May it Please your Excellency,—
In pursuance of and in obedience to the Commission issued under " The Commissioners' Powers Act, 1867," and "The Commissioners' Powers Act Amendment Act, 1872," on the 4th December, 1893, and directed to me, I have the honour to report to your Excellency as follows:—
Your Excellency's Commission reached me on the 22nd December, 1893, and immediately on its receipt I communicated with the parties interested, and set to work to collect all the records, books, papers, and documents of every description bearing upon the matters referred to me. I am glad to say I was fortunate enough to obtain every official document and paper relating to the purchase of the Kaitangiwhenua Block, and although about thirteen years had passed since the transaction which I was directed to inquire into took place.
I think your Excellency will see on referring to the evidence and exhibits that most if not all of the main facts connected with the purchase, from its commencement to its completion, have been fully brought out in the inquiry. I held the inquiry at Waitotara on 26th, 27th, 29th, 30th, and 31st January, and 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 8th, and 9th February. I also held a sitting at Wanganui on 3rd February to take the evidence of the Hon. Mr. Bryce and Mr. James Duigan. Mr. Levi appeared as counsel for Mr. Williams, and Mr. Marshall as counsel for the Natives. Mr. Robert Campbell acted as interpreter, and Mr. W. H. Russell as shorthand reporter and secretary.
The evidence of the following witnesses was taken on oath: Major Charles Brown, John Bryce, Henry Faulkner Christie, William Cowern, James Duigan, Thomas William Fisher, Richard John Gill, Thomas Edward Hamerton, John Handley, Wiremu Kauika, Ririrangi Mihaka, George T. Potto, Wilfred Rennell, Charles Wallace, Wahiawa, William Williams, Daniel James Williams.
The Commission recites that "certain charges have been made against William Williams in connection with the purchase of the block of land known as Kaitangiwhenua, and which said charges are more particularly set forth in a petition signed by Wiremu Kauika, and presented to the House of Representatives during the session of 1893, a copy of which said petition is hereto annexed."
The petition charges Mr. Williams with having " stolen " from the Natives the sum of £5,411, being balance of purchase-money of the Kaitangiwhenua Block, and asks that steps may be taken to recover the money.
I am directed by the Commission to " inquire into the truth or otherwise of the charges so made as aforesaid, and generally into the conduct of the said William Williams in connection with the purchase of the said Kaitangiwhenua Block, and the receipt and disposal of the purchase-money therefore, and by all lawful ways and means to examine and inquire into every matter and thing touching and concerning the premises."
The accusation made by the Natives against Mr. Williams is that on the 28th December, 1880, the Government cheque for the balance of the purchase-money, £5,411, handed on that day to Uru te Angina, their chief, by Mr. Gill, who attended to complete the purchase, on behalf of the Government, at Waitotara, was given by Uru te Angina to Mr. Williams, at the request of the latter, who promised to take it to the bank at Patea, cash it, and bring back the money on the following day; that Mr. Williams took the cheque away, cashed it on the morning of the 29th December, 1880, and, instead of bringing the money back according to his promise, paid it into his private banking account at the Bank of New South Wales at Patea, and afterwards misappropriated the money. It appears to me that this is really the only accusation made against Mr. Williams by the Natives, and it is practically with that charge alone that I propose to deal. Before stating the facts immediately connected with the handing of the cheque to Mr. Williams on the 28th December, 1880, and my opinion as to his conduct in cashing it and paying the money into his private banking account, &c, as before mentioned, I think it would assist your Excellency to a better understanding of the case if I were to give a short summary or history of the various steps in the transaction leading up to the final settlement between the Natives and the Government in December, 1880. The details and particulars are so fully stated in the evidence taken on the inquiry, and the documents therein referred to, that it will only be necessary for me to give a sketch of the main features. In the year 1878 Mr. Williams was carrying on the business of a blacksmith at Patea. He had acquired a knowledge of the Maori language, and had obtained a certificate as a licensed interpreter under" The Native Land Act, 1873." In the month of May, or June, 1878, he arranged with Wiremu Kauika and several other Natives, members of the Ngarauru Tribe, to purchase from the tribe a block of land, situate between the Waitotara and Patea Rivers (see plan annexed) known as " Kaitangiwhenua," and supposed to contain an area of 200,000 acres, or thereabouts. The terms were 2s. 6d. per acre, £200 to be paid in cash, and the balance when the land had passed through the Native Land Court. At this time the land had not passed through the Native Land Court, and, by section 87 of the Act of 1873, the agreement was" absolutely void."page 4
Mr Williams being a licensed interpreter, did not think it was advisable that his name should appear in the transaction, so he arranged with Mr. William Cowern, of Patea, auctioneer, that if Mr. Cowern would lend his name, and appear as the ostensible purchaser of the block, he (Cowern) should have a half-interest in the speculation. A deed of conveyance from Kauika and others to Mr Cowern was drawn up and signed by Kauika and several of the Natives. Mr. Williams, although interested in the transaction, acted as interpreter. (See deed of 10th June, 1878.) The Natives who signed, the deed therein acknowledged the receipt of the sum of £200, and on the same day viz., 10th June, Kauika, who was looked upon as the chief vendor, made a statutory declaration, under " The Native Lands Frauds Prevention Act, 1870," that the said sum of £200 had been duly paid. This declaration was interpreted to Kauika by Mr. Williams. (See statutory declaration, 10th June, 1878) At the time this declaration was made Mr. Williams knew that the £200 had not been paid—in other words, that the Native was making a false declaration. No money was paid to the Natives on the 10th June: but, on 11th June, the sum of £50 was paid by Williams to Kanika. The evidence as to any further payments is exceedingly unsatisfactory. Mr. Williams alleges that he paid two sums to Uru te Angina on 13th June, viz., £150 and £300, but the evidence of payment is not altogether satisfactory or conclusive. Immediately after this deed was signed, Mr. Williams offered to sell the block to the Government, and, after some negotiations with Mr. Sheehan, who was then Native Minister, the Government agreed to give Mr.. Williams £1,000 cash for the purchase as it stood, and, in addition, agreed to employ him at a salary of £400 a year and travelling-allowances to put the block through the Court. On the 5th November, 1878, Mr. Cowern assigned the purchase to the Government (see deed, 5th November, 1878, indorsed on deed of 10th June, 1878), and on the same day a cheque for £1,000 was handed over to Mr. Williams (see voucher, 5th November, 1878). Mr. Cowern signed the deed and voucher referred to, but it was Mr. Williams who actually received the £1,000 cheque. Mr. Williams could not explain what became of this money. There was no settlement between Mr. Cowern and Mr. Williams for some time, but finally Mr. Cowern took Mr. Williams's promissory note for £150, and an assignment of an interest which Mr. Williams was supposed to have in another block called Kerikerirua, in settlement of the Kaitangiwhenua transaction. About the end of 1878 Mr. Williams took his two sons, William and Daniel, into partnership with him, and under the style of "Williams and Sons " they carried on the business of blacksmiths and coachbuilders at Patea. There was some dispute at the inquiry about this partnership. Mr. Williams endeavoured to show that he was not really a member of the firm. The evidence, however, satisfied me that he was, and continued to be down to the date of his bankruptcy in July, 1881, a member of the firm of " Williams and Sons." After the deed of 5th November, 1878, was signed, Mr. Williams, as a Government official (his title was " Land Purchase Officer "), commenced to act for the Government in connection with the completion of the purchase of the block. Up to 18th July, 1880, large sums of money, amounting in all to £5,600 odd, Kaitangiwhenua purchase-money, went through his hands. These moneys came to Mr. Williams through Major Charles Brown, who held the position of Land Purchase Commissioner at New Plymouth. The account kept by Mr. Rennell, Major Brown's clerk at New Plymouth, was produced (see cash-book, folio 230) and shows the various items. The modus operandi was this: Mr. Williams would get a Native to sign a Government voucher, to be forwarded on to Major Brown, and when it was passed by the Treasury Major Brown sent Mr. Williams the money to pay over to the Natives. In August, 1879, Mr Williams opened an " official account " in the Bank of New Zealand, Patea. (See W. Williams's official account.) This account was discontinued about the end of 1879. Mr. Williams was unable to give any satisfactory reason for not continuing the account. On referring to the account it will be seen that only about £1,600 of the Kaitangiwhenua purchase-money went through the account; and it will also be noticed that £740 of that amount was drawn out by Mr. Williams and paid into his private account at the Bank of New Zealand. (See Mr. Williams's private bank account with the Bank of New Zealand.) During all this time—that is to say, from 1878 to the date of the final settlement between the Government and the Natives, on 28th December, 1880—Mr. Williams and the firm of Williams and Sons had, apparently, numerous and extensive dealings and transactions with the Ngarauru (Kaitangiwhenua) Natives. No proper books or accounts showing these transactions were kept or produced, and Mr. Williams was unable to throw much light on them. The Natives never had any proper accounts rendered to them by Mr. Williams or Williams and Sons showing these transactions, and the state of the accounts between them. The money received by Mr. Williams from Major Brown for payment to the Natives was mixed up with Mr. Williams's private funds, and I found it quite impossible to get from Mr. Williams any proper account of how the money received by him from Major Brown was disbursed or disposed of by him. The Natives apparently had very great confidence in Mr. Williams, and signed almost anything he put before them. The vouchers representing the £5,600 odd before referred to were all signed and sent in before the amounts represented by them were received by Mr. Williams from Major Brown. On 17th September, 1880, the Native Lands Court gave judgment, and decreed that the block should be vested in Kauika and five other Native chiefs of the Ngarauru Tribe. (See memorial of ownership, 17th September, 1880, Vol. ii., folio 46; see Gazette No. 97, 16th October, 1880, page 1504.) Wiremu Kauika and Wahiawa are the only surviving grantees; the others have died since the purchase was completed. Prior to this the Hon. Mr. Bryce, who was Native Minister, had given instructions that no further payments were to be made on Kaitangiwhenua till the title had been page 6 finally settled by the Native Land Court—i.e., till the three months allowed by the Act for applications for rehearing had expired. On 18th September, 1880, the conveyance from the six Native grantees or owners was duly signed by them, (See deed of 18th September, 1880, Kauika and others to the Queen.)
In the month of October, 1880, Mr. Williams's services as Land Purchase Officer were finally dispensed with, and at the end of that month he ceased to be a Government officer. (See correspondence as to his dismissal, reappointment, and final dismissal, with file of Government papers.) It will be seen on reference to this correspondence that on 19th April, 1880, the Hon. Mr. Bryee gave directions that Mr. Williams's services were to be dispensed with from the end of that month, and notice to that effect was sent to Mr. Williams. Mr. Williams, however, wrote to the Minister urging that he should be kept on until the block had passed through the Native Land Court, and offering to waive his claim to salary or remuneration if the Government would allow him to continue in office. In his letter to the Minister, dated 17th May, 1880, he says: " I further think that unless I should continue to finish this purchase that some trouble may arise, as all payments have been made by and through me, so that I could see when they got the balance that the right Natives got it, and I would hold them to their former arrangements which they made when they all appointed agents to receive moneys, &c. I do not ask the continuance of this appointment for the sake of the salary, as I am willing to forego that consideration.
"This letter was laid before the Native Minister (Hon. Mr. Bryce), who ultimately consented to Mr. Williams remaining on till the end of October. Mr. Bryce's memorandum reads thus: " With some hesitation, I think, on the whole, Mr. Williams's services had better be retained for a short time longer.—JOHN BRYCE. 18/5/80."
The fact of Mr. Williams's dismissal was not communicated to the Natives.
I have now reached an important stage in the transaction—namely, the final settlement and payment of the balance of the purchase-money to the Natives in December, 1880. When the title had become absolute—i.e., when the three months before referred to had expired—the Hon. Mr. Bryce gave instructions to Mr. Gill to see to the final settlement, and to pay the balance of the purchase-money into the hands of the Native grantees or owners, who were the only persons entitled to receive the money. On the 14th December, 1880, Mr. Williams sent the following telegram to Mr. Gill:—
"Patea,14th December, 1880.
"R. J. Gill, Esq., Government Buildings, Wellington.
"Will you be here to pay the balance of Kaitangiwhenua on the time specified—namely, on 18th? The Natives are here inquiring, and wanting to know when.
"W. Williams, L.P.O."
Mr. Gill placed this telegram before the Hon. Mr. Bryce, Native Minister, and asked for instructions. Mr. Bryce wrote the following note on the telegram: "Mr. GILL.—The purchase should be completed at once, and the balance of the money paid to the Natives by yourself directly, and not through any other person.—John Bryce. 14/2/80."
There is nothing amongst the records to show that Mr. Gill replied to Mr. Williams's telegram, but I think it is more than probable that he did do so. Mr. Gill had a statement prepared showing the total amount of purchase-money paid up to date, and for which the Government held vouchers— namely £5,612 4s. 5d.; to this he added the £500 which Mr. Williams alleged he had paid the Natives before the Government took over the block from him—thus making a total debit against the Natives of £6,112 4s. 5d. The total purchase-money amounted to £11,523 5s.—namely, 92,186 acres (this was the area of the block as ascertained on actual survey: the plan on the deed shows 93,386 acres, but in the body of the deed the area is altered to 92,186 acres), at 2s. 6d. per acre; and, deducting the above amount of £6,112 4s. 5d. from the total purchase-money, the balance in favour of the Natives was shown as £5,411 0s. 7d.page 8
On the 20th December, 1880, Mr. Gill left Wellington for Patea with the vouchers, &c., intending to settle with the Natives there. Mr. Charles Wallace, a licensed interpreter, was employed by Mr. Gill to interpret for him at the settlement. When at Patea, Mr. Gill telegraphed to Mr. Williams, who was at Hawera, to come down. In his evidence before the Native Affairs Committee in 1886, Mr. Gill gave a very full account of all he did (see his evidence, Nos. 16, 18, and 19). He said, referring to a note in his diary, "This was a thought of my own, that, as Williams was interested in the money matters relating to the land, having, as he said, nearly £3,000 to receive, I thought it best to telegraph to him at Hawera to come over."
As two of the grantees, Uru te Angina and Hakaraia, were absent, Mr. Gill found it impossible to settle at Patea. Uru te Angina was at Pakaraka, a Native settlement about six miles from Waitotara, and unable, on account of illness, to come to Patea, and Hakaraia was absent up the Wanganui River. Mr. Gill arranged with Mr. Williams to go for Hakaraia, and to assist generally at the final settlement. Mr. Williams's remuneration was fixed at the sum of £50, which was paid to him by Mr. Gill, at. Patea, about the 23rd December. Mr. Williams returned to Patea with Hakaraia on the 25th December, but, as Uru was too unwell to go to Patea, Mr. Gill determined to go to Pakaraka and settle there. Accordingly, on the 27th December, he proceeded to Pakaraka. When he arrived there he found Colonel Macdonnell, Mr. Duigan, and others, who alleged that they had claims against the Natives, and requested Mr. Gill to pay them out of the balance of the purchase-money due to the Natives. Mr. Gill declined to recognise these claims. The day was wasted. The settlement did not take place, and in the evening Mr. Gill and Mr. Williams arranged with the Natives to go to Waitotara early next morning and settle there. Early in the morning of the 28th December, Uru te Angina was carried to Waitotara, and all parties assembled in a room in the hotel there for the purpose of completing the purchase. The following were the only persons present: Mr. Gill; Mr. C. Wallace, interpreter; Mr. William Williams; his son, Daniel J. Williams.; and the six grantees or owners named in the memorial of ownership. Mr. Gill produced the original vouchers and account before referred to, showing the balance, £5,411 0s. 7d., payable to the Natives. The vouchers and account were interpreted and explained to the Natives by Mr. Williams, and, after some discussion, the Natives agreed that the balance shown in the account was correct. A voucher on the usual printed form was then written out by Mr. Gill, and duly signed by each Native. Mr. Wallace, under Mr. Gill's directions, wrote out another receipt in the Maori language, and this was also signed by each Native, and attested by Mr. William Williams, his son Daniel, and Mr. Wallace. (See vouchers, account, and receipts, &c, in Government file.) The Natives then resolved that a cheque for the amount should be handed by Mr. Gill to Uru te Angina, as their chief. Mr. Gill then wrote out a cheque, of which the following is a copy. The printing in italic represents the printed portion of the cheque:—
"General Government of New Zealand.
"28th December, 1880.
"To the Manager of the Bank of New Zealand,
"Pay No. 302 Uru te Angina and others or bearer five thousand four hundred and eleven pounds and seven pence.
"Richard John Gill,
"(£5,411 0s. 7d.)"
(See original cheque amongst exhibits.) This cheque was handed by Mr. Gill to Uru te Angina, and immediately afterwards Mr. Gill left the room, taking with him the vouchers and receipts, &c, before referred to. I may here mention that at this meeting Mr. Williams made no claim of any kind against the Natives, and I am convinced that the Natives were led to believe, and did thoroughly believe, that all their indebtedness to Mr. Williams, and Williams and Sons, and others, had been liquidated out of the moneys which had passed through Mr. Williams's hands prior to the final settlement. In other words, that the debits shown in the account before referred to, amounting to £5,612 4s. 5d., covered everything, and that the amount represented by the cheque was their own money, and was to be divided amongst those entitled to it. I may also mention that during the time which elapsed between the decision of the Native Land Court, on 17th September, 1880, and the final settlement on 28th December, 1880—over three months— neither Mr. Williams nor Messrs. Williams and Sons made any claim whatever on the Natives, nor did they attempt to come to any settlement of accounts, or take any steps to attach the money in the hands of the Government.
After Mr. Gill had left the room, a discussion took place as to cashing the cheque and distributing the money. There was no bank at Waitotara where the cheque could be cashed, the nearest bank being at Patea, some seventeen miles away. Uru te Angina was too unwell to go to page 10 Patea, and after some discussion Mr. Williams managed to induce Uru, who had great confidence in Mr. Williams, to give him the cheque, Mr. 'Williams having promised to take it to Patea, cash it, and bring the money down to Waitotara on the following day. The meeting then broke up. Mr. Gill left by the afternoon train for Wellington, and Mr. Williams and his son went by road to Patea, taking the cheque with them. Before leaving Waitotara Mr. Gill sent the manager of the Bank of New Zealand at Patea the following telegram:—
"Waitotara, 28th December, 1880.
"To H. T. Christie, Esq., Bank of New Zealand, Carlyle, Patea.
"I have this day paid cheque to Uru te Angina five thousand four hundred and eleven pounds. Please make all necessary inquiries when presented for payment.
"Richard John Gill."
On the morning of the 29th December, as soon as the banks opened, Mr. Williams went to the Bank of New Zealand with the cheque to cash it. At the request of the manager, he wrote his signature across the back, and then obtained the cash. He then went to the Bank of New South Wales—where he had opened an account in his own name in November, 1880—and paid in £5.410 of the money to the credit of his account. (See copy Bank of New South Wales account.) Mr. Williams did not inform the Natives of what he had done, nor did he communicate with them in any way, or explain why he did not intend to fulfil the promise made by him to them at Waitotara on 28th December—viz., to cash the cheque, and bring the money down to them on 29th December. When Mr. Williams did not put in an appearance at Waitotara on 29th December, the Natives became anxious, and Kauika wired to Mr. Williams to know why he had not come down. Mr. Williams did not reply to this telegram. Kauika then telegraphed to the manager of the Bank of New Zealand as follows:—
"Waitotara, 29th December, 1880.
"The Manager Bank of New Zealand, Patea.
"Has Mr. Williams cashed our cheque ? Me and my people are waiting for him. Reply if started, at once. Reply paid.
(See Mr. Fisher's diary, 29th December, 1880, exhibit.)
The manager (Mr. Christie) replied to the effect that Mr. Williams had cashed the cheque that morning.
On 29th December Mr. Williams sent the following telegram to Major Brown:—
"Patea, 29th December, 1880.
"Major Brown, New Plymouth.
"I have all the Kaitangiwhenua money in the bank—safe at last. They passed all the first vouchers without objecting to any of the amounts, and praised you and self to the highest. My mind is now at rest. Will send a letter.
The letter referred to in this telegram was not produced by Major Brown, who stated that he must have destroyed it some time ago with other papers; nor" was Mr. Williams able to supply a copy or give the purport of the letter.
On the 30th December, 1880, Mr. Williams sent the following telegram to Mr. Duncan, solicitor, Wanganui. I may mention that Mr. Duncan had been acting for the Natives in the Native Land Court, and had a claim against them for £232 odd, and the correspondence between Mr. Williams and Mr. Duncan shows that Mr. Williams had promised to see Mr. Duncan paid out of the purchase-money. (See copy of correspondence amongst exhibits):—
"Patea, 30th December, 1880.
"A. Duncan, Solicitor, Wanganui.
"I have been successful in Kaitangiwhenua, and shall be with you next week.
On the 31st December, the manager of the Bank of New Zealand at Patea sent Mr. Gill the following telegram:—
"Patea, 31st December, 1880.
"R. Gill, Native Department, Wellington.
"Confidential. Williams, on behalf of Maoris, cashed your cheque Wednesday morning Maoris very uneasy, and anxiously inquiring after money, which Williams declines to pay at present to Maoris or Europeans. Would recommend that you wire him to account for ruonev forthwith.
"H. F. Christie."
To this telegram Mr. Gill wired the folowing reply:—
"Wellington, 31st December, 1880.
"H. F. CHristie, Patea.
"No. 1013. I cannot interfere in the matter. Mr. Williams is not an officer of the Government. The cheque was paid by me to the whole of the grantees, and, until receipt of your telegram, I was not aware it had been handed to him.
"R. J. Gill"
With regard to the concluding portion of this telegram, I may state that, in giving his evidence before me on the inquiry, Mr. Williams swore that, after the meeting at Waitotara on the 28th December was over, he met Mr. Gill outside the hotel, and told him that he (Williams) had succeeded in getting the cheque, and that he (Gill) replied that " he was very pleased to hear it," or something to that effect. Mr. Gill, on the other hand, swore that this was absolutely false, and that he did not know until he got Mr. Christie's wire in Wellington that Mr. Williams had got the cheque from the Natives. On the 7th January, 1881, Mr. Christie sent Mr. Gill the following letter:—
" Patea, 7th January, 1881.
"Referring to my telegram respecting Mr. Williams, I appear to have misunderstood your telegram from Waitotara and the tenor of previous conversations, from both of which I gathered that you were most anxious to see that the Maoris received the money for your cheque on this office. But for the misunderstanding I would not have wired to you on the matter.
"I am, &c.,
"H. F. Christie.
"R. J. Gill, Esq., Wellington."
Mr. Gill did not reply to this letter. When Mr. Williams did not reply to Kauika's telegram, and the Natives had learned from the manager of the Bank of New Zealand at Patea that their cheque had been cashed by Mr. Williams, they got very uneasy and anxious, and Kauika and one or two of the grantees went off to Patea to see Mr. Williams about it, and to obtain from him an explanation as to why he had not returned with the money. When they got to Mr. Williams's house they were informed by Mrs. Williams that Mr. Williams was ill in bed and quite unfit to see any one on business. Kauika, however, grew angry and insisted on seeing Mr. Williams, and eventually Mrs. Williams allowed him to go into the room where Mr. Williams was. At this interview Kauika demanded the money from Mr. Williams, who promised to come down to Waitotara with it as soon as he was well enough. (See Kauika's evidence, Book I., page 84, &c.) Between this and the middle of January, 1881, Mr. Williams and the Natives had one or two interviews, but no settlement was arrived at. The Natives always insisted that the money should be handed to them. During these interviews Mr. Williams for the first time asserted that the Natives owed him and Williams and Sons more money than the amount of the cheque. The Natives disputed that they owed anything, and kept urging Mr. Williams to pay the money over to them. Towards the end of January, 1881, Uru te Angina telegraphed and wrote to the Government, complaining that Mr. Williams was holding their money. On 29th January, 1881, he wired as follows:—
"Waitotara, 29th January, 1881.
"R. Gill, Native Office, Wellington.
"Williams has withheld our money. Do you instruct him to pay it to us now? Reply to this wire.
Uru also wrote to Mr. Rolleston, Native Minister, on the same day, asking the Government to assist the Natives to recover their money from Mr. Williams. The Government, however, refused to interfere, and took up the position that as the cheque had been handed over to the Natives the Government was not liable in any way, and that if the Natives chose to trust Mr. Williams—who was not at that time a Government officer—with the cheque, they did so at their own risk. The records show that from this date up to last sitting of Parliament the Natives have been constantly applying to the Government for relief and assistance in connection with this matter. (See petitions, reports of Committees, &c, in Government file.) Uru and Kauika also went to Wellington on several occasions and interviewed the Native Minister, but they were always told that the Government would not recognise any liability, and could not interfere in any way. In July, 1885, the Native Affairs Committee reported, "That the Government should ascertain whether there be sufficient evidence to warrant an action at law in this matter—either civil or criminal—and, if so, should assist the Natives to obtain justice."
In the month of March, 1881, the Natives placed the matter in the hands of Mr. Andrew Duncan, a solicitor practising at Wanganui, and on the 19th of that month Mr. Duncan wrote to Mr. Williams as follows:—
"Wanganui, 19th March, 1881.
"I am instructed by Uru te Angina, Matanganui, Piki Kotuku, Wahiawa, Wiremu Kauika, and Hakaraia te Nawiri to apply to you for payment of the sum of £5,411, appropriated by you out of the purchase-money of Kaitangiwhenua, due to the above-named Natives. I am further instructed to inform you that unless the above sum be paid by Wednesday next, the 23rd instant, together with 45s. costs, proceedings, both civil and criminal, will be taken against you without further notice.
"I remain, &c.,
"W. Williams, Esq., Patea."
Mr. Williams replied to this letter as follows:—page 14
"Patea, 22nd March, 1881
"I write to inform you that I shall be most happy to settle with Uru te Angina and the other owners of the Kaitangiwhenua Block, and may further state that I have been pressing them for a final settlement, but I decline to do it in the way you demand, and if you have anything more to communicate on this matter I refer you to my solicitor, Mr. George Hutchison.
"I am, &c,
"A. Duncan, Esq.
It will be noticed that Mr. Williams did not forward any statement of account with this letter. On 24th March, 1881, Mr. Hutchison wrote to Mr. Duncan as follows:—
"Wanganui, 24th March, 1881.
"Re Kaitangiwhenua, without prejudice. In a few days I expect to be able to communicate with you respecting the accounts between the Natives and Mr. Williams. If, in the meantime, your instructions require you to take civil proceedings I am authorised to accept service as if Mr. Williams were a resident within the Wellington District.
"A. Duncan, Esq."
Mr. Hutchison did not again communicate with Mr. Duncan respecting the accounts between Mr. Williams and the Natives. The correspondence, &c, shows that Mr. Williams shortly after this practically took the matter out of Mr. Hutchison's hands. Mr. Williams, towards the end of March, wired to Major Brown to come down and assist him to come to some settlement with Mr. Duncan. (See letters, Brown to Williams, 23rd March; Brown to Duncan, 23rd March; telegrams, Williams to Brown, 26th March; Brown to Duncan, 28th March; Duncan to Brown, 29th March.) On the 9th April, 1881, Major Brown and Mr. Williams went to Wanganui and had an interview with Mr. Duncan. The following entry, from Mr. Duncan's bill of costs in the matter, sworn to as being correct by Major Brown (see his evidence), shows what took place at this interview:—
"1881, April 9.—Attending Mr. Williams and Major Brown in long conference as to compromise of case, when Mr. Williams promised to furnish accounts shortly."
Mr. Williams did not, however, keep his promise, and on the 20th June he caused the following letter to be sent to Mr. Duncan:—
"Patea, 20th June, 1881.
"At your request I have looked through the accounts re Kaitangiwhenua, and find that it would take too long to give you them in detail, but will give you the total amount of the moneys I have paid away, which is £5,813 7s. 9d. This does not include your account or North's. There are also a few outstanding accounts, for which I am responsible, altogether amounting to about another £50. The Natives saw the whole of these accounts, and had them read out to them, and said they were all correct.
"I beg to remain, &c,
"Per D. J. W.
"A. Duncan, Esq."
In April, 1881, an application was made to Major Heaphy, on behalf of the Government, for his certificate, as Trust Commissioner under the Native Lands Frauds Prevention Act, to the conveyance to the Queen of the 18th September, 1880. The Natives attended, and opposed the granting of the certificate, and Major Heaphy took their evidence. (See evidence with Government file.) Mr. Williams was present, but he declined to ask the Natives any questions. Major Heaphy took time to consider the matter, and delivered a written judgment on the 27th May, 1881, granting the certificate required by the Act. Major Heaphy's decision, and the evidence taken before him, will be found with the Government file of papers, but I will just make one or two extracts from the judgment to show the ground upon which he based his decision. He says: " It appeared that dissatisfaction existed among the sellers with regard to the ultimate disposal of a cheque for £5,411, paid to them by Mr. Gill, in one final payment, at Waitotara; but, as they acknowledged to have received the cheque into their own hands, I considered I had nothing to do with their subsequent disposal of it."
Referring to the transactions between the Natives and Williams and Sons, Major Heaphy says: " They (the Natives) do not appear to have received accounts of the goods so delivered, nor in some cases to have known the prices."
Again: he says, "It appears evident that a Trust Commissioner should have the means of making his inquiries while such a sale is in course of operation. If he were to withhold his certificate after the completion of the deed the wrong parties would suffer. However unsatisfactory might have been the conduct of those who negotiated the purchase, I did not find that there was any transaction between the buyer and seller of a fraudulent nature. The Natives had abundance of other land for their future wants. I therefore have certified to the deed."
Again: "I asked Mr. Williams for copies of accounts, that I might judge of the fairness of prices charged by his sons for buggies, horses, &c. He promised to furnish them, but has not done so. I have no power to compel their production."page 16
The Trust Commissioner's certificate is indorsed on this deed, and is dated 27th May, 1881.. On the 9th July, 1881, Mr. Williams was, on the petition of a creditor, Thomas North, of Patea, draper, adjudicated a bankrupt by order of the District Court at Patea. The Commission does not direct me to inquire into Mr. Williams's conduct in connection with his bankruptcy, but I may say this: that a careful perusal of the papers and evidence, &c. (forwarded herewith), relating to the bankruptcy proceedings must, I think, convince any unprejudiced person that, in transferring to his sons, a few weeks before the adjudication, practically the whole of his assets, valued at £1,922 odd, in liquidation of an alleged indebtedness to them, he was guilty of a gross fraud on his creditors. The proceedings in the bankruptcy from the beginning to end were of the most extraordinary. character, the chief aim and object of Mr. Williams, his sons, who assisted, and the friendly creditors evidently beiug to prevent the hostile creditors from getting anything out of the estate. The question may be asked, "Why did not Mr. Duncan, as solicitor for the Natives, look after their interests, and press their claim against Mr. Williams?" As I have already stated, Mr. Duncan had a claim on the Natives for £232 odd for two days' attendance before the Native Land Court, at one hundred guineas a day, and for preparing the conveyance from them to the Queen. At the time of Mr. Williams's bankruptcy this amount was still unpaid, and his sons, with his knowledge, agreed to pay, and did pay, the full amount to Mr. Duncan on condition that he would not take any further action against their father. Mr. D. J. Williams, in giving his evidence before me on this inquiry, admitted that they, to use his own words, " squared" Mr. Duncan by the payment in full of the amount claimed by him. The Natives, it is needless to say, knew nothing about this, and expressed considerable surprise when the facts were brought out in the course of Mr. D. J. Williams's evidence on the inquiry before me at Waitotara.
After a very exhaustive investigation, I regret to say that I am unable to come to any other conclusion than that Mr. Williams, who at the time enjoyed the full confidence of the Natives, and had considerable influence over them, obtained the cheque for the balance of the purchase-money —£5,411 0s. 7d.—from them by treachery, deceit, and trickery; and that, having cashed it, he, in breach of the conditions upon which the cheque was handed to him, fraudulently appropriated the proceeds in the manner before mentioned, and has never accounted to the Natives, not only for that, money, but for the sums received by him through Major Brown prior to the final settlement. I gave Mr. Williams written notice (see Commissioner's correspondence) to prepare and produce at the inquiry a full, true, and particular account of his dealings and transactions with the Natives, but he failed to comply with my request. The evidence has fully satisfied me-that the Natives have never, at any time, had an account from Mr. Williams showing how he disposed of the large sums of money which passed through his hands. Mr. Williams, as I have already shown, promised Major Heaphy, the Trust Commissioner, to supply accounts, but did not keep his promise. He also undertook to furnish Mr. Duncan with accounts, but again failed to do so, alleging that "it would take too long " to make them out. Just as the inquiry was drawing to a close, Mr. Levi, counsel for Mr. Williams, handed in an account (see account amongst exhibits) which he said he (Mr. Levi) had prepared to the best of his ability, but he admitted that he was unable to bring any evidence to verify it, and did not attempt to prove its correctness. A glance at this statement will show that it is incorrect in many particulars, and incomplete. I am inclined to agree with Mr. Gill (see his minute of 27th August, 1893, in Government file) that the Natives have been " robbed " to a considerable extent, and I certainly concur with the late Mr. Ballance's opinion (see minute, 20th May, 1891, Government file) that they were " abominably treated " by Mr. Williams. There is a well-known legal maxim to the effect that "There is no wrong without a remedy." I apprehend, however, that it is no part of my duty to suggest what remedy should be applied in the present case. That is a question which will no doubt be carefully considered and decided upon by your Excellency's Advisers.
With regard to the costs of this inquiry, I am empowered by section 6 of " The Commissioners' Powers Act 1867 Amendment Act, 1872," to order " that the whole or any portion of the costs of any inquiry shall be paid by any of the parties to such inquiry."
I am of opinion that the whole of the costs of the inquiry should be paid by Mr. Williams, and I order accordingly.
|1.||Shorthand reporter's minutes of proceedings and notes of the evidence taken on the inquiry, contained in four bound volumes, indexed, &c.;|
|2.||All the exhibits produced on the inquiry, consisting of books, files, correspondence, papers, deeds, documents, &c, more particularly referred to and enumerated in the list written at the end of the notes of evidence before referred to; and|
|3.||The Commission which your Excellency was pleased to direct to me, under which this inquiry was held.|
Given under my hand and seal at Wanganui this 19th day of March, 1894.
Charles C. Kettle, D.J.,