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The Trail Of Waitangi

The Character of Henry Williams.

By Hugh Carleton, from pages 5 - 9 of Volume One of 'The Life of Henry Williams' (published 1874).

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I HAVE felt it a duty, having leisure, and personal knowledge of a most difficult period of his career, to offer my own humble tribute to the memory of a man who was looked up to by his own family with a feeling akin to veneration; by his intimates with admiration absolutely unqualified, and by that portion of the public which happens to know the real history of a country which he has served so well, with a respect and gratitude that year by year is striking deeper root.

Would that the pen could here be laid aside. But there is more, and of another character, to tell. Upon him, prominent as a man of mark, were concentrated the assaults of those to whom mission work was a hindrance, of those whom he refused to follow in a tortuous path, and, above all, of those self-seekers who thought to profit by affecting sympathy for the native race. Though living to a ripe old age, he did not live down calumny, any more than did his predecessor, the unselfish and brave-hearted Marsden. Some, to whose lives his own was a reproach, - some, to whom the very nobleness of his character was an affront, - some, who were worsted in their attacks upon him during life, are busy even still working, like moles, beneath be earth, but ever and anon rising to be surface, each to throw up his own little hillock of dirt. Few in number, to what they were, and of little note. Of no name, it might be said, being one and all anonymous. For it must be admitted, in justice to the leaders of that great persecution by which he was at one tine well nigh overwhelmed, that they, at least, have grounded arms.

The character of his mind was of that stamp, which, in active public life, is only too sure to bring down the enmity of those who have irregular ends to serve. For no man would he turn one step aside, to the right or to the left. Go his own way he would, when once assured that it was the right way. Gifted with a resoluteness which refused to perceive the sufficiency of any obstacle to bar his course upon the straight and narrow way, coupled with a singleness of purpose which defied every attempt to lure him aside, he was deemed " impracticable" by every schemer whose road he crossed. Add to this an inborn love of truth, for the sake of truth itself, which rendered him not only averse to compliment, but likewise incapable of disguising his scorn for all that is mean, tricky, or evasive, - and then, to anyone who knows the world as it is, sufficient cause will have been shewn for the virulence of animosity that has been displayed against him.

Courage was, perhaps, his most prominent characteristic. Courage, both physical and moral; and, in truth, he came to have urgent need of both. Physical courage, backed as it was by great personal strength, which when compelled to put it forth he was not slow to use effectively, brought him through many a rough encounter, ensuring him the respect of a people the god of whose idolatry is "Force." Moral courage that never counted odds, but for which he must have succumbed when borne down with obloquy, buffeted by every wind that blew, though coming clear at last through all, putting his trust in God and a righteous cause. It remains to be told how he stood at bay against the combined assault of Bishop, of Governor, of Secretary of State, and of Church Missionary Society (the bitterest trial of all to him), never yielding one inch of the ground he first took up, nor advancing one step beyond; how he maintained, from first to last, his one condition, "substantiation, or full and honourable retraction" of the charges brought against him; how each assailant in turn retired, without having ventured within arm's length, leaving Henry Williams, together with those others whose battle he had fought, in undisturbed possession of the field.

As the physical courage was made effective by muscular strength, so was the moral courage supported by a most logically constituted mind, the consciousness of which was a strengthener to conviction. A false conclusion, to a man at once so single-minded and so keen in apprehension, was impossible. Of the vigour of his faculties in this respect, his overthrowing in long-continued argument such an adept in mental gymnastics as the Bishop of New Zealand will be proof sufficient.

Among those who could not see below the surface, Henry Williams was thought to be "a stern man." Yet, where duty was not in question, he was soft-hearted, almost to a fault; of a winning and easy courtesy of manner that is reached by few; of a delicacy of feeling that none but kindred spirits could understand, or even perceive. The attribution of sternness was an error; yet not altogether a groundless one. The appearance, at least, was upon occasion there. When duty was once in question, he would not - perhaps could not - see or think of anything beyond that duty. Born with an instinct of order, which manifested itself in the smallest details of domestic life, and which was developed, through that noblest school of training the British navy, into the most punctilious regard for discipline, he troubled himself as little about the inclinations of others as he did about his own, where once "The Service" was concerned. He had entered into a new service - a higher one; but carried into it the impressions graven by the old one. From his own great Commander above he took his orders, and in carrying them out he exacted that obedience which he so rigidly compelled himself to pay.

It shall be moreover admitted, that the seeming "sternness" was carried a step further than even this. Courteous as he was, he never carried courtesy up to the point of feigning what he did not feel. To loose-livers, or to persons in any way objectionable, intruding themselves on his notice, he was able to put on a look that would effectually check any approach to familiarity. It was only to be expected that such as had supposed their dignity to be aggrieved would relieve their minds in the approved colonial fashion, - by reckless and unblushing abuse.

Wilful offence, indeed, he never gave to anyone, - that alone excepted which follows upon fearless proclamation of the truth. And even that need not have followed; for his natural high breeding was such, that his plainest utterance was free from the slightest tinge of rudeness. What he said was in the instinct of command: but rudeness pre-supposes equality.

Of "that deformed idol, Public Opinion," he took no note whatever. To borrow his own words, he steered always by his own compass. For what, indeed, was public opinion to him? He had come forth from home with his own special commission, - to serve and to elevate the Maori race, "the people," as the old Missionaries, borrowing a Scriptural term, made a rule of calling them throughout; and with that charge he suffered none to interfere. Not out of any feeling of sentimentality towards the race; he carried too much ballast for that, - his practical hard-headedness was incompatible with flights of fancy, - but because it was his appointed work. None war more severe in reproof than he, when they swerved from their allegiance; none more unflinching in maintenance of Maori rights when those rights were unlawfully invaded.

His deep-rooted loyalty to the Crown he imported from the old into the new career; but gave no heed to "opinion," where the interests of the colonists were deemed to be in conflict with those of their native fellow-subjects. Deemed, I say; for, in truth, they never were in conflict, as we are slowly beginning to perceive. There are but few left who are now unwilling to admit that our native policy, with a few occasional gleams of light, has lowered like a thunder-cloud over the Colony from first to last; or that Henry Williams was arraigned upon two charges, foolishly incompatible, - treason to the Crown, and treachery to "the suffering and complaining natives."

With characteristics such as these, Henry Williams was not a man to achieve popularity. Nor would it have been to his credit if he had. For, in a colony, "a man must stoop to rise." A base-born maxim, and a discredit to its author; for he said it, not in scorn, but in sympathy: un-English, but with more truth than Englishmen are willing to admit. And these rough-hewn characteristics, be it remembered, were prominent,obtruding themselves upon the sight of all. But the more finely-moulded ones were kept in the back-ground. Nor indeed were they of a nature, under any surroundings, to have been recognised by the many. It is unlikely that his utter unselfishness his deadness to temporal interest should be appreciated, or even believed in, among those who nearly all came into the Colony for the sole purpose of bettering themselves in the world. His delicacy of feeling was not likely to win upon those who affect coarseness of demeanour as a virtue, or his deep-rooted loyalty to be held in honour among those who keep to their own allegiance only for the sake of the substantial advantages it confers. I speak of popular estimation only; for there were those in the country who understood him well, - who knew that a paltry or ungenerous thought could not so much as cross his mind. Among these he earned for himself the highest title of honour that can be conferred on earth, that of A Christian Gentleman.


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