From Tasman To Marsden.
4. The Royal Admiral, 1801
4. The Royal Admiral, 1801.
Lying in the Harbour of Port Jackson when the Plumier was there was the Royal Admiral, a vessel of 923 tons, owned by Gillet & Co. of London, and commanded by Wm. Wilson. She had brought out a cargo of convicts to Sydney, and a party of missionaries belonging to the Londom Missionary Society were on board of her en route for Tahiti. The destination of the vessel was China, and it was Captain Wilson's intention to call in at New Zealand and procure a cargo of spars for that market.
The Royal Admiral cleared from Sydney on 28th March and encountered a hurricane in the Hauraki Gulf, shortly after she reached the coast. In this gale one of the anchors was lost, and, knocked about in the channel between the Barrier Islands and the mainland, the ship was saved from being dashed to pieces on the rocks, merely by a slight change in the wind at a critical moment.
After the storm had abated the Captain and a boat's crew of some 20 men made for the shore about 12 miles distant, but hesitated to land, suspecting the designs of the New Zealanders. The following morning several Natives in a canoe visited them and indicated that timber could be got to the south. They also told them of the presence there of a vessel engaged in procuring timber at that very time.page 93
Sail was made on the Royal Admiral, and when the vessel was reached she was found to be the Plumier in sore straits. What help was required the Royal Admiral gave and was directed to a forest about 20 miles distant where excellent timber could be procured.
The forest being some three-fourths of a mile from the sea, temporary huts were erected, one for the officers and the stores, and another for the men, and a fence seven feet high was built around the two. Work was commenced on the third day. The trees averaged from 90 to 120 feet long without a branch, but the swampy nature of the ground made it rather an undertaking to get the timber to the water's edge after it was cut and squared. This difficulty was at first attempted to be overcome by rollers and a slabbed road, but finally the chief, Houpa, for axes and cloths, undertook the transportation of the timber by means of Native labour, and his offer of assistance was gladly adopted.
The experience of all who came in contact with the Natives was the same. They saw curiosity give place to contempt, and contempt to consternation. After a while pilfering began. Day by day the depredations became more violent, until, while the men were at work, the New Zealanders would rush at them, knock them down, and steal their axes. A guard had to be placed over the cutters. This failed, and Captain Wilson secured two of the chiefs whom he held as prisoners until the stolen goods should be returned. This was the information given to a great gathering of Natives which surrounded the huts where 30 men, armed with muskets and cutlasses, and two swivel guns on posts, prepared to have the matter settled once and for all. Fortunately the goods were returned and peaceful relations once more established.
When the logs were taken to the water's edge they were fastened together in the form of rafts, and thus floated to the ship. It was found, however, that the strongest lashing could not stand the chafing, and rafts were often lost; the weather also was boisterous and wet; and the anchorage was filled with shells which cut the cables in lengths of 5 to 8 fathoms at a page 94 time. To add to the troubles of the ship the longboat was lost, and the pinnace narrowly escaped the same fate trying to rescue her.
The only European vegetable cultivated by the Natives was the potato, extensive fields of which were grown, and all very fine. Potatoes and fish were their regular diet, but sometimes they treated themselves to a dog.
Two Europeans were found who had been living among the Natives for some two years. Both had been well treated, and one came away in the Royal Admiral, the other remained with the Natives. By what vessel they had been left is not stated, but two years before would make it 1799—the year the Hunter called at New Zealand—and when we recall the complaint which came from India regarding her passenger list it is very probable that it was from her that these men were landed. This is the earliest record we have of Europeans residing with the Natives.
From the Thames Captain Wilson sailed for Tahiti where he landed the missionaries, and some of the timber cut in New Zealand. From Tahiti the Royal Admiral continued her journey to China.
The cargo did not produce more than half the contemplated profit, but whether from the quality of the timber, or the quantity available in the market, is not stated. The circumstances connected with the procuring of it made it stand at a very high figure to the owners of the ship, and the comparative failure of the speculation was a severe blow to the development of the trade. The portion left at Tahiti proved quite unable to stand wet and dry, and in five years was so rotten that some of the houses built of it had to be rebuilt.