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Historical Records of New Zealand

Commissioner Bigge to Earl Bathurst

page 587

Commissioner Bigge to Earl Bathurst.

27th February, 1823

My Lord,—

Having been directed by Mr. Goulburn’s letter of the 24th April, 1819, to enquire into the best means of preventing the commission of outrage and violence on the persons of the inhabitants of the islands of New Zealand by the crews of vessels navigating the Pacific, as well as to obtain information respecting the state of the inhabitants and the progress that has been made in their civilisation, and I have the honour to submit to Your Lordship the result of my enquiries on these subjects.

By the visit of His Majesty’s ship Dromedary to the Bay of Islands, and to the Harbour of Wangaroa, on the eastern coast of New Zealand in the year 1820, for the purpose of procuring a cargo of mast timber for the use of His Majesty’s Navy, I was unable to procure more correct information than I could have expected to receive from the persons composing or connected with the missionary establishments. In the evidence of Mr. McCroe, a very intelligent officer of the 84th Regiment, and who in the course of service with his detachment on board the Dromedary, had an opportunity of making tours in the interior (in one of which he was accompanied by Rev. Mr. Marsden), I have been able to obtain information upon the present state of New Zealand, upon which I am justified in stating that the greatest reliance may be placed. The intelligence and activity of Mr. McCroe, and his impartiality and candour, are fully admitted by Rev. Mr. Marsden whenever any appeal was made upon questions of doubtful authority, and it is certain that no person that ever visited the island enjoyed so many opportunities of observing the character of the country, as well as of its inhabitants.

The two principal harbours that have been frequented by European vessels are those of the Bay of Islands and Wangaroa, both of which are situated on the north-east coast of New Zealand. A capacious harbour, formed by a river called the Thames, to the south of the Bay of Islands, has latterly been explored, and an attempt was made by the commander of His Majesty’s storeship Dromedary to enter another harbour on the western coast of the island, that lies nearly in the same parallel of latitude as the Harbour of Wangaroa.

The Bay of Islands contains good and safe anchorage for vessels of the largest description, and it is on the northern shore of the bay that the principal settlement of the missionaries has been fixed.

The Harbour of Wangaroa is situated in the 35th degree of south latitude and in 172° 52′ east longitude. It is four miles in length, and of irregular breadth, containing several inlets, that page 588 have from five to six fathoms of water. The harbour is perfectly landlocked, and the entrance, although narrow and not exceeding 300 yards, is very deep, and free from all danger. In this harbour there is a rise and fall of tide from six to eight feet.

The Harbour of Sucheihanga is situated in latitude 33° 32′ south and longitude 173° 47′ east. There are three and a half fathoms depth of water on the bar, upon which the sea breaks whenever the wind blows directly in, and there is a perpetual surf and breakers upon the sand hills, both above and below the entrance. In the entrance of the harbour there are seven fathoms water for a distance of 12 miles.

The principal resort of European vessels is to the Bay of Islands, where they anchor during the season which is unfavourable for the fishing of the spermaceti whale. They here exchange old muskets and implements of iron for pigs and sweet potatoes that are furnished by the inhabitants. Promiscuous intercourse of the crews of these vessels with the females is offered rather than prohibited; and except where violence or seduction takes place of the wives or daughters of the chiefs of any tribe, their resentment is never excited by the infidelity of their women with strangers. The disputes that arise between the natives of New Zealand and the crews of European vessels proceed from their mutual ignorance of the language that they speak, the numerous instances of bad faith in the European, and the summary resort to severe punishment in cases of breach of faith in the natives, or on the discovery of petty thefts. The power, as well as the extent of punishments being placed in the hands of persons little qualified to adjust it, violence and personal injury have been frequently inflicted upon the inhabitants of New Zealand, and instances are not wanting where the injury has been unprovoked and the violence excessive.

With a view to prevent the forcible abduction of the natives by the masters and crews of vessels that sailed out from Port Jackson for New Zealand, the former were required to execute bonds, under which they engaged in penalties-not to carry or take away any of the inhabitants of New Zealand without the consent of their chiefs, signified to one of the missionaries. As these bonds were not taken in duplicate, or transmitted to England, it would have been impracticable to put them in force, in case of any breach of their conditions, except in the single and very improbable case of the return of the offending parties to Port Jackson. One of the missionaries resident at New Zealand, the Rev. Mr. Kendall, has received a commission to act as a Magistrate, but it does not appear that he possesses the means of rendering effective assistance to the natives against the oppressions of the crews of European vessels, and of controlling in any page 589 degree the intercourse that subsists between them. The influence of the missionaries over the New Zealanders has suffered considerably from the disregard in which their authority is held by the crews of European vessels, and from their unsuccessful interposition in disputes between them and the natives. The introduction of firearms, and the use of gunpowder, both of which the natives very eagerly purchase from Europeans in exchange for pork, mats, and vegetables, has enabled those tribes that inhabit the vicinity of the Bay of Islands and the eastern coast to acquire a manifest superiority over the inhabitants of the interior. Since the use of firearms has increased, and the natives have become sensible of the superiority it has given them in all struggles for power, or in the gratification of their revenge, the influence of the missionaries has greatly declined, and they have themselves been exposed to insult and ill-treatment, as well as to some degree of personal danger. The progress that the missionaries have hitherto made in the civilisation or instruction of the New Zealanders has been very inconsiderable, and it cannot be expected that their influence over the dispositions of the inhabitants can ever successfully compete with the powerful incentives to war and commerce that are perpetually presented by the increasing intercourse of Europeans. Altho’ the use of firearms has rendered the contests of New Zealanders more frequent, yet it is not to be inferred that they have become more destructive than formerly. The weapons to which they are accustomed are calculated only for personal contests, and when once a New Zealander is speared in battle he is speedily despatched by a heavy weapon, made of stone, that the natives always carry about their persons. Those who are made captive in war become the slaves of the conquerors, and it appears that they are treated with great cruelty by their masters, and form a separate class of the population. They are frequently sacrificed as offerings at the death of any individual of the family of a chief, and are sold or exchanged, and sometimes ransomed for articles of value.

Compared with the extent of the country, and the general fertility of the soil, the native population of New Zealand is not numerous. The inhabitants are congregated in bodies varying from two to three hundred, and apparently for the purposes of mutual defence or protection. They change their places of abode within their own districts, to which known limits are assigned, but they are not a wandering people. The authority of the chiefs is hereditary, but it is limited to the right of demanding the military services of the tribe in case of war. In peace, the power of the chief is merely influential. The checks upon the increase of population in New Zealand proceed directly from the page 590 destructive wars that they wage with each other; from the practice of infanticide, cannibalism, and slavery. It appears certain from every account that cannibalism still exists among the New Zealanders, but from the abhorrence with which they now know that the practice is now regarded by Europeans they are unwilling to avow it, and are rather studious in concealing it. Want of food cannot be reckoned amongst the incentives to this practice, or to that of infanticide, for the soil of New Zealand is generally fertile, the temperature mild, and the summer heats are frequented by gentle showers. A great portion of the interior of the island is covered with a high fern, the roots of which are eaten by the natives. The sweet potato and the yam are generally and very carefully cultivated, and wild spinach, celery, and carrots (seeds of which were left by Captain Cook) are now growing wild in most of the districts of the interior. Pigs, derived from the breed that he left, are becoming very numerous and nearly wild. The inhabitants occasionally eat them, but dried fish and potatoes constitute their ordinary subsistence, and their nutritious qualities are very apparent in the healthy temperaments and robust frames, both of the men and women. Pulmonary diseases appear to be frequent amongst the New Zealanders, and the intercourse of Europeans with the tribes of the sea coast has occasioned the introduction of another disease, which from the want of means of cure is attended with fatal and calamitous effects.

The families in New Zealand are described to be numerous and healthy, and many persons are observed of an advanced age, and some of them who recollected the visit of Captain Cook. The New Zealanders are of an active and enterprising disposition, capable of great exertion when under the influence of any strong excitement, but like most other savage tribes averse to any continued labour.

The cultivation of their lands is very neat and careful, and the necessity of giving them protection against the ravages of the pigs has taught them the art of making substantial fences. The only quadrupeds that have been discovered, or that now exist, in New Zealand consist of pigs, a species of dog resembling the native dog of New Holland, but more easily domesticated, and field rats; no venomous reptiles have yet been discovered.

The missionaries have made some attempts to introduce cattle, but from want of care and superintendence they have been dispersed. The draught cattle that were taken from Sydney to assist in the conveyance of the wood for loading the Dromedary were purchased by the Rev. Mr. Marsden, and for the first time the plough was made use of in New Zealand under his direction, in the year 1820. The surface of that portion of the page 591 island that has been visited by Europeans is varied, on the sea coast broken into valleys and ravines, that are watered by fine streams, and that contain large deposits of rich, alluvial soil. That which covers the sides of the hills consists generally of a poor and tenacious clay, with a considerable admixture of iron. In the interior of the island there are extensive tracts of flat land, unencumbered with timber, but covered either with the fern or the New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax). Mr. McCroe states that he passed through a valley of six miles in extent, the surface of which was covered with this plant. It grows in stools or tufts at a little distance from each other, some of them covering a space of six feet in diameter. Two species of this plant were observed, one having leaves of a reddish colour, and one that was more common, the leaves of which were of a light bluish green. The former species is scarcer, and is cultivated and esteemed by the natives on account of the whiteness of the flax. As it cannot be propagated by seed, the roots of the plant are set in small trenches about one foot broad and nine inches deep. Moist soils are generally chosen for this purpose, and it appears that although, both in New Zealand and New South Wales, the Phormium tenax does not require a rich soil, yet that the leaf acquires a greater degree of vigor and expansion in moist alluvial land than in dry clayey and sandy soils.

The preparation of the plant for the manufacture of mats or cordage consists of stripping the fibrous and mucilaginous parts from the leaf in its green state by means of a sharp shell or a vitrified substance that is found in many parts of New Zealand. The flax is then hung up to dry, and when required to be made soft or silky it is beaten, after undergoing a partial immersion in fresh water.

The climate of New Zealand is remarkably mild and favourable to vegetation. In the winter season the rains are heavy and continued, and gentle showers are frequently experienced in the summer. From the observation of the thermometer, registered by Mr. McCroe from the 1st of May, 1820, to the 7th of December, the variations during the winter months appear to have been between 39° and 60°, and at noon in the month of December they did not exceed 68°. Except on the sides of the ravines, the surface of the country may be pronounced to be susceptible of easy cultivation. In these ravines, and along the sides and shores of the rivulets, the trees are numerous and lofty. Their value as timber appears yet to be doubtful. In the early visits that were made, both to the Northern and Southern Island of New Zealand, timber seems to have been cut without any attention to the quality and character of the two species of trees that were found to be most abundant, and that page 592 appeared to be the most adapted to naval purposes. The names given to these trees by the natives are the cowdie and kaikatina. The former is greatly superior to the latter in durability, and from both there exudes a considerable quantity of resin. The cowdie is chiefly found on the sides of hills at a distance of two or three miles from the coast, but large quantities were observed to grow on the inlets of the River Shukuhanga, of large dimensions, and in situations from whence they might be transported without difficulty. Both of the species now mentioned are evergreens. They have very few branches, and carry up a clean stem to a great height, suddenly branching out into a tufty and bushy top, bearing leaves resembling those of the English box-tree. The crews and military guard of His Majesty’s store-ship the Dromedary obtained 120 spars of the species called the cowdie during the period of their stay on the coasts of New Zealand. They were assisted in cutting them by the natives, who are remarkably expert in that operation, until they began to undervalue the articles that were given them in remuneration, and which consisted of hoes, hatchets, glass beads, and fish-hooks. Fifty of the spars were from 20 to 23 inches in diameter, and in point of dimensions were considered by the officers of the Dromedary to be well adapted for topmasts of ships of the line. The value of the timber I have not had an opportunity of ascertaining, as it was deposited in His Majesty’s dockyard at Chatham on the arrival there of the Dromedary in June, 1821. Several small spars and booms of the timber called cowdie were used on board the Dromedary in her voyage from New South Wales to England in the year 1821, and were found to be quite equal to spars made of Baltic timber. The greatest portion of the timber imported from New Zealand into the Colony of New South Wales has consisted of the inferior species called kaikatina, and it has been easily used either for naval or domestic purposes. The Americans, who have visited New Zealand, consider it well adapted for the China market, and have also used it in the repairs of their own vessels. The large quantity however that has been imported in the Dromedary and Coromandel, and that has been deposited in His Majesty’s dockyards, must have afforded ample opportunities of forming a correct judgment of the value of the New Zealand timber.

The mineral productions of the island have hitherto attracted but little observation. The presence of iron has been ascertained by the discoloration of the clay, as well as of the water of several springs, and the active agency of fire, as indicated by the appearance of several substances that have been found in a state of calcination. Large masses of pure sulphur were found in the interior by Mr. Marsden in his last tour, at a little distance page 593 from a hot spring, the waters of which had a strong sulphurous taste. Green jadestone is found in most parts of the island, and is cut into ornaments by the natives and exchanged for muskets and gunpowder with the crews of European vessels. Within the last few years this intercourse has increased, and Mr. Kendall, one of the missionaries, reported to me that during the three years ending November, 1819, fourteen vessels had touched at the Bay of Islands, five of which belonged to New South Wales, two are Americans, and the remainder are English vessels employed in the South Sea fishery. The New Zealanders manifest a great disposition for the sea service, are themselves very expert in the management of their canoes, and several have made voyages between the islands and New South Wales in the missionary brig Active. The number of persons composing the missionary establishment in New Zealand, including women and children, did not exceed 45 in the year 1819, and there is one family unconnected with them, consisting of an English mechanic, his wife, and five children, settled at a little distance from the Bay of Islands. The New Zealanders have already become acquainted with the condition of the convicts in New South Wales, and regard them with contempt and aversion. The commander of the American ship the General Gates, who succeeded in landing three convicts before he was discovered by Captain Skinner of His Majesty’s store-ship the Dromedary, had made an agreement with one of the chiefs to receive pork, potatoes, and wood in payment for the labour of the convicts, whom he described as armourers, and capable of making and repairing fire-arms. The New Zealanders, however disposed to commercial intercourse with Europeans, were not likely to afford an asylum to the fugitive convicts of New South Wales, or to connive at their concealment. Should that intercourse be confined in future to the occasional visits of vessels employed in the South Sea fisheries, it is to be apprehended that the progress of civilization will be retarded, and that the knowledge of the European character in New Zealand will be derived from the vices and bad passions, which have, unfortunately, found there so many opportunities of uncontrolled indulgence. The use of spirituous liquors has fortunately no attraction for the New Zealanders, and it is stated by Mr. McCroe (but upon what grounds I am unable to conceive) that the opinion they have formed of the European character is in no wise affected by the conduct of the crews of the vessels that from time to time have visited their shores.

With a view to prevent a repetition of the outrages that have been committed by them, it will certainly be advisable to declare by a legislative Act that they, as well as all persons serving on page 594 board British vessels, are amenable to the Criminal Court of New South Wales, and liable to be tried by it, for any crime committed on the persons of the inhabitants of New Zealand. By the first legislative Act that was passed on this subject, the punishment of offences committed in New Zealand was limited to those of murder or manslaughter, and at the same time it was declared in the preamble of this Act that New Zealand was a place not within the dominions of His Majesty. Altho’, therefore, an Act of the British Legislature might be binding upon such of the subjects of His Majesty as committed offences upon the persons of the New Zealanders, yet it may be doubtful whether it would justify the punishment of foreigners for those offences. The protection of the Act must therefore be limited to cases of outrage or violence committed by the subjects of the King unless the preamble of the Act before mentioned is repeated or a positive declaration is made that New Zealand is included in and forms part of the British dominions. The jurisdiction conferred on the Governors of New South Wales extends to the islands adjacent to the eastern coast of that colony, an expression too vague to support the exercise of criminal authority in New Zealand, which is situated one thousand miles from it. To remedy these doubts, therefore, it would be advisable to give an express authority to the Governor of New South Wales to appoint magistrates, as well as constables, in the Islands of New Zealand; and with a view to give efficiency to the Magisterial authority, it would be expedient to give salaries not exceeding £20 per annum to any two respectable persons who might be selected for filling the offices of constables. The occasional presence of an English ship of war in the harbours of New Zealand, and during the season in which they are visited by the South Sea whalers, would greatly tend to check the licentiousness and outrages of the crews of English vessels, and to increase the respect that the natives already feel for the naval and commercial superiority of the Dromedary upon the coast and at the Bay of Islands; and upon the sight of the military guard, the natives expressed some apprehension, and appeared to entertain a belief that they were sent for the purpose of avenging the dreadful calamity that befel the crew of the ship Boyd. When the object of the voyage was explained they made no opposition to the cutting and exportation of their wood, and expressed great satisfaction in the prospect that it held out to them of an enlarged intercourse with Europeans, and especially with the subjects of Great Britain. From the limited information even that had been obtained of the character and resources of the Northern Island of New Zealand, it appears to possess a great superiority over the settled districts of the page 595 Colony of New South Wales. In rivers, harbors, climate, soil, and natural productions, the superiority of New Zealand is manifest, and the only impediment that presents itself to the colonisation of the island arises from the savage and revengeful disposition of the inhabitants. It does not appear that they are averse to the settlement of Europeans—on the contrary, their natural shrewdness has already pointed out to them the advantages they derive from the presence and intercourse with strangers. The missionaries have hitherto confined their settlements to the Bay of Islands, but they were in treaty, when the Dromedary left the island, for a large and fertile tract of land, in which it was intended to make a settlement that was to receive the name of Gloucester. It is the opinion of Mr. McCroe that although the natives would not hostilely oppose the settlement of a body of Europeans, or of English in New Zealand, landing with pacific and friendly objects, yet that their indiscriminate revenge and sensibility to injury would expose individuals to a great degree of personal danger. During the period in which the crew and guard of the Dromedary were engaged in cutting wood, and in making a road for carrying it to the harbor, they were encamped on shore; they were frequently visited by the natives, but were never molested by them, and several of the men, as well as women, remained on board the Dromedary when the crew was greatly diminished in number without any symptom or disposition to violence. Quarrels took place between the natives and the sailors, but by the prudence and discretion of Captain Skinner, the commander of the Dromedary, indemnity or satisfaction in some shape or other was rendered to the injured parties, and all feeling of national insult was appeased. Among a body of English settlers not subject to any control the same discretion is not to be expected, and it is on this account, and for the purpose of affording protection against the sudden movements of revengeful passion in the natives, that Mr. McCroe considered that a small military force would be necessary, in case it should be deemed expedient to give encouragement to the colonisation of New Zealand. Whenever the China market shall become accessible to English vessels, the value of New Zealand, as a place of deposit for the produce of the whale and seal fisheries, cannot fail to attract them to its harbours. The Americans, who are freely admitted to the China market, are already sensible of the advantages to be derived from an intercourse with the New Zealanders, and will succeed in establishing it, notwithstanding the partiality and preference that the natives entertain for the subjects of Great Britain, and the knowledge they have acquired of the distinction between these and the Americans. The exchangeable produce of New Zealand is at page 596 present limited to the articles of wood, mats, and provisions, but if they can be prevailed upon, either by the example of the missionaries, or by settlers, to adopt the more simple modes of raising stock, and cultivating grain, they will not fail to find ample opportunities of exchanging them for the useful and common implements of agriculture, and for coarse woollens, the use of which is already perceived to be very acceptable to them. At the present moment any military force that might be sent to New Zealand must for the first 12 months be subsisted from Port Jackson, but I conceive that a detachment of troops might receive supplies by one or other of the colonial vessels, and that under their protection a sufficient quantity of New Zealand flax, in its dressed state, might be purchased of the natives and returned to Port Jackson for sale and manufacture to defray the expenses of the voyage.

I am not aware of any other points of information that I have in my power to submit to Your Lordship respecting the objects of enquiry to which my attention was directed by Mr. Goulburn’s letter, but in case Your Lordship should wish to possess any further or more detailed information, I beg leave most respectfully to refer you to the evidence of Ensign McCroe, and to that of Dr. Fairfowl, surgeon of His Majesty’s storeship Dromedary, that I have the honor to enclose, together with the replies of Mr. Kendall and two other missionaries to certain queries that I addressed to them by the first opportunity that occurred after my arrival in New South Wales. All which is very humbly submitted to Your Lordship.

John Thomas Bigge.

To the Right Honorable the Earl Bathurst, K.G.