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From Tasman To Marsden.

4. Kidnapping Flax Dressers, 1792 and 1793

4. Kidnapping Flax Dressers, 1792 and 1793.

The information regarding flax, given to the world by Cook, naturally brought up the subject of its use when schemes were being proposed for the settlement of New South page 78 Wales, and three of the schemes which secured prominence dealt with the question of trade in New Zealand flax. These schemes were drafted between 1783 and 1786. Philip, the first Governor, suggested, in 1787, that the plant should be imported into New South Wales. Settlements were established in 1788 at Sydney and at Norfolk Island, in the latter of which places flax was found to grow.

The first man to suggest the introduction into Norfolk Island of New Zealand Natives to explain the method of producing the fibre was Lieutenant Governor Philip Gidley King, in London, on 10th January 1791, in a document in which he says:—“Every method has been tried to work it; but I much fear that until a native of New Zealand can be carried to Norfolk Island that the method of dressing that valuable commodity will not be known; and could that be obtained, I have no doubt but Norfolk Island would very soon cloath the inhabitants of New South Wales."

King never allowed his idea of learning the proper treatment of the flax from the New Zealanders to lie dormant. On board the Gorgon, at Teneriffe, on his road to New South Wales, under date 18th April 1791, he wrote Under Secretary Nepean urging that “two or three New Zealanders would be necessary." When at the Cape of Good Hope later on he met Vancouver, then on his voyage of discovery to N.W. America, and requested him, if it should ever be in his power to do so, to procure two New Zealanders and send them to New South Wales to teach the method of preparing the flax fibre.

As a result of King's insistence, the Right Hon. Henry Dundas instructed the Lords of the Admiralty under date 6th July 1791, to utilise the Daedalus to take “a flax-dresser or two" from New Zealand to Sydney. The Daedalus was just then being sent as a store ship to meet Vancouver in N.W. America. The formal Instructions to Vancouver were dated 20th August, and Vancouver's Instructions to Lieut. Hanson to carry out the work were dated from Monterey Bay, 29th December 1792. Hanson, on his road from the American coast to Sydney, was to call in at Doubtless Bay page 79 or “any port near the north extremity" and procure one or two of the Natives who were “versed" in the operations necessary to extract the flax fibre.

During the year and more that it took to get to this point King had not been idle. Satisfied that the only solution was a New Zealander, he approached the Captain of the whaler William and Ann, who was going to whale on the N.E. coast of New Zealand, to obtain two Natives from the Bay of Islands or Mercury Bay. The Lt.-Governor went so far as to offer him £100 to bring two Natives to Norfolk Island. The Captain went to Doubtless Bay “but could not prevail on any of the inhabitants to accompany him." The idea of force seems not to have been thought of.

As the William and Ann sailed from Norfolk Island on 19th December 1791, she would visit Doubtless Bay early in 1792—probably in January. She is, therefore, the first whaler on the New Zealand coast, further, hers is the first commercial voyage to New Zealand. Her commander was Eb. Bunker.

Carrying out the instructions he had received at Monterey in December, Lieutenant Hanson reached the coast of New Zealand about the beginning of April 1793. The Natives came off in great numbers to the Daedalus, and, knowing them to have the character of being troublesome, daring, and insolent, Hanson did not think it prudent to wait and examine closely whether any of those who came within his power knew anything about flax. He took the other course of imprisoning the first Natives whom he could lay his hands on. Two young men were inveigled out of a canoe and taken below under the pretence of receiving presents, and all sail was then set on the vessel. Food was given them and every artifice adopted to keep their attention off what was going on around them, until, after a couple of hours, they found themselves far from the shore and no canoes handy, even had they been able to utilise them. The Daedalus had not even come to an anchor to accomplish this strange mission, Hanson not caring to risk his page 80 valuable cargo, and his crew, the greater part of whom were incapacitated with sickness.

The story told by the two Natives (Tuki and Huru) to Lt.-Governor King is that Tuki was on a visit to Huru when the Daedalus appeared in sight of the latter's home. The following morning the ship was again in sight, but at a great distance and close to two islands. Curiosity, and the hope of getting iron, induced our two friends and other notables to launch their canoes and proceed to the larger of the two islands where they were joined by others of their friends. They were some time about the ship before their canoe ventured alongside. When they did, iron tools and other articles were passed into the canoe and they were pressed by Hanson to come on board. Tuki and Huru were anxious to get on board but were at first prevented by their friends, finally they went on deck and “were blinded by the curious things they saw." They were induced to go below and partake of some meat. One of them saw the canoes astern and realising that the ship was sailing away, they became frantic with grief and broke the cabin windows, but were prevented getting overboard. While those in the canoes could hear them they advised them to make home lest a like fate should befall them.

They were not long in being reconciled to their fate, and Lieutenant Hanson landed them at Port Jackson on 15th April. Two days later they were put on board the Shah Hormuzear and sailed for Norfolk Island.

On their arrival at Norfolk Island it was found that they knew little about the working of the flax fibre. Huru was a warrior, and Tuki a priest, and the working of flax was done specially by the women. What little knowledge they possessed they hesitated to impart lest they might be set to that work and kept at it. King got over this difficulty by making them understand that after they had taught the women to prepare the flax they should be sent back to New Zealand, and from that time onward their relationship with King, in whose house they resided, was of the most friendly and intimate nature.