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Historical Records of New Zealand

George Bass to Governor King

George Bass to Governor King.

Sydney, New South Wales, Jan. 30th, 1803. Your Excellency.


From the dearness of animal food in this country, and the little prospect there is of its price being reduced by killing the page 243 live stock for many years yet to come, I have been induced to make some consideration upon the chance of lessening the vast sums expended annually by the Government, in sending out hither supplies of beef and pork for the rations of the convicts, whose numbers, now that peace is established in Europe, we may conclude will every year be very considerably augmented.

In point of information, it is unnecessary for me to say to your Excellency, that by my late voyage to the South Sea Islands, I have enabled you to issue from the Public Stores, pork at a price much below what the Government could have sent it out from England; but I mention the circumstance to impress upon Your Excellency that I have not only undertaken but performed a reduction of the public expense,(1) thus furthering your arduous exertions to the same end, whilst producing to myself a profitable though very moderate return, and on this plan am I desirous of proceeding in the present instance.

I have every proof short of actual experiment, that fish may be caught in abundance near the South part of the South Island of New Zealand, or at the neighbouring islands. And that a large quantity might be supplied annually to the Public Stores.

Government aiding me in the project, I will make the experiment.

The aid I ask of Government is an exclusive privilege or lease of the South part of New Zealand, or that South of Dusky Bay, drawing the line in the same parallel of latitude across to the East side of the Island, as also of the Bounty Isles, Penantipode Isle, and the Snares, all being English discoveries, together with ten leagues of sea around their coasts(2). The lease to continue for seven years yet to come; renewal to twenty-one years, if the fishery within the first seven, is judged likely to succeed. Capability of affording to the Public Stores once every week a ration of good salt fish at one penny per pound less cost than a meat ration, calculated at the prime cost in England with freight, to be deemed good and sufficient proof of success, and ground for claiming the renewal of the lease to its utmost limit of 21 years.

And, since the several different places above specified, are only asked for to give greater scope to the experiment, they shall all upon the application for renewal of lease, be given up, that only excepted which experience shall have proved to be the best adapted for the purpose in view, which purpose is no other than that of a fishery.

Until after the expiration of seven years, I cannot consent to supply annually any specific quantity of fish to the Public Stores, such term being to be considered as a period of probation page 244 only. Nor do I wish that Government shall be bound to take any specific quantity of fish annually, supposing that quantity to be ready. Government may, within the above space of time become purchasers, or not, as is found convenient(3).

And should any failure happen in the Stores, and times of exigency again be seen in the land, I will ready come forward, and supply one half of the fish I may have in my own private stores during such exigency at 25 per cent. less cost than the then market price of that article in this colony.

If Your Excellency thinks the above proposal worthy of notice, I request of you at once to have the privilege, that I may begin to set matters in motion.

If I can draw up food from the sea in places which are lying useless to the world, I surely am entitled to make an exclusive property of the fruits of my ingenuity, as much as the man who obtains Letters Patent for a corkscrew or a cake of blacking.

Sir, I am, &c.,

George Bass.

To his Excellency Governor King.

Notes by Governor King:–

(1.) The quantity of pork purchased from Mr. Bass at 6d. per lb. was very acceptable at the time it came before the supplies arrived from England—and as far as my information goes, at least 6d. per lb. less than it could be sent from England. But it is to be supposed that if the peace continue salt pork sent from England will not exceed sixpence a lb., and we have now 3 years meat in store.

May 9th, 1803.

(2.) As Mr. Bass limits the time of his first essay to seven years, his success may warrant the term being extended. But it remains to be ascertained how far the fish thus salted will answer, and whether the oyla potatoes expended with the fish may not be adequate to the saving proposed. But as it is at his own risque that he undertakes this enterprise, every encouragement, I presume, should be allowed him—which at present depends on the progress he may make, when he makes the trial, which will not be done until his return from his present voyage.

(3.) This is by no means binding on Government to take the fish unless wanted.