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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XXX — A Survey of Maclean's Work

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Chapter XXX
A Survey of Maclean's Work

Sir Donald Maclean, in an address to the electors of Napier on 15 December 1875 reviewed his work in native affairs and his connection with the Province of Hawke's Bay, which began in 1850. It was in that year that he was commissioned by Sir George Grey to acquire land for settlement and obtained from the natives the first lands that were purchased in this district—lands now the seats of many comfortable and happy homes, and occupied by a prosperous class of large and small farmers, not widely scattered, but mingled together, and settled on a systematic basis. The period when he took office as Native Minister would be remembered as one of great difficulty. Many of the large tribes were estranged from the Europeans, and notwithstanding the presence of Imperial troops, and the considerable support given by the colonists and friendly natives, it was found impossible to suppress outrage and rebellion. It was under these circumstances that he had joined the Ministry formed by Mr. Fox, and introduced a policy of conciliation, thereby relieving the country from the burden and horrors of warfare, resuming peaceable occupation of the disturbed districts, and yet, at the same time, repressing all hostile attempts against the peaceable inhabitants with a firm hand. On taking office he considered it his duty, in the first place, to visit the centres of disaffection, and accordingly he penetrated to the interior of the King Country, where he met the principal chiefs, and received from some seventy of them assurances of friendship; and a compact was then entered into, which they had since honorably maintained. This was at the time when the last of the Imperial troops were being removed, page 135 and fears were entertained for the safety of some of our outlying settlements; but after this meeting he felt that it was of little moment whether they were removed or not. The meeting had also the effect of rendering more easy than he anticipated the task he had undertaken. The result was that the country was now in the enjoyment of peace—a peace which he believed would be found permanent.

In his capacity as a Minister, Maclean continued, he had been a member of the Government which initiated the policy of immigration and public works, a policy the introduction of which marked an era not to be forgotten in the history of the colony, and the fruits of which were already apparent in the wonderful advances made by the country, and the manner in which its resources had been opened up. The telegraph extended from one end of the islands to the other; roads, bridges, and other improvements had been carried on in all directions, and were followed up by a railway system. There were already 400 miles of railway open, while 300 more were under contract; and in addition to this, 2000 miles of roads had been constructed.

He quite concurred with those who maintained that a scheme of colonial defence was required, and that it was necessary they should have the means of repressing crime and outrage, and a force sufficient for the purpose. The cost of defence in 1869–70, when he took office, was £350,000; he had been very soon able to reduce this outlay by £200,000, and on the authorised expenditure, out of the Defence Loan, he had effected a saving, during five years, of £78,000. He had sometimes been charged with extravagance in his departments, but he thought that facts like these shewed that they had been administered with economy and considerable saving of public money. He had no sympathy with those who would deny to the settlers the means of self-defence, but at the same time he thought there was but little prospect of their services being needed. He did not say they would have no more troubles, but he hoped that the relations between the colonists and natives would continue to improve, and it would not be his fault if they did not. It was his desire to see the natives page 136 devoting themselves to industrial pursuits, more especially to the cultivation of the soil, while the younger portion received an English education, as some 1800 of them were now doing in the schools established by the Government. By these means the natives would mix more and more with the European population.

The last years of Maclean's service in the Ministry were embittered by virulent party attacks, largely prompted by jealousy of his successful handling of native affairs. Sir George Grey and his followers were perfectly unscrupulous in their railings against Maclean and his policy, and Grey denounced the Minister for associating with murderers and outlaws in the King Country when he went to visit Taw-hiao, an unfair and indeed absurd mis-statement of the position. The party attacks developed into vicious hatred of Te Makarini when purchases of native lands in the Hawke's Bay province were assailed. The Government's opponents worked up a scheme of repudiation of titles; the head and front of this assault was John Sheehan, afterwards for a time Native Minister.

In the House of Representatives on 5 October 1875, Sheehan violently assailed the Native Minister and Mr. Ormond, the Judges of the Supreme Court, the missionaries and the settlers with having made and sanctioned and procured unfair purchases of native land in Hawke's Bay. Sir Donald Maclean, in reply, quoted Mr. Justice Richmond and Judge Maning, who had reported, after sitting on a Royal Commission on the subject, that the natives on the whole appeared to have been treated fairly by the settlers and others. Sheehan's wild charges would teach the Maoris to repudiate all fair and reasonable transactions into which they had entered. Justice Richmond had said that the huge exaggeration of the complaints before the Commission, that all the pakehas were united, like a tribe, to plunder the Maoris, was their refutation. The fact was, as members pointed out, that Sheehan was employed by certain Maoris of Hawke's Bay and was paid a salary, and that a regular organised “Repudiation Office” was maintained in Napier.

The House emphatically negatived Sheehan's motion page 137 attacking the Native Minister; nevertheless the unscrupulous and persistent attacks sank deeply into Maclean's heart, and the campaign of misrepresentation and calumny undoubtedly shortened his life.

Indignant at the clamour and abuse from the camp of the Grey-Sheehan party, a venerated chief of the Ngati-Porou tribe, the Rev. Mohi Turei, wrote from Waikorire, Waiapu, to the Waka Maori, the Maori newspaper, under date 5 January 1876, enumerating the deeds of the Native Minister on behalf of the Maoris. It was through Maclean, he said, that the Natives were represented in Parliament; Maclean had established Native schools all over the country, had made roads which encircled the island, had brought peace to the land, had sent prisoners of war back to their home. It was through him that prisoners taken in the wars were spared; through him the weapons of war had been laid aside. King Tawhiao, seeing what Maclean had done for the native race, had cast his misgivings aside and invited the Minister to meet him. “The people are safe,” concluded Mohi, “the land is safe.”

Many a Maclean came to New Zealand, inspired by Donald's letters. Two of these were his brothers. One, Captain John Maclean, left the sea and settled as a sheep farmer in South Canterbury, where he was accidentally killed. The other, Alexander, came to Hawke's Bay and was for many years manager of the Maraekakaho estate. The Waka Maori, Wellington, said of him:

“Visitors to Maraekakaho, rich or poor, ever experienced his kind hospitality, and his door was never shut against the weary and hungry traveller.”

Alexander lies buried in the family plot in the Napier Cemetery, by the side of his famous brother, where a lofty Runic cross, a copy of the Columba Cross on sacred Iona, and a granite rock from far Tiree, mark the Islesmen's graves.