New Zealanders And Britons


Ever since the late century New Zealand has commonly be considered the most dutiful of Britain's daughters. It is a reputation which many New Zealanders, especially Prime Ministers, intent on making an impression in London, or on securing commercial concessions have fostered at every oratorical opportunity. Few Canadians, Australians or South Africans have cared to contest the claim - though George Reid, the Premier of New South Wales, debated it hotly with Seddon at the colonial conference in 1897.

In New Zealand anti-British prejudice has been less vocal or widespread, local national sentiment less aggressive and later in developing than in the older colonies. It is indisputable that the people have, in general, remained attached - attached, a modern Prime Minister has said, by bonds of sentiment, trade and debt - to the United Kingdom. But their reputation for a somewhat excessive devotion has not always been notified and it obscures the ever-changing quality of their feelings for their ancestral homeland. In New Zealand the Union Jack has been hoisted over some unlikely projects and for many motives. More than to any other single cause, New Zealand originally owed her name for clinging to the motherland in the policy of the Government, from the eighteen-eighties until the First World War, in supporting the campaign for imperial federation. Although most of the other colonial Governments or times pursued the same ideal, New Zealand alone was persistent. Her attempts, by means of federation, to strengthen the imperial ties which Little Englanders and colonial nationalism sought to loosen, was often interpreted as implying a distaste for local autonomy, a desire to follow safely behind maternal skirts. Nothing could have been further from the truth. To appreciate the reasons why many New Zealand politicians were federationists, it is necessary to glance back to a time when the colony's reputation was very different.

For much of the nineteenth century New Zealand was a most troublesome dependent, unwanted in the first place and often regretted. Apart from providing the usual run of native wars and financial difficulties, the colony's affairs seemed to breed contentious advocates: first Wakefield, then Grey, obstinate and casuistical, then a series of politicians independent and pertinacious. the disputes began before the first New Zealand company ships hoisted sail at Gravesend and continued with little intermission until the end of the Maori wars. Then came Vogel, who seemed to one of the harassed Colonial Office staff 'the most audacious adventurer that perhaps ... ever held power in a British Colony'.

The colonists received their self-governing constitution, in 1852, after relatively little opposition, and responsible government, in 1856, with remarkably few restrictions. Their Parliament even had the power, subject to the British right of disallowing colonial legislation, to control wastelands and, after 1857, to alter their constitution, two of the matters which Lord Durham had though should be subject to direct imperial control. Like most other colonists, however, they were dissatisfied, and devoted themselves to whittling away what powers remained in the hands of the Governor and the British authorities. Before the Maori wars they tried to dictate native policy, despite the fact that governor Gore Browne had reserved it from ministerial control. After the Maori wars, when they had won the right to govern the Maoris, there were plenty of other causes of friction.

At times their demands were too extreme for other colonies. In the years 1868-73, for instance, when the Australian and New Zealand colonies were agitating for the right to make reciprocal tariff agreements, Vogel went further and, in the name of 'fiscal freedom', demanded the right to negotiate trade agreements with a foreign power, the United States. In addition he urged the abrogation of British most favoured nation treaties which forbade colonial tariff preferences to Britain unless they extended to Germany and Belgium. On the first point he was not supported by the Australian Governments, and his demands were ignored, but the British government gave way over the issue of international preferences. At the first Colonial conference, which was held in London in 1887 on the occasion of Queen  Victoria Golden Jubilee, the New Zealand representative again pressed for an independent right of negotiating commercial treaties and once more received no sympathy from the British or other colonial representatives. At this conference, and during Ballance's ministry, the colony was also active in pressing for a diminution of the powers of governors.

On the only occasion in the nineteenth century when the colonists were not eager to extend their autonomy, relations with Great Britain were at their worst. The exception is instructive. It was the period, during the sixties, when the colonists endeavoured to escape the responsibility for governing the Maoris - which the British government now thrust on them - because they could not face up to paying for the Maori wars. In the eyes of a good many people in London, including the Duke of Newcastle, the colonial Secretary, it was a war in defence of the colonists' property; but to the settlers it seemed that they were fighting Britain's war, a war in the cause of Britain's civilizing and colonizing mission.

When the last imperial troops were withdrawn in 1870 the colonists were hurt and indignant at being left unprotected, though at the same time, as Anthony Trollope observed during his visit shortly afterwards, they were convinced that the wars had been won by colonial troops. A few hotheads were heard to mutter seditious suggestions of annexation by the United States. Vogel himself urged that, unless the British Government could guarantee adequate support, it should 'sanction an arrangement with foreign powers that in the event of war the colony should be treated as neutral'. On the whole, however, open disaffection was short-lived. The resentments engendered during the Maori wars merely strengthened the colonists' resolve to secure as much influence as possible over their own affairs and sharpened the tone in which they voiced their demands.

The colonial leaders of the sixties were antagonistic to the British authorities because they were already out of touch with British opinion. they left England in the heyday of the Colonial Reformers and the Church Missionary Society, and they would not readily abandon the intellectual and emotional baggage they brought with them. But now, in England, the Manchester School of free trade was in session. Colonies were out of favour. The colonists could not really understand why the British troops were withdrawn, because they could not comprehend the economic pacifism of men like John Bright, or Professor Goldwin Smith (one of their chief aversions), who had said that colonies were an 'expensive and perilous connexion'. The Southern Cross sneered that 'peace is advocated because peace is cheap'. It seemed to the colonists that, under Gladstone, En gland was losing touch with her finest tradition, of which they were the chief standard bearers: the tradition of empire. Empire, Alfred Donnett wrote in Ramolf and Amohia, was never won

By slow hack-hearts that never knew
A spur beyond material greed!
The mere 'utilitarian' crew
Whose huckstering God is only Gold;
That 'cheaply bought' is 'dearly sold',
Their sordid creed and single heed.

The colonists never reflected how much they owed to the free traders. There were no American revolutions in the nineteenth traders. There were no American revolutions in the nineteenth century because Great Britain was disinclined to resist the colonists' demands for increasing freedom. More than to any other factor, this compliance was due to the influence of free trade doctrine, which denied the economic value of colonies, while affirming that their political destiny was independence. What impressed the settlers was a parallel effect of free trade thought - the disinclination of Great Britain to extend her imperial commitments by further annexations; for they had never ceased to believe the conclusion which a New Zealand pamphleteer had reached in 1851:

'Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it.' This blessing, first pronounced on man, would seem indeed to have been peculiarly inherited by the British people.

Some of the colonists adopted this attitude in another question, as productive of disputes with London as the Maori wars, that of imperial expansion in the Pacific. Even in the eighteen-forties Grey had visions of a British Empire in the Pacific centring on New Zealand. In the same period Bishop Selwyn launched the Melanesian mission, thus creating spiritual claims to responsibility among the islands. Later Vogel repeatedly urged that New Zealand should be allowed to 'earn for reluctant Great Britain ... a grand island dominion', and wanted to annex Samoa, Fiji, indeed most of the islands in the south Pacific. Robert Stout took up the mission in the next decade. simultaneously the Australians followed a similar policy. But reat Britain turned a deaf ear alike to these requests and to the colonists' gloomy warnings with regard to German or French ambition in the Pacific. there was something ludicrous in the grandiose pretensions of the settlers. At the spectacle of -

Vogel and Seddon howling empire from an empty coast
A vast ocean laughter
Echoed unheard ........

In general the British Government regarded annexation as a last unwelcome expedient to be resorted to only when naval visits, consular representation, 'spheres of influence', protectorates, and so on, had proved inadequate. Queensland's annexation of New guinea in 1883 was repudiated just as Stout's offer to annex Samoa in the following year was snubbed. The colonial Office was too shrewd not to see that the colonists were calling on Great Britain, in the name of the British Empire, to pursue imperial interests of their own.

The programme of 'Oceania for the Anglo-Saxons' was largely inspired by traders in Sydney and Auckland, the main centres for South Pacific commerce. Vogel's scheme in 1874 to form a company to colonize and civilize the South Pacific islands, for instance, was suggested by Frederick Whitaker and other Auckland businessmen. Nevertheless, it remains true that the settlers saw themselves as carrying on the British imperial mission. With Kipling, they asked,

And what should they know of England who only England know?

Some of the colonists set out to recall Great Britain to her task. The royal colonial Institute in 1868, the Imperial Federation League in 1884, the British Empire League a decade later, all numbered among their most energetic founders colonials, Canadians and Australians as well as New Zealanders, living in England. The reaction against the anti-imperialist views of the extreme free traders has been traced to the protests of these 'Anglo-colonials' against the withdrawal of imperial troops from New Zealand in 1868. In the last two decades of the century, the New Zealand colonists welcomed 'the revival of imperialism and the adoption of a more truculent policy by the British Government. They took up the imperial chorus with practised voices. Great Britain had at last seen the light.

The great epidemic of chauvinism, of exaggerated and aggressive nationalist of racialist doctrine, which infected many European peoples at this time, which carried the United States to war with Spain, Germany to Weltpolitik and disaster, in British countries took the form of jingoism. the fall of Khartoum and the death of Gordon produced a flood of sentimental and obstreperous verse in New Zealand, while New South Wales sent troops to the Sudan. In the same year, 1885, there was an exaggerated fear of a war between Britain and Russia. J.A. Froude, who was in New Zealand at the time, found that 'the patriotism of the colonists was inflammable as gunpowder'. 'Auckland wearied me with its valiant talk.' This feeling reached its height during the south African War when the Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders vied with one another in helping Great Britain to repress the Boers. In Christchurch the meetings of a few courageous pro-Boers, an epithet applied to independent men, like T.E. Taylor, who tried to regard events with some detachment, were broken up by youthful zealots singing 'We're the Soldiers of the queen', and the speakers were pursued home by the mob. this sort of hysterical 'imperialism', compounded of a crude and intolerant racial prejudice and militarism, as much as of love of the motherland, was to persist in New Zealand for a long time.

The articles of faith of the first generation of colonists were these: that it was the mission of the British to expand and rule the uncivilized world, that unfettered self-government was the birthright of those chosen spirits, the colonists, who carried out this noble task. Both ideas were inherited and accepted by the New Zealand Government of the late nineteenth century, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that something was lacking in this simple creed. How as it possible to reconcile the affirmation of the value of empire with the fact of the steady extension of colonial autonomy? It was difficult to conceive of an empire consisting of fully autonomous units. Was the fate of the empire envisaged as a constant state of expansion and disintegration? Where, in short, was the empire going? In New Zealand some politicians, including Sir George Grey, foresaw, in the dim, rosy future, a supra-imperial polity, English-speaking union, as the answer to the problem. somewhat more popular, however, was the idea of imperial federation. In 1885 the House of Representatives, though not in a very serious mood, simultaneously adopted resolutions favouring both these ideals.

As long ago as 1852, John Robert H Godley, the founder of Canterbury and one of the foremost advocates of colonial autonomy, had foreseen the need for an 'Imperial congress' to administer the common business of England and her realms. In the eighteen-sixties Vogel had advocated the same ideal. Between 1884 and 1893 the Imperial Federation League came and went, rent by internal dispute, and dispirited because of the lack of public interest. Federation, it was clear, was not politically feasible in the foreseeable future. A member of organisations launched a campaign for the losses objective of an 'imperial council' which without legislative or executive power, might perform a useful advisory function in matters of common interest and would perhaps prove a step in the direction of federation. This project was advocated by some of the New Zealand Liberals. At the colonial conference of 1897 Seddon supported Chamberlain in arguing for a council, against the process of most of the Australian Premiers, who believed that it would amount to creating 'fresh political bonds'. In 1905 W.P. Reeves took a leading part in political bonds'. In 1903 W.P. Reeves took a leading part in inducting the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Alfred Lyttleton, to suggest to the colonies that the colonial conference should be transformed into an Imperial council with a permanent secretariat. At the 1907 conference the chief advocates of a council were New Zealand's J.G. Ward and Alfred Deakin of Australia. The former, in 1911, put forward an ill-considered and confused case for an imperial 'council' or even a 'parliament'. The Liberals' aim, throughout these years, was not merely to reconcile colonial autonomy with imperial unity or co-operation, but at the same time to extend New Zealand's power of influencing her own destiny.

In urging the House of Representatives to send troops to the South African War, Seddon had argued that, by helping to bear the burden of empire, they would built up a case for having a voice in its government. In this remark lies the clue to the hope which lay behind New Zealand support of imperial federation or an imperial council: the hope of acquiring a voice in the formulation of British foreign policy. This was the chief remaining restriction on the powers of the colonial government. War, pace, and the general direction of foreign relations were still dwt4rmined by the British Government without consulting the self-governing colonies. The New Zealand leaders hoped, however, for more than a right to be consulted in an imperial council. They wanted, Ward informed the Imperial Conference of 1907, 'a distinct line of demarcation between the responsibility we accept of our own free will and the responsibility which may be imposed on us without prior discussion'. Above all, he said, they wanted to keep clear of England's 'continental troubles'. The Liberals were not content to follow Britain's lead, they dre3amed, indeed, of changing British policy. As Robert Stout explained in 1887 to English readers of the Nineteenth Century, Great Britain 'should be as independent of European politics as the United States is now'. Instead of being a European power, she should become 'the centre of a world-wide dominion', the focus of an imperial federation. Part of their plan was to press Great Britain to pursue New Zealand's ambitions of expression in the Pacific.

The motives of the New Zealand imperial federationists changed with the times. Ward's attitude, which reflected a growing uneasiness about the possibility of German aggression in the Pacific, was markedly defensive in comparison with Seddon's. The arguments they put forward, administrative, constitutional or racialist, varied too. But invariably their policy revealed a great dissatisfaction with existing imperial relations. The Canadians were, on the whole, content with their lot; some of them, like a few British leaders, were beginning to see the way from Empire to commonwealth. The New Zealand leaders, like the English imperial federationists, were too logical. They simply disbelieved in the possibility that so anomalous an organization as the modern commonwealth could ever be. Moreover, they were, more than the Canadians, conscious of the remnants of British authority.

*     *     *

It may be well to notice here that as Auckland considers herself to be the cream of New Zealand, so does New Zealand consider herself to be the cream of the British Empire. The pretension is made in every British colony. It was insisted upon with absolute confidence in Barbados ... that it was hinted at in Jamaica with as much energy as was left for any opinion in that unhappy islands; and that in Bermuda a confidence in potatoes, onions and oleanders had produced the same effect. In Canada the conviction is so rife that a visitor hardly cares to dispute it. In New South Wales it crops out even in those soft murmurings with which men there regret their mother country. ... But in New Zealand the assurance is altogether of a different nature. The New Zealander among John Bulls is the most John Bullish. He admits the supremacy of England to every place in the world, only be is more English than any Englishman at home. He tells you that he has the same climate, - only with somewhat heavier crops, that he has the same beautiful scenery at his doors, - only somewhat grander in its nature and more diversified in its details; that he follows the same pursuits, and after the same fashion, - but with less of misery, less of want, and a more general participation in the gifts which God has given to the country. ... All good things have been given to this happy land, and, when the Maori has melted, here will be the navel of the earth. Nothing is known to allege against the assurance. It is a land happy in its climate; - very happy in its promises .... One point must be specially observed as to which the New Zealand colonist imitates his brethren and successors at home - and far surpasses his Australian rival. He is very fond of getting drunk. And would observe to the New Zealander generally, as to other colonists, that if he would blow his own trumpet somewhat less loudly, the music would gain in its effect upon the world at large.

Maori And Settler - 1642-1870
About New Zealand
Rotorua Visit- New Zealand

An extract from IN THE STRANGE SOUTH SEAS by BEATRICE GRIMSHAW,  published in London by Hutchinson & Co., 1908. 

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