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Historical Records of New Zealand

Surgeon Luttrell to Under Secretary Sullivan. [Extracts.]

Surgeon Luttrell to Under Secretary Sullivan. [Extracts.]

Sydney, 8th October, 1807.

Hon’d Sir,—

When I had the pleasure of addressing you last year by the Alexander, Captn. Brooks, we were then involved in all the miseries of famine, per various causes; but, thanks be

The Alexander sailed from Sydney for England on 10th November, 1806.

page 280 to the Supreme Disposer of events, we have struggled through it, and as our last maize crop proved very abundant, our distresses are much relieved; but the consequences of the flood is still felt, and will be for some time in a very great degree, for as there was almost a total destruction of the pigs and every sort of poultry by the inundation, it will be some months before any quantity can be again reared, for it is only since the maize crop that there has been any food to properly feed them with. A very serious evil to the settlers in the country has arisen out of the flood is that of pig-stealing all over the country by the convict serv’ts and inferior class of settlers that have been formerly convicts, who league with the others in their nightly depredations. This evil is carried on by those rogues to the very great detriment of the colony at large, for old and young, whether nearly ready to farrow or not, are all equally destroy’d by them, and as this crime is but trivially punished by the laws of England, the punishment that is inflicted on them they totally disregard, and they return to their destructive and wanton practice with a perfect nonchalence. Pig-stealing in this colony ought to be a capital offence, as it is at present the only animal food, except poultry, of the great body of the settlers, as sheep are not yet numerous in the colony, and are in few hands, and the horn cattle is still fewer, although they are rapidly increasing, as the climate agrees with them remarkably well.

* * * *

Men whose view of settling in the colony as graziers only do little benefit to it, as they do not as graziers promote the clearing and cultivating of the country. To grant, therefore, very large tracks of land, and the permission to purchase a considerable quantity of cattle, by the produce of which they mean to live, is incompatable with the interests of the colony. It is by combining the grazier with the farmer that the increasing prosperity of the country is to be expected; for, as the toil and expence to bring a wooded country into cultivation requires both labour and money, the person whose* the quantity of stock he possesses is placed above it* to it. On the other hand the poor cultivator without* who is forced to labour hard for his subsistence, by clearing the land for a precarious crop, is depressed in spirits, and instead of carrying on his cultivation with spirit and energy, he views with silent dejection his neighbour indolently abounding in the prosperity of his heads of cattle.…. As there is a great want of mechanics of various descriptions, such as carpenters, masons, smiths, wheelwrights, bookmakers, &c., they might be permitted to come into the country either at their

* MS. torn.

page 281 own expence, or on such conditions as Government might chuse, and for them to work at their different trades, but not to have grants of land assigned them. The want of a number of free artificers is greatly felt in every part of the country, and is a considerable hindrance to the improvement of the farms, many of which are in a most wretched state for want of proper buildings on them. But industry here is in general at a low ebb. A colony founded principally by convicts is a long time advancing to any degree of perfection. When working as serv’ts to Government, or to the different settlers unto whom they are granted, the little labour they perform scarcely amounts to a fourth part that a labourer in England would accomplish in a day. And those that are become free, and in the earlier periods of the colony had lands granted them, are for the most part a very worthless, dissipated class, retaining the vicious propensities and habits which occasioned them to come to this country. A spirit of trading and dealing, amounting nearer to gambling than anything else, pervades the whole of them, and it is not uncommon for a man, scarce worth anything else than his crop on the ground, to purchase a sorry horse for upwards of a hundred and twenty and thirty or forty pounds, and to give his assignment of his growing crop for it. After having it, perhaps, for a few days, he sells it again to another person for something else, and so on from one to another. And whilst this sort of trafficking is going on, labour is at a total standstill, and the cultivation of the ground neglected; and should there happen to be a quantity of rum in the colony, a debouching of several days succeeds. Prior to Governor Bligh’s arrival, a considerable injury to the colony had crept in: that of ticket-of-leave men—men that were taken off the stores, and permitted to work for themselves. The original idea might have been a good one; but, as a great number of the most worthless of the convicts had from some recommendation or other obtained this liberty, the colony, instead of reaping a benefit either from their labour or skill in any mechanic branch, the greatest part of them became hucksters and dealers in various articles of food, and especially during the famine, enhancing the price of every commodity on the people, and making them their prey. But Governor Bligh, seeing the pernicious tendency of the measure, has recalled a great number of them into Government employ.

* * * *

The climate here is so delightful that there is, take it altogether, scarce any to be compared to it. The want of a better society, the remoteness of our situation, and the little intercourse with our parent state, by which we are deprived of many of those comforts and necessaries we have been accustom’d page 282 to, and often the total privation of every article of cloathing and many et cæteras in haberdash’ry, &c., necessary to family use, makes us lament the immense distance between us, and wishfully to sigh for a sight of Old England.

If a more regular intercourse was opened between this and the mother country, a ship from England—with a cargo of various articles of food, ironmongery, and cloathing of different kinds, paint, glass, earthenware, &c., &c.—every three months would find a sure and ready market; or if one or two of the China ships was to make this in their passage to China with a cargo for this country it would answer very well, and I do not believe the passage to China would be longer by this route than by the eastern passage, and the danger is incomparably less; but I am in hopes the Legislature will, in their justice and wisdom, upon a renewal of the East India Charter, grant a free trade, under certain limitations, both to China and the East Indies; but in the course of a few years more, by extending our settlements eight or ten degrees further to the north, every production of India and China might be had from our own coast, as I believe there are some harbours within that distance that would answer every purpose of forming a settlement on them. Amongst the disadvantages that this country at present labours under is the want of an exportable article for shipping that touch here, either for the India, China, or the Home market. A few of the ships that have arrived have had a Home freight of whale oil and seal skins; but the latter trade is greatly on the decline, as the seals are all nearly destroy’d on the southern islands on this coast, or, from the constant molestation they have suffer’d, have abandoned the islands. To get a cargo of skins, new and more distant islands must be discover’d, and the consequent risk and expence must be so much increased that the amount of the cargoes will hardly pay the charges. As the climate of this country is favorable to the growth of the annual cotton plant, such as is the produce of the Carolinas, the cultivation of it as an exportable article for the China market would prove of great benefit to the colony; and as the demand for raw cotton is very great at China, it would become an article for that market for shipping that bring cargoes to this country and are proceeding on to China. But, unfortunately for the colony, there is not a true cotton plant in it, or ever was since the colony was founded—the Gossypium of Linné. It would be meritorious in any individual to send out both seeds and plants if the Government should not consider it as an object worthy their attention. Wool, the Government was falsely informed, was an article which, in the course of a few years, would become an article of the utmost importance to Britain; but the fallacy of the account I in my page 283 former letter set forth, and what I have since seen of the sheep of this country I am still further confirmed what I advanced on that subject—that at present there is not a good fleece in the country, and it will be many years before the hair is totally obliterated. Besides, a wet season diseases them, and they die out of number; it is the worse and most precarious stock in the country. The horn cattle are increasing rapidly, and the meat of them is equal to English beef, and it only wants a dispersion of them amongst the people that are worthy to have them to make this a much more thriving colony than it has been. A few individuals have, for this country, large herds, from 100 to 200 head of cattle, but the prices they ask for a cow are such that but few can venture on the purchase of them—from sixty to seventy pounds for a cow or calf, a bullock from fifty to sixty; and now I have enter’d on the price of the horn cattle, I will just enumerate prices of the various stock, and grain, &c.:—Sheep: To purchase a flock of ewes and wethers, with lambs, two pounds a head, one with another. Wethers, for the butcher, from three pounds to five; retail’d out by the butcher at two shillings pr. 1b.; prior to the flood, at one shilling. A small pig at 6 or 7 weeks old, 20 shillings; a full grown hog, eight pounds or more; pork, retail’d by the butcher at 22d. per 1b.; grown fowls, five shillings each; wheat, at present, 16s. per bushel; maize, 6s. per bushel; potatoes, 26s. pr. c. weight; green peas, 1s. 6d. pr. quart; a cabbage, 6d.; no cheese made in the country; a small quantity of butter at 6s. pr. 1b. by a few individuals. The colony at present is in absolute want of butter, cheese, porter, wine, spirits, all sorts of cloathing, tea, sugar, all sorts of kitchen utensils, bedding, blankets, sheets, &c., &c.; and what adds to our distresses is, immediately as any of those articles coming into the colony they are purchased up by a few hucksters in Sydney and resold to the settlers and others at the enormous prices of three and four hundred pr. c’t from the imported price. If a merchant in England was to send a trusty free man into this country with a regular consignment of goods he would do well. If you remember, sir, it was required of me, on my coming into the colony, to make the rearing and breeding of sheep the first object of my attention, in consequence of the representations that had been made to Government of the value of the wool. Accordingly, on my coming into the country, I purchased six hundred pounds’ worth of sheep; but, as I found it was likely to be a very losing concern, and the wool to be little or no value, I thought it necessary to dispose of more than half of my flock, but I have now upwards of three hundred. Our increased expences, arising from the extreme dearness of provisions, occasioned by the page 284 floods, with the money I have necessarily expended on my farm, has in great measure exhausted my little fortune, and you will know I have a numerous family. I shall be gratefully thankful to you, sir, to procure for me the purchase of six more cows, to the six I already have, for the better support of my family, as it is from the horn cattle only that a family can hope to prosper. I should be glad to purchase them by two at a time, according as they suit my circumstances, or to pay for them by their produce with interest thereon. The horn cattle of this country being a very mixed breed, chiefly from cattle imported from the Cape of Good Hope and from India, with some few from England and St. Helena, and as the cattle at the Cape will never give any milk unless they have their calves by their side, the cattle of this colony partake of the same habits. A cow here can only be milked once a day, having shut up the calf in a pen all night.

* * * *

Our climate produces us peaches in the most luxuriant manner, and some of excellent quality and flavour; at present they are but of little use to the colonist. Cyder has been attempted to be made from them, but the experiment has not been successful. Fine brandy might be made from them; but as no distillation is allowed in the colony, we are not able to derive any advantage from what Nature so bountifully bestows on us, although very considerable sums annually goes out of this colony for the purchase of very inferior Rio rum, rum from Bengal, &c., &c., which money might be kept in the colony was a distillery to be carried on under proper regulations and restrictions. Beer cannot be made good here from the want of hops, and the climate is much too warm for their growth; attempts have been made to raise them, but without succeeding. Grapes on the first settling of the colony throve very well, and promised to be a useful and profitable culture; but from some unknown cause or other they are now annually blighted, and the culture of them is entirely given up; but I believe they have not grapes proper for the climate, and a bad management has been one principal cause of their failure, for as this climate is nearly similar to the Cape, where they make very good wine, it appears paradoxical to me why, under proper management, they should not succeed here. I am attempting to rear them at my farm, and I hope to succeed. Tobacco might be raised in large quantities, which also takes a considerable sum from the colony for the purchase of Brazil tobacco; but the culture of it has not been attempted, in great measure from the poverty of the settlers, not being able to raise buildings for the drying and curing it, and from the number of hands necessary in the culture. Flax page 285 succeeds very well, as also hemp, growing on the rich lands of the Hawkesbury to a most luxuriant height, and if proper encouragement was given for the growth and manufacture of it, it would become an article of the greatest importance to the colony. The plant called the New Zealand flax* thrives remarkably well; and if we knew how to manufacture the fibre it would be superior either to cotton or the common flax, as it is exceedingly strong, and has a rich, glossy, silk-like feel and look; but the years of famine from the occasional floods have caused wheat and maize only to be attended to preserve our existence. Our fruits, besides peaches before-mentioned, we have apricots, some pears, some apples, quinces (far superior in size and flavour to the English), mulberries (English, China, and the Cape), strawberries, rasberries, nectarines (imported by Gov’r Bligh), a fine Japan fruit called loquet, plumbs (but they do not bear well; we want cherries), greengage plumbs, filberts, walnuts, pistachio nuts, olives. Oranges and lemons we have but not in abundance, considering the length of time the colony has been settled. But little attention seems to have been paid either to gardening or to any improvement in agriculture, considering the time the colony has been settled; but I hope there is every prospect of the colony improving under the judicious care of our present Governor, who certainly has the welfare of the colony much at heart. The improvements that have taken place in every part of the country since he began his government have proved of the greatest utility. Abuses that had been long suffered to exist he has rectified and done away; the more than Robersperian rule he has crushed, and his attention has been directed to the welfare and happiness of all the colony, instead of the private advantage and emolument of a few interested individuals that heretofore bore all the sway in the colony, and who, under the imbecile government of Governor King, were actually the governors of the colony. Prior to Governor Bligh coming into the colony a clamour— been raised against him, and an opposition formed to counteract his government, and the recent events of the colony has fully confirmed what was before only rumored. In consequence of the officers of the Porpoise going to England, I have been appointed by Governor Bligh as surgeon to the ship. To-morrow we sail for the Derwent. If my desultory letter will afford you, sir, any amusement or information, I shall always be happy to give you such.

I am, sir, &c.,

E. Luttrell.

* Phormium tenax.

MS. torn.