The New Zealand journal, 1842-1844 of John B. Williams of Salem, Massachussetts
The Life of John Brown Williams
The Life of John Brown Williams
John Brown Williams was born in Salem, Massachusetts on 20 September 1810, the seventh of nine children of Israel Porter and Elizabeth (Wait) Williams. His father, a ship captain and merchant, alternated between ship and shore. During one of his shore intervals in 1801 he commanded a company of the Salem Cadets and brought it to a high state of efficiency, resigning the command in 1805 when he returned to sea. Again during the War of 1812 he commanded an infantry company, The Essex Guards, one of several local units organized to repel the anticipated British raids along the New England coast. The Guards were disbanded at the end of the war in 1815. A contemporary of Captain Israel Williams remembered him 'as a very courteous and intelligent gentleman and always maintained a high character in every relation of life.'1 In 1805 Captain Williams bought the house then building at 19 Chestnut Street; it remained in the family until after the death of Mrs. Williams in 1857.2
The little that is precisely known about the Williams family indicates that the men followed the prevailing Salem tradition of the day and went down to the sea in ships. Of the nine children of Israel and Elizabeth Williams, eight were boys, seven of whom grew to maturity. All of the seven sons made their livings at some period of their lives out of some phase of the maritime trade. Aaron, Israel, Jr., and John were all shipmasters. George was the supercargo of the ship Monroe of Boston and died at sea in April 1825. Samuel was a trader to South America and lived in Brazil during the 1840's; Charles was the agent, in Manila, of Williams & Daland of Boston. The senior member of this firm of shipowners and overseas merchants was Henry Laurens Williams, the youngest of the Williams boys. While he may have been at sea for a time, he appears, from the family correspondence, at least, as the adviser and Salem agent of his brothers overseas. Henry was at one time a clerk for N. L. Rogers & Brothers of Salem, early traders in the Far East and the South Pacific. Later he became president of both the Exchange and the Salem Five Cents Savings Bank, and in 1875-1876 was the mayor of Salem. John B. Williams's correspondence was largely with his brother Henry who handled John's affairs in Salem and Washington.page 4
Nothing is known of the childhood and youth of John B. Williams except that he was enrolled at the Salem Grammar School in August 1821 during his twelfth year. At that time his attendance was described as 'regular,' but how long he remained in the school and whether or not he was graduated are not known.3 The next reference to him is as a seaman and clerk aboard the Rogers's ship Tybee during the voyage of that vessel to Australia and New Zealand during 1832-1833. Later he commanded the hermaphrodite brig Tim Pickering, and seems to have been one of the first United States citizens to trade along the coasts of South and West Australia. It was on the voyage of Tybee that Williams first visited the Bay of Islands. In 1839 he was master of the brig Cashier of Salem.
This is at best fragmentary evidence, but reasonable inferences indicate a young man of a respected Salem family, carrying on a maritime and commercial tradition. It is reasonable to infer that he had the equivalent at least of a high school education and with a greater familiarity with Latin than is common today among high school graduates. Certainly his vocabulary is larded with Latinisms. Fortunes were being made at this time by young Salem shipmasters on most of the Seven Seas, and in Salem at 19 Chestnut Street it would seem but part of Nature's Simple Plan for John to try his luck in the far places of the earth. There are indications in the Williams's correspondence, however, that his earliest commercial ventures had not been successful, that he was, in fact, in debt in 1840. This indebtedness may have been what induced him to combine commercial with consular activities, for the latter would assure him a small but steady income while leaving him free for commercial ventures.
John B. Williams's combination of commercial and consular activity dates from his appointment on 10 March 1842 by President Tyler to be United States consul at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Less than a month later he wrote Daniel Webster, the Secretary of State, posting a bond and declaring his intention to sail on the brig Gambia of Salem from that city about 20 July 1842. His departure apparently was somewhat delayed for he wrote to his brother Henry L. Williams of his arrival at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, on 25 December 1842 after 137 days at sea. The first United States consul of the Bay of Islands had been James R. page 5Clendon, a British subject, who, on being elected to the Colonial Legislative Council, had resigned as United States consul on 20 April 1841, appointing as acting vice consul, 'a gentleman of respectability,' one William Mayhew of Warren, Rhode Island, the proprietor of a ship chandlery at the Bay of Islands. Williams was thus the third incumbent of the office.
Commercial and political conditions were unsettled in New Zealand when Williams assumed his post. On 29 January 1840 Captain William Hobson, R.N. had landed at the Bay of Islands, and on the following day proclaimed an extension of the boundaries of New South Wales to include New Zealand. He at once commenced the parleys with the tribal chiefs which culminated in the Treaty of Waitangi 6 February 1846. In a second proclamation Hobson declared invalid all land titles in New Zealand unless confirmed by the Crown. Port and excise taxes were also levied.4 American landowners and traders were acutely unhappy. Lieutenant Charles Wilkes who arrived with his exploring squadron shortly after Hobson's proclamation accurately foresaw the result of these acts. He wrote:
It has, among other things, been enacted, that all goods imported and remaining on hand on the 1st of January 1840 the time of British assumption, shall pay duties; that all lands are to be considered as belonging to the Queen, even those purchased of the chiefs prior to the treaty, while the purchasers shall only be entitled to as many acres as the amount paid to the chiefs will cover at the rate of five shillings per acre. The government in addition reserves to itself the right to such portions as it may require. …The destructive effect of these laws on American commerce will be great, particularly as those engaged in mercantile pursuits find themselves called upon to pay heavy duty on their stocks. Americans are not permitted to hold property, and in consequence their whaling establishments on shore must be broken up altogether or transferred to other places, at a great loss of outlay and capital. Our whalers are now prevented from resorting to the New Zealand ports, or fishing on the coast, by the tonnage duty, port charges etc.; are denied the privilege of disposing of anything in barter, and obliged to pay a duty on American articles of from ten to five hundred percent. The expenses of repairs have so much increased that other places must be sought for the purpose of making them. The timber and timber lands are exclusively claimed as belonging to Her Majesty. Thus have our citizens been deprived of a fishery yielding about three hundred thousand dollars annually in oil.5
It is interesting to note that Clendon made no mention of these encum-page 6brances to American trade in his four despatches to the Secretary of State between the tune of Hobson's arrival and his own resignation in April 1841.
The non-American portion of the Bay of Islands community was also unhappy. The early bright prospect of the Bay of Islands being selected as the site for the new capital had resulted in a land speculation of the 'boom and bust' variety, the bust coming when Auckland, after much turmoil, was selected as the seat of government. Business was poor as the recently levied port charges led American whaling captains to seek other ports for 'wooding and watering.' William Mayhew in a despatch of 21 February 1841 pointed out that Americans were being deprived of land purchased in good faith from the natives, that the Bay was avoided by American shipping which had frequented the port for thirty years, and that the ship supply business faced ruin.6
John B. Williams's first despatch to the Secretary of State 1 March 1843 discussed the trading disabilities, the decline in the number of whaling vessels coming to New Zealand, but also mentioned the possibilities of trade in lumber, flax, kauri gum and the possible exploitation of mineral deposits. The Journal shows that during his first year as consul he travelled widely both inland and along the shores of the North Island in a successful attempt to familiarize himself with the country and its resources, climate, and population, native and European. Having also formed an opinion of the commercial possibilities of New Zealand Williams wrote to Daniel Webster on 12 February 1844 that he was appointing William Mayhew as vice consul and was himself returning home on the whaler Nile of New Bedford.7
Huse of Lynn, merchants and shipowners, by which he was to assume one fourth of the expenses of the voyage of their brig Falco, and was in return to share one fourth of the profits. This agreement was renewable at the end of one year at the rate of one third expenses and profits. Falco was to be loaded with goods selected in part by Williams and he was to sail on her as supercargo.
Falco left Boston on 18 November 1844 and arrived at Swan River, Western Australia on 29 February 1845. John B. Williams, in a letter to his mother and brother Henry, reported a safe passage, and added that on 1 March Falco outrode at her moorings a storm which drove all the other ships in the harbor ashore. A week later he reported that currency in Australia was so unstable that the goods on Falco were being sold at retail prices for cash. A letter in April to Henry introduced a subject that was to become all too familiar in the correspondence: certain items were either understocked or not stocked at all on Falco, contrary to the advice of John B. Williams. Many more boards, small boats, spars and rope could have been sold at handsome profits. 'So much for thinking the truth is not in me,' he wrote to Henry on 16 April 1845. He also expressed his disgust with Captain Moseley of Falco, who, he wrote, is not good except for eating, drinking and sleeping. 'If Breed & Huse don't get rid of him, I will have no more to do with the voyage. He is only fit for a cottage where he can have a pack of hounds to sport. Sporting don't suit me! The Maori War in the North has not hurt business. Henry pay no heed to the burning of the town in the Bay of Islands by the natives. Business will now be better in New Zealand than it ever has been—2000 troops and 4 ships of war stationed there to quell the insurrection, and 1000 more soldiers sent for.'
In June 1845 Falco sailed to Port Nicholson, New Zealand where business was brisk. The plan was for Falco to proceed to Auckland, sell the balance of the cargo and load with flax and kauri gum for Breed & Huse in Lynn. This plan came to naught for Falco was blown ashore and wrecked at Table Cape, Hawkes Bay, on Sunday 28 July 1845. Captain Moseley seems to have taken all precautions; both anchors were down and he cut away a mast to ease the vessel in the water. Soon after Falco struck Maoris swam through the surf to the brig, but were sent back to bring the first page 8white man they could find. He was a Mr. Brown and to his hut Williams removed the ship's papers, money and other valuables, the crew meanwhile getting their gear ashore. With only Captain Moseley and two mates aboard the natives returned and looted Falco of much of her cargo. The remainder was put ashore under canvas, but the natives stole much of this also. Only the intervention of a missionary, Archdeacon Williams, brought a measure of protection, and a few goods were returned in exchange for some of Falco's tobacco. The salvageable part of the cargo was loaded on the accompanying schooner Uncle Sam, Falco was sold for $ 160, and Captain Moseley, Williams and the crew sailed for Auckland where they arrived on 17 August. Williams at once presented a claim against the New Zealand colonial government for the looting of Falco by its native subjects, the Maoris.9 His position was a delicate one. As a private venturer he had a financial interest in Falco; as a United States official he urged the claims. An additional difficulty lay in the fact that the Foreign Office in London had never issued an exequator for the United States consul to New Zealand. In effect Williams had no legal standing, and could act as United States consul only on the sufferance of the colonial government. In his despatch to John C. Calhoun of 22 September 1845 Williams urged that the exequator be speedily applied for, as American interests, his own included, were suffering from lack of a legally authorized representative.
If Williams was inhibited from acting as consul there was no bar to his commercial activity which seems to have been considerable. With one Joel Polack, an Englishman, he commenced, unobtrusively, to collect a cargo of kauri gum. To brother Henry he wrote on 27 September. 'Keep this letter a profound Secret (burn it). My reason for profound secrecy is on account of my agreements with Breed & Huse, but if I can make a speculation myself I think I am in duty bound to do so.' Edward C. Breed, a member of the family, if not of the firm, was then in Auckland, and was to act as vice consul when Williams left for Fiji. It seems unlikely that Breed would have accepted an appointment from Williams had he known of the private speculations in kauri gum, which were not in the firm's interests, and violated the spirit if not the letter of Williams's agreement with Breed & Huse.
It is impossible from Williams's letters to understand all the deals in gum page 9carried on by Williams and Polack, as Breed & Huse agents, and as individual and clandestine speculators. It is clear, however, that the ship Robert Pulsford, owned by Breed & Huse, left Auckland for Salem on 20 November 1845 loaded with kauri gum and flax. Over the years John B. Williams frequently reminded his brother that the cargo for Robert Pulsford had been obtained by his efforts, 'the first that ever was loaded with a full cargo of New Zealand produce for the United States.' Williams's commission on this cargo was $5110. A letter dated 14 March 1846 from his brother Charles Williams to Captain Caldwell of Pulsford warned him of the need for absolute secrecy about his cargo and gave minute instructions as to the exact spot at Derby Wharf where he was to make fast his ship. The letter, written long after Pulsford had cleared Auckland and sent in care of John B. Williams at Fiji, never was delivered to Captain Caldwell. Pulsford as a matter of fact, did not stop at Fiji, much to Williams's disgust as he had a consignment of bêche-de-mer which he hoped to have delivered by Pulsford in Manila en route to Salem. In a letter of 24 October 1847 from Fiji, John complained that Captain Caldwell's fear of navigating the reefs at Fiji was the reason Pulsford did not stop there and this timidity had cost Williams about $2000, his expected profit on the sale of the bêche-de-mer in Manila.
While at home on leave John B. Williams had solicited and received the post as United States commercial agent in Fiji, or Lauthala as the State Department termed it, which he held in addition to his consulship in New Zealand. His letters indicate that he intended to spend most of his time in the Fijis where he had great hopes for trade, the duties of consul in Auckland being carried on by a vice consul, with Williams making one and occasionally two visits to Auckland each year. The Falco claims and the cargo for Pulsford had delayed his departure for Fiji until late January 1846 and he did not assume his duties as United States commercial agent there until 13 February 1846. His correspondence with Henry shows the beginnings of his island trade in cocoanut oil, bêche-de-mer, tapioca and native shells. The Chief of Bau had been much impressed with Flying Fish, a yacht of the Wilkes's Exploring Expedition which had visited Fiji in 1840 and commissioned Williams to get a similar vessel for him. He asked his brother to page 10be on the lookout for 'an old, fast sailing vessel of about 130 tons, Baltimore built or a fast New York schooner, handsome with a long cabin, gaudy but cheap.' For such a vessel Williams would pay up to $1500, and receive from the Chief 70 tons of cocoanut oil selling at about $9500 in Sydney at current prices.
Williams returned to Auckland in late June 1846 to prepare his semiannual report, only to find that he had been wrongly accused of aiding the Maoris in their attack upon the settlers at the Bay of Islands in 1844. A letter from the State Department of 12 December 1845 requested information on a query from the Foreign Office in London which, in turn, quoted a report from the Governor of New Zealand that the United States consul at the Bay of Islands had encouraged the natives to attack the colonists and during the uprising had sold them powder and bullets. The State Department indicated that, if the charge were true, Williams was in serious trouble. This letter, addressed to Williams, was acknowledged by Joel Polack who had been appointed by Williams to succeed Breed as vice consul at Auckland. Polack indicated that the consul was daily expected from Fiji and that a reply would be forthcoming. On 23 June, Williams not having appeared, Polack wrote a long and circumstantial report to Secretary Buchanan completely clearing Williams. The report showed that Williams was not in New Zealand during the Maori uprising, having left for the United States on 12 February 1844; his return was easily proved by his presence on Falco wrecked in Hawkes Bay on 27 July 1845. Polack pointed out that since the consulate had been moved to Auckland Williams had had difficulty in obtaining satisfactory vice consuls for the Bay of Islands.
During Williams's absence in the United States two vice consuls had had brief and unsatisfactory tenures at the Bay of Islands. William Mayhew of Warren, Rhode Island, had acted until 15 May 1844 when, Polack wrote, 'he quitted the colony greatly indebted to many persons resident at Russell.' Mayhew had appointed as his successor Henry Green Smith, 'also of Rhode Island who misconducted himself so grossly, by not only aiding the insurgent natives openly in arms against the British Government with ammunition and powder, but actually quitted the country for the United States in the whale ship Edward Carey with a portion of the plunder stolen by the said natives from the hapless settlers of Russell.' page 11Williams arrived in Auckland not long after Polack's report had been despatched to Washington. He called on Governor FitzRoy who expressed his personal regret that the United States consul had been absent at such a critical time and had been wrongly associated with the native attack on the settlers in the North. Soon thereafter Williams was the dinner guest of the governor and his lady; also present were Mr. Andrew Sinclair, the colonial secretary and members of the executive council. In his report to Secretary Buchanan Williams noted that he 'attended in full uniform.'10 A few weeks later the colonial secretary wrote to Williams that the names of the Americans implicated in aiding the Maoris were in a document now in England. 'In the meantime it will be satisfactory to you to be informed that an American house, whose agent [Henry Green Smith] was implicated in these transactions has seized in America certain property, part of the plunder of Kororareka, and have most honorably placed the value in the hands of Her Majesty's Government.' The incident was formally closed on 20 August 1847 when Williams received from Andrew Sinclair the regrets of Her Majesty's Government that he had been mistakenly implicated in the incitement of the Maoris.
With the native war over and his good character re-established Williams returned to Fiji and his commercial interests. He bought the island of Nukulau at Lauthala Bay east of Suva. His letters home at this time reflect the impatience of an energetic man who has too little information on which to make decisions about commercial matters. The mails were slow and irregular, he was short of trade goods, he needed a letter of credit so that he could purchase native products when he had nothing with which to barter, Breed & Huse ships do not stop at Fiji often enough; as a result the bêche-de-mer, tapioca, cocoanut oil and other products he has on hand are deteriorating, and in some cases incurring storage fees. Such was the tenor of his correspondence.11
His relations with the chiefs and tribesmen seem to have been good; he made frequent trips into the mountainous interior where, he wrote, no other white man had ever ventured, was hospitably received, and addressed by the natives as Te America (King of America). On one of his trips he discovered plumbago and antimony. From time to time he sent native tools and weapons to the Essex Institute and the National Museum in Washing-page 12ton. His letter of 24 October 1847 shows, rather better than most, something of his character, interests and prejudices.
Oct. 24th 1847
My dear Mother and Brother Henry
Days, weeks and months has elapsed since I last had the pleasure of writing you, I am still residing in the midst of these androphagus and cruel race of people, while some white men are treated harshly and fall a victim of the club. At the same time I am by them treated with the utmost respect. They are a changeable and treacherous race of man. And unless a Ship of War does not shortly arrive I fear my salutary influence will, in a great degree, cease, notwithstanding I am so well known by all the natives throughout the Feejees and Rotumah. The natives of Rotumah say they would give up their island for me, and be under me, but never to the French or the English. I observed to them that it was contrary to our Constitution to Colonize, but our Consuls are appointed to all parts of the world, their reply was, 'that was good talk, we like it, we want you to live here, and not go to Feeje.' The remark of the head Chief Feejee, 'you live in Feejee as long as I live, you no stop Rotumah.' My reply was where my duties call me, there I must go. I have a dear and aged Mother, Brothers and Sisters, and relatives at home, and I long to see them. His reply was, 'yes, true, I no see one man Feejee, all same you before.' I remarked that I cannot on account of business go home for many moons yet to come. He says, 'Good I glad to hear that.'
The Feejee man's manners, customs, and habits are precisely what we read of in ancient Jews, doubtless they are descendents of the lost tribes of Israel. They annoint the head and body with sweet scented oils, wear the long beard. They consider it a disgrace for a man to lose his hair or beard, unless they loose it by death of one of their family or a relative, in that case the beard is cut off as a badge of mourning, while others cut a finger off, or burn the arm in a circle. They also circumsize as did the Jews. Some of them have as many wives as Solomon and slave men and women accordingly as we read of in the Book of Solomon. One old Chief in the Islands has 200 children. In a word all their women, Queens as well are positive slaves. Trace all their wars in Feejee and you will find a woman the instigation of it, the war that is now raging, a woman was the cause of it.
It is death for a woman to expose her person to a man; it is death for a man to expose his person to a woman. You may think strange of this, for both sexes are in a manner naked.
Our first Mother Eve being naked was ashamed and hid herself, so with this people. I have heard it said that the Feejee men were void of shame and gratitude; this I have proved to the contrary; they have great sense of shame and are grateful, if page 13you are hungry they will share their food with you without trade and without price. They would put the European to the blush. In trading they are perfect Jews. Ancient European History points out to us that most of their wars were caused by their Queens. So it has been and continues to be in Feejee. Had I time to write a historical sketch of these people I would gladly do it, but I am constantly occupied for my employers, a slave indeed, with me time wings its flight, and being so much engaged it appears to me that I only left you last year, instead of that nearly three years has gone by since I had the pleasure of being with you.
Henry, how unfortunate the Robert Pulsford did not stop here, there was cargo enough here and in New Zealand to have loaded her. 3 days after she left N. Z. I had a letter from them. [Breed & Huse] Put 100 tons gum aboard the Pulsford for ballast and then purchase another quantity to put aboard. I had 69 casks of oil besides hemp in New Zealand, and here a balance for a cargo, and about 160 piculs Beche de Mer. She could have gone via Manila and sold the fish. Strange management at home. I am the loser of about $2000 by it. I think it very hard.
The head Chief at Feejee a few days since said to me, 'if you will send to America for a sharp vessel for me I will pay in oil, a vessel similar to the Flying Fish of the Expedition,' Sch say 130 tons, Baltimore built or a sharp New York Sch, (Old but light) new sealing, replaced outside, large cabin, not trunk cabin, Gaudy but Cheap, I should think the whole expense of such a vessel would not amount to over $1200 to $1500, he offered me 70 tons of cocoanut oil, worth in Sydney £ 28 per ton, equal $9800.
A two topsail or a 3 masted sch. Now I would like an interest in a vessel and cargo of that description, and one of the large outward bound Manilamen could come and take the cargoes.
If I had casks and trade I could fill 2 vessels of 250 tons yearly at Feejee and Rotumahm, with cocoanut oil. I have been requested to send to the Vavoo's for cocoanut oil, but I have no means of doing so. A large French Missionary ship is driving a good business in cocoanut oil. I might do the same if I only had the means.
It is my opinion that Capt. Cutler of the Auckland is an Atheist, such is his conversation, and such his companions, mention this to no one but B & H, and tell them to keep it to themselfs. Give my love to Elizabeth and children, and all the families. Remember me to the Ladies. You say Kitty is as amiable as ever.
Your affectionate brother John.
On 12 March 1848 Williams arrived in Auckland on one of his by now infrequent visits; as usual there was an accumulation of consular and commercial affairs. To Henry he wrote of the New Zealand gum market, and of Fiji prices of cocoanut oil, tortoise shell and other commodities; the suc-page 14cess of all ventures depended upon Henry's supplying a steady quantity of trade goods for which the demand was urgent. The principal consular activity grew out of the treatment of the crew of the whaler Delphos of New Bedford which had been wrecked on Palmerston Island and the crew brought to Auckland. Polack, in the absence of Williams, had housed Delphos's crew on the shore ship Noble. There was some dissatisfaction expressed over quarters and food, and, upon his return home, Charles D. Luce, the second officer of Delphos wrote to the New Bedford Reporter on 1 October 1847 complaining of the treatment of Delphos's crew and criticizing the absence of the United States consul, Mr. Williams, who 'had gone to the Fijis to sell Rum.' John B. Williams had evidently seen a copy of the New Bedford paper containing Luce's letter, was nettled by it, and wrote to brother Henry on 25 March 1848 declaring in part: 'This is positively false, for I have never sold rum at Feejees or New Zealand or any other place on the earth's surface. I make no Sales myself, nor have I ever done since Consul or Consulor Agent, this is a disappointed man that did not get pies and turkeys.…The accommodations were as good aboard the Noble as on board the Robt Pulsford, but it is the nature of sailors to grumble even if they live luxiriously. I don't know a worse class to deal with than whalers.… I think the letter was written for this man by a person called Waitford, formerly Mayhew's clerk, once in jail in Auckland, and both of us on bad terms. He is famous for that kind of work, a petty fogging lawyer.'
It is not clear whether further investigation and reflection indicated that Polack had indeed given short shrift to Delphos's crew, whether Williams was sacrificing Polack to satisfy the political wolves at home angered by the Delphos affair, or whether it was dissatisfaction with Polack's handling of his commercial enterprises; in any case Williams relieved Polack of his duties as vice consul and as his own business agent. He wrote to his brother Henry on 15 April 1848 that he had appointed Robert Fitzgerald, a British subject to both of Polack's old posts. He again urged Henry to take up with the State Department the old question of the issuance of the exequators so that the consular duties might be carried on in complete legality instead of by the sufferance of the New Zealand government. There was a personal plea for a small trading vessel and a stock of trade goods.page break
Sometime in April 1848 Williams returned to Fiji and resumed his duties at Nukulau. The tone of his infrequent letters home to Salem was most lugubrious. His relations with Breed & Huse were unsatisfactory; their vessels did not stop to pick up the native products he had purchased for them. He was, as usual short of trade goods, and he complained bitterly of lost opportunities for handsome profits. The mails were very slow; on 30 May 1849 he received a large bundle of 1846 correspondence. His letter to Henry on 18 June is typical of his mood at this time. 'Please give my love to sister Elizabeth, your beloved consort, and a kiss from me to your little children and say that I hope I shall see them before 2 years is gone by, but if misfortune gives me a wrap over the knuckles, God only knows when I shall be with you, for to go home poor is a curse in Salem, and I should be as uncomfortable as heretofore when at home.' The postscript declared: 'I admire our new President General Taylor, he is a good old man for me. New S. Wales is all alive for the gold fields of California.'
Fortune did not long delay in 'wrapping' the knuckles of the commercial agent in the Fijis, for he reported to the Secretary of State on 25 July 1849 that 'a melancholy fire occurred in consequence of my men firing the national salute on the 4th of July, on this Grand Epoch, the Jubilee of our Independence.' Blazing wadding from the saluting cannon struck and set fire to a native hut, spread quickly to Williams's property and destroyed his house, furniture, business and consular records. As the fire spread, the natives emptied the dwelling and storage sheds, but later stole most of what they had salvaged from the flames and disappeared with their booty into the jungle. Although Williams was on the best of terms with Thokomant, or Philips, the Chief of this portion of the island, it did not avail him much in the return of his goods. Persuasion failing, Williams threatened the vengeance of the United States Government, but as there had been no United States ship of war in the Fijis since the Wilkes Expedition in 1840 this threat was taken lightly. Williams had to content himself with making a legal claim against the Chief of Bau, and wait with what patience he could muster for the arrival of a United States ship of war. The prosecution of this claim was to become the absorbing interest of Williams's life.
Fate continued to 'wrap' the knuckles of the Yankee commercial agent. On 14 August 1848 Henry Williams wrote three identical letters to John page 16from Salem posting one each by way of London, San Francisco, and Valparaiso, Chile. The letters had an 'I told you so' tone about them as they announced that Breed & Huse were in desperate financial straits. 'I have no doubt,' Henry wrote, 'that you have taken my advice so often given, to take care to pay yourself, as they would not pay me for you and they never have paid me anything for you at all.…I fear it will be a bad failure, so you must remember that all the pay you get for your voyage must be taken up by you in New Zealand.' Henry reported that Breed & Huse had lost two vessels, Auckland and Robert Pulsford, with their cargoes of gum to Fisher & Company of Boston, but are telling their creditors that they have large amounts of property in the hands of John B. Williams in New Zealand. Breed & Huse are thus putting the onus for failure on their South Pacific agent, and 'making use of your former misfortunes as an example of the manner in which you conducted their affairs,12 …So again I tell you to have everything according to your instructions, correct and strait forward and sufficient to satisfy every candid mind. They have almost made it out that they took you up out of Charity, when everybody else was opposed to you and pretending that everybody told them to beware of you. They may be glad to have you to hinge their misfortunes upon, if they possibly can with any degree of color, but don't give them the opportunity. I trust I have said enough to guard you on every point.' On 25 August Henry wrote again. 'The Breed & Huse failure will reach $100,000.' How fortunate that John took Henry's advice and refused the Breed & Huse offer of partnership; otherwise he would be liable for the firm's debts. Breed & Huse are still claiming assets in New Zealand, and the letter closed with an exhortation, 'be certain your accounts are correct as you value your reputation and business future in this community. Have nothing hanging loosely.'13
It was an indignant reply that John B. Williams wrote home to Salem on 18 August 1849. He contrasted Breed & Huse's praise of him in their letters with their disparagment of him in Salem, Sydney and Auckland. They deserved to fail. Meanwhile his own affairs were going badly. A consignment of cocoanut oil and arrowroot which he had shipped to Sydney did not sell for enough to pay the freight at the ruinous rate of £ 10 per ton.page 17
Robert Fitzgerald, his Auckland agent, had charted from him a small vessel on a venture to New Caledonia for bêche-de-mer, and the loaded vessel had been captured by natives and the crew murdered. Williams was very low in his mind during the ensuing year. On 29 May 1850 he thanked his mother and brother for a shipment of homemade preserves, pickles and catsup. 'Judge whether they would be luxuries to me when I tell you that I live on Yams and Pork, Pork and Yams, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, year in and year out.' Williams had cocoanut oil, arrowroot and shell at several islands in the Fiji group but had no vessel in which to collect his merchandise, and no trade goods with which to acquire more. Right now with a native war on he could clear a tidy profit in powder and muskets. Meanwhile his fellow townsman, Captain Wallis, in the brig Zotoff has been making the profits that could have been his. There is also a new and thriving trade, Williams reported, between Fiji and California; the ship Franklin Adams recently cleared for California with 900 live pigs, poultry, pumpkins and yams. He could have sailed in her but had too little money to get from California to Salem. The much requested and long awaited visit of a naval vessel occurred in February 1851 when the U.S.S. Falmouth, Commander Pettigrew, arrived at Viti Levu. 'These are the happiest days of my life,' John wrote to Henry, 'to meet a Ship of War of my own nation here. The Captain has obtained the man that murdered the man in charge of my flag, tried him by Court Martial and hung him, the native, on the 14th Inst on the spot where the murder was committed.' Captain Pettigrew demanded that the Chief of Bau pay Williams's claim, but was unable to remain until it was collected. John wrote Henry to urge the local Congressmen to defend Pettigrew if he is attacked in Congress for hanging the native; meanwhile get another naval vessel out to Fiji to collect the claims. 'Ask what the Navy is for?' Thus ended the first round of William's claim.
The second round opened much sooner than expected with the visit to the Fijis of the United States ship of war St. Mary's, Commander G. A. Magruder, in July 1851. Magruder quickly tried and caused to be executed two natives for murdering two American seamen. As far as Williams was concerned the Commander's usefulness ended at this point. Magruder, as it page 18happened, was an enthusiastic Methodist, consorted with the missionaries, preached to them and to the natives, and, mirabile dictu, subscribed to the Methodist view that while Williams had a valid claim the damages assessed by Commander Pettigrew were excessive. Williams viewed all of this dimly. 'Our Government is not Church and State, but the Captains of some of our Ships of War have too much to do preaching Sermons in Churches; they had better look a little more after the Commerce of our merchants and countrymen.' Magruder, according to Williams, was anxious to sail for California and pick up mail from home, and had no intention of remaining to enforce the payment of the claims of Williams and the other Americans. In a letter home on 10 August 1851 Williams declared: 'The Captain of the St. Mary's was something like the late John Shilleber who hove to on Sunday outside Baker's Island and let her go ashore—too religious to take care of his vessel, or in other words not religious enough to do his duty.' Hereafter the Fijians would have scant respect for the United States Navy. He also mentioned the arrival of two French priests to establish a mission; he wished them well, declaring competition was as good in religion as it was in trade. A new firm from California, Webster & Page, had commenced operations in the islands, and Williams hoped they would put Chamberlain and West [of Salem] out of business as they have slandered him in Auckland and Sydney. The conclusion of this letter may or may not have reflected Captain Magruder's recent preaching: 'God may yet allow me to press my foot hard on the neck of my enemies.'
Kororareka in 1838 by J. S. Polack. He wrote, "Upwards of thirty vessels have been at anchor at the same time. The favorite anchorage is that opposite the village of Kororareka which is the only locality for commercial shipping in the Bay of Islands."
Courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library.
Sometime during 1854 Henry Williams received the following letter from one of the priests of the Catholic mission recently established in Fiji.
Sir, During the two years that I have been in the Fiji Islands I have lived with your brother the Consul.
He has taken an interest in me and defended me several times against the persecutions of the English Methodist ministers. In this way he has exposed himself to their resentment, and to calumnious reports on their part to the U. S. government. Having no other means of preserving him from that danger I have written to his Highness the Catholic Bishop of Washington to defend him before the Secretary of State in case any calumnious accusations should have been made against him by the English Methodist ministers at Feejee.
I very much regret the departure of your brother and ardently desire his return. I have had more occasions than anyone else to appreciate his generous conduct and his courage in defending right and justice in a country so filled with dangers.
Sir I am with respect
your very humble and obedient servant MathieuFeejee
[original in French]14
It can be little more than speculation a century later how much John B. Williams was the victim of a coalition composed of the Methodist missionaries and the firm of Chamberlain & West who seem to have felt the competition now offered by Williams and John H. Millay in island trading, page 20and how much his friendship for Father Mathieu may have increased the animosities of the Wesley an establishment. Certainly the ardent praise expressed by Williams in his Journal for the New Zealand Wesleyans in 1843 is in marked contrast to his bitterness towards them in Fiji little more than a decade later. It is possible that Father Mathieu's letter may have been solicited by Williams to allay any criticism which the missionaries may have lodged with the State Department.
There is no record of Williams's activities while home on leave. On 9 March 1855 he wrote to Henry from the United States Hotel in New York that he had taken passage for Fiji in George, a new half-clipper due to sail in a few days. He planned to clear up his Fiji claims as soon as possible and hoped to return to Salem in about two years; meanwhile he would be happy to trade for kauri gum in the Auckland market as Henry's agent. Back in Lauthala by 13 August Williams reported on events in Fiji during his absence. No United States naval vessels had appeared, and no part of the claims had been paid. The natives had grown much bolder, and he was one of the sufferers from their boldness. Just prior to his return the Chief of Rewa had died of dysentery. During his fatal illness he had been treated by an English Wesleyan, a neighbor of Williams named Moore. The natives blamed Moore for the chief's death, and in revenge burned his house and the adjoining one belonging to Williams who now had an additional claim against the natives.
Just a month following Williams's return his heart must have been glad. dened by the arrival of the U.S.S. John Adams. Commander E. B. Boutwell had orders to investigate once more the claims of Williams and the other Americans, and he agreed to consider Williams's new claim arising from the recent burning of his house. Commander Boutwell selected a board of investigation which was busily at work when a second United States naval vessel arrived, St. Mary's, with a new commanding officer, T. Bailey, who had succeeded Commander Magruder. Whether or not Bailey had been briefed on the American claims it is impossible to say. It is certain, however, that Bailey took a dubious view of the investigations being carried on by Commander Boutwell, who, he declared, was exceeding the instructions he had received from Commodore Mervine of the United States Pacific page 21Squadron. In a sharp exchange of notes on 10 October Boutwell suggested that Bailey, the senior officer, take over the adjudication of the claims. Bailey was having none of this, and replied that he must sail for the West Coast of America in two days. He concluded a corpus of instructions with the laudable sentiment: 'You, have therefore my express orders to afford the accused every opportunity on all occasions to appear in person, as well as by respectable consel, without regard to nation or religion.'
St. Mary's departed and Commander Boutwell proceeded with his investigations. Williams lived aboard John Adams during the two months' duration of the investigations, and was furnished copies of the proceedings, including, apparently, the substance of the official report some weeks before it was despatched to Commodore Mervine by Commander Boutwell when John A dams arrived at Valparaiso, Chile.15 From John A dams on 3 November 1855 Williams wrote to his brother Henry enclosing the terms of the Board of Inquiry's decisions. He strongly urged Henry to make representations to the State Department to have John Adams return in six months and collect the first of the payments due. Boutwell, he wrote, deserved the highest praise for his firmness and Henry should so write to the Boston Post, mentioning also the bravery of the sailors and marines of the crew, who, with their officers, had re-established the prestige of the United States among the Fijians, a prestige which had sunk very low since Commander Magruder had been so friendly with the Methodist missionary community. 'Before the John Adams arrived I had almost begun to think I was to be governed by Englishmen. When will the day come when we will not be humbugged by them.'
Williams's letters of the next few months are full of the details of the various punitive actions of the crew of John Adams, frequently assisted by Williams, whose knowledge of the region and linguistic ability were most useful. He heartily approved of the summary treatment that the refractory natives were receiving; it was the only treatment they understood.16 'For instance Captain Hollins that knocked Greytown down, those are the men to come here, men that will cause these natives to fear and respect us, benefitting commerce. Commander Bailey of the St. Mary's injures our commerce wherever he visits. And for God sake do not let him come here any-page 22more. Perhaps you will say I am bloodthirsty. Nay I wish to benefit Religion, I wish to benefit Commerce. I wish these natives to fear and respect us. Peace and Commerce. Even now these natives all say I am the best hearted man that ever came or is now in Fiji. Said one of the chiefs: "What a fine soldier he is, how hard he fights, fights like a chief. A kind man." ' Assessing damages from Fijians and collecting them were, as Williams well knew, two very different things. The correspondence from 'Boutwell,' his new home, named in honor of the commanding officer of John Adams, to Salem for the next five years is largely concerned with the exertion of political pressure to get naval vessels to Fiji to collect the claims. On
23 June 1857 he wrote to Henry: 'Tell the Navy Department to send men who won't be browbeat by Methodist missionaries, or who will gallivant with their wives, going fresh water bathing in mixed company.' The missionaries, according to Williams, encouraged the Fijians to default on the payments; at this time two payments were in arrears, and the third nearly due. He was adamant about remaining in Fiji until the claims were settled. On 28 February 1858 he received word from home of the death of his mother in April 1857. He authorized Henry to act for him in all matters, and expressed the hope that the family home [19 Chestnut St.] and the family pew in Doctor Emerson's church would remain in the family.17 He would return to Salem as soon as he possibly could; in other words when the payments had been made by the Fijians. 'Heaven help me, my claim I will have.' Henry should urge the other claimants, now at home, to write Congress and demand action. Do not hesitate to work through the Democrats. I am a Democrat of the Old School.'
Williams seems to have been somewhat better off financially at this time. Trade was increasing in the Fijis and he seems to have been getting his share. In September 1858 he reported that there were now four English companies, a Hamburg house and a Prussian merchant with abundant stocks from 'needles to anchors.' There were at least three American firms trading in the islands: Williams, Chamberlain and West, and Webster & Page. Williams invested in land in the interior in addition to his shore and island holdings. His government salary was remitted untouched to Henry for investment. Accrued interest was put into trade goods and shipped to page 23him; the principal, in Yankee fashion, remained inviolate. Occasionally he requested articles for his personal use: a frock coat 'just as the fashion is of thin stuff with four buttons on the cuff.' Again, 'I wish you would send me tins of lobster, oysters and clams. You know I am averishously fond of them.' He also requested medicine for rheumatism, and a supply of his favorite hair dye to be obtained at Jacobs in Tremont Row, Boston.
The Fiji claims were still a matter of controversy. On 2 March 1858 the Reverend James Calvert, a Wesleyan missionary retired and living in England after seventeen years in Fiji, wrote to Commodore Long of the United States Pacific Squadron claiming that Boutwell's decisions on the American claims had hurt relations between the whites and natives in Fiji, and that Boutwell, a Roman Catholic, had not been impartial. Commodore Long acted promptly, and despatched Commander Sinclair in the U.S.S. Vandalia to Fiji. Sinclair, an Episcopalian by the way, conducted another investigation, reaffirmed the Boutwell awards, and even gained the assent of one of the Methodist clergymen. Williams was jubilant as he wrote home on 24 November 1858 describing what he called his vindication in the 'Document of 1858.' With his claim re-established there was little that he could do in Fiji, and much that he felt he could do in Washington to get action on the American claims. This, together with his desire to see his family following his mother's death, determined him to return home on leave of absence which on 30 August 1859 he asked Henry to request for him. Williams planned to have the State Department defray the expense of his trip home; once in Salem he could resign or return to Fiji as he saw fit. The prospects were bright that the British would assume sovereignty over the Fijis and that he could sell out his extensive land holdings at a good profit.
These fruitful plans came to nothing, however. The next communication to Salem was from J. M. Brower, United States vice consul in Fiji, informing Henry that his brother John B. Williams had died of dysentery on 19 June 1860. Brower reported that Williams's will divided his estate equally among his four surviving brothers with Henry as sole executor. Brower settled Williams's immediate affairs in Fiji, ordered a gravestone from Sydney, and over the years kept Henry informed of the negotiations page 24for the sale of his late brother's extensive land holdings and the progress of the American claims. Brower's letters confirm John B. Williams's reiterated complaints about the United States Government's neglect of the commercial interests of its citizens in the Pacific. Henry Williams hired a Washington agent, and after protracted solicitation, and one more investigation by a United States Naval vessel, Jamestown, which visited Fijiin 1869 the claims were finally collected and forwarded to the United States Treasury in three payments during 1869, 1870 and 1871. John B. Williams's share amounted to $19,365.50 which was paid to his estate. In 1874 Brower, now consul at Fiji, sold Williams's Levuka property for $11,664 which finally liquidated the holdings of the controversial American consul and commercial agent well over a decade after his death.
It is difficult to estimate a man on the basis of a largely one-sided correspondence more than a century old and devoted primarily, not to social but to government and commercial concerns. Williams appears, however, as an intelligent, active trader of a speculative disposition, impatient and rather prone to blame others for assumed errors of judgment arrived at far from the scenes of the transactions. As to his personal life we can only speculate. He appears to have been a well-read man; in literature and in science his tastes were serious. He seems to have had more than a wellread layman's knowledge of zoology and botany, and he constantly sent specimens to the National Museum and the Essex Institute. He does not appear to have been addicted to frivolous pleasures and seems to have been rather intolerant of those white men in the tropics who so indulged themselves.
It is abundantly clear that he was zealous in his business, and an ardent believer that American commercial expansion should be backed up by a very frequent show of military and naval strength. His early years and youthful idealism in New Zealand seem not to have been strongly in his mind in his final years in Fiji, but the vivid, if somewhat exuberant rhetoric of his Journal there serves to present a useful picture of the frontier community where he first served his country's interests and his own.