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Sir Donald Maclean

Chapter XXXI — Last Days: The Mourning for Te Makarini

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Chapter XXXI
Last Days: The Mourning for Te Makarini

Sir Donald Maclean never had a holiday, never revisited his native land. He thought of making a voyage to Great Britain in 1861, and on 16 March of that year he wrote to the Premier, asking for two years' leave of absence so that he might visit the Old Country. He mentioned that he had not asked for or obtained leave of absence for seventeen years, the whole period of his employment under the Provincial and General Governments. “While anxious that leave should be granted to me,” he wrote, “I do not wish to avail myself of it during the present disturbed state of the country, nor until I can do so without detriment to the public service.” To this the Premier, Mr. Weld (afterwards Sir Frederick Weld) attached a memorandum saying that while it was evident that Mr. Maclean could not avail himself of any leave in the existing disturbed state of the colony, when the occasion arose he would feel great pleasure in recommending the Governor to go as far as possible in meeting his wishes, “as I am assured that his long and valuable services entitle him to every consideration.” But the series of wars, raids and expeditions which continued until 1872 kept Maclean constantly at the post of duty.

Prematurely aged by his ceaseless toil in the cause of his country, suffering from the effects of hard travel and exposure in his early journeys and campings, and harassed by the virulent attacks of political opponents, Maclean gave up his ministerial post only to die. He remained at work until the beginning of December 1876, when he felt he could no longer carry on his work. Rheumatism racked his once powerful frame; dropsy was more insidious and page 139 dangerous. It quickly developed and death came on 5 January 1877, at Napier. Maclean was only in his fifty-seventh year.

Little has been said in preceding chapters about Maclean's personal affairs. He lived a rather lonely life, until his only son Douglas, after his education in England, was able to join him in the Colony. He married in 1850 Susan Strang, daughter of Mr. Roger R. Strang, who for many years was Registrar of the Supreme Court in Wellington. Mr. Strang was a pioneer of the first Wakefield colony; he arrived in Port Nicholson in the ship Bengal Merchant in 1840. The Strangs had a rather notable family history; two of their forebears had served under Nelson in the Royal Navy, one as surgeon and the other as captain; the latter, Captain Douglas, was captain of the flagship the Theseus at the battle of Teneriffe, where Nelson lost his right arm and Douglas his right hand. Donald Maclean's married life was tragically brief. His young wife died in Wellington in 1852, shortly after her son was born; and he never married again.

The mourning for Maclean was nation-wide. Pakeha and Maori joined in lamenting the too-early death of one who had all his life in New Zealand striven for peace and the mutual goodwill and prosperity of the two races. The burial rites blended the ceremonies of the European colonists and the Maoris. The wail of the Highland pipes farewelled a Celtic chief; the mournful cadences of the tangi, and the placing of beautiful flax and feather cloaks in the grave as whariki, soft wrappings for the rangatira, betokened the grief of the native people. There was a greatly picturesque gathering of the tribes on the lawn in front of the Maclean home on the hilltop of Scinde Island, when the chiefs made orations in praise of the departed great one, the fallen totara tree that once towered above the lesser trees of the forest, the barrier against danger, the shelter against the stormy blasts; and again they likened him to the steadfast rock, the toka-tu-moana which stood unmoved by the raging seas. They danced their war dances, they fired volleys from their rifles and double-barrel guns, the paura-mamae page 140 (“powder of grief”) for the strong leader they would see no more.

All over the country the Maori tribes and more particularly those which had assisted in Maclean's military measures against the Hauhaus, held meetings for the purpose of expressing their grief at his death. A typical gathering of this kind was a meeting at Taupo, in which pakehas (one was Major Roberts, commanding the Armed Constabulary) as well as Maoris participated; the meeting was addressed by several high chiefs, including visitors from Waikato. Poihipi Tukairangi, the principal man of the North Taupo people, after lamenting that the father of the Maori people had been taken from them, chanted a song of mourning.

Hauauru, the grim old warrior chief of Ngati-Maniapoto (head of the Ngati-Matakore section of that tribe), addressing the spirit of Te Makarini, said: “Perhaps it is that you were bewitched (makuturia) because your knowledge was so great in the conduct of affairs—that is the reason your days were cut short in your work in Parliament! Go, oh our father! Our only grief is that you were not allowed to set at rest our troubles before you were taken from among us and left your son Tawhiao to carry out the instructions which you gave to him.” (This was in allusion to the meeting in 1875 between Maclean and Tawhiao and other Kingite chiefs in the Rohepotae.) Another orator, Taupiri, chanted a song in which he likened the departed chieftain to the glowing sun vanishing in the west, and besought him, “Oh linger for a while to gladden me in this solitary world!” Developing another piece of poetic imagery, he compared Te Makarini to the albatross soaring above the storm-lashed capes, keeping its aerial watch along the Maori coast.

The old warrior chief Paerau, of the Urewera tribe, who had fought against the Government troops in many engagements, from Orakau to Waikaremoana, wrote from Ruatahuna, expressing his regret on hearing of Te Mak-arini's death. In his letter he saluted the spirit of the departed white chief as “te whetu marama o te ata i te wa o te page 141 pouritanga” (“the bright star of the morning in the time of gloom and sorrow.”)

Major Ropata Wahawaha, the veteran war-chief of Ngati-Porou, who had been Maclean's faithful supporter in the Hauhau campaign, wrote in these words (translated) to his old friend's son:

February 21, 1877.

To Douglas Maclean,
(Takurahi Makarini).

My son, salutations to you in remembrance of your parent and of my parent, of your father and of my father, of your mother and of my mother. The affections of my own parents did not exceed his loving-kindness towards me. I grieve for the father who has departed. I am like an orphan. After this who will be a father to me like unto him? He established peace amongst the tribes of the island, and his death took place soon after he had spread the sleeping-mat of peace for the tribes of the island.

Perhaps some weak-chested one may be presumptuous enough to think that he can break the foaming crest of the ocean. Impossible! It is the manly breast who can divide the heavy billows of the sea with strength like unto that of our father. Perhaps there may be some who imagine they too can do such deeds as he who has gone has done—Perhaps so! I know not! What can tell? … Go, Te Makarini! Now that you have pointed out the path for us to follow, we will not be in doubt nor will our thoughts go astray, for was it not all planned out while we were both in life together? Death has separated us, but the thoughts remain with me the living one, and will never be forgotten.

Sufficient, Douglas Maclean, are my words of sympathy to you. From your loving father,

In a despatch to the Earl of Carnarvon (Colonial Office), dated 6 January 1877, the Governor said:

It is with sincere regret that I have to announce to your lordship the death of Sir Donald Maclean which took place at Napier. When I reported to your lordship by last mail, the retirement of Sir Donald from the office of Native Minister, I had no reason for expecting that the illness from which he was then suffering would so soon prove fatal. Although from the able and judicious manner in which he has for some years conducted Native affairs in this colony, his loss is not now likely to produce the same results as it might have done a few years ago, I shall look upon his death as a serious loss to the colony, as even when out of office, the great influence which he possessed among the Maoris would always have been available to smooth down and mitigate any little difficulty that might arise. There is, in my opinion, no public man in this country to whom the colony owes a deeper debt of gratitude than to Sir Donald Maclean, and he page 142 has left a name behind which will long be regarded with respect and esteem by all parties in New Zealand.

In Maclean's birthland, too, there were words of praise and regret. A lament in Gaelic, by a New Zealand Scot “Nether-Lochaber,” appeared in the Inverness Courier; this was a translation of the concluding lines:

Long shalt thy name be held in honour high
Here and on Albyn's shores, far, far away;
Oft shall the Maori breathe a heart-deep sigh
In memory of the pale-face chief whose sway,
Ev'n when most firm, was gentle, still, and kind.
Kindness that bound him fast whom nothing else could bind.