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Sir Donald Maclean


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Biographers have written the stories of several famous men in New Zealand's history—in particular the Rev. Samuel Marsden, Sir George Grey, Captain Hobson, Bishop Selwyn, Archdeacon Henry Williams and Richard John Seddon. But a man who was in no way a less conspicuous figure in the building of the colony, and who in certain respects indeed was the greatest of them all, has until now been without a memorial in book form. Sir Donald Maclean's association with New Zealand antedated all except the missionaries, and practically the whole of his life in this country was spent in national service, first as an official and later as a Minister of the Crown. The range of his career covers the whole history of the pioneering period of our country after it passed under the British flag.

Regarded from more than one angle Donald Maclean was the most commanding personality of his day and generation. In his special sphere, his life work, the direction and handling of native affairs, he was supreme. No one, not even the much praised Governor Grey, could rival his genius in dealing with a proud, independent, war-trained, highly intelligent and artistic native people. No man did so much for peaceful colonisation as Maclean. He found New Zealand a very wild country, in its physiographic aspect, a country in which the Maori was all powerful, and in which European influence and enterprise were restricted to a few straggling, struggling settlements on the coast. His quick mastery of the Maori tongue, his talent for entering into the ways and the mind of the native people, his sympathetic understanding of their feelings and their aspirations, and perhaps above other personal qualities his unlimited patience, made him an ideal intermediary between the conser- page viii vative, often suspicious Maori and the often impatient and brusque pakeha. He was the forerunner of white settlement in many a district. He saw thousands of square miles of fertile country unpeopled save for the tribes which used only small portions of it, and he saw with the eye of faith, the vision of a seer—a very practical seer—those great regions covered with the homes and flocks and villages and towns of the Anglo-Celtic. To that end, the conversion of wild New Zealand into a land of civilisation, comfort and wealth, a new Britain in a sunnier quarter of the globe, his life efforts were directed.

Maclean's career in New Zealand, the land whose progress occupied his energies of body and brain so completely that he never found an opportunity of revisiting his native land, was divided into two periods of public service. For about twenty years he was an officer of the Crown, first as Sub-Protector of Aborigines, then as chief agent of the Government in the purchase of surplus Maori lands for settlement, and as Native Secretary, a capacity in which he was the principal intermediary between the Governor and the ministries of the day and the native tribes. In the second period from the middle Sixties to the time of his death at the beginning of 1877, he was engaged in politics and also in the active direction of native affairs and in the organisation of the Government's military policy in the most critical era of the Hauhau wars.

A detail of name spelling may as well be made clear. Probably no Scottish Highland name is so variously spelled as Maclean. Sir Donald's name is usually spelled in official documents as McLean. He sometimes spelled it Maclean in his early days but usually as McLean. But his son, Sir Douglas, preferred it as Maclean, and that family orthography has been adopted in this book.

The material from which this biography is written consists by far the greater part of original MSS. letters and journals hitherto unpublished. In making researches for this purpose, I was greatly assisted by my good friends Sir Douglas and Lady Maclean, at their home at Napier and on the station at Maraekakaho, Hawke's Bay. Since the death of Sir Douglas a much larger quantity of MSS. came page ix to hand, many hundreds of letters to and from Donald Maclean, reports and journals, many letters from eminent Europeans such as Judge Maning and Bishop Williams, and from Maori chiefs. There are a great many “Confidential” documents in the great array of material, probably the largest mass of original correspondence unearthed by research in New Zealand. For all this data, making more than fifty quarto folio books in typescript, I have to thank Lady Maclean, who discovered boxes full of Sir Donald's archives in the old home at Napier and at the Maraekakaho station, and had them copied for me.

Of the original sources helpful to the author, many were old colonists, contemporaries of Sir Donald Maclean, and officers and men of the forces operating under his direction during the last Maori wars. They gave documentary as well as oral information, and wrote and said much in grateful memory of Maclean's vigorous support of his officers in the field. Maori chiefs of the old generation, those who fought under his direction and those who were in the field against the Government, gave much that was of interest and value.

In writing his histories Carlyle valued, above almost everything else, a good portrait of his hero, and searched far and wide for such. “If one would buy,” he wrote, “an indisputably authentic old shoe of William Wallace for hundreds of pounds, and run to look at it from all ends of Scotland, what would one give for an authentic visible shadow of his face, could such, by art natural or art magic, now be had?” “Often I have found a portrait superior in real instruction to half a dozen written ‘Biographies,’ as biographies are now written; or rather, let me say I have found that the Portrait was a small lighted candle by which the Biographies could for the first time be read, and some human interpretation be made of them.”

Judged by the Carlylean standard, the portrait of Maclean reproduced as the frontispiece to the book is a clearly-burning light to the character of the man.

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