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The Old Whaling Days


Towards the end of 1831 the Weller Brothers of Sydney decided to form a whaling establishment at Otago Harbour, and, with that object in view, purchased from the New South Wales Government a barque of 214 tons called the Lucy Ann, and sent her away on 25th September, under the command of Captain Owen, with the necessary stores. Her cargo for the first trading establishment at Otago combined the arts of peace and war to a charming degree: 6 cases muskets, 10 barrels and 104 half barrels gunpowder, 1 case axes, 2 iron boilers, 5 casks beef, 1 case whaling gear, 1 case whaling line, 1 pipe gin, 2 puncheons rum, 5 kegs tobacco and stores. Probably the ammunition was required for the natives, the alcohol for the whalers.

When the Lucy Ann returned on 29th February, 1832, she brought a cargo comprised wholly of timber and flax: 100 spars, 10,649ft. planks, 1200 trennails and ½ ton flax, consigned to J. B. Weller.

In the beginning of April and before the whaling season opened, word reached Sydney, by the Caroline from Preservation, that a fire had broken out accidentally at Otago and burnt about 80 houses, totally destroying the whaling establishment. Through the fire a considerable quantity of gunpowder also exploded. This was a terrible blow to the Wellers and meant the loss of a whole whaling season. Strange to say, on 19th May, when she was in Sydney Cove ready to sail for New Zealand, an attempt was made to burn the Lucy Ann, but, although a reward of £50 was offered by Mr. George Weller, the culprit was never identified. On 28th May she sailed, and George Weller went with her.

No mention is made of the Lucy Ann going as far south as Otago, but the fact of the accident at that station being known to Weller before he sailed, if it was not what took page 99 him away, and the natural requirements of a large station like Otago, would indicate that the Lucy Ann would hardly be in New Zealand waters without calling there. There is the further evidence to be got from the cargo which she brought up on 3rd October. It consisted of pine timber, handspikes, ships timber, ship knees, and ships breast hooks, and would indicate that she had been at some shipbuilding station. Weller had a vessel on the stocks, just then, at Port Pegasus, and the cargo is just such an one as could well be got there.

Captain Worth told, on his return, that Mr. Weller, while on an island, had been seized by the natives with the intention of being put to death and eaten, as had been the fate of Mr. Pratt, who had gone down some time before in the Vittoria. One of the chiefs, however, was friendly to Mr. Weller, so they drew lots with pieces of wood when the friendly chief won, and Weller's life was spared, and he was brought in safety to another island where he had the good fortune to find his brother. The scene of this exciting incident is not given.

On 14th September, 1832, the Lucy Ann again sailed for New Zealand, but under the command of Captain Weller, and with Mr. Greenfield and Messrs. Jno. McNamara, Lawrence, Stephens, and Peter Shirtley as passengers. About the beginning of March, 1833, she was in Paterson's River, Stewart Island, and was spoken by the Caroline. She left New Zealand on 15th March, and reached Sydney on 1st April, with a well assorted cargo of timber which included 7000 feet of plank. She had also some seal skins and a small parcel of whalebone. Captain Worth brought her up.

On 5th May Captain Worth sailed for Otago with a whaling gang for the bay whaling, and a substantial cargo of flour, beef, sugar, salt, butter, vinegar, and pickles for their food; slops and cottons for their clothing; tar, pitch, lime, and 2000 bricks for their tryworks; 160 tuns casks for their oil; and brandy and rum for their refreshment. On his return he brought up, on 7th November, 1833, the page 100 first whale oil recorded as coming up from Otago Harbour. It was a cargo of 130 tuns, with 7 tons of whalebone, 1 of flax, 8 of potatoes, and 1 cask of seal skins. Five Maoris came up as passengers, and one of them, who was a chief, referring to fighting which was reported to be going on at Cloudy Bay, stated that the Maoris were only too anxious to live at peace with the white people. Captain Worth gave the first news of the Auckland Island wreck. He also stated that the New Zealand potato crop had been very fine, and that cultivation was going on to a great extent. Whales were so plentiful that twice the cargo could have been procured had the ship possessed only a sufficiency of casks.

At a date which the author has not been able to ascertain, the Wellers arranged for the building of a schooner at Port Pegasus, by the shipbuilding party which Stewart had left there about 1826. Captain Morrell, who called in there during the first week of 1830, says that a gang of men from Sydney were engaged in building a vessel then. This was probably Cook and his party, at the vessel which later on became the Joseph Weller. As the Wellers decided in 1831 to establish a station at Otago, this may have been the year arrangements were made between them and Cook's party, and the vessel which Morrell saw upon the stocks may probably have been gone on with for the Otago firm. In November, 1833, the Lucy Ann brought up news of the launching of the Joseph Weller, the first vessel recorded as having been built at Stewart Island.

Amongst the correspondence of James Kelly, found, after his death, in the pilot station at Hobart Town, was the following letter from J. B. Weller:—

21st May, 1833,
Otago, New Zealand.

To Mr. James Kelley.


This is to certify that the Natives of Otago have threatened to take your Ship from Capt. Lovat, page 101 stating that you had formerly killed or wounded several years ago some of their people & that they would have revenge. Most of the people also deserted the vessel at the above Port.

I have the honour to be

Your obedient Servt.

J. B. Weller.

Here we have evidence of the presence of Hobart Town whalers in the Port of Otago as early as May, 1833. Hobart files tell us that, on 1st February of that year, the Amity, 148 tons, commanded by W. Lovett, sailed for New Zealand in ballast. We have already recorded her arrival at Cloudy Bay on 3rd July, so that she must have gone on up the coast after losing some of her men at Otago. Weller's mention of the killing and wounding of Otago natives some years before has reference to the doings of the Sophia in 1817 when she had a scrap with the natives there, Kelly being at that time the captain. The account had not yet been squared.

Shortly after the arrival of the Lucy Ann, George Weller intimated to the Controller of Customs at Sydney that his brother had launched a schooner in New Zealand, and he made application for a sailing letter to be granted him to trade between the Islands in the South Seas and New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land. In the same letter he desired to be informed whether the produce of New Zealand, when imported into New South Wales, was treated as foreign. In reply he was informed, on 19th November, that vessels built in New Zealand could bring the produce of that country to New South Wales or to Van Diemen's Land, and that up to that time no duty had been levied upon such goods. There was no law, however, which empowered the Authorities at Sydney to grant a License to foreign built vessels.

Under date 20th December, of the same year, authority was sent from London to issue Licences to vessels built in New Zealand, to trade between that country and Australia page 102 as a British ship. Under this authority a Licence was issued to the Joseph Weller, described as of 49 tons and built in the year 1831.

The Joseph Weller reached Sydney from New Zealand on her first trip on 31st December, under the command of Captain Morris, with a cargo which included 33 bales flax, 7 ironwood timbers, 25 rough hand spikes, 490lbs whalebone, 13 casks oil and 3 fur seal skins. The day before she arrived Worth had sailed with the Lucy Ann, taking as passengers, his wife, Miss Mary Jackson, Captain Hayward, John Hughes, George Beers and six New Zealanders.

Harry Cook, who was born at Port Pegasus in 1827, said that his father, with a party of shipbuilders, went to Sydney on board the schooner, and when they landed there, one of the first men met on the street was Stewart. The captain of the old Prince of Denmark came forward eagerly to shake hands, but Cook indignantly declined, asking why he had been left down at Pegasus with seven men to starve for want of supplies. Stewart's reply was that he had been put into jail in Sydney for debt and could not get back, not having long escaped from durance vile. This reply rather mollified the indignant shipbuilder and peace was restored; shortly afterwards, Cook returned with some of his men to the Bay of Islands, where Harry, then a mere lad, resided until his death, 2nd September, 1911.

On 17th February, 1834, the Joseph Weller, Morris, sailed for Otago with stores.

On 26th April, the Lucy Ann, Worth, which had sailed from New Zealand on the twelfth, returned with a cargo of 10 logs of timber, 890 rickers, 165 handspikes, 13 casks black whale oil, 6cwt. whalebone, 2 casks seal skins, 3 tons flax, 86 bundles coopers' flags, 2 tons potatoes and 23 barrels of salt fish, consigned to George Weller. She then took in whaling stores and a gang of whalers and sailed for Otago on 19th May, under Anglin, late of the Caroline, whose place was taken by Bruce.

page 103

Captain Worth reported that the Joseph Weller was at Otago when he left. He also stated that a large boat had been washed ashore about 20 miles north of Weller's Establishment at New Zealand, and, from the description given by the natives, it must have been about 30 feet long. The boat had a lugger sail, with three reefs in it, and was nearly to pieces. The general impression was that it was a boat which had been taken possession of by a party of convicts at Norfolk Island. Weller's Establishment had been visited by dreadful hurricanes during the latter end of March, but no very great damage had resulted. The Joseph Weller was the only vessel that Captain Worth saw, going or returning.

The Lucy Ann returned from her second voyage on 16th August, having left New Zealand on 21st July, with 100 tuns of black oil, ½ ton whalebone and 3 tons potatoes. She brought with her as passengers several Maoris taken away by Anglin against their will. The following day the Joseph Weller came into port, having called in at Port Nicholson and Cloudy Bay, and brought Guard, of the shipwrecked Harriett to Sydney. Her cargo was 120 tuns black oil, 4½ tons whalebone and 3½ tons of potatoes.

Captain Anglin's account of his Otago experiences was as follows:—

“While the Lucy Ann was at Otago, a very large body of natives, about five hundred, arrived from Cloudy Bay, where they had been at war with a contending tribe. They treated the residents with much insolence, and struck Mr. Weller repeatedly, and assaulted Captain Hayward and most of the gentlemen there. They took the pipes out of the mouths of the servants, and went into the houses and broke open the boxes, taking whatever they thought proper from them. After this, about half of them left Otago for the purpose of going, as they said, to Port Bunn (the establishment of Geroge Bunn & Co.) which they did. The rest remained behind, and while there a child belonging to one of page 104 the Chiefs died, which, under some superstitious impression, they attributed to the visit of the Lucy Ann. In consequence of this they resolved to take the vessel and assassinate Mr. Weller, Captain Hayward, Captain Anglim, and the rest of the Europeans. On going ashore for a raft of oil, Captain Hayward was informed, by one of the native boys, of the intentions of the natives to murder them all, and take the ship. Captain Anglim immediately left off work, and before daylight next morning the Lucy Ann was in a state of defence. The natives soon found that the Europeans were acquainted with their intentions, and gave up the idea of taking the vessel for that time. Captain Anglim, previous to his departure, for the better security of the lives of the residents of Otago, and its neighbourhood, persuaded some of the Chiefs on board, and having got them below set sail for Sydney in the most secret manner, and kept the natives as hostages for the good conduct of their tribe during the absence of the Lucy Ann. The utmost consternation is felt about this part of New Zealand, by the labourers belonging to those gentlemen who are residing near Otago, and very little work can be done by them.”

The Lucy Ann had the misfortune to lose three of her men while whaling off the coast, through a boat capsizing while they were fast to a whale. She brought up a sample of New Zealand coal which was represented as clean and bright burning and likely to form another article of commerce with the Islands.

At the same time an extract from a letter dated 21st July, which came up in the Lucy Ann and which is evidently from the pen of Weller, was published in the Sydney papers.

“I am very sorry to inform you that the natives have been very insolent and troublesome; they were on the point of taking and plundering the Lucy Ann page 105 but for the activity of Captain Anglin, who repulsed them. The brig Mary Elizabeth, Captain Lovatt, from Hobart Town, very narrowly escaped capture, by making a precipitate retreat; they took her boat, gear, and dead whales, and also took out of the vessel whatever they thought proper; I did not fare better myself, as they took from me whatever they pleased, and would have killed most of us, had there not been a Chief's son residing with you in Sydney and whom I told them would be hanged if they destroyed any of us,—this had the desired effect.

“I shall be obliged to leave the place if some sort of protection be not afforded to the Europeans. What havoc have they not been making at Cloudy Bay.”

There was probably something more in the plundering of the Mary and Elizabeth than was represented in the above communication. This boat was the property of James Kelly, who had already been advised by Weller that the natives had threatened to seize one of his ships on account of an old standing grudge.

The movements of the Mary and Elizabeth following this incident have already been recorded.

During the absence of the Lucy Ann at Otago her old commander passed away. On 13th June Captain Worth went out to take tea with a friend, and, when near his own home, about 9 o'clock in the evening, fell down and expired. The verdict of the coroner's jury was “Died by the visitation of God.”

The Joseph Weller returned to Otago on 4th September.

About this date Mr. Weller decided to ship some of the Otago oil direct to England, instead of viâ Sydney, and he made enquiries of the Customs officers whether that could be done. The Sydney authorities were unable to advise and Mr. Weller chartered the John Barry, 540 ‘tons’. Robinson, to proceed to Otago for oil and return to Sydney with same before proceeding to London. The chartered vessel left on the 24th September with a supply of whaling stores.

page 106

Four days after the John Barry left Sydney the Joseph Weller sailed from Otago, under circumstances set out in a letter published in the “Sydney Herald” of 16th October, thought to be from the pen of Captain Hayward.

Otago New Zealand
28th September 1834.

“The schooner Joseph Weller arrived on the 21st of September, all safe, I believe, through her timely arrival, our lives have obtained a respite of a few weeks, that is to say, as soon as the Lucy Ann shall arrive, and the two Chiefs which went up in her shall return. They make no hesitation in telling us that they will murder us all, and divide our property among them, each man having made his selection. Since their return from Cloudy Bay, they have been so much emboldened by their success in plundering the white people there, and they take from us whatever suits their fancy, such as our clothing, and food off our very plates—help themselves to oil. in such quantities as they require from our pots. They say white people are afraid of them, for great numbers of vessels have been taken and plundered by them, and white men killed, and Europeans dare not come and punish them for so doing; and if they did come they (the natives) would all run into the bush, where they would be enabled to kill all the Europeans; but white men do not know how to fight with a New Zealander. We asked them why they wished to kill us? they answer with as much indifference as a butcher would do, that it was necessary for their safety, for then ‘no one would know what would become of us.’ We are under constant apprehension of being burnt in our beds every night; and of the Natives robbing and shooting those that remain, as they attempt to escape. Once or twice Tabooca (Te Whakataupuka), who is one of the worst disposed chiefs, and a horrid cannibal, came page 107 up with his mob with that intention, armed, but was pursuaded to desist by the relatives of those Chiefs in Sydney, until the arrival of the Lucy Ann; when after some consultation, they departed, having first endeavoured to provoke me to quarrel. However, a fire they would have, and they burnt down a Native's and a European's house. The schooner Joseph Weller, having brought the news that two ships of war were coming to New Zealand to seek revenge for the murder of the people of the Harriet, surprised them a little but when they heard the small number of men (nearly sixty) they laughed at the idea. Notwithstanding, that very circumstance has saved the Joseph Weller from being taken, and all of us from being massacred, the night after her arrival. Had those Chiefs come down that went up to Sydney in the Lucy Ann, all would now have been over with us, for as soon as it became dark, a great number of strangers crowded on board, under pretence of bringing women, when they began an indiscriminate plunder—some opening the hatches and going below—others taking whatever they could lay their hands upon, but were once more stopped by the relations of the Chiefs in Sydney; so you see everything is got ready for an immediate attack, and God only knows what our fates may be. We put great hopes in the statements which have appeared in the Sydney Papers, that two men-of-war were on the coast, and in all probability they will visit this place; if they do not come here after having told the natives they would, and seek revenge if they should kill us, our fates will then be certain. However we are all prepared for the worst, and we are determined to die like men, and not give up the ghost without a struggle. We are all well armed, and are determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible. We have petitioned the Governor for assistance, but I am fearful that it will arrive too late to rescue us from page 108 destruction. If you should get this letter, send down another vessel well armed with the Lucy Ann. I have only landed part of the goods from the schooner; the remainder I return, and have despatched Mr. Snowden, in hope that he may arrive in time to make arrangements for sending down two vessels to bring up all our property, as the whole of us intend to abandon the place should our lives be spared."

Snowden reached Sydney on 15th October, with 28 tuns oil and 3 tons of bone. He saw no other vessels, going or returning, nor did he hear anything of the movements of H.M.S. Alligator or of the Isabella.

The next trip of the Joseph Weller she was provided by the Government with six swivels and a long gun. to enable her to act with effect should violence be offered. Edward Weller came up in her from Otago, leaving there on 15th November and reaching Sydney on the twenty-sixth. The John Barry was at Otago at the same time and sailed three days before the Joseph Weller with 155 tuns of oil and 10 tons of whalebone, reaching Sydney four days later. She brought up J. Hayward, John Foster and a gang of 18 whalers. The word brought up by these vessels was that the natives had become very civil and their conduct had improved so much that Weller had made up his mind to remain a few months longer. On 4th December Captain Stitt took down Edward Weller, Philpson and William Shaw, in the Joseph Weller, to the Otago station.