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The Old Whaling Days



The following will be found to be a fairly accurate description of the distribution of the American whaling fleet over the various whaling grounds of the South Island of New Zealand that year:—

Cloudy Bay.
Arrival. Name. Port from. Master. Departure.
Samuel Robertson New Bedford M'Kenzie Oct. 3
Favourite Fairhaven Bunting page 189
Apr. 22 Mary Mitchell Nantucket Joy Sep. 27
Apr. 24 Jasper Fairhaven Raymond Oct. 3
Apr. 24 Erie Newport Dennis Sep. 27
May 1 Navy Newburyport Neil July 11
May 2 Vermont Poughkeepsie Topham Aug. 22
May 5 James Stewart St. John's N.B. Gardner Oct. 3
May 11 John Adams New Bedford Luce Sep. 21
May 22 Tuscaloosa New Bedford Hussey Sep. 16
May 30 South Boston Fairhaven Butler Sep. 27
June 4 Franklin Nantucket Morton
June 7 Benjamin Rush Warren Coffin Sep. 5
Aug. 2 Warren Warren Mayhew Aug. 22
Banks Peninsula.
(Port Cooper, and Akaroa.)
Nile New Bedford Townend
Friendship Fairhaven West
Warren Warren Mayhew
Sarah Lee Bristol Weeks
Southern Ports.
(Preservation Inlet, Chalky Bay, Port Findlay, Bluff, and Otago.)
Martha Newport Potter
Gratitude New Bedford Fisher
Columbus Fairhaven Ellis

In connection with the movements of the Cloudy Bay fleet, it should be added that on her departure the Navy sailed for Mana Island, where there is evidence of her being as late as 7th October. The dates of departure of the Favourite and the Franklin cannot be ascertained, but the former was there on 8th August, and the latter on 6th September. The Warren only called in at Cloudy Bay: she had sailed from Port Cooper a full ship. For the detailed statements of the movements of the Cloudy Bay fleet, the author is indebted to the logs of the Mary Mitchell, the Jasper, and the Tuscaloosa, the first-named of which page 190 he discovered in the rooms of the Nantucket Historical Society, Nantucket, the second in those of the Dartmouth Historical Society, New Bedford, and the third in the New Bedford Library. The log of the Mary Mitchell is a perfect encyclopaedia of information regarding Cloudy Bay whaling, and that portion of it which records her doings while at anchor in Cloudy Bay during the bay whaling season has been deemed worthy of being published as Appendix E.

The Nile and the Friendship are reported in Hempleman's log as arriving at Port Cooper on 27th April. No further reference being made to them, it is probable that they remained there to fill up with oil, as the Nile was at that harbour on 16th September.

The only information regarding the Sarah Lee is the report of the Warren, on arrival at her destination in the United States, that she left the former in Akaroa Bay on 1st August.

Of the American vessels in the Southern Ports information is somewhat meagre, and is obtained chiefly from Australian sources, through the captains of the vessels attending on the shore whaling parties. The Martha was at Preservation Bay when Captain Bruce, of the Sydney Packet, arrived there—probably about May. She reported having on board at that time 350 barrels of black oil and 90 of sperm, and she remained at Preservation for three weeks, but not being successful, went on to Otago. In a bay near there she found a very rich spot, where during the season she secured no less than 1700 barrels. The spot selected has not been identified, but American files reported it to be at Hacarurah Bay. This might be taken to indicate Akaroa, but the dates scarcely permit of her being so far from Otago on 25th July. It might be Purakanui. The Columbus procured 1600 barrels at Otago, where she was reported to have been on 10th September.

The third American vessel known to have visited the Southern Ports was the Gratitude. Captain Bruce reported her at Chalky when he visited that port about May. She page 191 had then 950 barrels of black oil and some elephant, which she had probably secured at Desolation Island, where she had called. She was bound for Otago. On 30th July she was at the Bluff, and evidently did very well there, as later on she was spoken by the Denmark Hill repairing damage, and had then secured 2000 barrels. The latest date she was reported from the Bluff was 12th September.

The lists given above account for twenty American vessels engaged in bay whaling in and south of Cook Strait. In addition to these another vessel, the Halcyon, had, in the early part of the year, been engaged, so it was reported, conveying Maoris from Port Nicholson to the Chatham Islands.

The proportion of American vessels to the total number of whalers engaged is difficult to ascertain. In a letter from Port Cooper, sent by the Nile to New Bedford, and addressed to the agent of a London House concerned in the whaling trade, the writer puts the number of American, English, and French ships, at forty, which would make the American fleet exactly one-half of the total. The major portion of the English ships were from Sydney. In regard to the size of the vessels, the tonnage of seventeen ranged from 235 to 421 tons, the average being 333, which will give a very fair idea of the size of the vessels sent out on whaling voyages from the eastern ports of the United States. Nearly all the American whaling ports were represented, New Bedford, and Fairhaven, with five each, Nantucket, Newport, and Warren, with two each, Newbury-port, Poughkeepsie, St. Johns, and Bristol, with one each.

All these vessels took with them some sperm oil, but the oil of the right whale formed by far the larger portion of the cargo. A very large number of the whalers sailed straight from the Bay here recorded to their port of destination in the United States, but some waited for a second year to fill up with oil. To give a better idea of the size of the various vessels, the date of their return, their relative cargoes of black and sperm oil, and the weight of whalebone page 192 taken away, the information has been compiled and set out by the author in tabular form.

Ship. Tons. Return Cargoes in Barrels and Ibs.
1837 Black. Sperm. Bone.
Nile 371 Feb. 4 2400 200 21,300
Warren 382 Feb. 11 3000 800 30,000
Benjamin Rush 374 Feb. 11 120 1820
Favourite 293 Mar. 21 1000 240
Friendship 366 April 15 700
Sarah Lee 235 April 26 1700 600
Columbus 382 April 26 2100 600
Vermont 292 May 12 2500 400
Martha May 31 1700 240
Franklin 246 June 11 750
James Stewart June 24 2740 300 31,000
Jasper 360 June 24 1800 250
Samuel Robertson 421 June 24 3200 200
John Adams 268 July 9 1750 250
Navy 356 July 15 2600 200 45,000
South Boston 339 Aug. 10 2400 300
Gratitude 337 Aug. 19 3100 300
Tuscaloosa 284 Dec. 16 1870 130
Erie Jan. 21 2600 300 17,000
Mary Mitchell 354 May 17 1974 596

Total black oil for 18 vessels, 38,554 barrels or 4819 tuns.

The whole of the black oil, if not obtained in the bays of the South Island, was obtained in New Zealand waters, and at £28 per tun makes £134,932 the value of the cargoes of oil of these eighteen vessels in New Zealand waters.

The same principle of remuneration of the men prevailed in the American as in the Australian ships—they were paid by the lay. The following scale, dated New Bedford, September, 1832, was the one adopted by the Americans, particularly by those sailing out of New Bedford, New London, and Nantucket.

page 193
Rank. 500 tons. 350 tons. 300 tons. 150 tons.
Captain 1/20 1/15 1/12
Chief mate 1/35 1/25 1/20 1/12
Second mate 1/50 1/45 1/30 1/20
Third mate 1/60 1/50 1/25
Fourth mate 1/70
Boat steerers, Carpenters,
Coopers, Blacksmiths 1/110 1/100 1/75 1/40
A.B., Cook and Steward 1/175 1/140 1/120 1/50
Ordinary Seamen 1/200 1/175 1/150 1/65
Crew 35 30 22 18

£29 per ton old measure was allowed for oils; £7 10s. allowed for black oil.

In addition to the fleet of whalers, there appeared in Foveaux Strait a schooner—the Ionic—from Boston. Captain Bruce spoke her on 8th May with only 52 skins on board although she had been thirteen months out. Her captain, Clark, transhipped his cargo to the Selma, and sailed about the middle of June from the Bay of Islands for California. On her road she called in at the Sandwich Islands, where she remained from the middle of August to about the end of September.

From the logs of the Mary Mitchell, and the other American vessels of the Cloudy Bay fleet, a general idea of the 1836 whaling season, from the American side, can be gathered. It is worthy of mention, incidentally, that of the vast fleets of whaling vessels which represented America, Britain, New South Wales, and Van Diemen's Land, the only logs which can now be obtained are those of a small craft called the Bee, sailing out of Sydney, and those of the Americans, which can be obtained in great numbers. The author knows of not one other log of all the vast fleets of British whalers which visited our shores up to 1840.

The American whalers were on an entirely different footing to the Sydney and Hobart Town vessels. The latter were near their own headquarters and could come and go at their own convenience, while the former were compelled to make the bay their headquarters for the page 194 whole of the season, and even at the end of it were indebted to the natives for the supply of provisions which were to last them for the years of their voyage. For similar causes the proportion of men who knew and could converse with the Maoris was very much smaller than in the Sydney and Hobart fleets. The Americans had, therefore, to rely to a greater extent on Maori labour, and to be indebted to the services of interpreters. These men were locally called “tonguers.” There were two or three such men at Cloudy Bay—Europeans and mostly runaways from ships. Each tonguer had a boat, and had also a number of natives attached to him. On the arrival of a vessel he went on board and canvassed for employment, which consisted of interpreting and furnishing a boat's crew to help to tow the dead whales, and to cut them up. The remuneration for these services was the carcass and tongue of the whale. This would provide about six or eight barrels of oil per whale. The tongue was always left on the carcass under the Cloudy Bay whaling conditions. In “The Piraki Log” the word “tonguer” is suggested as a corruption of the Maori “tonga.” This is quite wrong. A tonguer was a man who interpreted and assisted in cutting up and who was paid with the tongue of the whale. Wakefield has fully described his duties; so also has Pitt Johnston.

No sooner was the anchor down in Cloudy Bay than provision had to be made for the season's stay. One of the first things was to arrange for the building of a house ashore, in which to do coopering and to mend boats. Arrangements were made with the chiefs who held power locally delegated to them by Te Rauparaha. Sometimes they were difficult to deal with, but as they were jealous of their patrons leaving them for another part of the Bay, where they would be under another chief's jurisdiction, the ordinary commercial instincts of the parties were responsible for a working tariff, generally of some 100 heads of tobacco. These same chiefs exercised control over the coves, and would, for a consideration like two muskets, give a captain the use of a whole cove for wood and water page 195 and for landing casks, and would also give him power to exclude others therefrom.

The ships rode at anchor in the many little coves of Port Underwood, and, as they came from the same ports in the United States, and had been long removed from their own country, a custom grew up of parties visiting from the different ships when things were quiet. Some of the captains did not like the riot which this custom brought about, and did their best, by securing isolated anchoring places, to get clear of it altogether.

On board the Navy was a doctor, to whom the many casualties of the fleet were taken for treatment.

If the captain desired to man more boats than the number of his crew would permit, recourse was had to the Maori village for able-bodied men accustomed to handle an oar. They were got at what is now known as Tory Channel, at that time not distinguished from Queen Charlotte Sound, but called simply, the Sound. Sometimes the boats, on returning from the Sound, were found to contain more women (called squahs by the Americans) than men. Numbers of these Maori women associated themselves with the crew during the ship's stay in port, and only left when the ship sailed at the end of the season.

The question of labour to man the boats was complicated by the attractions held out on shore to the sailors to abscond and seek other employment. A rum shop ashore was responsible for enticing the men from their work, with the result that they often came on board mad drunk, and either broke the captain's skull, or had their own broken by him. Employment in a shore gang sometimes proved too attractive for the weaker men, and the log of the Mary Mitchell records the fact that the fourth mate applied for and obtained employment in Guard's whaling party ashore. As he appears to have been a useless man he was got rid of without any regrets.

There were also charges made against one man associated with Sydney whaling—enticing men from their ships. The Sydney records which mention the fact carefully omit page 196 the name of the accused, but Captain Joy, in his log, gives his name as Richards, the captain of the Roslyn Castle.

After arranging the crews, the usual course of procedure was to mate with another vessel. Thereafter the two vessels worked in concert, and, according to rules well recognised, shared between them the whales caught by their two boats.

The day's procedure was for the full number of boats the ship could supply to go out early in the forenoon and scour the Bay for whales. At five they returned with what “fish” they had secured. As many as twenty to twenty-five boats were recorded as being out at one time. The captain generally remained with the vessel and attended to the woodcutting or boat repairing on shore, or the cutting, boiling, or stowing away on board. If by reason of the distance it was impossible to tow the dead whales to the vessel they were anchored. In one case recorded a whale was anchored on Sunday, after having been towed for six miles; on Monday it was found seven miles off, but as only one boat was there it had to be left; on Tuesday there was no appearance of it and with it were lost the anchors, two lines, and six irons. It was no uncommon thing for the anchored whale not to be got in until the third day.

These derelict dead whales were sometimes secured by other vessels, or by shore parties; sometimes they drifted ashore and were taken possession of by the Maoris, who took out the bone and sold it to the whalers. Sometimes the harpoon would draw after the whale was fastened, and the latter would thus be lost.

It was but natural that with whales escaping alive, and getting free when dead, disputes sometimes took place regarding the ownership of a dead “fish.” The unwritten law of whaling jurisprudence settled many of the questions, but local conditions sometimes caused even these to be varied. Thus, on one occasion, the captain of the Mary Mitchell formally notified the different masters that where he was obliged to cut from a whale on account of his boat being stove in, he would not agree to give up his claim to page 197 the whale. Where a contention took place as to the ownership of the “fish,” the dispute generally went to settlement by arbitration. Thus where one of the whales anchored by the Mary Mitchell boats was claimed by the John Adams, three referees met and awarded the prize to the Mary Mitchell.

A popular custom observed in connection with the towing of whales was to take out a bottle of rum and give it to the boat's crew after a heavy drag.

The stove boat question was found to be a very serious one for the Americans. With the help of Maoris to supplement their crews, a whaler could launch five boats to scour the Bay, but boats were getting stove in so often that it was seldom that one at least was not in the hospital undergoing repairs. Whether it was due to the inexperience of the mass of the men engaged cannot be ascertained in the absence of the like information from British and Sydney whalers.

Independence Day was kept with all the honours by the American fleet, much ammunition being expended in the process.

The two nationalities—British and American—appear to have carried on their work side by side without anything in the nature of a rupture. In the quiet waters of the New Zealand bays the Americans sold to the British quantities of whalebone to enable a British certificate to enter it into the Port of London at a lower duty. The ships also helped one another when short of tackle. Captain Joy records having purchased an anchor from an English vessel for 40lbs. of tobacco and a steering oar. The same American captain had, however, a very poor opinion of the crews of British vessels. He had landed on one occasion with some twenty other boats, five of which were English, and he records “the most blackguard language from 5 English boats there sparing no person at all in short I shall ever keep clear of English ships as they have no authority.”

In spite of Captain Joy's opinion, a friendly relationship between the two nations was the order of the day, and page 198 when Captain Bateman, of the English whaler Cheviot, who had a number of his men enticed away, retaliated by seizing some of the boats of the offending party, Captain Neil, of the American whaler Navy, forwarded him the following remarkable justification:—

Ship Navy Oct. 7 1836. Manna.

Dear Sir,—

I received your letter of the 6th instant, and as you request my opinion in writing, tending the loss you sustained by part of your crew deserting you and joining a shore party employed by of Sydney, I am well aware that your men were taken from Cloudy Bay in the barque and to my certain knowledge distressed your ship much. It is my opinion had not these men been enticed from your vessel you would have had double the quantity of oil you now have, your crew being much reduced; but as Captain ….. told me there was “no law in New Zealand” I commend you for having taken the boat as part payment for the injury sustained.

I remains dear Sir,


Francis Neil.

An important source of revenue to the natives who lived at the Bay was the supply of food to the whaling fleet. They brought on board fish, turnips, and potatoes, which they sold for their dearly beloved pipe and tobacco, a head of the latter, with a pipe, purchasing fish enough to supply the ship's company for a meal. The employment of the natives in small jobs ashore, and in manning the boats, has already been referred to.

The domestic and sanitary conditions prevailing in the native villages evoked expressions of disgust from the American whaling captain.

“This afternoon I saw with disgust the manner these Natives live or rather exist—in an enclosure containing 9 huts each of which had but one side and page 199 the two ends thatched the other side entirely open some facing one way some another to screen them from the wind in whatever direction it might blow. In one I observed 4 sows 2 with litters of Pigs 2 boars 5 dogs a bitch with 5 large pups Sucking, a woman asleep on a mat another scraping raw potatoes to boil another suckling a young child 2 other women sitting on a mat deliberately picking the vermin from their shoulder mats and the men nearly all asleep on the damp ground with nothing under them but their mats. Accordingly as might be expected tho inured to it from their infancy they all had a bad cold and accompanied with a cough such a miserable set of Natives I never before witnessed and to these disgraces of humanity we must pay tribute in shape of presents! Shame!”