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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 2 (May 1, 1934.)

The Measure of the Man

The Measure of the Man.

William Gisborne, in “New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen,” his estimate of Domett's character and capacity, said that “what Mr. Domett failed in was as a politician, in the Parliamentary sense, namely, as a party man and as a Minister under responsible government. He was a hero-worshipper and admired splendid autocracy. The seamy side of political life, as seen in the Parliamentary system, was not congenial to his taste, and he was not fitted to work out what he regarded as a lower level of public service.” But left as it were to himself, Mr. Gisborne admitted, Domett did “great and good work.” The petition which he wrote in 1845 to Parliament for the recall of Governor Fitzroy was a most masterly document.

During his period at Napier, 1854–6, Domett acted practically on his own responsibility; next to Sir Donald Maclean he was the most prominent man in the foundation of the Napier settlement. His impress on the Hawke's Bay town is seen to-day in the names of the principal streets. Domett was the name-giver; his literary trend is witnessed by such names as Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Browning, and Carlyle.

As Prime Minister of the colony in 1863 he devised and embodied a scheme for the self-reliant defence of the country and its peaceful settlement. A scheme of great merit, it was not given effect to, by reason of political disagreements, nevertheless its spirit was admittedly excellent, and Sir Donald Maclean, Native and Defence Minister from 1869 to 1876, put into operation some of the principles of military efficiency and peaceful penetration of the interior of the country which Domett had proposed.

Though not a politician in the ordinary party sense, Alfred Domett was a statesman. He had length and breadth of vision. Though no debater, he was the most fluent writer of his day; perhaps his only peer was that gifted Irish pioneer of Canterbury, James Edward Fitzgerald. His regard for literature and his cultured mind found vent in several directions, one of which was the foundation work in the organisation and classification of the General Assembly Library.

In 1856 Domett married Mrs. Mary George, of Wellington, who had a young son, Johnny George. This lad became an officer in the Colonial Forces, and in 1869 he was killed in the storming of Te Kooti's pa at Te Porere, close to the base of Tongariro mountain. In “Ranolf and Amohia” Domett has some lines to his gallant stepson, “young, kindly, chivalrous St. George.”