So said Napoleon Bonaparte of the English, and as with many things he was close to the truth. He meant it as an insult of course but found to his dismay as did the Kaiser and Hitler that when poked with a big enough stick the shop keepers had a nasty bite.
A more accurate description of the English is that restricted by their small Island they became a nation of merchant adventurers beginning in the fourteenth century with the Eastland company trading furs with Russia and the Baltic countries. In the three hundred years between the sixteenth and nineteenth century there arose no less than thirty three English merchant adventurer companies trading in parts most of the then known world including: North America, Africa, India, The Baltic and Russia, Greenland, New Zealand, Australia, The South Seas, Spain and the Levant to name some. What sets the English apart from the Spanish and the Portuguese (in South and Central America), the Dutch (in the East Indies), the French (in North Africa) and the Belgians (in the Congo) is that they ventured to foreign lands with the primary intent to trade and not to; colonise, rape and pillage. Seeley the nineteenth Century historian put it “The Empire seemed to have been acquired in a fit of absence of mind.” And there is no better example of this than India, the jewel in Queen Victoria’s crown. The British presence there originally consisted of two trading posts situated in Madras and Calcutta and owned by the East India Company trading from modest premises in the City of London. The company’s Indian trade in a variety of exotic goods for which there was a ready market in the United Kingdom including: silks, spices, tea and salt peter (the ingredient of gun powder), began with the consent of the Mughal Emperors. As relationships between Moslem, Hindus and Afghanis deteriorated the company developed a private army and navy necessary to protect its trading interests. This army employed highly successful and then unknown military tactics and weapons and attracted them to the attention of the warring Princes. In effect the East India army became mercenaries for hire to the highest bidder. As the Moslem principalities collapsed into chaos the Hindus supported by the British became ever powerful. The British Government intervened in the wider British and Indian public interest and thus was India added to the British Empire.
It was not only the story of the British in India which was unfolding at the time of Cooks’ sighting of Poverty Bay. In 1759 the British defeated the French on the Heights of Abraham in Quebec and in 1763 France, following its defeat in the 7 years’ war, signed the Treaty of Paris by which it ceded to Britain all of its remaining Canadian conquests. Coincident with this King George III was grossly mismanaging the expectations the traders who settled the American 13 colonies culminating in the Boston Tea party, and British defeat at the hands of George Washington which lead to the Declaration of Independence of July 1776. While these momentous events were occurring Captain James Cook in his ship the Endeavour, was sent by the Admiralty to discover the mythical Southern continent (as Cook thought, it didn’t exist). His crew included Joseph Banks the noted naturalist whose brief was to observe and bring back samples of the flora and Fauna on any lands discovered. Cook was also commissioned to undertake the important scientific task of noting the transit of Venus across the face of the Sun. This along with 75 other similar observations was crucially important to a maritime nation in accurately fixing a ship’s place on the ocean. In the course of carrying out these tasks Cook sailed to islands which the Dutch sailor Abel Tasman had earlier discovered and which he named New Zealand. Of interest in the current climate of condemnation by some New Zealanders claiming Maori blood that Cook was a brutal coloniser are the “secret” instructions from the British Admiralty Commissioners dealing with how Cook was to conduct his marine survey of the Southern Continent. In doing so he was enjoined to:
“employ yourself diligently in exploring as great an Extent of the Coast as you can carefully observing the true situation thereof both in Latitude and Longitude, the Variation of the Needle; bearings of Head Lands Height direction and Course of the Tides and Currents, depths and Soundings of the Sea, Shoals, Rocks”
As to dealings with any inhabitants the instructions were clear:
“You are likewise to observe the Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives, if there be any and endeavour by all proper means to cultivate a Friendship and Alliance with them, making them presents of such Trifles as they may Value inviting them to Traffick, and Shewing them every kind of Civility and Regard; taking Care however not to suffer yourself to be surprized by them, but to be always upon your guard against any Accidents.
“You are also with the Consent of the Natives to take Possession of Convenient Situations in the Country in the Name of the King of Great Britain: Or: if you find the Country uninhabited take Possession for his Majesty by setting up Proper Marks and Inscriptions, as first discoverers and possessors.”
It is highly unlikely that such botanical, navigational and trading instructions and expressions of goodwill accompanied Cortez in his dealings with the Aztecs or any of the other early European explorers.
As is widely known Cook did become involved in Poverty Bay on his first voyage, in “an accident,” contrary to his Admiralty instructions resulting in the deaths of a number of tribesmen (something for which the British Government has now granted recompense in the form of six scholarships to Cambridge University for Maori applicants). Much is now made of this incident, but the quid pro quo was the death and cannibalisation of a number of the crew of the Resolution in Endeavour Inlet on Cooks second voyage, something for which he exacted no retribution (and which included a forebear of a good friend and East Coast farmer Derek Millton).
Against the historical background and on any view of these events it cannot be said that Cook, or the British Government set out to colonise New Zealand against the wishes of the inhabitants. Academics of part Maori extraction should be more careful with their history before painting Cook and the Government he represented as some sort of colonial oppressor. Given the geopolitical realities of the European and North American wars it is unsurprising that nothing official was done about Cook’s mapping of the coast of New Zealand either by Britain or any other European power. It was not until the arrival of the Frenchman Baron de Thierry to a twenty-one-gun fusillade, and with designs on establishing French sovereignty over New Zealand, (something scorned by the local chiefs and the subject of a petition from the European residents to the Crown) that official British interest was piqued. Contrast this with the advent of a mere naval captain some 80 years after Cook’s first voyage carrying a piece of paper setting out an agreement which he was instructed to offer to the local inhabitants – a visit deemed necessary because by that time New Zealand had become home to some 2000 European settlers including: whalers, traders, missionaries and convicts escaping from Australia. This led to violent disputes between settlers, and the Maori inhabitants for which there was no mechanism for peaceful resolution. Given that many of the settlers were of British origin the Government felt compelled to intervene to prevent any further descent into lawlessness and violence. Hence Captain Hobson was sent with instructions to attempt a reconciliation between the warring factions and significantly to prevent any further exploitation of the Maori inhabitants by Europeans. The tenor of the instructions from Lord Normanby head of the Colonial Office to Captain Hobson are often overlooked in debates about colonialism, and the intent of them bears repeating, beginning with the unequivocal requirement that:
If these conditions could not be met then New Zealand could not become a British colony.
The wishes of the British Government were clear:
The Queen, in common with Her Majesty’s predecessor, disclaims for herself and Her subjects every pretension to seize on the Islands of New Zealand, or to govern them as a part of the Dominions of Great Britain unless the free intelligent consent of the natives, expressed according to their established usages, shall first be obtained. Believing, however, that their own welfare would, under the circumstances I have mentioned, be best promoted by the surrender to Her Majesty of a right now so precarious and little more than nominal, and persuaded that the benefits of British protection and laws administered by British judges would far more than compensate for the sacrifice by the natives of a national independence which they are no longer able to maintain, Her Majesty’s Government have resolved to authorise you to treat with the aborigines of New Zealand in the recognition of Her Majesty’s sovereign authority over the whole or any part of those Islands which they may be willing to place under Her Majesty’s dominion. I am not unaware of the difficulties by which such a treaty may be encountered. The motives by which it is recommended are, of course, open to suspicion. The natives may probably regard with distrust a proposal which may carry on the face of it the appearance of humiliation on their side and of a formidable encroachment on ours: and their ignorance even of the technical terms in which that proposal must be conveyed, may enhance their aversion to an arrangement of which they may be unable to comprehend the exact meaning or probable results. These, however, are impediments to be gradually overcome by the exercise on your part of mildness, justice and perfect sincerity in your intercourse with them. You will, I trust, find powerful auxiliaries amongst the missionaries who have won and deserve their confidence; and amongst the older British residents who have studied their character and acquired their language. It is almost superfluous to say that, in selecting you for the discharge of this duty, I have been guided by firm reliance on your uprightness and plain dealing. You will therefore frankly and unreservedly explain to the natives or their chiefs the reasons which should urge them to acquiesce in the proposals you will make to them. Especially you will point out to them the dangers to which they may be exposed by the residence amongst them of settlers amenable to no laws or tribunals of their own and the impossibility of Her Majesty extending to them any effectual protection unless the Queen be acknowledged as the Sovereign of their country, or at least of those districts within or adjacent to which Her Majesty’s subjects lands or habitations. If it should be necessary to propitiate their consent by presents or other pecuniary arrangements, you will be authorised to advance at once to a certain extent in meeting such demands, and beyond those limits you will reserve and refer them for the decision of Her Majesty’s Government.
All dealings with the natives for their lands must be conducted on the same principles of sincerity, justice and good faith as must govern your transactions with them for the recognition of Her Majesty’s sovereignty in the Islands. Nor is that all: they must not be permitted to enter into any contracts in which they might be ignorant and unintentional authors of injuries to themselves. You will not, for example, purchase from them any territory the retention of which by them would be essential or highly conducive to their own comfort, safety, or subsistence. The acquisition of land by the Crown for the future settlement of British subjects must be confined to such districts as the natives can alienate without distress or serious inconvenience to themselves. To secure the observance of this – will be one of the first duties of their Official Protector. There are yet other duties owing to the aborigines of New Zealand which may be all comprised in the comprehensive expression of promoting their civilisation, understanding by that term whatever relates to religious, intellectual and social advancement of mankind. For their religious instruction liberal provision has already been made by the zeal of the missionaries, and the Missionary Societies in this kingdom, and it will be at once the most important and the most grateful of your duties to this ignorant race of men to afford the utmost encouragement, protection and support to their Christian teachers. I acknowledge also the obligation of rendering to the Missions such pecuniary aid as the local Government may be able to afford, and as their increased labours may reasonably entitle them to expect. The establishment of schools for the education of the aborigines in the elements of literature will be another object of your solicitude, and until they can be brought within the pale of civilised life, and trained to the adoption of its habits, they must be carefully defended in the observance of their own customs, so far as these are compatible with the universal maxims of humanity and morals. But the savage practices of human sacrifice and cannibalism must be promptly and decisively interdicted; such atrocities, under whatever plea of religion they may take place, are tolerated within any part of the dominions of the British Crown.
And so it was that a number of Chiefs were assembled at Waitangi to debate whether they should accept on behalf of their peoples the proposal of the Crown that they become British subjects on the terms offered. As is well known apart from a favourable intervention by Hone Heke the early speakers were against allowing the British to become their Sovereign and it was not until Nga- Puhi leader Tamati Waaka Nene entered the debate that the mood changed. Hone Heke is reported as saying:
“Remain Governor remain. If thou shouldst return we natives are gone, utterly gone nothinged (sic) extinct. What shall we do? Who are we? Remain Governor a father for us. If thou goest (sic) away, what then? We do not know… Thou go away non, no, no! for then the French people or the rum sellers will have us natives. Remain, remain stay thou here …. We natives are children…..you, our fathers …remain I say Governor remain a father a governor for us.”
Following Hone Hake’s fiery address Tamati Waaka Nene rose to speak. He was described by Dr Bright one of the Englishmen present at Waitangi as a “middle-aged mild-mannered man with the deportment of a gentleman.” He was also known among his peoples as fierce if reluctant warrior. He began by addressing the assembled chiefs, reminding them that if they had turned away the “grog sellers and traders” then they would not now be confronted with the reality that there were large numbers of Europeans established on the land, many of whom were married into the tribes.
“What did we do before the Pakeha came? We fought, we fought continually. But now we can plant our grounds and the Pakeha will bring plenty of trade to our shores. Then let us keep him here let us all be friends together. I am walking beside the Pakeha. I’ll sign the pukapuka (treaty).”
This was followed by an impassioned plea to the Governor to stay and a recognition that there be a gradual transition from Maori “Lore” to English “Law.” Nane’s older brother then spoke saying: “remain here with us to be a father to us that the French have us not.” The business of the meeting then closed at 4pm in what was described as an “amiable spirit” giving those assembled a day to consider whether they wished to accept the British terms or send the Governor away. Acceptance there was with the dominant themes of: ending the inter-tribal fighting, protecting Maori and their lands from the ravages of “foreign powers,” bringing trade, and the establishment of English law.
Given the contemporaneous record there can be no doubt that those who spoke on behalf of the assembled tribes understood this and their remarkable foresight has been amply justified by the passage of history. Those of Maori descent have belonged to, and fully participated in a society which for many years has been, and is, the envy of much of the world. The benefits are numerous and include: A harmonious society in which all have the equal protection of the Rule of Law. A political system which enfranchises all citizens ensuring that each vote carries the same weight. A public health system which, within the taxpayers’ means provides for the care of the sick and the disabled. An education system which with all of its faults ensures that all children have access to schooling to levels commensurate with their abilities. Adequate, and improving infrastructure which ensures that few communities are cut off from the business of commerce and social interaction. An economy which for a country of less than five million people is remarkably buoyant and provides work and an adequate standard of living for the overwhelming number of citizens of all ethnicities.
These are some of the benefits which the “nation of shop keepers” conferred on both Maori and Pakeha alike, and which cannot be claimed by any other colonising power. It is no coincidence that similar outcomes are to be found throughout the old Empire in Canada, Australia, Singapore, India, and Africa (before Independence squandered the gains). For New Zealand it all began with the arrival of Captain Cook. Given how history has played out there is something churlish, not to mention stupid about those, who from the comfort of their mostly taxpayer funded lifestyles, peddle the nonsense that somehow the arrival to these shores of the English explorers and naturalists was a disaster for the arcadian lifestyle enjoyed by the inhabitants. If they had any respect for history they need to reread, or in most cases one suspects read for the first time, the words of Hone Heke, and Tamati Waaka Nene and his brother and reflect on the benefits which the “nation of shop keepers” conferred on these isles.
It is time for the abolition of those separatist symbols – the Maori seats and the Waitangi Tribunal. They have outlived any use they may have once had, and they are now an affront to the common sense of hard-working New Zealanders, Maori and Pakeha alike. As the recent British elections have shown the day of reckoning always comes when the “common people” make known their views to the “ruling classes” for whom the outcome is shockingly painful. That day is not far off in New Zealand.