The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Bryce, Hon. John

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Bryce, Hon. John, is one of the oldest settlers in New Zealand, having been brought to the colony as a child in 1840. He came into prominence during the Maori war, and was lieutenant in a troop of yeomanry cavalry at the time of the Hauhau advance upon Wanganui. It was on this occasion that an incident occurred which was made the foundation of a grave charge against Mr. Bryce by Mr. G. W. Rusden (q.v.) in his History of New Zealand. While Lieutenant Bryce, with his cavalry, was patrolling to the north of Wanganui, a number of Maoris were observed looting farm-buildings, and a sortie was made upon them by the troops. It was asserted by Mr. Rusden, from information alleged to have been communicated through Bishop Hadfield and Sir Arthur Gordon, that Mr. Bryce dashed upon native women and children, "cutting them down gleefully and with ease." Subsequently, Mr. Bryce went to England, and brought an action for libel against Mr. Rusden, when the jury awarded him, £5000 damages, as it was proved in evidence that there were no women present, and that the charge against Mr. Bryce was completely baseless. The late Baron Huddleston presided at the trial, and Sir John Gorst appeared for Mr. Rusden. In 1871 Mr. Bryce entered Parliament as member for Wanganui, and on Oct. 8th, 1879, he accepted office under Sir John Hall as Minister for Native Affairs. About this time a tokunga (priest) named Te Whiti had began to give the Government some trouble by his resistance to settlement and claims to independent and supernatural power. As he had collected in his pa a large number of natives whose attitude was threatening, Mr. Bryce deemed the time had come for energetic action. Not being able to persuade his colleagues to agree with him, he retired from the Ministry, though continuing to give it a general support. Nine months afterwards he rejoined the Hall Government to carry out the native policy he had formerly unsuccessfully urged upon his colleagues. On Nov. 5th, 1881, he occupied Parihaka with a large force consisting of the armed constabulary and volunteers, and arrested Te Whiti and Tohu, one of his chief followers, as well as a notorious murderer named Hiroki, who was afterwards executed. The action was much criticised at the time. Mr. Bryce continued to hold office in the Atkinson and Whitaker Ministries till August 16th, 1884. In 1882 he carried through the House "The West Coast Peace Preservation Bill" by which Te Whiti and Tohu were imprisoned during Her Majesty's pleasure. He also passed the Amnesty Bill, which granted an amnesty to natives who had committed crimes during the war. By the provisions of this bill the notorious Te Kooti obtained a free pardon. Mr. Bryce was re-elected for Wanganui in 1890, and led the opposition to the Ballance Ministry. In Sept. 1891, however, he resigned his seat in the House, owing to a vote of censure having been passed upon certain expressions used by him in debate reflecting on the conduct of the Premier, and which he (Mr. Bryce) regarded as in no sense unparliamentary or objectionable.