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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XVII — Maclean and the Maori King

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Chapter XVII
Maclean and the Maori King

Sir George Grey has often been described by admiring disciples and biographers as the most successful of native administrators. But Grey's capacity to form a sound judgment and execute a sound policy in Maori affairs has been overrated greatly. Grey proved incapable of taking a liberal view of the Maori King movement, and of conceding the clear right of the tribes led by Wiremu Tamehana to preserve their nationality and administer their own affairs, within certain broad limits, under the British flag. He could, constitutionally, have proclaimed native districts where native customs and laws could have prevailed, always subject to the supreme overseership of the British Crown. Indeed he claimed in after years that he did make some offer of this kind, but half-hearted concessions at the last moment were useless.

In one all-important direction Governor Grey's strength was weakness. Sir William Fox, in his criticism of the native policy of the day, says that Grey in his first Administration while personally ingratiating himself with the Maoris, utterly failed in attaching them to British laws and institutions. “Under him they continued a separate people, almost as much as when Tasman or Cook saw the first canoe. But this personal link was one which necessarily snapped when he left the colony. No permanent or stable bond of union had been established between the native race and British authority. He sacrificed our national position to his personal position; and when he departed (in 1853) he left the natives without helm or pilot.”

In the time of Grey's successor, Governor Gore Browne, an effort was made to retrieve the position by a large con- page 75 ference of native chiefs from many parts of the island held at the Kohimarama mission establishment on the shores of Auckland Harbour in 1860. The Kingite leaders did not attend. In this conference Mr. Maclean was the chief moving spirit. But Maclean was not then invested with the full authority he acquired nine or ten years later.

As Native Secretary and Chief Commissioner of Land Purchase under Gore Browne and later under Grey Maclean had much to do with the Waikato tribes just after the establishment of the Maori kingdom. He made purchases of land in the South Auckland district, but the mana of the king barred his efforts to extend Government influence and pakeha settlement beyond the Mangatawhiri, the border river.

Maclean was very friendly with the venerable warrior who had no ambition to be styled King but who was selected by the chiefs of the confederation of tribes as the necessary figurehead. He had met Potatau Te Wherowhero nearly twenty years previously, and he had many discussions with him on native politics. With several other officials of the Government, and several missionaries, he attended the great meeting at Ngaruawahia in May 1860, when the Maori Kingdom was finally established and a royal flag hoisted. Three thousand people were gathered there on the green tongue of land at the riversmeet, the most beautiful spot in Waikato, Maclean made a long speech dealing chiefly with the Waitara purchase, which was the principal topic discussed in the first days of the conference. He strongly opposed the King movement. His arguments had little effect on the Kingites. They admitted the strength of his defence of the Governor, but at the same time were determined not to abandon the charmed ideal of a Kingdom, and so, seeing that nothing would move them, the Secretary said his farewell to Potatau, struck his tent, and departed for Auckland.

A few months later there occurred one of those incidents that precipitate a breach between two peoples. As the Taranaki War went on the nationalist Maoris in South Auckland became very excitable, and it needed but small provocation for them to break out into open hostility. Towards the end of October 1860, the body of Eriata, a page 76 Maori of Patumahoe, was found shot dead in the bush, and although the wound was apparently an accident, the natives around Manukau, Patumahoe and Waiuku concluded he had been murdered by a European. Mr. Donald Maclean, Mr. Rogan (later a Native Land Court Judge) and Archdeacon Maunsell visited Patumahoe and endeavoured to pacify the Maoris, and at an inquiry a jury of Europeans returned the verdict of accidental death. Dr. Giles, afterwards magistrate of Auckland, was the medical man who examined the body. An extract from the private journal of the late Mr. S. Percy Smith, who was at that time surveying land near Waikato Heads, indicates the perilous nature of that meeting in the bush.

“October 18 (1860).–Messrs. Maclean and Rogan returned from Waiuku, and I hear that they had a very narrow escape from being murdered (at Patumahoe). It all depended upon the tangata wero (the spearsman who advanced to challenge a party of visitors) as to how he would throw his spear. But Ihaka Takaanini (the chief of Ngati-Tamaoho) forcibly prevented the man from throwing it, or they, together with other white men present, assuredly would have been killed. The Maoris have agreed to let the supposed murder pass by this time, but in the next incident of the kind they ‘will not require any one to go and investigate the matter.”

This chief Ihaka, known to the settlers as “old Isaac,” whose home was at Papakura, was a great friend of the pakeha; nevertheless he was arrested in 1863, at the beginning of the war, and was kept prisoner until his death in the following year on Motu-hurakia Island, in the Hauraki Gulf.

Maclean organised the Native Department at Auckland during his term of office and continued as Native Secretary until Maori affairs passed from the hands of the Governor and were brought within the sphere of Parliamentary control. In 1863 he gave up his Government position, went to Hawke's Bay, and presently entered into active politics, a field which gave him wider scope and at any rate freed him from the necessity for consulting the wishes of Governors.

In a private letter to Judge F. E. Maning, at Hokianga, page 77 Auckland, dated 3 November, 1860, Mr. Maclean explained his policy with regard to Waikato. He wrote:

“… There has been a good deal of time occupied by some of the members of the General Assembly, in an investigation of circumstances connected with the introduction of civil institutions into the Waikato district, and some blame imputed to me for the withdrawal of Mr. Fenton, who was sent there as Resident Magistrate. The facts of the case can be summed up in a few words. I was quite favourable to the introduction of such institutions if properly and judiciously initiated, not mere spasmodic efforts, which aimed at the breaking up of the influence of the old chiefs, and disturbing the present social organisations of the tribes however defective, without being prepared to substitute something permanent and reliable to replace those institutions of chieftainships and tribal relations recognised by the people. Moreover, I did not wish the Maori to be made the subject of untried experiments subservient to the ends of party politics, while unprepared to introduce and support a large and comprehensive scheme for their better government, which the circumstances of the Colony very much require, but which the Assembly, until now, has never shewed an earnest willingness to supply. The so-called friends of the Maoris of the present day would not grant £1000 for Native purposes two years ago; although they contribute at least £25,000 to the yearly customs revenue, independent of their contributions in selling us land at a cheap rate, which we retail at a handsome profit. When it suits a party, or political purpose, the natives or the Native Office is found a very convenient stalking horse; but experience proves to me that professions of unbounded generosity in times of war or danger, are not to be relied on as the sincere promptings of the minds of the present Maori sympathisers. However, every well-wisher of the Maori race must hail with satisfaction a spirit of enquiry among the Europeans, as to the Maori question, which must lead to a more full appreciation and just recognition of their social and political rights.”