John Bryce to Governor of New Zealand, 11 January 1884, G99 Vol 1 – 12

Additional information


Bryce, John


government official






New Zealand

Download original image


Bodleian Libraries

Call number

MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 22 / G99 Vol 1 – 12



Colonial Office

No 48

Memorandum for His Excellency the Governor

In reference to a letter to Lord Derby from the Aborigines Protection Society covering a letter signed by the four Maori members of the House of Representatives a few observations may be made, notwithstanding that there is some inconvenience in being required to make an official memorandum on such a communication as the letter in question. For it appears to be an admission that a defence on the part of the New Zealand Government is necessary in response to an attack made from an irresponsible quarter in London, prompted there is little doubt by some tenth rate politician in New Zealand with probably a petty grievance against the Government.

The letter sent to the Aborigines Protection Society, although signed by the four Maori members of the House of Representatives, bears ample internal evidence that it does not contain their sentiments and cannot really have emanated from them.

In the statement of grievances contained in the letter the writers identify themselves completely with the King movement, with the policy of isolation which they claim as their own, and with threatened obstruction to public works. How completely this is at variance with facts and how impossible it is that the letter can really express the minds of the Maori members, may be judged of by the following. Major Te Wheoro is a Waikato chief who has little if any claim on the isolated territory, he has been uniformly loyal, he fought on the side of the Queen’s troops during the war, and has had his land claims as a loyal chief superabundantly recognized by the Government and the compensation courts.

Tomoana is a chief of the East Coast near Napier, has always been loyal, fought on our side during the war, and has never shewn the least sympathy with the King movement or the policy of isolation.

Tawhai is a chief of the Ngapuhi tribe in the Northern part of the Island and would be no more inclined to accept Tawhiao as his chief and isolation as his policy than I should myself.

Taiaroa is a chief of the South Island and feels only a general interest in these matters, but certainly he has not the least idea of accepting either Tawhiao or isolation.

Whatever importance therefore may be attached in the abstract to the statements contained in the letter signed by the four chiefs, it need not be added to by the assumption that these statements really embody the feelings of the Native Representatives.

If further support to this assertion is required, it will be found in a letter addressed to myself as Native Minister after the close of last session by Tawhai a copy of which is attached for your information and in the ‘Taiaroa Land Act’ passed last session which was strongly promoted by the chief interested (copy attached) it will be seen that these documents are entirely inconsistent with the sentiments of the letter addressed to the Aborigines Protection Society.

The letter to Mr Chesson observes that it is from the Queen and British Parliament only that the Maories can hope for aid against oppression. Indignation would be wasted on such a statement, but it is a fact which could be amply proved that the Maori race are in no way subjected to oppression, and further that no possible appeal to the New Zealand Assembly could be so certain of consideration as an appeal for justice to the Maoris or protection for them against oppression. It may be added that there are four Maori members in the House of Representatives, and two in the Legislative Council.

The impression sought to be conveyed, that large bodies of natives have retired into a certain territory lying west of Lake Tampo in order remain in a state of isolated aboriginal happiness is ridiculously inconsistent with facts. The Maoris within the territory indicated are comparatively few in number, they are as jealously determined to exlude stranger natives from their tribal lands as it is possible to conceive. The old Maori habits of industry having fallen into disuse they are not living in their ancient comfort as respects food, on the contrary there is not a village in the part of the country alluded to where at the present moment the natives are not absolutely in want of food. For years they have been sick of the policy of isolation and it is now evidently at an end. The only natives who desire to maintain it are Maoris who have little or no claim to the territory isolated. Objection is made to the native land court, and a desire is expressed that titles should be determined by an elective body of Maoris, inaccurate statements being made in support of the objection.

The native lands court sits with one or more European judges and one native assessor, the charges of the court are little more than nominal, it can adjourn from place to place and ascertain the title to land by the best ways and means, irrespective of legal technicalities, being guided in its decisions by native custom. At the instance of the Maori members, lawyers and agents are now excluded from the court. The court will in future be assisted by native committees elected for the purpose by the Maoris. Possible this description of the constitution and functions of the court will be thought satisfactory as showing the adaptability of the court to the purpose for which it was constituted.

As for the suggestion that Maori title should be determined by a body of Maoris, the idea is utterly impracticable, decisions would be very rarely arrived at, and scarcely ever accepted.

The determination of native title would become entirely hopeless and as the old men who could give evidence died off, the confusion sufficiently great at the best would become worse confounded. Moreover the dissatisfaction of the natives interested would certainly be profound, partly with the inevitable delay, but principally with the suspected partiality, for however great may be the distrust felt by some of the Maoris of European management and decisions the distrust entertained of their own countrymen is much stronger.

The desire expressed for a separate legislation for the Maoris scarcely requires comment. There are between thirty thousand and forty thousand Maoris scattered over the whole of the North Island, the European population of the colony exceeds half a million and is rapidly increasing. It is self evident that the Maoris must cast their lot with the Europeans accepting their institutions and laws. Any other course would assuredly result in disaster to the native race.

The statement that every year the control of native land is more and more vested in the hands of the minister for native affairs is simply untrue, and cannot be supported by the shadow of proof. On the contrary for the past four years every effort has been directed to reducing to a minimum matter within the control of the native minister and with such success has the course been pursued that I am prepared to advice the cabinet and parliament that the portfolio may now with safety be abolished.

With respect to the … threat of obstruction to the proposed railway through Maori land in the North Island recent events which are not history may be allowed to be a sufficient answer. Serious obstruction to the prosecution of public works in native territory need not be apprehended for the future.

(Sd) John Bryce
Native Minister

January 11 1884