The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64
The Junior Member for the Thames
The Junior Member for the Thames.
An "Irish half-caste" is what Mr Sheehan lately described himself. Born in Auckland, Mr Sheehan is a wonderful specimen of the genus Colonial-Paddy. If his career cannot be deemed a success, it is not for the want of being held in excellent estimation by one man, that man being Mr John Sheehan.
Not without experience in speaking and debate, for he had held office in provincial administrations, Mr Sheehan was yet a young man when he was elected to a seat in the House of Representatives—a man of no such high culture, rank, or experience, but that it might have been expected of him that he would have commenced his Parliamentary course with modesty. But the flattering remarks of congratulation on his being the first New Zealand-born statesman who had entered the House, heaped upon him by such old politicians as Sir Francis Bell and others, chimed in so well with his own vanity that he launched out at once into one of the most bombastic speeches ever heard in the House. St. John crying in the wilderness he likened himself to, but the page 14 similitude I have ever failed to recognise. Of Mr Sheehan's reputation and the best-known traits of his character in private life—if any life can be deemed private which is so open to public observations and of so frequent public remark—it is not seemly to apeak. It is no longer whispered in the ear, but proclaimed from the house-tops. It gives me, therefore, the more pleasure to draw attention to the points of merits in Mr Sheehan's public character. Without doubt he is the best tactician in the House, and were he a person on whom more dependence could be placed, might command a large following. He speaks well—not pleasantly, for his voice is rough, his enunciation common, and he rushes the last part of his sentences, so as sometimes almost to make them unintelligible. But he has that great gift of oratory, the power of speaking with apparent earnestness and ingenuousness, which deceives the innocent and ignorant. His speeches are clever, pithy, and amusing. He hits hard, but always above the belt, levels no truthless insinuations, and makes no enemies by the misuse of his tongue. It is notable, too, that although utterly reckless in expenditure of Government money when a Minister, Mr Sheehan left office no richer than when he came into it, if so rich. A tone of levity seems to pervade his speeches, because he constantly quotes the Bible—not that I object to the use of Biblical phrases or similes occasionally, but Mr Sheehan, by his frequent use of Scripture language, begets a feeling of irreverence. He is ever quoting them,
"And undisturbed by conscientious qualms
Perverts the Prophets, and purloins the Psalms."
As an administrator Mr Sheehan carried looseness and recklessness to such a pitch as was never heard of in the country before. His bills for cab hire are not yet forgotten, but it is in keeping with the friendly way in which all parties treat him that the House passed them without a murmur.
His utter extravagance helped to place the country in the difficulties in which Sir George Grey's Government left it, and his mis management of Native affairs was [unclear: u] ampled. With all his knowledge of Maoris and Maori customs, Mr Sheehan has no real influence over the race. While he scattered gold broadcast among them, the Natives suffered him; but the Maori chief has the instincts of a gentleman, and he can discern as well as the best of us who is and who is not a Rangitira-Pakeha. Mr Sheehan's [unclear: bonhom] makes him liked in spite of all his faults but I am inclined to think that his influence is fast waning. Though a member of that pure Liberal party whose highest aspirations were to prevent the acquisition of large estates, Mr Sheehan is now himself the agent of the largest land purchasers in the Island; and though a member of Sir George Grey's Cabinet, he has lately opposed himself so much to the views of his chief, that it is freely said he will not, at all events with Sir George Grey's consent, be returned for the Thames again. If he does lose his seat at the nest election, Mr Sheehan will never more be seen in the House. He has so abused and degraded the position of a Minister of the Crown, that no party would again entrust him with office; and even his great power of debate is going if we are to take his speech on the Redistribution of Seats Bill as an example of his capabilities now.
Politically, Mr Sheehan is in bad odour and once out of the arena there is nothing in him to bring about his return. He is one out of many sad instances of how a career bright with promise can, by an over weening self-confidence, by an absence of principle, by a misuse of the powers bestowed upon him by Providence, and an abuse of the position those powers have placed him in, become smudged and blurred, pass from our recollection, and leave no good or successful deeds behind to keep his memory green.