutely guaranteed.

The Treaty is one obvious instance. The British thought that by signing, the chiefs were making a meaningful recognition of the supremacy of the Queen and of the concept of national sovereignty. But what the chiefs actually had was a lively sense of, as Alan Ward put it, "the mana of the land and the mana of the people embodied in the senior-ranking chiefs of the various lineages." Or as Bishop Pompallier said back in 1840: "Their idea [the rangatira's] is that New Zealand is like a ship, the ownership of which should remain with the New Zealanders [the Maori], and the helm in the hands of the Colonial authorities."

On the British side - not that I suppose this is news - things were interpreted differently. As someone expressed it to Governor Browne in 1859, the colonists looked upon land as "the property of the colony,...encumbered with a certain native right of occupancy." Browne himself was a staunch believer in a concept of absolute and unitary sovereignty. He said once, contradicting William Martin, that despite the differences between the English and Maori versions of the Treaty, "One [thing that was clear] was that the Maori placed themselves under a new and paramount authority; [even though] they retained whatever rights of property they had in their lands."

r take some of the other customary differences that created much ill-feeling - land rights were the occasion for many, even most of these. It's clear that in the very early days, chiefs sometimes believed that they were not selling land but were granting rights of occupancy only. Or should another tribe's rights to a particular tract of land need to be more fully taken into account, a sale could be suspended while re-negotiation proceeded - in the affected Europeans' eyes, repudiated.

And there were very different attitudes towards the whole idea of law. Granted, many Maori recognised from very early on that "law" - an external, authoritative and codified set of rules - offered many advantages. Relying on "custom" would often secure a "just" result only if one's hapu had enough clout. But still other Maori saw courts and the law only as a novel arena for the gaining of prestige and power. Therefore, if victory over a rival was unlikely, the existence of "the law" was ignored.

Another difference in the way the two cultures thought things should be: Maori for a long time regarded settlers in outlying areas almost as indentured workers. In exchange for use of Maori land, no matter that payment of some kind had been made, they could be further "taxed" by their local tribal superiors. But a settler who had started farming on land that he believed he had paid for in full, would be enraged by local Maori taking extra payment, at their convenience, in the form of animals or potatoes or whatever.

Even in conversation, there was much possibility of confusion and misinterpretation. Just to get ahead of ourselves for a moment, there is a story from the term of Governor Browne that illustrates what could happen. During 1857, Browne negotiated with Potatau Te Wherowhero to get him to stop supporting the idea of a Maori king, whether it be himself or anyone else. Browne spoke with Te Wherowhero for some time, proposing that if "the law" was made and enforced the right way, Waikato Maori should forego having an elected king. Browne thought that he came away from that April meeting with Te Wherowhero's agreement. So, when in May Te Wherowhero spoke very strongly in favour of the king movement, Browne felt he had been deceived and had a very bad attack of the wounded dignities.

Presumably what happened was that Te Wherowhero had politely said "Yes," but only in the sense that he had heard, and was acknowledging that he had heard, Browne's position. Courtesy - the tikanga of such occasions - would, I have thought, required him to not give too quick an answer, as this might insult and embarrass his guest.

We can be sure that over the years, there were countless occasions when cross-cultural communication was similarly stymied. And even with the maximum goodwill imaginable, that constantly replenishes a pool of bitterness for everyone to bathe in.

Circling back to Grey again, he also seems to have been a convincing actor, although eventually, it became obvious to many that he was less than trustworthy. Perhaps this perception was strengthened among Maori by the sort of cross-cultural communications problems I've already alluded to, but it seems it might have gone further than that. To illustrate, there's some evidence in his despatches to his superiors at the Colonial Office.

One small but telling example concerns his predecessor. When Fitzroy was waiting to return to Britain, he offered his help to the man who was publicly supplanting him. Grey in his first London despatches said that he was very grateful for the valuable advice that he received. In later despatches however, when feeling the need to shift blame for his own handling of various situations, he was quite willing to slander Fitzroy's competence without reservation. Perhaps these days it's seen as a small thing to attack someone's reputation, especially if it's someone who no longer matters in the scheme of things. But, just for a moment, let's be old-fashioned enough to think that such behaviour is not acceptable and that honesty and generosity do still matter, that civility is important.

Anyway, Grey's first term made his reputation. And from what you can tell, he loved the very idea of being Chief European. He established what was really a vice-regal court, travelling around the country with notable chiefs. He bought huge areas, particularly in the South Island, to open them up for colonisation. He reduced the mana of his rivals, the missionaries Henry Williams, George Clarke and James Kemp, by accusing them of land-grabbing and disallowing a large proportion of their purchases. He supported his policy of amalgamation with subsidised hospitals and mission schools and loaned money for other material improvements like flour mills and roads.

All through this first period, the move to locally-based representative government went on rapidly. Grey himself spent a lot of time as early as 1846 and 1847, thinking about what the proposed constitution should include and omit.

Over the years, a lot has been written into the record about Grey that is precisely the sort of history that is bunk. But the de-bunking has begun. The New Zealand historian Ian Wards, rather than the Alan Ward whose name has come up already, concluded that Grey's reputation was gained by systematic misrepresentation of the facts and denigration of other men. Others too have also begun to wonder if the respect in which Grey has been held was really earned.

BJ Dalton is one, an historian based in Queensland. He took a look at a military exploit of Grey's - the "capture" of Wereroa during the war in the Waikato. Dalton's conclusions about our George come in three short paragraphs:

"The means by which Grey concealed some facts, distorted others, presented the whole [Wereroa] episode in a favourable light, and confounded rebuttal, are worth illustrating because they contributed much to [his] durable myth.

"Grey began with some advantages...He had ... built up a special prejudice against Cameron [his quite-competent general in the Waikato], ... initially to conceal his own reluctance to order an attack. Then there was the indisputable fact that Grey had taken Wereroa while Cameron had not. Any argument by Cameron looked like explaining away his own failure, whereas Grey could adopt the lofty attitude of letting facts speak for themselves.

"Grey's Wereroa report is brilliant. Detailed, limpid, it appears to omit nothing and to make close study of documents redundant. It is the more convincing for its absence of self-praise. An integral part of Grey's literary art was a complete disregard for truth. Although the suppressio veri and the suggestio falsi are more frequent than the lie direct, he lied at times with an audacity almost breathtaking. Yet there was safety in this audacity. The taboo on lying is strong: omission, distortion and false emphasis are expected in ex parte statements, but the presumption is strong that a statement of fact is true as far as it goes. The presumption must be firmly resisted in dealing with Grey."

So says Dalton - very plain speaking - very blunt. And they say that history doesn't make riveting reading!

But anyway, thinking back to Grey's behaviour at the start of his second term when he built military roads towards Waikato while he talked peace, perhaps that, all on its own, defines the man's career.

Next, we get to Sir Thomas Browne, who, in later life, added the weight of a third name and evolved into Sir Thomas Gore Browne.

Here's someone who had a career that is the very pattern for some of those turn-of-the-century novels written for English public school boys - a GA Henty or an RM Ballantyne yarn. Browne was the son of shire gentry who joined the infantry and as a captain, was ADC to the High Commissioner in the Ionian Islands. A few years on as a major, he took part in the disastrous first Afghan War, covering his general after a lost battle and during the long retreat through the Khybher Pass. If you think about the time and the place, you should be able to see in your mind's eye the red jackets, the parade grounds and the regimental silver.

After India and the Northwest Frontier, his next post was as Governor of St Helena, where he had to solve the problem of the occasional lack of a local water supply.

By the time Browne arrived in New Zealand in 1855, the problems here were becoming much more complex. One complication was that the colonial General Assembly had just begun to meet, assuming the colony's fiscal responsibilities. Yet Browne still retained complete say over the administration of Maori affairs and land purchase, which was a recipe for disagreements about money - even if he'd wanted to be ambitiously bi-cultural, financially it wasn't going to be "on." But he probably didn't have the talent: for example, it was a personal mistake of Browne's that triggered the Taranaki Wars, when he foolishly committed himself - in public, so he couldn't back down without losing face - to buy the 600 acres at Waitara.

One of Grey's policies that he maintained was the attempt to set up forms of Maori local self-government. The activity was constant throughout this period - Grey's second term saw him try to introduce what were called "new institutions": more or less rununga with parliamentary rules of procedure. The one thing that neither of them tried was the opening up of the General Assembly to Maori. Of course, hardly anyone was fully bi-lingual so the language barrier would have been a huge problem. There were also property restrictions on voting rights. The difficulty for Maori was that property didn't count if it was owned by the tribe. And - let's call this brass tack a brass tack for once - there was a European unwillingness to accept Maori as electoral equals.

Even though the systems of new institutions were imposed rather than native-grown, in some areas there were successes - individual commissioners, magistrates or assessors could be extremely effective. So the European's reviews weren't all bad. Waka Nene, for all his mixed feelings, said once that the land had been passing and that he was glad of the Governor's coming, adding " wife does not know how to weave garments. Wherefore I say, let the Europeans weave garments for me." Paikea of the Uriohau stated that "other tribes threatened to cut me in pieces, but I kept close to the Queen, and stooped to shelter under her wings...It is only now that I stand as a man." Alan Ward also quotes Te Kihirini who said that he had no desire to return to eating fern root and hinau berries.

But many other Maori were by now too suspicious of the mix of the Crown's motives to have much faith left. And at least part of that wariness must have come from seeing that neither of these two Governors, Grey or Browne, ever really showed they would back successful experiments in Maori local government.

What did finally bring about a tribal confederation were the events leading up to the war in the Waikato. The settlers' clamour for land forced together tribes that had been previously independent, or even strenuous rivals. The king movement actively avoided direct confrontation with Browne's and Grey's imperial troops for a long time, but in the end went to war and lost. Then followed the land confiscations, based not on the level of any tribe's involvement in the war, but on whether their land was desirable and, because conquered, accessible. I grew up on some of that land.

Both Governors, but Grey in particular, were always trying to have more troops posted to New Zealand. Grey claimed that one conflict after another proved that New Zealand was not yet able to fully maintain its own internal security. London evidently grew tired of dealing with such a headstrong appointee and fired him in 1868.

So it was Grey's successor, Bowen, who was in office during the struggles with Te Kooti and more threateningly, Titokawaru.

Like Browne two terms before him, Bowen had spent time in the Ionian Islands, being appointed Chief Secretary there in 1854. The Greek Islands were all handed back to Greece by 1864, so Bowen became Queensland's first Governor when it separated from New South Wales, and then here.

By this stage, New Zealand was supposed to be completely self-governing, but even so, Bowen hung onto his last units of Imperial troops as long as he could. They were used to garrison places like Wanganui whilst Maori and settler forces did the actual fighting on the North Island's east and west coasts.

The fighting itself though, was now the responsibility of Premier Stafford and Defence Minister Haultain, so most of Bowen's time was spent on the ceremonial and social functions of being Governor - executive powers were now exercised by the settler assembly. And you get the impression that Bowen didn't mind too much, nor did colonial society. One thing in Bowen's favour was his wife - Diamantine du Roma, the daughter of the President of the Ionian Senate - who seems to have been quite the bird of paradise amongst the colonial hen sparrows.

By 1873, the end of his term, fighting between Maori and Maori-and-settler armies was over and he had recommended a general amnesty for what were termed "political offences." And what was he like? Well, nobody seems to have actually come out and said so in as many words, but Bowen was probably rather a pompous ass. Some of his despatches indicate that he took his learning very seriously. The Colonial Office is supposed to have curled its collective upper lip at his flowery allusions and elaborate style. His nickname there was "Pickle Polly."

Then followed the hiccup of Sir James Fergusson's term. He stayed 18 months before resigning to try to get back into the British House of Commons. He failed to win election, by the way - twice - so it was off to be Governor of Bombay for him, where he is supposed to have performed well. His son by his first wife, Sir Charles Fergusson, was Governor-General here between 1924 and 1930 and he is also the ancestor of Sir Bernard Fergusson, Governor-General between 1962 and 1967.

Sir James was followed by the first of the grandees - Normanby, or in full, Sir George Augustus Constantine Phipps, Second Marquess of Normanby, PC, GCMG, GCB. His father, the first Marquess, was the Colonial Secretary mentioned earlier. Unlike his predecessors, he was as much a courtier as a professional colonial administrator. After Sir George was appointed a Privy Councillor in 1851, he was attached to the Royal Household as Comptroller and Treasurer until 1858. Then he was exiled to Nova Scotia to be Lieutenant Governor for five years, but this ended when he became the Second Marquess. After a further seven years at court, he became first the Governor of Queensland and then Governor of New Zealand. It's interesting that even then, it was a promotion to come from the Gold Coast to New Zealand - it's a nice place to visit and all that, but...

It was during his time in New Zealand that Normanby first acquired his reputation for skill in weighing a Governor's constitutional position against that of his ministers - and outpointing Grey to acquire it, as it happened. This was during the spell that Grey was Premier and a fighter in the battle over the abolition of the provinces. Late in that battle, Grey attempted to fiddle the outcome of a vote of confidence. Normanby finessed him, avoided the constitutional legal traps and soon afterwards, Grey was out.

After Normanby, the new Governor was Sir Hercules Robinson, another Governor who was with us for only a short time. He was interesting though, insofar as he typified the Colonial Office professional. He began his career as a soldier but soon left the army and went, in one role or another, to Ireland, Montserrat and St Christophers. After that he was Governor of Hong Kong, Ceylon, New South Wales, New Zealand for a year and a bit, and lastly in South Africa. In all, he had a connection with eleven British Colonies.

Governor Gordon was next, on his way to becoming the first Baron Stanmore. Gordon was the youngest son of the Earl of Aberdeen, who was the British Prime Minister between 1852 and '55. Gordon was an MP briefly before - here's another one - going to the Ionian Islands for a spell. Then there was a succession of postings before he came, very reluctantly, to New Zealand.

He seems to have been very much the impatient autocrat, so he succeeded much better in jurisdictions where he was able to be an administrator as well as a figurehead. Actually, he quite detested the ceremonial and social side of the Governor's role, once saying about his life here in New Zealand that he hated "laying...stones,...making little speeches...and entertaining large parties of stupid people" - we nasty, cloddish colonials got him down, by the sound of it.

But his main reservation about being posted to New Zealand was about policy towards the Maori. During his stay, he made himself thoroughly unpopular with several ministers because of his outspoken criticisms of government actions against Te Whiti-o-Rongomai. Perhaps that shows that you shouldn't automatically write anyone off.

The last Governor in the period we're looking at tonight is Jervois, the military engineer. His career took in active service in wars in South Africa and, early in his career, he was also for a time a sort of Jervois, Ace of Spies. This was when he went, disguised as a painter, to sketch the defences of Boston and New York harbours during the American Civil War.

It was his military engineering background that first brought him into touch with New Zealand affairs - Vogel asked him in 1871 to provide some unofficial advice on New Zealand's port defences. When he assumed office in 1883, he oversaw the installation of much of last century's harbour defences programme - you may recall that that was the first time we were concerned that the Russians were coming.

But now that the New Zealand Wars were over, Jervois, as the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography notes, "played a prominent role in the social life of New Zealand, serving as Patron of various cultural and sporting bodies and travelling extensively." In other words, the vice-regal office was beginning to be more or less what it is today - the embodiment of a concept: that of the Crown.

And the Crown these days, as a jurisdiction in Canada once put it, "is a subtle concept representing the Supreme executive power of the State in a constitutional monarchy.

"This power is placed above and outside the government structure and political parties of the day; power is given to them temporarily and in trust by the Crown on behalf of the people. Thus one institution [the government] does not possess power but exercises it; while the other institution [the Crown] possesses power but does not exercise it."

And so in less than fifty years, New Zealand went from Governors who were essentially European paramount chiefs to people who held symbolic office - the leader-chief had become the ariki. With the exception of one challenge to responsible government by a Governor - Glasgow in 1892 - the change was complete. One of the few people who wasn't happy with this constitutional outcome was Grey - for years he went on about the idea of electing Governors, apparently getting quite worked up about the idea on occasions. But, as a recent catch-phrase has it, he might have been able to say that, but I couldn't possibly comment.

So where does all this history leave us?

I know you'll all be familiar with the old saw from Santayana - those who forget their history are the ones who'll be condemned to repeat it. And it's true that New Zealand has put some hard history lessons in the books during our 155 years. Just what is it that we should bring from our past to improve our today and our tomorrows?

That is a question that centres on who we, as New Zealanders, want to be. What are the values we choose to stand for?

The trouble is, that could take an appalling long time to answer and this has already been a lengthy lecture. But perhaps what our country should aspire to is what Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic's playwrite president, has talked about - a civil society.

"A total abstraction!" you might say - he doesn't talk about specific goals, nor does he give guidelines for redressing the injustices of the past, or the way in which they should be addressed, or when.

True, but what Havel is really talking about is means rather than ends - his goal is the type of country that is good at working things out.

Other people, as well as Havel, have started thinking and writing about what countries might aspire to be.

There's a Canadian, Mark Kingswell, who's also tried to answer the question, "What is civility?"

"Civility is not polite behaviour or good manners. It is much more:..civility demands openness to the claims of others, combined with the willing restraint of my own claims in the service of our common social project."

Civility is to be found "where the implicit presumption of debate is that there is something to be gained in clarifying our common aspirations through disagreement."

The outcome is "best characterised not by a set of policies concerning individual rights and bargaining abilities but by what is known as 'the priority of right over good'. Justice, or right - the basic structure of society as a whole - must come before any particular moral commitment or cultural community within the society.

"What emerges from this kind of liberal theory is a common daily commitment to civility, tolerance and respect - all in the service of social cohesion."

Which leads directly to my last thoughts tonight, lifted in their near-entirety from Alan Ward.

In his book "A Show of Justice," Ward talked specifically about whether pre-European Maori society was ever really at peace.

Though he didn't know it then, he could well have been talking about contemporary New Zealand too.

In a sense, he wrote, in old New Zealand, there was always some sort of feuding going on.

"Yet," he said, "if not peace, much of the institutionalised feuding, replete with magnificent oratory and dances of defiance, but involving few casualties, was scarcely war either.

"The oral tradition...also records long periods of peace and men noted for working for peace and the preservation of life.

"[There is a] proverb [that] observes that a warrior's reputation was likely to be short-lived, while that of a cultivator was enduring."

But the part of this statement with the most contemporary relevance came next, when he said: "There was a mythological justification and an appropriate set of rituals for a making a binding peace - the elusive and precious tatau pounamu or greenstone door."

It is evident today, that New Zealand is keeping some of the old ways very much alive. We are just now seeing some institutionalised feuding, not to mention the odd dance of defiance. At some stage, who knows, we may even hear some magnificent oratory.

We should, however, pay more attention to the people who work for peace in the land.

To do that, we need to know who these people are.

And at the risk of sounding impossibly biblical, you know these people by their accomplishments. So the question we should be constantly asking ourselves is, when it comes to the issues that we've inherited from our history, who are the chiefs of the present, Maori and Pakeha, who are following the right paths and rituals to find the greenstone door?

Because until that door is found, we will never fulfil the hope expressed right at the beginning of the period we've been looking at tonight - New Zealand's first fifty years. That hope was expressed by Hobson, to each of the chiefs as they signed the Treaty - that we are to be, indeed, one people.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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