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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 XXXI. — Cook Strait and Chatham Island, 1835

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Cook Strait and Chatham Island, 1835.

THE first cargo of oil from Cook Strait for the 1835 season came up in the New Zealander, Cole. She sailed from Cloudy Bay on 10th June and landed her cargo, which consisted of oil from the Cornwallis and Denmark Hill, in Sydney on 7th July. Captain Brown of the Proteus, who had resigned his command to the chief mate, came up in her as a passenger.

In Cloudy Bay when the New Zealander left were:—

  • The Caroline, Cherry, 80 tuns.

  • The Denmark Hill, Finlay, 60 tuns.

  • The Socrates of Hobart Town, about 60 tuns.

  • The Cornwallis, 50 tuns.

  • The Proteus, 25 tuns.

  • The Louisa, Hayward, 50 tuns.

  • The Charles, Hawkins, of London.

  • The Warren, of America.

  • The Halcyon, Thomson, of America.

The crews of the Charles and the Halcyon were in a disorderly state. The Socrates had lost her second mate and five of her hands in a dreadful south-east gale. One of the Proteus' boats was nearly lost in the same gale and passed the boat's crew of the Socrates holding on to the bottom of their capsized boat. No help could be afforded them however and when the men of the Proteus looked again they were gone.

On 17th September the Louisa, with 140 tuns, and the Denmark Hill left Cloudy Bay for Sydney, where they both arrived on 8th October. Mr. John Bell and Dr. Rankin came up as passengers in the Louisa.

Between the sailing of the New Zealander on 10th June, and the 17th September, the Socrates had left the Bay, and page 433 the Bee, a brig commanded by Robertson, had arrived. All the vessels had made substantial progress with their cargoes. During that three months the Caroline had added 120 tuns, the Proteus 175 and the Cornwallis 70. The Charles was now 26 months out and had 1600 barrels, the Warren 23 months with 300 tuns and the Halcyon 27 months with 240.

The Bee came up on 22nd October with 108 tuns of oil and 6 tons whalebone consigned to Wright and Long, and was followed on the twenty-sixth by the Halcyon with 361 tuns.

On the arrival of the American whaler at Sydney her captain appears to have excelled himself in supplying “copy” to the press reporters. He stated that information had been obtained at Cloudy Bay that the whole of the southern natives had armed themselves and were on the march to the north to seek revenge upon the English and the northern natives in Cloudy Bay and elsewhere for the depredations which had been committed in 1830 by the brig Elizabeth under Captain Stewart, as well as to obtain satisfaction for the Maoris drowned in the Shamrock in Queen Charlotte Sound. The natives were said to be determined to take and destroy everything which came their way. As a result the Europeans were obliged to remove from Cloudy Bay. The whole of the shipping had left but the Caroline, Proteus and Hind, which remained in company for mutual protection, the captains meantime completing their cargoes before they would leave Cloudy Bay deserted by Europeans. The Proteus had 270 tuns, the Caroline was full and the Hind had a cargo waiting for her. The Cornwallis had left the Bay to fish on the coast before returning to Sydney.

The last-named reached Sydney on 1st November, with 130 tuns.

The Hind, Wyatt, sailed from Cloudy Bay on 27th October with Captain Collins, James Campbell and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas on board as passengers. She reached Sydney on 12th November and brought up word that the story of the Halcyon was greatly exaggerated. What had happened page 434 was that a small party of natives, residing at a distance of several miles from Cloudy Bay, had threatened an attack. It ended however, in a mere demonstration. The Europeans had not deserted the Bay nor had shipping been prematurely hastened away. The Proteus was about to sail on the twenty-seventh when the Hind left and the Nimrod from Sydney had called in for cargo. The last named, Hepburn, master, reached port on 25th November from Poverty Bay with 13 casks of oil for Robert Campbell & Co. Mr. Harris come over as a passenger.

On 5th December the schooner Success, Captain Richard Buckle, reached Sydney with 208 casks black oil, 630 packages whalebone, 1 bundle seal skins and 2 spars, consigned to the House of R. Jones & Co. Captain Buckle reported that while at New Zealand he met the schooner New Zealander, Cole, filling up at Queen Charlotte Sound on 8th November, the Jolly Rambler in Cook Strait on the tenth, and the Proteus at Entry Island on the eleventh with 200 tuns of oil. She also reported that an American vessel had been there and that the Lord Rodney had visited the Sound.

Of the vessels spoken by the Success the New Zealander reached port on 18th December with 20 tuns oil for R. Jones & Co., 1 bundle of whalebone for Captain Ashmore, and 1 cask seal oil, 2 casks seal skins and 30 bundles whalebone for J. H. Grose & Co. Her passengers were Mrs. C. and Mr. William. The Lord Rodney had a very exciting experience before she reached Sydney. Her captain, Harewood, reported it to the “Sydney Herald” of 28th January, 1838, as follows:—

“We arrived at Entry Island, Cook's Straits, New Zealand, on the 16th of October, after a passage of seventeen days from Sydney, sailed from Entry Island on the 19th and reached Cloudy Bay on the 21st; started from the latter place on the 25th, and arrived at Port Nicholson on the 26th at noon. The Caroline, Cherry, of Sydney, was the only vessel in the port. When the Rodney brought up, the Natives appeared to be remarkably friendly, and anxious page 435 to barter for potatoes, hogs, &c. I purchased what I wanted from them, and hearing there was a quantity of whalebone to be purchased about 25 miles from Port Nicholson, on the 30th, sailed for that place. Mr. Dawson, my trading master, having advised me, I took the Head Chief of Port Nicholson, and four other Natives to facilitate the purchase of the whalebone. On reaching the destination, the Natives would not part with the bone, unless I would consent to take them to Chatham Island; there appeared to be a muster of about 300 Natives at this place. Having been unsuccessful in my trip, I ran back to Port Nicholson, the Chief on board (“A-Murry”), saying he would compensate me for the loss of time, by a present of some hogs, &c. The next day after reaching Port Nicholson, “A-Murry” the Chief, sent a number of canoes away, and they shortly returned filled with hogs, &c., also two spars, as a present; there was also a quantity of hogs and potatoes on shore, which the Chief requested me to look at; for this purpose, I left the brig, taking with me a good boat's crew. A short time after landing, I discovered that some of the Natives had taken the boat from my men; I immediately called out for the boat to be brought back, but they refused; one of the Chiefs also told me that the ship was taken, and I should very soon know it. At 11 a.m., Mr. Davis, one of my passengers, was sent on shore by the Natives, to inform me that the ship was in the possession of the New Zealanders, and that there were about 300 of them on board. Mr. Davis also informed me, that they had rushed upon the crew, and tied their hands behind them, saying, they did not want to hurt any one on board, or plunder the ship, but would have the vessel to convey them to Chatham Island, as a tribe of Natives had declared war against those of Port Nicholson, and would massacre the whole of them if they remained. I at once saw that any opposition on my part would perhaps be the means of losing the vessel entirely, or that the affair would end in bloodshed. I therefore resolved to accede to their page 436 demands, and wait an opportunity of recapturing the brig. The Natives were unwilling that I should go off to the vessel at once; I therefore sent a verbal message to the Chief Officer, to run the vessel under the lee side of the Island; this order, however, was not attended to. Shortly afterwards, “A-Murry” came ashore with one of my crew, and requested me to go off to the ship, which I did, the Natives keeping some of my crew ashore until I brought the brig within gun-shot of the place. At 4 p.m., there were about 400 Natives on board, with about 50 canoes alongside the vessel. At dusk, all the natives, except 20 Chiefs, left for the shore. Amongst those on board I discovered “A-Murry” and another Chief, who appeared extremely suspicious whenever I spoke to the crew. On the morning of the 6th November, they brought about 70 tons of seed potatoes on board of their own, making me a present of about 20 hogs; they said they would give me all their powder, muskets, potatoes, hogs, &c., after I had safely landed them on Chatham Island. On the 7th, they employed themselves watering the ship. I remarked that my bowsprit was too bad to proceed to sea with; about 40 of them immediately went in search of a new one, which was brought to the ship next day. The crew, during this time, was employed killing and salting pork the Natives had brought on board. They frequently asked me if the Governor of Port Jackson would be offended at what they had done, not having taken any lives or plundered the vessel; that they were not like the Taranaka tribe, who killed the people belonging to the Harriet, Captain Hall. They seemed to be much afraid of a man-of-war coming after them. The wind being contrary, nothing particular occurred up to the 14th, when we had a fair wind for Chatham Island, for which place we weighed anchor at 10 minutes past 5 a.m., with about 300 on board; at 30 minutes past 5, about 600 mustered on the vessel, with about 40 canoes alongside. The whole of them appeared anxious to go (although the crew could not move about the vessel to work the ship, the Natives were so thick) I ran as far as page 437 the Heads and brought up again. About one hundred of them left the ship in the canoes, taking with them as a hostage my second officer, who they promised to retain until I returned for the remainder of them. The wind being favourable, I weighed anchor and proceeded with about five hundred New Zealanders, principally women and children, with only about three tons of water on board. I had previously told them they must do without water for three days, after putting to sea, which they consented to, or any other privation, if they could but get away from Port Nicholson. On the 15th and 16th most of the Natives were sea-sick, and on the 17th the women that had young children were calling out violently for water, when I ordered them to be supplied; the strongest of the men, however, only got water, leaving the women and children without. At 1.30 p.m. saw Chatham Island, when the Natives gave a terrible shout, and the women cried for joy, as is the custom in New Zealand. At 6.30, brought the brig up in the best place I could find, not having any chart of the Island. The Natives immediately commenced landing, and about two hundred of them went ashore. Some Europeans came alongside in a whaleboat, and informed me that the best harbour was about two miles higher up, to which place we made all sail, and at sunset all the Natives, except eight, went on shore. I consulted about making an attempt to get away, and it was agreed to, and at 7.30 p.m. made sail and proceeded to sea; Mr. Ferguson and Mr. Davis being engaged loading muskets the Natives on board overheard them, and made a great noise so that those on shore should hear them; I told them the wind was driving into the harbour, and that I should return to Chatham Island in the morning; they appeared dissatisfied with this statement, and I allowed them to go on shore. The wind blowing fresh from the southward, I had my doubts whether I could work out of the Bay, having to beat to windward against a short cross-head sea for about fifteen miles. After the Natives had left the brig about five minutes, Murry the Chief and a crew came alongside page 438 in the European's boat, and observing they were not armed I allowed the Chief to come on board. I told him I should return in the morning, but he would not believe me. He gave orders for the other Natives to go ashore, and he remained in the vessel. The weather was very squally during the night, and the Chief seemed to be nearly heartbroken. The vessel tacked about the Bay (which is fifteen miles wide) every two hours, until we carried away the square mainsail, main trysail and the jib-boom. With every prospect of the continuance of bad weather, having progressed but six miles during the night, I resolved to run back immediately, and at 7 a.m. brought up again in the harbour. Some of the Natives said they thought I had run away with all their seed potatoes, &c., they said they had been crying during the whole of the night, doubting my return to the Island. They immediately commenced taking out their potatoes which they completed about 4 p.m. Several of the New Zealanders expressed themselves much dissatisfied with my going away in the night, and Murry the Chief said that if I had not split my sails, &c. I should not have returned. The 21st and 22nd, it still continued to blow fresh from the southward. On the 23rd the wind being from the N.W. weighed anchor, when several of the Chiefs came on board, and wished to proceed back to Port Nicholson. When outside I asked Mr. Dawson, my trading master, whether he thought any thing would happen to the mate at Port Nicholson, if we ran direct for Port Jackson. Mr. Dawson having had sixteen years in the New Zealand trade said, that he would certainly be killed if we did not return. I made sail for Port Nicholson, and reached that place on the 20th (?) at 10 p.m. On the next day my second officer came on board, and informed me that the Jolly Rambler had been in the harbour during my absence, which the Natives would have taken but she was too small for their purpose. The New Zealanders had also killed several dogs, and hung them up in different directions, for the purpose as they said of driving the ship back to them. The savages also killed a young girl of about twelve years page 439 of age, cut her to pieces, and hung her flesh up to posts in the same manner as the dogs, saying that she was the cause of our detention. It took the Natives all the 27th to talk over what they had seen at Chatham Island, after which they gave me in payment 2½ tons of pork, 41 old muskets, about 360lbs. of powder, one cannonade, a nine-pounder, two fowling-pieces, and about 7 tons of potatoes. On the 30th of November, took in 7 canoes from 35 to 60 feet in length, about four hundred Natives, and proceeded on my second trip to Chatham Island. Having a fair wind all the way, I arrived at 30 minutes past 7, a.m., in the harbour. The Natives immediately disembarked, and took all they had from the brig. I was doubtful whether the New Zealanders would not, at the wind up of the proceedings, plunder the ship, but in this I was agreeably disappointed; although they had certainly made free with many things in the vessel, which I attributed to the negligence of the seamen. On the 5th December, having completed my forced expedition, I made sail, being accompanied to the Heads with ‘the two Chiefs,’ who craved tobacco of me; having given them about 20lbs. of the same, they left the brig, since which I have not heard anything of them or their tribe.”

Amongst the troubles which the Sydney oil merchants had to put up with a not insignificant one was the supplying of evidence that the oil delivered was British, not Foreign. A small duty of one shilling per tun was imposed upon the former while the latter had to bear an impost of £26 12s per tun. The Sydney officials were ever on the watch for evasions of these duties and called in question 11 tuns of oil which arrived by the Fortitude from the Bay of Islands on 6th January. The oil in question had reached the Bay of Islands in the American ship Erie, the first American vessel recorded as “bay whaling” in the South Island, sent up to that port by a shore whaling party as regular cargo. The Sydney authorities contended that the oil was “Foreign,” the consignees that it was “British.” The point in dispute was referred to London, the oil meantime page 440 being delivered up and a bond taken from the shipper. A letter of advice was forwarded under date 10th February, 1835. Having stated the case the Customs authorities at Sydney wrote Mr. Busby for evidence to forward to England in support of their contention.

21st March, 1835.


“A seizure having been made at this Port of a quantity of Black oil, brought up from New Zealand in the Fortitude and entered as British Caught, but which was in fact taken by the Boats of the American Ship Erie, we request that you will have the goodness to call upon Mr. Bowditch and any other person who may be acquainted with the circumstances to fill up the form herewith sent and swear to the truth of the same or make such other affidavits as may be thought more applicable in order that all necessary information may be furnished to the Lords of the Treasury to whose decision the case is left, the oil having under that condition been delivered up to the Party. We have in our possession an affidavit sworn before you by the Men who caught the Fish, and it is to be regretted that enquiry was not made as to who they were, because it would in all probability have been discovered that although they were Englishmen they were sailing under the American Flag, and using American Gear and Boats, and that their object was to get Foreign caught oil brought into consumption in Great Britain at the low duty, thereby defrauding the Revenue, and injuring the British Fishery under all which circumstances we trust that you will endeavour to throw as much light as possible on the case, and that you will be pleased to send us the necessary documents by the earliest conveyance.

“We beg to observe that we are in possession of much of the particulars but not detailed or both.”

J. Gibbes


R. S. Webb

Ag. Cont.
J. Busby, British Resident, New Zealand.
page 441

Busby's reply was not very satisfactory.


“I have had the honour to receive your letter of the 21st March last requesting me to procure certain information on oath relative to a quantity of Black Oil which was sent from this place in the Schooner Fortitude and enterd at Sydney as British Caught oil, but, which it is alleged was taken by the Boats of the American Ship Erie, and therefrom entered as British Caught in order to deprive His Majesty's Revenue.

“I regret that not having Authority to administer an oath it is not in my power to procure the information you require.

“As far as my memory serves me the person who made the declaration before me (which he professed his readiness to verify on oath) stated that he and his party had been pursuing the Black Whale Fishery at I believe Cloudy Bay, at which place I have understood there are parties so engaged who are not immediately connected with any Ship; and that he merely took advantage of the American Ship coming to the Bay of Islands to get the produce of his Fishery conveyed hither.

“He was evidently a native of North Britain and there was nothing in his appearance to indicate an improbability of his having been engaged in such a speculation.”

J. Busby.

11th May 1835.

Busby's information was not to the liking of the Sydney Customs officers and it was some time before the nature of the reply was communicated to London, in the following letter:—

August 11, 1835.

Honourable Sirs

“Referring to our letter of the 10th February last No. 3 we beg to state that we wrote to the British page 442 “Resident at New Zealand on March last (copy of which letter we enclose) requesting that he would procure the affidavit of the person who had given the information in respect to the oil, but he states in reply that he is not authorised to administer an oath and consequently could not comply with our request. We therefore presume that nothing further can be done in the matter unless your Honours should consider the circumstances of the oil having been carried from one part of New Zealand to another in an American Ship sufficient to condemn it.

“We believe it has not before been mentioned that the oil came here in American casks but the parties say that those casks had been entered here, and the duty paid, subsequent to which they were exported to New Zealand.”

J. Gibbes


R. S. Webb


Impatient at the delay in forwarding the promised information the following sharp letter came from London.


“I have it in command to refer you to your Letter of the 10th February last No. 3 reporting the seizure of a quantity of Oil and stating that you would immediately obtain and forward to the Board Affidavits from certain parties in New Zealand in proof of the Oil being foreign taking, and to call upon you forthwith to transmit the Affidavits in question and to explain the cause of the delay.”

I am Gentlemen

Your most obed. Servt.

J. Ker.

Custom House
London10th Decr. 1835.
Sydney, New South Wales.

The correspondence on this subject is brought to a close by the following letter:—

page 443
Custom House London
26th February 1836.


“Having had under consideration your Letter of the 11th August last No. 29 further reporting in regard to the seizure of 21 Casks of Oil brought from your Port in the Schooner Fortitude from New Zealand, but subsequently delivered upon bond being given to abide our decision.

“We direct you to cancel the Bond given by the Parties in the case.”

John Dean


H. Richmond.

W. Cuel.

Whatever may be said generally of the inability of the Imperial Authorities to realise the conditions under which work was, in those days carried on, there is no doubt that in this matter the position was not understood in Sydney while it was understood in London. The correspondence, unearthed from the files of the Sydney Customs House, is here published for the first time.

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