Story: Self-government and independence

Page 4. Controlling Māori affairs

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In 1856 the first compromise in a series of moves that eventually led to parliamentary control over Māori affairs was made. The official roles of native secretary and chief land purchase commissioner were merged and placed under the general oversight of a ‘native minister’, although the governor retained responsibility.

Native Affairs Council

In 1860, in an effort to avert conflict between land-hungry colonists and Māori who were resisting pressure to sell their land, Governor Thomas Gore Browne proposed a Native Council to oversee a more equitable system of colonisation. For every block of land purchased from Māori, two-tenths would be conveyed to the original occupiers and one-tenth held for them as reserves. Part of the revenue from land sales would be used to create endowment for schools, churches and facilities for the ‘improvement’ of Māori. The council would also have the power to set up self-governing Māori districts to operate under ‘native law’. A bill to this effect was drafted and sent to the British Parliament.

A house divided?

Former Canterbury superintendent James FitzGerald was a leading critic of Browne’s Native Council proposal. ‘The present bill creates two governments in one colony; and I know of nothing which can protect a community so governed from the proverbial fate of a house divided against itself.’ 1 Such opposition helped scuttle the proposal.

New Zealand wars

But it was too late. A dispute over a seemingly minor piece of land at Waitara, in Taranaki, in 1860 became the spark for the decade-long New Zealand wars. While it was supplying military reinforcements, the British government was reluctant to relinquish control of Māori affairs. A further move came in 1861 after Sir George Grey returned for a second term as governor. A new ministry headed by William Fox deplored the system of double government, and Grey agreed to consult ministers in this as in other matters and to give greater responsibility to the General Assembly. But the big shift came when the British government found backing settler aggression more and more distasteful and expensive, and announced that imperial garrisons would be removed from self-governing colonies. British battalions could only be retained if they were paid for by the colony.

Self reliance

A new policy of self-reliance was attempted in 1864 by a ministry led by Frederick Weld. To end double government the imperial troops were let go and were replaced by a colonial force of military settlers (mainly recruited in Australia), and in return full control of Māori affairs would be handed over. This policy was short-lived and unsuccessful. Edward Stafford returned to power in 1865 and tried to hang on to the British troops by haggling over payments. By the end of the 1860s, British patience had run out and the last battalion was withdrawn in 1870, leaving the colonial government insecure, but in full control of Māori affairs for the first time.

Denouncing provincialism

In 1874, at a Tauranga meeting discussing the abolition of the provinces, the politician J. W. Kelly denounced provincial government. All the money was expended in Auckland and outlying districts were neglected, he proclaimed. As far as he was concerned the only people opposing abolition of the provincial governments were provincial government members. He received a unanimous vote of confidence.

There were some bitter recriminations involving wild talk of joining the United States, or going for independence in foreign-treaty relations, or neutrality in foreign wars. But this mood soon passed and was succeeded by one of euphoria induced by lavish borrowing for development involving an ambitious programme of public works, immigration, and imperialism in the Pacific. All this was accompanied by greater centralisation of government. The capital was transferred from Auckland to Wellington in 1865 and 10 years later the provincial governments were abolished.

  1. Wellington Independent, 28 Sept 1860, p. 2. Back
How to cite this page:

W. David McIntyre, 'Self-government and independence - Controlling Māori affairs', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 July 2024)

Story by W. David McIntyre, published 20 Jun 2012