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White Wings Vol II. Founding Of The Provinces And Old-Time Shipping. Passenger Ships From 1840 To 1885

The Theresa Falls In With A Pirate

The Theresa Falls In With A Pirate.

Although she came somewhat later than the first ships I cannot omit some reference to the Theresa, which arrived at New Plymouth in the autumn of 1843. She happened to number among her passengers a young man named Fred Weld, who afterwards became Premier of the Colony, and was later, as Sir Frederick Weld, Governor in three other colonies, Western Australia, Tasmania, and Straits Settlement. He left a very interesting diary, which is full of references to New Zealand, and he gave a very good account of the voyage out. The Theresa, a vessel of 750 tons, sailed on November 27, and got a bad time going across the Bay of Biscay, but Weld did not suffer as much as some of the other folks. He came of a yachting family, his father owning the famous Alarm, which yachting men will remember was the boat that raced against the schooner America—the first of the races that started the long series of America Cup contests.

Speaking of the food, Weld said it was very good indeed at first, but it was otherwise with the water. "Our drinking water," he wrote, "had been taken from the Thames, and could have been smelt a mile off; but we were told it was quite wholesome, and that its merit consisted in this: That it would ferment, and so work off the impurities, and then keep for ever. This at least was the nautical view, and I believe there was something in it, as after a certain stage of nauseousness the water did get better and remained so, though it certainly would not be considered drinkable nowadays."

His ideas about the food were modified later on, for we read: "The fare on the Theresa, especially after all the sheep and pigs had been killed, was not only not luxurious, but not even over plentiful, and I remember on one or two occasions when we had fried porpoise liver it was looked upon as a welcome addition to our bill of fare."

It was not a very eventful voyage, but it is interesting to know that the ship fell in with the last of the pirates. "Our first adventure," says the diary, "was being chased by a pirate brig showing Danish colours off the Azores. She hoisted her colours, tacked and stood after us close-hauled to get to windward. She came within range, but probably took us for a troopship from the numbers on board, and because as she neared us we began shooting with our rifles. I guessed what she was from her manoeuvres, her look, and the evident anxiety of our captain… She fell astern again in a light and baffling wind, which favoured us, in the night, and at daybreak she bore up, and went off in a different direction. A week or two after that date she chased and nearly captured another English vessel. We heard full particulars of her captain and crew and armaments later on. She page 55 carried four long guns, and might well have captured us… I mention this incident as she was, I think, one of the last of the regular pirates on the Atlantic. It was said that by the connivance of certain Portuguese authorities she sometimes passed muster as a trader, and made her headquarters and got her supplies at Port Praya."

Weld's next bit of excitement was on Christmas night, when the passengers were awakened by shrieks of fire, which caused a fearful tumult, and was then discovered to be a hoax. "The firebell rang for the crew to turn up, but most of them had been keeping Christmas too well, and were too drunk to leave their bunks," is a comment that throws much light on the sort of discipline that sometimes prevailed on these by-gone days.

The Theresa lost her main topmast and all her lighter sails and gear, and split her fore-topsail into ribbons in a white squall off the Cape of Good Hope. She heeled over ominously, but righted as the sails were blown out of the colt-ropes. "I had hoped," wrote Weld, "that we should have put into the Cape for repairs, but instead of that we were all made to set to work to repair the damage."

At last the ship sighted Mount Egmont, and on March 19, 1844, anchored off New Plymouth. Weld went for a tramp up to the Waitara River, and when he got back next day found a gale of wind blowing and the Theresa nearly on the rocks. A crew of whalers went off in a surf boat, got sail on her, and a favourable slant of wind coming at the right moment she made a safe offing. The sailors quarrelled with the captain, and refused to work, and this led to the loss of an anchor, and for the second time the ship was nearly on the rocks.

Next day the Theresa got under way with a change of wind, and with the help of the passengers she was put on the course for Nelson. Upon arrival at the infant township of Nelson the crew were sent to prison, "or such a substitute for it as the place afforded," as Weld put it.