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Historical Records of New Zealand

A Letter From Norfolk Island.*

page 182

A Letter From Norfolk Island.*

Norfolk Island, 19th November, 1793.

The Britannia is chartered to bring provisions, &c., for this colony from Bengal. Captain Raven sailed from Port Jackson in October last for Dusky Bay, in New Zealand, which he had left twelve months ago, to kill seals. On his return he found them all well, and they had about 4,590 sealskins, although they were very deficient of tackle to kill them with. During their stay at this bay they built a small vessel of 150 tons burden, entirely out of the wood of the country, which, they say, is equal to the English oak, and grows in great abundance. The bay is large, commodious, and well sheltered from the winds. During their stay at the bay they caught such an abundance of fine fish, and a kind of wood-hen, which cannot fly, having no long feathers in its wings; and they had scarce any occasion for their salt meat all the time they remained there. They saw no natives; but on one of their excursions into the country they found a fire in a small hut. They left some axes, &c., on a tree which lay in front of the hut, but the natives had not removed them when they left the island. They speak so highly of the country, for the goodness of the soil and the fine timber with which it abounds, that it may be an object to Government in course of time.

I should have mentioned in my former letter, had time permitted, the Dædalus having brought two of the natives of New Zealand to instruct the people to manufacture the flax-plant. The process proves to be a very simple one. They divide the fibre or haum across the leaf, about half through, with the point of a knife (in New Zealand they do this with a cockle-shell), then they draw it three or four times under the back of a knife, so that the outer part strips off. It is then taken to the water, and beat with a round stick; after this it is hung out in the sun to bleach; when sufficiently bleached, it is then hackled and spun into yarn. The two last parts of the process are an improvement made on the New Zealand mode of preparing it. By this method there has been some excellent canvas made out of it at this island, a sample of which is sent home. All that is now wanting is a machine that will dress it in a more expeditious manner, which might be easily invented by an

* Reprinted from Saunders’s News-Letter of Tuesday, 15th July, 1794. The Editor describes it as a letter from an officer at Norfolk Island, addressed to his friend in Lincoln. The letter contains internal evidence (post p. 184 and note) that the writer was Mr. Thomas Jamison, assistant-surgeon.

Captain Raven had in December, 1792, left a party of men at Dusky Bay. Ante, p. 177.

page 183 artist, the New Zealand method being rather tedious, and requiring a number of hands.

The New Zealanders are pleasant and good-natured beyond anything one could expect to meet with amongst so barbarous a people as they have always been considered to be. One of them is called Odoo, the other Tugee. The former is son to one of the princes of that country; the other is son to one of their priests. They live constantly at the Lieutenant-Governor’s, and eat at his table. They seem very well content at their present situation. At times they express a wish to return to their native country, which will be complied with the first favourable opportunity that offers.

Various are the accounts respecting this colony (and not more so than the causes that have produced them), some of them, I am convinced, from a want of competent knowledge or sufficient information on the subject they spoke of. This has been the case with some, in my opinion, as I believe them to be men of the greatest veracity, and incapable of misrepresenting things; but that there have been misrepresentations is beyond a doubt, and many of them so unfavourable to the colony that nothing but time and facts can obliterate them. However, most people allow the climate to be very fine, and that there are considerable tracts of fine ground; and the general opinion is that were there a sufficient number of black cattle imported, the colony would soon amply supply itself. As to this island, all agree that the soil is excellent; all it wants is a good harbour, and much could be done to remove this inconvenience should the place prove to be an object worth that attention. To conclude this part of my letter, I am of opinion that New South Wales is not sufficiently known to authorise anyone to give a decisive account of the country, as there are not above thirty miles known one way and not more than twenty the other, which is but a speck, speaking of such an immense tract of country as New Holland is.

I have some seeds and specimens of plants for you, which I shall send in the first ship that sails from this directly to Europe. I would have sent them by this conveyance, but, from the long voyage, I think they would share the same fate as those I sent you before.

The two New Zealanders, Tugee and Odoo, having expressed the greatest anxiety to return to their native country, and the Governor, being desirous that they should return impressed with those favourable ideas which they have hitherto imbibed of the friendship and kind treatment they had received at this island, was equally anxious that their wishes should be complied with; and on the afternoon of Friday, the 8th of March, Lieutenant- page 184 Governor King, the Rev. Mr. Bain, myself,* Mr. Chapman, the two natives, two non-commissioned officers, and seventeen privates belonging to the New South Wales Corps, embarked on board the Britannia. The wind being fair, made sail about four o’clock p.m. The weather continued fine, and the wind favourable. Nothing particular occurred until Tuesday morning, when we made the Three Kings, a small island which lies off the north end of New Zealand. About eleven o’clock we were abreast of North Cape. As soon as the bay opened, the natives came off in their canoes, and came alongside of the ship with the greatest confidence, unprovided with any warlike instruments, except a few which they brought to dispose of. By evening there were no less than seven of these canoes alongside, containing, upon an average, twenty men each. They exchanged their cloth, flax, fishing-hooks, lines, &c., &c., with the people on board, for knives, axes, pieces of iron, hoops, &c., &c. This traffic was carried on, with the strictest honesty by both parties, until the evening put an end to it, when the canoes returned to the shore.

It was almost calm during the night, and in the morning there were only light airs, with some appearance (by the clouds) of a contrary wind, the ship being about fifteen leagues from the place where the two natives lived. As this night seemed extremely likely to detain the ship longer than the Governor wished for, he asked Tugee and Odoo if they would go in one of the natives’ canoes, to which they seemed very much averse. Some time after one of the principal chiefs came on board, who informed them that their chief had been on a visit there about three days before the ship arrived—that the two tribes were on the strongest terms of amity with each other. They informed the Governor of this, and seemed perfectly convinced of the truth of it, and were satisfied to go with him in his canoe. The Governor told them it might be a deception, and that if they had any doubt they had better return to Norfolk, and wait for another opportunity; to which Tugee replied “that chiefs never told lies, and that they were quite satisfied to go in the canoe.“

The Governor finding that the ship was not likely to get round to the bay, and being also convinced of the truth of what the chief had told them, as one of the natives who had stayed on board all night had related the same story, he now consented to their going in the canoe, and sent for the chief and told him that

* Lieutenant-Governor King, in his despatch of the 19th November, 1793, ante, p. 170, gives the names of those who embarked with him. It will be seen from this that the writer of this letter was Mr. Thomas Jamison, assistant-surgeon.

page 185 he should be back in four months, and, should he find Tugee and Odoo well, he would make him and his tribe a very handsome present; to which he replied by saluting with the nose—that is, he applied his nose to the Governor’s, in which position he continued for some minutes. This done, the stock, Indian corn, wheat, and garden seeds, &c., &c., were put into the canoe. Poor Tugee and Odoo now came to take leave of us with very full hearts indeed, and seemed greatly impressed with a sense of the obligations they were under to Governor King, whom they were very much attached to. Everything being now in the canoe, they put off for the shore. The next day we had a fair wind for Norfolk, where we arrived on Tuesday, the 18th, about four o’clock, being just ten days on our passage to New Zealand and back again to Norfolk.

I can give you no information respecting this country, as we did not land. As to the coast, it looks to be sandy in many places, but in general it seems covered with green herbage. I think a large quantity of flax might be bought from the natives for very little. I send you a specimen of it, and some other curiosities which I purchased of them. I also send you enclosed in the letter a small specimen of the Norfolk Island flax, as dressed ready for the hackle.