1865, Duncan Cameron: Straight-talking general

General Cameron (leaning against the left of wheel) with soldiers of the Colonial Defence Force at Gate Pa. (Alexander Turnbull Library)
General Cameron (leaning against the left of wheel) with soldiers of the Colonial Defence Force at Gate Pa. (Alexander Turnbull Library)

General Cameron is New Zealander of the Year for showing restraint and moral courage in the face of extreme political pressure.

After coming into conflict with Governor Grey and the colonial administration of Frederick Weld, Cameron resigned and returned to Britain.

"The brave old General has not been trained in the school of Machiavelli or in that of the Frenchman who declared that 'language was invented to conceal our thoughts'," said the Herald.

"The lower acts of diplomacy are beneath his contempt even. He says what he means, and he means what he says, and hence he diverges from those in authority with whom he has lately been in contact."

IN HINDSIGHT
History has not been kind to Cameron who was regarded as plodding and unimaginative by Pakeha critics and lampooned as a "lame seagull" by his Maori opponents during his reluctant Taranaki campaign.

The insults must have stung the ears of a fighting general.

At the heart of the tensions between Cameron and the Government was his reluctance to take the war back to Taranaki in 1865. He wrote to the Governor expressing his distaste for being made the instrument of greedy settlers. But even here he does not get off lightly. In the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, James Belich says Cameron's qualms about land-grabbing in Taranaki came very late in the piece and coincided with frustration at his failure to achieve a decisive victory.

Yet Tony Sole, in Ngati Ruanui: A History, acknowledges Cameron as a public servant of some integrity reluctant to wield his sword in unjustifiable wrath.

His successor, Major-General Trevor Chute, led a scorched-earth campaign in south Taranaki, burning villages and crops, driving people from their homes and killing those who resisted.

Cameron was making a stand against this kind of conduct and that cannot have been an easy thing in those times. For his restraint as well as his contested moral courage we would still choose him as New Zealander of the Year for 1865.

From the Herald archives:
Criticism of Cameron's Taranaki campaign, New Zealand Herald, 26 April 1865

A war of words, New Zealand Herald, 15 May 1865

Public support for Cameron, New Zealand Herald, 16 May 1865

Further defence of Cameron, New Zealand Herald, 17 May 1865

Editor's note, New Zealand Herald, 24 July 1865

Editorial praising Cameron, New Zealand Herald, 2 August 1865

Cameron's departure from New Zealand, New Zealand Herald, 7 August 1865

Cameron and the Wanganui campaign, New Zealand Herald, 8 August 1865

Support of Cameon versus George Grey, New Zealand Herald, 14 August 1865

Further reading:

Biography of Duncan Cameron, Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

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