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Historical Records of New Zealand

The Navy Commissioner to Secretary Hay

The Navy Commissioner to Secretary Hay.

Navy Office, 6th June, 1827.


In return to your letter of the 31st ultimo, transmitting a proposal from Colonel Torrens for facilitating the emigration of families to New South Wales, we have to offer the following observations for Viscount Goderich’s consideration:—

The quality of the cowdie spars procured in New Zealand is such as to render them exceedingly desirable for naval purposes, page 675 and we think they are equal, if not superior, to those of Russia or America, but we have been deterred from following this source of supply on account of the expense attending it, for although we adopted, in a great measure, the plan now suggested by Colonel Torrens, but on a less extravagant scale, it was found that the cost of masts so procured was much beyond those of an excellent quality which we have since imported from Virginia.

The cowdie spars from New Zealand of a size suitable to naval purposes are by no means in abundance, and are not found in the neighbourhood of the harbours, so that the toil and difficulty in procuring them, and transporting them to the ship, is immense, and the two ships we sent out were detained ten and twelve months in procuring for the one ship a cargo of ninety eight. and for the other of one hundred and five masts.

Our object in the equipment of the two large store-ships in question was to procure these large masts at New Zealand, and, in order to diminish the expense of the undertaking, the ships were first employed to carry convicts to New South Wales; but, notwithstanding this set off against the expense of the ships (for we must otherwise have procured convict ships), the masts cost at least £50 per cent. more than those from Virginia.

Colonel Torrens proposes that the ship, having on board one hundred families, estimated at five in each family, besides the crew, should touch at New Zealand on the voyage to New South Wales, in order to have the labour of the emigrants in procuring the masts. We apprehend it is scarcely necessary to trouble His Lordship with an observation upon so impracticable a proposition, it being evident that a ship already filled with human beings does not admit of being also filled with a cargo of spars; besides which it is of the first importance that a ship so crowded should meet with the least possible delay in reaching her destination, in order to prevent sickness; and we cannot make ourselves accessary to the hazard attending the confinement of so many persons in a transport for not less than three quarters of a year by recommending this measure, even if it were practicable, to take in a cargo of spars while the emigrants remain in the ship.

It may be proper to observe that, according to the report of those persons whom we employed in our store-ships, the natives of New Zealand are exceedingly apprehensive that their island will be taken possession of by the English, and the arrival of a ship with so many people would, we fear, excite unfriendly feelings, and probably disappoint the expectations held out by Colonel Torrens.

In procuring naval stores it is necessary to use the utmost economy, and to secure punctuality in the delivery, neither page 676 of which is likely to result from the measure in question; and His Lordship is well aware that the grants for the naval service do not admit of payment for casual supplies of stores beyond such as are contracted for in each year; we may indeed truly say that the estimates of the navy are so curtailed as to occasion great difficulty in providing for the common wants of the service.

The mode of paying for masts and hemp from New Zealand by granting navy bills to bear an interest of £4 per cent., as recommended by Colonel Torrens, might prevent the inconvenience of an immediate payment, but such a mode cannot be adopted without a special Act of Parliament, as the law forbids our issuing bills bearing an interest.

We have not had the same proof of the quality of the hemp of New Zealand as of the spars, but the report of its quality as far as our experiments have gone, is satisfactory.

We are, &c.,

Rt. Seppings.H. Legge.J. M. Lewis.R. W. Hay,