Sir Donald Maclean
Chapter XXII — Maclean as Native Minister
Maclean as Native Minister
The position was soon reversed. Before many weeks had passed the Stafford Government was ousted, as related, and it became Mr. Maclean's turn to frame a native policy.
Soon after he took office as Native Minister in 1869, the position on the long troubled West Coast began to improve. Some of the tribes which had been driven away from their lands in 1869 and had taken refuge on the Upper Waitara, and other tribes previously expatriated, returned to their country which had nominally been confiscated for rebellion. In point of fact it was not confiscated; the muru of the country, as the Maoris would term it, had been abandoned by the Government “so long as they behave themselves and keep the compact about not crossing the Waingongoro.” Maclean acquiesced in their reoccupation of their lands; later on, in a memo of departmental instructions (1872) he said that the lands north of the Waingongoro as far as Stony River (Hangatahua), with the exception of 1400 acres at Opunake, were quite unavailable for (white) settlement, until arrangements were made with the natives for land sufficient for their own requirements. Under this arrangement the Government native agents in Taranaki were empowered to offer up to 7s. 6d. per acre for land. Maclean reported to the Governor that “arrangements have been entered into with a view to a more accurate definition of native rights within the confiscated territory, and for the acquisition by purchase with the good will of the Maoris, of such portions of land as they held within it, but do not require for their own use, and which appears desirable for European settlements.” Thus the Native Minister recognised their ownership of the page 97 land, and overrode the unjust proclamation of the earlier governments which aimed at robbing the natives wholesale of their ancestral homes on the pretext that they were all rebels. It has been written of this period of several years following 1869, when land was bought from its owners under formal deeds of cession, that “during Maclean's lifetime the land had rest.”
But that rest was rudely broken when he himself had been laid low by death. The Native Minister who succeeded him broke the promises and the amicable arrangements of Te Makarini, and the mistreatment of the Maoris culminated in the atrocious proceedings at Parihaka in November 1881, when John Bryce invaded the town of the peace-loving Te Whiti, and broke up the Maori assemblage with an armed force. His Government backed him up by keeping Te Whiti and his fellow-preacher, Tohu Kakahi in captivity for nearly two years, without a trial, and without preferring any charge against him, a piece of tyranny which was condemned by the highest authorities in the land and the force of public opinion. Donald Maclean's influence was always for peace; he believed in the healing agencies of time and patience. Bryce was his antithesis, and had not Te Whiti and his disciples exhibited the Maclean like virtues of peace and patience, war would have been renewed in Taranaki in 1881.
The necessity, in the interests of national peace and progress, for making friends with the Maori King Tawhiao and his Waikato and Ngati-Maniapoto followers was realised by Maclean very early in his Ministerial life. Once the pressing problems of military work on the East Coast and in the interior of the Island had been dealt with and the power of Te Kooti crushed, he turned his energies to the conciliation of the Kingites and the establishment of a reliable peaceful understanding between the Government and Waikato settlers on the one hand and the Maoris across the border on the other. He opened up negotiations with the King party and was invited by Tawhiao and his chiefs to visit them in their own country. Now for the first time the expatriated Maoris began to recognise that there was a Minister in power whose methods were friendly page 98 and considerate and who knew and understood the native mind and could view problems from the Maori side as well as his own. For the first time a Native Minister crossed the border line and met the chiefs and the then Maori King in their own domain. Those meetings in 1869, 1870, 1871 and 1875 and their results will be referred to later, following on an account of the final fighting expeditions and other frontier episodes.
Maclean's period of service as Native Minister was continuous for seven years and a half, with the exception of a month and a day during which the Stafford Government—which had been defeated in 1869–held office in 1872. The longest-lived of the six ministries of which he was a member was Fox Cabinet, which controlled the affairs of the Colony for a little over three years. In this Ministry he held the portfolio of Defence as well as that of Native Affairs. By the time the Waterhouse Ministry succeeded the Fox Administration in October 1872, his sagacious tactics as the controlling head of the military forces had disposed of the Hauhau menace; the wars were over and he was content to hand over Defence to another.
When Mr. Vogel, afterwards Sir Julius, became Premier in 1873, he, like his immediate predecessor, recognised the special talents of Maclean in the administration of Native matters, and the Cabinet association of the two men, each a genius in his special sphere, lasted until September 1876. Maclean's last Ministry was that headed by Major Atkinson, whom he had known in Taranaki in the early days of settlement. But by that time his health was failing, and he lived only a month after he resigned office early in December 1876.
Thus one government after another, no matter what the brand of general politics, agreed that there was only one man in Parliament fit for the post of Native Affairs, then all-important, and that was Maclean. This remarkable confidence of all parties in the House in the ability of Maclean to carry the country through the Maori crisis was voiced on many occasions. Sir William Fox (then Mr. Fox), who had strongly criticised Maclean's methods in Taranaki a few years previously, had this to say, in a debate on page 99 a no-confidence motion in the House of Representatives in 1869, concerning Maclean's services in the cause of peace in 1865–66 and his later career:
“On the East Coast of New Zealand there was one man, perhaps the only man living, who was capable of carrying out the task which had devolved upon the Government of the day—that of restoring to amity the disturbed and angry population of that coast, of establishing such relations towards those tribes as might end in future amity, and in carrying out the pledges which had been given to those friendly allies who had fought out battles during the two years of the war on that coast—and that man was Donald Maclean, Superintendent of the Province of Hawke's Bay. I need not refer to his high standing, his long career at the head of Native Affairs, his intimate acquaintance with the Native race, the great confidence which they reposed in him, the many cases in which he has imperilled his life in carrying out the plans essential for the protection of the country. I need not, before his face, say those things which all the country knows. There was no other man who could have enabled the Government of the day to carry to a successful issue that which it was their business to do.”