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Historical Records of New Zealand

Lieut.-Colonel Nicolls to Earl Bathurst

Lieut.-Colonel Nicolls to Earl Bathurst.

8th Nov., 1823.

To the Right Honorable the Earl Bathurst, Principal Secretary of State for the Colonial Department.

The memorial of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Nicolls, of the Royal Marines, respectfully sheweth,—

That the attention of your memorialist having for many years been peculiarly turned to the subject of colonization, he has employed the leisure afforded by peace in serious reflection on the observations which long experience in various parts of the world had enabled him to make, and in endeavouring to reduce into a practical form the results of that experience.

page 599

Your memorialist, having been long impressed with the conviction that in many cases the parent State might, and ought to, be relieved from the expence, vexation, and trouble to which colonization has hitherto subjected it, begs leave to submit to Your Lordship’s favourable consideration a plan which he humbly conceives would not only exempt the Mothercountry from the expence usually incurred in such undertakings, but which also in a peculiar degree embraces objects of vital importance to the naval consequence and commercial interests of the British Empire.

It has long been a matter of deep national concern that, whilst the independence of Great Britain was established in every other respect, it was compelled to rely on the northern Powers for a supply of several articles of indispensable necessity to the existence of its navy. A colony planted in a country whose natural productions (by abundantly supplying our deficiency in these important materials) could at once free the British Empire from this irksome dependance on foreign aid, and amply repay the debt necessarily incurred at its commencement, your memorialist humbly submits would be an acquisition of the highest value to this Kingdom.

That your memorialist, after much time devoted to personal inquiry, and to the perusal of those authors who from their own inspection have treated on the peculiar advantages of New Zealand in point of situation, soil, climate, and productions, and the numerous safe and commodious harbours by which it is surrounded, feels convinced that the northern part of that country possesses all the requisites for the establishment of a colony of the above valuable and singular description. Captain Cook, in his several visits to New Zealand in the contemplation of a British settlement there, not only circumnavigated the two islands, of which the country is composed, but passing thro’ the straight which has since borne his name, ascertained the extent and maritime boundaries of each division, to the northernmost of which the following propositions and observations are intended exclusively to apply:—

This division, extending from the North Cape, in latitude 34° 20′ S. to Cape Pallisier in 41° 36′, is about 430 miles in length, whilst its breadth varying from 5 to 180, but taken on an average at 60 miles will give, as its superficial contents, upwards of 16 millions of statute acres, and is called by the natives Caheinomane. The delightful climate with which it is favored, joined to the uncommon fertility of the soil, produces an unfading verdure all the year round, and qualifies this island for bringing to perfection all the necessaries and most of the luxuries of civilized life. A range of high mountains running thro’ the page 600 whole length of both islands, with little variation of distance from their western shores, ensures such a constant succession of moisture, even thro’ the summer months, as gives the climate of this country a decided advantage over that of New South Wales (where sometimes there is no rain for ten months together), and the occasional soft and genial showers in summer prevent the heat from being inconveniently felt by Europeans, altho’ the rays of the sun fall almost vertically.

Clothed in many parts with forests of the finest timber, and watered by numberless rivers, this favored country produces to an apparently unbounded extent a plant called the Phormium tenax, or flax plant. Of this flax, prepared by a very simple process, cordage and sail-cloth of an excellent quality have been manufactured, equal (if not superior) to those articles made from the produce of any other country. The soil, which varies in quality, is represented by persons of unquestionable authority to be admirably adapted to the growth of grain, and in a few instances where European missionaries have planted some of the garden vegetables known to us, they have attained to a degree of perfection fully equal to those in our English gardens; in short, from the best authenticated accounts, there is no country on earth more favorably circumstanced for the operations of agriculture than New Zealand, which already abounds in the common and sweet potato, without other cultivation than that bestowed upon it by the rude efforts of the natives, unassisted by iron tools.

European cattle and poultry thrive and multiply abundantly, whilst the seas surrounding the island, and the rivers which intersect it, afford the finest fish of every species. Demonstrations of iron-ore brought down by the currents of fresh water were discovered by Captain Cook at the mouth of every little stream or rivulet, which warrants the belief that other metallic substances would be found in the more mountainous parts of the country. The New Zealanders are represented as a brave and warlike race of men, with the important addition to their characters of being as affectionate, intelligent, and industrious as they are hardy, active, and ingenious, possessing minds capable of receiving, and profiting by instruction, and hearts that bear a grateful sense of any kindness they receive. It must however be acknowledged that great odium attaches to them in consequence of the abhorrent custom of eating their war victims, and of the commission of other acts of cruelty, practiced on the crews of some of the European ships which have occasionly touched on their coasts; but your memorialist is confident that the plan which he is about to propose for the colonization of this island would (by removing the causes of these evils) entirely put a stop to such ferocious acts.

page 601

Your memorialist having thus, in the briefest manner he is able, submitted to Your Lordship a sketch of the country, and character of the people, whom he is desirous of being the humble means of rendering less savage and more happy, will now take the liberty of presenting for Your Lordship’s consideration the plan which appears to him best calculated to secure the most beneficial results, and for the adoption of which he feels assured he can offer unanswerable reasons.

Your memorialist, believing (for reasons to be hereafter stated) that the most thriving colonies are those founded on military principles, proposes,—

1st. That a corps shall be raised ofstrong, composed wholly, or as far as may be, of pensioners.

2ndly. That Government shall find a passage for these men, together with their families, and supply them with provisions and clothing for the space of one year, also with a proportion of live-stock, seeds, agricultural and other instruments.

3rdly. That Government shall allot to each private 100 acres of land, 50 for his wife and 25 for each child, with a similar proportion, according to their rank, for each officer, non-commissioned officer, their wives and families, the land to be obtained by Government in the manner hereafter specified.

4thly. That the said colony shall, for a certain time, be governed by military law, the extent of which time is to be determined by the local circumstances of the settlement.

5thly. That the colony shall agree to repay to Government, in raw materials the produce of New Zealand, all the expence incurred at its commencement as soon as shall be possible after its establishment.

Your memorialist will now proceed to lay before Your Lord-ship the reasons which have induced him to believe that a colony founded at its commencement on military principles is best adapted to promote the interests, both of the settlers and the Mother-country. The success which has uniformly attended military settlements formed by the Russians on their Georgian, the Persian, and Turkish frontiers have particularly attracted the attention of your memorialist, and confirmed the opinion, which his experience had led him to form, as to the decided advantages possessed by such an establishment.

At the commencement of a colony it is most essential that the efforts of all the individuals composing it should be exclusively directed to the promotion of the general good—the evils which have arisen in most infant colonies from the clashing of private interests are too well known to require repetition— strifes have invariably sprung up; in all instances injurious, and not unfrequently fatal, to their well-being. The discipline of a page 602 military settlement would effectually cut off this fruitful source of misfortunes; the members of it, trained in long habits of submissive obedience to one competent authority, and guided by one mind earnestly bent on promoting the welfare of all, would find difficulties vanish before their united strength, which individually encountered must be insurmountable.

A military establishment, whilst it tended to promote the good of the settlers, would also be best calculated to benefit the uncivilized natives of New Zealand. The furious struggles amongst the chiefs for the maintenance of their imagined rights, and the consequent destruction of human life, would be speedily terminated by the presence of such a force. Many of their leaders have expressed an ardent desire to retire from their predatory mode of life, but have at the same time lamented the utter impossibility of doing so whilst some of the more powerful and ambitious chiefs remain unsubdued or unawed by a regular military power, which in the event of its becoming necessary might compel their agreement to such pacific terms as should best serve the general interest.

The aspiring ambition of one very warlike chief called Shungi has already caused the most calamitous events; he is at the head of two thousand followers, who are in possession of one thousand musquets, and altho’ the combined power of the chiefs in opposition to this warrior would be greatly superior in point of numbers to his adherents, yet these parties, being nearly destitute of firearms, and dreading his ferocious disposition, have been reluctantly compelled to join his standard; thus his power is daily augmenting, whilst the cultivation of the soil and the civilization of the natives, so wisely promoted by the resident missionaries of that excellent institution the Church Missionary Society in London, is hourly declining.

In the choice of pensioners to form the proposed colony, your memorialist has been, guided by a belief that the expence of forming the establishment would be quickly diminished by this measure, as their active services would thereby be secured to the State without adding to its burthen. It also appears expedient that a large proportion of this body should consist of disbanded seamen and marines of sound constitutions, as they are, in general, more used to work hard, and more ready in availing themselves of presented resources, than troops of the line. For the same reasons a preference should be given to marine artillery men, whom frequent occasions may call forth into harbours, along the coast or in the rivers. Used to the oar, they would not deem this employment too laborious, and your memorialist has ever found these men a most useful description of troops. This corps of pensioners might be page 603 officered from the half-pay list, or by such as choose to volunteer from serving corps.

It has been too commonly the practice for settlers from this country, either forcibly to dispossess the natives of those lands which have devolved to them from their forefathers, or to obtain the peaceful resignation of them on certain stipulations which they afterwards deemed it unnecessary to fulfil. This violence in the first or breach of faith in the latter instance has been productive of the worst consequences to the settlers themselves, by provoking a just tho’ savage retaliation, and has equally injured the natives by affording them an example and excuse for their ferocious acts.

During the last year, in the midst of an Indian population as wild and sanguinary as the natives of New Zealand, your memorialist learned the absolute necessity of adhearing to the strictest rules of equity in all his transactions with them. Their experience of the perfect justice of his dealings induced an equal return of good faith on their part, and he had the happiness by this means of producing amongst them much civilization, and an abandonment of many of their barbarous customs. It is therefore essentially necessary to the success of this plan of colonization that Government should obtain from the natives of New Zealand by fair barter a sufficient portion of land to locate the settlers. This may be accomplished by giving in exchange iron tools or implements of husbandry, and at a much smaller expence than that usually incurred in the purchase of those presents so lavishly bestowed by Europeans in their dealings with savage nations. Of the pernicious effects of those gratuitous distributions, your memorialist has had such strong reasons to be convinced that, altho’ furnished with upwards of twenty thousand pounds’ worth of presents for the Indians in Florida, he bestowed them exclusively as payment for services performed, and the Indians were made happy by the rewards which their own exertions alone had enabled them to obtain, whereas, had he acted otherwise he might have entreated but would not have commanded their services.

From the nature of the indigenous productions of New Zealand, peculiar facilities would be afforded to the settlers for the repayment of the expence incurred at the commencement of the colony. To this country exclusively belongs the production of flax without cultivation, and requiring little manual labour to fit it for immediate use. This material would supply exports of such value to the parent State as in a short period completely to liquidate the debt due by the establishment for its outfit. (See Note No. 1.)

page 604

Note 1.—Your memorialist further begs leave most respectfully to impress on the mind of Your Lordship that however great may be the advantages derivable from the power of machinery combined with the abilities and adroitness of superintendants and competent capital employed in any species of manufacture, he has reasonable ground to believe that the primary consideration of the manufacturer is the price at which the raw material can be obtained, and that on this alone depends the successful competition of British fabricks in foreign markets. A cheap and certain supply of the Phormium tenax from New Zealand in substitution of hemp and flax from the Baltic and other European sources would not only in a rational point of view render the country independant of other States for all national stores connected with these articles, but would in a commercial light give to the British manufacturers of hemp and flax a decided superiority in the excellence and cheapness of their goods, which by no possibility could be met with in the foreign market.

Your memorialist takes the liberty of submitting that at no future period could the colony possibly become a burthen to the Mother-country for the subsistence of the emigrated inhabitants, it being, from the excellence of its climate and prolific nature of the soil, together with the quantity of fish furnished by the sea shores and rivers, amply supplied with food and the other requisites of human life. To our traders engaged in the South Sea commerce the greatest advantages would be afforded by the safe and commodious harbours of this island—its timber for the repair of their ships, and abundant provisions for the refreshment of their crews; and your memorialist is humbly of opinion that a colony thus favourably situated, and organized according to the before-mentioned plan, must soon become one of the most important foreign establishments belonging to the British Empire.

Those useful and gallant emigrants from the northern counties of Ireland and Scotland who are daily flocking to the shores of the United States of America would soon be tempted to seek an asylum in New Zealand; their abilities and industry, which at present are worse than lost to the parent State by strengthening the hands of a formidable rival, would then become of the highest value to their native country, and the knowledge possessed by these individuals from their early experience in the rearing and dressing of flax would fit them in a peculiar manner for bringing the staple comodity of this island to perfection; whilst they would carry the practices of their youth to a profitable market in the preparation of the indigenous flax for all the British manufactures in which hemp or flax is employed.

Your memorialist, impressed with a conviction of the accuracy of these his views on the subject of colonization, begs leave to state that it is his anxious wish to be considered by Your page 605 Lordship as eligible and competent to be intrusted with the colonization of New Zealand. Should the proposed plan be favored with Your Lordship’s approbation, he hopes and believes that the exhibition alone without the exercise of whatever force His Majesty’s Government may think fit to place under his command, would be sufficient to put a stop to the sanguinary quarrels amongst the native chiefs, whilst it should be his constant endeavour, by every means of conciliation in his power, to promote a spirit of mutual kindness and confidence between them and the settlers.

Your memorialist trusts that 30 years’ services will be a sufficient warrant for his future zeal and activity in promoting any undertaking which may conduce to the welfare of his country.

Edward Nicolls, Lt.-Col., R.M.

Woolwich, Nov. the 8th, 1823.

[Enclosure No. 1.]

Estimate of the Expence for the Outfit, Victualling, and Transport of 350 Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Privates of a Military Colony to be established in New Zealand.

Amount. Amount. Amount.
£ s. d.
1 lieutenant-colonel, at 17s. per diem 310 5 0
1 major, at 15s. per diem 273 15 0
3 captains, at 10s. 6d. per diem 574 17 6
3 1st lieutenants, at 7s. 6d. per diem 410 12 6
6 2nd lieutenants, at 6s. per diem 657 0 0
1 adjutant, at 4s. per diem 73 0 0
1 quartermaster, at 6s. per diem 109 10 0
1 surgeon, at 12s. per diem 219 0 0
3 assistant surgeons, at 6s. per diem 328 10 0
1 chaplain, at 15s. per diem 273 15 0
12 serjeants
12 corporals
300 privates
3,230 5 0
Expence for a transport of 600 tons for the above, at 15s. p. ton p. month 2,700 0 0
Arms, accoutrements, and necessaries for 330 men, at £10 p. man 3,300 0 0
Expence of victualling the above 350 men, at 8d. p. man p. diem 6,576 0 0
Cattle, implements of agriculture, grain, seeds, tradesmen’s tools, goods for barter, &c. 3,800 0 0
£19,606 5 0
page 606

Should the above men be sent out in three 400 ton ships, with 100 convicts, as far as New South Wales, and from thence go on to New Zealand with the colonists, such plan would be attended with less expence and more advantage, for the following reasons: The transport of the convicts would pay the difference between the tonnage of a large ship of 600 tons and the three small ships of 1,200; three ships would be safer and a more convenient method than one, and when the colonists were landed one or two of the ships must be detached for cattle, &c.; by the time they came back the ship that remained would have been detached Home with a cargo of large spars for line of battle ships’ topmasts (the most difficult spars to procure and the most expensive), together with 150 tons of the phormium, the value of which would be as follows:-

£ s. d.
100 spars, at £198 ea. 19,800 0 0
150 tons of phormium, at £40 p. ton 6,000 0 0
£25,800 0 0

The cargoes of the two other ships carrying one hundred spars between them, and 300 tons each of the phormium, the accompt between the colony and the Mother-country would then stand at follows:-

Dr. £ s. d.
To outfit and all expences of colony 19,606 5 0
8 months’ tonnage of transports Homeward bound 3,600 0 0
£23,206 5 0
Cr. £ s. d.
By 750 tons of the phormium, at £40 p. ton] 26,000 0 0
200 spars, at £198 p. spar 39,600 0 0
Cr. £65,600 0 0
Dr. £23,206 5 0
Sum left to be distributed among the colonists £42,393 15 0

Edward Nicolls, Lt.-Col., R.M.

Woolwich, 14th Novr., 1823.

[Enclosure No. 2.]

Woolwich Royal Rope Yard, 30th July, 1823.


In answer to the letter which you have done me the honor to address to me respecting New Zealand flax, I beg leave to say page 607 to you that what I have seen of it has been fit for use. either as cordage, or for lines, and also for twine.

About two years ago some flax of the kind in question was sent to this department to be made into rope for trial. A trial was made accordingly, and in conjunction with the other officers of the Dock-yard, we reported thus:-

“The New Zealand flax spins well into yarn, it takes the tar (about 1/6 in.), and retains it well. The New Zealand and the Russian hemp each take about 1/6th of tar and retain it very similarly, both in the yarn and in the rope. The quality of this flax is such that it will beat for fine twine also.

Thomas Brown,}Dock-yard.

Edward Pownoll,}Dock-yard.

John Peake,}Rope-yard.

Josp. Parsons,}Rope-yard.“

The above is an extract from the official letter written to the Navy Board on trials of other ropes also, at that time.

The following is a copy of a private memorandum I made at the time for the purpose of referring to in case there should at any future period arise a question on the flax of New Zealand growth, and the hemps mentioned in the said report:-

“On the whole view of the Manilla and Rajapoor hemps, and flax from New Zealand, it is quite safe to consider the strength of these ropes in the untarred state as greater than in ropes made from Russian hemp. But as to tarring the Manilla a doubt might arise as to durability. The portion of tar that remained, or was retained, from its not readily imbibing it, not being so great as in ropes made from Russian hemp; and hence its preservation, in that respect, must be left for time to decide on. The New Zealand flax, however, as taking the tar equally well with the Russian hemp, may be confided in for similar durability. The Rajapoor 3 tarred was also stronger than the Russian tarred.“

Now, sir, these observations were made eighteen months ago, and I have since had no reason to alter them. Your letter on the subject has recalled them to my mind, and now seeing the small lines which have been made from the parcel of flax you gave me for that purpose I still hold as good my former opinion—that the New Zealand flax is fit for all cordage. The lines now made (to-day) will, I so imagine, speak very favorably for the quality of the flax.

I have, &c.,

John Peake.

page 608

[Enclosure No. 3.]

[New South Wales—Vol. 147. London, 16 Sept., 1823


We have great pleasure in answering your letter, and in giving you our opinion of the very great advantages which we think those shipowners who send ships to fish for whales off the coast of New Zealand will gain by the establishment of settlements on that island.

We feel the fullest confidence from all the accounts we have received from the masters of our whaling ships that the soil and climate of New Zealand, with the articles of flax, timber, masts, which are the natural productions of the island, and all descriptions of vegetables growing most luxuriantly there, that New Zealand will afford everything which a ship and crew in distress or sickly can require.

Many British ships fish for whales, which are found in great numbers off the coast of New Zealand, but the weather on the coast is at all times very rugged, and even in their summer months heavy gales of wind are very frequently by which the ships and crews suffer so much that they require a near friendly port to resort to for repairing their damages and to restore the health of the crew after encountering such bad weather and having been long at sea.

The settlements on the coast of New Holland are at a considerable distance from the eastern coast of New Zealand, where our ships fish. If a ship meets with damage, or her crew become sickly, to run to New Holland takes up considerable time, with some risk of loss of ship or deaths of crew. The greatest evil we experience, and which we dread from our ships going to the settlements in New Holland, is that the convict women so demoralize the crews as to make them in a short time, from the best of sailors, become extremely mutinous, and we scarcely know an instance of any of our ships going there without greatly altering the conduct of the crew, many of whom desert, which is attended with serious evil to a whaling ship, and more particularly so when the fishermen desert, which is very common.

The intercourse at present between the natives of New Zealand and the crews of ships is attended with some risk, from many individuals having been killed. If it is considered as good policy by our Government to attempt the colonizing New Zealand with the consent of the native chiefs we feel confident that we shall soon have great numbers of the natives who will be very glad to be taken on board our ships and in a very short time become most valuable seamen, being very powerful, brave, and with strong natural abilities. There are a very few New page 609 Zealanders at this time in British whalers, and their conduct is such as to merit the best treatment. If New Zealand falls into the hands of any other power with whom we should be at war the natives will be found a most powerful ally for our enemy and a bad neighbour to New Holland.

If the natives of New Zealand will allow of British settlements it is not improbable but many of the most respectable settlers in New Holland will remove there, as they have some fine rivers, which run into the sea from the interior of the island.

The expence of colonizing New Zealand will be very inconsiderable compared with that of any other place, as they will be able to obtain all they stand in need of, such as every kind of cattle, poultry, corn, and all descriptions of fruits, vegetables, &c., which have been imported from every part of the world, and which are now seasoned to the climate of New Holland, which is in the same latitudes as New Zealand.

We are, &c.

Saml. Enderby & Son.Willm. Mellish.Danl. Bennett & Son.

To Coll. Nicolls, Royal Marines.

[Enclosure No. 4.]

Greenwich Ropery, 12th Nov., 1823.


In reply to your letter of the 11th inst., I can have no difficulty in giving you my opinion of the Phormium tenax or flax plant of New Zealand, of which I have seen several specimens; and, as a rope-maker, I can say, with much truth, that it appears to me to be infinitely superior to the best Baltic hemp; its strength is much greater, and from the readiness with which its fibres may be minutely divided, I am of opinion, as a sail-maker, also, that it would answer admirably well for canvas and other strong cloths, provided it could be afforded at such a price as to allow it to compete with the different kinds of flax now used for that purpose.

I have, &c.,

Peter Young, Jr

To Lieut.-Coll. Nicoll, &c., &c.

[Enclosure No. 5.]

London, 14th November, 1823


In reply to your letter of the 11th instant, requiring my opinion of the Phormium tenax or flax plant of New Zealand, from the various specimens of this plant which I have seen and particularly tried and examined, I can with confidence pro- page 610 nounce it a valuable material for the manufacture of ropes and sail-cloth, and for either of these purposes much superior to any Baltic hemp and flax that I have seen. In my opinion, its advantages over them are these: It is stronger, and from containing less colouring-matter (which when abundant encourages rot and putrefaction), this superior strength will be longer maintained; from its silky nature its fibres can be readily and minutely divided, which is a great advantage, as it can be equally well applied to the largest cable and the finest kind of twine, and also for making sail-canvas and other cloths that require-strength and resistance to mildew.

I can be no judge at what price this useful plant could be afforded, but if it could be imported at the average rate of the hemp and flax now in use, I have no doubt that it would be generally preferred.

I remain, &c.,

Cathcart Dempster.

Patentee for the Sail Cloth known in the Navy by the name of Dempster Patent Canvas.

Lieut. Colonel Nicol

, Royal Marines.