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From Tasman To Marsden.

Chapter VII

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Chapter VII.

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.

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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.

1. The Fancy, 1794 and 1795.

Towards the latter part of 1794 a vessel called the Fancy arrived at Sydney from India with word that Captain Bampton, who it was feared was lost, would arrive later on to fulfil a long overdue contract he had made with the Governor. On 29th September the Fancy sailed from Sydney, Captain Dell indicating Norfolk Island as her destination. It was generally supposed, however, that she was going where timber could be procured, to make ready a load for Captain Bampton to pick up and take to India. The vessel was armed, had a full complement of officers and men, and a guard of Sepoys. On board of her were a great number of cross-cut saws. Everything pointed to New Zealand as her destination.

Norfolk Island was reached in due course, and on 5th December Captain Dell sailed for New Zealand. A call was made at Doubtless Bay, where Tuki, who had been to Norfolk Island in 1793, came on board with his wife and family, and stayed there while the Fancy remained in the Bay. He declined to return to Norfolk Island until King would come for him; he also told Captain Dell that some of the seeds which had been given him by King were growing, but that he had only one pig left. In view of the fact that Cook is generally given the credit of introducing the pig into New Zealand, it is interesting to find that, twenty-four years after he had been in the vicinity, his pigs were unknown. Only two days were spent in Doubtless Bay, and, when the Fancy left, two New Zealanders accompanied her intending to go to Norfolk Island. page 89 Unfortunately the weather was so unfavourable that the Fancy had to return, and the Natives, thinking they had had enough of sea life, went ashore.

From Doubtless Bay the Fancy made for the Waihou, where were the forests so glowingly described by Cook. There she lay for three months some miles up the River. The Natives all the time kept on very good terms with the visitors, and often rendered most invaluable aid, but the latter felt that they had always to be on their guard. During the stay, 213 very good spars, varying from 60 to 140 feet in length, were cut; some of these were brought away, while others were left in charge of the Natives. Great quantities of flax were reported in the locality, and the Natives readily parted with large parcels of it for small quantities of iron.

On the return journey Captain Dell made Norfolk Island on 20th February 1795, in forty-seven hours from the North Cape. On her arrival the Fancy was in great distress for want of provisions, the crew having only six days reduced rations on board, and supplies of salt meat, and sugar, were also required for the sick. Sufficient was supplied out of the stores to see the vessel back to Sydney, whither the Fancy sailed on 5th March, reaching her destination ten days later.

The arrival of Captain Bampton in the Endeavour, and the subsequent movements of that vessel until her bones were left in Dusky Sound and her survivors reached their various destinations, have already been given in Southern New Zealand history, but the author has been unable to glean what arrangements—if any—were made for taking away the spars left with the Natives at the Waihou. If the truth could be ascertained we would probably find that the taking away of these spars was the errand which brought down to New Zealand some of the vessels mentioned in this chapter.

2. The Hunter, 1798 to 1800.

On 10th June 1798, a Java-built snow of 300 tons called the Hunter reached Port Jackson from Bengal, and on 20th September sailed for New Zealand to secure a cargo of spars for the China market. Captain James Fearn made for the page 90 Waihou River, where he procured a cargo which he transported to the water's edge with the assistance of the Natives, and sailed for China about the middle of October.

Returning from Calcutta the following year, the Hunter sailed again from Sydney on 20th October. Her destination was Calcutta, and her Articles gave her captain permission to call at New Zealand, but as she was back to Sydney by 14th February 1800, it is more than probable that she did not visit this country.

The Hunter sailed on her third trip on 14th April, under instructions to her captain to call at New Zealand and take a cargo of masts to Bengal, where he was to sell them and then dispose of the ship. Hingston, who commanded her, had, unfortunately, taken away no less than twenty-two time-expired convicts, and one man who was serving a life sentence. To punish him for this the officers of the East India Company took advantage of the fact that he had no authority from the Company to trade with India, and seized the vessel and took Hingston into custody, to obtain the condemnation of the former and the penalties incurred by the latter. Hingston pleaded that he had the sanction of the Governor of New South Wales for his enterprise, and had come to India to procure articles required for the use of the young Colony. On these representations the Hunter was allowed to continue her voyage, and she returned to Sydney.

On learning what had taken place, King, the new Governor, summoned the proprietor of the Hunter, who stated that Hingston's representations that he had the permission of the Governor to return with a cargo were framed to suit his own purpose.

3. The Plumier, 1801.

The third of the pioneer timber traders was the Plumier, a Spanish vessel of 250 tons, captured on the coast of Peru. Condemned as prize of war in Sydney in 1799, she was purchased by the firm of Reid & Co., the central figure of which was a time-expired convict named Thomas Fyshe Palmer, to sail for a cargo of New Zealand timber and then proceed to the Cape of Good Hope.

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Palmer had been a Scotch Unitarian minister of advanced political views, who, in 1793, had committed the crime of interesting himself in the cause of universal suffrage, with the result that the Courts of Justice fell foul of him and he had to go to Botany Bay for seven years. Some of his devoted personal friends followed him into his weary exile, and, in 1800 when his term had been completed, joined with him in purchasing the Plumier and fitting her out, as has been already described. Wm. Reid was captain.

On 5th January the Plumier cleared for the Cape of Good Hope, and on 2nd March reached New Zealand. She put into the Firth of Thames to load her cargo, and when there was driven on a sandbank and had eight of her larboard timbers broken. No doubt the vessel herself was in a very bad condition, and, with the ill-luck which befel her, and the want of workmen and materials, abandonment seemed inevitable when the Royal Admiral hove in sight and tendered her assistance, with the result that the Plumier was able to continue her voyage on 20th August.

From the Thames the Plumier sailed for Tongatabu for supplies, but, unable to get anything there, she made for the Fiji Islands, where she had the misfortune to get on a reef as she was entering the harbour, losing part of her keel and getting her rudder unhung. Before she could leave, bulkheads, tightened with clay, were erected in the afterhold to isolate the fractured portion. In this condition she made for Macao, but, the ship proving leaky, and the crew being short of provisions, Captain Reid changed her destination and entered Guam Bay (then under Spanish rule) on 10th January 1802.

Instead of receiving supplies at this port the Plumier was seized as a prize, and all on board of her were detained as prisoners. Some got away by means of a Spanish vessel bound for Manila, which called in for a few hours, and, on 20th January 1803, relief came to the remainder. Palmer missed getting away with the first party, and, taking a boat in the vain endeavour to catch up on the vessel, contracted a severe cold which shortly afterwards carried him to his grave. Some of the survivors settled at Manila.

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Palmer's remains were finally taken to Boston, Mass., U.S.A., and a monument to his memory was erected in the Carlton Burial Ground, Edinburgh in 1844. It was in accordance with the eternal fitness of things that Palmer, made a convict for his advocacy of universal suffrage, should, before returning to his native country, visit New Zealand, afterwards the first Colony of the Empire to adopt the principles he advocated. To those who interest themselves in coincidences it may be pointed out that Palmer was transported for advocating universal suffrage in 1793, and in 1893, or 100 years later, the Bill giving effect to his principles received the Royal sanction in New Zealand, and the same year the first elections were held under it.

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.

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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.

The names of the missionaries on the Royal Admiral, while at New Zealand, were John Davies, James Elder, James Hayward, William Scott, Samuel Tessier, William Waters, Charles Wilson, and John Youl.