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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

Chapter III. — Taranaki Province

page 48

Chapter III.
Taranaki Province.

Leaving out the whalers, New Plymouth's shipping history as far as colonisation is concerned may be said to date from the end of the year 1839, when the New Zealand Land Company's ship Tory, 400 tons, after visiting Port Nicholson, went north with Colonel Wakefield to spy out the land as a possible site for settlement by some of the colonists to be brought out under the auspices of the company. As students of the early history of New Zealand are aware, the path of this company was anything but a bed of roses. The promoters were practically in open defiance against the British Government, and it was their action in secretly dispatching Wakefield in the Tory to New Zealand to buy land from the Maoris that forced the hands of the British Government, and resulted in the sending out of Captain Hobson to take possession of these islands in the name of Queen Victoria.

New Zealand was attracting much attention at Home at the time, and while the New Zealand Land Company was making its chequered start a second colonising association was formed in the West of England. The Plymouth Company of New Zealand, as this second organisation was called, was initiated at a meeting held in Plymouth on January 25, 1840, at which it was decided to raise £150,000 capital for the purpose of acquiring land in New Zealand and settling it with people from Devon and Cornwall. At the head of the company was the Earl of Devon, and associated with him were a number of prominent persons, several of whom bore titles. The names of some of these leaders are perpetuated in the streets of New Plymouth, such as Courtenay Eliot, Buller, and Pendarves. Great care was taken in selecting the settlers, many of them being of good yeoman stock. It was arranged to purchase land from the New Zealand Land Company, and Mr. F. A. Carrington, surveyor, was dispatched at the end of 1840 to select a site. Mr. Carrington paid his first visit to Taranaki in January, 1841, and after having had a good look round there as well as elsewhere he finally decided in favour of Taranaki as the best site for the settlement. He and his wife and three children, and ten assistants, were conveyed in the barque Brougham from Wellington to Taranaki, anchoring off the Sugar Loaf Islands on February 12, 1841. In after years some of the settlers growled at the absence of a harbour, but Carrington wisely maintained that good land without a harbour would give more chances of ultimate success than a good harbour with poor land. He has been amply justified in his selection. When Carrington's selection had been approved it was decided to purchase a large tract of about 100,000 page 49 acres from the New Zealand Land Company. Whether the company could show title deeds is another matter, but as the two companies afterwards amalgamated they were probably both in the same boat as far as titles were concerned.

The William Bryan.

Excellent arrangements were made for sending out the settlers in batches. Six barques were chartered, and it is most refreshing to read of these well-found craft and the satisfactory provisioning, for in the later stories of the immigrant ships one so often comes upon a well-deserved growl about "old tubs" and "salt horse."

The first barque that left England under the company's scheme was the William Bryan, 312 tons, Captain Maclean, which brought out 148 passengers, including 70 children. In his interesting pamphlet, "Taranaki, 1840-1842," Mr. W. H. Skinner gives interesting details connected with the charter of the William Bryan and a number of the other ships that brought out Taranaki pioneers. This barque had been engaged in the West Indian trade. She was chartered by her owners, Domett and England, of London, at the rate of £5 2/6 per ton, which works out at just under £1600 for the voyage. In addition the charterers were to allow the owners £60 a head for victualling the cabin passengers, £40 for intermediate or second cabin passengers, and £18 15/ for the steerage passengers. The ship was bound to carry a surgeon and the manning was on the scale of five men and one boy to every 100 tons registered. It is interesting to know that the lower deck, where the emigrants lived, was only 105 feet 3 inches long, and the headroom or height of the ceiling from the deck was just over 6 feet at the for'ard end, 5 feet 11 inches at the main hatchway, and 7 feet at the stern post. And that was all the room there was for 148 people, including 70 children.

The William Bryan left Plymouth on November 19, 1840. Prior to their departure the emigrants were entertained at a lunch, the Earl of Devon presiding, and at this historic gathering Mr. Gibbon Wake-field, of New Zealand Land Company fame, made the dramatic announcement that the previous day's London "Gazette" contained a proclamation that Captain Hobson had taken possession of New Zealand in the name of the British Government. This reminds us that when the New Zealand Land Company began its preparations for colonisation the country was not even British soil.

After an uneventful passage of four months the William Bryan anchored in Port Underwood on March 20, everybody on board being in excellent health, thanks to the good food, and the care taken by the ship's surgeon, Dr. Weeks. The vessel remained, at Port Underwood for a week. An account of the voyage mentions that "the emigrants had dined al fresco for nearly two months on deck, as very little rain fell during the passage." It was at Port Underwood that the newcomers saw their first Maoris, and the tattooed faces struck them as being very strange indeed. It was there also that they heard of the selection of Taranaki as the site of the future settlement. It page 50 was out of the way, and there was nothing in the shape of a harbour, so it is not surprising the people began to murmur; they thought their interests were being sacrificed for the sake of those of the New Zealand Land Company. However, the assurance that Taranaki was known as "the Garden of New Zealand" brought some consolation.

Leaving Port Underwood on March 28, the barque two days later anchored off the Sugar Loaves, about a mile and a-half off shore. Next day the passengers were landed on the Moturoa Beach, and by April 6 the ship was cleared of all her cargo and the livestock that had been brought out from the Old Land. Everything had to be boated ashore, and in the early days we hear of many exciting adventures in the surf. Although the passengers and their luggage and the bulk of the food-stuffs were landed on the Moturoa Beach, the sections of the company's storehouse and the agent's residence were rafted along the coast and landed in the bay in front of Mount Eliot (where the railway station now stands). This locality was in the early days known as "Port Eliot," being named after the place of the same name on the Tamar in the Old Country.

Landed in a strange country, among savages, the first settlers felt very desolate after leaving the well-ordered ship, and the women were particularly down-hearted. More than half the passengers were women and children, and the women felt keenly the lack of privacy of those first days ashore. Tents had been run up, and there were also several raupo whares that had been erected for the family of "Dickey" Barrett, and in these the people were quartered. Barrett, an ex-whaler, was a noted character of early Taranaki. He was a powerful, frank sort of fellow, and seems to have been a sort of general cicerone to the first settlers. In these tents and whares there was no privacy whatever for the Englishwomen, and they used to lie down in their clothes at night, never thinking of undressing. The weather, fortunately, was fine, and eventually matters were straightened out, but it was a rough entry into the new life, and small wonder that some tears were shed, and some of the travellers sighed for the combes and lanes of their own peaceful West Country.

Dickey Barrett.

Barrett's name figures prominently in the early history of Taranaki, and in fact of all the early ventures of the New Zealand Land Company. There is a good description of him in Wakefield's book. When the ship Tory got to Queen Charlotte Sound in the spring of 1839 her people were amused at the rotundity of a whaler named Williams, but Barrett was even more so. "We had been highly amused at the comfortable obesity of Williams, and considered him a promising example of the good effects of New Zealand feeding," wrote Wakefield, "but what was our surprise on finding Dickey Barrett, as he is generally called, as much stouter in person, as he was shorter. Dressed in a white jacket, blue dungaree trousers, and a round straw bat, he seemed perfectly round all over; while his jovial ruddy face, twinkling eyes, and good-humoured smile, could not fail to excite pleasure in all beholders. And a merry party it was to look upon as we page 51 sat round the cabin table, listening to the relation of the wild adventures and hairbreadth escapes of Barrett and his two fellow-whalers. He had been in New Zealand for ten or twelve years, first as a flax-trader at the Sugar Loaf Islands, and the last five years as a whaler in Tory Channel."

Barrett was married to a Maori woman of high rank, and his descendants are still living in Taranaki. This good-natured whaler died at Taranaki in 1847, much to the regret of both Maori and pakeha.

The Amelia Thompson.

Second of the six barques to sail was the Amelia Thompson, a Sunderland-built vessel of 480 tons, Captain William Dawson, which left Plymouth on March 25, 1841, with 187 passengers, of whom 104 were males. She arrived off Port Underwood on August 2, 130 days out, was sent on to Port Nicholson for instructions, and did not get to New Plymouth until September 3. The voyage out was long and somewhat tedious, but not unpleasant, as the weather had been generally good throughout. When Brazilian waters were reached, the winds being variable, the captain decided to put into Bahia, to break the weary monotony, At that port the ship remained four days at anchor, and obtained a supply of fresh water, fruit and vegetables. An old journal records that all hearts were saddened at the sight of gangs of slaves, some chained together, the poor things being emaciated and covered with sores. There were seven deaths on the voyage out and seven births. Among the passengers was Captain Henry King, formerly of the Royal Navy, who was chief commissioner for the company, and took an active part in furthering the success of the settlement. Before he left England, Captain King had several houses built in sections, and these were assembled when Taranaki was reached.

The equinoctial gales were blowing when the Amelia Thompson arrived off the Sugar Loaves, and the captain, being a cautious man, did not feel too comfortable in such an open roadstead. He used to clear out on the slightest suspicion of the wind coming in, and consequently it was the middle of October before the cargo was unloaded. A contemporary account speaks of the captain "apparently thinking there is no safety for him unless he is ten or twenty miles from the place." As a result of this shyness of Captain Dawson's the boats that brought passengers and cargo ashore often had a long pull, and once when a boat was benighted the occupants were thrown on the rocks, but no lives were lost. The skipper seems to have made up his mind from the first that the Taranaki roadstead was no place for the Amelia Thompson. When he got as far as Port Nicholson he did his best to convince everyone that his duty ended there, and that passengers should disembark there and take their cargo with them. There were some protracted negotiations, and eventually an extra £100 provided by Colonel Wakefield induced this cautious skipper to proceed to Taranaki.

When the first anniversary of the arrival of the Amelia Thompson came round it was observed as a public holiday in New Plymouth, page 52 part of the celebrations being a ball, "the first ever held here," and fireworks, which greatly astonished the natives.

The subsequent history of the Amelia Thompson shows the truth of the old saying about ignorance and bliss. On one occasion when beached at Batavia to have her bottom cleaned, Captain Dawson was amazed to find that her back was broken. When he got back to London he told the insurance agent about it, and that gentleman coolly remarked, "Oh, yes, we knew that; her back was broken when she was being launched." For a time the Amelia Thompson was engaged as a transport during the Chinese war, and eventually she was wrecked on the coast of India, near Madras, one life being lost.

Wreck Of The Regina.

As the Amelia Thompson could not take all the cargo that came forward, the newly-built copper-sheathed schooner Regina, 174 tons, Captain Browse, was chartered by the company. She left Plymouth early in April, 1841, and on August 31 reached Port Nicholson, where she remained nearly a month. She left again on September 27, taking as a passenger Captain Liardet, R.N., who superseded Captain King, as agent of the New Zealand Land Company, the two organisations having by this time amalgamated.

Arriving off New Plymouth on October 3, the schooner struck the same bad weather as the Amelia Thompson. Part of the little vessel's cargo was landed, and then she was compelled to put to sea, there being such a furious gale blowing. Bad weather continued at intervals, and finally, on the evening of November 4, the schooner was driven ashore opposite the landing-place. No lives were lost. An attempt was made to float her off later, with the aid of casks, but she was too firmly embedded, and eventually was so damaged by pounding on the rocks that she became a total wreck. Fortunately all the cargo was got out of her. The hull was sold to Mr. John Lewthwaite for £150. The spot where the Regina went ashore is just about where the New Plymouth railway station now stands.

The Oriental.

The Oriental, 506 tons, Captain William Watson, the third of the barques chartered by the company, sailed from Plymouth on June 22, 1841, and arrived at New Plymouth on November 7, after having first called in at Port Nicholson. There were only 90 emigrants aboard, and only one cabin passenger—Mr. Charles Armitage Brown, the friend of Keats, the poet. Sixteen other cabin passengers had left the ship at Port Nicholson, as they did not like the reports they heard about Taranaki. The Oriental had a fine weather passage from the Old Land. As she had so few passengers and little cargo beyond the belongings of the passengers, she got quick discharge, but nevertheless she very nearly met the same fate as the Regina.

Apparently there was some trouble with the crew, and in weighing anchor the orders of the captain were not properly carried out. The barque was perilously near the shore, at one time being about half a page 53 cable's length off, but fortunately the anchors held when promptly dropped. Captain Liardet then went aboard and skilfully worked the vessel out of her difficult position. As it was she struck the bottom two or three times, but no serious damage was done. Naturally such incidents as these did not enhance the reputation of the roadstead, and Wellington merchants for a time absolutely refused to send vessels up. We read that towards the end of 1841, when some persons were trying to charter a vessel, "out of twenty lying at Port Nicholson none of the captains could be induced to accept a charter at any price."

The month of November, 1841, was a particularly unlucky one for the infant settlement of New Plymouth. The Regina was wrecked, the Oriental had a narrow escape, and a little later a dreadful accident happened to Captain Liardet and Mr. John Watson. Intending to purchase one of the four-pounder iron guns off the Regina, Captain Liardet was busily engaged clearing the touch-hole, which had been spiked, when the powder exploded, both Liardet and Watson getting the charge in their faces. Liardet lost his right eye, and the following March he left for England to get the best medical attention. He luckily retained the sight of the left eye, and was appointed to a responsible position at the Greenwich Hospital.

A Pleasant Voyage.

Stoutest and best-found of all the vessels sent out to New Plymouth was the barque Timandra, 382 tons, Captain Skinner, which made the passage direct in 113 days. She left Plymouth on November 2, 1841, and arrived on February 23, 1842, bringing 212 passengers, the largest number sent out in any one of the six vessels. Her cargo included two sets of moorings for the roadstead. One set was laid down about two miles from the shore. It was intended to land the other set, but one of the anchors was lost when being sent ashore on a raft, and the other one of the pair was taken on to Sydney, where it lay so long on Moore's wharf that the wharfage came to more than its value, and it was eventually sold by auction.

This fine ship had a pleasant passage out. On the way out a call was made at Capetown, where a fortnight was spent, including Christmas Day. In marked distinction to many of the emigrant ships of the 'fifties and the 'sixties, the Timandra was a happy craft, and everyone had a good word to say for her. Among the passengers was Mr. W. Devenish, who brought out with him a small flock of Southdown sheep, the first seen in New Zealand. The Timandra seems to have been in luck all the way through, for she landed her passengers and cargo without a hitch in perfect weather, during her ten days' stay off New Plymouth. The Rev. Horatio Grouber, son of Admiral Grouber, arrived by this ship and for a considerable time conducted religious services in the raupo whares.

Blenheim And Essex.

By the fifth barque, the Blenheim, 374 tons, Captain John Grey, 159 passengers arrived at New Plymouth on November 19, 1842, after a passage of 141 days from the mother Plymouth. Apparently nothing page 54 very unusual was noted about this long voyage, but it is interesting to know that the contract price for bringing out the passengers was £17 9/6 for each adult.

Last of the fleet was the barque Essex, 329 tons, Captain Oakley, which brought out 114 people, making a total of 896 for the six vessels. The Essex left Plymouth on September 3, 1842, and reached New Plymouth on January 23, 1843.

The Theresa Falls In With A Pirate.

Although she came somewhat later than the first ships I cannot omit some reference to the Theresa, which arrived at New Plymouth in the autumn of 1843. She happened to number among her passengers a young man named Fred Weld, who afterwards became Premier of the Colony, and was later, as Sir Frederick Weld, Governor in three other colonies, Western Australia, Tasmania, and Straits Settlement. He left a very interesting diary, which is full of references to New Zealand, and he gave a very good account of the voyage out. The Theresa, a vessel of 750 tons, sailed on November 27, and got a bad time going across the Bay of Biscay, but Weld did not suffer as much as some of the other folks. He came of a yachting family, his father owning the famous Alarm, which yachting men will remember was the boat that raced against the schooner America—the first of the races that started the long series of America Cup contests.

Speaking of the food, Weld said it was very good indeed at first, but it was otherwise with the water. "Our drinking water," he wrote, "had been taken from the Thames, and could have been smelt a mile off; but we were told it was quite wholesome, and that its merit consisted in this: That it would ferment, and so work off the impurities, and then keep for ever. This at least was the nautical view, and I believe there was something in it, as after a certain stage of nauseousness the water did get better and remained so, though it certainly would not be considered drinkable nowadays."

His ideas about the food were modified later on, for we read: "The fare on the Theresa, especially after all the sheep and pigs had been killed, was not only not luxurious, but not even over plentiful, and I remember on one or two occasions when we had fried porpoise liver it was looked upon as a welcome addition to our bill of fare."

It was not a very eventful voyage, but it is interesting to know that the ship fell in with the last of the pirates. "Our first adventure," says the diary, "was being chased by a pirate brig showing Danish colours off the Azores. She hoisted her colours, tacked and stood after us close-hauled to get to windward. She came within range, but probably took us for a troopship from the numbers on board, and because as she neared us we began shooting with our rifles. I guessed what she was from her manoeuvres, her look, and the evident anxiety of our captain… She fell astern again in a light and baffling wind, which favoured us, in the night, and at daybreak she bore up, and went off in a different direction. A week or two after that date she chased and nearly captured another English vessel. We heard full particulars of her captain and crew and armaments later on. She page 55 carried four long guns, and might well have captured us… I mention this incident as she was, I think, one of the last of the regular pirates on the Atlantic. It was said that by the connivance of certain Portuguese authorities she sometimes passed muster as a trader, and made her headquarters and got her supplies at Port Praya."

Weld's next bit of excitement was on Christmas night, when the passengers were awakened by shrieks of fire, which caused a fearful tumult, and was then discovered to be a hoax. "The firebell rang for the crew to turn up, but most of them had been keeping Christmas too well, and were too drunk to leave their bunks," is a comment that throws much light on the sort of discipline that sometimes prevailed on these by-gone days.

The Theresa lost her main topmast and all her lighter sails and gear, and split her fore-topsail into ribbons in a white squall off the Cape of Good Hope. She heeled over ominously, but righted as the sails were blown out of the colt-ropes. "I had hoped," wrote Weld, "that we should have put into the Cape for repairs, but instead of that we were all made to set to work to repair the damage."

At last the ship sighted Mount Egmont, and on March 19, 1844, anchored off New Plymouth. Weld went for a tramp up to the Waitara River, and when he got back next day found a gale of wind blowing and the Theresa nearly on the rocks. A crew of whalers went off in a surf boat, got sail on her, and a favourable slant of wind coming at the right moment she made a safe offing. The sailors quarrelled with the captain, and refused to work, and this led to the loss of an anchor, and for the second time the ship was nearly on the rocks.

Next day the Theresa got under way with a change of wind, and with the help of the passengers she was put on the course for Nelson. Upon arrival at the infant township of Nelson the crew were sent to prison, "or such a substitute for it as the place afforded," as Weld put it.