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Historical Records of New Zealand

Lieut.-Governor King to The Right Hon. Henry Dundas

Lieut.-Governor King to The Right Hon. Henry Dundas.

Norfolk Island, 10th March, 1794.


Being conscious that the whole of my conduct since I first settled this island in 1788 has been actuated by a constant attention to the advancement and interest of his Majesty’s service, I hope, sir, no wilful design will be imputed to me of retarding the first or injuring the latter by my proceedings in detaining the Britannia. That ship, having touched at this island on her way to India, I conceived it my indispensible duty page 190 to inform his Majesty’s Ministers of every circumstance respecting the actual state of the settlement on this island, as it was then eight months since I had any communication with [Lieutenant] Governor Grose. I therefore desired the master of that ship to wait a few days untill I could prepare copies of the letters, &c., which were transmitted by the Shah Hormuzear in May, and by the Sugar-cane in October, 1793, which were done as expeditiously as possible; and as Captain Nepean, of the New South Wales Corps, was on board that ship and going to England on leave of absence by way of India, I requested that officer to land and to inform himself of the state of this settlement, which might enable him to give such information as might be required of him on his return to England. In the letter which I had the honour of sending by that officer, and of which duplicates will accompany this, I have stated my reasons for detaining the Britannia longer than the time necessary for finishing my letters (which from the number of enclosures, &c., took up seven days), also my reasons for conducting the New Zealanders myself, and leaving the command with Captain Nepean during my absence. To those reasons I feel it necessary to add such others as operated with me at the time those transactions took place. The service the Britannia was going on, viz., that of procuring a cargo of provisions for the colony, could not escape my reflection; but, at the same time, I had every reason to suppose that there was at least an equal quantity of salt provisions in store at Port Jackson as there was at that time on this island, and of which we had then fifty-six weeks at a full ration. In this idea I was the more confirmed from the circumstance of two ships having arrived from England since my supplies were sent here. At the same time [as] my letters, &c., were finished the wind set it at north with the new moon, which is here a certain indication of its continuance in that quarter for some days, during which the Britannia would have made but little progress on her voyage, whilst that wind was fair for New Zealand. Those reasons, joined to the short distance from hence to Knuckle Point, viz., 140 leagues, induced me to hazard assuming a responsibility which has unfortunately drawn on me the harshest censure and threat from [Lieutenant] Governor Grose. The two New Zealanders having always lived with me, I was a constant witness of their grief and anxiety for their familys’ safety, without the means of aleviating it otherwise than by promises; and it was my full intention to send them to Port Jackson by the first opportunity, from whence I hoped they would have been restored to their family. The instructions which I have received respecting them from [Lieutenant] Governor Grose, by his secretary, are as follows: “The Dædalus, storeship, has arrived from the north-west coast of America. page 191 The agent, Lieut’t Hanson, according to instructions he received from Captain Vancouver, has brought hitherto two men, natives of New Zealand, and the Lieutenant-Governor has sent them to you for the purpose of giving such information as they may possess respecting the manufacture of the flax-plant. The Lieut’t-Governor, thinking it perfectly unnecessary to recommend them to your care, desires me only to add that he hopes much benefit may be derived from their introduction among us; you will, of course, victual and cloath them.“ This instruction was certainly sufficient for me to detain those men for any length of time, untill I might receive farther instructions from [Lieutenant] Governor Grose respecting them; but the daily lamentations of two sensible men, who were continually reminding me of my promise and repeating their anxious fears respecting the safety of their familys, from whom they were separated in a sudden manner, made me feel for them as a father and a husband. Those reasons, joined to the supposition of [Lieutenant] Governor Grose that he imagined they were sent here from my application, which application I made repeatedly to Governor Phillip,* and renewed it when in England, and also requested Captain Vancouver (who I met at the Cape of Good Hope), if it should be in his power during his stay in those seas, to procure two natives of that country, that it would be an act of publick utility to send them thither; and, as I have before observed, every instruction they were able to give us in manufacturing the flaxplant was obtained in a very short time, and on which we have very considerably improved. All which reasons induced me to give way to what I conceived were the dictates of humanity in restoring them to their familys and connexions. Could I have imagined that this proceeding would have been disapproved of by [Lieutenant] Governor Grose I certainly should have waited his orders, whose commands it is equally my duty and pleasure to obey; and so distant were my intentions from making an attack on the respect due to his situation that I assured myself of his approving of the act in favour of the motive which occasioned it.

My reasons for conducting the two New Zealanders myself were, that I might be certain of no unpleasant circumstances happening on the passage to make them forget the kindness they were shewn on this island, and to return immediately if it should fall calm or a contrary wind should blow, and to prevent any unnecessary delay, as the only object was that of putting the New Zealanders on shore; and had the passage been so short as I had reason to expect it would, it was my intention to have

* See pp. 120, 160.

page 192 landed for a few hours, and to have endeavoured to ascertain the quantity of manufactured flax which might be procured. But having been four days on the passage I gave up that idea as soon as I could assure myself that our two friends were in safety. My absence from Norfolk Island was only ten days, nor was I longer than eighteen hours off New Zealand; and I was happy to find on my return that the behaviour of every one during my short absence was equal to my expectations and wishes. The expence of thirty-seven pounds two shillings, which was due to the master of the Britannia for victualling those I took with me, at one shilling each per diem *; also for ten young sows and two boars at forty shillings each, which I gave the New Zealanders to breed from; also one hundred weight of bread and a hundred looking-glasses, which were given to those who came on board the ship, which sum of thirty-seven pounds two shillings was included in a bill on his Majesty’s Treasury, as stated in the letter No. 6, which I had the honour of transmitting by Captain Nepean. This small expence I hoped might be allowed of, as it was the means of procuring the goodwill of those who visited us, and the stock, I hope, will prove of publick utility if ever that country should be settled or visited by Europeans.

Respecting my reasons for appointing Captain Nepean to command here during my absence—the inability of the commanding officer of the detachment to hold any garrison or regimental courts-martial, there being only three subalterns on detachment here, appeared to me a sufficient reason to render that step necessary in case of any accident happening to me. Whatever irregularities or improprieties I may have committed in those proceedings I am, sir, sorry for them; but I did hope that the motive by which I was actuated, and the idea that a publick good might result from the New Zealanders again mixing with their friends, would have softened any errors which I might have fallen into, and which did not in the most distant manner proceed from any inattention or disrespect to [Lieutenant] Governor Grose, as no person can have a higher respect for the situation he holds than myself, and I very much regret that my assuming this responsibility should have drawn on me the most pointed and degrading effects of his displeasure.

I have, &c.,

Philip Gidley King.

* For the names of those who accompanied King, see ante, p. 170 (note).