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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

How Captain Harris Reached Poverty Bay

How Captain Harris Reached Poverty Bay

Strange as it may appear, the Memoirs do not give the name of the vessel which conveyed Harris and two subordinates—George White (“Barnet Burns”) and Tom Ralph—from Sydney to Poverty Bay. This omission is made good by Burns, who says (in his booklet) that he made the journey on the Darling. Ro. Carrick (Historical Records of New Zealand South, p. 179) lists this schooner as one of the vessels which made voyages out of Sydney to New Zealand during 1830–31, but he does not give the dates of their sailings. Her captain's name, we are told, was “Stewart” [William Stewart]—a piece of information which, he says, he gained from the official shipping records in Sydney.

Inquiries were kindly undertaken on behalf of the writer by the Librarian of the Mitchell Library in Sydney to ascertain what voyages the Darling made between Sydney and New Zealand and, on 12 April, 1940, the following information came to hand:

“There is no record of the schooner Darling sailing for New Zealand between August, 1827, and February, 1831. The Australian of August 17, 1827, states that she sailed from Sydney two months earlier for some part of New Zealand, and, having encountered heavy gales, was obliged to put in at the Bay of Islands. In 1830, she seems to have been trading to Van Diemen's Land. She sailed for New Zealand on 13 February, 1831, but the newspapers give no details, not even the captain's name.”

Mr. Montefiore, testifying before a Select Committee of the House of Lords (1838) explained that the reason why he visited New Zealand in the Argo in 1830 was that he had some intention of forming extensive commercial establishments throughout the [North] Island. Whilst he was at Kawhia [1 November, 1830] page 96 he bought a site for a trading station and then went on to Kapiti, where he joined the Elizabeth (Captain James Stewart). That vessel had just got back from Banks Peninsula, whither she had taken Rauparaha, with about one hundred of his warriors, on his notorious mission of vengeance. The Elizabeth got back to Sydney on 14 January, 1831.

As Harris, together with Ralph and Burns, reached Poverty Bay on 16 May, 1831 (Harris Memoirs), it is highly probable that they signed their agreements with Mr. Montefiore on 12 February, 1831, exactly two years later than Burns's date, and it seems certain that they left Sydney on the Darling when she sailed on 13 February, 1831. This, then, is the date which is omitted by Carrick, who, however, supplies a list of the vessel's cargo, which was as under:

“4 bales of woollens, 1 box of leather, 9 cases of muskets, 8 cases of ironmongery, 1 case of hardware, 1 cask of oil, 32 casks of powder, 1 box of colonial pipes, 1 puncheon of rum, 5 baskets of tobacco and stores.”

With the above-mentioned stock-in-trade, Harris, it seems, set up his first trading station in Poverty Bay and from it also supplied his subordinates with goods with which to trade.

The Darling did not leave New Zealand waters until 6 July, 1831. Upon her return to Sydney, a month later, her captain's name was recorded as “N. Stewart,” the “N” clearly being a mistake for “W” on the part of the official who made the entry. In this connection, Harris junior, on page 5 of the Memoirs, says:

“If I remember rightly my father came on a vessel commanded by Captain James Stewart [he meant William Stewart], who had previously discovered that Stewart Island did not form portion of the mainland. Captain Stewart came to stay with his old friend [Captain Harris] in 1850, or at the close of 1849, dying in 1851, and is buried in the old garden at Tapatahi (Opou) at the south-east end.”

Upon the occasion of the Darling's next voyage to New Zealand, she left Sydney on 3 October, 1831, under a Captain Skelton, and the Sydney Gazette announced that Montefiore and Co. had disposed of her. It is plain, therefore, that Harris, Burns and Ralph journeyed to Poverty Bay in a vessel which, at the time, belonged to their employers. What is most likely is that the firm left it to Captain Stewart (who had long been acquainted with the coasts of New Zealand) to select the sites for, and to make the necessary arrangements with the chiefs for the opening of, the trading stations which were established on the northern shore of Poverty Bay, at Muriwai and at Mahia.