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(From the United Service Magazine – Feb)

Printed in the Southern Cross Papers.

When the Right Honourable Earl Grey proposed, in 1846, to introduce a system of military colonization for New Zealand, by the location of a battalion of enrolled pensioners in the Northern Island, many warning voices, both at home and in the colony, predicted the speedy ruin of such a class of settlers. The “Spectator” drew attention to Lord Durham’s report on the causes of failure of location of pensioners in British North America, and observed :-- “It is very difficult to turn old soldiers into good colonists, but very easy by means of that attempt, to unmake the soldiers. If the pensioners became good settlers, they would form a better militia than settlers who had not been soldiers. But the if is all in all. Transplanted into a position for which they are pre-eminently unfit, in which the hopes of prosperity that have been held out to them are sure to be disappointed, in which their inevitable lot will be failure, poverty, and the contempt or dislike of their neighbours, those of them who do not die of despondency and drink, will in a few years become feeble vagabonds and beggars, far less valuable for the purposes of defence than the citizen soldiers composing a colonial militia, who have to fight for happy homes and hard-won prosperity.”

Some time after the arrival of the pensioners in New Zealand, many colonists expected the fulfillment of the prophecy, and echoed the French priest, who said of the inhabitants of one of the settlements; Monsieur ils ne font que mendier at boire;” but accidental circumstances made the labour of the pensioner colonist extremely valuable to their employers and profitable to themselves; with increase of property arose increase of respectability. Pensioners and settlers begun to understand each other better, and to dislike each other less and the local press had almost acknowledged the enrolled pensioners as useful settlers, even before the universal suffrage had developed the pensioners into full-blown and well-trained voters, to whom the opinion of the local press, flattering as it was, could be but a matter of the most supreme indifference indeed. It would be difficult, however, to estimate the real value of the pensioners as colonists from the expressed opinion of the old colonists themselves, in 1852, when it was a question whether the colony would not be made to pay the expenses of locating the pensioners, a petition laid on the table of the Municipal Council in Auckland states: “That the colonists of this province have purchased their lands at a high upset price, upon the distinct understanding that the purchase-money should be applied in ascertained proportions to road making, public works, and emigration, and the pensioners are not the class contemplated as emigrants in such arrangements, being in consequence of the military restrictions to which they are subjected, in a great measure unavailable as farm-labourers or servants; and that in point of age and habits they are still further objectionable.”

In 1857, when without question the pensioners were a most formidable body of free and independent electors, the language of the Committee of the Provincial Council is far more complimentary:---“Your Committee sensible of the advantages which this province has derived from the location of the Pensioner Force, and believing that the material condition of the individuals composing it has been materially improved thereby, think it desirable that a further introduction of a number of enrolled pensioners should take place, under the same or similar regulations to those already established in the force, and that a village allotment and dwelling house, and right of pre-emption over twenty acres of land adjacent thereto, should be granted to each.” Perhaps the result of the pensioner settlement scheme may be summed up thus:----

The pensioners are better in health and wealth than they would have been had they remained in England, and from accidental circumstances they have been far more valuable as labourers in the province of Auckland than could ever have been anticipated. The value of the Crown lands in the vicinity of the settlements has been greatly enhanced, and the yearly expenditure of Government pension has been of great benefit to Auckland; while on the other hand, the Government have incurred a large expenditure for an experiment, which in its military character has never yet been tried. Before attempting military colonization in New Zealand, Earl Grey endeavoured to guard against former causes of failure and to provide for all probable difficulties, and the War Office spared no expence in carrying out his views; and yet the pensioners succeeded in New Zealand, not in consequence but apparently in spite of the very measure intended for their benefit. According to Earl Grey’s instructions the men were to be concentrated for mutual protection, and so the authorities in New Zealand formed villages, utterly incapable of defence, unprovided with blockhouse or stockade, and unfurnished with ammunition, and the pensioners were obliged to reside in these villages and refuse work in Auckland, and console themselves with endeavouring to imagine that they might any moment be called upon to repel an attack on the fortifications which did not exist. The original scheme trusted much to the results of a constant supervision by officers on full pay, and by way of supporting authority, the franchise was extended to the pensioners while still serving, and the instructions of Earl Grey as to the formation of a fund to defray the expenses of taxation, appear to have been utterly lost sight of, until the transfer of waste lands of the Crown to the General Assembly of New Zealand rendered it impossible to enforce them.

The conditions of service for enrolled pensioners in New Zealand were essentially very few and simple. Each man on arrival was to be put in occupation of a cottage of two rooms and one acre of ground. After seven years’ service this was to become his own property, provided he did not go more than five miles from his settlement for work, and that he attended Sunday church Parade at his settlement and twelve days’ drill during the year. Under these conditions six companies of pensioners arrived in New Zealand, between August 1847, and May 1848, engaged to serve until 1854 or 1855, and who were followed at intervals by two or three companies whose seven years of services expired finally in 1858. No expense was spared by the home Government in providing for the comfort of the pensioners during the voyage, but even on the voyage, a measure intended to benefit the men became in some of the ships a source of great irritation and discontent. Among the minor conditions of service, an advance of pension had been provided for, to enable the pensioners to procure stores, under the guidance of their officers, and a large quantity of goods were sold at sea by the officers to the men who, instead of being grateful, took it into their heads that the officers were middlemen acting between the slopsellers and them, and getting a little per centage from each. Poor thanks for officers placed unexpectedly in the position of linen-drapers, and deserving of sympathy, for most certainly a gentleman holding Her Majesty’s Commission does not appear to advantage selling calico and ribbons, squabbling over trimmings for a bonnet, or refusing with despotic power to allow a women and extra flounce for her dress, unless her husband took a supernumerary bath brick.

On their arrival in New Zealand. The pensioners naturally expected to find in readiness the cottages for their heads and the acres for their spades – for Earl Grey’s dispatch was dated 24th November 1846, and the first pensioners did not arrive until August 1847 – but nothing was prepared, not even a location fixed upon. And there were certainly great difficulties in the way of selection. There was plenty of unoccupied land about Auckland, but all sots of people had all sorts of claims to it, which they were willing, indeed, to waive for a price; but the Governor of the colony have very great objection to the claims, and a still greater to the price. The settlements finally decided were Onehunga, Otahuhu, Panmure, and Howick. Onehunga is about six miles from Auckland, at the natural landing place of the Manukau harbour, The land is good, and the district was already well settled when the pensioners were placed there: those who were labourers could easily procure work among the neighbouring farmers, while artisans could find daily employment at Auckland, and yet to be able to fulfil the intention of their location, which hinged upon a residence at the settlement, and the letter of their conditions, which insisted upon the Sunday’s parade. Panmure and Otahuhu, from eight to ten miles distant from Auckland, and three from each other, completed a semicircular chain of posts between Onehunga on the Manukau harbour, and the Auckland on the Waitemata. They laboured under greater disadvantages then Onehunga, as the surrounding districts were less settled, and the distance from town was greater. But as for Howick ! what Billingsgate would be bad enough to describe that Devil’s Punch Bowl. It is situated to the eastward, and separated from it, from Panmure, and from Otahuhu by the Tamaki River. It has a poor soil, a bad roadstead, with no holding ground for vessels, and when three companies of pensioners were buried there in 1847, and for years afterwards, there was no employment to be found in the neighbourhood for one-twentieth part of the population. It may have been valuable as a military position; perhaps it was incapable of attack, at all events it was left for years unprovided with a block-house, a stockade, or ammunition.

Each settlement in course of time acquired a small grievance of its own; there was one grievance common to all. The pensioners had been promised, on arrival, a cottage of two rooms, and they got instead half a cottage of four rooms. No arithmetic could ever make these two quantities equivalent. By this arrangement disease, drunkenness, or quarreling – unpleasant enough for one family to bear – were forced upon the next-door neighbour. There was not a word, a secret, or a dispute in one family that could not be overheard by the other; and if pensioner Smith wanted to become more intimately acquainted with pensioner Brown’s domestic arrangements, he had only to put his eye to the partition, and he could gratify his curiosity. Of course, in the old barrack-room the intimacy would have been even greater between Smith and Brown; but, unfortunately, in the present case, it extended to Smith’s charming wife and Brown’s blooming daughters, and as their circumstances improved, the pensioners became a great deal more particular upon these points than most people would believe. In the conditions of service there was a stipulation that a pensioner should not go further than five miles from his settlement to obtain work; and, if military settlements were necessary, this was a wise precaution, enabling the commanding officer to keep his men in hand and ready for action when wanted. But in New Zealand, from the Government downwards, no one seemed to look upon the pensioners as military at all. They were consumers and producers, and possessed ready money in the shape of pension. It is true they had firelocks, but then they had neither powder nor shot; and their villages were scattered over miles of ground, each half cottage standing on its own acre, and not suggesting by any means the idea of fortifications. So the pensioners were gradually permitted to go pretty much where they liked to obtain labour; and if they were unavoidably absent for a week or two from Church Parade, why a sick certificate made it alright. And two or three years after the location of the enrolled pensioners, the military part of the scheme consisted principally in the drawing of pay by the staff officers and their sergeants.

In 1849, trouble arose; the pensioner officers quarreled, and brought Courts-Martial upon each other, and, in 1850, the officer commanding the pensioners was removed, and another ruled in his stead, who felt it his duty to draw tighter the relaxed reins of discipline. The regulation that the men should attend the Sunday Parades, at their respective villages, was insisted upon, and no sick certificate was accepted as an excuse for non-attendances, unless furnished by a medical officer belonging to the corps.

And now arose the great pensioner grievance, a topic on which the politicians of Auckland have tried their ’prentice hands, and which has served as a peg on which to hang abuse of the War Office and the officers more particularly at election times, when it was necessary to flatter the pensioners, and secure their votes at the cheapest possible rate. The grievance was this ;-- on the first formation of the settlements, there were a few men who had been permitted and encouraged by the Governor of the colony to engage in business, at Auckland, which required a constant residence, and during the easy going time, these men had managed to put in an appearance, occasionally, at the Sunday parades, or to furnish a sick certificate from some Auckland practitioner when unable to attend; and it was an understood thing, that, so long as these men did their duty in case of emergency, they would not be interfered with. Now, to these men, the enforcement of the original conditions, however, necessary, was a hardship; they fought a little while, and tried to escape by sick certificates; but, after a short struggle, they were dismissed the force for non-attendance on the Sunday parade, and a few of the best men in the force were rendered discontented and disaffected for life.

Whatever hardship these men might have suffered, it did appear shortly that keeping the men together as much as possible was not an unwise proceeding on the part of the commanding officer, for, in April 1851, the pensioners, in their military capacity, were, for the first and last time almost, wanted. In that month, a large party of armed natives landed, in one of the bays around which Auckland is scattered, to demand satisfaction for a blow, which a native policeman of low birth had bestowed upon an ill-conditioned but high born chief. They danced the war-dance, and were so indecently impudent that it became necessary to make a demonstration, and the pensioners were called in from Onehunga to assist the military. It is but fair to state, that the rapidity with which the men were collected and marched to their post, reflected great credit on the men and the commanding officer. Fighting was not required; the natives were quickly aware that they were overmatched, and the first war party of the pensioners terminated the same evening, and was never repeated during the seven years of enrolment.

Bright days were now dawning for the pensioner force. As colonists; California and New South Wales became El Dorados. The gold fever seized the working classes of Auckland, and away went all those who had strong arms and empty pockets. Luckily, the pensioners could not go; they were bound to the soil by cottages and acres, by pensions, and War Office Regulations, and, from that inability to leave, they became, quite unexpectedly, the most valuable class of settler ever imported into the province of Auckland. The pensioners and their families obtained their own price for labour, and a very great number invested their gains with great prudence, and laid the foundation of more than a future competency. The pensioners had acquired wealth, they were soon to acquire power.

Towards the end of 1851 the introduction of representative institutions, in the shape of the Auckland Incorporation Charter, conferring upon the inhabitants of the settled districts around Auckland, powers of self-government on all matters of local interest, gave to the pensioners, while still serving, a power and an influence witch grew rapidly, until it annihilated all discipline and all military esprit de corps. Macaulay says, that in general, soldiers who should form themselves into political clubs, elect delegates, and pass resolutions on high questions of state, would soon break loose from all control, would cease to form an army and would become the worst and most dangerous of mobs. Of a verity, the pensioners were no exception to the general rule. Signs of the good times coming first exhibited themselves in November, 1851, during the election for borough councilors, when a private of one company, at Howick, contested the seat with the commanding officers of another company at the same settlement, and polled within ten of his military superior. This first political squabble was purely personal, but, in 1852, pensioner voting had become quite a matter of principle. During the election for pensioner members for the Provincial Council of New Ulster, a civilian candidate opposing a staff officer of pensioners, demonstrated that it was the duty of a soldier elector to oppose an officer candidate, and concluded his address to the pensioners by saying, -- “Your fellow-colonists are looking to see whether they can rely on you as fellow-labourers in the duties of representative government, or whether habits of obedience, admirable in a soldier, have become so inveterate as to destroy your independence as citizens, and therefore to unfit you for the duties of electors.”

The following extract will serve to show how the pensioners endeavoured to qualify themselves for their duties as electors, and what probability there was of military discipline surviving the inauguration of universal suffrage in a pensioner corps.
----------, Pensioner, sworn in an arbitration case on a disputed election bill, states:--------
“ I reside at Onehunga, I went as a deputation from Onehunga to Howick. I went to the plaintiff’s house. There was a meeting called of the electors that evening; the meeting took place at seven o’clock I think there were between two and three hundred people present, there was a great number of us staid smoking, eating, drinking, &c., till morning. The grog was in jugs, buckets, &c., I left the house as full when I returned to Onehunga, as it was and hour after the meeting, they kept going and coming; a great number of men had been drinking all night. If I would have rolled in it, they would have dipped me in spirits, ale, &c.,”

From 1852, the military portion of the pensioner scheme may be considered as extinguished. No officer can command independent electors, no War Office decision can be satisfactory which is liable to be revised by a Provincial Council, and whatever may be the merits of military colonization, the question as to the propriety of combining it with franchise and universal suffrage may be held as set at rest for ever.

The health of the pensioners during their period of service had been very good, no disease has appeared among them, which can be fairly charged to the climate of New Zealand. Many indeed, have suffered from slight attacks of old complaints for which they had been treated while on active service in various parts of the globe, but the relapse have been very slight, scarcely requiring medical treatment. The general health and appearance of the pensioners, indeed, was far better at the expiration of the period of enrolment than it was at the commencement. They have increased and multiplied, too, in their new home, where children are no encumbrance, and of the families they brought with to the colony, the boys are now independent and the girls have almost all done well, marrying early and making good wives. With regard to wealth, many pensioners who came to New Zealand in the 1847, without one penny, now own from fifteen to eighty acres of land, fenced and cropped, most have a few head of cattle, pigs and poultry, a few own carts with one, two, or three horses. None have done badly but the sickly and the drunkards; there is no poor house in Auckland for the pauper, and no comfortable House of Correction for the confirmed sot. They had better have remained at home. Pensioner colonization has almost proved a complete success in New Zealand, in its civil aspect; with a little more care and attention it might be made a valuable system also.

That the pensioners, during their lengthened service in the army, have acquired a taste for strong drinks which has not deserted them during their colonial career, is most true, and their thirsty propensities have even caused the addition of a word to the English language. Before the arrival of the Pensioner Corps, the colonist had nothing better to slake their thirst then nobblers and glasses, a nobbler being half a glass; but the old pensioners scorned half-measures, and whoever in the province of Auckland now wishes for four nobblers, or two glasses, in one draught, must call for a “pensioner.” But most certainly the pensioners in New Zealand, cannot be classed as drunkards; as they have acquired property they have also learned to take care of it, and, with the exception of an occasional spree at pension times, or during an election, many of the men take nothing stronger than water for months together. The Teetotallers, too, are numerous; but they must be considered as an intermediate class between the confirmed drunkards and the tolerably temperate, as they drink nothing but cherry brandy. In the firm belief that they are carrying out the views of Father Mathew with the strictest integrity.

Brown Bess

The following persons are objected to as not being entitled to have their Names retained on the List of Voters for the Electoral District of the PENSIONER SETTLEMENTS, Province of Auckland.

Bethel Elias, Onehunga, freehold, property sold.
Burns Peter, Onehunga, freehold, dead.
Harrick William, Onehunga, freehold, dead.
James Nicholas Hawkins, Onehunga, leasehold, dead.
Jones Rodger, Otahuhu, household, gone to Otago.
McDonnell Patrick, Howick, freehold, property sold.
Moore Robert, Onehunga, household, gone to Otago.
Murphy Walter, Howick, freehold, property sold.
Neate Kames, Onehunga, freehold, property sold.
O’Rorke George Maurice, Onehunga, Household, gone to Auckland.
Learce Patrick, Howick, freehold, property sold.
Robinson William, Howick, freehold, property sold.
Scarles Peter, Howick, freehold, property sold.
Stanley William, Otahuhu, freehold, dead.
Trimble John, Otahuhu, freehold, dead.

Objector – C. H. M. Smith,
Returning and Registration Officer, Onehunga.

I hereby give notice that the above objections will be heard by the Revising Office appointed for that purpose.

Registration Officer.

The following persons are objected to as not being entitled to have their names retained on the List of Voters for the Electoral District of the a SOUTHERN DIVISION, province of Auckland.

Andrews Robert, junr., East Tamaki, freehold, property sold.
Bond William, Otahuhu, household, gone to Otahuhu.
Brady Peter, Panmure, freehold, property sold.
Ferrall George, Onehunga, freehold, property sold.
Fisher Dougall, near Otahuhu, leasehold, dead.
Gorby Joseph, near Howick, freehold, property sold.
Hooper William, Onehunga, freehold, property sold.
Masterson Thomas, West Tamaki, household, gone to Napier.
McGuire James, High-street, Auckland. Freehold, Maori land.
McIntyre Andrew, Howick, freehold, property sold.
Sadlier George Forster, Auckland, freehold, dead.
Woodland John, Panmure, freehold, property sold.

Objector:--- C. H. M. Smith,
Returning and Registration Officer, Onehunga.

I hereby give notice that the above objections will be heard by the Revising Officer appointed for that purpose.

Registration Officer.

More Fencible Information

Notice To Pensioners Selected For Enrolment In The New Zealand Force