William Jervois to Earl of Derby, 1 March 1884, G99 Vol 1 – 11

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Jervois, William


government official






New Zealand

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 22 / G99 Vol 1 – 11


Downing Street
25th April 1884


With reference to your letter of the 12th, and the reply from the Department of the 24th of October last, relative to Maori lands in New Zealand, I am directed by the Earl of Derby to transmit to you, for the information of the Aborigines Protection Society, a copy of a despatch, with its enclosures, from the Governor of the Colony on the subject.

I am
Yours obedient servant
John Bramston

The Secretary to the Aborigines Protection Society


Government House
1st March 1884

My Lord,

With reference to your Lordship’s despatch No 58 of the 24th October last transmitting to me a copy of a letter from the Aborigines Protection Society enclosing one from the Maori members of the House of Representatives in New Zealand on the subject of the native lands in the colony and asking for any observations which might occur to my government on the points adverted to therein, I have the honour to transmit herewith a memorandum from the native minister, Mr Bryce, which expresses the view of my government on the question.

2. The main point in the letter from the Maori members is the request contained therein ‘that the native land courts should be done away with and the land invested in an elective body of Maoris who would be better able to decide questions of title than European judges.’

3. Such a proposition I believe to be absolutely impracticable, and were it practicable, highly undesirable. Under the present system the ownership of the lands in question remains as much in the natives as before the Treaty of Waitangi. There are it is true restrictions placed on the alienation of native land, but these are imposed entirely for the benefit of the natives themselves. By the ‘native land court act 1880’ as well as by former acts on the same subject, care is taken that titles to native lands shall be carefully investigated before an English judge or judges assisted by a native assessor, and when all claims to the land have been fully discussed, certificates of titles (in some cases with restrictions against whole or partial alienation) are granted to those who in the opinion of the court are entitled according to native custom. Provision is made for the admission of evidence which would according to the rules of English court be inadmissible, and for the rehearing of cases.

The ‘native land division act 1882’ regulates the division of land of which the title has been thus settled. Should the owners wish to sell or lease their land, the ‘native lands frauds prevention act 1881’ prevents their being defrauded by intending purchasers or lessees. By the ‘native land laws amendment act 1883’ the acceptance of any conveyance or lease from natives until forty days after the title has been ascertained is made a penal offence, and by the ‘native committees act 1883’ it is provided that in certain districts the title to native land may be investigated by an elective committee of natives.

4. It must be admitted that the act of 1880 was open to two practical objections – the amount of money that was wasted in legal expenses, and the amount of time that was wasted in investigations of title. With regard to the former the amending act of 1883 has as far as possible, removed the objection as with the few exceptions mentioned in section 4 no lawyers are now admitted into the court. The latter objection arises from the extreme difficulty of ascertaining complicated titles of which there is no written evidence, and it would be infinitely increased if for the trained judges were substituted natives unaccustomed to weigh evidence and totally ignorance of the value of time.

5. The letter goes on to request that the elective body of Maoris should be empowered to make roads ect and to make laws for Maori guidance.

6. it would be impossible to give effect to such a proposal. It rests on the assumption that the Maoris have retired into the interior and aggregated themselves in one particular part of the country. Such however is not the fact. They are really scattered all over New Zealand. In some districts of the interior of the North Island they are in an actual majority, in others (such as Napier) a fair number live side by side with the Europeans, in others again, especially in the South Island, a mere handful of natives may be found in districts thickly populated by settlers. They must therefore be subjected to the ordinary laws of the country.

7. In cases in which it is possible great care is taken by the existing law to respect Maori customs and feelings for instance, the succession to property is according to native custom not English law, in criminal cases where both prosecutor and prisoner are Maoris, the prisoner may claim to be tried by a Maori jury, and in civil cases where both parties are Maoris, either may claim a Maori jury, or if only one is a Maori, he may claim a mixed jury. Special arrangements are also made with reference to the representation of Maoris in parliament and on the licensing benches.

8. From the foregoing, your Lordship will perceive that there is no ground for the statement that the Maoris are oppressed, that the existing land laws of the colony are not unfair towards them, and that the suggestions now made by the Maori members are impracticable.

9. I transmit herewith copies of the acts referred to in this despatch.

• The Native Land Court Act 1880
• The Native Lands Frauds Prevention Act 1881
• The Native Land Division Act 188…
• The Native Land Laws Amendment 188…
• The Native Committees Act 1883

I have etc
(Sd) Wm. F. Drummond Jervois

The Right Honble
The Earl of Derby
Etc etc