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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Villains and Heroes

This is the solitary occasion upon which any official is permitted to play a virtuous role in the myth, for essentially they are the villains: Hobson, depicted as a weakling (in fact his illness led to indecision), his entourage as grasping and semi-literate; FitzRoy, as a vain fool (he was not notably wise, but his circumstances limited him more than his incapacities); and Grey, as a designing autocrat (he was indeed autocratic in temper, but conspicuously radical in his opinions). Missionaries in New Zealand, close to Hobson and FitzRoy, missionary agencies in London, close to the Colonial Office, share in this condemnation. The fault, if it be one, in these early governors and their advisers lay in the pursuit of policies which ran counter to the interests of the company and its settlements. This in any event falls a good deal short of villainy and recent historians have tended to judge the officials rather more favourably than the settlement promoters. In passing, it may be noted that the designation “New Zealand's first Governor”, commonly attached to Hobson, is less than accurate; strictly speaking, New Zealand began her life as a possession of the British Crown inside the boundaries of New South Wales, whose Governor at that time, Sir George Gipps, has thus a better claim to the distinction.

The myth of New Zealand's origins does not stop short with the identification of heroes and villains; it goes on to describe the virtues and vices characteristic of each side. Briefly, the villains, officials, and missionaries, were meddlesome, incompetent, selfish, and corrupt; while the heroes, the company, its agents and its settlers, were an epitome of all that was truly honest, upright, self-reliant, all, in a word, that was British. This part of the myth has two aspects; on the one hand it asserts that the company, having saved New Zealand for British imperialism, went on to populate that country; on the other it makes assertions as to the character of that population that, simply, the settlers were the best possible type of Briton. Neither aspect has been able to stand up to examination.

In the first place the settlers brought out by the company and by allied organisations, the Canterbury and Otago Associations, though numerous, were by no means the only, or even the predominating stream of settlers arriving in New Zealand in the period of foundation. Initial attention is more correctly directed towards Australia, a source of New Zealand population from the mid-1830s on, and still a source through the forties, the fifties, and the sixties, drawn considerably by the opportunities for pastoralism and the quest for gold. In the perspective of a period running from 1830 to 1870, the company's and the associations' settlers are numerous and important, but hardly dominant. They provided the nucleus of Wellington, New Plymouth, Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago; they do not account for more northerly settlement, especially at Auckland, nor for the subsequent population of the settlements they founded.

In the second place it is no longer possible to argue that Wakefield's celebrated theory of “systematic colonisation” was of material significance. Certainly this plan postulated the careful selection of emigrants and the transplantation of English social strata. Equally certain, no scrupulous selection of emigrants was carried out, and social stratification did not survive a sea change. Colonisation is normally a haphazard business, and it was so with New Zealand. Company and association settlement was in itself very far from being an example of meticulous planning; further, any effect “planned colonisation” might have had was quickly obliterated by the concurrent and subsequent stream of wholly unselected emigrants. To put it baldly, the dissatisfied, ranging from riff-raff to agitators, cannot be kept out of a colony, and the organisers of “systematic” colonisation did not try very hard to do so.

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