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Letter from John Gare Butler to Governor Sir Thomas Brisbane, January 7th, 1822

John Butler to Governor Brisbane.
To His Excellency, Sir Thos. Brisbane, Governor of New South Wales
and its Dependencies.
Jan. 7th, 1822.

May it please your Excellency to take into consideration the following circumstances.

Whereas on Tuesday morning, February 27th, 1821, Captain Wyer of the ship “Rambler,” a whaler, from the port of London, came to Kiddee Kiddee, in Bay of Islands, New Zealand, having in his boat four convicts, whom he represented as having stowed themselves away on board the ship, while lying at Vandieman's Land.

These men he wished to land, and to leave them in my charge as Resident Magistrate; but this I could by no means consent to, as I had no means of restraining their persons, or of correcting their vices.

As His M. store ship, the “Coromandel,” was then lying in the River Thames, two hundred miles from Kiddee Kiddee, I requested Captn. Wyer to deliver them to Capt. Downie, of H.M. Ship. Captn. Wyer endeavoured to excuse himself by saying he did not know the place, and he did not like to risk his ship for the sake of four convicts.

However, rather than they should be put on shore and left to the mercy of the savages, which he appeared determined to do, I offered my services to go and pilot the ship into Coromandel Harbour. This offer was accepted, and we proceeded on board. Next morning the ship put to sea with a light breeze, and on Friday morning we were at the entrance of the Thames.

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At this time the wind came on to blow hard, and immediately in our teeth, and it continued so until Saturday afternoon. Capt. Wyer grew impatient, and altho' the wind became fair about five in the afternoon, he ordered the ship about, and stood for the Bay of Islands, where we arrived about ten on Sunday morning, at which time, contrary to my advice, and of that of his officers, he determined to land the prisoners, and leave them to their fate. A boat was then manned, and Mr. Rivers, the first officer, was sent with them, and he landed and left them on the beach near Cape Bret.

As soon as the boat returned, I requested to be landed at the missionary settlement called Rangee Hoo, which was on the other side of the harbour, at sixteen miles distant. My request was complied with immediately, and, having landed me, the boat returned to the ship and she stood out to sea.

On Wednesday, March 7th, I had occasion to visit our salt works, which are situated about fourteen miles from the spot where the convicts were landed. When I arrived, I found two of the aforenamed prisoners in the hands of a savage, who considered them as his property, and who was then in the very act of holding a consultation about killing them. I immediately interfered, and begged that they would hear what I had to say. They replied, “These men are King George's cookees (slaves), and are very bad men.” I said, “Truly they are so; but then you must not kill them by any means, for if you do King George will be very angry with you.” After a good deal of polemical discourse, their passions abated, and they assured me that they would not kill them; but the chief said they should remain in his place four months, and work for him, and if they wrought well he promised to give them plenty of food, and then at the end of four months he would permit them to go on board of any ship that would take them. I told him I should be glad to find his words true. I then made him a present of a tokee and some large fish-hooks, which pleased him much.

The prisoners stood by, begging for their lives, and for me to intercede myself for them. This I did, as my heart ached for them. I also counselled and advised them to the best of my power to go with the chief, and endeavour to please him in everything, until an opportunity offered to send them away. They then got in a canoe, and the chief took them away, and thus they lived and dragged out a miserable existence for some months, when the “Rambler” returned into the Bay of Islands to refresh, having lost several hands at sea, and to my utter astonishment, when she went out of the harbour Capt. Wyer took two of these very men he some months before so cruelly and wantonly put on shore among the savages of this island. The other two are gone away in whale ships.

I consider such things as amounting nearly to the highest pitch of wickedness, and have thought it my duty to inform your Excellency of the whole of this affair, in order that your Excellency may be enabled to take suitable steps for the punishment of such offenders.

I have, etc.,