The withdrawal of the British troops from New Zealand, 1864-1870 : a study in Imperial relations
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
The Course of New Zealand history until 1870 was dominated by two themes in counterpoint: one was the Imperial Government’s responsibilities under the treaty of Waitangi, and the protectorate which it felt had then been assumed over the Maoris; the other was the demand which grew up in the Colony for responsible government. The two were incompatible – Imperial control and Colonial self-government could never be reconciled – and their antithesis, rooted in the very foundations of the Colony, was too strong not to cause some strain. The crisis which occurred in 1868 over the withdrawal of the Imperial forces from New Zealand was an accidental event only in its immediate details. In reality it was the culmination of a long process; the last, and certainly the most serious, of the tensions which sprang from that antithesis of forces. It was the culmination because, by marking the end of Imperial responsibilities within the Colony, it resolved a clash which had underlain New Zealand’s erratic constitutional development for thirty years. The proclamation of Imperial authority over New Zealand was immediately and inevitably challenged by the beginnings of agitation for self-government. Henceforth the changing balance between the two was to give the Colony’s politics its distinctive nature, until the gradual transition was completed by the withdrawal crisis and the consequent assumption by the Colony in 1870 of full responsibility for its own affairs. The first of these conflicting themes, in point of time, was the problem of Imperial control. New Zealand had been annexed, not to forestall the French or inflate the Empire, but to protect the Maoris. In the face of inevitable European colonisation, a Crown Colony seemed the only way to safeguard native rights, since it would be controlled by and be solely responsible to Great Britain. Having accepted certain obligations at Waitangi, the Imperial Government felt it essential to have a free hand to fulfil them. In return, it undertook responsibility for the Colony’s defence and, when a native war broke out (as in 1845), for the military operations necessary to restore peace. It was understood that while the Home Government directed the Colony’s affairs and controlled the treatment of the natives, it would bear all the accompanying expense. The only flaw in this system was that, adopted in the interests of the Maoris, it assumed that white settlers would be comparatively few or comparatively uninterested – neither of which was long to remain true. Auckland was the sole place where such a balance of natives and settlers prevailed for any time, and significantly Auckland, as late as 1868, would have liked to return to the Crown Colony system. For full Imperial control meant full Imperial liability, and the North’s regret for this comfortable arrangement lingered on to become an important strand in the withdrawal crisis.