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Historical Records of New Zealand

Extract from a Letter to Governor Phillip from Lieu-tenant-Governor King, dated Sydney, Norfolk Island

page 150

Extract from a Letter to Governor Phillip from Lieu-tenant-Governor King, dated Sydney, Norfolk Island,

Sept. 19th, 1792.

“As many of the fifty convicts whom I settled have applied to the master of the Pitt to take them off the island, I found it necessary to take some steps with respect to these people, and to endeavour to prevent many evils and misunderstandings that will necessarily happen if these people get their grants and afterwards leave the island, which inconveniences to the public will be more aggravated if they are permitted to make over their grants, together with their lots, to those women whom they have married, or to sell them to any one they please. If it should happen to be a deserving man or woman that gets it, it may be well; but I much fear it would in general go to people of a very different description. Soon after the Pitt’s departure I took an opportunity of sending for the above fifty settlers, and pointed out to them the necessity there was for my understanding their several intentions, and to inform them that if any of them endeavoured to leave the island before or soon after the twelve-month might be expired for which they were to victualled from the public stores they would be stopped until that twelve-months’ provisions should be made good to the public. I also informed them that those who had any idea of leaving the island could not plead ignorance of this regulation, and that I knew it to be the intention of many of them to gain what they could from their grounds, and when they had realized enough to carry them off the island, to leave their families, which would be a great burthen to the public. Some of them hoped that if they cleared their ground they might be permitted to make their grants over to their wives or their friends, by which the industrious individual would suffer greatly, as fifty of the best and most desirable lots would, in time, become the property of abandoned women, burthened with children.

“Several thefts have been committed during this month, which have in general received slight punishments, as they were mostly occasioned by hunger. On the 23rd, after receiving their provisions, five convicts went into the woods, where they joined a convict (named James Clarke) who had been out a fortnight; they continued plundering the grounds of settlers and others, and were so daring as to make an attack on the stock in the farm-yard, and had succeeded so far as to cut the throat of a fine goat, but on being discovered they left the carcass behind them; having just before plundered my garden, and those of other officers of everything they could take. These daring outrages made it necessary for me to publish a proclamation declaring those fugitives to be outlaws, and for every person to use their utmost to take them, dead or alive, at the same time page 151 offering a reward to those who might apprehend them. Four were taken on the night of the 29th, and as the next day (Saturday) was the day the provisions were issued, the justices having found them ‘guilty,’ they received 100 lashes each, in part of 300 to which they were sentenced, and also to be kept at hard work and in irons during the remaining part of the transportation. On the night of the 30th another man was brought in, who was the principal confederate of the convict who had been out so long, and avowed himself the person who had killed the goat, saying he did it in hopes he should be hung. This hardened wretch is not more than 18 years of age, and has made two attempts to murder people. The principal still remains in the woods, notwithstanding the greatest search is made for him. The next day being Sunday I forgave the first four, as they came in the Pitt, and as the tales which had been told them of the woods affording a livelihood was a strong inducement.

“As the settlers have been so frequently robbed by the runaway convicts, they applied to me for arms, which I granted to them.

“About 100 acres of Indian corn have been planted, many acres of which we have been obliged to replant three different times, owing to the destructive effects of the ground grub, which have destroyed the whole of the corn growing on the flats, but the greatest part of the hundred acres is very thriving, and has a promising appearance of doing very well; the Indian corn, wheat, &c., planted by the different settlers also looks well, and everything at present promises ample returns. The new ground is not at all infested by the ground grub, which gives the settlers a very great advantage over the public grounds, which are greatly infested with them, and occasions great loss of seed and labour.

“The following is an exact statement of the numbers now on the island:—
Officers, civil and military, non-commissioned officers, and free people, with their wives and children121
Settlers from the marines, seamen, and convicts123
Wives, women, and children belonging to the above179
Convicts taken off the store by settlers, and convicts who have served their time of transportation, and ho provide for themselves}men women59
Servants to officers, overseers, watchmen, under the Provost-Martial, hospital cooks, barbers, taylors, bakers employed at the stores, shoemakers, and assisting the surveyor101
Clearing half-acres, &c., for settlers60
Average number of sick during the month, including invalids91
Women who do not work from being incapacitated, living with officers as washing-women, having young children, and children137
page 152

“Deduct 59 men and 17 women off the store, remains 812 persons on the island, who do nothing towards maintaining themselves.

“The whole number of souls on the island is 1,115, from which number taking 812, there remains 303 convicts (including 22 females), to carry on all the works, namely, sawing, carpenters, boat-building, blacksmiths, shingle-makers, charcoal burners, masons and labourers, quarrymen, lime-burners, lath-makers, paling, barrow-men, bringing stones for building, and the cultivation of the ground for the public use, thatchers, thrashers, &c.; 158 of the above are constantly employed in cultivation, consequently 145 remain to carry on the other works. I have made the above statement in order to give your Excellency an idea of the small progress we have made since being on a reduced ration.

“The robberies, both on public and private property, having for these some months past been of so daring a nature, and the situation of the island, and those upon it, requiring some examples to prevent the growing property of the settlers and the public being plundered, I do not doubt but that your Excellency will see the great necessity of stopping these practices which strike so deeply at the peace and property, as well as the public security.

“James Clarke, a convict who has been for some time past a fugitive in the woods, and has constantly plundered the grounds of several people, was shot at by Leonard Dyer, whose ground he was robbing at the time he shot him.

“This unhappy wretch, who was killed, has been constantly in the woods these four months past, and has been a terror to every settler. Every patch of potatoes or cabbages were plundered by him, and notwithstanding the greatest exertions were made by the different settlers to detect him, he always succeeded in robbing them, and got off with his booty.

“The quantity of ground sowed, belonging to the public, is nearly as follows, viz.:—In and about Arthur’s Vale, one hundred and six acres of wheat, and seventeen acres of maize; at Queens-borough, twenty-six acres of wheat, and ninety acres of maize; at Phillipburgh, fourteen acres of maize, all which is very thriving, and I have a great pleasure in informing your Excellency that there is every appearance of a plentiful crop from the quantity of ground sowed, which would have been much greater but from the work being carried on so very slowly, owing to the shortness of the ration, and the weak state of the labouring part of the convicts, and a quantity of ground originally cleared for the Government, which has unavoidably fallen into settlers’ lots. Excepting a few, the settlers in general do very well; most of them have a good space of ground cleared on their different lots, and their crops are in great forwardness.

page 153

“The seamen and marines late belonging to the Sirius are all doing very well, and will in a few months be in very good circumstances, as their crops are likely to be good.

“I am sorry to say that no amendment is made in manufacturing the flax of this island. I am confident that a native of New Zealand would in a short time enable us to make a great progress in cloathing; but ’till then I fear we shall not be able to improve on the pattern now sent. Your Excellency may depend on my doing my utmost to promote that, as well as every other improvement.

“Respecting Mr. Chapman’s appointment as storekeeper at Phillip burgh,* the necessity of that appointment will be very obvious, as two-thirds of the Atlantic’s cargo is landed there, and where provisions are issued.

“J. T. Doidge, late superintendant of convicts, is become a settler. I have to request being informed what are the encouragements and conditions on which the superintendants settle.

“The quantity of ground now in cultivation for the use of the public, and which I have mentioned in a former part of my letter, is two hundred and fifty-three acres, and I hope ten or twelve acres in addition will be cropped by the middle of November. Everything at present appears likely to yield a good return, which may be estimated at upwards of five thousand bushels; much may also be got from the different settlers, and other individuals, if I receive orders to purchase it.

“I think it highly probable that the store will be eased of two hundred people if the crops belonging to private persons turn out good; but the whole of the above statement must depend on the continuation of the present favourable aspect, for the time is not past when a great part of our crop may be hurt by the grub and catterpillar, many acres of maize have been planted thrice.

“The unavoidable reduced labour, in consequence of the short ration and the other reasons which I have had the honor of pointing out to your Excellency in a former part of my letter, have prevented that quantity of ground being cleared which would have enabled us to become every year more independent; but I am sorry to say that our labour these nine months past (from the above causes) has not been so great as might be expected; but as these difficulties will in a part be done away very soon, I hope next year, or after this crop, to answer that part of your letter wherein you wish to know the time when further supplies may be no longer necessary with more certainty than I possibly can now. But it is my present opinion that we shall be independent for grain and flour after the next year’s crop, if this page 154 and the succeeding one turn out well. Respecting animal food, that will be some time longer necessary, particularly for the civil and military, although there will be a great quantity of swine on the island next year if our crops don’t fail.

“Having with infinite labour made an opening on the stone beach at Cascade Bay for landing, I found after a gale of wind from the northward that it was filled up with large stones. I therefore turned my attention to erecting a crane on the landing-rock, at the east end of Cascade Bay, which is connected with the road by a strong and well-framed bridge, and some rocks that were under water, and have been blown to pieces, have rendered the north side of the island very accessible, and have removed every obstacle respecting landing safely and conveniently on this island, which now can be always easily effected either in Sydney or Cascade Bay, as they reciprocally become the lee side of the island. But artificers are much wanted.“

* Mr. W. N. Chapman, afterwards Secretary to Governor King at Sydney.