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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

Manuscripts from Africa

Manuscripts from Africa.

At a place in Africa, immediately under the Line, two fragments of remarkable books were picked up. They were written in Arab characters, but the language was native. They had reference to the proceedings of the armies of the Emperor Heraslius in Africa, and narrated a series of events of which we have no other records. When I read the account of these fragments, I endeavoured to obtain similar manuscripts. I had a sort of ambition to become possessed of books of this description, which I imagined might contain information of extraordinary historical interest. I thought the best chance of getting them was by writing to Livingstone and Speke. I wrote to them, and both of them promised to do what they could to assist me, and to spread the intelligence amongst any Arab traders they met that I wanted such books. Speke came back, but was unable to get any books. Livingstone did not come back. Some time afterwards I became Governor of New Zealand, and after I had been here a few months a case arrrived from Captain Crawford, of Sidon. He said in a letter which he wrote to the Colonial Secretary of the Cape of Good Hope, which is in your library, that when he was at Zanzibar, a very respectable old Arab gentleman called on him and gave into his charge a case which he understood contained a very valuable manuscript, which the old gentleman, after much difficulty and research, had procured at a great distance in the interior of the country. The case, however, contained several beautiful manuscripts written in Arabic characters. The gentleman made Captain Crawford understand that the case was for Sir George Grey. I had, however, left the Cape at that time, and they were sent on here. You will be in possession of those manuscripts. Now, I don't know that Arab gentleman who procured them from the interior, and I have never been able to thank him or make the slightest return for his generosity, or in any way to show my gratitude. I do not know the Arabic characters, and I am afraid they must lie unread with you until some man amongst us shall solve the difficulty, and lay open the treasure of history which the manuscripts may contain. You will find amongst the letters some from colonists worthy of the greatest attention, military officers, naval officers, and men of great distinction in every walk of life. You will, in examining these letters, be able to judge of many things that have taken place here by a much better light than you at present possess. And I will ask you while you are judging the actions of men who were here in the early days—those military, naval, and civil officers whoever they may page 26 be—that you will make allowances for the difficulties in which they were placed. You must remember that these men came into a country where there were two races in conflict. You will remember these men knew nothing of the language of the race with which they were brought in contact. The aspect of everything was strange; the murders committed by one of these races were considered by them a legitimate mode of carrying on warfare. The European race regarded them with horror, and felt a natural aversion to those who would perpetrate such cruelties. Many things arose which were a constant source of alarm to the European race. Mothers were often in terror for the safety of their children, and were appealing for protection, which if not granted, men would have taken the law into their own hands, and undoubtedly atrocities would have been committed on both sides. The greatest efforts had to be made in the shortest time to avoid new difficulties. Lines of action had to be determined upon almost in a moment that must have produced great results. You must remember that persons tried by troubles of this kind, and obliged to make an instant decision, could scarcely avoid some error. You must judge them calmly and fairly. They are not to be judged as many sitting quietly in their arm chairs are often inclined to review events; you must judge them with consideration of the circumstances in which they were placed, and when you have arrived at a judgment formed with due regard to all the facts, let your opinion be a calm one; let it be given with discretion, remembering the situation of those who have borne a part in great national events. Do not unfairly condemn those who have endeavoured with all their energy and ability to preserve the welfare of the people. (Cheers.) Sometimes it may be a young man sent forth to manage affairs and compelled to exercise the powers entrusted to him in the midst of warfare where everything is exceptional, sometimes disturbed by shrieking women and cries for help. Consider a man endeavouring to make laws for the general good, to found new nations, and to preserve the welfare and material prosperity of the people to whom he is sent. Rather pity such a man for the troubles he has to endure. Pity him even if he comes through it successfully; for he may have had to sustain an arduous struggle. I ask you again to judge calmly and rather with a favourable interpretation. It appears to me now almost incredible to think of the troubles that have fallen upon myself and others in such situations. I have often had to take measures unadvised, on which depended the welfare and happiness of countries then thinly inhabited, but the joint populations of which perhaps now amount to as many as three millions of people. Think of such a responsibility falling upon one man. The same thing has fallen upon others who are now judged in an erroneous spirit. Surely when great movements are taking place, in the midst of which no time is left for page 27 mature decision, when whole populations go forth from civilized centres and come amongst people not civilized, but still barbarous, the men who have been put at the head of a movement of that kind are entitled to fair judgment, and even to the compassion of their countrymen, even if everything is not done wisely. Deal with your statesmen as men who have done their best, if you are satisfied they have exerted themselves to the utmost; but if with such generosity you form a lenient judgment of the conduct of the European race, judge no less tenderly and fairly of the conduct of the leaders of the barbarian race, whose country was entered, nay in some instances invaded by a strange population, often overbearing, exacting,—sometimes insulting and cruel. Remember that under such circumstances the natives regarded themselves as patriots, fighting for lands and homes, and as endeavouring to expel unwelcome intruders. The many native letters that will come into your possession from great chiefs in various countries, will show that the great migrators of this century have often encountered native princes quite as generous, courageous, and merciful as ourselves. Let us honour and respect those who showed themselves great and good in the countries which we occupy and enjoy the fruits of, whilst the original inhabitants have too often faded away before us. We can form no fair judgment on these events; but you will have in your possession manifold proofs of the goodness of those who have been but too often badly rewarded for the kindness they showed to their first European visitants. Let commiseration, pity, and forgiveness be given to the leaders upon each side. Who could fail sometimes to err on some occasions in the midst of such novel, great and terrible events?

I thus conclude,—let us attempt to found here such a great institution as I have shadowed forth—an institution possessing such advantages as I have pointed out. Let us separate ourselves—in one important respect—from the instincts of an old country. There the rule is to try and found families, and aggrandise them by their surroundings. All those precious documents which are called family archives pass into the family chest and are locked up. They are shut out from public view; great libraries are collected, shut up for a century or two in cases defended by wire lattices, and are exhibited on a certain day in the week to crowds of excursionists, who pass through the family library ignorant of its contents and astounded at its extent. It is useless to its owner, and of no benefit to the nation. Too often it happens that the descendants of those families are landed in circumstances which in some way detracts from the glory of their ancestors. When that happens these treasures are dispersed, and thus having been shut up from the public, kept useless while they are held by the family, they are comparatively useless when broken up. Great reservoirs of knowledge, which, as a whole, would have page 28 fertilized the vast plains of literature, are changed into small and scattered pools—insignificant, and, in their isolated state, of use but to some few individuals, instead of supplying the wants of hundreds of anxious students. Let us not try to found families here on the old fashioned principles. Let us every one assist in founding one nation. Let us cultivate the instincts which we desire that nation should have by giving our entire heart to the work, and so foster and instruct the tendencies which we wish to direct. Let us think not of honouring merely individuals. It has been held, according to a statement which I heard made in the House of Representatives, that those who dispense Government funds are worthy of great honour, and niches were left in the halls of public buildings in which the statues of such benefactors were to be set up. Let us have no such niches. Let us think of no such things as these. Let us have great and magnificient halls if you please; let them be depositories of works of art; let them be full of the treasures of literature which shall cultivate the true instincts of a great nation. Let the people of that nation, who shall wander through these halls, if they are asked where are such statues, reply "circumspice—these works of art, these treasures of literature, are the statues which our founders have set up for themselves." Let them mention in subdued voices, and in reverent tones, the names of such benefactors of the people of Auckland, as I have named to you this night, and let whole groups of families, and not only an eldest son say,—" An ancestor of of ours was one of those to whom these treasures belonged, and who did such great things for his country, thinking of its welfare and not of the maintenance of a family name."

Sir George Grey resumed his seat amidst loud and prolonged applause, a large proportion of the audience waving hats and handkerchiefs.

His Lordship Dr. Cowie, Bishop of Auckland, moved the following resolution:—"That this meeting tenders its sincere and hearty thanks to Sir George Grey for the eloquent and instructive address just delivered, and for the interest he has taken in the Free Public Library since its establishment; also, it takes this opportunity of recording its high appreciation and deep gratitude for the munificient gift of his valuable library to the citizens of Auckland." He would merely express the hope that the munificent example of Sir George Grey would be followed by his fellow-citizens who possessed the means, both now and in the years to come.

Mr. J. C. Firth said it would be impossible to add anything to the instructive and interesting address which had been given by Sir George Grey. He had listened to it with the greatest pleasure. It was unnecessary to ask the favour of that vast assemblage for the resolution which had been proposed by His page 29 Lordship the Bishop. He felt that those who listened to that address were not only attentive, but appreciative in the highest degree. Sir George Grey deserved the thanks of the people for presenting them with so noble a gift. He had laid the people of Auckland under lasting obligations to him. Sir George Grey had proved that sentiment was a great power and influence in producing results. Where directed by a high purpose and sustained by persevering effort, sentiment was a ruling power. He begged to second the resolution.

Sir George Grey proposed a vote of thanks to the Acting Mayor, who had so efficiently presided over the meeting.

The motion was carried amidst loud cheers.

Three cheers were given for Sir George Grey, after which the meeting separated.

Wilsons & Horton, Printers, Auckland.