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The Old Whaling Days



The beginning of 1840 saw big changes initiated in regard to New Zealand. The boundaries of New South Wales were extended to include such parts of New Zealand as were, or might be, acquired, and these were placed under the control of Governor Gipps and his Legislature, with Captain Hobson, late of H.M.S. Rattlesnake, as Lieutenant-Governor.

Captain Hobson had no sooner left Sydney for the Bay of Islands than Governor Gipps issued two Proclamations to give effect to the above changes, and one other dealing with the buying and selling of land which had been going on very extensively in the new Colony. This last declared that Her Majesty would not acknowledge as valid “any title to land which either has been or shall be hereafter acquired in that page 283 country, which is not either derived from or confirmed by a grant to be made in Her Majesty's name,” but that it was not intended to dispossess the owners of land purchased on equitable conditions, for the consideration of which a Commission would be appointed.

The Success, which had sailed for the Otago ports, via Port Nicholson, left that port on 4th January, and the Bluff on the tenth, and reached Sydney on the twenty-seventh. As passengers, came up Messrs. Jones and Heskett, and five New Zealand Chiefs. The captain reported that the Jessie had reached New Zealand on 26th December, and was loading at the Bluff when the Success left. The barque Lucy Ann had sailed from Otago to the Taieri station to load up with oil for Sydney, and there were two French whalers at Otago.

These Chiefs, passengers on board the Success, had all taken part in the sale of land to Europeans. Both Jones (the owner of the boat they had come up in), and Weller (the owner of the Otago station), were largely interested in these purchases, and were no doubt very much concerned when the Proclamation came out. A deputation was therefore arranged with the Governor, and on 31st December, John Tuhawaiki, Jackey White, and three other subordinate chiefs waited upon Sir George Gipps to enquire whether the Government intended to dispossess certain parties who had purchased land from them, and whose claim, they, the native chiefs, acknowledged. Instead of answering them directly, as some thought he should have done, His Excellency suggested, “with a chuckle,” as the report says, that the real reason for their visit was not so much on behalf of the natives' interest as it was a diplomatic manoeuvre on the part of the European purchasers of their lands, in their own interests. The result of this deputation was not entirely to the mind of its promoters, and it is reported that when they retired, one of the Chiefs expressed himself about His Excellency: “The Gubbernar no good.” Probably if the correct words of “Bloody Jack” were given the description was even more emphatic.

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Of course Governor Gipps was quite right when he suggested that the deputation was put forward by interested Europeans. Whether their visit to Sydney was brought about by the land purchasers of the South Island is open to doubt but when they arrived in Sydney, just as the Proclamation had come out, and three days after Captain Hobson had sailed for the Bay of Islands to bring about the proclamation of British Sovereignty, there is no doubt that the land buyers, who were then organized into an Association, took advantage of their presence there to urge on the Governor that the contents of the Proclamation were an insult to the Maori Chiefs. It was too patent to escape the notice of the most “official.”

The Lucy Ann, which the Success had reported as sailing from Otago for Taieri, left the Port of Otago on 28th January, with 71 tuns of black oil, and 3½ tons whalebone. She brought back Mr. Schultze, who had gone down in the Henry Freeling, Cureton, Harewood, Eager, Captain Fisher and four of the crew of the Henry Freeling, and a whaling gang of 22 men. On the same day—10th February—the Jessie, which had left New Zealand on 31st January, brought up 50 tuns of oil, 32 cwt. of flax. 18 cwt. whalebone, 127 seal skins and 400 bundles of flags. The Jessie was now taken off the coast trade and put on the South Sea Fisheries.

At Otago, during the month of February, an incident happened which threw the whole settlement into a state of extreme excitement. The son of a chief named Bogana retired on board a whaler, which lay at anchor in the bay, and remained drinking for some time. He was very drunk when he came ashore. About an hour after his arrival, and before the effects of his drinking bout had worn off, he went to the house of a man named James Brown, but becoming very abusive, was ordered out. Refusing to go, harsh measures had to be employed, and, in the scuffle, a pane of glass was broken and a piece of it struck the Chief. This roused his indignation and he hurried to his house, armed himself with a loaded musket, and returned to Mr. Brown's house. When he presented page 285 the gun at Mr. Brown, a man, who was standing near, pushed the gun to one side, and the contents were lodged in a young man, a carpenter, who had formerly belonged to the Mechanic, of New Brunswick, killing him almost at once. When Mr. Weller learned of it he had the murderer confined and a guard set over him. Shortly afterwards a loaded musket was passed in to the Maori, by some one unknown to the guard, and, getting his wife to sit behind him, the Maori put the muzzle to his breast, and his toe to the trigger, and one shot ended the lives of both.

The unfortunate thing was that two perished, and the Maoris, thinking that satisfaction should be obtained for the death of the wife, turned their attention to a scheme for revenge. Brown grew so alarmed at the local feeling that he pleaded with D'Urville the commander of the Astrolabe, when in Port Otago, to take him away. In view of the circumstances, and of the fact that he was a good Maori linguist, the French Commander gave him and his wife a passage to the Bay of Islands.

The Success was the only vessel which sailed for Otago in February. She sailed on the twenty-first, and took Dr. North, J. J. Lowry, J. Emery, and a whaling gang of 15 men.

The following month—March—another tragedy was enacted in Foveaux Strait. A man named John McGregor built a small vessel at Port William, Stewart Island, to trade among the different settlements on that coast. On the seventeenth the vessel arrived at the Island of Ruapuke, from whence MeGregor took away three men and three women slaves belonging to a chief named Robulla, and left one of his own men ashore. The Chief, having shortly afterwards learned what had taken place, with about 50 of his men armed with tomahawks, seized the poor unfortunate individual who had been left behind, and in a few minutes had him chopped into pieces and devoured. The poor victim pleaded that he might be spared until Tuhawaiki's return from Sydney, but so eager were the fiends to get at him that they would not allow themselves time to take the clothes off his body.

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McGregor appears to have made his way north. To escape bad weather he ran into Port Nicholson one evening and was surprised to find himself in the midst of an European Settlement of over a thousand people. He had some natives belonging to Wanganui on board, and these he was en route to land at their home, and, with the pigs and potatoes he was to be paid for his services, he intended to return to the south and trade. These were probably the slaves he had run off with. As a result of this incident he named his 30 ton schooner the Surprise, and E. J. Wakefield chartered her to take him to Wanganui, on which voyage he sailed on 14th May.

On 12th March, “Johnny” Jones sent down in the Magnet the first regular shipload of settlers to Otago. They comprised T. Jones, wife and family, Dr. Carney, wife and family, Messrs. G. Glover, B. and W. Coleman, C. Flower, T. Pascoe, W. Kenny, J. Beale, J. Street, F. Prior, and families, W. George, J. Hughes, W. Trotter, J. Reid, W. Johnstone, and five New Zealand Chiefs. The five Chiefs were evidently the same men who had come up in the Success and who had the celebrated interview with Governor Gipps. In addition to her stores of flour, tea, sugar, biscuits, &c., she took down 20 head of cattle. The European passengers were going down to establish an agricultural settlement near Waikouaiti.

About the end of March appears a notification of what is probably the first auction sale of land in the South Island. The estates were on the banks of the Mataura and were set out in the following advertisement.

New Zealand Estates.

Mr. Samuel Lyons is instructed to sell by auction at his Temporary Rooms George Street. This Day, March 27, at eleven o'clock precisely—

Twelve important Estates on the banks of the River Tetowis in the Middle Island of New Zealand having a frontage of one mile to the River, by twenty miles in depth, and containing twenty Sections, or twelve thousand eight hundred acres each lot.

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The Tetowis is a River of considerable magnitude which empties itself into Foveaux Strait, and is within three or four miles of the secure and well-known harbour of “The Bluff,” in and around which several whaling establishments have been for some time established, it is likewise in the vicinity of Jacobs River, where several large estates have been lately purchased, and improvements commenced. In fact, the fine harbours on the coast, the richness of the soil, and level character of the country, leave no doubt that it will become one of the most thriving positions in New Zealand.

The land was purchased from Towack, Chief of the Southern parts of New Zealand, and duly conveyed by deed of Feoffment, dated 8th December, 1838, and therefore comes within the proclamation.

The original title deeds are left with the Auctioneers for inspection, and the purchaser will receive a conveyance in conformity therewith; the buyers will be let into immediate possession of the land upon payment of the purchase money.

Terms at time of sale.

The Tetowis is the Toetoes, the Mataura River, the former name being given to the district at its mouth, and it is not incorrect to describe it now as “one of the most thriving positions in New Zealand.” The price realised at the sale was seven pence per acre.

On 30th March Otago was visited by D'Urville's Expedition, and the Astrolabe and the Zelée remained in the harbour until 3rd April, when they sailed for Akaroa. Their movements, however, can better be described under another heading. While D'Urville was in port, there were also there the Havre, sailing under his own flag, and two Americans and one British vessel, the names of which he did not record.

When Captain Bruce landed his pioneer settlement he reported that Otago had been filled with shipping during the month of May. Up to the twentieth, when he sailed, page 288 the Fanny, the Columbus, the Anne Maria, and the Newton, of America, and the Havre, the Earnest, the Elizabeth, the Oriental, and the Rabance of France, had all been there. At the Bluff the Magnet left, on her return, the Alexander Barclay of America, and at Horse Shoe Bay, on the twenty-third, a Portuguese vessel called the Adventeur, 19 months out, and with 3500 barrels on board. This was the second Portuguese whaler, the other—the Speculacao—having been at the Auckland Islands in March.

The Sarah and Elizabeth which Weller had chartered to take down cattle to Otago, and which had left Sydney on 24th March, sailed from Otago on her return journey the same day as the Magnet—20th May. Four days afterwards she was spoken by the Magnet off Stewart Island and the two were in company almost the whole road to Sydney.

On 3rd June the Magnet arrived with Messrs. George. Murphy, Green, Dyer, and Williams, as passengers, and a cargo of 78 tuns of black oil, and 2 tons of whalebone. On 5th June Catlin brought up the Success from Kawhia. She had also been at Otago earlier in the year. On 6th June the Sarah and Elizabeth arrived with a cargo of potatoes. The next day British Sovereignty was proclaimed at Stewart Island, and on the thirteenth H.M.S. Herald, called in to obtain the signature of the Otago Chiefs to the Treaty. Four days afterwards the Middle Island was formally proclaimed.

So bad had the whaling season proved that, up to this date, not a single whale had been secured by the gangs at Otago, the first being secured there on 8th July. Indifferent success was the experience of the other stations as well. The explanation given of this failure was the great number of vessels on the coast and the growing enterprise of officers and crews in following the fish to their resorts in the bays and inlets. They so “gallied” the poor brutes that those which survived forsook their long established rendezvous, to seek new grounds for food, and to bring forth their young in peace.