Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Historical Records of New Zealand

William Leith To Messrs. Lord, Williams, And Thompson

page 301

William Leith To Messrs. Lord, Williams, And Thompson

Bay of Islands, New Zealand, 15th April, 1810.


Mr. Mason, late mate of the Speke, having offered to take charge of any despatches I might have to send you—he intending to leave this bay in the Perseverance—I have entrusted him with the delivery of the case containing the book, and this, my first letter to you.

On 4 April we made the North Cape of New Zealand. On the 5th at sunset we anchor’d at the entrance of the Bay of Islands, after experiencing two heavy gales of wind. Early in the morning of the sixth a friendly chief came on board. From this man with extreme sorrow we learnt the confirmation of the fate of the ship Boyd and crew, the particulars of which I send you herewith. He likewise informed us that 6 ships lay at the upper part of the bay, names as p’r margin* that the boats of the ships had attacked and wounded Tip-pa-hee, destroyed his houses and property, and killed about 60 of his people,—which I find to be correct. The Boyd’s longboat and some other articles fell into their hands. The loss on the side of the English is one man killed, by the accidental going off of a musket; a few were slightly wounded. Tip-pa-hee made his escape, it is reported, to Wongaloorah, where the unfortunate remains of the Boyd lays 5 fath’ms under water.

Towards the evening we anchored at the upper end of the bay, close to the other ships. All the natives of this bay being at war with each other, added to the extreme poverty of the place, gave me poor hopes of meeting with success in this bay; even potatoes are not to be procured. Soon after we anchored, a chief by the name of My-hanga came off, belonging to the district of Tarrahee. The good character I had previously given me of this man determined me to appear on friendly terms with him. Accordingly I made him a present of a few articles, for which he has rendered himself useful by keeping the natives from incommoding the ship.

On the 8th, in the morning, I resolved to go on shore in order to open a trade with the natives, as nothing worthy of notice had been brought off to us. 900 men of this district having gone eastward to the war led me to suppose that I had little to fear from the remainder. Not being able to procure anything of consequence, I returned on board, and in the evening I again went on shore, accompanied by Howell. We, being both well armed, intended penetrating a short way by land towards a hill which

* Speke, Inspector, Atalanta, Perseverance, Spring-grove, and New Zealander. These ships sailed in company with us.

page 302 overlooks the lower part of the bay, hoping to see the schooner Governor Bligh working in. We were nearly three hours travelling 3 miles, which will give you a tolerable idea of the difficulty attending penetrating far into the country. We reached the top of the hill, but could not see the schooner, and got safe on board about 1 hour after dark. On Monday, 9th, several boats from the ship intended going up a river on the north side of the bay to rescue four white men they had information of. Judging this to be a fit opportunity to form a correct judgment of the nature and productions of this part of the northernmost island, determined me to be one of the party. After reaching the head of the river we landed and penetrated about 10 miles inland. It then appeared we had not got half way to the place of abode of the white men, who are supposed to be concerned in the seizure of some ship or other. Prudence pointed out the necessity of our returning, that we might reach the boats before dark. Mr. Finucane being of the party, I proposed to him to return by a different rout from that, which we came, in order to disconcert any plan the natives might have formed to cut us off; Mr. F. being of the same opinion, which was put in execution, we got safe on board about the close of day.

The soil of this part of the island is certainly most excellent. Although we penetrated so far, and chiefly through a fine valley with many fine runs of water, we did not see a single pine tree or any wood of consequence. The quantity of flax plant is very small indeed—the whole I have seen would not produce one cwt. when manufactured. As we were not far from the district of Wongaloorah, Bruce has certainly grocely deceived you by his false representations. I am perfectly convinced that were it possible for us to remain in the Bay of Islands it would not answer any good purpose. It would be absurd, as two ships do not consider it safe to lay here by themselves. I am likewise of opinion that the masters of the different ships have to thank themselves for all the evils they have brought on by their injustice and illtreatment of the natives. All the timber lays very far up the country, and can be obtained only through the medium of the natives. A trade subject to such interruptions as will arise on the least offence they may receive cannot be productive, especially as the articles are very scarce. The pine I consider is not of a good quality, possessing very little turpentine or rosin.

Col. Foveaux and Mr. Finucane take their passage to England in the Speke, not finding themselves well accommodated in the brig. In order to freight the Experiment I am endeavouring to purchase as many spars as will fill her, which must be cross cut to make good stowage. After getting the spars in, I purpose looking into Wongaloorah—that is, if I can prevail on Capt. Dodd page 303 to do so—and then to cruise off the North Cape for a day or two in hopes of seeing the schooner. When she joins us I shall proceed in the Experiment to the East Cape, trading if possible on the coast between the two capes. I find, by the masters of the whalers that have been at the East Cape this season, that mats and flax are to be procured there of a good quality. At the East Cape I expect to be able to send the Experiment for England. As soon as I have completed the cargo of the Experiment and dismissed her, shall continue to trade about the East Cape if possible for a short time, and then proceed to Queen Charlotte Sound, Cook’s Streights, being informed here by the whalers who have been there this season that the flax plant abounds in that Sound, even to the tops of the hills. I have likewise information that there is very few, if any, natives there. This sound being not far out of our way to Foveaux Streights induces me to make tryal of it. Should it, on my arrival, promise to answer my purpose, I intend remaining in it during the midwinter months. You will therefore please to direct the master of such vessel as you may judge proper to send to our relief to make Cook’s Streights. On each side of the entrance of the Sound I purpose fixing a cross, or nailing a piece of timber across a tree, as a signal of our being within it. Should we leave the Sound previous to the arrival of such vessel, I will leave directions pointing out our course, inclosed in bottles and buried at the feet of trees, or crosses with a string afixed and leading above ground. If we should not be in the Sound, nor any signs remain of our having been there, it will be necessary for such vessel to run up the Bay of Plenty, and the East Cape before the master attempts to search for us in Williams’s or any other bay in Foveaux Streights. The same signals I shall make in the last as in the beforementioned streights. It is highly necessary to require the master to be very cautious when on the coast, and not permit more than one canoe to come alongside, and but few natives on deck at a time. Shall feel great inconvenience for the want of a carpenter or two. Have appointed Howell to take charge of the stores, trade, &c., in case any accident should befall me until your pleasure is made known on that head. The Boyd’s long boat is sent to Sydney by the Perseverance. She being a boat well calculated for our use, should this establishment succeed she would be of great service to us. Have rec’d very little assistance or advice from any person on board the Experiment, they being completely panic-struck.

I shall make every possible exertion in my power, and if, on seeing those ports which have been pointed out to me, and find the least probability of success, I shall not hesitate to give it a fair tryal. I am of opinion that some measures should be taken page 304 against Bruce,* having no doubt but that he was laying a snare to deprive you of your property and us of our lives as soon as a fit opportunity presented itself. We are now getting under sail, in order to run out of this bay. Have delivered to the care of Col. Foveaux a small box containing a sample of flax and thread, directed to Messrs. John and William Jacob, London. With all the exertions I have made, and after being every day on shore at all the native towns in the bay, I am much concerned to say that I could not obtain more than four pounds of flax. Not so much as a single mat is to be had here. Have procured a small quantity of timber, but what I have got is very fine for this part of the islands.

* * * *

Believe me, gentlemen, I feel great regrett at my not being able to procure a cargo for the Experiment in this port. I am, however, confident you will see the impossibility of meeting with success here. Should the Bligh not join us, I am of opinion that it will be requisite for us to put on shore on the islands called Three Kings, laying off the North Cape. are goats and hogs on these islands, we may with difficulty make a shift until you can send some vessel to our assistance. Many are for our returning to Sydney; but I conceive it to be my duty to make every effort in my power before I consent to that measure. However, in case you should hear that any accident has occurred to the Bligh, please to direct the master of any vessel you may send to our relief to make those islands before he looks for us elsewhere. I am fearful the schooner Parramatta, belonging to Mr. Blaxcell, has shared the same fate as the Boyd, and by the same hands, as the natives give me to understand something of this nature.

I am, &c.,

W’m Leith.

* This was, no doubt, George Bruce, an English sailor, who had married the daughter of a Maori chief in 1804, and settled at the Bay of Islands.

Copy torn.