Saturday, January 3, 2009

Provincial Abolition debate at the Whau, 1875

The following is a lively account from the Southern Cross of a meeting held in the old Whau Public Hall on the night of 23 August 1875, when the topic of the day was the proposed (and eventual) abolition of the provincial government system. This system had been introduced during George Grey's first period as Governor of the colony -- at its end, he was a fervent anti-abolitionist.

The question divided community leaders across sharply-defined lines. This may have helped to fuel any future hostile feelings John Bollard (pro-abolition) and John Buchanan (anti-abolition) were later to show in public at the 1876 elections and over the Northern Omnibus Company in 1884.

It also provides us with more information on the public opinion on Dr. Daniel Pollen -- someone who makes his living from out of the public purse. Whether that's a fair judgment or not, it shows that he wasn't just the shadowy footnote to our colonial history we've come to see him as today.

I also feel sorry for Mr. Mason, mentioned throughout this article, who just couldn't get much of a chance to have his say.

A meeting of the electors of Eden and Waitemata, resident in the Whau district, was held last night in the Whau Hall to consider the Abolition and Local Self-Government Bills now before the General Assembly. Mr. John Bollard, the Chairman of the Highway Board, proposed that Mr. A. K. Taylor, M.P.C., should take the chair. The Chairman read the advertisement calling the meeting, and opened the proceedings, and asked for a fair and impartial hearing for any speaker who might come forward.

Mr. John Mason came forward, and said he never had had a fair opportunity of expressing his opinion before the public, and he would do so now. After paying a tribute of respect to Sir George Grey, the speaker went on to say, until he was interrupted, that he considered Sir George Grey had been set up as a god...

Mr. W. McCaul: You are not an elector, and we will not listen to you.

Mr. Mason requested to be allowed to speak, but met with continued interruption. He had a resolution to propose. (A voice: " Well, propose it, and have done with it.") A pause here occurred, during which Mr. Mason was repeatedly requested to sit down. In compliance with the Chairman's ruling, Mr. Mason sat down.

Mr. J. Buchanan thought it a good sign to see so much interest in political questions, and it would be well to watch the present measures now before the Assembly at Wellington. He moved, "That this meeting view with regret the hasty action of the Government in pushing through the Abolition and Local Government Bills in present circumstances, and are of opinion that these important constitutional changes should only be dealt with by a new Parliament." (Hear, hear.) It seemed to him remarkable to bring down so important a measure as the Abolition Bill at so short notice, and appeared to him very suspicious on the part of the Government. The word "hasty" in his resolution seemed to imply that the Government were very arbitrary in the matter. Sir Julius Vogel got the command of a few newspapers throughout the country, and he was astonished that the removal of the Judges should have been effected. He admired the system of public works of Sir Julius Vogel, but great men sometimes acted wrongly, and it was the great characteristic of that Ministry that it was a "one man's Ministry.” (Hear, hear.) What did the Government want by the passage of these bills? To bestow patronage, and in return to receive support. (Hear, hear.) The Ministry confessed that the country was not fully represented now, and that should be a strong reason for delay. If the Government refused to wait till a new Parliament, they would be unreasonable not to let this important measure stand for a little while. (Hear.) The bills have taken them all by surprise, and as yet they did not know what they might do for them. The legislation of New Zealand might be characterised as hasty, and this he thought was greatly to be deprecated. What was legal this year might be illegal next year, and vice versa. (Hear, hear.) Delay would probably give a much better measure. He concluded by again proposing the resolution he had read. (Cheers.)

Mr. John Bollard claimed to understand the bill, and said that it did not represent abolition. The provinces were not be[ing] done away with, but only by name. The only difference would be in the nominee. The mode of taxation in the Local Government Bill was very objectionable, and would, in fact, stop all settlement, inasmuch as the pioneer settler would have to pay all the expenses of road and bridge making, and the absentee would get off free. (Hear, hear.) He illustrated his case. He did not consider it an equitable taxation, because the improving settlers would have to improve the absentee's property by road making, &c. As ho had read the bill carefully, he held it to be a worse system of Government than Provincialism. (Cheers.) Until we had a separation from the Southern Island we should never have equitable taxation — (cheers)--and he hoped Sir George Grey would never rest till he got .separation. He would like to see a Federal Government to manage large affairs, such as postal affairs, &c. He had great pleasure in seconding the resolution. (Cheers.)'

Mr. Mason again rose, amid cries of "You've no vote,” "Sit down," "Are you an elector?' "You're paid to come here," &c, but again sat down, claiming a fair hearing.

Mr. McCaul would say a few words. In referring to the benefits conferred by Sir Julius Vogel in borrowing money, he could not give him credit for spending it. There were some thousands of pounds unaccounted for in the Estimates, and he wanted to know where they had gone to. Sir Julius Vogel might be a great political gambler, and for that reason he did not agree with him. (Cheers.) Another objection he had was, that the Government wanted to get the power of the Superintendents into their hands, and put nominees in their places. (A voice: “Pollen.") He had nothing to say against Dr. Pollen, except that while he shook with one hand he would rob with the other. Since he had known Dr. Pollen he had lived at the public expense. (Cheers.) Dr. Pollen was trying to deprive them of their rights. (Cheers.) The objection to the Local Government Bill was that it multiplied legislation and the number of officers to be employed. The value to let of the land was not worth that — (snapping his fingers) — and what was to become of the roads then ? It was enough to make the hair of his hood stand on end. He supported the resolution.

Mr. W. Edqcumbe, in, defence of Dr Pollen, as an absent man, highly commended him. His position was owing to his abilities. Mr. Edgcumbe was a strong Abolitionist. The Great North Road was a sad example of Provincial administration. Where was Mr. H. H. Lusk that night! The few of them there did not represent the two districts of Eden and Waitemata. He proposed, "That this meeting approves of the General Government proposals.”

Mr. Mason again essayed to speak, but was put down, amid tremendous uproar, in consequence of not being an elector of the district.

The Chairman then put the resolution to the meeting, and it was carried unanimously.

Mr. Eyre moved the following resolution. 1. "That this meeting denounces the present Government, with their Abolition and Local Government Bills, as corrupt, and supported by a demoralised majority, to subvert the present Constitution, and rob us of our free institutions, the better to enable them to participate in the profligate expenditure of borrowed millions, and establish for themselves an oligarchical Government, 2. That, as a means to secure our freedom and provide for the public creditor, this meeting requests that our representatives at Wellington will endeavour to obtain the cooperation of other members at Wellington, and bring about a political and financial separation of the Northern and Southern Islands, and equitable adjustment of the public burdens. Mr. McCaul seconded. He had never lived under a more venal Government; he seconded, the resolutions.

Mr. Buchanan considered the resolutions a work of supererogation, but would have no objection to the second resolution.

Mr. Bollard thought the resolutions did not bear upon the business of the meeting.

The Chairman ruled the resolutions out of order.

Mr. Owen proposed, and Mr. Archibald seconded, "That the chairman of the meeting be requested to telegraph the preceding resolution to the members for Eden and Waitemata, and request them to support it."

Mr. McCaul moved a vote of thanks to the chairman, and three cheers for Sir George Grey, which were given effect to.

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