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Historical Records of New Zealand

Captain Raven to Lieutenant-Governor King

page 177

Captain Raven to Lieutenant-Governor King.

Britannia, 2nd November. 1793.


In answer to your letter, which I was this morning favoured with, I beg leave to inform you that I shall strictly attend to your requisition. We are now making the utmost dispatch in procuring vegetables and refreshments, the want of which, and Norfolk Island lying directly in my track, induced me to touch here, where I shall await your commands.

All the information respecting my people whom I left for ten months on the south island of New Zealand I here subjoin, and shall be extremely happy if they convey any information worthy the attention of his Majesty’s Ministers or satisfactory to you. My first plan after discharging the cargo I brought from England to Port Jackson was to have gone to Dusky Bay to procure seals’ skins for the China market. The many impositions practised by masters of merchant ships upon the officers of the colony of New South Wales induced the gentlemen of Port Jackson to charter the Britannia to fetch a supply of provisions, &c., from the Cape of Good Hope. On this voyage I sailed from Port Jackson the 23rd of October, 1792. Having more people in the ship than was necessary for her management, I asked the second mate (Mr. Leith) to remain behind at Dusky Bay with a party of men and the carpenter. To this request he assent’d in the most unequivocal and manly manner you can conceive. On the eleventh day after leaving Port Jackson we anchored in Facile Harbour, one of the many ports contain’d amongst the archipelago of Dusky Bay Islands. The prospect of procuring skins and leaving my people in safety I thought might justify my conduct, and acquit me of any reproach for hazarding the event of so singular a speculation. By the latter part of November we had completed a dwellinghouse, 40 feet long, 18 broad, and 15 high, and had landed provisions and stores for twelve months. I also left ironwork, cordage, and sails, &c., for the building and rigging of a small vessel, which I had directed them to construct for their conveyance to some friendly port, as an unforeseen accident might prevent the return of the ship. On the 1st of December, 1792, we sailed, and left our shipmates perfectly satisfied with their situation and the attention I had paid to their comfort and protection. Not any circumstance occurred in circumnavigating the Globe which can afford you either information or amusement. Our passage from the south cape of New Zealand into the Atlantic Ocean was uninterrupted by any gales of wind, and was attended with moderate breezes from the S.W. and smooth water. On the 26th of June last we returned to Port Jackson; and on the 26th of August page 178 the ship was chartered by Lieut.-Governor Grose to fetch provisions from some part of India for the use of his Majestie’s colony of New South Wales. I had leave by the charter to touch at New Zealand for my people, and was directed by Lieut.-Governor Grose to convey every information respecting them and the nature of the place, &c., unto him. For this purpose his Majestie’s schooner Francis was order’d to accompany us. We sail’d from Port Jackson on the 8th of September, and anchored in Anchor Island Harbour on the 27th. Heavy gales and contrary winds were the cause of our being so long making a passage, which I am confident will, nine times out of ten, be performed in six or seven days. The instant we came to an anchor, Mr. Leith and five others came on board, and gave me the pleasing information of every person I had left being in health, Thos. Wilson, one of the seamen, excepted, who had a disease he had contracted at Port Jackson, which he had kept from the knowledge of every person until he was no longer able to do his duty. I found him very low, but on the recovery, and he is now quite well.

I found that my people had collected 4,500 seals’ skins, a quantity, though not equal to my former expectations, yet as I was well convinced they had used every exertion and had procured as many as possible, I was satisfied under those circumstances, and should have been so had the number been far less. What excited my admiration was the progress they had made in constructing a vessel of the following dimensions: 40 ft. 6 in. keel, 53 ft. length upon deck, 16 ft. 10 in. extreme breadth, and 12 feet hold. She is skined, ceiled, and decked, and with the work of three or four men for one day would be ready for caulking. Her frame knees and crooked pieces are cut from timber growing to the mould. She is planked, decked, and ceiled with the spruce fir, which in the opinion of the carpenter is very little inferior to English oak.

Her construction is such that she will carry more by one-half than she measures, and I am confident will sail well. The carpenter has great merit, and has built her with that strength and neatness which few shipwrights belonging to the merchant service are capable of performing.

There are various kinds of timber in Dusky Bay, but that which is principally fit for shipbuilding is the spruce fir, which may be cut along the shore in any quantity or size for the construction of vessels from a first-rate to a small wherry.

Fresh provisions are readily procured. Coal-fish are innumerable, and may be caught with hooks and lines in almost any quantity, and have this peculiar excellence—my people ate them without bread for many months twice a day, and page 179 were fond of them to the last. Ducks, wood-hens, and various fowls they have procured in great plenty. Tea they made from the spruce and tea-trees. The animals I left had fed them-selves upon what they found in the woods, and were exceedingly fat and prolific.

The rains here are not attended with that inconvenience experienced in other climates. Colds or rheumatisms my people were never afflicted with. The winter was mild, and in general they had better weather than in the summer months. The flax grows here in great abundance, from which our people made fishing-lines and kellick-ropes.

The Francis parted from us on the evening of Sunday, the 22nd of September, and did not arrive in Dusky Bay until Saturday, the 12th of October. We had then been waiting several days for a wind, and now found it necessary, as well for the good of his Majestie’s service as for the safety of the schooner, to remain and assist her with our carpenter to repair several defects, and to furnish boats to procure ballast, &c., &c. Sunday, the 21st of October, we sailed from Dusky Bay in company with the Francis, and parted company the same evening, she keeping her course for Port Jackson, and we hauled to the northward on our passage to Bengal.

Before I conclude, I beg leave to observe that we saw three natives the first time we were in Dusky Bay, but notwithstanding our giving them all the signs of friendship and hospitality we could not procure any intercourse. They took to the woods, and we never saw them again, nor did Mr. Leith see any inhabitants during his residence at Poenammoo. He once found a fire, but the natives had fled at his approach.

Should I have omitted any subject or circumstance you may wish to be acquainted with, I beg you will inform me, and I shall with pleasure attend to your request.

I am, &c.,

W. Raven.