Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

From Tasman To Marsden.

Chapter VIII

page break

Chapter VIII.

The First Whaling Trade, 1801 to 1806.

The first whaling trade in these waters took its rise as far back as 1791, when a fleet of ten transports, many of which were whalers destined for the west coast of America, laden with convicts and stores, reached Sydney from England and their captains reported that they had passed through immense schools of sperm whales. The most experienced whaling master in the fleet stated that in one day he saw more spermaceti whales on the Australian coast than he had seen on the coast of Brazil in six years.

Hastily getting their cargoes discharged, five whalers put to sea to ascertain what were the prospects of success in Australian waters. They were absent only a month when they returned and reported that, although there were plenty of whales, the bad weather prevented them obtaining oil. There was a difference of opinion whether a sufficiently exhaustive trial had been given the fishing, so it was decided to make another attempt, and, in case of non-success, to proceed to the coast of Peru and load up with oil on the better known whaling grounds there.

In December some of the whalers returned, having given up all hope of the Australian “grounds."

Among the vessels which sailed in October and returned to make another trial was the William and Ann, commanded by Eb. Bunker. On 22nd November she sailed from Sydney, and on 19th December from Norfolk Island, from which place, as we have seen (page 79), she visited Doubtless Bay to try and secure Natives to carry out King's scheme of teaching flax-dressing to the inhabitants of Norfolk Island. This is the first whaler known to have been “fishing" at New Zealand, and there is little doubt that the reason of her non-return to page 96 Sydney was that Captain Bunker had not been satisfied with the prospects, and had followed the example of the others and made for the South American whaling grounds.

The next move in the whaling world was the introduction of legislation permitting whalers to round the Cape of Good Hope into the Southern Indian Ocean and whale as far east as 51°, and as far north as the Equator, subject to permits to be granted by the East India Company. The limits round Cape Horn were as far west as the 180th meridian. This excluded the eastern portion of the Indian Ocean and the Australian waters. Two years later the whaling merchants pointed out that owing to the war then raging they were prevented recruiting their ships at any Pacific ports and were also prevented whaling over a vast stretch of ocean which included the coasts of Australia and New Zealand, and they petitioned the Board of Trade to have the existing restrictions removed. This proposal the Board approved of, and invited the Court of Directors of the East India Company to favourably consider the same.

In this disadvantageous position whaling remained until July 1798, when a whaler called the Cornwall arrived at Sydney and reported to the Governor that some Spanish cruisers having appeared off Cape Horn the Southern whalers were directed to pass into these seas during the war. The Cornwall was followed by the Eliza, and later on by the Sally. The arrival of these vessels gave the colonists confidence that at last whaling would be effectually tried and a correct geographical knowledge of the seas and coastlines of Australasia obtained.

The following year—1799—on 29th June, the Albion arrived at Port Jackson, after a passage of only three months and fifteen days from England—the shortest passage made up to that time. Mr. Eb. Bunker, who had been out before in charge of the William and Ann when she tried the whaling grounds in 1791 and 1792, was in command, and the vessel was specially fitted out by the Messrs. Champions to give the whaling grounds in these waters a complete and fair trial.

page 97

With this the whaling trade may be said to have commenced, and, although we have no proof that every vessel actually called at New Zealand, we have evidence that the whaling grounds extended from the Australian coast to the waters off the north end of New Zealand, and as time passed, the whalers called in more and more at the Bay of Islands for supplies.


During the year Governor King reported that three whale ships had returned to England laden with oil. These were the Eliza, the Britannia, and the Albion. Six still remained “on the coast and off the north end of New Zealand," and, when last heard of, they were meeting with various degrees of success.


Between 30th April and 10th May, three whalers—the Speedy, the Venus, and the Britannia—arrived at Sydney, and Governor King submitted to their captains a list of questions which elicited not very much information. They agreed that the route by the Cape of Good Hope was the easier on vessel and crew; that off the coast of New Zealand the weather was as favourable as on the coasts of Peru and Chili, and that there was no material difference of time in getting a cargo; and that whalers should come to Australasian waters first and then fill up on the opposite coast. Considering they were giving away dearly acquired information, the Governor had no occasion to be disappointed with the replies. The three captains had been a good while in these waters, Turnbull of the Britannia was on his second whaling voyage, Quested of the Speedy had been some considerable time on the coast, and Gardner of the Venus was well on with his voyage.

King now regarded whaling on the coast “and off New Zealand" as “established," and so wrote to Sir Joseph Banks under date 5th June, the letter going in the whaler Speedy which cleared the following day. Of the other ships mentioned in King's questions, the Britannia cleared for England page 98 on 12th June. In addition to these, King reported that four more were filling. These were the Venus, the Greenwich, the General Boyd, and the Harriet, all of which visited Sydney later on, and cleared for the fishing grounds again, the first in June, and the others in August. Of these whalers the General Boyd was American, and was the first of that nationality reported “fishing" in these waters. She was a vessel of 302 tons and was commanded by Owen Bunker.


The first whaler officially entered at the Sydney Customs as coming from New Zealand was an Enderby owned vessel, the Greenwich, commanded by Captain A. Law. She arrived on 15th February preparatory to sailing for London, with 209 tons of sperm oil procured mostly off the N.E. coast of New Zealand. Captain Law reported that there were several whalers off the New Zealand coast—the Venus, the Alexander, and the Albion. The Harriet, Samuel Chace, which had cleared from Sydney in the previous August had sailed for England, full, on 4th February. The others named could all be expected to put into Sydney in due course.

The Greenwich was followed, on 6th March, by the Venus, one of Champions' fleet, with 1400 barrels of oil on board. Captain Gardner reported that he had left, cruising off the coast of New Zealand, the Albion and the Alexander. Some few days before reaching Sydney, the Venus had sprung her bowsprit, but had sustained no other damage. Captain Gardner had nearly lost his life while harpooning a whale. When struck it had dived and run out, and a part of the coil had got entangled about the Captain's leg and had dragged him out of the boat. For some time he remained under water, but the line was quickly cut and he managed to extricate himself and come to the surface, where he was rescued from what, when it happened, as it sometimes did in the style of whaling followed in those days, was considered certain death.

This visit to Sydney of the Greenwich and the Venus was preparatory to sailing to England as full ships. When page 99 they had obtained what refreshment they needed they both sailed for London on 18th May.

Captain Rhodes brought the Alexander into port on 31st May, with a cargo of 50 tons of oil. While cruising off New Zealand, Tuki, who had been taken away by the Daedalus, and had resided at Norfolk Island for 9 months in 1793, visited the Captain. He had not forgotten his English, nor the attention he had received from friends while in captivity. Huru had died. A young lad of about 16 years of age, Treena, the son of a chief, came on board the Alexander and in her to Sydney. While there he was taken to Government House and resided with His Excellency, it being hoped that if his visit were made agreeable it would ensure hospitable treatment to whalers visiting the New Zealand coast. Captain Rhodes was delighted at the reception accorded to him by the New Zealanders, and stated that he had purchased from them some 7 or 8 tons of very fine potatoes, and had also obtained assistance in wooding and watering, all for very small return.

Of the other vessels reported by Captain Law, the Albion arrived on 6th July with 65 tons of sperm oil, “procured mostly off the eastern coast of New Zealand." She had sailed from England on 17th June 1802, and, notwithstanding her long voyage, her crew were in perfect health. Our old friend Eb. Bunker, now on his third whaling voyage in these waters, commanded her.

On the 19th September Captain Rhodes sailed in the Alexander, taking with him the young Native chief to his home in New Zealand. The Captain's intentions were to proceed first of all to the Derwent with provisions, stores, and live stock, and, after landing these, put in some months whaling on the coast of New Zealand, before making for the coast of Peru and Chili to fill up. After calling at the Derwent the Alexander returned to Sydney, but only stopped long enough to send some letters ashore on 6th October, after which she stood away for New Zealand.

page 100


During February the Alexander was at New Zealand and sailed from there on the twenty-second of that month. Captain Rhodes did not follow out his plan of proceeding to the South American grounds, but returned to Sydney on 21st May.

On 4th July Captain Bunker brought the Albion into Sydney, a full ship of 1400 barrels, from New Zealand and Sandy Cape.

During the month of June New Zealand was visited by the Lady Nelson, an Armed Tender of 60 tons utilised by the Governor of New South Wales for public work. She had sailed from Sydney on 29th April, and, after being buffeted about by very bad weather, Capt. J. Simmonds had made for New Zealand for wood and water. On 3rd June the Three Kings were sighted, and, two days afterwards, the North Cape. Simmonds made for the Bay of Islands and, on coming to anchor there, was surrounded by about 200 Natives in their canoes. The Maoris were very friendly, selling potatoes and other vegetables, mats, and curios, for scraps of paper, button tops, old useless nails, or anything else that could be secured. The next day Simmonds went ashore and superintended the watering which the Natives carried out with alacrity. Amongst the other purchases made was a pig, for which a new razor was given, but a chief, seeing the animal, asked to have it back as it was a present from Captain Rhodes. The request was at once complied with. The following morning so many Natives came on board that it was thought advisable to quit the Bay. On 9th June the Lady Nelson was obliged to anchor in Cavalle Bay, where again the Natives were found to be very friendly. On 12th June the Captain had to cut his cable, and, after beating about for two hours, weathered the land and ran through between the mainland and Cavalle Islands. Leaving New Zealand the Lady Nelson made for Norfolk Island, and returned to Sydney on 8th July.


On 28th March the Scorpion came into Port Jackson from a whaling trip to the New Zealand coast, and reported page 101 a successful cruise of 600 to 700 barrels for some four months work. She left at the Fishery

Harriet 227 Thad. Coffin 8 23
Ann 288 Jas. Gwynn 0 22
Elizabeth and Mary 235 Jno. Kingston 10 24
John Sebastian Smith
Adonis 290 R. Turnbull 0 24
Britannia Quested
Hannah and Eliza

Of these whalers the Harriet (full), the Ann, and the Elizabeth and Mary called in at Sydney, on 25th April, 16th May, and 28th September, respectively. The Britannia sailed direct for Europe on 3rd May. The Ann, and the Hannah and Eliza were both New Bedford vessels.

Although the whalers were making good use of Sydney as a port to obtain refreshments for their men, it was not the only place where they called. We have Governor King's authority for the statement that the whaling masters who had visited New Zealand during the preceding four years found that the Natives had turned to such profitable account the seeds and other articles which he had given them in 1793, that they were able to supply the shipping with potatoes and other foodstuffs. In addition to supplying food, the Natives themselves went on board the whalers and assisted in procuring their cargoes of oil, and though many vessels had put into the Bay of Islands there had not, so far, been any altercation with the Natives. King was so delighted with the success which had attended the gifts he had made in 1793, that he now directed the Commandant at Norfolk Island to send a number of pigs and other stock, at intervals, to the Bay of Islands, by any whaling captain he could trust, to be delivered to the most powerful chief at the Bay, or distributed among the various tribes.

With the great number of whalers from New Zealand which frequented Sydney, numbers of the Natives who had volunteered for service were left stranded at Port Jackson, page 102 and were often taken from there by unscrupulous persons and shipped to places other than their homes, as, for instance, to catch seals in Bass Strait. To such an extent was this carried on that Governor King determined to put the recruiting of New Zealanders under strict control, and accordingly issued an Order forbidding the sending of them from Sydney to any island on the Australian coast, or eastward of Cape Horn, and requiring the Governor's permission before the Natives were removed. Provision was also made for their care and good treatment while in Sydney. This Order was dated 26th May.

The Order was followed up by a personal examination by King into the conditions of the Islanders in Sydney. On 5th July he had the various Natives, including the New Zealanders, assembled at Government House, where he interrogated them about their treatment and assured them of redress against any improper treatment which might be meted out to them. He offered to send home any who desired it, or to have trades taught to any who might be disposed to receive instruction. All seemed satisfied with their lot, and retired, pleased with the interest the Governor had manifested in them.

On 8th September, the Ferrett, a whaler owned by D. Bennett of London, and commanded by Captain Skelton, sailed from Sydney for New Zealand. She sighted the North Cape on the eighteenth, and cast anchor in the Bay of Islands on the twentieth. Everywhere were to be seen evidences of trade with Europeans. Potatoes were cultivated in immense quantities to supply the whaling ships. The Natives themselves used them but sparingly, saving them up to secure the iron which they so much desired for axes, adzes, and small hatchets. In trading they were sold in small flax baskets which contained from eight to thirty pounds weight apiece. At the time of the Ferrett's visit there resided at the Bay a white man who shunned all intercourse with his countrymen, and retired to the interior whenever a vessel arrived. His Native wife and his half-caste child were seen, but the description given of the latter is not complimentary to the fusion of the two races.

page 103

The particulars of the visit of the Ferrett are given to us by Mr. John Savage, who, with his wife, was a passenger on board the whaler. Savage had been assistant surgeon at Parramatta and had got into bad favour with the principal surgeon for refusing to attend on the settlers, free people, and others who asked for his services. His neglect finally culminated in the death of a woman whom he declined to attend while she was on child-bed. He was courtmartialled and the evidence was sent to Earl Cambden, Secretary of State. Savage went to England to plead his own case. On his arrival in England he wrote an account of his visit to New Zealand which appeared in 1807, and is the first published book dealing solely with New Zealand.

When leaving the Bay of Islands Savage took with him a New Zealander, Mohanga. He was probably the first Native of New Zealand to visit England, and his surprise and astonishment on coming in contact with civilisation, both at St. Helena and in London, can well be imagined. While in London Savage took him to the home of Earl Fitzwilliam, where he met the Earl and Countess, and, among others, Lord Milton, who took a great interest in him and supplied him with tools to take back to New Zealand. The Ferrett did not remain long in the Thames, and Savage sent Mohanga back in her to New Zealand under the personal supervision of Captain Skelton. When on the ship the New Zealander's powers of sight and hearing were far superior to those of any member of the crew.

Other whalers known to be on the New Zealand coast about this time were the American whaler Brothers, and the London whalers Richard and Mary and Elizabeth and Mary, belonging to Spencer & Co.

Towards the end of the year, the Ocean, commanded by Bristow, reached Norfolk Island from Adventure Bay, with 60 tons of oil, en route for the sperm whaling at New Zealand. This is the first mention of a vessel being engaged in the pursuit of both kinds of whales—the right, and the sperm. She had evidently been at Adventure Bay when the “black" or “right" whales were in the Bay, and, the season for that page 104 whaling being completed, she was proceeding to hunt the sperm off the coast of New Zealand. It was 25 years after this before whalers started to do the same thing in the New Zealand bays.

In compliance with Governor King's instructions to Captain Piper, Commandant at Norfolk Island, the following live stock were sent to Te Pahi, one of the Bay of Islands chiefs.

By the Adonis, Captain Turnbull, 18 sows, 2 boars.

By the Venus, Captain Stewart, 2 sows, 2 she-goats.

By the Argo, Captain Bader, 6 sows, 2 boars.

Te Pahi, whose son had already been at Sydney and had enjoyed the hospitality of Governor King, on receipt of this valuable gift of breeding stock, decided to pay a visit to the donor, and so, accompanied by four of his sons, he set out on board the Venus for Norfolk Island. On arrival there trouble arose with Captain Stewart who wanted to detain the youngest son as payment for the passage money, but the interference of Captain Piper restored the son to his father. Stewart, the captain of the Venus—if it was Stewart who acted as captain on the voyage—is the man after whom Stewart Island is named, and, though King condemned him for his action in demanding payment for his services, considering that the goodwill of Te Pahi at the Bay of Islands was the best reward the Venus could get, it is difficult to see why the captain of the Venus should have to remain out of his money and be satisfied for payment with a certificate of exemption from the fate of Marion, while lying at the Bay. Te Pahi described the captain who had dared to ask for payment for his services as an emoki, or man belonging to the lower order.

Some time after reaching Norfolk Island Te Pahi and his four sons were received by Captain Houston on board H.M.S. Buffalo, which sailed on 16th October for the Derwent, where the Chief met Collins, at that time Lieutenant Governor there. The Buffalo had intended also to visit Port Dalrymple, but was prevented by bad weather, and had to sail for Sydney.

page 105

Shortly after his vessel arrived at Port Jackson, Captain Houston waited on Governor King, to whom he introduced the Maori Chief and his sons. Te Pahi first presented some mats and patoo-patoos to King, and then explained that this visit had originated through the reports of the two Natives who had been to Norfolk Island in 1793, the request of his father, and the prospect of securing other benefits for the country, such as had eventuated from the introduction of the potatoes by Tuki and Huru. The chief placed himself entirely under King's protection, and would return, go on to Europe, or stay, as he thought best. His whole demeanour appeared so satisfactory to King that arrangements were made for him and his oldest son to stay with the Governor, and, in the case of the Chief and one of his sons, to sit at the Governor's table.

Following out a policy of educating the New Zealanders to the benefits of civilisation, King sent Te Pahi, about a week after he landed, to visit McArthur, the wool king of that period. Three days were spent at Parramatta, and the process of working wool and making cloth was fully explained to the party. A further development of his education brought the Chief to the Criminal Court, where he saw men sentenced to death for stealing pork. This put him into a very excited state and he even went so far as to try and get the condemned men shipped away to New Zealand “where taking provisions was not accounted a crime." Ultimately two of the culprits were forgiven and a decision come to that “neither of the others would be executed at Sydney." On this being told him, Te Pahi gradually grew calmer.

Speaking of the Chief's condemnation of the death penalty for stealing food, King says “he would never be reconciled to the idea of men suffering death for taking wherewithal to eat—a natural reasoning for one who inhabits a country where everything is common, and where their other wants are but few." As if it was not a natural reasoning for every human being whatever country he lived in! In this dispute between British Governor and Cannibal Chief posterity easily awards the palm to the unsophisticated New Zealander.

page 106

During his stay Te Pahi came a good deal in contact with the aboriginal Australian, and formed as great a contempt for that individual as did that individual form of respect and fear for him. On one occasion when present at an aboriginal fight, following a funeral of one of them, Te Pahi had an opportunity of witnessing their method of warfare. The shield he condemned, but the throwing stick he applauded; the pace he considered too slow, and, when something happened which he strongly disapproved of, was with difficulty restrained from taking part in the fight himself. So great was the terror of the New Zealander in the minds of the Australians, that, when one of Te Pahi's sons lifted up one of their spears, every man, woman, and child fled.


As a compliment to Te Pahi Governor King presented him with a silver medal inscribed:

“Presented by Governor King to Tip-a-he, a Chief of New Zealand, during his visit at Port Jackson, in January, 1806" [And on the reverse]: “In the reign of George the Third, by the Grace of God King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland."

Tools and iron implements of various kinds were given him out of the Government stores, and he was also loaded up with great quantities of presents from private individuals.

When it came to near the time of the return of the New Zealanders to their native home, King ordered the Lady Nelson for the service, and, to gain what information he could of New Zealand and her people, directed Mr. MacMillan, the surgeon of H.M.S. Buffalo, with some others, to proceed in the Lady Nelson and remain with Te Pahi for some months in order to study his surroundings. This scheme was stopped, much to Te Pahi's disappointment, by King hearing that he was to be relieved, and, not knowing what service the Buffalo might be required for, thinking it inadvisable to send any of her men away. After a residence of some three months in Sydney Te Pahi sailed for New Zealand on 24th February 1806.

page 107

On 7th April the Argo returned to Sydney from the fishery, and Captain Bader reported that he had met the Aurora, Captain Merritt, at Norfolk Island; she had just come from Peru and was proceeding to the coast of New Zealand. The Richard and Mary had been spoken several times by Captain Bader off the New Zealand coast. Other vessels which had been seen were the Brothers, at Norfolk Island, and the Betsy, off New Zealand.

The last named vessel had had a singular experience:

“She had unfortunately put into Conception [Coast of Chili] after the declaration of war against Spain [12th December 1804] had taken place not being apprised of that event; and being permitted to come to anchor, Capt. Richardson was invited on shore; where he was instantly made prisoner with his whole boat's crew. The chief officer hastily summoned the ship's company to their quarters, and was unanimously supported in the declaration of selling their liberty as dearly as possible. Their preparations for standing out to sea being discerned, a fire upon the vessel commenced from the shore, which was returned with such spirit and efficacy, that they accomplished their gallant undertaking, but with what loss, if any, exclusive of the master and boat's crew, Capt. Bader is unacquainted. She went then to the Gallipagoes [Galapagos Ils., 650 miles W. of Equador, S. America], where the chief officer dying, the command devolved to the second, whose wish was to visit this place [Sydney]; but many of the crew opposing this, and being in other respects unruly, she is supposed to have gone to England."

Captain Bader visited the Bay of Islands on 18th March, but the Lady Nelson had not yet reached that port with Te Pahi, and the place was deserted.

Captain Simmonds was no less than five weeks taking Te Pahi in the Lady Nelson down to his residence at the Bay of Islands. As a result of this protracted voyage the commander was unable to prolong his stay, and left after the page 108 expiration of only five days. During that time all the chief's treasures were landed in safety, and a European house, which had been sent out in frame, was erected on one of the most advantageously situated islands in the Bay. The hurry and bustle which must have marked the stay of the Lady Nelson at the Bay of Islands did not cause the Chief to forget suitable returns for the hospitality he had received at Port Jackson, and great quantities of valuable native curios, some fine seed potatoes, and some equally fine spars, testified to the pleasure he had experienced in Sydney and to the fact that the Port Jackson hospitality had not been misplaced.

Largely through the influence of King, first as Lieutenant Governor of Norfolk Island, and, later on, as Governor of New South Wales, contemporaneous with the development of the whaling trade, grain and animals had been transported to New Zealand to enable the Natives to cultivate the one and grow the others, and thus furnish fresh food supplies for the whalers. This policy had proved so successful, that, less and less, shipping had come to rely upon Sydney for refreshments, and, more and more, resorted to the Bay of Islands. Now Te Pahi had visited King, formed as it were a treaty of intimate personal friendship with him, and returned to establish himself at the Bay, in a house of European make, and surrounded by European implements. Everything augured well for the Bay of Islands, and for the British, Australian, and American whalers, sealers, and timber traders, who resorted thither.