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The Old Whaling Days



The first recorded visitor to this southern region, during the period under review, was an American sealing captain.

Capain Benjamin Morrell of the American schooner Antarctic sailed from New York on 2nd September, 1829, and anchored at Carnley Harbour, Auckland Island, on 28th December of the same year. Three days afterwards he sent two of his officers to look for seals, and on 4th January, 1830, they returned, having pulled round the Island without seeing a single fur seal and not more than twenty of the hair kind. Quoting his own words:—

“Although the Auckland Isles once abounded with numerous herds of fur and hair-seal, the American and English seamen engaged in this business have made such clean work of it as scarcely to leave a breed; at all events there was not one furseal to be found on the 4th of January, 1830. We therefore got under way on the morning of Tuesday, the 5th at 6 o'clock, and steered for another cluster of islands, or rather rocks, called ‘the Snares,’ one hundred and eighty miles north of Auckland Group and about sixty south of New Zealand…

“We searched then in vain for fur-seal, with which they formerly abounded. The population was extinct, cut off, root and branch, by the sealers of Van Dieman's Land, Sidney, etc.”

From the Snares Morrell visited Pegasus, called by him South Port, and there he found a Sydney gang engaged in building a vessel—probably the gang stationed there by Stewart, and now engaged on the Joseph Weller.

page 83

Sailing over to Molyneux Bay he found, situated at the head of the harbour, a village known as Tavaimoo, of twenty-eight miserable huts. The best of the dwelling places he describes as being like barns, about ten feet high, thirty long, and twelve or fifteen broad. The insides were strongly constructed and fastened with supple vines. The same materials which they used for daubing their faces they also used for painting their whares red and black. The huts were entered through a hole just large enough to admit a man stooping, and smoke escaped and light entered by a still smaller aperture. An inferior class of dwelling found in the village was about half the size of the above and seldom more than four or five feet in height, framed of young trees and thatched with long grass. A few bags or baskets containing fishing gear and other trifles constituted the only furniture.

These natives of the Molyneux were evidently of a very low standard of civilization, and, although they must have been in touch with Europeans for some time before the visit of Captain Morrell, the contact had evidently not elevated them. The American makes no mention of finding white men in the native camp. The date of this visit was 7th January, 1830.

On the tenth, Morrell reached Banks Peninsula and anchored in Cook's Harbour (Port Cooper). Only a few natives were in the bay, and they eked out a precarious existence on shell fish. From that anchorage the Antarctic skirted the coast as far as Cape Campbell, all along the route the natives inviting those on board to land. They did not come to an anchor, however, until they had sailed past Cook Strait, when some fifty natives met them and took them ashore at Flat Point, beyond Cape Palliser. From there a course was steered for the Bay of Islands.

Both Captain Morrell and his wife, who accompanied him, have published very interesting accounts of the voyage.

The Preservation Bay whaling station has long been held to be, or to share with Te Awaiti the honour of being, page 84 the first shore whaling establishment in New Zealand. Both Williams and Shortland, of whom the former managed, and the latter recorded the doings of the station, make the date of its foundation, 1829, and Shortland further says that during that year three boats were employed and 120 tuns of oil were taken at it.

On the other hand, so far as New South Wales records can be ascertained, there are no indications that any oil was received at Sydney from Preservation Inlet during 1829. Williams brought from New Zealand, in the Caroline, flax, seal skins and timber, but no mention is made of oil. Her first cargo of that commodity reached Sydney on 11th August, after the whaling season of 1830 had commenced. Unless therefore the oil of the previous year was sold at the station to seagoing vessels, Shortland must be incorrect. Before taking over the management of the whaling station, which was owned by Bunn & Co., Williams commanded the Caroline, which traded backwards and forwards to New Zealand. After he took over the management, the command of the Caroline devolved on Farley, and then on Anglin, after whom Mt. Anglem is called. Judged from the nature of the cargoes brought up in the Caroline, the establishment of the station, for sealing and for timber cutting only, can be claimed as early as 1829. The evidence points to 1830 as the date of the foundation of Bunn's whaling establishment at Preservation Inlet.

On 7th February, the Samuel returned from Chatham Island with timber, pork, potatoes, flax and skins. She had sailed there from Sydney on 29th November, 1829, to obtain some skins which had been collected by a party of sealers in the employ of Mr. Street. On arrival at the Island the sealing gang informed Captain Worth that their whole kit had been carried off by the Cyprus, which had called there with about 50 men on board. The vessel was in a very cripled condition, was dismantled of part of her rigging, and had all her sails split or torn to ribbons. page 85 The Cyprus was an old Macquarie Island trader which had been seized by the convicts at Van Diemen's Land and was now scouring the sea.

The Caroline made the first two trips of the year in February and in May with cargoes of flax and seal skins, bringing up in all 4 tons of flax and 1200 skins. Then came the first oil recorded from Preservation. The first cargo of 40 tuns arrived on 11th August, and the second, of the like quantity, on 21st October. There also came 4 tons of bone, and 125 skins. The season was a very satisfactory one and the July reports stated that at Dusky Bay the whales were tumbing over one another like porpoises, and the only danger was that there might not be a sufficient supply of casks.

In his evidence before the Lands Claims Commissioners, Williams stated that in 1830 he built a dwelling house for himself and his family, and a store, capable of holding 300 tons of goods for trade and to supply shipping. Six houses were erected for whaling companies and a boatshed for 16 boats. From 50 to 60 men were employed whaling during the season and, when that was over, sealing and sawing timber. The contents of the store may be judged from the ship's manifest on her voyage from Sydney to the station on 25th August:—2 pun. rum, 3 casks, 1 case slops, 10cwt. biscuit, 3 tons flour, 56lbs. musket balls, 3 packages ironmongery, 1 cask vinegar, 3 doz. quart pots, 1 box medicines, 1 box raisins, 2 coils rope, 12 coils coir rope, 12 iron pots, 1 doz. whale lances, 2 jars turpentine, 2 grindstones, 1 bag rice, 1 box pepper, 40 tons casks and stores. No exception can be taken to the nature or variety of the material supplied.

During the year two other vessels, the Fairy and the Emma Kemp, took part in the sealing trade. The former arrived in Sydney on 27th February with 600 skins and some flax, while the latter, under the command of J. H. Skelton, arrived on 12th November with 113 skins. 8 tons flax and 4 tons pork.