01 March 2017

An enemy whose hostility was to be unabated

Historian Paul Moon describes the sour relationship in the 1830s between the Colonial Office and the New Zealand Association, the fly-by-night settler company that would later change its name to the New Zealand Company and establish a range of colonies in New Zealand including Wellington:

'Although [Edward Gibbon] Wakefield and his disciples had succeeded in lodging their claws into the thinking of some officials and members of the House of Commons, it was [Undersecretary] James Stephen himself who remained Wakefield's most vigorous and highly-ranked opponent. Moreover, he did not conceal his feelings about Wakefield's organisation, as he confessed in an 1840 memorandum in which he announced that 'The Company had discovered from the first that I had been an opponent of their scheme'. Stephen's opposition to the New Zealand Association can be traced back to June 1837, when he wrote a note in the margin of a piece of correspondence from Lord Melbourne to Glenelg regarding a proposed Bill to give Government sanction for the Association's expansion into New Zealand. Stephen wrote that any assumption of sovereignty over the colony '...would infallibly issue in the conquest and extermination of the present inhabitants'. 

Stephen rejected Wakefield's rabid urge to colonise and his implicit disregard for native races, but above all, the animosity Stephen felt for Wakefield grew from his personal dislike of this private coloniser, as he later stated to Lord Howick: 'I saw plainly that the choice before me was that of having Mr Wakefield for an official acquaintance whose want of truth and honour would render him most formidable in that capacity or for an enemy whose hostility was to be unabated. I deliberately preferred his enmity to his acquaintanceship; and I rejoice that I did so'. 

Howick, though, was more sanguine in his opinion of Wakefield's efforts, and spoke in the House of Commons in June 1839 in a moderately positive tone about the principles on which the New Zealand Association's operations were based: 'As far as I am aware, the benefits to be derived from an undue dispersion of settlers in a new territory, with the means by which this object can be best accomplished and the necessity of combined labour, which in a new country can only be secured by artificially maintaining a proper proportion between the members of the population and the extent of land which they occupy, had entirely escaped the notice of all writers upon political economy, until they were stated in the works of Mr Wakefield'. This was far from an unqualified endorsement, but nevertheless reflected the type of rift that existed in the British Government between hawkish interventionists on the one hand, and those who urged a more cautious and guarded approach on the other'.

- Paul Moon, The Path to the Treaty of Waitangi, Auckland, 2002, p.79-80.

See also:
History: Colenso's grave, 12 January 2015 
History: The lifeblood of a young colony, 12 June 2009
History: Forest lords & mission houses, 16 January 2009

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