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The Old Whaling Days

The Otago Fish, 1834

The Otago Fish, 1834.

This does not refer to whaling, but the same legislation applied to other produce of New Zealand waters, and it is dealt with here for convenience of arrangement of subject matter.

In September, 1834, the Customs of Port Louis, Mauritius, advised London that a quantity of salt fish, “the produce of New Zealand and imported into New South Wales by the Lucy Ann,” had been imported into the Mauritius in the Sovereign. This was part of a cargo of 23 barrels of salt fish which the Lucy Ann landed at Sydney from Weller's Establishment at Otago, on 22nd April of that year, consigned to George Weller. The consignees were unable to produce any certificate of how the fish come to be caught, and the cargo was accordingly seized by the Customs Authorities at Port Louis.

Pending the arrival of the certificate demanded, it was arranged that the fish should be landed and sold in the presence of a Customs officer, and the proceeds deposited in the King's Chest. This was done, and a sum of £18 16s. 6d. paid into the Treasury. In October, London was advised, and wrote Sydney regarding the omission. The Mauritius Authorities in due course procured the certificate, and handed over the money. When the Sydney Collector replied to the London Office he stated that the fish had been “caught by British subjects who have an page 263 Establishment at New Zealand, where they reside during part of each year.”

At once it will be seen what a liberal interpretation the Authorities were prepared to put upon the legislation. The expression “taken and caught by the crews of British ships” was being stretched to cover “caught by British subjects who have an Establishment at New Zealand, where they reside during part of each year.” If this be justified on the grounds of coming within the spirit of the Act, though not fitting in with local conditions, it may be pointed out that the fishery establishment at Otago was stationed amongst a large Maori population, many of whom were in the employ of Weller, and were by him engaged whaling and fishing, for which latter occupation they were specially well fitted. Our knowledge of the constitution of Weller's Establishment—that one-half of his staff were Maoris—would indicate to us that the fish were probably caught by foreigners. Under no circumstances could Weller's Establishment be called a British vessel.

It is evident that the requirements which commonsense dictated at Sydney enabled a wholesale evasion of the terms of the preferential tariff to take place. So far as the encouragement of British trade was concerned all that the tariff did was to place a hindrance—perhaps a small one—in the way of trade between New Zealand and Port Louis. British trade was not helped. The carrying trade certainly suffered.