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Historical Records of New Zealand

Lieutenant-Governor King to Under Secretary Nepean.*

page 139

Lieutenant-Governor King to Under Secretary Nepean.*

Norfolk Island, 23 November, 1791.

Dear Sir,—

After a week’s pleasant passage, I landed here on the 4th instant, when I found discord and strife in every person’s countenance, and in every corner and hole of the island, which you may easily conceive would render this an exact emblem of the infernal regions.

The accounts you will receive of this island from Ross (if he does not find it his interest to depart from the language he now holds) will be the most favourable and flattering, and, as far as I can observe at present, with great reason, for the crops, both publick and private, wear a most promising aspect.

On my landing here a general murmuring and discontent at Major Ross’s conduct assailed me from every description of people on the island. The acre plan was represented to me by a representation signed by 158 convicts as a compulsive measure of Major Ross’s, and the impossibility of their being able to maintain themselves within the prescribed time, viz., to be clear of the publick store in March, ’92. I am convinced that Major Ross’s ideas in setting that plan on foot was the most laudable, and an end much to be wished for; but, from what I can at present observe and understand, I do not imagine more than twenty men at the farthest can possibly maintain themselves for three months independent of the stores. This, with the loss of a very material book of the accounts, in consequence of the plan, and the discontent that prevailed, induced me to call in the swine, and to declare the plan done away, on condition of the time given them for the above purpose being made up in publick work at the expiration of their future tasks, and I have no doubt but it will prevent much misunderstandings and great discontents.

Forty marines and seamen and thirty-five convicts are settled here; twenty-four marines more are returning to Port Jackson with Major Ross to get their discharges, and will return here to settle, which will make the number of settlers, soldiers, and seamen sixty-four, who will have three thousand eight hundred and forty acres (each man has sixty acres); that doubled, for the intermediate Crown land, as pointed out by the instructions, will make it seven thousand six hundred and eighty; thirty-five convicts will have on an average twelve acres each, and, with the intermediate Crown land, will make the whole quantity of ground to be granted to the above people eight thousand four hundred and twenty acres. Now, I do not think that there is more than that quantity of ground fit for cultivation on the island when the

* A private letter.

page 140 space the buildings stand on and a quantity of ground is left for the flax; but you will observe that the Crown land will still remain at the disposal of the Crown, and which I should apprehend must be cleared and cultivated for the support of the great number who are not, nor cannot, be admitted as settlers, as there are upwards of * invalids who can not work, exclusive of the civil and military, who must be provided for.

The terms of the marines and convict settlers is as follows: The marines are to be independant of the publick stores in eighteen months, and the convicts in twelve months; they each take a woman, who they are to maintain independant of the stores in a twelve-month, viz., when their first crop is got off the ground, which will be in Decr., ’92. Each settler will also take a convict after their first crop is got off the ground, and maintain him. From the hogs which will be delivered out to the settlers (and which could not have been done if the acre plan had not been abolished), and these swine which will be purchased from the convicts going from hence to Port Jackson and the marines, I hope there will be nearly enough to supply the whole of the settlers, so as to make them independant of animal food at the prescribed time. I have been thus far explicit in the acre plan, settlers, &c., that you may be informed of the real state, which may be much misrepresented.

I am told there are upwards of one hundred acres in wheat and sixty in Indian corn, which, from the appearance, will certainly produce well, and be of some assistance to us; but it will be necessary to reduce our ration soon after the departure of the ship that is conveying Major Ross away, and which I shall take upon myself.

Had I remained here, and no more people had been sent after January, ’90, I am certain this island would now have been nearly independant for flour. Our numbers were then one hundred and sixty in all. Only twenty-two months has elapsed since that time, and the numbers have increased to one thousand men, women, and children; still less, therefore, it cannot be wondered at, if the independancy of this island is still removed to a greater distance of time. The time of our being independant for animal food is at a greater distance from the small quantity of stock on the island in proportion to the number of people to be supplied; and as for cloathing, much cannot be expected from the flax untill we can get a native of New Zealand. Specimens will be sent home of what has been done with it.

* Blank in MS.

page 141

You will excuse me when I again remind you of the great necessity there is for some regular and authorized mode of distributing justice. You will easily conceive that among such a sett of miserable and lawless wretches some mode should be adopted and put in force; there is not one among them that does not know how confined the power of a justice of the peace is, and when it is necessary to send a prisoner to be tried at the criminal court at Port Jackson, it may, and has happened, that the most usefull people here are taken away as witnesses. If a court could be established here for the trial of capital crimes, consisting of the Lieut.-Govr. as judge, the Deputy-Surveyor and two assistant surgeons (or the chaplain in the room of one of them), and those military officers which might have power to try and pronounce judgement; and in case of death being adjudged, not to be put into execution untill the Governor-in-Chief has signed or authorized the sentence. In this case it would be necessary to furnish the island with the same law books that are in possession of the Judge-Advocate of N.S. Wales. The clergyman who came out in the first fleet* accompanied me hither, and has been very usefull in marrying, christening, &c., but as he returns with Major Ross we shall be left to work over our work (sic), but I hope one will be sent out.

I have made a great effort in writing this long letter, as I am pestered with complaints, bitter revilings, backbitings, and almost everything to begin over again.

I hope you enjoy a good state of health, and shall be glad to be informed of it by the first ship you may send to our part of the world. I beg my best respects to Mrs. Nepean, and am

Yours, &c.,

Philip Gidley King.

* The Rev. R. Johnson.