Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

From Tasman To Marsden.

The First Timber Trade, 1794 to 1801

The First Timber Trade, 1794 to 1801.

Up to 1794 attempts had been made in two directions to develop trade on the New Zealand coast. The William and Ann, trying sperm whaling off the coast, had visited Doubtless Bay in 1792, and, later on in the same year, the Britannia had left a sealing gang at Dusky Sound. The results in both cases had been disappointing. Now the timbers of New Zealand were tried as a means of trade.

Keeping his eyes open for likely directions in which trade might be developed, Cook saw nothing on the New Zealand coast which held out greater prospects than the procuring of spars for ships and timber for their building. The Waihou River impressed him most, and the account of his voyage, which was used as a text-book for all captains navigating the Southern Seas, thus describes what he saw:

“We proceeded up the River [Waihou] till near noon, when we were fourteen miles within the entrance… we landed on the west side, to take a view of the lofty trees which everywhere adorned its banks. They were of a kind we had seen before, though only at a distance, both in Poverty Bay and Hawke's Bay. Before we had walked an hundred yards into the wood, we met with one of them which was nineteen feet eight inches in the girth, at the height of six feet above the ground; having a quadrant with me I measured its height from the root to the first branch, and found it to be eighty-nine feet; it was as straight as an arrow, and tapered but very little in proportion to its height; so that I judged there were three hundred and fifty-six feet of solid timber in it, exclusive of the branches.… Our carpenter, who was with us, said that the timber re- page 87 sembled that of the pitch pine, which is lightened by tapping; and possibly some such method might be found to lighten these, and they would then be such masts as no country in Europe can produce.… The river at this height is as broad as the Thames at Greenwich, and the tide of flood as strong; it is not indeed quite so deep, but has water enough for vessels of more than a middle size, and a bottom of mud, so soft that nothing could take damage by running ashore."

The exact spot referred to by Cook as the site of the lofty trees is a matter of the greatest interest, and the author is indebted to Mr. J. B. Thompson, the engineer superintending the land drainage works on the Hauraki Plains adjoining the Waihou River, for the following results of his investigations:—The trees were abreast of the Hikutaia Station on the Auckland-Thames Railway, on the west bank of the Waihou, to which river, as well as to the Firth of Thames and the Hauraki Gulf, Cook gave the name of Thames River. This spot is fourteen miles from the mouth. The trees could not have been kauri, as none grew on the low marshy land; a few matais grew in the locality, but the great majority of the trees were kahikateas, and the fact of similar trees being mentioned as having been seen at Poverty Bay supports the view that these were the trees so much admired by Cook, to whom, and to his carpenter, in the absence of any knowledge of their durability, their great height would appeal.

In addition to the above the published report of the Endeavour's voyage went on to state that, if ever the settling of the country was thought worthy of the British Government, the best sites for the colonies would be the Bay of Islands or the Firth of Thames, both of which places had facilities for inland communication and for shipbuilding.

Later on, when a scheme for establishing a Settlemen in New South Wales was being discussed, the above quotation from Cook's Voyages was referred to, and the procuring of timber for the King's yards commended to the proposed colony as a very likely and profitable branch of trade.

page 88

When the Settlement became an accomplished fact in 1788, and merchantmen began to run out to New South Wales with cargoes, a copy of Cook's Voyages was a necessary part of the equipment of every captain's library, and every sailing master knew, on the authority of Cook, that cargoes of the finest spars and timber in the world could be got at the Thames for simply the taking away.

The first four ships to test Cook's judgment, and the steps they took to do so, so far as they can be ascertained, will form the subject of this chapter.