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

Victoria—From Cannibal to Christian

I N 1769 A.D., Captain Cook landed in North Island, New Zealand. He cut the name of his ship upon a tree, planted the British flag, and claimed the land in the name of King George III. Then he sailed all round the island, proving to himself and his officers that it was indeed an island. In January of the following year, he landed in South Island, again hoisted the Union Jack, and again claimed the land, and all the lands near in the name of King George.

For many years no white people settled in New Zealand, for it was peopled by a wild and warlike race of savages called Maoris. These Maoris were cannibals, that is, people who eat human beings. After a battle, those who were killed would be roasted and eaten by the victors. The Maoris fought among themselves, and they fought with the white traders who came from time to time to their shores. Yet although they were cannibals, the Maoris were not nearly such a low kind of savage as the Australian, and a missionary called Marsden, hearing about these islands and their people, made up his mind to teach them to be Christian.

Mr. Marsden was working among the convicts in Australia, and one day he set sail from there, and landed in New Zealand. For the price of twelve axes, he bought two hundred acres of land from one of the Maori chiefs, and there he founded a missionary settlement. Mr. Marsden himself could not stay, for his work was in Australia, but he left two men behind him who taught the natives, and he often came back to the islands and was greatly loved by the Maoris.

For many years Britain did not acknowledge New Zealand as a colony. Dreadful deeds were done there, but when the British Government was asked to put a stop to them, the answer was that the islands were not within His Majesty's dominions. Yet at other times the Government acted as if the islands were part of the Empire.

It was only very gradually that white people went to live in New Zealand. The first colonists who came did not stay long, for the dreadful customs of the savage Maoris frightened them away again. That was not to be wondered at, for, in spite of all the missionaries could do, many of the Maoris remained cannibals.

When Queen Victoria came to the throne there were only about two thousand white people in all the islands. But, as many of these were British, it was felt at last that it was the duty of the British to do something to protect their colonists against the Maoris, and also to protect the Maoris from being cheated and ill-treated by bad white people, who went there to steal the land from the native chiefs.

So a governor was sent out from Britain who was told to make a treaty with these native chiefs. This treaty was signed at a place called Waitangi, in North Island.

The Governor, with all the principal white people, sat upon a platform which had been set up in an open space near the town. Round them sat the Maori chiefs, and behind them stood all the rest of the white people. Beyond gleamed the white of the British tents, gay with flags, which showed brightly against the background of waving green trees.

When all were gathered, the Governor spoke to the people, and, as he could not speak the Maori language, one of the missionaries translated his words to them. He told them how the great White Queen in an island far away was anxious that they should be happy and at peace. And because so many of the great White Queen's own subjects had come to live in these islands of New Zealand, she felt that she must send a governor to rule them and to see justice done between them and the Maoris. The great White Queen asked the Maori chiefs to acknowledge her as over-lord, promising that if they did so she would protect them, their families, their people, and their goods, as she protected all her other subjects and their possessions.

Then the Maori chiefs spoke. Some of them did not want to sign the treaty. "Send the man away," said one, springing up and pointing to the Governor, "do not sign the paper. If you do you will become slaves, you will be made to break stones upon the roads. Your lands will be taken away from you, and you will no longer be chiefs."

Another chief then rose. He spoke so calmly and so well, that all the white people were quite astonished. "You will be our father," he said turning to the Governor, "you must not allow us to become slaves. You will keep all our old customs, you will not let our land be taken from us."

This chief was a very great man, very mighty in battle, so the others listened to him, and, after more talking, it was agreed that they should think about it for a day, before signing the treaty. Then with cheers from both the natives and the white people, the meeting was ended.

Next day, with firing of guns and great ceremony, the treaty was signed. The great chief who had spoken in favour of the treaty signed his name as the missionaries had taught him to do, but the others made marks like the marks called tattooing with which their bodies were covered.

A few months later the chiefs of South Island also signed the treaty, and the Union Jack was hoisted amid the thunder of guns and the cheers of the people. So New Zealand became an acknowledged British colony, nearly one hundred years after it was discovered and claimed by Cook.

Many years have passed since the signing of this treaty, and many things have happened of which I cannot tell you here. New Zealand has become an important part of the British Empire. Instead of two thousand white people there are now about seven hundred thousand in the islands. It is a self-governing colony and, like Australia, has a Parliament of its own, and in New Zealand the women help to choose the members for Parliament, just as the men do.

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