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An Epitome of Official Documents Relative to Native Affairs and Land Purchases in the North Island of New Zealand

No. 52. — Copy of a Despatch from Governor Sir G. F. Bowen, G.C.M.G., to the Right Hon. Earl Granville, K. G

No. 52.
Copy of a Despatch from Governor Sir G. F. Bowen, G.C.M.G., to the Right Hon. Earl Granville, K. G.

Trial and Conviction of Captured Rebels. Government House, Wellington, N.Z., 28th July, 1870.

My Lord

In continuation of the second paragraph of my Despatch. No. 79, of the 3rd instant, I have the honour to report that of the thirty-four members of Te Kooti's band captured by the loyal Maoris under Majors Kemp and Eopata, and recently tried before the Supreme Court at Wellington, in the page 205ordinary course of law, for "levying war against the Queen," thirty were convicted and sentenced to death; two were acquitted for want of proof; while the Attorney-General entered a nolle prosequi against the two remaining.

2.The report of the learned and able Judge who presided (Mr. Justice Johnston) was considered yesterday by the Governor and Executive Council. It appears that these trials were conducted on precisely the same footing as those of last year, of which reports were contained in my Despatches Nos. 113,141, and 153 of 1869.* The Attorney-General prosecuted on behalf of the Crown, and the prisoners were defended by counsel provided at the cost of the colony.
3.After the evidence against them given on the first day of the trial, most of the accused, by the advice of their counsel, asked leave to withdraw their plea of "Not guilty," and pleaded "Guilty." Mr. Justice Johnston observes in his report that thereupon "the Attorney-General said that he had intended to call.a chief who would have proved that Te Kooti, with whom the prisoners had been acting, did not pretend to be fighting for land taken from him, and Mr. Allen (the counsel for the defence) admitted that he could not make out that Te Kooti was doing so." It will be recollected that with my Despatch No. 141, of, 28th October, 1869, I transmitted a copy of the Judge's charge to the jury in the high treason trials of last year, in which it was remarked that they would prove of great service to the colony as showing the true intentions and objects of the rebels, and silencing the calumniators of the Government and of, the settlers with regard to their treatment of the Hauhaus
4.In my Despatch No. 141, of 1869, I further observed as follows: "It need scarcely be said that in any capital executions the aggravations peculiar to sentences for treason will be remitted. Mr. Justice Johnston is of opinion that, in the present condition of the Statute Book, he was bound to pass sentence in the following terms: 'You shall be drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution, and be there hanged by the neck till you are dead; and afterwards your head shall be severed from your body; and your body shall be divided into four quarters, which may afterwards be disposed of according to law.' The Judge, with my sanction, stated on each occasion that this sentence would not be carried out in its terms. With regard to this point, I request your Lordship's attention to the following paragraph which has appeared in one of the leading journals in New Zealand, the Wellington Independent, 2nd October, 1869: It is a matter, of regret to almost every member of the community that the necessity of pronouncing sentence after the old form established by English law had not been removed by legislative enactment. Our civilization revolts from the parallel which may be drawn between the horrible mutilations of their victims by the Maoris, which we so emphatically denounce, and the sentence of barbarous mutilation after death to which the law deliberately consigns those condemned for the crime of high treason. This was evidently felt by the Judge whose painful duty it was to pronounce the sentence, and he took care to explain to the condemned that such part of the sentence would not be carried out. Nevertheless, soften it as we may, it gives a handle for recrimination which we would fain avoid.' "The feeling expressed in the above words was so strongly shared by the Colonial Government and Parliament that the first Bill brought in and passed during the present session is "An Act to alter the Punishment in certain Cases of High Treason" (33 and 34 Vict., No. 1), of which I now transmit a copy. The Judge was thus enabled to pass the sentences of death in the common form.
5.In his report of the recent trials, Mr. Justice Johnston states, "I am of opinion that all the convictions, whether on verdict or by confession, were obtained in due course of law; but that, considering the course taken with regard, to the prisoners condemned to death at the last special sittings, under the Disturbed Districts Act, it is not desirable that the sentence of death should be enforced against those prisoners." It will be recollected that in my Despatch No. 153, of the 24th November, 1869, and in the minute of the Executive Council which accompanied it, the reasons were fully given which induced me, with the advice and consent of my Ministers, to cause the capital sentence to be carried out last year only in the person of Hamiora te Peri, who was clearly proved to have been guilty, in addition to rebellion, of having taken an active part in the cruel murders of unarmed men, Europeans and Maoris, and of women and children in the Poverty Bay massacre. The sentences of the other rebels, seventy-six in number, convicted at the same sittings of the Supreme Court, were commuted, according to the measure of the guilt of each individual, to various terms of penal servitude. It will be further remembered that Mr. Justice Johnston afterwards expressed his opinion that "this result was the best that could have been arrived at;" while Mr. McLean, and all those who know the Maoris best, believe that the lenity of the Government has produced a favourable effect on the Native mind generally. They think, in short, that in this as in other countries the maxim holds good which declares that "the grass soon grows over blood shed on the battle field, but rarely over blood shed on the political scaffold."
6.Not one of the thirty prisoners recently convicted was clearly proved at his trial to have taken an active part in the Poverty Bay massacre, or in the other equally heinous atrocities of Te Kooti and Titokowaru. Consequently, it was determined by myself and my Ministers, in the Executive Council held yesterday, to commute, in accordance with the opinion of Mr. Justice Johnston, the capital sentences in every case to various terms of penal servitude or imprisonment. The principle which we have laid down for our guidance from the beginning is that, looking to the circumstances of this country, sentences of death will not be inflicted for rebellion against the Queen's authority alone, unless such high treason is accompanied by murder in cold blood, or some other atrocity. Your Lordship has informed me that you observed with great pleasure the lenient course adopted by the Government of New Zealand, and hope that it will have the satisfactory results which they anticipate from it, and which it deserves.

I have, &c.,

G. F Bowen.

The Right Hon. Earl Granville, K.G.

* Published in the papers presented to the Imperial Parliament in April, 1870.