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Murihiku: A History of the South Island of New Zealand and the Islands Adjacent and Lying to the South, from 1642 to 1835

CHAPTER XXI. — Cruise of the Snapper, 1822 to 1823

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Cruise of the Snapper, 1822 to 1823.

FOR the narrative of the visit of the Snapper to the coasts of Foveaux Strait we are indebted to the investigations of the scientists of the French Government and to the publication of these investigations in Paris in 1826. On 18th January, 1824, a French expeditionary vessel called the Coquille, commanded by M. Duperrey, 18 months out from France, reached Sydney and remained there until 19th March, when she sailed for the Bay of Islands. On board this vessel was a senior midshipman, M. Jules de Blosseville, who utilised his spare time collecting information relating to New Zealand from the captains of the various sealing vessels which then visited that country. Being at Sydney some 10 months after Edwardson returned in the Snapper, he obtained access to that gentleman's diary and observations and, in addition to this, had the privilege of interrogating Caddell the Maori chief and from him obtaining information first hand. The narrative following is from de Blosseville's pen.1

“Captain Edwardson had been instructed by the Government of New South Wales with the task of gathering phormium on the southern coast of Tavai-Poenammou (Te Wai Pounamu): he was given command of the Snapper, a colonial sloop of 29 tons: he set out from Sydney on November 6th, 1822, and sighted the coast of New Zealand on the 19th: deceived by the appearance of the country (a) he entered Chalky Bay, and dropped anchor at the end of the creek Canaris, near a little island,

(a) The points of most of the headlands found in the neighbourhood of Dusky Bay and Chalky Bay are shaped like the fingers of a hand upraised.

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in six fathoms of water. The wind was blowing hard and the water was so shallow that, in passing the north point of the opening, the ship slightly struck on one of the rocks called Providence, although they are usually covered by 16 feet of water. The wind blew strongly from the north all the day; on the morrow it varied, blowing from the north east by east with the same violence: on the 22nd from the south east, east south east by south south east in a whirl-wind: on the 23rd it jumped from south east to north west, and was accompanied by large clouds of rain and hail: on the 24th the weather became less stormy, but still rainy, the wind being north north east. At last on the 25th it was fine with the wind varying from north east to south east.

“Captain Edwardson took advantage of the fine weather to explore the country. He found high mountains covered with snow for a third of their height. The woods were thickly tangled and impenetrable, and it was only possible to push forward by following the bed of the ravine His search on behalf of his mission was, however, futile, for he could not find a single plant of phormium. On the 29th he changed anchoring ground, and moored his ship in the little port which goes by the name of South Port. He had hardly dropped anchor when several sailors came on board from an American ship, the General Gates. Captain Riggs had left them on this coast 17 months before to hunt for seals. The unfortunate men were in a most deplorable state and looked like skeletons: they had lived miserably in horrible suffering, fearing famine as well as the natives. All help and succour that humanity could suggest was given to them, but they were so weak that they could at first only take tea. When these poor sailors, twelve in number, were left by their ship they were given two barrels of salt bacon, and dry provisions to last eight months, but very soon the place where these stores were hidden was discovered by the natives: they took possession of them after having killed and devoured the young apprentice, who was page 308 in charge. For about eight months the Americans had been hunted from place to place by the Islanders: two of them had been captured and at once eaten. Their hut at Chalky Harbour contained some disgusting specimens of their usual food: they considered themselves very lucky when they were able to have a little fish or the flesh of seals. They still had a small quantity of powder which equally divided between them all was their only means of lighting a fire in the woods when they lost their way. In spite of their miserable condition they had gathered together 1,165 skins of seals from various points on the coast. Mr. Edwardson agreed to take them on board. A few days afterwards the Americans having recovered strength, set out with their boat on an excursion to Windsor, a little river some leagues to the south east where boats could enter.

“A long sojourn on this coast had given these sailors great experience: their advice turned Mr. Edwardson from the plan he had formed of going immediately into the Strait of Foveaux, then very little known. As he was told that he would not have temperate or settled weather until the month of February, he thought that if he kept out to sea he would surely lose his ship on account of the violence of the wind which blows successively from all points of the compass, and the enormous height of the waves which sometimes rise within an hour without any previous warning. The Snapper had been considered large enough to sail on this coast, there was no time now to repent of the choice made for this voyage. Happily the little ship bore herself bravely in all circumstances.

“During the stay in Chalky Bay from the 20th November to the 26th December, the wind from the north-north west by west north west was accompanied by rough weather, heavy squalls and rain: the wind from the south east brought moderately clear weather, but they only had one really fine day.

“On the 12th December, Collins, captain of the American boat came on board with the news that he and his companions had been completely routed by three large page 309 pirogues full of men, women and children, and a number of dogs. The unfortunate men, taken by surprise, abandoned all they possessed, and went into the woods towards Preservation Bay, which they crossed on a sort of catamaran hastily constructed of floating wood: they arrived in this way one after the other, except one man, who was never found. Soon a band of natives were noticed coming through the bushes round the southern headland. Mr. Edwardson went towards them in his little boat, and was astonished to find amongst them a white man who spoke to them in English, and another man called Stuart: both declared themselves fellow-countrymen. Mr. Edwardson took them on board with three chiefs. The man Stuart had come from Kangaroo Island with a wife of the country and two children to settle in New Zealand: but having with his family been taken prisoners by the natives, he had adopted their customs, and was employed by the Chiefs Paihi, Toupi and To Ouherra as a pilot round all the points of the coast and for finding all the different hiding places of the Americans. The chiefs behaved very well on board the Snapper, and were induced to give up the small boats they had just seized.

“On the 18th December, the ship General Gates dropped anchor in the North Port: Captain Riggs claimed the seal skins: they were all given to him with the exception of those belonging to three sailors, who, on account of their past sufferings would not return to their old ship: the crew was thus reduced by eight men, counting the four who had been eaten by the natives and the one who was lost. On the 22nd the boats were sent to Windsor to fetch the booty seized by the savages: the Chief Paihi forced the women to give it up in spite of all their efforts to keep what they had taken. Paihi and James Coddell, the first of the two Englishmen, embarked on the Snapper.

“On the 26th the Snapper sailed out of Chalky Bay by the South Channel and made for Foveaux Strait. On the 27th we saw to the north the country inhabited by the tribe belonging to Paihi, the village standing at the page 310 further end of an open bay and on the slope of a hill. At half past five Old Man's Bluff Point was rounded and anchor was dropped in Port Macquarie in three and a half fathoms of water. While vainly seeking a better anchoring ground, Mr. Edwardson visited the native houses built on the foreland at the opening: these formed the village of the Chief To Ouherra: they were quite deserted, so care was taken to disturb nothing. This part of the coast produced phormium in great abundance, but there was no wood to heat the water necessary for its preparation.

“On the 29th of December they set sail for the Island of Rouabouki, one of a little archipelago, which stretching from north to south forms a sort of barrier at the eastern side of the Strait of Foveaux. A boat was first sent to take soundings, and then the Snapper dropped anchor in a good port on the western side, to which she gave her name. The Island itself was called Goulburn in honour of the Secretary of the Government of New South Wales, who had taken great interest in the advantages to be obtained from phormium. This is a very important place for the culture of this useful plant, and preferable to all other parts of the southern coast.

“Mr. Edwardson, accompanied by James Coddell, now his interpreter, the Chief Paihi, and five sailors well armed, went by land to the native village, which was at a distance of about two miles. In this expedition he crossed very extensive tracts of phormium, and found everything to confirm the report given to him of the situation and population of the village, and of the abundance of this plant. Two women were engaged to come and work near the ship, with the promise of fish-hooks, nails, knives, scissors, hatchets, razors, glass beads and trinkets. They had brought two machines from Sydney, one large and one small for separating the fibrous part of the leaves of phormium from their covering, but these machines did not answer the desired purpose, and only became an object of scorn to the natives. So they were obliged to give up using them and to have recourse to other means for page 311 facilitating the work of the women. The sailors of the Snapper, after having cut the phormium, buried it in large holes or placed it in a current of water, but at the end of several days it had undergone no alteration. They were then obliged to boil it in large boilers, a long and difficult operation, as firewood is never to be found in the places where phormium grows plentifully. Ten men working eight hours, boiling and then preparing the phormium with the large machine only produced sixteen pounds,—a much smaller quantity than the women could furnish. In fact, a woman working very quickly could make ready nine pounds a day, but the average result of steady work was five pounds a day. The phormium that had been boiled for twelve hours, and that which had been in the boiler for only half that time seemed to be in about the same condition. The only instrument used by the women was a mussel shell sharpened on a stone. They sat on the ground holding the shell in the left hand, which they rested on the big toes of the right foot, and pulling the leaves toward them with the other hand.

“During the stay at Port Snapper one boat was almost always employed in seal hunting, and a good number were killed. The weather was usually bad, the wind blowing from the south west, west south west, west north west. On the 1st January, 1823, the weather was particularly bad, the wind blowing violently from the west north west, accompanied by sudden and frequent squalls. The sea was too rough to land on the shore.

“On the 18th January the Snapper having got under sail lay-to off Old Man's Bluff Point. Mr. Edwardson landed on the west side of this point, and opposite some houses on a beautiful beach. He only found women and children in the village. The chief To Ouherroa was absent with the men. Continuing her route the little vessel was at noon in 46° 37′ south. She passed between Centre Island and the mainland. This dangerous passage was favored by a strong breeze. At three o'clock she entered Paihi Bay but not finding any shelter there, and the swell being page 312 too great to allow of any communication with the land they headed to the south and lay-to during the night. The next day they approached the coast, the Snapper entered the bay, and the captain landed in order to go to the village to which Paihi belonged with whom he wished to conclude a bargain for phormium. Until then the relations with the tribe had been very friendly. Suddenly the natives conceived the plan of seizing the English and massacreing them. Their infamous design nearly succeeded.

“Here is Mr. Edwardson's account of the incident,—‘I had just sent my sailors to the boat with the phormium which had been paid for when Toupi, Chief of the Island of Rouabouki advised them by means of James Coddell to be ready with their arms and to launch their boat as soon as they could. At this moment I was separated from James and my companions, and was going towards the gardens when happily I understood from some words exchanged between Paihi and the natives that they were meditating treachery and that the chief agreed without wishing to join in it. Immediately and without knowing what had happened to the others I walked quickly towards the beach, keeping very close to Paihi. I was resolved to revenge myself on him, and on a young child he carried on his back for any harm which might happen to me, but I intended at the same time to continue our trading if I was well treated… On arriving at the beach James and the other Englishman told me to make haste and get into the boat, which was at a little distance from the shore, because the natives wanted to take it and then attack the vessel… I got into the boat at once and we went towards the Snapper, leaving Paihi to follow us in his pirogue with the potatoes he wished to sell. He soon came on board, and I reproached him warmly for his perfidy. But he maintained unblushingly that he had no knowledge of the plot. I left him promising to remain at peace, trade with him and give him presents if he would be straightforward and peaceable, but threatening him at the same time to come back to his country, and lay it waste if he page 313 massacred any more white men. I also told him that in about eighteen days I should return to the Bay to take any phormium he might have ready. James asked to remain with Toupi in order to get to Rouabouki. I consented and we separated on good terms. Then it was that I discovered that during our stay on land Paihi's brother and another native were on board the sloop. It was to the fear, that they would be killed in revenge and to Providence that we owed our safety. Another circumstance also helped a little. The Chief Toupi fearing that if the boat was attacked the ship would return to his island and destroy his tribe disclosed the plot and strongly opposed it.’

“On the 20th January at noon Mr. Edwardson set sail for Port Mason; fearing by the signs of bad weather he could not reach the entrance he went to Easy Harbour. The sloop passed between the islands and dropped anchor in four fathoms, the wind blowing from the north with frequent squalls and abundant rain: on the 21st it blew with renewed force, violent gusts came down the mountains from the east to the north west with showers of rain and hail. On the 23rd the weather became less violent, and Mr. Edwardson was able to visit the neighbouring country. He found the water soft, stagnant and very bad. The thick bushes were overgrown with brambles, ferns and convolvulus. The ground was rocky with the soil formed of decomposed vegetation. There were no trees to be seen. Seals hid in the thickest part of the brushwood. The sailors killed a large number of birds, amongst others, linnets, pois, whattle birds, and saddle-backs. Phormium was very scarce, but there were some beautiful bushes of it with leaves fifteen feet in length. Bad weather prevented them from visiting Kackokow one of the islands which shelter Easy Harbour. This island is interesting on account of an Englishman's stay there. The unfortunate man pursued by natives hid himself in a cave on this island, and managed to subsist on shell fish. After a long time he was rescued by a passing ship and taken back to Port Jackson.

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“On the 6th February the wind having changed from west to south west they put to sea again, and during the whole of the crossing Mr. Edwardson took his bearings frequently in order to make a map. On the 8th the Snapper entered Codfish Harbour, formed by the island which bears this name (b) and Stewart Island. She dropped anchor in seven fathoms, with sandy bottom, well sheltered. The north point of Codfish Island was a mile to the north west by west; the rocks out to sea off Raggedy Point to the north east, four miles away.

“After staying a day, the Snapper got under sail for Paihi Bay, stopping broadside on before the village. The chief came on board with three hundred pounds of phormium, and received in return knives and iron tools. Passing afterwards by the north of Centre Island, the current drew the ship between this island and Triangle Rocks. There they were becalmed and dropped anchor in twenty-three fathoms.

“On the 11th the sloop entered Port Williams by the north coast of Stewart Island, and dropped anchor in a sheltered spot in three fathoms and a quarter. The weather was very bad; wind and rain coming with redoubled force announced a violent gale from the west. Indeed on the 16th and 17th they experienced a frightful hurricane from the west point south west by west north west. The sea was so rough that the entrance to the harbour was like a line of breakers. In the sheltered places even the wind caught the surface of the water and caused a surf of eighteen or twenty feet on the shore. Hail and rain fell in torrents,—it was a terrible storm. On the 17th the weather calmed.

“The Snapper set out on the 25th for the Island of Rouabouki and the next day dropped anchor in six fathoms and a half in the harbour to which she had given her name.

(b) The natives named this island Fenoua-ho (New Land). This island has only lately been discovered by the natives since they have extended their maritime expeditions.

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Mr. Edwardson seeing that in spite of all his efforts he was not able to load his ship with prepared phormium only, shipped a large quantity of potatoes for Sydney and left the Island of Rouabouki on March 5th.

“On leaving the harbour the sloop proceeded to Port Macquarie, and lay-to before the sandy beach, near the village of To Ouherroa. The captain made a present to this chief, receiving from him a small quantity of phormium and agreed to take one of his relatives with him to Port Jackson. They afterwards went to Paihi Bay. There the chief also brought them some phormium, but the waves were too high for his pirogue to bring any more. He seemed to regret that his bay was not suitable for ships, and pointed out a good harbour more to the east. This information was however false.

“Bad weather and the direction of the wind prevented the Snapper from reaching Chalky Bay. She went in sight of land but was forced to put about. On the 8th, the wind blowing a gale from the north west, she was carried to Port Mason where she found a sheltered place in three fathoms of water with sandy bottom. On the 10th the wind subsided making the round of the compass. The weather was dull and wet. On the 11th the breeze freshened from the north east, rain fell in torrents and the weather looked very bad. At four o'clock in the morning squalls came up from the east north east and at nine o'clock they were out at sea. At noon the hurricane burst with such violence that the strongest and heaviest man could not keep on his feet against the wind. The ship laboured heavily. At eight o'clock the wind subsided and a deluge of rain fell. On the 12th the sloop set sail for Chalky Bay. On the north of Port Mason is a long reef stretching three miles and a half to the north west point west from the north point of the island.

“On the 13th the Snapper dropped anchor in Chalky Harbour in ten fathoms. On the 14th she set sail again and arrived at Sydney on the 28th of March.

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“The ships cargo consisted of tow of phormium, specimens of the plant in different states, potatoes, skins of birds, articles of dress, and objects of curiosity belonging to the natives. The collection of birds was fairly large, the naturalists thinking that it contained many new kinds.

“The ill success of the Snapper's voyage having shown the defects of the instructions given and the need for a larger ship, they sent the next year on the same errand the sloop Mermaid, formerly employed in taking the plans of the north-west coast of Australia, and a scheme was drawn on a much larger scale for a voyage to be made by a brig around Tavai-Poenammou (Te Wai Pounamu).”

As the voyage of the Snapper had chiefly for its object the collection of a cargo of phormium, it seems appropriate to add here the observations on the phormium or New Zealand flax, by Captain Edwardson, of the Snapper. This information was also supplied by him to the Coquille Expedition.2

“This very useful plant of which there are seven known varieties more or less suitable for divers purposes, generally grows near the sea, on low and swampy plains. Its stem attains sometimes a height of fourteen feet, but the length of the leaves is rarely more than from ten to twelve. The length is only 10 feet even when the leaves are fully grown but as the ends have to be cut off, being good for nothing, threads of five feet can only be reckoned on. The roots penetrate two feet into the soil; the plants are propagated by shoots and not by seeds, as is commonly believed, at least this is what the natives say. It was not possible to make sure in what time a shoot once planted would attain its full growth.

“The lower part of the plant, near the roots, is extremely bitter; the native women make use of them when they wish to wean their children, rubbing the extremities of their breasts with the juice. When a young plant is broken off at about a foot from the soil each break furnishes a small quantity of a white and transparent gum.

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“It is believed that the seed ripens in September and October, for in November there are no more to be seen. When it is squeezed it gives a yellowy scarlet colour with which the natives dye their mats. Before the seed is formed the stalk bears a red flower at the extremity; at a certain period the natives crush it; it then contains a little water of an agreeable flavour; of this they are very fond. When the stalks have been well dried they are used by the natives in the making of catamarans in which they cross the arms of the sea and lakes during their travels along the coasts.

“This plant is used for various purposes; it furnishes clothing, roofs for the huts, cordage, the largest nets and the string with which to attach the pieces of wood of which the canoes are composed.

“As the natives are very indolent and never prepare a larger store of flax than is indispensable for their needs a very large quantity of roots, &c., is lost. If a systematic trade could be established with the islanders, regular cuttings would tend to improve the plant and to increase its production.”

Press references tell us that Captain Edwardson returned with his vessel laden with curiosities of almost every kind from New Zealand. During the trip he had the misfortune to lose one of his seamen, William Bales, who was supposed to have fallen a victim to savage barbarity.3

Of Caddell, mentioned in Captain Edwardson's narrative, additional information is given in the local press. He accompanied the Snapper to Sydney and was the hero of the hour there.

“Captain Edwardson, of the Snapper, brings from New Zealand two chiefs, one of whom is accompanied by his wife. One of them is a youth of about 16, and the other is 30 years old. The name of the latter is James Caddel, an Englishman by birth, and whose history is briefly as follows: In 1807, or thereabouts, the ship Sydney Cove, a sealer out of this port, was cruizing off the Bay of Islands, and had either stationed or despatched a boat's crew consisting of five hands and a boy (James Caddel the present page 318 chief) to one of the islands, in quest of seals. The boat was taken by the savages in the vicinity of the Southern Cape, and the hapless men, with the exception of Caddel, were killed and eaten. Fortunately, in his fright, the boy flew to an old chief for mercy, and happened to touch his ka-ka-how (the outward mat of the chief) and thus his life became preserved, as his person was then held sacred. Being in too distant a part of New Zealand to indulge the hope of hastily escaping from a wretched captivity, Caddel became resigned to his apparent destiny, and insensibly adopted the manners and customs of the natives. About nine years since he was allied to a chief's daughter, who also is sister to a chief; and, by this twofold tie, he became a prince of no small influence among such subjects as those barbarous despots are destined, in the present constitution of things, to have control of…. He was in pursuit, with some other chiefs, of any boats or gangs that might unfortunately become subject to their capture, when Captain Edwardson succeeded in taking him. Just before a boat, belonging to the General Gates (American), which vessel Captain E. departed from on the 26th December last, had been taken, but the crew fortunately escaped. Caddel lost his own language as well as European customs, and soon became transformed, from an English sailor-boy, into the dauntless and terrifying New Zealand chief. It required some argumentation to induce him to visit New South Wales, and he would not have come without his partner, to whom he appears to be tenderly attached. For some days he paraded our streets, with his princess, in the New Zealand costume; but now, we believe, he seems to be inclined to return to civilized life, of which none can estimate the comforts but those that enjoy them. It is said that those people will return to their own country by the first opportunity.”

Rutherford in his narrative4 mentions this same man, whom he calls James Mowry, evidently meant for James the Maori. A meeting was alleged to have taken place between them at Taranaki, and Caddell was accompanied page 319 by Otago, “a great chief who had come from near the South Cape.” The only variation in Rutherford's narrative, from the account published on Caddell's arrival in Sydney, is the statement that he was “indebted for his preservation to his youth and the protection of Otago's daughter; this lady he has since married.” By some of those who regard the story of Rutherford's life in New Zealand as a myth, it is believed that he got the story of Caddell in Sydney after his arrival there. It is, of course, quite possible that he simply read the newspaper narrative already submitted.

The date given for the loss of the boat's crew, “1807 or thereabouts,” is probably a mistake, the correct date being 1810. We have seen that the Sydney Cove was at the South Cape in January, 1810; further than this, she reached Sydney on 12th April, 1811, and confirmed the information which had been received by the Boyd on 26th March of that year, of the loss of a boat's crew of six men on the coast of New Zealand. Though it is not absolutely stated that the crew belonged to the Sydney Cove, no other reference had been made by that vessel to a lost boat's crew, and it is more than probable that the crew referred to was that of the Sydney Cove's boat of six men including Caddell. This surmise, if correct, would make the date 1810, instead of 1807.

Further facts regarding Caddell are to be found in the description given by Edwardson of the natives of the South Island of New Zealand and contained in the next succeeding chapter.

Dealing with Rutherford reminds the author that towards the end of 1828, the Sydney press published a statement, that a man named Rutherford, who had been shipwrecked on the coast of New Zealand, and tattooed by and naturalized among the natives, was then in London practising the trade of a pickpocket under the character of a New Zealand chief.5

The whole of Edwardson's reports show him to be a man of more than ordinary intelligence and of considerable page 320 scientific attainments. He was a prominent Mason, and in November, 1825, as W.M. of the Leinster Marine Lodge of Australia, No. 266, held under warrant from the Grand Lodge of Ireland, signed an address to Governor Thomas Brisbane.6

During the last year of his life he was in the pilot service at Sydney, and the closing scene of all is thus recorded in the “Sydney Gazette” of Saturday 4th February, 1826.


At his residence, Sydney, universally respected, on Thursday last, Mr. W. L. Edwardson, of the Pilot Service.

A Press notice describes him as “deputy harbour master and pilot for some years past and appeared to be generally esteemed, particularly among his masonic brethren.”7

His name is preserved to us in Edwardson Sound, the northern arm of Chalky.