Posthumous vindication, David V Williams

After the Treaty: The Settler State, Race Relations and Power in Colonial New Zealand
Brad Patterson, Richard S Hill and Kathryn Patterson (eds)
Steele Roberts, $40.00,
ISBN 9780947493158

There was a time in New Zealand when university historians took umbrage if an historian employed in a government department ventured into territory that some academics felt was, or should be, their sole preserve. The panning by academics in 1968 of The Shadow of the Land, written by Ian Wards of the war history branch in the Department of Internal Affairs, was a striking example. Reflections on this study of British policy and racial conflict in New Zealand from 1832 to 1852 are central to this commemorative volume of essays exploring themes related to Wards’s interests in political, social, legal and military affairs in colonial New Zealand. An impressive gallery of historians, drawn from all sectors of the history profession, have contributed to the volume some fascinating chapters on a range of topics.

It transpires that The Shadow of the Land has fared rather better in retrospect than critics in 1968 would have imagined. This is clear in Jim McAloon’s revisiting of the monograph. Wards’s position was that the Treaty of Waitangi “was never intended to be more than an internationally accepted step of no lasting significance.” His work from archival sources developed a powerful argument that humanitarianism and moral suasion were of little significance in colonial policy compared to the determination to settle New Zealand with colonists backed, when necessary, by military strength. Mark Hickford highlights the complexities of implementing policy. The practice of governing was bound to be messy, incoherent and atheoretical. Legal scholars (perhaps including this reviewer) do a disservice, suggests Hickford, in seeking tidiness in pursuit of an overarching teleological narrative referenced to “the Treaty”.

On the other hand, the chapters by Grant Philipson and Vincent O’Malley supply historical accounts of early Northland that are nuanced and balanced, whilst clearly focused on the jurisdiction of the Waitangi Tribunal. These two historians have made immense contributions to what was once lambasted as the “Treaty industry”. Here, Philipson revisits the origins of the Northern War in 1845-46, highlighting the long history of Crown/Ngapuhi alliances from 1820 to 1844. He suggests that war was by no means an inevitable response to Hone Heke’s provocations, and might indeed have been avoided if the outcomes of hui at Waimate in July and September 1844 had been followed through. O’Malley looks at the period after that war. For all Grey’s talk of victory in 1846, there was a long period of time during which rangatira continued to rule in accordance with tikanga. Submission to colonial courts and their law was by no means the norm, even in cases when witches were murdered. An interesting chapter by another Waitangi Tribunal historian is Cathy Marr’s essay. Drawing on Wards’s notion that principle might often give way to expedience, she traces convoluted policy shifts from 1865 until the government finally granted a general amnesty to Māori “rebels” and outlaws in 1883.

In the category of public history, John Crawford outlines the role of Volunteer Forces prior to the creation of Territorial units in 1910. Brad Patterson is doubtless well pleased that his work on the Inspectorate of Surveys, and especially the work of Theophilus Heale, has made it into the public domain. Like too many of Wards’s favourite projects that were stymied by budget constraints and departmental restructurings, Patterson’s chapter has languished unpublished since 1986. It is obvious, indeed, that accurate surveying was a sine qua non for the work of the Native Land Court and for land conveyancing in the colony. The diligence of Heale and his colleagues “pushing triangles” across inhospitable territory was a huge step up from the thousands of pounds wasted by many Māori claimants in paying private surveyors for sketch maps.

Good surveys help to produce accurate maps. Malcolm McKinnon provides an insightful analysis that maps the decline of Māori autonomy from 1840-1900. He and the publisher, Steele Roberts, deserve applause for the reproduction of six sets of maps in colour that enable McKinnon to illustrate his text. The break-up of the Rohepotae/King Country is one of those maps. Kingitanga was an assertion of a form of Māori autonomy that blended British monarchical forms with traditional Māori leadership. Carwyn Jones finds Ani Mikaere’s writings on Māori world views provide a good means to understand Kingitanga. I doubt, though, that one can describe 19th-century British monarchs as having “absolute powers” when contrasting that kingship model with the collective exercise of the mana of rangatira in Kingitanga.

Some of Wards’s many interests are reflected in other chapters. His strong commitment to civil liberties is a good reason for Richard Hill to write up aspects of the state’s counter-subversion activities in colonial New Zealand. Melanie Nolan discusses the politics of dictionaries of biography, and David McIntyre writes about New Zealand’s participation in some little-known colonial and imperial conferences. Ian McLean Wards (1920-2003) was a man of many interests. The eclecticism of this book’s chapters reflects that. Readers will engage with some chapters more than others, but certainly many will agree that Wards deserves this posthumous vindication.

David V Williams is a professor of law at the University of Auckland.

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Posted in History, Non-fiction, Review
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