Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter I — The Lad from Tiree

page break

Chapter I
The Lad from Tiree

The little rugged islands on the west of Scotland, Atlantic-washed isles of mist and hard weather, have produced many a man who made abiding impression on the story of Britain especially of Britain overseas. The struggle with the gales, the granite soil, the seagirt character of the place, the stern patriarchal upbringing of the sons of the clan, all tended to produce men of courage, resolution, vigour and high principle, men fitted by heredity and environment for the life of the pioneer in new lands when the old isles and the old glens had become too small.

Leaders, pathfinders, are bred in such places, the men who show the way forward in every walk of life. One of our greatest men of southern lands, Sir Robert Stout, came from the remote Shetlands in the north. A no less prominent colonial statesman, a man whose public career began in New Zealand nearly a generation before Stout, was a son of the Western Isles. The Island of Tiree, off the coast of Argyll, was the birthplace of Donald Maclean, who for the greater part of his life was the chief intermediary between the British colonists and the Maori people of New Zealand.

Donald Maclean was born on the 27th October 1820; he was the son of John Maclean, of Kilmaluaig, on the island of Tiree. His grandmother was the eldest daughter of Campbell of Dunstaffnage, and the last Campbell born in the Castle of Dunstaffnage. Donald came from a long line of ancestors, from the founder, Maclean of Duart, to Ardgour, the first branch of which founded the House of Borrerrae in Uist, and thence branched to Tiree and other of the Western Isles. John Maclean, the father, died when page 2 Donald was very young, and the boy was brought up and educated by his mother's people, the McColls; the grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, the Rev. Archibald McColl, of Tiree and Coll, whose wife was Flora MacDougall, of the Lorn Ardincaple family. Young Donald's upbringing was a sound foundation for the life into which the hand of destiny presently led him. He was a boy of the out-of-doors, the hills and the sea, that lad of Tiree.

Before he was twenty he was in a new land, the world's width away, where his powers of body and brain were to be tried to the utmost. It was in 1838 that he bade farewell to the highlands and the isles that he was never to see again. It was nearly forty years later that New Zealand mourned for Donald Maclean as one of its greatest statesmen. He never returned to Scotland, never had a rest from duty. “Lochaber no more, we'll maybe return to Lochaber no more,” the pipes wailed over his grave. A native race that he had come to regard with an affection akin to that for the clansfolk of his birthland, lamented him as their father and protector, their sheltering rata tree laid low.

Donald Maclean's cousin Miss MacDougall had married and her husband had been given a Government appointment in Australia; they induced young Donald to accompany them. With some other relations the party sailed from Oban in the ship St George, on November 15th 1838, and arrived in Sydney on April 10th 1839, a voyage of five months.

On first landing in New South Wales, Donald Maclean was advised by the Colonial Treasurer, Campbell Riddell, to go to a sheep station near Bathurst, 130 miles from Sydney, a journey which he accomplished on foot, accompanied by a young Highland shepherd. There he acquired some knowledge of managing sheep and taking part in the operations of dipping and shearing them, and was considered in six weeks fit to take charge of an out-station that was to be founded on the Fish river. The pasturage becoming exhausted during the drought of 1840, he was ordered to abandon it and remove his party to assist in page 3 forming a larger one for the stock. He remained there for some months with General Stewart, but not caring for Australian bush life, he determined to try his luck elsewhere and returned to Sydney.

At that time New Zealand was spoken of as a favourable field for young adventurers eager to push their fortunes. He used every endeavour to find a way there, and this he accomplished through a relation, who introduced him to the firm of Abercrombie and Co., of Sydney. The firm had kauri timber properties in the Auckland district. They sent him across on business. Presently the firm retired from the New Zealand trade and he was left to his own resources. He saw much pioneer life on the coast and became very friendly with the Maoris on the shores and islands of the Hauraki Gulf, at a period when native law and custom still ruled, troubled little by the new dispensation under the pakeha. He lived at Coromandel and Waiheke Island where his chief friend was Patene Puhata, of the Ngati-Paoa tribe. These people were engaged largely in kauri timber-felling and shipping; they provided cargoes for many ships, from the great forests on the mainland and on Waiheke, the largest island in the Hauraki. He saw a good deal of sailoring life; indeed he was already half a sailor by the time he landed on these shores. He knocked about the then ill-charted and quite unlighted coasts in small craft. He was ready to turn his hand to anything on land or sea. He split shingles for roofing; he worked in a sawpit; sailed a cutter. The experience he gained in work on the newly broken-in settlements was useful in after life when he came to take up a pastoral block in Hawke's Bay, the station that afterwards was celebrated as the Marae-kakaho Estate.

It was Dr Andrew Sinclair,* the then Colonial Secretary, under Governor FitzRoy at Auckland, who first discovered that this stalwart young Scotsman, engaged in the timber trade at Waiheke, had already acquired a considerable page 4 knowledge of Maori affairs and could speak the language well. That was in 1843.

Maclean was given employment as a clerk and assistant interpreter in the Native Department, then styled the office of the Protector of Aborigines. Governor FitzRoy, to whom he was introduced by Dr Sinclair, appointed him to the position. Under the Chief Protector he received some preliminary training and then in 1844 he was appointed a Sub-Protector, with his headquarters at New Plymouth and his field the coast country from Taranaki to Kawhia and inland to Taupo. As will be described in the next chapter he was soon called upon to give proof of his capacity for diplomacy, and for a sympathetic yet firm handling of native problems and of disputes between pakeha and Maori.

Physically Donald Maclean was well fitted for the heavy work of travel through the interior and along the coast of the colony. Unroaded, unbridged, this land of stream, forest, swamp and mountain was difficult to traverse even for the strongest. Among the missionaries it was only the men of exceptional strength, of whom Bishop Selwyn was the famous leader, who were capable of walking for three weeks through bush and over ranges upon ranges. Canoes with Maori crews were used wherever possible, as on the Waikato, the Wanganui, the Mokau and the Manawatu Rivers, but most of the travelling that fell to the missionaries and the officials of the Government who had to do with the Maoris was on foot; and Maclean in his day must have walked some thousands of miles in his journeys about the country carrying his swag as the Maoris carried their pikau. The natives admired a big well-built man, and Maclean in his prime was just the type of man that filled their ideas of a warrior and a leader—tall, burly, wide of shoulder, deep of chest.

For his part, Maclean quickly took a liking to the Maori as a race. His Scottish clan ancestry, his knowledge of and love for the traditions and the institutions of his Highland and Isles folk predisposed him in favour of a people whose social life and methods of government so closely resembled page 5 those of his own people. The tribal pride, the jealousy of other tribes and chiefs, the readiness to fight at the slightest affront, the patriarchal rule of the rangatira, their passion for songs and chants and oratory, even the favourite working and fighting costume the rapaki or kilt, all reminded the lad from Tiree of his clan and their neighbours, as they had been from time immemorial. It was little wonder that the grave and rather dignified young Islesman—he was more than a lad now—felt himself at home among the tattooed tribesmen of the Hauraki and the Waikato and Taranaki. “Te Makarini,” as they quickly named him, their pronunciation of “The Maclean,” very soon came to enter into the native ways of thought. He was able to appreciate the Maori point of view, and to place himself in the position of the Maori, when occasion called, and to understand the peculiar processes of reasoning that comparatively few pakehas could fathom. Thus at a remarkably early age Donald Maclean became qualified to take a capable part in the difficult negotiations for lands for British settlement and in the pacification of war-loving elements in the population.

* Dr. Sinclair, a very gifted man, was drowned in the Rangitata River, Canterbury, and buried on Samuel Butler's sheep run, Mesopotamia, 1861; he was botanising in the Alpine country, in company with Sir Julius Von Haast, Canterbury Provincial Geologist.