The peaceable kingdom of nineteenth century humanitarianism : the Aborigines Protection Society and New Zealand.
Thesis DisciplinePolitical Science
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis reconsiders the Aborigines Protection Society - the leading philanthropic body that advocated for the 'rights of aborigines' in the early Victorian period - from the perspective of intellectual history. Founded in 1837 when the annexation of New Zealand was being discussed, the Aborigines Protection Society has particular relevance for New Zealand, though it is a concern of the thesis to explore these connections in terms of humanitarian thought and political culture, rather than from the perspective of New Zealand history. Above all, while previous historical treatments have emphasized the importance of an evangelical humanitarianism in the reform of imperial policy during the 1830s-40s, the ideas of the 'aborigines protection movement' have been poorly understood due to an anti-intellectual portrait of religion. Approaching religion as a site of intellectual culture and complexity, this thesis emphasizes the dynamics of evangelicalism and Quaker-nonconformity - the two threads that characterized the weave of much early Victorian philanthropy. If the general approach of the thesis is different from previous studies, so too is the materials it focuses on. The thesis constructs an intellectual history from several discursive but ignored 'humanitarian' texts, including a moral and political philosophy, more general religious and colonial histories, anthropological articles, and a legal treatise written specifically on 'the New Zealand question and the rights of aborigines'. Although this humanitarian sub-culture is diverse and inchoate, the thesis argues it is unified by a particular religious revisioning of the political. Humanitarian thought in this period was most significantly structured by doctrines of atonement (the redeeming sacrifice of Christ), and eschatology (the theology of last things, and more broadly of the course and fulfilment of the historical process). Beginning with early nineteenth century antecedents, the exemplary history of Quakerism, the elaboration of a radical Christian moralism, and a general 'age of atonement' are highlighted as prefiguring and informing the aborigines protection movement. The thesis then traces the emergence of 'the cause of the aborigines' in the post-emancipation, humanitarian context of the 1830s. What Thomas Fowell Buxton, the leader of the British humanitarian movement, called the 'Great Colonial and Aboriginal Movement', is identified as a 'politics of atonement' in the antislavery tradition. The trope of atonement, the most important doctrine of the evangelical era, is argued to subtend the humanitarian historical consciousness and approach to imperial reform. The need to atone for past sins not only informed the humanitarian sense of the historical present, but also structured its writing of the past. The thesis therefore looks at some humanitarian histories of aboriginal and colonial relations written in the late 1830s, and observes the creative and critical ways in which these re-present history. In these writings, binaries of savage and civilized, pagan and Christian, and self and other become subverted in the confession of moral evil. The regeneration of savagery - in both its aboriginal and British forms - turned on such confession, this being the initial act towards the conversion and rededication of the individual and nation towards a Christian future.