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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 9 (December 1, 1938)

“The Vigorous Enderbys” — Their Connection with New Zealand — I. — Samuel Enderby

page 28

“The Vigorous Enderbys”
Their Connection with New Zealand
Samuel Enderby

To speak of Samuel Enderby and Sons as being merely shipowners, whalers, merchant princes of London, would fail to do them full justice. Their interests and activities extended beyond the realms of trade, the welfare of the British Empire itself being numbered among their concerns.

The same spirit—patriotic, enterprising, adventurous—which moved Samuel Enderby, actuated his sons; and (in passing) his grandson General “Chinese” Gordon.

A striking eulogy of the Enderbys is given by Herman Melville, who tells of his ship, the “Pequod,” meeting the English whaling vessel, “Samuel Enderby,” named after “the original of the famous whaling house of Enderby and Sons”; “a house,” says Melville, “which in my poor whaleman's opinion, comes not far behind the united royal houses of the Tudors and Bourbons, in point of view of real historical interest.” “The Vigorous Enderbys,” he called them.

In the days when American colonists had the monopoly of sperm-whale fishing, England was their best customer for whale oil and spermaceti. Registered both in London and Boston, the Enderby ships went to and fro, bringing whale oil to England and returning with stores for the American colonists. It happened to be an Enderby ship which, in 1773, brought the famous chests of tea to Boston, where they were emptied into the harbour by angry Americans. The War of Independence which followed this incident put an end, for a time, to America's sperm whale fishing, and British shipowners, now cut off from this source of supply, decided to hunt the sperm whale for themselves. So it came to pass that in 1775, several ships, most of them owned by Samuel Enderby and Sons, were equipped for whaling, and sailed away to hunt in the South Atlantic.

Other whaling ships soon appeared on these waters, their number increasing to such an extent that in the course of ten years or so, the fishing grounds became exhausted. This was the turning point of the Enderby Firm toward New Zealand.

Entry Into the Pacific.

Samuel Enderby had heard from the captains and mates of East Indiamen that great quantities of sperm whales were to be found east of the Cape of Good Hope. Enderby desired to explore this new fishing ground, but his plans were obstructed by the fact that the directors of the East India Company held a charter which gave them a monopoly of trade in the seas east of the Cape. To have these restrictions removed Enderby worked with vigour, urging the authorities that “permission be given to whalers to explore, without hinderance from the East India Company, the most distant ocean.” His efforts were partially successful, and in a letter to George Chalmers (a Government official) he stated that his firm, at great expense, had purchased and fitted out a very fine ship, the “Emilia,” now ready to sail. They were, he said, the only “adventurers willing to risk their property at such a great distance for the exploring of a fishery”; the others preferring to wait and see how Enderby succeeded.

(D. McMillan, photo.) A back country sheep station near Avoca, Midland Line, South Island, New Zealand.

(D. McMillan, photo.)
A back country sheep station near Avoca, Midland Line, South Island, New Zealand.

In 1789 the “Emilia” rounded Cape Horn into the Pacific, not only the first British ship, but the “first among the nations to lower a whale-boat of any sort in the great South Sea.” The venture was a great success, the “Emilia” returning in 1790 with a full cargo of sperm-oil, and the crew in good health. When it became known that whales and seals abounded in the South Pacific, numbers, both of English and American whale ships, followed in the wake of the “Emilia.”

Contact with New Zealand.

In the latter part of 1792, the ship “Britannia,” owned by Enderby and Sons, came to Australia with convicts. With the intention of procuring sealskins for the China market, William Raven, master of the vessel, left Sydney on September 30, for Dusky Bay, New Zealand: he was armed with a three years’ license from the East India Company. But before getting clear of Sydney, the “Britannia's” course was changed, presumably at the command or request of Major Grose, who, with his captains, subsequently chartered the ship to sail for the Cape of Good Hope, there to obtain provisions for the soldiers stationed at Sydney.

On 23rd October, Raven again set out for Dusky Bay, having been given leave to station a sealing gang there on his way to the Cape. New Zealand was sighted on 3rd November, 1792, and three days later the “Britannia” was moored in Facile Harbour, Dusky Bay. While making an examination of the page 29 Sound, Raven came across “signs of trees newly cut down, probably by Vancouver's men in the previous year; and there were still visible logs at Cook's clearing.” It was finally decided to station the sealers at Luncheon Cove, Anchor Island, and Raven set all the ship's hands to the work of making comfortable quarters for them.

In about three weeks the dwelling—40 ft. long, 18 ft. broad and 15 ft. high—was completed, and provisions and stores for twelve months were landed. Raven also left iron work, cordage, and sails; with instructions that a boat was to be built, large enough to carry them to a “friendly port” should need arise. This, says Dr. McNab, was the first sealing gang stationed on the New Zealand coast, and William Leith, second mate on the “Britannia,” had the distinction of being its commander.

On 1st December, the “Britannia” left for the Cape of Good Hope and in due time returned to Sydney. But owing to the great need for supplies, she was again chartered; this time for India. Naturally anxious about the welfare of his men at Dusky Bay, Raven was given leave to call there, Major Grose ordering the schooner “Francis” to accompany him.

The Return to Dusky Bay.

The two vessels left Sydney on September 8, 1793; the “Britannia” arriving at Dusky on the 27th of the same month, while the “Francis,” having been blown four times off the coast, did not reach the bay until the 12th of October.

Raven anchored at Anchor Island, and the moment the vessel was moored, “Leith, and a party of five, who had been seen coming round the south point of the island from their sealing station at Luncheon Cove, came on board and reported that all was well.”

During their stay of ten months the party had collected 4,500 seal skins, which was not considered a very successful result for their labour; but Raven was satisfied that the men had done their best to procure skins.

With the boat which he had ordered to be built, Raven was delighted. “What excited my admiration,” he says, “was the progress they had made in constructing a vessel of the following dimensions—40 ft. keel; 53 ft. length upon deck; 16 ft. 10 inches extreme breadth; and 12 ft. hold… . . she is planked, decked, and sealed with spruce fir, which in the opinion of the carpenter is very little inferior to English oak… . the carpenter has great merit, and has built her with that strength and neatness which few shipwrights belonging to the merchant service are capable of performing.”

Dr. McNab says that as far as he can ascertain, this was the first vessel built in Australasia, purely from Australasian timber, and “is an Australasian historical event.” Also, since the early whaling trade was carried on away from the coast, “beyond a spur or two put on board a stray vessel in the North Island,” the Dusky Bay sealing of Captain Raven in 1792–93 was the first trade with New Zealand; and Luncheon Cove the first settlement. Thus early did Samuel Enderby and Sons touch New Zealand.

Plea for Colonization.

Though the limits for the Southern Whale Fishery had been extended by legislation, “vessels could not proceed further than 51° E.; this still kept New Zealand and New Zealand sealing under the domain of the East India Company.” Enderby whaling ships, however, came to New Zealand as early as 1794.

In 1797 the Board of Trade “considered
(D. McMillan. photo.) The Christchurch-Greymouth Express crossing the viaduct at Broken River, South Island, New Zealand.

(D. McMillan. photo.)
The Christchurch-Greymouth Express crossing the viaduct at Broken River, South Island, New Zealand.

a petition of the Merchant Adventurers of the Southern Whale Fishery for an extension of their limits,” and in the following year this request was granted. Nevertheless, the remaining restrictions were irksome, and in 1801, Samuel Enderby and Alexander Champion “secured a further extension which opened the whole Southern Ocean for fishing, provided the vessels delivered their journals to the Court of the Directors of the East India Company on their return to England. Thus the New Zealand seal trade became free to British subjects as to Foreigners.” Raven, it will be remembered, had traded under a special license.

More and more whalers came to hunt in the waters of New Zealand, “and as they frequently called at Sydney a traffic grew up between New South Wales, page 30 the South Sea Islands, and New Zealand,” where the favourite meeting place was the Bay of Islands.

Many of the Enderby whaling vessels were engaged in discovery as well as in hunting; and in August, 1806, Captain Abram Bristow, master of the “Ocean”—owned by Samuel Enderby—when sailing south of New Zealand, discovered the Auckland Islands; so named after Lord Auckland, a friend of Bristow's father. Bristow, at this time, did not land; but in October of the following year he returned to the islands and took formal possession of them on behalf of the Crown.

As time went on, Samuel Enderby and Sons, with other English whaling firms, became alarmed about the conduct of the Europeans on the New Zealand coast, and tried to persuade the British Government to organise a settlement and make New Zealand a colony. “In one letter,” says Dr. W. J. Dakin, “they pointed out that the coast of Australia was not only too far from the New Zealand coast for help should a ship meet with damage or her crew become ill, but undesirable, too.”

Apt at grasping new ideas, the firm of Enderby and Sons manufactured rope from New Zealand flax, and thereafter used no other kind of rope for the whale lines on their vessels. They often employed Maoris; some as seamen, some as harpooners, and in general found them to be good, steady men; two Maoris were in their service for nine years.

So the Enderby firm moved forward, their ships sailing over the whole Pacific, from North to South, wherever whales were to be found.

(To be continued.)

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