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Narrative of Charles James Ward

My Ventures into Business

My Ventures into Business

I shall now return to an account of things concerned with the general progress of the Islands and particularly with my ventures both as a skipper of island schooners and later as a storekeeper.

A small steamer, the 'Janet Nichol' (Captain Hutton), owned by Donald and Edenborough, was running throughout the Cook Group about the time I came to Rarotonga, She made occasional visits to Borabora and Raiatea in the Society Groups. When cotton-growing disappeared from the Islands, the fruit trade commenced to expand and Donald and Edenborough automatically obtained a kind of monopoly or the sea-carrying side of the trade. A man by the name of Dodge, an American by birth, established a small store at Avatiu, Rarotonga, and, when it was apparent that one steamer was too small to cope with the trade offering, he went to New Zealand and induced the Union Company to provide a steamer service between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. The outcome of Dodge's visit was that a vessel of the Union Line, the 'Ovalau', was chartered to run down to the Group.

The result of this trip disclosed to the Union Company that there was money to be made out of cargo carrying to and from the Islands; but Donald and Edenborough had by this time purchased a larger steamer, the 'Richmond'. The 'Richmond' and the 'Ovalau' were found still to be unable to handle the products of the Islands. After running in competition with Donald and Edenborough for some time, the Union Company continued in the Islands trade for a number of years possibly until about 1923. This resulted in two steamers a month calling at the Islands for fruit. Eventually, the quantity of fruit offering in the Cook Group became a factor in the arrangements made for the mail-boats between San Francisco and Sydney to call at Rarotonga.

In addition to the steamers that Donald's were running, they owned a very fine schooner, the 'Vaite' which subsequently Captain Harris bought from them. This smart little schooner is still running for the firm in Tahitian waters. Another schooner seen frequently in the Cook Islands was the 'Nassau' to which I have previously referred.

After the cotton business collapsed at Rarotonga, I went to sea again, sometimes as supercargo and sometimes as skipper of one or other of the small schooners, Amongst those which I commanded were the 'Snaume' and the 'Goldfinch'. The 'Goldfinch' was built at Rarotonga. Other schooners built at Rarotonga were the 'Takitumu' and the 'Arorangi'. The 'Takitumu' belonged to the natives of Ngatangiia and was in the charge of Captain Rennie. Trouble brewed after a while and the schooner went on the reef at Ngatangiia and was smashed up. The 'Arorangi' was page 9as the name would indicate, owned by the natives at Arorangi. She was purchased at Tahiti and was probably built in America. Her fate was mysterious. She went up to New Zealand on one or two occasions. The last time she want up under Captain Nagel, son of the first wharfinger for the Union Steamship Company at Rarotonga. On the way back, the 'Arorangi' was lost and no trace was ever found of the schooner.

I was at one time the skipper of the schooner, 'Avarua'. When I recall to mind the losses of ships in the South Seas over the last forty-six years, I feel that I was born under a lucky star for I have never, in all my experience of the sea, met with any mishap. I have sailed round the islands of the Cook Group, as far north as Penrhyn, scores of times; worked the reefs in all weathers but never got into difficulties.

After serving as Captain on these various inter-island schooners, I gave up the sea altogether and left the schooners for younger men to handle. I opened two small stores on the Island of Rarotonga, one at Matavera and the other at Ngatangiia. I was very contented and happy in my store-keeping venture but it was not to be that I should remain long ashore. The owners of the 'Avarua' decided that the time had arrived for supplementing the sails of the schooner by engine power. It was decided to install oil engines in the 'Avarua' but to enable this fitting to be done, it was necessary for the ship to go to San Francisco, and it came about that my services for this long voyage were requisitioned. Indeed, I could have declined to consider such a proposal. I did, in fact, after fully considering the matter, come to the conclusion that I ought not to go. But my friends put the matter to me in such a way that to have held out would have appeared to others as ungenerous and to myself as contrary to the true spirit of the pioneer in the South Seas. I therefore agreed to go and sailed as mate in the little schooner.

My two stores I left in charge of natives but they were inexperienced and instead of small profits being made, debts were incurred. On my return, I found the position so bad that I could not continue and so my stores had to be closed down and my losses faced. By some extraordinary circumstance, for which I have never been able to account my debts proved considerable. I never recovered from these financial looses and for a while, I regretted having agreed to sail with the 'Avarua'. I took my losses seriously, for the idea of debt had been something quite outside my experience, but, now that some years separate me from that unfortunate happening, I simply view the matter as merely the fortunes of war.

Throughout all my life, I have carried with me my sword of honest dealing and no doubt that is one reason why today I have not one penny piece in the whole world. I am supported in my old age with the satisfying thought that, when the opportunity came for me to do something tangible for the Cook Islands, I seized the chance and, thereby I trust, my name will find a place in some niche of Britain's great history.

At my present age, nearing eighty, sickness has begun to make its appearance and the doctor has ordered me to give up work entirely. Until recently, I have been engaged at odd times by various local people principally in office work. More recently, I was doing clerical work for the firm of Jagger and Harvey from which job I went into hospital.

This brings my account up to the present day, July, 1933. It finds me living not very far from the site of the flag-pole upon which the Union Jack was first hoisted at the Cook Islands. In recent years, numbers of people have sought me out with the object of hearing some of page 10my experiences in the South Seas. Of these, one or two boys have been writers who hare made use of the information, appropriating it to their own life stories.

Again people from overseas frequently write to me for details of my life and a few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting the Governor-General of New Zealand, Lord Bledisloe, when he was at Rarotonga. His Excellency and I had an interesting talk about the Islands.

I would like in conclusion of my narrative to say a word or two about the Polynesian people. In all my years in the Cook Group, I do not know of one single enemy I hare made amongst them. In my schooner trips to the outer islands, I have been able to reason with those inclined to make trouble and generally things have cleared themselves quite quickly. The Polynesian is so generous of heart that in some directions he has to be saved from himself. The native people treated me well and I shall be content to take my long siesta amongst them. When now in the evening of my days I bow my head before the temple, I offer a prayer of thanks for the many honours the Polynesian has done me in his own humble way.

(Signed) Charles James Ward.