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The Old Whaling Days


When the year 1838 closed, the Dublin Packet was on the New Zealand coast, and had made for Weller's stations by the somewhat unusual route of Cook Strait, calling at Kapiti Island and Cloudy Bay, to discharge cargo which she had on board for both these places. Having disposed of her northern cargo she proceeded to Waikouaiti and Otago for oil, 34 tuns of which she took in at the former station, and 40. at the latter. At Otago she also took on board the celebrated chief Taiaroa who, accompanied by his attendant, “Tom Bowling,” was going on a trip to Sydney. At Otago the American whaler, Sarah Frances, was refreshing when Captain Mills arrived. She had on board 1160 barrels of black oil and 70 of sperm. The Dublin Packet sailed on 21st January and reached Sydney on 1st February.

“Johnny” Jones made a commencement for the 1839 season by sending the Magnet away from Sydney on 17th January with 36 men on board of her to man his southern stations. These had now increased in number to seven, six of which were 32 men stations and one of 42 men. These last particulars were supplied by Jones to the Collector of Customs at Sydney, when applying for permission to ship tobacco and liquor for the use of his men and for trade with the natives. The seven stations were situated and managed as under:—

Station. Manager.
Preservation Simon McKenzie.
Jacob's River John Howell.
Bluff James Spencer.
Bluff Wm. Stirling.
Bluff James Joss.
Waikouaiti Edwin Palmer.
Moeraki John Hughes.
page 275

Weller followed Jones as soon as he could get the Dublin Packet away, which was not until 19th February. No less than 59 whalers were sent down on this occasion to the stations under the control of this firm—the Otago and the Taieri.

It was during the first trip of the Magnet to Jones' whaling stations that Captain Bruce heard of the visit of the Enderby Expedition to Chalky Inlet, Preservation Bay, and Stewart Island, and brought the news to Sydney. From him we learn that the runaway boat was never heard of, which makes the list of those who lost their lives in this Expedition a very long one. Bruce reported the American whaler, South Boston, of Fairhaven, G. Butler, master, out 9 months, at Patterson's River, with 1900 barrels. In addition to a cargo of 45 tuns of oil, 9½ tons of whalebone, and 3 casks of seal skins the Magnet brought to Sydney the passengers who had come in the American whaler, Gratitude, from King George Sound to Stewart Island, during the latter part of the previous year. The Magnet sailed from New Zealand on 10th March and reached Sydney 14 days later.

The traffic of Jones' whaling stations had now increased so much in volume that the Magnet, a vessel of only 148 tons, was unable to cope with it, and the Jessie, a barque of 315 tons, was purchased, put under the command of the veteran Captain Bruce, and sent off to New Zealand on 17th April. The Magnet was, in the meantime, sent to the Bay of Islands.

June proved a disastrous month for Weller. On the sixth the Dublin Packet, with 43 tuns of oil, 1 ton of bone, 6 tons of potatoes, and some stores for the Taieri whaling station, sailed from Otago to deliver the stores and take in a cargo of oil. On the ninth she arrived opposite the station. After bringing up it fell calm, with a heavy rolling sea into the bay. The vessel was moored with both anchors ahead, and a rope attached to each to enable them to slip and make sail on the vessel should the wind set on to the land. At dusk the watch on deck informed the captain page 276 that the vessel was drifting. Captain Wells immediately hastened on deck and found that such was indeed the case. Both cables were paid out to the bare ends, but the heavy rollers, which began to break on the shore, carried the vessel with fearful rapidity towards the reef, on which she struck with great force, the sea making a complete breach over her. A musket was fired to rouse the men ashore to obtain assistance, and after endeavouring to launch a boat off the deck, in the doing of which the captain broke his arm, the crew took to the rigging. Here they hung to the shrouds until the mainmast went over the side. In the struggle to get ashore George Nicholson, the second mate, William Higgins, the steward, and James Clark Cole, an American sailor from the Favourite, of Fairhaven, were drowned. The last named had become deranged and was being sent as a passenger to Sydney to the Asylum there, to the care of the American Consul. Although a boat gallantly put off from the beach its occupants were unable to render any assistance. At daybreak next day not a vestige of the wreck was to be seen where she struck. A portion of the vessel had got washed over the reef, and, with 10 tuns of oil in casks, strewed the beach far and near. The body of the steward was found and interred.

After this fearful catastrophe the crew made their way to Otago where they found the Jessie at anchor. Captain Brace rendered them every assistance. Mr. Weller had taken his passage in the Dublin Packet, to gauge the oil at the Taieri, and twice he went to sea, but on both occasions the vessel had to put back through adverse winds. On the third occasion Weller walked overland, and thus avoided the risk of drowning, which would have been a very substantial one. The insurances were £1200 and £2000, and the wreck was afterwards purchased by Mr. George Weller for £410s. It was not until the middle of August that word of the calamity reached Sydney.

The Favourite, of Fairhaven, mentioned here, was at Akaroa on 20th June. It is probable, therefore, that the page 277 Dublin Packet had come down from the north and had picked up the unfortunate American sailor at Banks Peninsula.

During the month of June, in Sydney, a Customs Regulation Bill was before the Legislative Council, and a Committee was set up to consider the state of the law in connection with the whaling trade of New Zealand. Before that Committee both Jones and Weller gave evidence regarding their stations.

Jones' evidence on 6th July was as follows:—

“I have seven Whaling Establishments at New Zealand on which about 280 men are employed. My outlay this year in casks, provisions, slops, and whaling gear, has been £15,000; those articles were all either of British or Colonial manufacture. If New Zealand caught oil be treated in future as foreign caught, I shall be obliged to break up my establishments, or compelled to trade entirely with the Americans, from whom I should receive all the supplies required at my stations, giving them my oil in return.

“I am of opinion that it has been a practice to smuggle spirits and tobacco returned from New Zealand, but several of the parties having been detected, it is now given up nearly altogether.

“There is a large quantity of spirits consumed at the Bay of Islands in the supply of the numerous whaling vessels which call there to refit, but I cannot say how much. Besides what is sent from Sydney, there are occasionally whole cargoes of spirits and tobacco landed there direct from America. One in particular has lately come from thence to Mr. Clendon, a British subject, resident at the Bay of Islands.

“If I had supposed that it was in contemplation to levy a duty on oil caught at New Zealand, I certainly would not have embarked in the business at all, as besides the disadvantage, the risk of page 278 property there, from various causes, is very much greater than it would be here. So much did I look upon New Zealand as a British settlement that I have even sent cattle there lately.

“My men sign Articles in Sydney; the quantity of spirits supplied to them is in the same proportion as in other establishments and I send down no more than is requisite. Tobacco is supplied in a larger proportion as besides British subjects I employ a great number of natives who smoke largely.

“I have no apprentices as we find great difficulty in getting boys to go as such, even in our whaling ships.

“The stations generally occupied are purchased from the Native Chiefs, and are mostly from five to ten miles square from the beach.

“A Chief, who was in Sydney last year, sold me a quantity of land, full twenty miles square, for which I gave him property to the amount of £500. He understood English thoroughly, and the transaction was regularly drawn up by a lawyer in Sydney, and duly executed and signed by the Chief. I am satisfied with the Title, as I know him to be the acknowledged Chief of a large district, of which that land is a portion.

“The Whaling Trade at New Zealand has increased so much of late, that I expect there will be nearly double the quantity of oil taken there this year that there was in the last.

“About 1000 tuns of oil were taken in 1838, and in this year I expect, from the increased force down there, that not less than 2000 or 2500 tuns will be taken, which will give at least 100 tons of bone.”

George Weller's evidence, given on 8th July, was as follows:—

“I have made some considerable purchases of land at New Zealand—in all, I imagine, amounting to about four hundred thousand acres—all of which page 279 I purchased from the Chiefs. Attached to one of my whaling stations is about thirty-six square miles or sections, which my brother, who is residing at New Zealand, purchased from a Chief who was in Sydney about five months ago, and who had the honour of an interview with His Excellency the Governor, in whose presence he acknowledged the validity of the purchase.”

This same month “Johnny” Jones made a still further addition to his fleet by the purchase of the Success, which he despatched on the twenty-eighth, under the command of Captain Catlin, for a cargo of oil and bone.

By 3rd August the Jessie had completed her circuit of the various stations, and had left Foveaux Strait for Sydney. On board of her were the captain and the survivors of the crew of the Dublin Packet, and a substantial cargo of 190 tuns of black oil, 2 tuns of sperm, 4 tons of whalebone, 6 tons of potatoes, and a cask of seal skins. Her passengers were Messrs. Cooper, Harvey, and James Spencer. She reached Sydney on 16th August.

It was reported in Sydney in the beginning of August that Mr. Weller had a scheme on hand to locate about 50 families upon the lands he had purchased at Otago. These would be the areas stated by him, in his evidence before the Committee of the Legislature, to have been purchased “from a Chief who was in Sydney about five months ago.” This was Taiaroa, who came up from Otago in the Dublin Packet on 1st February. A number of mechanics and others were said to have expressed a desire to emigrate to Southern New Zealand, on account of its reputed fertility, and the friendliness of the natives, many of whom were employed by Mr. Weller. It was also stated, at the same time, that “Johnny” Jones intended to stock the land he had purchased.

Not long after the Jessie was round, the Magnet called in at the Bluff and found there no less than six American whalers: the General Williams, the Margaret Rait, the William Hamilton, the Amethyst, the Magellan, and the Roman. page 280 She reported the Success at Success River (Waikawa), when she passed. On 9th September the Magnet sailed from Preservation with 76 tuns of oil, 4 tons of bone, and 20 men of Jones' whaling gangs. She reached Sydney on the seventeenth and reported that five men were lost at Jones' station in July, by the capsizing of two boats. At Mr. Weller's station she reported 60 tuns of oil to be lying.

Of the Americans, which the captain of the Magnet reported at the Bluff, the Margaret Rait sailed for the whaling grounds in July; the William Hamilton, with 500 barrels, on 29th August; the Roman, with 1500 barrels, on 1st September; and the General Williams was still at the Bluff on 12th September. That was the information brought up by the Success when she sailed from Preservation on 4th October. Her voyage to Sydney took 16 days, and she brought 52 tuns of oil, 2 tons of bone, and a whaling gang of 23 men.

The next vessel bound for an Otago station was the bark Honduras, a vessel of rather larger size than was in the habit of visiting the whaling stations to transport the oil to Sydney. She measured 392 tons, and it was intended that she should sail for England, on her return. It is possible, therefore, that her charterer—Weller—had in view that she should get part of a London load at the various stations and simply complete her cargo on arrival at Sydney. This would comply with the law regarding the importation of New Zealand caught oil into the Port of London. She sailed on 5th August, and, after loading up what was available at Otago, made for Cloudy Bay and Queen Charlotte Sound before returning to Sydney. Her cargo on her return on 5th November was:—

147 tuns oil, 9 tons bone, 20 tons potatoes Weller
56 do. 3 do. R. Duke & Co.
53 do. do. A. McGaa & Co.
256 15¼

The big Otago consignment was due to the congestion caused there by the wreck of the Dublin Packet. She page 281 reported the brig Christina as being at “Wykaka” on 16th October, intending to sail therefrom the following day for the South Cape. “Wykaka” would suggest Waikouaiti or Waikawa, but as the Honduras was at Te Awaiti on this date is is probably the Waikawa of Kapiti which is intended, as J. C. Crawford mentions a Captain Munn being at Kapiti and Mana about this date, and Munn was the captain of the Christina.

It may be mentioned here that while the Honduras was at Cloudy Bay, and later on at Te Awaiti, the New Zealand Company's ship Tory arrived from Port Nicholson with Colonel Wakefield on board to select the site of the Company's settlement.

Fourteen days after Weller's boat arrived with her huge cargo of oil, “Johnny” Jones sent up one almost as large in the Jessie—245 tuns of oil, 22 tons of bone, and 300 baskets of potatoes—from the owner's whaling stations. Amongst her passengers were: E. Palmer, and W. Stirling, overseers of two of Jones' whaling stations, J. Price, H. Sergeant, J. Riley, J. Glen, and a whaling gang of 30 men.

Captain Bruce reported meeting the Henry Freeling, windbound at Whitecover (a spot the author has been unable to locate), and bound for Otago. This vessel had sailed on 3rd September for a cargo of potatoes from Otago, and Mr. Schultze had gone down in her as a passenger. It is doubtful whether she ever succeeded in reaching Otago as word came to Sydney towards the end of January, 1840, that she had been wrecked “four months since” at Tautuku, a new station just established under Wm. Palmer. Fortunately no lives were lost, and the crew sailed round to Otago in their boats.

The Jessie went down on her last voyage of the year, on 21st December, taking with her to Jones' whaling stations, Messrs. Palmer, Stirling, Wilson, Glen, Rowey, Moor, Cooper, wife and child, Rogers, Lowry, Hood, Lowe, and two New Zealanders.

Captain Bruce reported that 40 boats fully manned and equipped for war had left the “Bouca” (Ruapuke), bound page 282 for the northward. This was the expedition under Tuhawaiki, and Taiaroa, which was afterwards to figure at Hempleman's whaling station en route for Cook Strait.

The following table gives the particulars of the oil cargoes from Otago stations to Sydney during 1839:—

Vessel. Tons. Captain. Arrival. Tuns.
Dublin Packet * 108 Wells Feb. 1 74
Magnet 148 Bruce Mar. 24 45
Dublin Packet 108 Wells Wrecked
Jessie 315 Bruce Aug. 16 190
Magnet 148 Watt Sep. 17 76
Success 82 Catlin Oct. 20 52
Honduras * 392 Weller Nov. 9 256
Henry Freeling 91 Fisher Wrecked
Jessie 315 Bruce Nov. 19 245
Christina * 126 Munn Dec. 21 80

The total of 1018 tuns should be reduced by 109, obtained by the Honduras in Cook St., making 909, less what the Christina obtained, if any, in Cook Strait.