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The Old Whaling Days

Chapter XV. — The French Fleet, 1836 to 1838

page 245

Chapter XV.
The French Fleet, 1836 to 1838.

The Americans were not the only foreign nation to take part in the Southern New Zealand whaling trade. During the season of 1836 a French whaler called the Mississippi anchored in Cloudy Bay and spent the winter there. We know little of her except that her sailing master was an Englishman of the name of Rossiter, some of whose descriptions of the place are recorded in an Article in the R.G.S. Journal, Vol. VIII., and who took back to France with him, Nayti, who afterwards returned with the New Zealand Company's Expedition in 1839.

None appeared on our coast in 1837, and it was probably the return of the Mississippi, with her cargo of oil and her budget of New Zealand whaling news, that directed the French whalers to the South of New Zealand, where they began to arrive in 1838. What makes this the more probable is that the Mississippi herself accompanied the whaling fleet which set out from Havre de Grace during June and July, 1837, and, with them, called at Hobart in the end of January, 1838. The first mention of their arrival on the New Zealand coast is the report of Captain Bruce, on his arrival in Sydney on 29th March, that one had been at South Cape, and another at Otago. These were probably the Mancha and the Faune, which wintered, the former in the New River, the latter, until she sailed on 5th July for Havre de Grace, full, at Otago.

It was Banks Peninsula with its capacious and beautiful bays and inlets which attracted the whalers of “the tribe of Marion,” and there they made their presence felt during the season. On 31st March the Adele and the Pauline were there and were visited by Captain Hempleman from his Piraki station. On the following day both went round to Piraki, the Adele anchoring that day, the Pauline, the page 246 following evening. From the former Hempleman filled up his empty stores with brandy, bread, molasses, tea, coffee, beef, pork, and flour; and when one of his leading men—Crawley—“ran a lance through his rist” one of the French doctors brought the latest surgical knowledge to bear upon its treatment.

From now on French whalers began to arrive at Akaroa in numbers. By 12th April the Asia had arrived, and on the eighteenth the boats of another Frenchman were at the mouth of the harbour scouring the sea for whales. On 1st May an American and a Frenchman arrived. This made five Frenchmen at Banks Peninsula up to this date.

To overlook the interests of France, and to maintain order in and give help to their numerous whalers in the South Pacific, the French Government had sent out the corvette Heroine, under the command of Captain Cecille. She reached Hobart Town on 31st January and sailed from Sydney for the Bay of Islands on 15th April. Then she went on to Akaroa and cast anchor there on 8th June. In the Bay she found the Nil, the Gustave, the Cosmopolite, and the Gange. Of other French vessels the Adele and the Pauline were at Piraki; and the Cachalot, the Asia, the Souvenir, and the Dunkerquoise were at Port Cooper. Among so many vessels—and these whalers—it would have been a miracle if there had been no entanglements to unravel. The Nil, the Gustave, and the Cosmopolite had mated for the season, and the Gange, not allowed to participate in their operations, had to work on her own account and face the competition of the three mated vessels, with, naturally, very unsatisfactory results. After the arrival of Cecille the Gange sailed for Piraki and continued to whale there, much to her advantage, if not to the satisfaction of Hempleman and the two French whalers who already divided among them the “fish” that visited that locality. Desertion was another trouble, and the presence of the French corvette was taken advantage of to secure the return of some runaways who had boarded the American whaler Bowditch. In addition, Captain Cecille page 247 restored order on several of the French whalers where insubordination reigned.”

“Mating,” or “la pêche par association” was common to the French as well as the Americans, but no mention of it is made among the Australians. It generally took place between two vessels, and the mention here of three associating to the exclusion of the fourth would point to some objection against the Gange working with the others. Though the system would have to be worked to suit the locality, Dumas thus describes the method adopted at Port Cooper: “each associated vessel, in turn, remained at the anchorage while the other went to tack about in Pegasus Bay, and the crew of the vessel in the Bay was recruited by twelve men borrowed from the stationary vessel: then, at the end of the season, they counted the barrels of oil obtained and made a division of them.”

While the Cachalot was whaling at Port Cooper, Captain Langlois, her commander, conceived the idea that a French Settlement could, with advantage, be established in the locality, and he set to work to purchase the Peninsula from the Maoris. After some discussion with the different chiefs he purchased, or thought he purchased, the entire Peninsula for the sum of 1000 francs, 150 of which was paid on the spot in goods, and the remainder was to be paid on taking delivery. The document which he submitted to the chiefs and which they duly signed was in the following words:—

“We Thomy, Maintemaineii, Tokouraokai, Hotahou, Pamiodeki, Exakanayi, Kimoini, Naoumonee, Makoauie, Tangiko, etc., etc., of Banks Peninsula, residing at Port Cooper, or Tokolabo, in New Zealand, have of our own free consent and good will, by these presents sold, with the promise of entire enjoyment of possession from the 2nd of August, 1838, to Monsieur Langlois, Master of the three masted whaler Cachalot, residing at Havre-de-Grace, in France, the property and enjoyment of the soil and surface of Banks Peninsula, in its page 248 appurtenances, situate in Latitude 43° 30′ and Longitude 174°, and depending from the Island of Tarai Pomanoo under the sovereignty of the King of Chegary.

The vendors and grantors by these presents divest themselves of all their rights and ownership in Banks Peninsula in favour of the said Monsieur Langlois, who shall henceforth possess, enjoy, and dispose thereof as the grantors would or might have done did this document of sale not exist, making no reservation but that of the taboed lands or burial grounds.

The purchaser will take the said Peninsula in the state in which it will be at the time of taking possession; this sale is made and accepted for the sum of one thousand francs payable in goods at the convenience of the vendor and in two instalments, the first to be of 150 (one hundred and fifty) francs and payable at once in the goods detailed below, to wit:—

  • One woollen overcoat—20 francs.

  • Six pairs of linen trousers—30 francs.

  • Twelve tarpaulin hats—60 francs.

  • Two pairs of shoes—10 francs.

  • A pistol—8 francs.

  • Two red flannel shirts—15 francs.

  • A tarpaulin cloak—7 francs.

The second instalment to fall due at the time of the taking possession.

The first instalment has been paid to the vendors who give a receipt therefor. This present deed is made and signed by the contracting parties.

At Port Cooper, or Tokolaba, the second of August 1838.”

[Here follow the signatures, represented by the moko of each of the chiefs, and below them the signature of Langlois. The whole of it approved by the moko of the King of Chegary.]

page 249

Captain Cecille employed his stay at Banks Peninsula in visiting the various localities where whalers were to be found, and in making charts of the different bays. These charts may still be seen amongst the public records in Paris. After leaving the Peninsula he set sail for the Bay of Islands and reached that port on 8th August. The following day the Cosmopolite arrived in a leaky condition and sadly in need of assistance. Captain Cecille at,once went to her aid, had the cargo landed and the vessel examined and was able to repair the damage and load her up for her homeward journey after twenty days of unceasing toil. Through this the corvette's departure for Tahiti had to be delayed.

In addition to the names already given, the Angelina was reported by the Governor Bourke of Sydney to be at Port Cooper, probably about the end of July, though the exact date is uncertain. Captain Cecille is said to have sent back in her, to her own tribe in the Bay of Islands, a young Maori girl, Croua Roua, whose father and mother had been eaten by the Southern Natives, and for whom herself the same fate was probably in store.

Captain Cecille had now carried out his instructions to the letter. These instructions, so far as they related to New Zealand, were a modification of earlier instructions and were dated at Paris, 13th June, 1837. They read as follows:—

“From the information you have gathered about the course of most of the ships bound this year for the exploitation of the whale fishery, the itinerary planned for the Heroine in my preceding Instructions must be altered, so as to make your next commission as useful as possible. You should, therefore, according to the indications you yourself have furnished, when leaving Brazil, whither you will first proceed, sail up the South Coast to the 37th degree of latitude, cross the ocean on this parallel and arrive at the Cape of Good Hope next September. After having there completely revictualled the page 250 Corvette, you will leave towards the end of October and will make for New Holland, following, in zig-zag course the parallels frequented by the whalers, and calculating your course so as to arrive in New Holland at the end of January of the year 1838. You will visit Hobart Town and will sail to Port Jackson where you will await our whalers calling there.

“Leaving that place with them, after having again revictualled, the Heroine will follow them to New Zealand, where she will remain as long as the fishing season lasts.

“At the end of the season, that is to say towards the month of August, you may, if necessary, return to Port Jackson to renew the victuals of the Corvette, and you will then direct your course towards the Island of Otaiti (Tahiti) so as to show the national flag in these islands.”

Under these instructions she reached Hobart Town, as we have already seen, on 31st January, proceeded to Sydney, which she left on 15th April for the Bay of Islands, and then followed the whalers down to Akaroa on 8th June. At the end of the season we find her at the Bay of Islands ready to sail for Tahiti “to show the national flag in these islands.”

So far it has not been mentioned that, to assist the industry, the French whalers were given a bounty by their Government. It is said to have consisted of the substantial sum of £4 per tun, advanced on the security of returning the same amount for every tun of oil short of the burden of the ship which she brought home of her own taking.

Before the Heroine could resume her voyage to Tahiti a far more difficult task than the relief of the Cosmopolite faced Captain Cecille. The Rebecca Sims arrived on 28th September from Chatham Island with the distressing news of the destruction of the French whaler, Jean Bart, and the entire disappearance of her crew.

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The Jean Bart had had a most unfortunate voyage. She arrived at the Bay of Islands on 16th February of this year, and no sooner had she cast anchor than her commander, Captain Gauteau, after giving orders about the cleaning and safety of his vessel, went down into his cabin and committed suicide. The first officer took command, and the services of an Englishman named Thomas Grimwood, who was acquainted with the Chathams, were retained to pilot the ship among the southern islands.

Captain Cecille determined to proceed at once to the Island and obtain satisfaction for the injury done to his countrymen, and for this end made arrangements with Captain Ray, of the American whaler Rebecca Sims, and with Captain Walsh of the French whaler, Adele, to accompany him and to place their ships at his disposal. The scheme was to utilise the whalers, whose presence at the Island would cause less alarm than that of the corvette, by placing on board of each of them twenty men of the Heroine, so that when the ships came to an anchor and the Maoris crowded on board to trade they could be captured in large numbers. To facilitate the carrying out of the scheme the Heroine was, on arrival at the Island, to keep out of the way until the following afternoon. There was something of Rauparaha's Akaroa scheme in it, but instead of eating the captured Maoris it was intended to hold some of the chiefs to answer as hostages for the lives of any Frenchmen who might be on the Island and to reduce by so many the number of the natives to be fought ashore.

The “fleet” left the Bay of Islands on 6th October and reached its destination on the seventeenth. The suspicion of the natives, however, prevented the plan succeeding; no one would go on board unless some hostages went ashore. In spite of these difficulties Captain Ray managed to entice on board his ship the chief and his wife, two other natives, and four young women, with an Englishman named Coffee, who was married to one of them. It was then eight o'clock in the morning and at midday they were all very anxious page 252 to return ashore; as there was no chance, therefore, of enticing any of the others on board before the arrival of the corvette, they were all arrested. In the tumult which this occasioned, the chief's wife managed to escape and throw herself into the sea. She was gaining the land when a sailor, taking her for a man escaping, shot her dead. The noise gave the alarm ashore, where already many armed natives, restless at seeing the chief remaining so long on board, were scattered about in the bush on a piece of rising ground near the anchorage, observing everything that passed. They at once commenced a musketry fire on the ships which lasted for an hour and a half, many bullets fell on board and pierced the boats, but no one was hit. Captain Walsh put an end to the firing by sending some cannon balls on to the mound from whence it came. The corvette arrived at three in the afternoon, and the prisoners were taken on board of her.

The chief, Eitouna, was examined in the presence of the officers of the Heroine, and the following narrative obtained from him: The Jean Bart arrived at the Chatham Islands in the beginning of May and was met by several canoes belonging to Eitouna's tribe and by two large ones belonging to Pomare's. The speed of the French vessel caused some of the canoes to cast off as they could not keep up with her. About two o'clock in the afternoon the Jean Bart dropped anchor in the small bay where Eitouna's tribe was settled, and the captain, seeing so many natives on board the vessel, became anxious, and asked Eitouna to send them ashore. The Chief gave orders for that to be done, and some did go, but others remained to traffic with the sailors; all Pomare's men remained on board, so that there were 70 on the ship, of whom 18 belonged to Eitouna's tribe. In the meantime the captain of the Jean Bart, not thinking himself safe, got his vessel under weigh to get out of the bay. Eitouna cautioned him against Pomare, and, to win his confidence in himself, showed him some certificates given him by various visiting whalers, but the captain would not read them. Eitouna and several of the page 253 chiefs then went into the cabin. While there they heard a great noise on the deck, and when they reached the head of the companion hatch a wounded New Zealander fell from the deck on to the companion, and they all returned to the cabin. Soon the partition was burst open and someone tried to kill them through the opening. The Maoris then seized some guns which they loaded, and, while defending themselves, killed two of the crew. At once the skylight and companionway were barricaded and in a short time all was quiet. Eitouna thought that the crew, frightened at seeing them possessed of the guns, had barricaded the openings so as to give them time to seize the canoes and make off, because, when he and his people reached the deck, no one was visible. The Chief stated that 28 New Zealanders and one woman were killed, while 20 others were wounded, and that 9 of the killed and 3 of the wounded belonged to his tribe. He gave the names of everyone of these men and counted them by tens on his fingers. The cause of the fight was punishment inflicted on some of Pomare's people for petty thieving. But for the firearms the Maoris got hold of, which frightened the Frenchmen, all would have been killed. When asked why he had taken six guns and a barrel of powder with him in his canoes when he went to meet the Jean Bart, Eitouna said that he had been constantly quarrelling with Pomare and had taken this precaution to defend himself in case of attack. Only two sailors on board the Jean Bart lost their lives.

The following day, at 9 a.m., one hundred armed men went ashore to fight the islanders, but all had taken to flight into the woods where it was impossible to reach them. All the dwellings, as well as seven canoes, were set on fire, and, by four o'clock in the afternoon, there remained only ashes of an establishment which covered an area of about three-quarters of a mile. In the pas were found a great quantity of potatoes and some pigs. All were collected. The burning of their village and the pillage of the page 254 provisions were deemed just reprisals for the burning of the Jean Bart and the pillage of that ship.

The women told Captain Cecille that he had done more harm to them by burning their pas than by killing some of their people. The loss of their canoes was irreparable as the Island did not produce trees big enough to construct new ones, those they had had come from New Zealand.

As only two of the boats of the Jean Bart were found in the bay Cecille concluded that all the Frenchmen could not have been killed, and this lent colour to the story of the Maoris. There were no traces to be seen of the cabin boy, who, it had been stated, had been taken ashore alive.

The old Chief remained for some days in the greatest anxiety as to his fate, and several times asked if he was to be put to death. Cecille ordered him to be brought up for sentence, and told him that he was to be taken a prisoner to France. The King of the French was great and generous; he could trust to his mercy and would probably be sent back to the Island. Eitouna was resigned and again assured the commander that he had taken no part in the killing of the Frenchmen and had always acted right towards Europeans, a statement which was endorsed by Captain Ray of the Rebecca Sims. The chief, not knowing that his wife had been killed, asked to be allowed to take her with him, but Cecille excused himself from granting this request by saying that the French laws did not permit them to make women prisoners and told him that it was through his own fault that these misfortunes had happened: that he had allowed Frenchmen to be killed when they came to him without any hostile intention, but only to trade and live in friendship; but now that satisfaction had been obtained they had nothing further to fear.

Eitouna then addressed himself to the women, whom he asked permission to speak to, in order to exhort them to welcome strangers in the future. He spoke for some time, and they listened with great attention to the instructions which they were to transmit to the men of the tribe. page 255 On 20th October his interview with the women was repeated. To one of them he gave his shirt and his waistcoat, and, cutting off three locks of his hair “tabued” them and gave them to her also. Finally he embraced her and said good-bye. To calm Eitouna's fears of further revenge Cecille gave him a certificate acknowledging that he was satisfied with the punishment he had inflicted on the tribe. This the chief put his “moko” to and gave to his niece to hand over to the men of the tribe. The women were then sent ashore.

For the services of the Adele and the Rebecca Sims the French Commander was excedingly grateful and reported upon them to his Government in terms of the highest praise. Captain Walsh was a naturalised Frenchman, but did everything that a native-born Frenchman could have done, while Captain Ray had not hesitated to leave the Bay of Islands, where he had gone to refresh, and return at once to the Chathams. He it was who had made Eitouna prisoner.

Speaking about the general causes of the disaster, Captain Cecille said:—

“Nearly all the misfortunes which have happened' in these countries have been provoked by the aggression of the Europeans. It is useless for me to say that this observation is in no way applicable to the unfortunate catastrophe of the Jean Bart, for it is quite evident that the crew of this vessel had had no time to bring upon themselves the hostility of the natives of Chatham Island. But it is only too true that the natives being outside of civilization are exposed to the brutality of sailors of all nations frequenting these Islands, and especially to the brutalities of the escaped convicts from Sydney and Hobart Town, who are in great numbers in these Islands. The natives are guided towards these strangers who ill-treat them, only by the natural sentiment of vengeance inbred in every human being, and with them this sentiment takes a barbarous page 256 character, and, often inspired by the justice of their cause, they put their enemies to death. But if the maritime nations have indeed the right to punish these people with severe penalties, have they not also a great duty to fulfil?—the duty to protect them against these men, devoid of courage or honour, who oppress them and threaten them with the vengeance of their government if they dare to revolt against their arbitrary conduct.”

Captain Cecille probably did not then know what Busby, the British Resident at the Bay of Islands, afterwards reported to the Governor of New South Wales, and which was to the following effect:—About two years before this event the Caroline, of Hobart Town, commanded by Captain John Robertson, was “fishing” near the Chatham Islands when the master employed a party of the Natives to clean a quantity of whalebone, promising them a cask of tobacco by way of payment. When the work was done-he refused to fulfil his promise and took away three or four of the Natives, who were on board his vessel at the time, and made them do sailor work. One of the mates of the Caroline was this same Grimwood who was now acting as sailing master for the Jean Bart.

Captain Walsh told, on his return to France, that after he had sailed from Chatham Island, he learned, per medium of the Gange, that Captain Cecille, after having visited Pitt Island, had learnt from the islanders that a portion of the crew of the Jean Bart had taken refuge in an island which they had managed to gain in the ship's boats; that the Commandant had then examined the island which was pointed out to him but without finding an inhabitant, and that he returned to Chatham Island and destroyed a second village situated on the opposite shore of the bay, setting fire to the dwellings and razing the small fortifications which surround it, but he had been unable to take any prisoner, because all the inhabitants had fled into the woods from whence it would have been impossible to drive them out.

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The three Maoris captured on board the Rebecca Sims were taken to France in the Heroine. Their fate was indeed sad; the chief committed suicide, one of his companions died of illness at Brest, and the third was sent out on board the Aube under the command of Captain Lavaud when the French settlement was being formed at Akaroa in 1840. There appeared to have been a lingering desire on the part of the French for further reprisals against the Chatham Islanders, and it was thought that this third Maori might prove useful. He died, however, on board the Allier off the coast of New Zealand, in March 1842, without seeing his native land again. Lavaud was very much attached to Etaca, as he was called, and had seen to his education. He could read, write, and speak French well, was fond of the ship's company, and had helped to give his compatriots a high idea of the French. He was baptized by the Catholic missionaries, and, before his death, received the last rites of his Church. He contracted a chest complaint which carried him off in two months in spite of the most tender care lavished on him. Sailor fashion his little kit was sold, and the proceeds handed over to the state.

The author has prepared this narrative of the Jean Bart massacre from the reports of Commander Cecille and Captains Walsh and Ray, as they were given in the French newspapers when the news reached France. Many of these accounts reproduce the actual words of the reports, so it may be taken as the official French narrative. As it is based on the account given by the Maori Chief, it is worth calling attention to the very unsatisfactory nature of the Chief's account of the proceedings on board the Jean Bart. When Eitouna was warned off the whaler some of his men went, but Eitouna himself and some others went below. It is difficult to understand why they were allowed to do this when even their presence on deck was objected to, and, furthermore, why they themselves did this when the vessel was actually proceeding to sail away. Supposing, however, it is correct, and that they went below, what became of the page 258 Maoris on deck and the Frenchmen below? They would have all to be killed to fit in with the statement that no one saw the sailors leave the ship. Even if the Maoris on deck were all killed, those who had gone ashore must have seen where the ship's boats went to. Strange to say there does not appear, in the mind of Captain Cecille, to be any inconsistency between the narrative of the Chief and the fact that clothes of the Jean Bart sailors were found containing cuts as though made by cutlasses or lances. From the evidence of the reports as published in the French press the author cannot see that the statement of the Chief explains the incident.

Before this subject is left, it may be mentioned that at any rate one French writer of repute—Alexandre Dumas in “Les Baleiniers”—directly challenges the account given by the Maori Chief, and as this writer gives an account of the massacre which puts his own countrymen in the wrong, it cannot be passed over lightly. There is one explanation which must not be lost sight of. Cecille may not have been satisfied with the Chief's statement, he may even have heard the other version, but that version may have been such that it could not have been made the subject of a report other than confidential. Following his rule of using only the earlier records of events for the narrative, the Author leaves the rival story over until an opportunity can be obtained of viewing the complete files of Cecille's reports and of investigating the material available to Dumas when he wrote “Les Baleiniers.”

About the month of August, as we have already seen, the Mancha, which was whaling at the New River, broke from her anchors and got ashore. Her master, Le Bailley, was for abandoning her after she had been ashore some time, but with the assistance of several American whalers, in the locality she was hauled off after suffering considerable damage. She made for the Bay of Islands for repairs and reached her destination on 10th October.

The following is a somewhat meagre summary of the page 259 distribution of the French whaling fleet in Southern New Zealand in 1836 and 1838:—

Ground. Vessel. Master. Tons.
New River La Mancha Le Baillie
Otago La Faune
Piraki L'Adele Walsh
Le Gange Grandsaigne
La Pauline Guevin
Akaroa La Cosmopolite Legrue 589
Le Gustave Desclos 482
Le Nil Smith
L' Angelina Manger
L' Asia Jay
Le Cachalot Langlois 582
Le Dunkerquoise Radon 400
Le Souvenir
Cloudy Bay La Mississippi Rossiter 389
Chatham Island Le Jean Bart Gauteau
L' Heroine Cecille