Over 100,000 pages of diaries, correspondence, letterbooks, telegrams and other papers from Sir Donald McLean are now accessible online through the Alexander Turnbull Library’s new website Manuscripts & Pictorial
David Colquhoun, Curator of Manuscripts at the Alexander Turnbull Library said “no other single person played as significant a part in mid-nineteenth century New Zealand history as Sir Donald McLean. There were other figures whose actions and arguments shaped that history. But none had such an ongoing influence. He was a dominating figure during a particularly tumultuous time in our history.”
Sir Donald McLean was the Chief Land Purchase officer during the years leading up to the 1860s land wars, first Native Secretary and, later, Native Minister up until just before his death in 1877. Sir Donald McLean’s papers have long been regarded as one of the key primary sources for nineteenth-century historical research, but their size and relative inaccessibility has often daunted researchers.
The papers, one of the most heavily used collections at the Library, comprise letters, including the largest surviving series of Māori-language letters from the nineteenth century, extensive diaries and notebooks, telegrams, letterbooks, reports and other documents from his long career.
“This is by far the largest digitisation project of manuscript material in New Zealand to date,” David Colquhoun said.
“It is a major achievement of the team of digital specialists, archivists, historians and te reo experts to make these papers so much more widely available in this way.
“The papers are a significant collection that will be of interest to researchers of all kinds from local historians to Treaty claim researchers, educators, biographers, iwi historians and linguists.”
Of particular significance are the 3000 letters from Māori. They are a rich source for understanding Māori attitudes to land ownership and sale, as well as the social history of Māori communities and inter-hapu politics. They also allow further research by linguists and other language scholars about the early development of Māori as a written language.
David Kukutai Jones, Kaitiaki, Kohikohinga Māori, Māori Specialist, Alexander Turnbull Library said “Providing greater access to the papers of Sir Donald McLean has seen the digitisation of more content in an effort to connect New Zealanders to information about themselves and also to enhance our own sense of identity and place in the world”.
The Library is particularly grateful to the te reo scholars of the E Ma; Ngā Tuhituhinga ka a Makarini project including Dr Ngapare Hopa, Te Kohu Douglas and Dr Jane McRae, who have already contributed over 500 transcriptions and translations of the Māori letters.
This project has been separately funded by the Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga The National Institute of Research Excellence for Māori Development and Advancement. The E Ma work is now linked to the digitised images of the letters, and is a major feature of the website. The E Ma team will continue to work on the letters. Translations by other scholars are also being added and it is planned to have full transcription and translation of all the Māori letters completed by 2010.
- Alan Ward "McLean, Donald" Dictionary of New Zealand Biography volume one, Auckland University Press, Auckland 1990.
- 'Donald McLean', Ministry for Culture and Heritage
- Ray Fargher The Best Man Who Ever Served the Crown? A Life of Donald McLean, Victoria University Press, Wellington 2007.
University of Auckland Library copies