Historical Records of New Zealand
H.M. Store Ship Dromedary, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 19th April, 1820
I beg leave to acquaint you that the Rev. J. Butler, Resdt. Magistrate at the Bay of Islands, having represented to me by letter dated 11th inst. (a copy of which is hereby transmitted), that several convicts had been brought away from Port Jackson by the Amern. brig (but now ship) General Gates in July last, which ship laying in a distant part of this bay, I went the next day (12th) accompand. by Mr. Butler and Mr. Marsden, on board her, and made a formal demand on Captn. Riggs to deliver them up to me, when he declared on his word and honor that he had but three then attached to the ship, the others having run away, and those three were employed on shore cutting wood, and he should not be able to get them on board, but promised on his word he would land them, and leave them in charge of Mr. Hall, a missionary, when he was going to sea.
I had taken in the boat with me a man named John Richardson, a convict, whom His Excy. Govr. Macquarrie had ordered on board for the purpose of collecting plants, &c., thinking it probable he might recognise some of the convicts, and on our way was told by him that he was certain the Genl. Gates had brought away twelve or thirteen convicts, and told me the names of three of them, which I having made known to the American captain, he still denied it in the same positive terms as before, on which I examined his port clearance, mustered the crew, and searched the ship, having reminded him that she was seizable, when he at length said he had deceived me, but would state the truth of the whole affair, when he shewed me his articles of agreement to which had been wafered on a piece of paper, containing the names of eleven men, a list of which is sent herewith, all of whom he had brought from Port Jackson, one of which, James, alias Will Macdonald, he said was a free man, and was then on board his ship as part of the crew, and had been mustered by the name of one of his men who had deserted at Port Jackson; David Clarke he said he had landed on the south coast with a sealing party; the others, nine in number, were on shore near the ship. I had observed a boat from her proceed to the shore and return as I approached, and had no doubt she was sent for the purpose of landing the convicts, and had therefore determined to search for them, and accordingly took Capt. Riggs in my boat, who conducted me to the spot where he said they were employed in cutting wood, but he having called to them several times, and no answer being returned, I sent a midshipman and five of the boats’ crew in one page 523 direction and went with the Amern. captain and two natives in another, and after a search of several hours succeeded in bringing them all off. I had previous to landing promised to leave Jas. McDonald on board, Mr. Marsden having said he knew him to be a free man, and the American captain seeming so much distressed at the thought of losing him, saying that the whole success of his voyage depended on that man; and there the matter would have ended had I not the following morning received the accompanying declaration, signed by five of the convicts, setting forth the means pursued by Captain Riggs to entice them on board his ship, when I, with the approbation of the officers of the Dromedary, determined to send her to Port Jackson, in order to put His Excy. the Governor in possession of the ship and captain, and consequently the means of securing the penalties incurred by so gross a violation of the laws of the Government of New Sth. Wales, and accordingly sent the 2d. master and party of men to take possession of her. It was with some reluctance I was brought to this determination, as from the important and laborious service in which this ship is employed, surrounded by treacherous cannibals, she is, as must be imagined, by no means in a state to spare officers and men to take another ship into port; but the whole of the transaction appeared too infamous to pass over, and I considered I should be wanting in my duty as a British officer was I not to use every exertion in my power in support of the laws of my country, which in the present instance has been so grossly insulted; and I hope the measure I have pursued will meet the approbation of your honble. Board. I have sent Mr. Simmons, master’s mate, in charge of the ship, with orders to take her to Port Jackson, and deliver her up to His Excy. the Governor, and receive his instructions. He has under his orders Mr. Basker-ville, midsn., and eight men belonging to this ship, and three belonging to the Prince Regent, schr.; Fras. Ewer, one of the convicts, and Henry Gordon, said to be a free man, together with Captain Riggs and two of the Americans, are also sent, being as many of them as I deemed it prudent to trust on board; and it is my intention to send the Prince Regent with part of the Amern. ship’s crew (having taken out eight) to follow the ship in four or five days; and have requested His Excy. the Governor to be pleased to order the schooner to return, as she has been and still would be of essential service.
I beg leave to enclose a copy of the depositions made by the men taken out of the General Gates.
I have, &c.,
R. Skinner,Master Comg. The Principal Officers and Commrs. of H.M. Navy.