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Historical Records of New Zealand

Captain R. Elives to Commissioner Bigge

Captain R. Elives to Commissioner Bigge.

H.M. Ship Coromandel, New Zealand,12th Aug., 1820.


As you were pleased to express a wish to have my opinion “of the timber of New South Wales“ (which I had the honor to leave for you, with Captain Piper), I have concluded that some few remarks on the timber of New Zealand would not be deemed obtrusive; and have taken advantage of the return of Mr. Marsden to Sydney to transmit you a hasty sketch of such trees as have fallen under my observation.

“The chief object of the voyage being to obtain spars fit for topmasts of large ships,“ my principal attention has been hitherto directed to that particular.

There are three species which from their growth and dimensions appear calculated for this purpose (and are deserving a trial), called by the natives “cowdie“ (or “cowrie“), “remoo,“ and “krycatera.“ The cowrie is found chiefly on the sides of hills two or three miles inland and in deep valleys which renders it difficult to be brought to the beach for shipment. It is also scarce the length we require it (at least, in all the places I have seen); much of it is found in a state of decay at the heart, but when sound I think it of excellent quality, and suitable for topmasts. It attains a diam. of 6 or 7 feet and discharges large quantities of resin. The krycatera abounds most in swampy places and is a species of fine growth; but, from the appearance of its grain does not seem so well adapted for topmasts as the cowrie; neither do the natives speak in favour of its durability, and they construct their canoes from both these sorts. The remoo is a kind of which I have yet seen but little; the few trees I have met with were invariably entwined with a kind of vine (of great thickness), in some instances so closely knit to the trunk as to page 495 render it doubtful whether it did not form part of it. The grain of the remoo is close and the wood heavier than either the cowrie or krycatera.

There are many other species of timber, but I have yet met with none suitable for naval purposes (ships of the line or indeed frigates), for though some of them are sufficiently large, the singularity of their growth renders them unfit to convert for either frame timbers or beams.

In all my excursions in the forests of New Zealand I have not seen a single tree, of any description (except pine), that would cut a frame timber or a beam piece for a 74 gunship.

It must, however, be observed that my researches have been confined to the banks of the River Thames (and there are many places there I have not yet had opportunities for examining), so that no just estimation can be formed of the productions of the country from observations of so little extent.

How we shall succeed in getting a cargo is at present doubtful. We have at this time about 35 spars cut, but require the assistance of the natives to bring them to the beach. They have hitherto shown the most friendly disposition towards us, but their services can seldom be relied on two days together. The chiefs are the only persons noticed on board the ship, but, if trifling presents were made to the people who labour (for every spar they get down), I have no doubt they would be stimulated to exert themselves much more in our service. The notice of Mr. Marsden’s return to Sydney being too short to allow me to extend my remarks,

I beg, &c.,

Robert Elives.

P.S.—I beg you will excuse the dirtiness of this sheet, which was occasioned by an accident, and I had not sufficient time to write another.

The Honourable the Commissioner of Enquiry, &c., &c.