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Historical Records of New Zealand

Letter From Baron De Thierry To The Editor Of The Sydney Gazette

Letter From Baron De Thierry To The Editor Of The Sydney Gazette.

Mount Isabel, Hokianga, N.Z., 17 Dec., 1837.


I arrived here on the 4th ultimo, and received the compliment of a salute of 21 guns from the ships in the river, which were dressed out in their colours, a compliment quite unexpected, and which augured those good feelings which I had every reason to hope would lead to the speedy establishment of order and prosperity in this interesting part of New Zealand., with feigned sincerity, offered me the use of his establishment for myself and followers, and we repaired to his habitation, where for three or four days there was that warmth on his part which impressed me with a conviction that he was a different person than had been represented to me in Sydney and on my arrival page 725 here. I was soon to discover my error. After assembling some of the native chiefs I found my claim to my territories warmly opposed, under the influence of some of the white residents. The Wesleyan missionaries had purchased a portion of my lands over me, and Mr. Russell and Captain Young had also purchased, in full knowledge of my previous claim. The natives were thus induced to say that they fully acknowledged having signed the deed obtained for me by Mr. Kendall, but that they did not receive the 36 axes mentioned in it. They however acknowledged having at a later period received 24 Sydney axes, but none of those which I sent by Mr. Kendall as part of the £800 property which I entrusted to his care. The white residents declare their belief that I gave that amount to Mr. Kendall, since many remember his telling them of his having received the property from me; they also grant that the deed was actually signed on board the ship Povidence, as witnessed by Captain Herd; but yet their own interests induce them to refuse me that possession to which I am so justly entitled. Nene (now called Thomas Walker) at length agreed to give me possession of a district, part of which had been re-purchased by Captain Young, who acceded to the arrangement on condition of receiving £100 to withdraw his pretensions. A few days after landing I took some of my men to the land, where I purchased a large native hut for them, and commenced erecting a temporary house on a fine commanding elevation, which I named after my little daughter. During my absence from ——’s place, he began the most diabolical tissue of false representations, and seduced the greater part of my emigrants from my service, He offered to find them in provisions for twelve months, to build them good residences, to give them lands and furnish them with oxen to plough them. Two or three deserted at a time in defiance of their written contracts. Each individual was to have repaid me his passage money, and that of his wife and children, if he left my employ before the expiration of twelve months, but——told them that they “might snap their fingers“ at me, for that there was no law in New Zealand. He employed my boat-builder to repair his boats, my painter in painting his long boat, my tailor in making clothes. &c., and without permission or compunction appropriated all those to his service whom I had brought at such heavy cost for my own. He then demanded of me provisions for the families of the deserters, which I of course refused, and wrote me the most impudent letter, taunting me with being an oppressor, whose aim was “to grind the hungry into submission.“ Most undoubtedly I refused to be at the expense of feeding the families of those who had deserted, and were employed by him. Thanks to this… page 726 and plausible man, I have been left without carpenters to erect my houses; without blacksmiths to work the iron I brought with me, and I am reduced to the necessity of employing my farming men as rough carpenters. ——’s aim was the frustration of my expedition, but he has failed. I have a few men remaining who are faithful, and having already gained the confidence and affection of the natives, whom I treat in all respects as white men, I have a sufficiency of laborers. My white farming men have already done what had never before been accomplished in New Zealand—they have broken up and dressed off several acres of land, now ready to receive the corn and potatoes. I have cleared a road upwards of a mile long, and about twenty feet broad, and have cut two other smaller roads. We have a house and outbuildings. I have sunk a deep well, and have given this previously wild place a civilised appearance.

I have done more than all this, however. I availed myself of the opportunity afforded by the loss of a few bars of soap to introduce for the first time in this country trial by jury, and the natives have since promised to resort to this mode of trial in future, within my territories, instead of the club-law system now in vogue with the whites. I am glad to have it in my power to say that many of the respectable residents here are friendly to the idea of establishing a code of laws and acknowledging some form of civilised government, but something still lurks behind which they cannot at present conquer—there is evidently, though they do not tell me so, a shyness at accepting a stranger as the leader of the community, and yet they know full well that honest and intelligent as many may be, and undoubtedly are, there is not at present another person here whose experience and qualifications fit him for the office. Captain McDonnell, who was at a former period “additional British Resident,“ and who has declared to me that his instructions were full and explicit on the subject, says that “there is but one king in New Zealand,“ and that king is the King of England. This I do not hesitate to deny. I am an Englishman at heart, but the study of my life will be to support the independence of New Zealand under some civilised ruler, be he who he may, and to save this fine people from the degradation and destruction which would inevitably follow its subjection to the British Crown. Good as my opinion has ever been of the New Zealanders, it is greatly improved by a closer connexion with them: they are mere children it is true, but they are gifted with kind and friendly feelings, and I find them both intelligent and trustworthy, and that they are willing to work cannot be better proved than by the greater portion of labour which in a few brief weeks has been done on this place. The greatest bar to page 727 their improvement is the blanket, which they prefer to other garments because they are poor and unprovided, and it serves them for clothing by day and covering by night. If properly paid, and receiving a fair remuneration for their labour, they would soon be supplied with covering for the night and proper clothing for their persons; it is their incessant aim, and I find that those who possess a few articles of dress wear them till they no longer hold together. They all look with great anxiety to the introduction of money amongst them, and it is to be hoped that it may ere long be brought into circulation, which will enable them to work for pay, and purchase those articles which they require. As for the idea that the most civilised of the New Zealanders are in a fit condition to govern themselves, it is perfectly ridiculous—their perfect ignorance of worldly affairs renders self-government quite unintelligible to them, and would subject them to all the dangers to which the uneducated and ignorant are subject. The country abounds with natural resources—the timber is magnificent, and I am surrounded by thousands of acres ready for the plough. On my own lands I have shell for lime, abundance of fine timber, stone enough to erect houses for centuries to come, fine gravel for roads, river sand for mortar, clay for bricks, and potters’ clay for earthenware, abundance of clear land and delicious water. Of the climate I can say nothing as yet; to one who has spent a few years in the tropics it is pleasant by day but uncomfortably cold at night.

I have lost about £200 passage money by deserters, and the conduct of Mr.——and Mr.——, his son-in-law, has been most shameful, as it unites at once duplicity, dishonesty, and ingratitude. I gave cabin passage to Mr.——, including Mr. and Mrs.——-, and supplied them with about £20 worth of clothing, &c., previous to their departure. I refer to my landlady in Pittstreet for my conduct to Mr. and Mrs.——at a period when they threw themselves unsought upon my hands, and those who may take the trouble to inquire into these particulars will be best able to conceive what must be my feelings at the scandalous conduct which ——’s influence has occasioned towards me. Some of the deserters are returning to Sydney, without permission or paying me what they owe me; it is very probable that they may make out their own version, and endeavour to bring discredit on my establishment; in this respect they may do as they please. Those who witness what I have already done in this country, and who have it in their power to ascertain the feelings of the people of New Zealand towards me, will some day or other make known the truth, if this plain statement should fail to establish it. I am about erecting a few comfortable cot- page 728 tages for the use of persons who may come to join me, and shall feel happy in promoting the welfare of such as may be willing to join me. The Rev. Mr. Marsden foretold with prophetic truth what has happened with the bulk of my emigrants, and had his advice to me been given before I had engaged to take them I would have saved much money and still more vexation by trusting my first efforts chiefly to the New Zealanders, and leaving to Sydney the unprincipled people whom I was unfortunate enough to bring away.

I remain, &c.,

Charles, Baron de Thierry,

Sov. C.