1980 - Sewell, Henry. The Journal of Henry Sewell, 1853-7. Volume I - EDITOR'S PREFACE, p 11-20

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  1980 - Sewell, Henry. The Journal of Henry Sewell, 1853-7. Volume I - EDITOR'S PREFACE, p 11-20
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FOR MOST New Zealanders Henry Sewell is a forgotten figure of their country's past. While Canterbury commemorates John Robert Godley by a statue facing Christchurch Cathedral, Sewell, who salvaged the Canterbury plan, is remembered only in the names of quiet streets in Kaiapoi, Linwood and Hokitika. In the achievement of self-government by New Zealand the notorious Gibbon Wakefield has figured largely, while Sewell, the leading 'man of business' in the first three sessions of the colonial Parliament and, briefly, the first Premier, was dismissed by William Pember Reeves as a 'serviceably industrious lawyer'.

This inglorious verdict is not surprising. Sewell was a pessimistic, lonely, snobbish man, who was never really committed to pioneering life. But unlike most of his more famous contemporaries he was a great recorder of events and opinions. James Edward FitzGerald found the right term when he dubbed Sewell a 'big pen'. Whether in his Journals, which provide the most detailed personal account of mid-nineteenth-century New Zealand politics, or in his political proposals, which he invariably got into the record by putting forward a series of resolutions, Sewell earns our gratitude as a narrator and memorialist. 'His indefatigable perseverance in that line is perfectly astounding,' wrote Charles Christopher Bowen.

From his arrival at Lyttelton, to wind up the affairs of the Canterbury Association in 1853, Sewell kept a daily Journal. Then, from mid-1854 to the end of 1856, when he got involved in colonial politics, he tended to write up the story weekly on Sundays. The immediate purpose of this Journal was to provide a running newsletter for his family and friends in England, especially Lord Lyttelton, the chairman of the Canterbury Association. Two copies were made, the original and a fair copy made by his wife Elizabeth, and written in folios of Superfine London Satin notepaper 7 1/4 by 9 inches in size. Each folio was numbered and batches were folded lengthwise and posted at intervals as ships sailed. I shall keep it in duplicate', he wrote, 'so that your Lordship may preserve one amongst the Canterbury Archives if you should wish to keep alive a memory so painful.' Some of the folded folios are endorsed on the back in Lyttelton's handwriting.

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Another important function of the Journal must have been as a mode of release for pent-up feelings of frustration about the people Sewell encountered. In this he could hardly be as frank as in a secret diary, but he asked Lyttelton not to spread his views around too widely. 'I pray your Lordship to consider it a transcript of passing impressions from day to day and so look at it with indulgence and do not let my criticisms of persons, if they seem severe, get abroad. I think it best to write just what I think.'

The whereabouts of Sewell's original is not known, but in 1857 he recovered the fair copies to date, which amounted to over 900 manuscript pages. Together with a further 660 pages covering 1859-66, they were later bound in two volumes, each about 1 3/4 inches thick, in half-leather and cloth with gold titling. He certainly considered publication and made some efforts at editing. Many pungent phrases about personalities and even some complete pages have been crossed out as 'unsuited to print'. But shortly before his death in 1879 Sewell dictated instructions that the two volumes should be sent to the Bishop of Christchurch to be given to the library of Christ's College not earlier than the end of the century. Two months later he retracted the latter instruction and committed the Journals to the safe keeping of the Bishop of Christchurch for the time being.

In 1925 they were deposited by Archbishop Julius in the library of Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury). A typescript copy was subsequently made under the supervision of Dr James Hight, the Professor of History and Political Science, later Rector of the College. This copy was made available for use in the library by selected scholars; another copy was made by the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. There is also a third, rather poorly-typed version (of mysterious provenance), which was acquired by the Mitchell Library, Sydney, in 1949, and ten years later the Canterbury Museum Library in Christchurch received the gift of yet another version. These four typescript copies (each differently paginated) have numerous errors of transcription and some surnames have been incorrectly copied. After careful consideration Bishop Alwyn Warren arranged in 1966 for editing and publication. The text of the first volume is reproduced here in full because its value as an historical record can be appreciated at many levels. Brief and sometimes very inaccurate excerpts have been published by a number of writers already, e. g. the description of the first Canterbury superintendency election of 1853 in Vol. I of the centennial History of Canterbury, pp. 212-13.

There are two main themes in Sewell's Journal, the development of Canterbury and the achievement of responsible government by

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the Colony. In the first matter Sewell, who had been the paid deputy chairman of the Canterbury Association's management committee in London, came out very much as the chief executive from head office to salvage operations in the field. In the second sphere he claimed he was a reluctant political participant. As an essentially administrative, non-political figure, and as a lawyer with a taste for balance sheets, he lent a more or less impartial hand in sorting out a muddle. These two themes are interwoven in the text, but I have separated them in the introduction to provide a more coherent background.

As one reads the text the impression becomes strong that the mirror Sewell holds up to colonial life is a distorting mirror. Sewell's is an exile's account, most valuable for the sharpness of its first impressions, but unreliable for the changeability of his continuing reactions after he discovered whom he liked and disliked. For Sewell came from a middle-class, provincial family, which had slight connections with the aristocracy. This tenuous social advantage had been offset by that great destroyer of Victorian respectability--debt. In spite of--maybe because of--his own personal insecurity, Sewell put a social distance between himself and all but a handful of colonists.

With this background in mind--and the knowledge that he entered the New Zealand scene at Lyttelton--a reader has the fascinating experience of watching the impact of pioneering, colonial life on a cultivated, middle-aged, middle-class Englishman. One is struck immediately by the problem of distance--the immense amount of ground covered on foot, the constant treks back and forth over the Bridle Path between Lyttelton and Christchurch. Sewell once walked in from Rangiora. Ships and voyages played a large part in life, whether it was awaiting the mail, or the newspapers, or a passage to another town. A business trip to Wellington in the days of sail was something to dread. As member of the House of Representatives for Christchurch Sewell made the voyages from Lyttelton to Wellington, Wellington to Nelson, Nelson to Manukau (with pause off New Plymouth) and back, three times in as many years to attend the Assembly in Auckland. Cabins, storms, seasickness and drunken captains were all matters for remark, and the sound of the first steamer to enter Lyttelton in 1853 'was the first creaking of the hinges of Prison doors opening'.

New Zealand's weather exasperated Sewell as it does all of us. One day it is all 'Italian skies', 'wonderful sunsets', 'brilliant transparency of the atmosphere'--'this South of France with Italian skies!' Then comes a Canterbury nor'wester 'blowing like whirlwinds out of a furnace', or a squally southerly--'this wretched

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weather', 'nothing but gales, with little momentary lulls between'. His verdict: 'Of all mutabilities the New Zealand climate is the most mutable.' The other aspect of colonial life which impressed him was shortage of labour and high wages. Arriving at a time when Canterbury was denuded of labour because of the Australian gold rushes, he frequently records the rate of wages and preaches the folly of trying to bring out servants to a country where ships lost half their crews when they put into harbour. Always labour seems short: 'Oh for the contents of a dozen English workhouses', 'Oh for a flood of English poor!... It is really and without exaggeration to them, Paradise.' Already part of New Zealand's future British identity as the 'Paradise of the Working-classes' was being formed. If people complained that things were worse than at home Sewell declared it was 'a fib'. 'In nine cases out of ten, I may perhaps add the tenth too, people left England because they were uncomfortable, or had gloomy prospects, and for the most part are all wonderfully better off than they would have been in the old Country.'

After absorbing the first impact of colonial life Sewell began to make up his mind about personalities and places. For the former he reserved his most colourful language, even though his opinions were notoriously changeable. FitzGerald, who drove him to distraction at first, ended up as a close political associate; with Wakefield the position was reversed. Arriving on the same ship they began as allies, but eventually there was a complete break between them. Sewell's real villains stayed as villains: in Canterbury it was the Rev. Octavius Mathias, the minister of St Michael's Church; in colonial affairs it was Governor Sir George Grey in particular, and Auckland politicians in general. Yet Sewell's perception of the future political leadership was reasonably sound. If he fell, like so many, for the simple charm of young Frederick Weld (who went all to pieces when he reached the top in politics), he very soon marked out Edward Stafford and William Fox as the substantial men.

About places, on the other hand, Sewell had defective forward vision. His point of reference was always England. Places, buildings, even institutions were judged by their Englishness and time and again the yardstick is an English provincial town. Lyttelton, where he made his home, was preferable to Christchurch which he hated and thought would 'never advance beyond the status of a village'. The future metropolis for Canterbury was surely going to be Kaiapoi--the town Sewell played a large part in founding and through which one of the main branches of the Waimakariri then flowed to the sea. As for Timaru (which rapidly overtook Kaiapoi) he felt 'Nothing will ever spring up there but a public house, a Store, and a Woolshed.' Of the other centres, he could 'scarcely

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imagine a finer situation' for a town than Wellington. In Nelson it was all 'like English village life, except the want of servants'. And, ironically, it was not a Wakefield settlement but Auckland that had 'a far more English appearance than any other of the settlements'. Here Thomas Forsaith's shop front was 'worthy of Regent Street' and the waterfront reminded Sewell of Wapping and Devonport.

As well as recording these general impressions and his view of people and places Sewell had three main interests: the Church of England, the working of the constitution, and Maori affairs.

As a moderately high churchman and a conscientious churchgoer and sermon-taster Sewell gives a lot of attention to ecclesiastical affairs. It was not unusual for him and his wife to make up the bulk of a congregation at evensong and he was generally disappointed with the 'low ethos' of the colonial church. Possibly for this reason his harshest strictures were of the clergy, who wrangled with him about the Canterbury church endowments, the creation and preservation of which are really his greatest monument. In this matter and in the founding of Christ's College Sewell had a major role and his Journal is a vital source. When it came to Bishop Selwyn's proposed constitution for the Church in New Zealand, Sewell was observer rather than participant, but he still provides a very informed and critical commentary.

The development of self-government under the 1852 constitution was Sewell's main preoccupation outside Canterbury. The constitution was, of course, something bestowed from outside--an Act of the British Parliament. It was not what Sewell and his Canterbury Association colleagues had hoped for. He had, in fact, drafted a radical alternative which some of the English colonial reformers had sent to the Colonial Office. This would have permitted a constituent assembly in New Zealand for the colonists to devise their own constitution. But taking the basic structure given by the Imperial authorities Sewell saw the immediate issue as the division of responsibility for revenue and expenditure between provincial and colonial governments. Just as American politics began with the tension between the federalist and states-rights interpretations of the United States constitution, and Australian federal politics would involve financial squabbles between the Commonwealth and the States, so New Zealand's pioneer parliamentarians could not avoid the opposing pulls of 'Centralism' and 'Provincialism'. He approved of the new Provincial Councils and did not align himself with those who would confine them to merely municipal functions.

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On the other hand he deprecated the theoretical federalism ('Yankee Republicanism') of Fox or the ultra-provincialism espoused by Wellington's leaders. The essence of his policy--in this as in many things--was compromise. He sought a financial agreement which would fairly share assets and liabilities and he was the prime author of the famous 'Compact of 1856' which facilitated the first achievement of stability in colonial politics.

His other worry was about the future of race relations. It did not take much imagination to see that an explosion was coming. Just as the American Union broke up in 1860 over a constitutional impasse which focussed on race, so, for different reasons in the same year, New Zealand's great nineteenth-century crisis broke out on the question of the place of the Maori remnant under the Queen's sovereignty. Sewell was shocked and concerned by what he saw of Maori life. On this, again, his was an outsider's and also a lawyer's view. He seems to have made no effort to learn Maori and had few direct dealings with Maoris. His point of entry--in Canterbury--only underlined his detachment. Apart from observing the small Banks Peninsula settlements and the Kaiapoi Reserve, Sewell did not encounter urgent problems until he visited New Plymouth in 1855.

Yet, while maintaining his distance, Sewell found himself fascinated by the problem. He found the Wellington villages with their 'nests of miserable huts' a 'sad contrast with European civilisation'. It reminded him of the old Bedlam. Visits to Rapaki Pa or Pigeon Bay called to mind comparisons with 'wild Irishmen'. Maori dwellings were like 'Irish Cabins', and much inferior to a 'good British pig sty'. Maoris were friendly--could bargain like 'the most experienced Jews of Houndsditch'--but they turned up for the Governor's levee in Lyttelton 'shabby and dirty'. Traditional Maori life seemed like 'a state of debasing socialistic communism'. The missions were losing their grip; Governor Grey's confident talk of 'rapid assimilation' was simply 'clap trap'; the race was 'disappearing fast'. At the end of his first stay in New Zealand, after enjoying the fruits of self-government, he still saw Maori affairs as the 'great ugly difficulty'. 'What are we to say to a Government with 50,000 subjects over whom it exercises and can exercise not the slightest practical control?'

His own view was that the Colonial Government should have full control of Maori affairs, that efforts should be made to grant European-style legal titles to Maoris for their lands and that a council, independent of politics, should be set up to safeguard Maori rights. During the Anglo-Maori wars of the 1860s he was willing to recognise the King Movement. He resigned from public

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office in protest against the invasion of the Waikato and the 'confiscation' policy of 1863 and wrote a pamphlet attacking it.

Sewell was a man who was not afraid to swim against the tide. He used his Journals to lash out at those he worked among. They, on their part, must have found him insufferably cantankerous. But alongside his more tiresome traits must be set his willingness to accept administrative burdens other men were happy to dodge. How else could Sewell have found a high place in New Zealand politics over a long period? These honours do not appear to have brought Sewell any great satisfaction. Indeed, he often wrote about the frustrations rather than the delights of office.

Perhaps the greatest value of his record is that it gives a continuous inside view by an outsider. It is possible that Sewell's Journal will appeal most to non-New Zealand readers, but New Zealanders ought to read him to understand something of the peculiar difficulties of a new society in founding stable social and political institutions.

In order to ensure a consistent text several editorial decisions were necessary. Dates have been standardised to day/month/year and, in many cases, inserted in the text after an entry like 'Monday'. Dates of Journal entries are printed in italic; other dates are simply part of the narrative. Names of ships and newspapers have been changed to italic, also book titles, though Sewell sometimes cited these in abbreviated forms. Where he mentions a time, constructions like '1/2 pst 4' have been changed to 'half past four'. In dealing with wages 5s is preferred in place of 5/-. Ampersands have been replaced by 'and' throughout. Proper names presented more problems, for Sewell often misspelt them. In frequently-used cases, where Sewell eventually got them right, I have corrected him throughout, e. g. FitzGerald, Waimakariri, Kaiapoi and Kaikouras. Where Sewell consistently maintained his own usage (e. g. Matthias for Mathias), the double t is retained. Other maverick spellings are kept, but corrected in the footnote identifying the person mentioned. Units of measurement and money used by Sewell are retained without conversion, e. g. acre (0.405 hectare), mile (1.609 kilometres), ton (1.02 tonnes), pound sterling (NZ $2 in 1967), shilling (10 cents).

All matter appearing in small square brackets is editorial insertion; the subheadings have also been added. These editorial additions must be distinguished from Sewell's own effort at editing, in which loaded or slightly offensive phrases or paragraphs, and some pages, were bracketed and crossed out in ink. As it will be useful for the reader to know the parts Sewell thought better of,

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these passages are marked by angled brackets, e. g.. went at once to (old) Packer, a (mighty) cautious shrewd (old) person'. However, Sewell's attempt at a letter code for personal names, by crossing out all but the capital letters of surnames, has been eliminated to avoid untidy constructions like 'The shew of hands was for Wortley and Wakefield, whereat Brittan was mightily offended.' In rare cases punctuation marks have been added where the sense dictated.

Generous help from many people has made my task as editor a congenial one. The staff of the following libraries gave patient service over many years: the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington; the Canterbury Museum Library, the Canterbury Public Library, the Diocesan Archives, and the Deeds Room of the Justice Department, all in Christchurch; the Auckland Institute and Museum Library; the General Assembly Library, Wellington; the Hocken Library, Dunedin; the National Archives, Wellington, and the Canterbury University Library, especially the imperturbable reference section.

The following individuals have given the benefit of their expertise by answering queries, checking references, supplying notes or obtaining photocopies: P. A. Cornford, counsel, the Crown Law Office, Wellington; Dr Colin Eldridge, University College, Lampeter; Miss P. A. French, Auckland Public Library; Richard Hill, National Archives; Dr John Honey (for notes on English public schools); R. E. Lambert, the Taranaki Museum; John Matthews, solicitor, Isle of Wight (for material on the Sewell family); Harry Morton, Otago University; Antony Murray-Oliver, Turnbull Library (who identified Wellington buildings and places); Suzanne Mourot, Mitchell Library, Sydney; Dr Ann Parsonson (for help with Maori history); Una Platts and John Stacpoole (for identifying Auckland buildings); Patricia Reynolds, La Trobe Librarian, Melbourne; Dawn Smith, Nelson Public Library; Dr Russell Stone (for explaining Auckland politics); and John Wilson, director of the Canterbury Museum, who has custody of the largest collection of Sewell letters, who also allowed me to consult George Macdonald's Dictionary of Canterbury Biography and spent many hours guiding me on early Canterbury records. While this work was in proof Jim Traue, Chief Librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library, allowed me access to a box of recently released Lyttelton papers from Hagley Hall, Worcestershire. These include nearly a hundred Sewell letters. To distinguish these sources I have cited them as Lyttelton (Hagley) MSS. Joan Woodward and David Sims were a great help with illustrations.

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Colleagues from many departments of the University of Canterbury lent their time and skill. Professor Douglas Kidd (Classics) not only translated nearly a hundred latin phrases, but in most cases he identified the sources. Professors Ray Copland and Ken Ruthven (English) became accustomed to arcane literary queries. Professors R. A. Caldwell and John Burrows (Law) explained law to a layman; Graham Miller (Economics) helped out with some of the niceties of early Canterbury life; Professor Maxwell Gage and Guy Warren explained Canterbury geology; my own head-of-department, Professor G. W. O. Woodward, guided me in ecclesiastical matters. C. W. Collins outlined the story of the custody of Sewell's MS. My New Zealand History colleagues, W. J. Gardner and the late P. R. May, both read various drafts of my editorial material and made numerous, helpful suggestions.

Finally, a special word of thanks to Linda Rickerby, who sustained her faultless typing to page 1000 of the text and then did not balk (visibly) at 400 pages of footnotes and editorial matter; to Max Rogers, publishing manager, and Bob Gormack, senior editor, Whitcoulls Publishers, for their sympathetic attention to the whole project; and to my dear wife, Marion, who spent many hours checking the manuscript with me and alerted me to many matters of domestic interest in the Journals. None of these share any responsibility for imperfections in the editing.


Ilam, Christchurch, Summer 1979

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