Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mike Butler: 'The First Colonist' and Colonist Day

January 22 is just another day whereas February 6 is the Waitangi Day holiday that features protesters behaving badly. But January 22 could be celebrated as Colonist Day since it marks the arrival of the Aurora, the first New Zealand Company ship bringing colonists. Those colonists were greatly influential by being here first, before successive waves of English immigrants. They established the ethos of their cities, and provided the foundation of provincial government, set up in 1853.

My book, The First Colonist, began as an attempt to rediscover the life of my great-grandfather, Samuel Deighton, who, at the age of 19, was the first ashore from the first of the six ships of 220 colonists who landed at Petone, Wellington, in 1840. Both he and his older brother Richard held orders for land bought from the New Zealand Company. Both died in poverty. The book developed into a 60-year overview of some key aspects of 19th century New Zealand history.

Little thought is given to the scale and boldness of the New Zealand Company scheme to colonise New Zealand. A land order cost £100. Samuel Deighton’s job as an interpreter in 1842 earned him £91 a year. That would be equivalent to possibly $50,000 today. In return, each colonist expected to get 100 country acres and one town acre.

Similarly, little thought is given to the impact the influx of colonists from the United Kingdom had on New Zealand. Debate continues over the legacy of the New Zealand Company. Historian Michael King pointed out that without company propaganda and organisation it is unlikely that the 57 ships and 8600 emigrants, most of who were of good character, would ever have come to New Zealand. From May 1839 to January 1843, the company disposed of 244,619 acres of land for settlement. Besides establishing settlements at Wellington and Wanganui, the New Zealand Company started New Plymouth, Nelson, and Christchurch.

If Waitangi Day celebrates an initial agreement that officially linked New Zealand to the British Crown, January 22 could become Colonist Day, to mark the foundation of the progressive and successful society that New Zealand has become.

The history of the foundation of New Zealand as we know it is fixed to the signposts around the Hutt Valley and Wellington. Petone was the site of Pito-one pa, the home of Te Ati Awa overlord Te Puni, who sold land that he had a part claim to in the belief that the presence of white men as traders would give him access to firearms and wealth. Cuba St, and Tory St are named after New Zealand Company ships, as was the Aurora Tavern. Wakefield St and Point Jerningham are named after members of the Wakefield family, the driving force of the New Zealand Company.

Samuel Deighton lived and worked in the hotspots of the sovereignty wars during the 1860s. He became an interpreter at Wanganui, for the court and for land surveyors. He became resident magistrate of Wairoa where he fought in the campaign against Pai Marire-Hauhau, then Te Kooti. He became magistrate and Native Land Court judge in the Chatham Islands.

Deighton wrote more than 100 letters to native secretary Donald McLean, who was also the chief land purchase commissioner. These give insight into land purchases, as well as the complex relations between some Maori chiefs and colonial military leaders during the sovereignty wars.

Why write this history of the first colonist? New Zealand is unique in that history is not explicitly taught to all students. Therefore, many have little grasp of key aspects of our past. Students today study less New Zealand history at school than they did in the past. In the 1966 School Certificate history syllabus at least a third of the 18 topics examined each year were New Zealand topics. In the absence of a clear, factual, account of New Zealand’s brief history, a grievance industry has grown exponentially, manipulating history to justify mega payouts. Knowledge of our history is important.

Since colonialism has become a dirty word, isn’t quaint to be writing about white colonist history? Not at all! The book is about English settlers and Maori inhabitants, and how their joint efforts built the foundations of the society that we have today. For instance, as settlers and Maori worked together building huts at Pito-one in early 1840, relations between settlers and local Maori inhabitants were at their best. The lines of separation between the races were hardly apparent at all.

And while the sovereignty wars of the 1860s have been cast as a struggle between land-hungry settlers and and noble but increasingly downtrodden Maori, the situation that Samuel Deighton lived through showed that it was largely a struggle between those Maori seeking a future tied to the benefits of western civilisation and those who lived for the glory days of perpetual tribal warfare, cannibalism, and slavery.

The First Colonist, published by Dunmore Publishing, Wellington, 2010, has 227 pages, is paperback, is illustrated, costs $39.99, and is available at the Petone Settler’s Museum, the Dowse Art Gallery, good bookstores, and at www.samueldeighton.co.nz .

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I recall while at Grammer in the early 60's, history lessons related to Britain, the U.S. and to a considerable lesser extent NZ.
The writing of factual history must surely benefit both Maori and European.
Your penultimate paragraph reflects exactly where we are as a nation today.
Ray

Peter said...

I agree that it is time for us to remind ourselves of our British heritage. A cursory reading of English history shows that much of what we take for granted regarding personal freedom, the rule of law and the balance of power arose from this heritage. This is the gift of the English-speaking peoples to the world and should be understood and safeguarded.
(By the way, the first settlers who came and remained came much earlier than the NZ Company - the Hansen family arrived about 1812. I'm not sure that the later arrivals should be named the "First Colonist(s)")

Mike Butler said...

Certainly, numerous Brits and others settled in NZ long before 1840. The word "colonist" is somewhat of a technical term to describe the land-order bearing settlers who arrived under the New Zealand Company scheme.

Maria van Dingenen said...

Hi Mike, enjoying your book. Just to let you know Pukehika on the Whanganui River is the old pa site for Jerusalem, across from the current papakainga and parallel to it. Kind regards,
Maria

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike
This is very interesting. My great great grandfather William Nicholls was also a passenger on the Aurora. He eventually ended up on the Hauraki Plains as a 'Native Agent' founding a huge dynasty of both Maori and Pakeha descent. I live in West Auckland not far from here on the Kaipara Bar the Aurora ended her days.

Judith