By ALISON HORWOOD
Newly declassified Government documents lend some weight to claims that New Zealand's representative to Niue in the 1950s, Cecil Hector Larsen, was murdered by locals because he was a bully.
Three escaped prisoners used Machetes to slaughter the 45-year-old resident commissioner in his sleep at his residence in Niue on August 16, 1953. His wife, Jessica, suffered lacerations to her head and arms but later recovered. His children, Telma, 17, and Billie, 9, were unharmed but raised the alarm.
He is the only New Zealand diplomat to have been murdered abroad.
The case became something of a cause celebre and its memory was revived in 1993 in a book by Auckland historian Dick Scott, Would A Good Man Die? Niue Island, New Zealand and the late Mr Larsen, which alleged Larsen had jailed, beaten and abused hundreds of Niueans. Scott also said New Zealand wanted the three men hanged so Niueans would learn not to challenge Wellington's authority.
Niue, a 258 sq m uplifted coral island between Tonga and Samoa, was annexed by New Zealand in 1901 and became self-governing in 1974.
Larsen arrived in 1943 and jailed hundreds of Niueans for drinking alcohol (something white officials did), gambling, for adultery and even if a single couple held hands in public.
The three men, known only as Latoatama, Folitolu and Tamaeli, turned themselves in within a few days of the killing. They were found with bibles and machetes carved with inscriptions about how they were the heroes of Niue.
Scott writes that: "The three young Niueans were not merely avenging themselves for the ill-treatment they had long suffered. They were, they believed, ridding the whole island of a tyrant."
They were sentenced to death, but after a massive public petition and an appeal to the Privy Council, the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. The men served most of their time in Mt Eden Prison.
The bullying claims were denied during the trial and at its end the Justice Minister, Thomas Webb, defended Mr Larsen's reputation, saying the administration of the island deserved only praise.
But documents lodged recently with Archives New Zealand, show that there were at least some officials who suspected he had bullied Niueans.
One is a letter to Mr Webb from Leonard Sinclair, the Auckland-based judge who presided over the trial.
Mr Sinclair said that although the only evidence supporting the mistreatment were unsworn statements from the offenders, he could not help but feel the claims contained an element of truth.
However he added, the accused are "natives of a somewhat child-like mentality, who in their ordinary way of life are not called upon to exercise restraints upon their feelings and conduct to the same extent as would be expected of Europeans living in a more civilised community".
The men's defence counsel, E.T. Pleasants, also wrote to the now-defunct Ministry of Island Affairs, pointing out the shortfalls of Mr Larsen's resident commissioner role, which allowed him to be in effect judge and jailer.
Mr Pleasants said he could not help feeling that Mr Larsen's personal attitude to the natives was out of step with "modern ideas".
By ALISON HORWOOD