Notes on New Zealand (1892)/Chapter 5

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Social and Political.





We live very well in New Zealand. Food is plentiful, so is fresh air, and health and strength follow as a matter of course. Society is unconventional; hospitality is the general rule. It is true that in the towns certain people endeavour to fashion their lives after the customs of the tocracy of other countries, but their pretensions are not very successful. I must not be understood to imply, however, that New Zealand is a sort of bear garden, where roughness and rudeness are the rule. No; true politeness extensively exists, and refinement of manners is sought after and cultivated, but the spirit of the inhabitants is opposed to the social predominance of any sect or caste. Rank is not much regarded, and wealth, while undoubtedly conferring upon its holder great powers of purchase, confers in the eyes of New Zealanders no right and no power to despise or insult those who do not possess it. Social equality, in short, is something of a reality, and genuine merit has a genuine chance. Another marked trait in the colonial character is sociability. On land and on sea, on the road and in the railway carriage strangers manifest towards one another a cordiality conspicuously absent, as a rule, from the behaviour of unintroduced persons in the Mother Country. These characteristics, however—hospitality, equality, and sociability—are so well known to belong to a marked extent to almost all Colonists, and the reasons for their development are so obvious that it is unnecessary for me to dwell further upon them, or to advance evidence in detail of their abundant existence among New Zealanders. One remark, nevertheless, in connection with this subject remains to be made, and it is this. The fresh arrival in New Zealand has need to discriminate. Different people are apt to look at things in different lights. Some would be inclined to resent what they would regard as the impertinent familiarity of a total stranger, others, looking at the behaviour towards themselves of the same individual from another standpoint, might be carried away by his apparent open-heartedness and flattering attentions, and be led into divulging their affairs and confiding their interests to a person whose intentions were the reverse of honourable. The former course of conduct would be very badly received in the Colonies, and would be quite unnecessary to the maintenance of proper dignity and caution; the latter, I need hardly say, would be extremely injudicious, and certain sooner or later to end in difficulties, for there is no lack of the "unscrupulous" in New Zealand. The "new chum" should avoid a too delicate susceptibility and a stand-off demeanour, but, on the other hand, should preserve a careful reticence both of his confidence and his cash. He should seek information and advice, but only from responsible parties, nor should he jump to the conclusion that the first which he receives is by any means correct.

The magnificent climate of New Zealand, and the attractive character of the country, together with the qualities I have just mentioned possessed by its inhabitants, make life in this Colony something more than a mere existence, a dreary round of unremunerative toil, or a painful struggle with misfortune or ill-health, which it so often becomes in lands less gifted and less free. The two main ingredients in the composition of English society are lacking in New Zealand—rank and pauperism are conspicuous by their absence. Titles are bestowed, however, on certain individuals who are held to have earned them, namely, members of the Upper Legislative body, who become "Honourables" for life, and Premiers, who are generally knighted during or after office. There are no work-houses; for the aged and infirm poor there are almshouses. But when a man, strong, well, and able to work, is found loafing about or begging he is "run in," and gets seven days' hard labour for having no visible means of support. Thus does the law deal with the loafer in New Zealand, and it cannot be denied that this method of treatment is eminently productive of advantage to society in general, nor can it be described as unjustly harsh, since there is work and enough for each and all.




I have stated that there is work for all, and this statement will doubtless be disputed, and, in support of the opposite contention, will be urged the fact that in spite of the law just quoted against loafing, and in spite of the asserted abundance of employment, there are, nevertheless, to be found numbers of men hanging around the principal towns and complaining that they can find no work to do. This fact brings us face to face with one of the principal difficulties which will have to be overcome before the great labour question can be satisfactorily settled, either at home or in the Colonies, namely, the tendency of the inhabitants to flock from the country to the towns, and of mankind in general to congregate together. In England, this tendency has been shown to be one of the principal causes of low wages, bad dwellings, and scarcity of employment, and, on the occasion of a great strike, it has been the means of supplying the employers with an unlimited number of new hands in place of those who have struck work. The strike leaders have not failed to perceive the damaging effects of this circumstance upon their plans, and have consequently organized a crusade amongst the agricultural labourers and the dwellers in the country districts, to induce them to remain at home and stick to the village and the plough. Whether this crusade will be successful or not remains to be seen, but the English peasantry have certainly this fact to plead in favour of their migration, namely, that the wages which they receive as tillers of the soil are frequently so miserably inadequate that they are absolutely forced to endeavour to improve their condition by seeking employment elsewhere, to say nothing of the circumstance that many of them complain of what is called the "tyranny" of the parson and the squire, which latter, however, is a question upon which I am not in a position to pronounce an opinion.

In New Zealand, however, the case is reversed; the unemployed in the towns have no such excuse for being found there. On the contrary, I should say that one of the principal attractions appears to be the plenitude of public-houses, and the opportunities for meeting and drinking with old acquaintances. The Government appears to be of a similar opinion, for in certain of its largest undertakings in the shape of laying down railway lines, etc., it stipulated that no men should be employed on the works within a distance of 20 miles of the town in which they were accustomed to dwell. The men employed upon the farms, the sheep runs, and the mines of New Zealand have no cause to seek for better wages in the towns; they make their own terms with their employers, nor has "tyranny" in any shape or form any fears for them.




Wealthy men of business and the professional classes constitute the leaders of society in New Zealand; clerks and cadets are the young men of fashion. The position of a cadet is a peculiar, though a common one. He is generally a young man or youth from England, whose parents or guardians have sent him out for his health or bad conduct, and have placed him on a farm or station after paying the owner a premium of from £75 to £100. This places him in some respects in the position of a labourer on the farm without the privilege of receiving wages. He lives with the owner or manager, a circumstance, however, which, in New Zealand does not imply much special advantage, as the men on the farm fare as well as the "Boss."

From the rapidity with which fortunes were made in the early days of the Colony the men of wealth, and consequently those who take a leading position in society, are frequently those who have commenced in what we are accustomed to call the humbler walks of life. For an example of this fact there was the sailor, who, landing in New Zealand, invested a few pounds of his wages in some land where Christchurch now stands, and returning, several years afterwards, found a handsome building in course of erection on his plot. He entered, but was roughly ordered out by the foreman. Next day, however, he returned with his solicitor and the title deeds, and this time he met with a different reception, and obtained from the Banking Company, who were the owners of the building, a very considerable sum in return for his permission to go on. Numberless instances of a similar nature are to be met with throughout the Colony.

On the other hand there are to be found in every grade of society, amongst shearers, farm labourers, railway servants, and miners, men belonging to some of the oldest and highest families in the United Kingdom, who, on account of their altered fortunes have preferred to seek in New Zealand a life of healthy activity free from the endless embarrassments and difficulties created by the struggle to keep up former appearances at home.

From these circumstances it can easily be inferred that to be actively engaged in any business or employment whatever, so long as it is of an honest description, is by no means a social disadvantage in New Zealand. Remarks derogatory to an individual on account of his or her occupation are seldom, if ever heard, for all persons have at some time or other worked for a living with their own hands, and there are to be found few men, no matter what their wealth, who are not actively engaged in business of some kind. One man being considered every bit as good as another, business is carried on in a more simple and satisfactory manner than in older countries, for equal attention is given to all clients and customers, and principals deal directly with their employés.




Although, as I have said, New Zealanders, as a rule, enjoy being actively engaged in work or business, yet they thoroughly understand and appreciate the art of recreation. Their amusements are, in many respects, similar to those which find favour in the Mother Country. They are enabled, however, by their superior climate to enjoy to a greater extent the delights of picnics and camping out. Lawn tennis is the favourite game indulged in by both sexes, while cricket and football are most actively pursued by the young men of all classes.

New Zealanders take great delight in music and in dancing, and they take every opportunity of indulging their tastes in this direction. Concerts and assemblies of every description are frequent, and are most popular and well attended, whilst, on the country stations, the shearers hold similar levées after their day's work is over, and, in music of no mean order, dances, songs and stories, they while away their evenings.




The position of New Zealand, from a religious point of view, is, I daresay, on a par with that of other English-speaking countries. Churches of all denominations are numerous. Christchurch was originally the Church of England, and Dunedin the Scotch Church settlement; but since there is no State Church these distinctions are rapidly passing away. The Salvation Army is in considerable force in many of the towns.

A difficulty arose in connection with the Church of England in New Zealand which created considerable stir shortly before my departure. The Archbishop had resigned, and his successor, according to rule and custom, was the Bishop who had been ordained for the longest period. But each of the Bishops claimed this distinction, and for some considerable time the post remained vacant while the matter was under discussion. How it was settled I have not heard.

There are many people of wealth in New Zealand, and all, or nearly all, belong to one or other of the various religious denominations. The old settlers are extremely liberal and advance money towards the cause in a generous but sometimes indiscriminating fashion; and though excellent men of business, they are frequently duped by alien adventurers in the guise of professors of religion. A man stating that he was the brother of a famous American pugilist, and that he had been a Professor of Athletics, until he was converted, arrived in Christchurch and there hired the theatre, in which he preached every Sunday afternoon and evening. He had a fine presence and a splendid voice, and consequently attracted large audiences, but never forgot to pass the hat round at the close of his services. Soon he was invited to preach at various churches, which he did with great unction, and his sermons created a most favourable and edifying impression. Moreover, he conducted oratorios, and would vary his performance by singing a piece from some opera. All went well, and he began to be looked upon as a permanent and welcome institution, when at length a lady recognized him as a man whom she had formerly come across under different circumstances. But he stoutly denied the imputation, and carried himself more boldly than ever, and when the Bishop and some clergymen called upon him to examine him touching certain matters whereof he had been accused, he said, "I give you two minutes to leave the room by the door. Were it not for the grace of God you would go out by the window." Whereupon they left the presence of the converted prizefighter. His next proceeding was to hold a farewell meeting in a public hall, after having given out that he was about to leave Christchurch. A purse of about £100 was collected for him, and when it was in his pocket he announced that he thought he would stay in Christchurch after all. That night he went "on the spree," and left for Auckland the next day. Having arrived there he made an announcement to the effect that he had got £2,000 out of the Christchurch people, and now intended to return to his old faith, which was that of a Roman Catholic.

Incidents such as the foregoing are not at all uncommon, and even old Colonists, who ought to have learnt wisdom, are continually being gulled by adventurers from all parts of the world, especially America.




The law, of course, is present in its full majesty in New Zealand, and exists, as in other countries, primarily for the benefit of its professors, and, in a secondary and subordinate sense, for that of the public. Barristers, solicitors, and other hangers-on of Justice form a large and influential portion of society. I believe that as regards this profession New Zealand is as much overcrowded as England, and that unless a man is unusually clever and persevering, and has influence and connections, his legal career will be no more successful in the Colonies than at home.




The medical profession is fairly well represented in New Zealand. The life of a doctor up country is, I should think, a delightful one. He is generally guaranteed a good income of a fixed amount per annum by the district he is in, and which has selected and invited him. In addition to this, of course, he receives the customary fees from the patients whom he attends. He is also usually the appointed physician to various lodges and societies, from which he receives a yearly stipend. Besides all this, if he be of a sociable disposition he has the run of all the houses in the neighbourhood, and is always regarded as a welcome guest when he does not come in his professional capacity. Such a position is best suited to a young and active man, as the distances which he sometimes has to ride or drive are considerable. There are plenty of vacant places for more of these doctors to fill up, and if a qualified man desires an active and country life, with a good position, he can find both in this direction. Doctors in the towns occupy much the same position as in England. Specialists have, I believe, done well, for as yet there are not too many of them.

Dentists also pursue the same tactics as in other countries, and here the Americans come in, as usual, where no diploma is needed.

But as I have never during the years which I have spent in New Zealand had occasion to seek the aid of either doctors or dentists I am unable to advance any testimony in their favour or the reverse derived from personal experience.




The military section of society so prominent in England has no place in New Zealand. The only substitute for it is the police contingent, and a few permanent artillerymen. The latter are employed to garrison the forts and batteries. One of them I know, who measures six feet nine inches in his stockings, and is said to be the tallest white man in New Zealand.




Very high wages are demanded and received by domestic servants in New Zealand. For this reason many people employ Chinamen in this capacity. Chinamen are inexpensive, industrious, and willing, and make excellent gardeners and washermen, but, until accustomed to them, they are apt to spoil one's appetite when they wait at table.

Whilst on the subject of domestic servants, a few words on the New Zealander's requirements in a wife may fitly be introduced. The New Zealand young man, as a rule, wants a wife who is able and ready to do all the housework, and so avoid the necessity for obtaining assistance, which is most expensive in the Colonies; moreover, one who can saddle and harness a horse, assist in the management of a farm, and, in short, make herself generally useful. It may be said that there is nothing remarkable about this, that such qualities are always held up for admiration in a woman, and that men of all countries are accustomed to seek for wives of the character described. To a certain extent this is true, and, in theory, such women are always at a premium, but the difference lies in the fact that with Colonials it is not merely a theory, but a confirmed practice, to admire and seek for women of this description as wives, to insist on having them, and to see that they get no other. The result is that the training of a New Zealand girl is in the direction of cultivating the qualities required, and of fitting her for the part she will be expected to take.

A man often comes out who is engaged to the proverbial "girl at home," but when he returns home on a visit the girl is generally married, much to the satisfaction of the enlightened young man, who has generally realized that she is not the one to suit him best in the new life of a new country.




What is known as the sweating system at one time existed to a certain extent in New Zealand, but it was speedily taken in hand; inquiries were instituted and societies formed to procure its abolition, and it is now entirely done away with.

Labour of all kinds being very expensive on account of the high wages which are paid throughout New Zealand certain landowners and large farmers, generally in the North Island, resort occasionally to the employment of the Maori natives. It may be doubted, however, whether any advantage, pecuniary or otherwise, is derived from adopting this course, for, although the labour of the individual Maori is decidedly cheap, yet he is usually accompanied to the scene of action by the whole of his tribe, men, women and children, the old and infirm, as well as the babies in arms, who have all to be supported by the employer while the work is in progress. One of the reasons alleged why some of the old and wealthy settlers continue to employ the Maoris and thereby saddle themselves with the necessity of providing for their families and tribes is that they do it to ease their consciences, which otherwise might be somewhat troubled at times by the reflection that the land which they now occupy and from which they derive their wealth was not so very long ago the property of these very Maoris, and that it has been obtained from the latter by means which would not always bear the closest investigation.

While on the question of labour, the great strike which so recently agitated all the Australasian Colonies requires a word of notice. The strike commenced in Australia, and, after the wharf labourers had ceased work, those in New Zealand also struck out of sympathy, and not because they professed to have or put forward any grievances of their own. This placed the employers in a most peculiar position. Even had they been disposed to yield the point, they could hardly be expected to do so, since there was no point to yield. They rose to the occasion, however, and with the aid of volunteer labour in the shape of clerks, members of the athletic clubs, and of the Canterbury University, the work of loading and unloading was carried on successfully, and the strike in this quarter collapsed chiefly through its own inherent unreasonableness.

Although, as a matter of opinion, I am bound to say that, taking this great recent Colonial strike as a whole, I can hardly see in what direction the men could rationally expect to improve their position by striking, or what real grounds of complaint they possessed, yet, had their campaign been properly conducted, and had their leaders been other than interested agitators, they might have succeeded in making their own terms in the settlement, instead of being compelled to ignominiously surrender. As it is, the chances for strikers have been considerably diminished for the future on account of the strong employers' associations which have been formed as a result of the recent disturbances.




The Legislature of New Zealand consists of a House of Representatives, an Upper House, and a Governor appointed by the Crown, all measures, of course, being subject to the Imperial veto. The members of the House of Representatives are elected in much the same manner as the members of the House of Commons, and are entitled to place M.H.R. after their names. The Upper House, or "Legislative Council," as it is called, consists of those who are elected from the Lower House by the members thereof. Members of the Upper House take the title of "Honourable" for life.

Party Government is the system in New Zealand, as in Great Britain, but, as it is conducted on a much smaller and simpler scale, and is free from the many confusing complications which surround it in the latter country and elsewhere, its absurdity and weakness as a method of ruling and legislating for a people are more strikingly apparent. The distinctive parties are not known as Liberal and Conservative. The principal points at issue are Free Trade and Protection, the Education question, and, of late, to a certain extent, Woman's Suffrage. Sections of voters follow individual leaders, and when one man gets into power he brings in the same bills that he opposed when out of power. It is a perpetual scramble for office, and legislation is initiated more for the purpose of keeping a party in power than for the good of the country.

A better state of affairs, however, is, I think, beginning to prevail. Signs are not wanting to show that the public is awaking to a due sense of its responsibilities and is determined no longer to permit its representatives to amuse themselves at its expense. The course of policy which has landed the country so heavily in debt has been abandoned. The debt itself, unfortunately, cannot be got rid of so easily. Various schemes for meeting the heavy interest on the borrowed money are proposed, and one which receives considerable support is the imposition of a heavy land tax. Into this question, however, I do not propose to enter, beyond. remarking that opinion is still very unsettled as to what course to pursue. A great deal of the land of New Zealand belongs to the Government, and it is advocated by some that the Government should retain this land and endeavour to reclaim and nationalize the remainder. Sooner or later a definite line of policy must be adopted, and there is no doubt but that such policy will be in accordance with the spirit of the times. After all, the debt is no very formidable burden when the magnificent resources of the country are taken into consideration, nor is there any cause for alarm on its account.

Over this and over every other obstacle the people of New Zealand, aided by their splendid climate, their advantageous geographical position, the fertility of their soil, and their wonderful mineral resources will triumph, and, proceeding along the lines of enlightened enterprise and complete freedom, will continue to excite more and more the envy and admiration of the world.