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A Compendium of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs in the South Island. Volume Two.

No. 9. — Walter Mantell, Esq., to Under Secretary Merivale

No. 9.
Walter Mantell, Esq., to Under Secretary Merivale.

London, August 12th, 1856.


I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 11th instant, relative to my application on behalf of the Ngaitahu Natives.

2.I regret that the adoption of my suggestion relative to Mr. Justice Martin (made distinctly on the very ground on which you reject it) should be incompatible with the forms of the Department, at the same time I cannot pass without comment your statement that it is impossible for Mr. Labouchere, without prior reference to the Local Government, to form any distinct view of the position of Her Majesty's Government in relation to these Natives. It appears to me those benefits which it is my duty to claim for them are simply such as, setting all questions of promises aside, any civilized nation, occupying the territory of a less civilized race, is in honour bound to provide for that race. No reference to the Local Government can, therefore, be needed to convince Mr. Labouchere that the common obligation of all colonizing nations of higher civilization and religion presses in this instance with double weight upon Her Majesty's Government.
3.In referring this matter to the Governor of New Zealand, I would respectfully submit that the reference of the 4th paragraph of your present letter to the facts of my last purchase be made clear, as I myself at first understood it to deny my authority to make the promises to which I have so frequently referred, the validity of which authority I do not and cannot doubt.
4.From the 4th paragraph of your letter, it appears that Mr. Labouchere disapproves of my excess of authority in my last purchase from the Ngaitahu. I freely admit that I was so fully aware of the great violation of precedent of which I was then guilty, that in reporting my proceedings to the Governor in Chief. I described the dilemma in which I was placed between the non-assumption and the assumption of responsibilty, in these words:—

"The former course was safe, with the certainly of great loss to the public by its adoption, but not honorable, and I conceive that by adopting it, I should have deserved to forfeit the appointment I have the honour to hold; and by taking the latter, I might not only forfeit my appointment, and suffer heavy pecuniary loss, yet I should feel that I had done my duty according to my best conception of it."

By this extract, Mr. Labouchere will perceive that I not only knew my fault but was prepared to submit to its probable punishment. The Local Government has already judged of the propriety of my conduct in this purchase. In a letter from Mr. Colonial Secretary Domett, of 7th November, 1853, I was informed that Sir George Grey regarded the case as one in which I was called upon to act upon my own discretion, to the best of my judgment, and in which it became my duty, as a good public servant, to incur such an amount of responsibility as was needed to enable me to close the transaction and set it finally at rest; that, in the course I had adopted, I had rendered a very great service to the public, and one which entitled me to his special commendation, as it showed that I possessed not only the capacity to see what measures ought to be taken in such an emergency, but sufficient resolution to carry those measures into execution, with a single regard for the public good. This opinion, from one so capable as Sir George Grey of forming a correct judgment, should not only suffice to satisfy the Right Honorable Mr. Secretary Labouchere that no apprehension of the censure, so unexpectedly conveyed in your letter, prevented my bringing the fact before him at an earlier stage of the correspondence, but even to prepare him to believe, what is simply true, that I then abstained from allusion to these circumstances, because (considering them not necessary to the case) I wished to avoid being the reporter of proceedings which should have been, and, perhaps, were communicated to you by the Governor of the Colony, and which I regarded, and, respectfully differing from Mr. Labouchere's contrary opinion, still regard as not discreditable to any service. Even in the Province, where the acquisition of the Murihiku Block was looked upon with universal satisfaction, thinking the Government entitled to the first share in the approbation of the acts of officers whom it had appointed, I maintained such secrecy as to my share in the matter that I believe not more than six settlers were aware of it up to the time of my departure.

5.For my accompanying letter the position which, in my last communication I voluntarily assumed on the first intimation of your hesitation not, (as implied in the second paragraph of your letter), to "overrule" acts of the Local Government, but to direct them to act where they had abstained from acting, will have sufficiently prepared you.
page 87

Could I, while still in New Zealand have foreseen the reception which this question [gap — reason: deletion] met with from the Right Honorable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, I should not have hesitated to resign my offices to the successors of those who appointed me, in order that I might be free to take the steps necessary to compel the fulfilment of promises sanctioned by their predecessors.

By the reference of the question to the Governor who, it appears from the local papers, has not incorrectly defined his position as that of a cipher, the Imperial Government practically repudiates the obligations which I had thought it in honour bound to fulfil. I have now only to hope that the General Assembly may take a more enlightened and humane view of this subject, and shall congratulate myself and the Colony, if that body takes upon itself the honour of providing for the amelioration of the aborigines.

On the first proof, not so much perhaps of want of confidence as of the influence which unprincipled persons had acquired with the Government. I demanded an investigation into my administration; this demand for reasons palpable to those acquainted with the circumstances was neither acceded to nor acknowledged.

It remained open so long as I was in the Colony. It does not seem to me necessary to notice further your allusion to a possible inquiry.

Acting upon the permission conveyed in the last paragraph of your letter. I have received as a last payment from the Colonial Agent General, the balance due to me. I have drawn this sum only on behalf of the Ngaitahu Natives.

I have, &c.,

Walter Mantell.

The Principal Secretary of State for the Colonies.