Gateway to the Classics: Our Empire Story by H. E. Marshall
Our Empire Story by  H. E. Marshall

How the Maoris Became the Children of the Great White Queen

Although it was now more than sixty years since Cook had planted the Union Jack and claimed the islands of New Zealand for the British Crown, they were not yet considered part of the British Empire. Many evil deeds were done in the islands by white men, and the British seemed to have no power, or no will to stop them. "The islands are not within His Majesty's dominions" was the convenient answer to all appeals for help.

But at last, in 1832, a British Resident was sent to live in New Zealand. He was told to try and make things better, but he had no power. He did nothing. He could do nothing. "A ship of war without any guns," he was scornfully called.

About this time Baron de Thierry, a Frenchman who had spent much of his life in England, tried to make himself King of New Zealand. He bought, or thought he bought, a great part of North Island for thirty axes. Then he issued proclamations calling himself, "Charles Baron de Thierry, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand, and King of Nuhuheva," and promising his protection and favour to all who would take office under him.

When the British Resident, Mr. Busby, saw this proclamation, he began to be afraid that the French were coming to take the land. So he banded thirty-five of the Maori chiefs together into what he called the United States of New Zealand. These chiefs declared themselves independent, but at the same time they begged the King of Great Britain to protect them against their enemies.

This declaration Busby sent to Thierry. But Thierry replied that New Zealand was not a British possession, that Tasman was there before Cook, and that he as king came to protect New Zealand liberties.

All this time Thierry had lived and written at a distance. Now he arrived in his kingdom. He brought with him only about ninety followers, gathered chiefly from the riff-raff of Sydney. He planted his flag, however, ordered his followers to stand bareheaded in his presence, and to be careful never to turn their backs when they left it. He scattered empty titles and honours around, and began to make a carriage drive from his "palace" to the Bay of Islands.

But the new king soon found that his thirty axes had only brought for him two or three hundred acres of land, instead of the kingdom he had thought. His money came to an end, his followers laughed at him, and his kingship ended in air.

A few years after this some people in England formed a company, which they called the New Zealand Land Company. Hundreds of acres of land were sold in London before it had been bought from the natives or even seen by any white man. Hundreds of people, eager to make money, bought this land without knowing anything about it, except that it was somewhere in New Zealand. Then the Company sent a shipload of settlers out to found a colony.

This was against the law, for, before a British colony can be formed, leave must be given from the crown. No such leave had been asked or given. Indeed the ship was sent off in secret.

Now at last the British Government woke up. It was seen that something must be done. On the one hand British settlers had to be protected from the cruelties of the Maoris. On the other hand the Maoris had to be protected from greedy, land-grabbing white people.

So Captain Hobson was sent out to be the first governor. He was told to make treaties with the native chiefs, and then to declare New Zealand to be a British colony.

On the 29th of February 1840 Hobson landed, and upon the 5th February he held a great meeting of the chiefs at a place called Waitangi.

On a plain near the town a platform was raised, and here at noon the governor took his seat, with the principal white people. Close round the platform sat the grave, dark-faced Maori chieftains, and behind them gathered the rest of the white people. The sun shone from a sky blue and cloudless, the gay tents of the British, decorated with flags, showed bravely against the background of waving trees. It was a scene of beauty and of peace. But there were those who shook their heads and sighed. No good would come of the meeting, they said, for did not Waitangi mean "weeping water"?

When all were gathered, Hobson spoke to the people. But as he could not speak the Maori language a missionary translated what he said to them. He told them how the great white Queen far over the sea loved all her people. He told them that if they would promise to be her children she would love them too. The great white Queen was very powerful, he said, and would protect them from all their enemies, if they would acknowledge her as their overlord.

When Hobson had finished, the Maori chiefs were asked to speak their thoughts. Many of them did not wish to make a treaty. "Send the man away," said one. "Do not sign the paper. If you do you will become his slaves. Your land will be taken from you. You will no longer be chiefs, but will have to break stones upon the roads."

Then an old chief named Waka Nene rose. He was great in battle, wise in council, and his people listened to him willingly. Now he prayed them to hearken to the white lord. "You will be our father," he said, turning to Hobson. "You will not allow us to become slaves. You will keep our old customs, and never allow our land to be taken from us."

Then there was much talk this way and that. Many of the chiefs grew fierce and excited, others sat in sullen anger. At last it was agreed that they should think about it for one day and return then to tell the governor what they had decided.

Next day the treaty was signed. Waka Nene, the wise old warrior who had spoken so well, signed his name as the missionaries had taught him to do. The other chiefs made marks on the paper like the tattooing on their faces. A little later the treaty was signed by many of the chiefs on South Island, and by the end of June Victoria was proclaimed overlord of North and South Islands by treaty, and of Stewart Island by right of discovery. Thus New Zealand became part of the British Empire.

Soon after this the town of Auckland was founded and made the headquarters of the government. And now that New Zealand had become a British possession, people began to believe that the land would grow peaceful and safe to live in, and in a very short time hundreds of settlers arrived.

In the meantime, a town in the south of North Island had been founded by the New Zealand Company, who, you remember, had secretly sent off a shipload of colonists. They called their town Wellington, in honour of the great Duke.

Wakefield, the leader of the Company, had, by this time too, bought great tracts of land from the Maoris for such things as guns, razors, looking-glasses, sealing wax, nightcaps, jews' harps. Many of the Maoris did not understand the bargains. Many of them had no power to sell the land, and no wish to do so. They only pretended to do so because they wanted the guns and other things. Wakefield, on the other hand, had really no power to buy. For since Queen Victoria had become overlord, land could only be bought through the government. So trouble began. Indeed all the war and trouble there has been in New Zealand has arisen out of quarrels over land. Wakefield did not understand the Maoris, and knew nothing of their land laws, which were very difficult to follow. Sometimes both Maoris and white people would claim the same piece of ground, the one saying that he had bought it, the other saying that he had never sold it. And when the Maoris saw that the white people were taking all the best of the land they grew angry and frightened, and quarrels followed. So the new governor's task was not an easy one. But Hobson was a good and true man, and did his best to be fair both to Maoris and to white men.

Hobson worked hard in spite of illness, for soon after the signing of the Waitangi treaty he became ill. He never got well again, but in spite of that he stuck to his post bravely, until after two and a half years he died.

During these two and a half years New Zealand leaped forward as if by magic. When Hobson first came there were not two thousand white people in all the islands. When he died there were twelve thousand. Besides Auckland and Wellington, the towns of New Plymouth and Nelson, as well as many other villages, had sprung up. There were schools and churches, newspapers, soldiers, and police, where a few months before there had been only one or two missionaries, and wild traders, scattered amongst fierce man-eating savages.

The Maoris, as well as the white people, were sorry when Governor Hobson died. "Mother Victoria," wrote one of the chiefs to the Queen, "my subject is a Governor for us Maoris and for the Pakeha (settlers) in this island. Let him be a good man. Look out for a good man, a man of judgment. Let not a troubler come here. Let not a boy come here, or one puffed up. Let him be a good man as the Governor who has just died."

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