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Sketch Map of the Province of
AND OF THE
DISTRICT OF WANGANUI
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Will you allow me to address you on the subject of the present Maori war, which has been raging up and down our coast for so many months past. I ought perhaps to have directed my observations to the inhabitants of New Zealand generally, but the citizens of any district of our adopted country have unfortunately the reputation of not feeling much interest in anything that does not take place in their own immediate neighbourhood.
I suppose it is almost unnecessary to consider what will be the result of the present war; with the very large body of men that we have now assembled together, we can scarcely help disposing of a great part of our antagonists, and driving back the remainder to the slopes of Mount Egmont from whence they issued forth, but it will be more useful to consider what is the real object of the campaign? What advantages ought we to endeavour to gather from it? And how are we to protect ourselves from even an apprehension, that we may not again after the regular two or or three years, when the natives will have regained their strength and laid in fresh stores of arms and ammunition, be obliged to undergo a repetition of the calamities which we have lately suffered?
Before going any farther, let us remember of what the West Coast settlements in the provinces of Wellington and Taranaki consist, and what is their history for the last few years. By a glance at the small sketch which accompanies this letter, you will see what you probably knew before, though I really think that many of us never actually understood the position in which we have placed ourselves, that our settlements on this South Western Coast of the Northern Island of New Zealand are nothing but a narrow strip of fertile land some six or eight, perhaps occasionally ten miles wide, and which comprises the greater part of the two hundred miles of sea coast from Manawatu in the South to the Waitara river on the North; on the one side of us we have a raging surf constantly beaten by the westerly gales, on the other side a dense, impenetrable, unbroken, and unknown, forest, stretching into the interior of the island. A part of this land has been obtained from the natives by purchase in years past, and the rest has been taken from them by force as a
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punishment for former rebellions; however, throughout the whole district, large reserves of land, quite sufficient for their wants have been left in their possession by the government. 1
It is only four years ago that, the Waikato campaign being concluded, General Cameron marched from Wanganui in order to open up the coast between that place and New Plymouth, which had for several years been shut up by the natives, and to avenge the outbreak at Taranaki and the murders of the 4th of May, 1863. He met the enemy at Nukumaru, south of the Waitotara river, and having there dispersed them he marched all up the coast as far as the Waingongora river. In the following year as I suppose it was thought that the work was not sufficiently well done, or that the Maoris were not sufficiently subdued, General Chute was sent on the same errand, and it is well known how he made his way through the country, attacking and taking every native stronghold that he met with, and at last with four hundred men pierced through the forest inland of Mount Egmont, and emerged in triumph on the Waitara river. By this time the Maoris were in a very weakened and humbled state, (though I must say I have never heard of any terms of surrender on their part) and people have informed me that they were seen going about in small bodies, and showing evident signs of having suffered great privations, besides which, they must have lost a large number of their men in their encounters with us.
As soon as the war was over the government determined upon confiscating the whole coast line from the Waitotara to the Waingongora, a distance of about forty miles, even the Waimate Plains still farther to the North West were at one time included in the project, and the whole district was at once surveyed, and either given to quasi military settlers 2 or sold to other persons who immediately made preparations, or at least a great many of them, to settle down on their land; and for several months in the years 1867 and 1868 the infant settlement north and south of Patea was busy in building houses, fencing their land, and importing cattle and sheep from Wanganui, and even from the province of
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Napier; for a great deal of the land, particularly north of Patea was found to be already covered with natural and other grasses and even with very rich clover. In the mean time so peaceable did our dusky neighbours appear to be, not only on this coast but on the other side of the island too, and so much was it thought they had suffered from their encounters with us, that our rulers in their wisdom entered on a new policy of which I need not give the name, though perhaps in years to come the people of this country will look back with pride and gratitude to those who originated it. Our government determined to dispense with the services of ten thousand English troops who had just with so much trouble conquered the country, or who at any rate had driven the natives out of the open country back into the bush, and accordingly during the years 1866 and 1867 the whole army with the exception of one regiment was sent away home.
I would fain hope that whoever the persons were who originated this "policy" they did not intend that it should stop here, but that a considerable colonial force was to have taken the place of the Queen's troops. This part of the programme however was omitted, and twelve months ago the whole of our armed constabulary or colonial army amounted to only 360 men, and the defence of the Patea district which had just been wrested from one of the most warlike and determined tribes of natives in the whole island, and which was being rapidly colonised by a number of peaceable Europeans, was left to the care of about a hundred of the armed constabulary, principally old soldiers, and a good many of them apparently rather the worse for wear, who were placed in two redoubts at Patea and Waihi, twenty-five miles apart.
About nine months ago, I travelled through the country from Wanganui to the Waingongoro river, and every few miles I was pointed out the site of some recent conflict with the natives; often as we rode through the high fern, we came on a little collection of graves, where our countrymen had fallen in some unpronounceable skirmish, and sometimes "the simple story of their death" inscribed on a neat head board, was dated as late as the year 1866.
On arriving at Waihi, our extreme outpost, I expressed my surprise at seeing our men, and there were only twenty-five of them, simply armed with carbine and revolver, but I was told that it was not probable that there would be any more war, and that at any rate a Maori would never come to such close quarters as to render bayonets necessary. 3
I can scarcely understand how, not only the government, but
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the people of this country, and more particularly those who determined on settling in the Patea district, could be so infatuated as not to see the dangerous position in which they were placed, or rather had placed themselves. There seems to have been no feeling whatever of any impending danger, 4 and I have heard of large pieces of unimproved land, both North and South of Patea, changing hands a few months back at more than £3 an acre. However the storm came at last, and swept not only over all the confiscated country, but has extended right through the Waitotara block, which was purchased some few years ago from the Natives; and as is well known there was not a house for a distance of nearly sixty miles of coast (except at Patea or those close to the redoubt at Wairoa,) north of the Kai Iwi stream, which is only nine miles from Wanganui, that has not been burnt by the invaders.
However it is no use deploring the past, let it be a lesson to us of the insecurity in which we have lived, let us take some measures to secure ourselves against like misfortunes in years to come. The country is certainly worth fighting for, as was observed by King William the Third when he entered on his campaign in Ireland, and I think after the footing that we have got in this "Garden of New Zealand," it will be difficult to drive us out of it. I must say, however, that at one time in the most gloomy period of the war when His Excellency the Governor paid a visit to Wanganui, we were given very faint hopes of being able to re-enter on our land, for we were told that while the Government would do everything in its power to reconquer the country, we must mainly "depend upon our own strong arms."
I really hope that we shall soon see the last of that wretched system that has so long been in fashion in this country, of living on the forbearance of any neighbouring semi-hostile tribe of natives, and I must remind the people of New Plymouth, who have told me, and no doubt with much truth, that they were not one bit afraid of the Maoris, and were quite ready for them if they wished to fight, 5 that the southern part of their Province
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to the extent of perhaps one hundred and fifty square miles, has been taken possession of, and laid waste by the enemy during the last six months, without giving them much apparent concern; and it was only just before last Christmas, that their Native Commissioner condescended to attend a meeting of the Taranaki tribe at Warrea, thirty miles south of New Plymouth, a neighbouring tribe, and intimately connected with those at present at war with us, and was well contented to return home with a declaration from them that they were not prepared to fight with us at present. I suppose there can be little doubt that this tribe which inhabits the southern side of the mountain, as far as the rich Waimate Plains, has sent many recruits to swell the ranks of our adversaries; at any rate they have never shown any friendly spirit to the Government, and at the present moment will scarcely allow us a passage along the sea coast through their territory. Let us hope if our army ever manages to perform the task that it has before it, that this matter will be immediately inquired into, and some means be taken strictly to insure their loyalty for the future. 6
I now come to the principal object of my letter, I shall take the liberty of giving you my opinion as to the best method of insuring our future safety, but above everything I beg you yourselves, to turn your attention to the subject, and to consider how by exerting your energies, by claiming the assistance of the government, which I believe will be most readily given, and lastly by expending some of your pent up capital, you may place yourselves at last in a position of security.
I have already stated that the object of General Cameron's campaign on this coast was to open a direct communication between New Plymouth and Wanganui, and I have referred to General Chute's daring march through the forest in the succeeding year. It is much to be regretted that advantage was not then taken of the temporary prostration of the native tribes, immediately to set to work with the axe and cut a broad track through the thirty miles of forest that grows between Waihi and Mataitawa, but it appears that at that time everyone imagined that a very great moral effect was produced on the native mind by marching a body of Europeans through their hitherto unconquered forest, there was no end to our rejoicings and congratulations, the General received a high reward from the Home Government, and both here and in England the
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native question was supposed to be effectually settled. 7 I do not suppose that we are still of that opinion; it must be very obvious to us now that the "moral effect" of marching four hundred men through a thick forest, where they could carry no supplies with them, and where the slightest opposition would have forced them to retire, could be of little real advantage except it were followed up by the practical effect of cutting down and opening out this natural stronghold.
I believe that this is a work of the greatest importance, it was not carried out three years ago, now there will be most likely a another opportunity, that is to say if we are able to inflict some severe loss on our adversaries. I suppose it is well known that the different slopes of Mount Egmont are inhabited by various warlike and hostile, tribes, who have always been at war either with each other or with us, and it is not too much to say that they are the terror of the whole coast. You cannot help seeing that a good wide track or road inland of the Mountain while it would very much improve our communications and shorten the distance from New Plymouth to the South by about forty miles, will at the same time do infinite damage to the natives who inhabit the splendid country that lies all round the mountain between this proposed line or opening and the sea coast. I am assured the natives are perfectly aware of this, and that during the short period that we occupied the country before the present war broke out they were always extremely careful to prevent us from even approaching the southern termination of their secret tracks which run in the same direction.
The Maori is well aware that the natural strength of his country, the long unbroken line of forest, puts him almost on a level with the European, and there is no doubt he will strain every nerve, will use every endeavour to prevent what is I believe, of equal importance to us to accomplish, 8 thus as I before remarked, it is the very moment of the conclusion of a war that we ought to choose to commence operations.
No doubt I shall at once be asked--how do you intend to carry out this grand undertaking? Are you aware it is no small matter to cut down several square miles of forest? I will answer, that the matter is one of the most vital importance to us, and besides that I believe it can be made a very paying concern.
I am informed that less than a year and a-half ago, it was in
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the month of November, 1867, a number of gentlemen at New Plymouth proposed to the government to allow them to form a company with a capital of £25,000 to perform this work.
One of the conditions was that the Government should survey the land for them, but the natives made such a very threatening opposition to these preliminaries that it was thought impolitic to go on with the matter, and thus it was allowed to drop. Since that time everything has changed very much with us, both money and labour as I am informed, have become very scarce; but on the other hand we have now a good prospect of being able to place the Maoris in a position that they will not dare to oppose us in case we determine to cut into their territories.
What I have just related confirms me in the idea that I have already expressed that it is the very moment that we have driven back, conquered, and weakened the enemy that we should be prepared to follow up our success with the axe. 9 It is for that reason that I now address you, at a time which many may call premature, but as I have before remarked, we may fairly expect that our large force of men will succeed in the work that they have undertaken to do.
Besides the principal object of weakening the strength of the natives, there are one or two other advantages in our projected undertaking that may be worth remarking. When I not long ago paid a visit to New Plymouth, I found that actually the only communication with the rest of the world was by a boat which was sent out to any passing vessel, or a native postman, who, once a fortnight, and some times I believe at the peril of his life, 10 takes letters backwards and forwards along the coast to Patea. I was assured that not a stranger had arrived in the place for several weeks before, and a few newspapers that I happened to have with me, were eagerly read by every one. Now it appears to me that all this will be very much altered if our plan succeeds; there will be a direct road for the people of New Plymouth to the southern part of their own province, from which they are very much cut off at present, and from there they can if it suits them, proceed farther down the coast to Wanganui. 11
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And then again, however pleasant the climate of New Plymouth may some times be, I suppose every one will agree that it is most awfully wet, and that excess of rain is no doubt caused by the high mountain and dense unbroken bush that skirts the district. It is quite possible that the clearing away of the forest as I propose, by allowing the wind and air to reach the surface of the ground may eventually very much alter the climate. 12 At the present day, the sailor as he approaches the western shores of New Zealand, generally sights, not Mount Egmont, but a huge bank of clouds which surmounts it, and at that moment a heavy rain is most likely falling in the streets of New Plymouth.
At the same time, however much we may criticize the climate, nowhere I suppose, are to be found more fruitful fields or more brilliant gardens than at Taranaki; and every one knows that the flowers of creation are almost proverbial for their loveliness.
When I spoke lately to a gentleman of great experience of this country, I was answered that a coast road from New Plymouth towards the south would pay very much better than the one that I propose, on account of the rich open land that it would traverse; other persons have replied in the same way. I would have them remember however, that a great deal of this coast line is still in the hands of tribes who would decidedly object to any road being made through their land. But at any rate this is quite beyond the question in point; there is a particular political object in cutting the inland road, and one effect of such a work would be, that in a few years these redoubtable tribes, who guard Cape Egmont, and who seem to have gathered strength and courage from the splendid mountain which towers above their heads, and which is I am assured, an object of admiration even to them, feeling the strength of their inland communication to be entirely cut off, will cease altogether to be an object of solicitude to us.
I have the highest authority for informing you that the Government is prepared at this moment to give every assistance and encouragement to a company of persons who may offer to open the bush, inland of Mount Egmont, the protection of a body of colonial troops will be afforded to the undertakers, and a certain quantity of land will be given them as a repayment for their outlay.
If people could be persuaded that the opening up of this route will materially prevent the possibility of a future rising
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of the natives, and will therefore raise the value of every acre of land throughout our whole district surely it would not be very difficult to set the matter a-going; and if it meets with your approval I would suggest that Committees be formed without any delay, in the towns of New Plymouth and Wanganui, and that their first business should be to confer with one another on the subject, to ask the assistance and support of the Government, and to place the matter before the public. 13
And here I will make the passing remark how surprising it appears that the two districts whose inhabitants I address should seem to be so much divided and to have so little sympathy with each other, when their interests on so many points and particularly on this native question are so identical
I am scarcely prepared to do more than write in very general terms on this idea of cutting through the forest, nor do I claim any originality for the idea. It is well known that the Romans when they set to work to conquer our ancestors found 14 it necessary to make roads all through England and the lowlands of Scotland, many of which still remain as monuments of their greatness, and scarcely more than one hundred years ago the English Government were obliged to complete what the Romans had left undone throughout the Highlands, (I hope I shall not hurt the feelings of any of my friends) in order to compel the loyalty of the Jacobite sympathisers.
I am afraid that a very slight knowledge of bush life will not
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enable me to give much of a prospectus of the proposed work, or of its probable expense; but I will remark that if Government gives us a certain quantity of land (which we know by the way to be of the best quality) it is very odd if we cannot afford to cut and burn the wood that grows on it, and then sow it down with grass seeds, and there ought also to be something remaining to pay for surveys and road making 15
I have taken some trouble to acquaint myself with the character of the country at the back of Mount Egmont. I have spoken with intelligent persons who went through it with General Chute, and also at other times, and I am assured that there are no engineering difficulties in the way of making a good road, that the whole country is almost perfectly level, 16 but intersected with several river courses, and a great many very abrupt, but not very deep gullies, many of which may be bridged over with the trees that will be cut down. It will perhaps be recommended that any road should take a more easterly or inland direction, than that chosen by General Chute, whereby the many spurs and gullies that descent from Mount Egmont may be avoided.
In order to make a commencement, I suppose it would be sufficient for the first year to cut two or three openings as near as possible parallel with one another, wherever the land appeared most favorable, each opening from fifty to one hundred yards wide. There would be cross lines cut at intervals, to connect
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these roads or tracks, and the whole thing would lie within perhaps the width of a mile. It would be advisable at first only to cut the bushes and small timber, the large trees will remain standing until wanted, and will thus be very much out of the way. When this work has been once begun it will be found almost necessary to continue it, and clear several miles in width of forest during the following years, (though of course the whole of the wood will not require to be cut down) for unless a large breadth of country is cleared it will be difficult to induce people to go to live in the district and to persuade them they were in a place of safety
In case a company is established and our project set going on a large scale, it will be very necessary to have a good depot on some neighbouring point of the sea coast, in order to furnish supplies to those engaged in the work, without their having to depend on the twenty-five miles of cartage and convoy from the Patea.
I am informed that there are one or two places in the neighbourhood of the Waingongora river, where a very fair landing station may be formed, so good is the position that several gentlemen who a few months ago were about to settle in that district, had already determined to establish a surf boat there with moorings, &c., in order to ship off their produce at once to Wellington, or other principal ports, and thus avoid the expense and delay of the transport to Patea and thence by sea to Wanganui. I know very well that this system had already been abandoned by General Cameron in the year 1865, on account of the supposed danger, when some persons were drowned in the surf, but a popular officer in the "New Zealand Navy" tells me he perfectly remembers the circumstance, and that the men, who were engaged in landing commissariat rum, were in a state of intoxication when they met their death. He also informs me that he believes there is no reason in the world that a boat station, similar to that at New Plymouth, should not be organised at this place if it were found necessary. 17
I have not alluded to the butter and cheese Company which was intended to be set on foot as soon as the young grass made its appearance, but there is no doubt that the milk and butter of Taranaki can scarcely be equalled, and I suppose there is no reason that it should not succeed very well.
There is a proverb against doing two things at one time, but I
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cannot resist saying that there are other things besides the above project which ought to be undertaken, in order that we may be able to bid defiance to the enemy. South of Patea there is no large body of natives from whom we need have any apprehension, and it is hoped that the scheme that I have been advocating will, in some degree, break the strength and weaken the influence of the tribes who live to the north of that place. But I must remind you that this thick impenetrable bush country approaches to within a very few miles of Wanganui, an enemy may come from some other part of the island and take up his temporary residence in these woods, and we know from painful experience how difficult it is to dislodge him from them. 18
The course of the Wanganui river extends for many miles in a northerly direction; it then inclines to the north-west, and at a point in its course, some distance above Pipiriki, where it meets the south eastern boundary of the Province of Taranaki it is supposed 19 not to be more than forty miles distant from the sea coast, either at Patea or the mouth of the Waitara. The Wanganui river affords us some means of communicating with the interior of the country in canoes or small boats, but between its course and the sea coast, there is an immense extent of almost unknown, and it is believed uninhabited country: all, or the most of it is covered with thick bush, and although there can be no very high land, it is probably of a very precipitous and broken character. It would be greatly for the advantage of the people of Wanganui and its neighbourhood if an agreement could be entered into with the Government similar to what we have alluded to above, that would enable them to send out a surveying party in a north-westerly direction, half way between the river and the sea coast. This survey should be followed by another good clearance of bush; the line should aim at some point inland of Patea, it should never be less than ten or twelve miles from the sea beach, but side lines should be made to extend to our Waitotara settlements. There is every reason to
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believe that the land that we should acquire would be also of very good quality; after all let there be made a good road up and down the country, on which our celebrated cavalry may occasionally make an expedition. 20 We should not then have to lead a life of fear and uncertainty, calculating how long it will be to the next insurrection and consequent irruption of a barbarous enemy, seeing the last visitor, or the last speculator in land--everyone in fact who is not forced to remain by ties of business, taking his departure for some other coast, leaving us all as at this present moment, nothing to live on but the expenditure of our colonial army, and little to think about but the miserable stagnation of business, the scarcity of money, or the frequency of bankruptcies
I remain, Gentlemen,
Your obedient servant,
Wanganui, February 18, 1869,
*** We have referred to the withdrawal of the English army from this country two years ago; such a course must have been absolutely necessary when we remember, what may not be generally known, that the Islands of New Zealand with a population of only two hundred thousand (white) souls are paying nearly £100,000 a year as interest for money advanced by the Mother Country during the past years; the greater part of which money was actually given back to the English government to pay for the maintenance of their troops in this country.
Wanganui: Printed at the 'Times' office, Ridgway street.
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