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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 XXV. — Colonization Schemes, 1825 to 1827

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Colonization Schemes, 1825 to 1827.

FOR some time William Stewart has not appeared in our narrative. If however he had not accomplished great things in Southern New Zealand trade he was certainly attempting schemes sufficiently large and important to earn mention. One scheme, that for opening up a timber and flax trade with Stewart Island, will always be associated with his name.

The year 1825 was an important one in New Zealand history. Though the colonization of Australasia was still in its infancy, no less than three different schemes for establishing colonies in far away New Zealand were before the emigrating public of the Mother Country. These three were: (1) The New Zealand Company, prominent figures in which were George Lyall, Stewart Majoribanks, George Palmer, Colonel Torrens and the Earl of Durham. (2) A scheme by one Baron de Thierry, which, with the first named, related chiefly to the North Island. (3) The Stewart Island scheme inaugurated by our friend William Stewart, sometime of the Pegasus.

The first came in contact with the third later on at Stewart Island, before it finally came to grief in the North Island. The second went so far that the Baron set himself up as Sovereign Chief of New Zealand, but the natives and everybody else laughed at his pretensions, and his reign was short lived. The history and fate of the third scheme, so far as the author knows it, will be found in this chapter.

In 1824, and early in that year too, Captain Stewart was in England, and judging from the terms of correspondence which passed between de Thierry and Earl Bathurst, must have been in the former's employment. If he was, it would be in connection with the scheme the Baron was preparing page 357 with elaborate care prior to placing before the people of England. However, Stewart left that employment, if he ever was in it, and set to work to forward a scheme for a trading settlement on Stewart Island. De Thierry had been engaged, during the previous year, in trying to obtain concessions from the English Government for his colonization scheme, but was put off by the authorities with the reply that New Zealand was not a British Possession. In these days when colonial possessions are sought at the expense of blood and money, the idea that the ownership of a great country like this was actually repudiated by the Imperial authorities, within the lifetime of people now living, is so novel that reproduction of the official reply is a matter of interest.

Downing Street,
10th Dec., 1823.

The Baron
Charles de Thierry.


“I am directed by Earl Bathurst to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 2nd inst., and to acquaint you in reply that as the questions which you have proposed to his Lordship respecting the Island of New Zealand are founded upon the assumption that that Island is considered as a Possession of the Crown, it seems necessary to apprise you that you have been misinformed on the subject.”

I am,

R. Wilmot Horton.

De Thierry was not satisfied with this reply and, fearful that Captain Stewart might succeed in obtaining some Government sanction and thereby prejudice his own scheme, he wrote the following letter to Earl Bathurst.

30 Budge Row,
21st April, 1824.

My Lord.

“After the nature of the answers to the letters which I had the honour at various times to address to your Lordship, I would not again intrude upon page 358 “your time respecting the Islands of New Zealand, if it were not that I claim an act of justice from His Majesty's Government, to obtain which, I cannot better address myself than to Your Lordship whose impartiality and Justice are so well known.

The Act of Justice which I plead for is, that should any privileges be granted to any Individual in New Zealand, that H.M. Government will bear in mind that I was the first to seek this assistance, and the first to set on foot the colonization of New Zealand; I should not therefore be the last to be listened to with a favourable ear.

A Captain Stewart, of the whale trade, is to wait upon Your Lordship, to request that Government will grant him the Island which bears his name, on the Southern extremity of New Zealand. I will not enter into any length on the hostile tendency of the step towards myself, and will confine myself to two facts, the one, that he Deserted from H.M. Royal Navy, and only dared return to England on the general pardon some years back; on the other, that he has Deserted me, who had employed him not knowing his former offence.

I write not to you, My Lord, as an informer, but simply that Your Lordship may be enabled to draw a line between an aspirant who Deserted the service of the King, and a claimant who has served him faithfully, and will ever be at his disposal.

I have the honor to be, &c.,

C. de Thierry


P.S.—After deserting H.M. service Mr. Stewart was prize master on board a privateer.”

If bitterness in a letter could have settled poor Stewart and his attempt to form a trading colony at Stewart Island, nothing more would have been heard of that proposal. If there is one virtue in officialdom, it is the impenetrable calm with which violent expressions are received in correspondence. No doubt the incident ended with the receipt page 359 of the letter. At any rate Stewart managed to float his venture by the October following, and, having floated it, sailed on 8th October, 1824, in the Prince of Denmark from London, reaching Sydney on 2nd March, 1825. One passenger, a Mr. Matthew, accompanied the vessel.1

The men Stewart completed negotiations with were Messrs. T. and D. Asquith, and it was left to them to continue the correspondence with the British Government. It was not until Stewart had reached Sydney that they made approaches to the authorities to further the scheme. This correspondence, or rather a portion of it, is to be found amongst the great mass of manuscript records, which after costing a mint of money to obtain, are now in Sydney, awaiting, apparently with little prospect of success, authority from the New South Wales Government for publication. The details available are contained in this letter.

11th April 1825.

To the Right Honourable
the Earl of Bathurst.

“Permit us to call your Lordship's attention to the following statement.

“In the month of October last year we entered into a speculation the object of which was cultivating flax and procuring timber at that part of New Zealand called Stewart's Island, to accomplish which we have engaged a person named Stewart, a man apparently well qualified for the undertaking, and from whom the island takes its name.

“To forward the enterprise we have since purchased another vessel named the Lord Rodney. She is now in the London Dock nearly ready for sea, the expense attending both ships amount to about £5000.

“We further beg to inform your Lordship that one Company is already in existence and another forming for the same purpose, namely collecting page 360 “Flax and Timber at New Zealand their intentions agreeably to their professions will be to form Settlements on the more Northern parts of the Country, but to guard against any interference on their part at Stewart Island we have taken the liberty of thus addressing your Lordship under the persuasion that having advanced Capital to the above amount you will not refuse granting us protection for that portion of New Zealand we have already made choice of.”

We have the Honor to be, &c.,

T. and D. Asquith


Two vessels are spoken of as being covered by the speculation, but only one of them, the Lord Rodney, is named. The arrival of Stewart at Sydney gives us the name of the first vessel and removes from our minds all doubt of what was Stewart's position when he brought the Prince of Denmark to Sydney. He came in the employ of the Messrs. Asquith, representing the syndicate that had been formed, and the Prince of Denmark was sent out by them. After his departure, they set about getting a second vessel and secured the Lord Rodney.

Arriving in Sydney in March, 1825, Stewart lost no time in getting his arrangements made for going to New Zealand and he inserted the following advertisement in the local papers.

“For New Zealand, to sail in fourteen days the Fine fast sailing schooner Prince of Denmark, William Stewart Master. Any gentleman wishing to visit these interesting Islands, will find this an excellent conveyance, as the above vessel will return to this Port in four months. For freight or passage apply to the Commander on board or to Robert Campbell. Campbell's Wharf March 15, 1825.”

The fourteen days had to be prolonged to over two months before the Prince of Denmark left “for New Zealand, and thence on an unknown speculating trip.” She left for the Bay of Islands, on 19th May.

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What Stewart did at New Zealand during this trip is not quite certain. The author would like to be able to fill up all gaps, but a desire not to invade the realm of fiction compels him to say, that little definite information is available beyond that the Prince of Denmark sailed from New Zealand on 1st, and reached Sydney on 18th, December, 1825, having on board only 450 seal skins and one passenger, Mr. John Lee.2

The schooner, in the course of her voyage, went into very high latitudes, and experienced weather of the utmost severity. One man well known in Sydney, Captain Rook, got frost-bitten, lost the use of his limbs, and died. While the vessel was lying at the Bay of Islands, with only seven men on board, the rest being absent with the sealing gangs, Hongi, the Maori chief, went on board with a number of natives and took away everything moveable and within his reach. No violence was used, but everything was taken and the natives went quietly ashore. So quickly was the whole think done that although there were two whaling vessels at hand no assistance could be rendered.

From what transpired subsequently the presumption is that Stewart on this voyage visited Stewart Island and decided to establish a timber and shipbuilding yard at Port Pegasus, the harbour he had surveyed in 1809. The object of the syndicate was to collect flax and timber and this would naturally occupy Stewart's attention first.

Judged by the cargo, Stewart's first trip in the Prince of Denmark, was a complete failure. A cargo of 450 seal skins would hardly pay the crew's wages. Of course plans may have been put in train for subsequent trade.

On 19th January, 1826, Stewart sailed on his second voyage. He made for the Bay of Islands and there met an English shipbuilder named William Cook, who had married a native woman, and who was residing at the Bay. He induced Cook to come with him in the Prince of Denmark and to bring with him a number of Europeans, who were at that time about the Bay. The names of all these—seven in number—are not available but the following accompanied page 362 Cook:—Robert Day, sawyer, Benjamin Turner, sawyer, Hugh McCurdy, shipwright, and John Leigh, shipwright. Cook had one son born at the Bay of Islands—the father of the Cook family, who to this day own, near Cape Brett, the most remarkable whaling station in the world.

Stewart took the party to Port Pegasus and there commenced a timber and shipbuilding yard, probably at Shipbuilders Cove. While stationed there, in 1827, Cook's second son, Harry, was born. Harry Cook is still alive and residing at the Bay of Islands. The skill of his father in boat building still lives in the hand of his son, who at fourscore and two years of age can build a boat or pull an oar to the envy of the second generation.3

Giving Stewart two months to get his shipbuilders to Pegasus would bring the date to about April, 1826, and operations had not long been commenced when the Port had the honour of a visit from the emigrant fleet of the New Zealand Company, which was being floated in London when Stewart was there preparing his own little venture.

The Company, having commenced operations, despatched two vessels to New Zealand, at an expense exceeding £20,000. It obtained the promise of a charter from the Government of George the Fourth, and acquired tracts of land, among other places at Herd's Point on the Hokianga, at Manakau, on Waikeke Island, and at Paroa, and on the borders of the Thames.4 The first batch of their immigrants reached New Zealand in 1826, in the ship Rosanna and the cutter Lambton, the former under Captain Herd and the latter under Captain Barnett. Herd had command of the expedition. That gentleman took them into Port Pegasus on their road to the Thames, their intended destination in the North.

The New Zealand Company's expedition is thus described by Captain Lovett, of the Van Diemen's Land sealer Sally, which called it at the port before Herd left:—

“His ship had on board a full cargo of emigrants, proceeding in the same vessel to form a new English Settlement on the banks of the River Thames at New Zealand. Captain Herd merely touched at Stewart's page 363 “Island for the purpose of getting his firearms and ship's guns ready for their protection, in case of an attack from the New Zealanders on their arrival at their destination. His vessel had also on board many sheep and cattle and other live stock. Captain Herd intends to take in a return cargo of New Zealand flax.”5

Lovett also added that both vessels were provided with arms and intended to cruise for the protection of the colonists and to fish, for a period of three years.6

Herd spent six weeks in Port Pegasus, much of the time being devoted to ascertaining the correct position of the various spots in and around, and found that as given by Stewart in 1809 they were not to be relied upon. Surprised at some of the inaccuracies he called the attention of Stewart, who was there at the time, to the discrepancies, and learned that all Stewart's work had been done with a quadrant and a boat compass but with no artificial horizon. The wonder was that the chart was as accurate as it turned out to be.7 Herd's positions were generally accepted as correct by the mercantile marine of the world.

Describing Southern Port, Herd says:—“This harbour or sound would contain the whole Navy of Great Britain secure from all winds; at present it affords a Station for New South Wales seal fishers, who are not very successful. A ship bound from India to Peru, or Chili, may, in case of carrying away a topmast or yard, supply herself here or recruit her water; which, by the way is not very good. When we were here it had a reddish tinge, and imparted that colour to every thing it touched, and was also very astringent, which we thought was caused by the decayed vegetables it ran through. This is the most rainy and boisterous part of the world I was ever in.”

On his road to Pegasus he passed the Snares and took particular note of their position and general appearance.

Sailing from Stewart Island, Herd skirted along the eastern coast of the Middle Island, calling in at Otago and giving the following description of that port:—

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“Port Otago is an inlet, or arm of the sea, running up about 9 miles S.S.W. making a peninsula of the land on which is Cape Saunders, bearing from the said cape N. b W. by compass, about 2 leagues distant. This is a well-sheltered harbour, with a bar across the entrance, having 3½ fathoms over it at low water, and from 7 to 9 fathoms inside. The course in, is S. b E. keeping the larboard, or east shore, on board, until a mile and a half within the heads, when a vessel will be completely land-locked. As the bar is within the heads, there is never any sea on it. Variation 17° 5′ E. High-water full and change 20 minutes past 3 p.m. The tide rises about 9 feet. In latitude 45° 24′ 26″ and longitude 170° 50′ lies a reef nearly level with the water, and about 3 miles from the shore, on which we had nearly struck.”

As a result of very careful calculations made on the coast he states that from Point Lookers On to Cape Campbell, Cook had placed the land 15 or 20 miles too far to the east. Herd was the first navigator to give details of Port Underwood, which he calls Mangi Nui Harbour, and Port Nicholson, which he calls Wangi Nui Atra or Nicholson's Harbour. Arrived at his destination the conditions were such as to deter him from going on with the settlement and the expedition left New Zealand on 30th January, 1827, and sailed on to Sydney, where it arrived on 11th February.

It would appear that Herd on leaving Sydney for England sailed through Cook Strait, as in the “Nautical Magazine,” when giving his method of determining various places mentioned there, he describes the steps taken “on the outward voyage” which would mean the voyage with the expedition in 1826, and continues: “Homeward bound, nine days from Sidney (where the chrons. were rated), the situations were corroborated by the means of three chrons.” If so, Herd, who sailed for London on 15th June, 1827, must have looked in at Ship Cove about 24th June.

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Herd's Chart of Port Otago, 1826.Original in the Library of Mr. A. H. Turnbull, Wellington.

Herd's Chart of Port Otago, 1826.
Original in the Library of Mr. A. H. Turnbull, Wellington.

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Captain Lovett was the first to bring to Hobart Town the news of Stewart's settlement:—“Captain Stewart of the ship Prince of Denmark had also arrived from England and had commenced his settlement on his own or Stewart's Island, which since the discoveries of Captain Cook was supposed to form the southern extremity of Tavai Poenamboo (Te Wai Pounamu), or the southern island; but which Captain Stewart first discovered to be an extensive island separated from the main by a strait of 20 miles.”6 Here we have set up, for the first time apparently, the claim of Stewart to be the actual discoverer of the Island, at a date 17 years after the event. The editor of the “Oriental Navigator” when publishing Stewart's surveys in 1816 did not mention such an interesting piece of history. Herd, who spoke to Stewart himself when at Pegasus at this time, says nothing of the claim. It remained for Lovett, of the small Hobart Town sealer, to declare that fact to the world. The author therefore concludes that it is one of Stewart's contentions, made when the syndicate was being formed, which found its way into the prospectus but was ineligible for a place in the Warden's report.

Stewart left New Zealand on 21st August and returned to Sydney on 8th September, 1826, with 460 sealskins and a ton and a half of flax. Probably he sailed from Pegasus. Another voyage a failure. So far the prospects of success for Stewart were not bright.

The third—and the last—voyage was commenced on 3rd November.

Away down on the lonely isles of the Antipodes, on an almost precipitous ledge of rock and tussock, is a solitary grave. Over it, until recently taken away by some vandal, was an old totara board with a very faded inscription. In the year 1888, it was reported to have been deciphered, by a party who then examined it, to read as follows:—

To the M—— Foster, chief officer of the scho

Prince of Denmark, who was unfortunately drowned —–ke the Boat Arbour—–

14th day of December 1825.8

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The date cannot have been deciphered correctly because the Prince of Denmark was within four days' sail of Sydney on 14th December, 1825. It could be 1826, because she sailed from Sydney on 3rd November of that year. The month or the year has been wrongly deciphered. Captain Bollons of the s.s. Hinemoa, who saw the old totara board, states that 1826 was the date thereon, not 1825. This little fragment, picked up in that out of the way spot, shows us what desperate attempts Stewart was making to bring in a profit to his syndicate. The trip was away down to the southern islands and to the Antipodes in particular. This was 1826, and we remember that in 1805, when in the employ of the firm of Campbell & Co., it was William Stewart, as master of the Venus, who opened the trade.

Stewart's scheme was doomed. The third trip of the Prince of Denmark did not redeem the financial failure of the first two and the inevitable had to take place. What the exact position was is not clear but it was such as to bring into existence the following advertisement:—

“Vice Admiralty Court, New South Wales, September 4, 1827: On Monday next, the 10th Instant, at the Kings Wharf, at 1 o'clock, will be exposed for Public Sale, for the Benefit of the Claimants, the Schooner Prince of Denmark, with her Tackle, Apparel, and Furniture, as she now lies in Sydney Cove, Burthen 127 Tons. An Inventory of her Stores may be seen on board, at Messrs Raine and Ramsay's, or the Sheriff's Office. By order of the said Court.”

After the sale, the schooner appears running between Sydney and Hobart Town, under the command of Captain Thomas Wright.

Stewart's colonization and trade scheme ended in disaster. His two rivals of 1825 suffered a like fortune, both schemes coming to an untimely end.