W hat I believe to be genuine and authentic the collected publications of William Colenso

Letter relative to Maori Lexicon. Appendices to the Journals, House of Representatives, G 9

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1873 Letter relative to Maori Lexicon. Appendices to the Journals, House of Representatives, G 9.


(letter from w. colenso, esq., relative to).

Presented to both Houses of the General Assembly by Command of His Excellency.

Mr. W. Colenso to the Hon. the Native Minister.

Sir,— Napier, 30th August, 1873.

I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 15th instant, in which you wish me to make some proposal about the “Lexicon.”

Ever since its receipt I have been repeatedly considering how best to do so.

Before, however, I give you my present thoughts about the matter, I would, with permission, call your attention to a very brief outline of a portion of the past concerning it.

When, in the House of Representatives in 1861, I first brought the subject of the “New Zealand Lexicon” forward, I did so much as Sir D. Monro at the same time did the somewhat similar motion respecting the work on the Botany of New Zealand to be edited by Dr. Hooker. Had my motion been carried then, assuredly I should not have undertaken the work, as at that time my hands were quite full (being Provincial Treasurer and Inspector of Schools for this Province, without a clerk), and with every prospect of a long continuance in office. I should have gladly handed over to whoever might have been appointed all my MS. vocabularies, &c., &c., of the language, which had been accumulating for thirty years or more; all I wished for being the preservation of the New Zealand dialect of the great Polynesian language, which was every day growing less and less.

In June, 1865, the Hon. the Native Minister (Mr. Mantell) wrote to me, requesting me to furnish a plan or prospectus of the said Lexicon. I did so, calling his attention to three main things, viz.,—1. Time; 2. Remuneration; 3. Efficient aid and hearty co-operation (all of which I may remark, had been given to Dr. Hooker in his work). Indeed, in the main matter of efficient aid and assistance from the Government, and from their officials throughout the Colony, I was led to expect very much from the several conversations I had had with Sir George Grey (then Governor) about the work, and from the hearty interest he took in the matter.

In January, 1866, I received tile appointment to execute the work, when, on finding so much was left open to me, I immediately wrote to the Hon. the Native Minister (Colonel Russell), sending him a proposal for the better and speedier publication of the same. That proposal, however, was (unfortunately) refused by him: I have always regretted this.

Since then, as you know, much has been said from time to time during several Sessions, in the House of Representatives, concerning the work and myself, in all which I have been more or less charged heavily, as if blame was to be attributed to me. I allow that the work is in a most unsatisfactory state, not only to the house, to the public, and to the Government, but most especially to myself; but I cannot allow that I am or have been to blame in the matter, for I believe that, whenever a strict impartial inquiry into the whole affair shall be instituted, I shall be found to have done very much more than my intended share in the work; but all this has reference to the past.

And now with reference to any “proposal,” meaning thereby something both satisfactory and practicable, I am wholly at a loss; there are three things here to be considered,—

1. There is the present state of the Work itself:—From 1870 (when the Government ceased to pay me) I have been only working at it during spare time, yet always heartily. A large quantity of matter, however, has been accumulated through my own unaided exertions, which has been all put into its place, in a kind of rough order, in the MS.; but not a single page of it is ready for the press; it is moreover merely roughly and quickly written with abbreviations (of course intended for my own copying), and the whole has to be thoroughly and closely considered and rewritten. Were my MS. clearly written, so as to be easily read and copied by a copying clerk, my “proposal” now would be, that the Government take over the MS. as it is forthwith; but as it is, this, I fear, would be of little if any service.

2. The present state of my health—Getting more and more infirm with advancing years; settled chronic rheumatism, and a contraction of thumb and forefinger of my right hand, caused in 1865 (and, as I believe, through too closely sticking to this work), prevents my writing long continuously.

3. My present engagements, viz.:—Paid public duties. I am now Inspector of Schools for this Province; this office takes up quite half of my available (or sound) time; and those duties are (generally) of such a nature as to become a necessary relaxation to me.

From the foregoing, it will be seen that I cannot possibly have any very satisfactory or practicable “proposal” to make; and I shrink from making any which I could not fulfil.

Again, it must not be forgotten that the work is still incomplete; from its very nature it is different in this respect from almost any other. Words under A (the first letter) cannot possibly be any farther advanced towards completion than those under Z (the last letter), perhaps, indeed, not so far advanced; seeing that the last letter, having fewer under it, might be the sooner filled up.

Therefore, under all the Circumstances, the only feasible proposal that I can at present make, is the following, viz.,—to proceed at once to do all that I can to get a portion of the work, though incomplete, ready for the press (say, from A onwards); the first parcel to be forwarded to you in January next, the same to be (if possible) followed by other portions throughout the summer; by so doing, a small part of the work would be ready for members by their next session. Meanwhile (and after the prorogation of the General Assembly) I will correspond through you with the Government Printer as to the manner, &c., of its being printed. I should be very sorry for it to be printed without my revision of the sheets; that, too, being work to which I have been accustomed.

I will thank you to let me know at your early convenience whether you agree to the above-mentioned proposal.

I have, &c.,

Wm. Colenso.

The Hon. the Native Minister, Wellington.


1875 Compilation of Maori Lexicon by Mr. Colenso (letters relative to).
Appendices to the Journals, House of Representatives, G11.

No. 1.

Mr. Colenso to the Hon. the Native Minister.

Sir,— Napier, 20th July, 1875

In sending you herewith, and in accordance with your request, a few specimen pages by way of prospectus, copied roughly from my MSS. of the Maori-English, and English-Maori Lexicon, on which I have been engaged for some time, I have also the honor to submit a brief résumé of the whole affair from its commencement, accompanied with certain proposals of my own respecting the work. I do this for three reasons: 1 Because there has been so much erroneously said about it, both in the House of Representatives and in the public prints of the day. 2. For the better information of the General Assembly. And. 3. For the early final determination of the matter.

In 1861 I first brought a motion before the house of Representatives respecting “A Standard Library Dictionary or Lexicon of the New Zealand Language.” I did so much in the sane way as Sir David Monro did his somewhat similar motion respecting the Hand Book of the Botany of New Zealand. My motion was favourably received, and the resolution the House came to was.—That it is highly desirable, as soon as the finances of the colony will permit, that a sum of money be devoted for the purpose of commencing a Standard Library Dictionary or Lexicon of the Maori Language.

In 1862, finding that the finances of the colony were in a flourishing state, I again brought it before the House, and the reply on the part of the Government was (Sir Dillon Bell being then the Native Minister) that it should be commenced forthwith.

In 1863, finding that nothing had been done during the recess (possibly owing to the serious war), I again brought the matter to the notice of the Government, writing at the close of the Session to the Hon. the Colonial Secretary about it.

In 1804 I did the same, besides during these two years having had several conversations with the then Governor Sir G. Grey concerning the work, who always warmly supported it.

In 1865 I received an official letter from the Native Minister (the Hon. Mr. Mantell) concerning it, asking me to furnish the Government with a plan or prospectus of the said work, to which I promptly replied. And as much of what followed is necessarily grounded on these two letters, I will, with permission, make extracts from them here

“Native Secretary’s Office. 21st June, 1865

“I am directed by Mr . Mantell to request that you will be good enough to forward to him a plan or prospectus of the Maori Lexicon you propose to prepare, together with an estimate of the time likely to be required for its completion, and of the expense which it will entail. The Government will then submit to the General Assembly a specific vote for the purpose, in fulfilment of the resolution of the House of Representatives of the 13th of August, 1861.—W. Rolleston.”

In my reply I said:—

“1. The plan or prospectus is simply a Maori and English-Maori Lexicon, to contain every known word in the Maori tongue, with clear unquestionable examples of pure Maori usage, and with copious references, as far as known, to the principal cognate Polynesian dialects. To be completed in, say, two volumes—the Maori or first volume, to be first finished.

“2. The time required for the whole work, to do it satisfactorily, cannot well be estimated at less than seven years; the first volume alone might be got ready at the end of five years.

“3. The maximum total expense, during five or seven years, may be reckoned at £300 per annum. As however the pay to the Editor for his whole time will be but small, it would be only fair to ask of the General Assembly some supplemental vote on the full, entire, and satisfactory completion of the whole work.

“In addition to the foregoing, very efficient aid is further to be hoped for from the Government:—

1. Through the Government obtaining from several Polynesian Islands copies of every vocabulary or local published work. 2. Through their issuing a circular to their officers in Maori districts, inviting their kind co-operation in the work, and in obtaining from them any MSS., notes of language, songs, sentences, words, &c. And, 3. Through their granting free postal communication between the Editor and the Government Officers, Maoris and others, throughout the Colony, on all inquiries respecting the Maori language.

“It is deemed advisable that the preparation of the Lexicon, being a purely literary work, should not be placed under the control of any department. It might be undertaken upon the order of the General Assembly, or it might, if required, be placed under the formal supervision of the Speaker, or the Clerk of the House of Representatives.

In the session of 1865 the question was again brought before the House (this time by the Hon. Mr. Mantell) and the House again decided,—“That it is highly desirable that the Maori-English Lexicon, as proposed and affirmed by the House on the 13th August, 1861, and subsequently agreed to by the Government on 20th August, 1862, be forthwith commenced.” And in December of that year I received the official appointment from the Government to proceed with it.

In the following month (January) I wrote to the Native Minister (the Hon, Colonel Russell) respecting the better and more speedy way of getting the said work out, saying that I thought it would be preferable to publish it in parts, the first part to be ready in, say, three years. To my letter the Hon. the Native Minister replied, saying “that he would not interfere in any degree with the action which had been already taken by his predecessors in office as regards the time and manner of carrying out the work.”

I had also requested him officially to ask for the official and other aid I had been to expect I would receive: this he declined, but requested me to write a circular addressed to him, and he would get it published if approved of, in the Gazette. I did so; and it was published, with a cold and brief official remark prefixed.

I now commenced my arduous task with all my heart. I gave it the whole of my time. Many days have I shut myself up from twelve to fourteen and even to sixteen hours a day. And here I may be permitted to mention:—1. Tat had this work been commenced when I first brought it before the House of Representatives in 1861 or in 1862, it would not, it could not, have been undertaken by me; because at that time, not only had I no notion, no desire, for it, but my hands were already full; for I was then filling the offices of Provincial Treasurer and Inspector of Schools of the Province of Hawke’s Bay (without a clerk), besides being a member of the House of Representatives and of the Provincial and Executive Councils of my own province. My only wish was to see the noble New Zealand dialect of the great Polynesian language, preserved, and I should have gladly handed over my numerous MSS. of nearly thirty years’ collectionto whomsoever the Government might appoint to do the work. 2. I (who had always from the creation of our Province of Hawke’s Bay been a member of its Provincial Council) immediately placed a legal bar in the hands of the Returning Officer, to hinder my being again nominated. 3. I threw up entirely my favourite scientific pursuits (botany, &c.), through which I fear I displeased not a few of my old scientific friends, with whom I had always been in close and constant hearty correspondence, among whom I may mention, in England, Dr. Hooker and others, and, in New Zealand, Sir G. Grey. Drs. Hector and Haast, Professor Kirk, &c. Indeed, Sir G. Grey, who was then Governor, not only wished me to continue my botanical researches, but generously offered to equip and supply me fully in every way. 4. I even employed a land agent residing here in Napier to do my little business for me, even to the receiving of small rents, I paying him his commission for so doing. And, 6. I gave up my long-cherished hope of visiting England.

I may also mention here that about this time the late Bishop of Wellington (Dr. Abraham), in calling on me at my house in Napier, and in conversing about the work, in which he took a great interest, said that he had only one thing to remark on in the whole arrangement, and that was that seven years was far too short a period to execute the work as I had planned it.

To return. I went on closely with my work; but, although I wrote many letters, and also sent copies of the circular which had appeared in the Gazette to many persons, official and non-official, residing all over the colony, from not one European did I ever receive any answer, save from my lamented friend the late Superintendent of Aucklans, J. Williamson, Esq. Subsequently, however, two European gentlemen filling official situations (S. Locke, Esq. R.M. and Mr. James Grindell) have assisted me: also the present Colonial Secretary, G.S. Cooper, Esq., when at the head of the Native Office in Wellington. Moreover, what those gentlemen did they did both courteously and heartily, and I have great pleasure in recording it.

In 1867, in less than two years after I had commenced the work, and to my very great astonishment, an official inquiry was called for by the house; and the member for Clive, Mr. Ormond, was officially appointed to inspect and to report. That gentleman did so; and I have casually learned that his official report, which was, I believe, duly laid before the House, was a favourable one.

In 1868, I invited his Honor Mr. Justice Johnston, during his official visit to Napier, to inspect my MSS. He kindly did so at some length, and expressed himself as much pleased with the work.

Again in 1868 another official inspection was made by the Native Minister (the Non. J.C. Richmond), who spent some time in examining what I had written, and who also strove very hard, both by talking and subsequently by writing, for an alteration of the original terms of agreement. On his return to Wellington he wrote me a long official letter, in which he said “that he recognized the method and clearness of the work, so far as it had proceeded, and that he had no wish to complain of the amount already accomplished,” &c., &c,

At the same time Mr. Richmond forced upon me his official determination (1) that the work must be finished by a certain fixed time (the end of March, 1870); and (2) that no more money should be paid to me after that period, from which date I have received no pay from the Government.

The Hon. Mr. Richmond did, however, in reply to my last letter to him of remonstrance, promise “to lay the same before the House of Representatives;” at the same time adding “that the Government cannot go beyond the offer already made;” but I never heard if such were done, or, if done, that anything resulted therefrom.

From my appointment to this work in 1866 down to March, 1870, inclusive, a space of four years and a quarter, I only received from the Government about £980 net, or, say, about £230 per annum.

Subsequently, in 1870, you yourself, Sir, also examined my MSS., and expressed yourself as pleased with the work; and I could net help thinking, after you had left me, that had you been the Native Minister in 1866, when I first corresponded with the gentleman holding that office, things might have gone on differently.

In 1869–70 my right hand (fore finger and thumb) became so bad, half-contracted, but without pain, save during continuous writing, that I could no longer write legibly, often could not even sign my name. And this, as I firmly believe, was wholly occasioned by my severe and continual writing, having been goaded on to desperation almost through the remarks made in the House, the bad faith of the Government, and Mr. Richmond’s new arrangements, and consequently working day and night far beyond my powers, as the time he had fixed was fast approaching.

In November 1870, after I had undergone a severe surgical operation on my right-hand forefinger, I had two surgeons (Messrs Hitchens and Spencer) to examine my hand, and to report thereupon to the Government. From that time to the present, I write without using my thumb and forefinger, consequently not so quickly and often not so legibly as formerly.

In 1870, at the General Provincial election here in May (all pay to me having ceased), I again allowed myself to be nominated and entered the Provincial Council, and I again took a paid office as Inspector of Schools.

Since then, I have from time to time informed you, whenever you have inquired, I have only been working at the Lexicon “during spare times, but always heartily.”

On a calm, impartial view of the whole, it will, I believe, be found—1. With reference to myself: —That the Government broke faith with me in the three great matters of (1) time to be allowed for the work; (2) pay; and (3) efficient aid towards it (this aid, too, which was always in all my letters most carefully brought prominently to the notice of the Government, a was indeed quite a sine qua non with me, was exactly similar to that aid which was so readily afforded by us—myself and others—to Dr. Hooker, at that very time too, in his preparing his work on the Botany of New Zealand, which that gentleman has also fully acknowledged.

2. With reference to the work—(1.) Had my original proposal to Hon. Mr. Mantell been honourably carried out in its entirety, the work would have been long ago finished. (2.) Had my well-considered and practical proposal made to Hon. Colonel Russell been accepted by him, the first part of the work would certainly long ago have been published, and very likely the remainder, and the House and the colony as I take it, satisfied. (3.) Had my notice in the Gazette been properly brought before the Government officers and warmly supported, effectual aid must have resulted therefrom. (4.) Had even my last overture to the Hon. Mr. Richmond been allowed and supported, good would have resulted.

I regret to say that I have found it an up-hill work with the Government from the very beginning. As if my appointment was a sinecure, or money thrown away, or at all events as if I were too well paid! As things have turned out, it has been my great misfortune ever to have had anything to do with this work.

Does any one that knows me (and I believe there are many even now, at this modern date. comparatively, in the House who do)—does any one suppose that I, with my active habits and diligent application to business, could not much more easily earn a greater salary than that which I received from the Government during four years—viz., £230 per annum.

Sir, I have had for years to hear and put up with repeated heavy charges concerning this work, I have borne with them, ever believing that my countrymen and the country would some day do a poor scholar justice.

You, yourself, Sir, have more than once in the House, when speaking on this subject, said “the Gevernment had always been willing to offer every facility for the completion of the work.” But did the Government, or would the Government, from March 1870, ever proffer a farthing of pay? And could the Government reasonably expect me to give my whole time, year after year, for nothing; especially too, after they had repeatedly broken faith with me? To say nothing of the early official inspection made, as if (I after all the high and important public duties I have been from time to time called to perform during more that forty years of active life in New Zealand)—as if I were not to be trusted.

For it must not be lost sight of that the only agreement ever made between us was in the terms contained in my letter of reply of July 5, 1865, to the Hon. Mr. Mantell’s official inquiry; which indeed was fully conceded by his successor in office, and sustained by successive votes of the House of Representatives in 1866 and 1867, when £300 per annum was repeatedly voted.

The House has often heard from the Government, from 1869 downwards, that the magnificent “sum of £100 was still to be paid me on completion of the work;” but the Government forgot to inform the House that the original agreement upon which the work was undertaken was for £300 per annum (which sum indeed was annually voted and paid, until in 1868, the Hon. Mr. Richmond, then Native Minister, took upon himself to set the original agreement aside), together with an additional supplemental vote of remuneration to the Editor on the completion of the work.

Had the Government supported me fairly and heartily, and had even the whole outlay originally stated—seven years at £300 = £2,100—been expended, that sum, and more, would have been recouped by them before this time.

And now Sir, in conclusion, allow me to bring before you, and the honouarble the House of Representatives, the following four proposals concerning this work. I beg you to note them and their sequence carefully: and I hope that one of them (or something similar, yet better, it may be) will be fully and finally agreed to and determined by you. Time was when my first proposal of these four would not have been thought of or listened to by me; but I am getting old now (after upwards of forty years of active life in New Zealand, now sum qualis eram), and I feel it. This is, allow me respectfully to say, my last letter to you concerning this work with which I was entrusted. For, as I told you when here, “the flame is now burning low in the lamp;” this, therefore, is the last appeal of the Sybil to Tarquin. It remains with you, Sir, to decide both for us and for posterity.


1. That I forthwith hand over all my Maori MSS. to the Government; and on doing so receive £200—viz., £100 as last stipulated remaining due on the work, and £100 long overdue for writing certain elementary English-Maori books (“Willie’s First English Book”), &c., as per Dr. Shortland’s official letter to me of 1864; or,—

2. That I pay the Government the sum of £500 in two bills of £250 each—one at three and one at six months, without interest, being about half of all moneys (net) received by me from them on account of this work; and that I obtain from them a full acquittance; premising that in this case the whole MSS. in their entirety, and all future profits arising therefrom, to become entirely my own. Of course, should this proposal be selected, thgen I shall endeavour to proceed with the work with the full intention of making arrangements for the publishing of the same by, or selling the same to, some first-rate London publisher, or some Foreign Government, but in no case to the Colonial Government; or,—

3. That I be directed to get on as fast as possible with the work; to do this, however, will be required in conformity with original agreement;—

1. Salary for myself, as originally granted, £300 per annum until finished—say three, or it may be four years. (I am now receiving £250 per annum as Inspector of Schools, which office I must either resign, or, if allowed, find a substitute for.)

2. All possible aid from Government officers and others, especially from Maori Chiefs, and Maori officers in receipt of Government pay; the Government themselves acting heartily, and seeking it for the public good.

3. One of the Armed Constabulary to act as clerk, as offered by you.

4. The privilege of franking and receiving letters and packets for the work free of postage to be again granted to me. This was done at the beginning, but in less than a year it was withdrawn.

4. On the satisfactory completion of the work, a supplemental vote to be asked of the General Assembly; or,—

4. That I merely go on quietly and leisurely with the work—as I have been doing for the last five years—trusting to the House for fair remuneration should I live to finish it in this way, which is doubtful; provided also that if I die before I finish it, my executors are to hand over all the Maori MSS. of the work to the Government, and receive from them the (poor) stipulated sum of £100, and whatever amount besides the General Assembly may be pleased to add thereto.

I have, &c.,

W. Colenso.

The Hon. the Native Minister, Sir Donald McLean, K.C.M.G., &c., Wellington.

No. 2.

Mr. Colenso to the Hon. the Native Minister.

Sir, Napier, 21st July, 1875.

In accordance with your wish when last here, and my promise, I have the honor to send by this mail, in a separate packet, thirty-eight pages of MS. copied roughly from from my Maori-English Lexicon, to form a few specimen pages of the said work: and 1 purpose sending you a few more by the next steamer hence.

By forwarding these now, your printer can have them the earlier in his hands, and the rest will be in time for him. I have not read these since I wrote them (only just concluding the last pages) not having had time to do so, and this I regret.

I also send you in the same packet six parts of the English-Maori portion of the work—viz., the first three and the last three, equal to six. There are nineteen such parts written in all, and from the last one you will know how far this portion of the work is advanced. This is clean MS., and is all but ready for the press, requiring only a slight revision; but I do not suppose you will get any of these printed; they are not sent for that purpose, but merely that the House may see some of the MS. of this portion of the said work. If I have time, I will copy a small portion from what I have left—to be printed, to accompany the other pages.

I trust that every care will be taken of these six parts, as I have no rough copy, no duplicate.

I may also add that I have made this part of the work rather more full and particular than is usually done, in consequence of a remark made to me by the late Superintendent of Auckland (Mr. Williamson) in which I coincided, that by doing so it would prove of great use to Maoris desirous of learning English.

I have, &c.,

W. Colenso.

The Hon. Sir D. McLean, K.C.M.G., Native Minister, Wellington.


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