Friday, August 28, 2009

"An oppressive burthen, unjustly imposed ..."

In 1854 the Auckland Provincial Council, brand-new and in their first session, put together a petition to Queen Victoria and her parliament. I found it the other day at the Auckland City Library's collection of Auckland Provincial Council papers and meetings records.


To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, in Parliament assembled. The humbled Petition of the Members of the Provincial Council of Auckland, in Council assembled.


That your petitioners are just now assembled for the first time under the Act recently passed by the Imperial Parliament to “grant a Representative Constitution to New Zealand.”

That your petitioners have much pleasure in expressing their gratitude for the liberal concessions made by that Act, and especially for conferring on the Colonists the control of the Waste Lands; but your petitioners deeply lament that these concessions have been accompanied by a charge of £268,370 15s. in favour of the New Zealand Company, which is regarded throughout this province in the light only of an oppressive burthen, unjustly imposed.

That your petitioners deem it to be one of their most urgent and important duties to use every effort in their power to obtain relief from this burthen; and with a view to give expression to their own opinions, as well as in deference to the universal wishes of their constituents, your petitioners take the earliest opportunity of bringing before Parliament a subject upon which intense anxiety and feeling exist throughout this Province.

That your petitioners most respectfully, but unequivocally, state it to be their deliberate conviction that the extraction of one-fourth of the proceeds of the Land Sales of this Province for the shareholders of the New Zealand Company can only be regarded as a most obnoxious grievance.

That, referring to a Petition presented to Parliament on the last Session, from some of the members of the late Provincial Council of New Ulster, for a fuller statement of reasons your petitioners beg to call the attention of your Honourable House to the following, as some of the grounds upon which that conviction is founded:-

1. Because all the Northern Settlements now comprised in the Province of Auckland, were founded by Her Majesty’s Government, and not by the New Zealand Company, and between these settlements and those of the Company there exists no community of interest, and far less intercourse than between New Zealand and Australia.

2. Because all the land which the New Zealand Company possessed to surrender, and as payment for which the charge complained of is imposed, were situate in other Provinces at a great distance from Auckland, and no part of the proceeds of the sales of such lands will ever directly or indirectly be of any advantage or benefit whatever to this Province.

3. Because no reduction of price, however great, in any land given up by the Company could, in the slightest degree, affect the value of Public Lands in the Province of Auckland.

4. Because there does not exist in the Province of Auckland any Waste Land, properly so-called, all the Public Lands, now made subject, by the “Constitution Act”, to the New Zealand Company’s claim, being from time to time purchased from the Aborigines by funds raised entirely within the Province, without any contribution whatever, directly or indirectly, by the New Zealand Company.

5. Because, therefore, the only reason given by Earl Grey, “that the price due for the lands acquired from the Company by the Crown must be a charge on the whole of the Crown Lands of New Zealand,” as the purchase was, “essential for securing a proper value to the whole of the Crown Lands throughout the entire extent of New Zealand,” is not only untenable, but absolutely without any foundation whatever.

6. Because the New Zealand Company never had any beneficial connexion with any part of the Province of Auckland; they neither expended any money in it on any public object, nor introduced a single emigrant, nor ever rendered it the slightest service; but on the contrary they treated the Northern Settlements as rivals to their own; they unceasingly depreciated their advantages, and traduced the character of their Colonists, and even treated Auckland as so foreign from the settlements created by the Company as to insist on being reimbursed, from the Land Fund of Auckland, for the passages of a few emigrants, who were brought here, from Wellington, by the first Governor of New Zealand, to erect a public building.

That your petitioners entreat your Honourable House not to look on the “New Zealand Constitution Act” as finally disposing of the New Zealand Company’s claims, and your petitioners beg most respectfully to assure your Honourable House that, so far from this being likely to be the case, the sense of wrong and indignity inflicted on this Province is so universally and acutely felt, that any attempt to enforce those claims will but lay the foundation for an agitation which must be prejudicial, and, at the same time, cannot fail, however much it is to be deplored, to sow the seeds of discontent and disaffection towards the British Government.

That your petitioners do not plead in favour of relief from a debt founded on any moral obligation whatever, but for relief from a burthen which has certainly no more reason or justice to support it, than there would in favour of the appropriation of the Land Revenue of the Province of Auckland, in New Zealand, to reimburse the shareholders of a bankrupt Land Jobbing Company of British North America; and, from the conduct of the New Zealand Company towards the districts comprised in the Province of Auckland, a burthen – than such an appropriation –more vexatious to be borne.

That, under such circumstances, your Honourable House will not feel surprised that there should exist throughout this Community a settled determination to resist, by every legitimate means, the payment of a single shilling from the Revenue of this Province to the New Zealand Company, and your petitioners feel the greatest confidence that your Honourable House will approve of and encourage a determination, not seeking to evade a reasonable obligation, but firmly bent on opposing to the utmost what is felt and believed to be oppressive and unjust.

Your petitioners, therefore, appeal with confidence to the justice of your Honourable House on behalf of the Province of Auckland, and humbly pray that steps may be immediately taken to relieve it from the payment of any portion of the £268,370 15s., now charged against the proceeds of its Land Sales, in favour of the New Zealand Company. And your petitioners will ever pray, &c., &c.,
I'd posted earlier here about the New Zealand Company's land deals in Auckland in the 1840s -- this seemed to indicate that Auckland hadn't quite seen the last of any effects the company was to have on its early development.

In 1851, the Southern Cross was confidently relaying reports from the Times in London of the demise of the New Zealand Company. Many in Auckland may well have nodded their heads and thought that such was to be expected. What wasn't expected was the shape of the New Zealand Constitution Act. Within its paragraphs came a stinger. The New Zealand Company shareholders had debts. They expected the Imperial Government to met these debts as they still continued to protest that they had been hard done by over land deals, Treaty of Waitangi, pre-emption, etc. etc. They put their debt at £268,370 15s, and expected the Government to cough up the money.

In England, some agreed, and so the Constitution Act included the demand that all the new provinces had to pay ¼ of their revenue from sale of and income arising from the waste lands transferred over to each province from the the Crown.
The Canterbury settlers, it is clear, are determined to make a gallant stand for their rights as Englishmen. That worse than highway robbery, the abominable attempt to saddle upon the helpless and struggling colonists of New Zealand, the £268,000 of debt incurred by the New Zealand, Company for its own selfish purposes, is exciting universal indignation. The “Times” is honourably eloquent on the land question, stigmatizing the designs of Downing-street as "a great public fraud," which it calls upon the colonists to repudiate and resist. If, says our spirited contemporary, —If New Zealand had a Constitutional Government, she would not pay one fraction either principal or interest of this nefarious demand.
(Southern Cross, 24 October 1851)

The Wellington colonists have lost no time in taking the field against the combination entered into by the late New Zealand Company and the Colonial Office, to saddle the unjust debts of the latter upon the land fund or general revenue of these outrageously plundered colonies. A petition to the Commons House of Parliament against so gross a robbery has been prepared, and was in course of signature; and as this petition is one which must meet the views of colonial politicians of every shade, we trust that force and effect will be given to it by its prompt and general signature throughout every province and settlement of New Zealand.
(Southern Cross, 3 February 1852)

Aucklanders entered the fray, with a public meeting and a series of petitions.

The Public Meeting — convened to petition Parliament against imposing any portion of the New Zealand Company's claim upon the Province of New Ulster, — took place on Saturday, on the open space of ground in front of the Supreme Court House, and was thronged by the largest and most attentive audience we have ever encountered in New Zealand.
(Southern Cross, 17 February 1852)

We have great pleasure in giving publicity to the subjoined letters which accompanied the petitions of the inhabitants of the borough of Auckland, praying that Parliament would interpose to prevent the imposition of any portion of the New Zealand Company's debt upon the Province of New Ulster. The Petitions were very numerously signed, and were transmitted by the "Moa," as will be seen, to the Duke of Newcastle, and Mr. Gladstone, for presentation in the Houses of Peers and Commons.
(Southern Cross, 9 March 1852)

Not to mention the newspaper comment.

The New Zealand Constitution. (From the 'Times,' May 5.)
It has pleased Parliament, not only to bestow on the New Zealand Company two hundred and thirty-six thousand pounds of the money of the people of this country, but to encumber the waste lands of the colony with a mortgage to secure to the company two hundred and sixty-eight thousand pounds, with interest at the rate of 3 per cent. Thus is the colony which is to bear the expense of .even governments, deprived of its natural and most available resource — the revenue to be derived from the future sale of its lands.
(Southern Cross, 3 September 1852)

The debt of the New Zealand Company is to be charged on the Land Fund, and to be paid by the appropriation of one-fourth of the proceeds of the sales. But there is reason to hope that an inquiry into the fraudulent spoliations of this Company will be brought before the new Parliament, and that the monstrous jobbery and robbery will be thoroughly investigated and (it is devoutly to be hoped) repudiated and disallowed.
(Southern Cross, 7 December 1852)

TO THE EDITOR OF THE SOUTHERN CROSS. Sir,— Governor Grey informed the deputation which addressed him on the subject of the New Zealand Company's debt, that he had not paid over the proportion that is claimed from the Auckland province. So far he spoke correctly; the money was then still in the Colonial Treasury. But I am informed, upon what I consider as unquestionable authority, that very shortly afterwards it actually was paid. The proper form of remitting to the Company is through the Lords of the Treasury, and the proper form of remitting to the Treasury is through.the military chest, — to which I believe that it has been transferred. If this be not the case, it is easily denied, and no harm done; and if it be not the case, his Excellency will deny it, as he is popularity-hunting just now. Let it be borne in mind, however, that for the denial to be any thing worth, it must be precise and circumstantial, not couched in general terms, —that it must contain, not only the truth, but the whole truth.

[We have heard the rumor alluded to by our correspondent; — indeed, that the sum of £12,000 of our monies has already been paid over for the New Zealand Company. — Ed, S C]
(Southern Cross, 21 October 1853)

The members of the new Auckland Provincial Council were keen to see not a penny paid over to the New Zealand Company ...

The Speaker read a further communication that no money had yet been paid on account of the New Zealand Company's debt.
(Southern Cross, 27 December 1853)

But, it was still enforced. Someone needed to be blamed.
The generality of our readers will have learnt, from the ' New Zealander ' of Saturday, that this iniquitous claim is to be enforced (by order of the Secretary of State) against the province of Auckland. The imposition is wholly and solely one of Governor Grey's inflicting.
(Southern Cross, 11 April 1854)

Then, a champion entered the fray, from an unexpected quarter: Edward Gibbon Wakefield, he whose name was inextricably linked with the whole saga of the New Zealand Company and colonisation schemes in this country as far as history is concerned. As well as in the minds of the peeved Aucklanders.
Yesterday, Mr. E. G. Wakefield brought forward the motion of which he had given notice, for the appointment of a Committee "to inquire, whether or not, in justice, the Province of Auckland ought to be at once relieved from bearing any portion of the New Zealand Company's debt." The honourable gentleman, after explaining how he came to bring forward the question rather than leave it for one of the Northern members, went at great length into the merits of the question as between Auckland and the other Provinces; and showed, very satisfactorily, (to our minds at least,) that this Province had nothing whatever to do with the debt, — had never received any thing but injury from the Company, and could not, upon any ground that he could fancy or imagine, be called upon to bear any portion of that debt.
(Southern Cross, 30 June 1854)

The country's Legislative Council had this to say.

Mr. Whitaker moved the suspension of the Standing Orders, that certain resolutions relative to the New Zealand Company's Debt might be taken into consideration. The motion was seconded by Major Richmond, and agreed to. Mr. Whitaker then moved the following Resolutions :—
1. That in the opinion of this Council, the charge in favour of the New Zealand Company on the Land Fund 1 of the Colony, is an oppressive burthen on its resources.
2. That such charge appears to have been created by Parliament in ignorance of the real facts, and to have been obtained by the Company by means of the suppression of material circumstances.
3. That the Colony is entitled to claim from Parliament a reconsideration of the case, in order that justice may be done, and that the colony may be relieved from the whole, or at least some portion, of the charge.
4. That if any amount should be found ultimately to be fairly due to the Company, such amount ought to be apportioned amongst the different Provinces upon equitable principles, and that the aid of Parliament and the Crown should be solicited to effect these objects.
5. "That it is desirable that the object of these Resolutions should be sought through an agent in England.
6. That, with a view to the appointment of such an agent, a conference be held with the House of Representatives.
7. That the hon. Messrs. Bell, Whitaker, St. Hill, and Gilfillan be managers of the conference on the part of the Legislative Council.
8. That the Speaker of this House do forward the foregoing Resolutions to his Excellency the Officer administering the Government, to be by him transmitted to Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies.
(Southern Cross, 21 November 1854)

The NZ House of Representatives supported Auckland's case for relief ... but there's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip ...
On Saturday, in the House of Representatives a piece of intelligence for which the Auckland members were not prepared, was communicated by the Speaker. It appeared that the resolution by which it was declared that Auckland province ought not to be charged with the Company's debt, had never been transmitted to the Home Government at all. This duty had been entrusted to the Executive, and had never been performed. Consequently, we are thrown back a year in obtaining the desired relief.
(Southern Cross, 18 September 1855)

Then, success, thanks to the Southerners.
On the 10th the Colonial Treasurer (Mr. Sewell) submitted to the House of Representatives the series of resolutions in which the Stafford Ministry have embodied their scheme for making provision for all ascertained outstanding liabilities, and for the permanent adjustment of the public burdens of the Colony ... With a view to the equitable adjustment of the public burthens, the redemption of the New Zealand Company's Debt is to be borne by the Provinces of the Middle Island in equal proportions — (Auckland being relieved retrospectively, as well as prospectively, by re-payment of the amount £45,000) which this Province has contributed on account of that Debt).
(Otago Witness , 26 July 1856)
The Legislation of the General Assembly during its past session has, in several important particulars, improved the position of this Province. I refer more particularly to those measures by which we have been relieved from further contributions on account of the New Zealand Company's Debt …
(Southern Cross, 12 December 1856)

The only thing left to sort out was how to spend the refund.
Mr. Wood's motion, — "that, in the opinion of this Council, the sum of £7,000 voted last session for City Water Works and City Main Sewer, was to be charged against the £45,000 New Zealand Company's refund; and, consequently, cannot now become a charge upon the loan proposed to be raised on the City Endowments" —was carried, after some discussion, by a majority of 11 to 4.
(Southern Cross, 21 December 1858)

"...the sense of wrong and indignity inflicted on this Province is so universally and acutely felt, that any attempt to enforce those claims will but lay the foundation for an agitation which must be prejudicial, and, at the same time, cannot fail, however much it is to be deplored, to sow the seeds of discontent and disaffection towards the British Government." I wonder just how far that discontent and disaffection would have gone if the amount hadn't been refunded and the payments stopped. Probably just into angry mutterings at the gentlemen's clubs and over the pub counters. If anyone did put together a what-if scenario, though, it might be interesting to see what could have happened.

Just a further note: I ran the figure of £268,370 through the inflation calculator. Granted the calculator only handles figures from 1862, ten years or so after all this crisis, but the amounts comes out to $27,101,714, of which Auckland was finally refunded the equivalent of $4, 544, 387. No wonder they were upset ...


  1. Thanks very much for providing this fascinating insight to the early life of the colony and to the workings of the very contentious "New Zealand Company" your efforts are greatly appreciated.

    Kind regards,

    Tom Bowden

  2. Thanks, Tom. Just following my curiosity.