The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30
"Native Secretary's Office," Wellington,
September 21st, 1869.
I am directed by Mr. Richmond to inform you for your guidance in any case in which you may appear before the Compensation Courts as Crown Agent, that no compensation in money can, under any circumstances, be paid.
"I have the honor to be, Sir,
"Your obedient servant,(Signed)
"Under-Secretary."J. A. "Wilson, Esq.," Crown Agent, Tauranga."
For twelve months I took my instructions direct from Mr. Under-Secretary Rolleston, and my reports passed through his hands to the Minister. The block of confiscated land that I then administered was 440,000 acres. There were several hundreds of awards made in Mr Rolleston's time, and lands were apportioned to some 3,000 natives. I had to visit "Wellington on this business, where I met Mr. Rolleston frequently in relation to the same. Moreover I corresponded with him privately. I had the "entire confidence of the Government," as I have the handwriting of a Minister of that date to show. But Mr. Rolleston, as Minister of Justice, denies that he had any connection with me whatever in the Native Office, and he does this, not for truth's sake, but to screen himself from the consequences of his attempt to injure me. Such was the Minister of Justice who had determined to ruin me; such the Chief Judge whom he wished to oblige; and such the modus operandi of these prominent functionaries of the Justice Department of New page 45 Zealand in respect to a Judge who possessed the same power as a Judge of the Supreme Court of the colony, and against whom they were unable to lay a truthful accusation.
Parliament was dishonestly informed that in future lawyers only should preside as Judges of the Native Land Court. An Act so drawn as to be of equivocal meaning was thereby obtained. This the Government interpreted as it desired, and the commissions of the Judges were considered cancelled. Thereupon certain of the Judges who were entitled to pensions availed themselves of the opportunity to retire upon them, but the rest of the old Judges, myself only excepted, were all re-appointed. The appointments to Judgeships under the new Act have been in all seven laymen and four lawyers. So much for the pretext under which the legislation annulling my commission was obtained. Thus not only was Parliament deceived Into doing me an injury, but the agreement made between the Native Minister, Mr. Sheehan, and myself, in 1878, was broken.
On this point Mr. Sheehan was examined by the Chairman of the Public Petitions' Committee. "You consider that a Judge of the Native Land Court can only be removed for misconduct or in consequence of there being a necessity for reducing the number of Judges?" "Yes; but in this case Mr. Wilson was removed and a number of other Judges were appointed directly afterwards, and I consider that was a breach of the conditions on which he accepted office as a Judge." Mr. Sheehan might well say "a number," for two Judges, new to the language and customs of the natives, were sent into my district to discharge the functions which I bad been accustomed to perform.
Having taken my commission from me, I was refused an inquiry, because my commission had ceased. The animosity of the Government was also manifested in the desire to deprive me of my pay for three months as Commissioner, after the Government discontinued my services as a Judge. Thus was I robbed directly of £150; and £45, the 10 per cent, that for several months had been deducted from my salary, was not returned to me, as was the case with the other Civil Servants, who had their 10 per cent, returned to them when their services were discontinued to reduce the public expenditure.
Some time after my dismissal, Ministers felt themselves constrained to justify their action. This the Native Minister attempted by adding slander to the wrongs heaped upon me. page 46 He stated untruthfully that I had detained papers belonging to the Government. My Judgeship was taken away on the 30th September, 1880. My commission, by a letter dated 16th November, ceased on the 31st December of the same year. If it were true that I had detained public papers on the 31st December, how could such detention have influenced Ministers in their oppressive behaviour weeks and months previously? The libel is akin to the persecution, and was fabricated to ward off the odium attaching to the conduct of Ministers.
Prior to the passing of the Act, of 1881, amending the Native Land Court Act, 1880, I believe I was entitled to the custody of the seal. Another Judge thought the same, and even used his seal, yet I surrended mine when demanded, because it was not my property. But the case was far different when my notes were demanded. Ministers knew they would have no chance before a jury, otherwise they would have sued for them, because the notes possessed a special historical value.
The notes were of no great value to me, but the wrongs I had suffered at the hands of Ministers, induced me to turn a deaf ear to their requests. I refused delivery because the Government vindictively retained £'150 of salary that was due to me for the months of October. November and December, 1880. Mr Rolleston told the Public Petitions Committee that in keeping my notes I had taken the law into my own hands; had I really done so, Mr Rolleston would have been one of the very first to undeceive me in a court of law. But Mr Rolleston has a disagreeable and a domineering manner. The following incident in my experience bears this statement out. In the lobby of the House, during an evening sitting, I heard the following words addressed in imperious tones by one who I believe is a Secretary in the Public Service, to a submissive man:—"Mr. Rolleston says that that Committee shan't slate him, do you hear." Answer—"Yes." "Well," said the first speaker, in threatening voice, "Mr. Rolleston won't have it. That Committee shan't slate him. So now you know." Exeunt—One up the lobby, and thence behind the chair. The meek man by the front door in the direction of the Parliamentary Committee rooms, feeling, no doubt, that unless the reporting of the said Committee's proceedings should satisfy the Minister, who "would not be slated," that his humble path in the official maze would presently become thorny.page 47
I have shewn how Chief Judge Fenton objected to my appointment to a Judgeship; how he threatened to resign if the appointment was made; how he afterwards demanded to be "rid" of me. How he persecuted, harrassed and embarrassed me in the execution of my duty, denying to me funds necessary to the public service, and refusing repeatedly to certify to recouping moneys spent by me. How he robbed me of the credit of my work, appropriating it to himself. How he attempted to .disparage my services to the Government, and I think I have shewn that this extraordinary animosity was a monomania, which was increased by courtesy and concession. That when the Ministry changed, and those whom he was able to influence came into power, Mr Fenton brought pressure to bear and made a fresh arrangement with the Government. That immediately after that arrangement had been effected it became publicly known that I would be removed from the Bench of Judges. That the first effort in this direction was an abortive attempt of the Minister of Justice to cajole me into a gratuitous surrender of my permanent and hardly-earned position. That immediately after this failure a fictitious charge, as malicious as it was false, was secretly manufactured at the office of the Native Land Court, and that this document, worthy of the Council of Ten, was lodged against me by the Chief Judge. That the Minister of Justice received the same and acted upon it with a view to my removal untried from a Bench upon which I had served the public with integrity, ability, honor, and zeal. That instead of causing inquiry into Judge Fenton's allegations, contained in the document J. 80/2411, and notifying me thereof, he fortified himself with that mediœval instrument of influence, the Cabinet, and obtained, by misrepresentation, an Act from Parliament which, contrary to sound principle and the spirit of justice, was used in the hands of the Minister of Justice to supersede inquiry, and to be the means of passing judgment without trial.
Parliament was misled by the statement when the Bill was introduced, that for the future lawyers only should be Judges of the Native Land Court; that the Chief Judge had declared such a change to be necessary!; and that upon this fictitious plea the Act was passed. Yet almost ere Parliament had risen, the first appointments under it were two laymen, since which seven other laymen have been gazetted Judges of the Native Land Court.
I have shewn how vain was my personal appeal to Mr page 48 Rolleston, and his prejudicial attempt, as heartless as it was unjust, to disclaim, as a Minister giving evidence before a Parliamentary Committee, any special knowledge of my character and former services in the Department, of which he was the then Under-Secretary.
And here it is apropos to glance at the sequence of events. In February, 1880, I am asked by the Chief Judge to resign on the score of my health. In the following month the Chief Judge and the Minister of Justice meet, and by the end of the following April, the form of his resignation has been gone through and refused; he has visited "Wellington and come to a fresh arrangement with the Government, and immediately after his return as Chief Judge to Auckland, it becomes very publicly rumoured that under the new arrangement or understanding, I shall be deprived of my Judgeship.
Towards the end of May I am requested, or invited, by the Minister of Justice to resign on the plea that I hold another (unpaid) office. I decline respectfully on the ground that "by the Judgeship, I hold position and permanent employment; that these had not been lightly earned and could not be easily set aside; "and I ask him to relieve me of the unpaid office, if my holding it is inconvenient to the public interest, after the 2nd June. Paper J. 80/2411 is compiled at the office of the Native Land Court, Auckland, and is delivered by Chief Judge Fenton to the Minister of Justice at "Wellington. During the sitting of Parliament an Act is obtained upon the pretext that lawyers only shall be Judges; yet no sooner has Parliament risen than all the old Judges are re-gazetted, myself excepted; those who pleased to retire on pensions; and then the farce is completed by the appointment of five new lay Judges. Honour, truth, and good faith, it would seem, had fled from the precincts of the Department of Justice at Wellington that her Ministers should descend to this jugglery in order to give effect to the wish of one man by compassing the ruin of another whom they dared not to accuse. Or has that might which conquers right, now dominant in affairs pertaining to native lands, infused itself into a place where it ought not to come? Granting the Minister of Justice the benefit of the maxim regarding the end and the means, the price paid in forsaking principle, to oblige a partizan, was a heavy one. He must have been a very useful man indeed, too useful for a Judge.page 49
In August I am informed by telegram, while hearing a case on circuit, that my Judgeship is annulled. Four days after I rise from that Bench my salary is stopped; and as if this measure of their ill-will was insufficient, Ministers, who for months had listened to Mr Fenton until they had imbibed his animosity, keep me working a quarter of a year under written instructions, and then turn me off, withholding all remuneration for the time so employed, and ignore all my claims tendered in respect thereto.
The Public Petitions Committee in 1882 recommended that a situation in the public service for which I was suitable should be offered to me. Mr Bryce, however, peremptorily refused in writing when I applied to him, without assigning any reason, to give effect to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee.
As a Judge I have been cruelly treated when ill by one Minister, and condemned without trial by another, although such things, one would think, are not easy of accomplishment in this enlightened age. Yet the facts remain incapable of contradiction, and I have exposed the operators and their modus operandi in the hope that publicity may prevent Judges and other servants of the public from receiving judgment without trial.
J. A. Wilson.