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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3, September 1977

The Black Diamond

The Black Diamond

One of the sensations in Nelson in the 1860's was the seizure of the brigantine Black Diamond at Croiselles and her subsequent sale in Nelson.

In Sydney, in 1864 Captain "Bully" Hayes bought the small brigantine Black Diamond, of 88 tons register, for use as a collier and announced his intention to engage in the coal trade between Newcastle and Nelson. At least this was the story he told the Sydney merchant who advanced the purchase price on mortgage. Hayes arrived in Auckland in July 1864 with his vessel in rather a sad state. A cyclone had been encountered, most of the sails were lost, and there was 3½ feet of water in the hold. The coal was sold for very little return and when repairs had been made "Bully" Hayes slipped out of the harbour without paying his debts for repairs and supplies. It was believed that he was sailing for Nelson but he put in at Croiselles harbour where the vessel lay for three weeks while her crew caulked seams and loaded a cargo of firewood.

While there Hayes borrowed a large yacht but this capsized and sank in a sudden squall with the result that Mrs Hayes, and her baby, a servant girl, and the wife's brother were all drowned. This tragedy gave publicity to the whereabouts of the Black Diamond and the result was that the mortgagee in Sydney instructed his agents in Nelson, Nathaniel Edwards & Co., to seize the Black Diamond and sell her.

William Akersten undertook the task. William Akersten was a man of many qualities—a small man who was not afraid to undertake big jobs. Shortly after arriving in Nelson in 1855 he set page 30up business at Port Nelson and sold all the needs of ships and ships' crews. Before long he was going in for civil engineering in a big way and was responsible for building wharves and bridges as required. He was at various times a master mariner, ship owner, manufacturer, civil engineer, ship chandler, city councillor, bridge builder and something of an adventurer. (He was even advocating a cut through the Boulder Bank long before such an idea was seriously taken up.)

This was the courageous man who set out with five companions all sworn in as special constables by the Resident Magistrate, Mr Poynter. Their whaleboat was towed to the Croixelles by the P.S. Lyttlelon, with Captain Whitwell in command. Under cover of darkness the crew rowed about the Croiselles Harbour for about six hours before they located the Black Diamond at three o'clock in the morning. She was lying in a sheltered spot and everything was quiet. The brigantine was quickly boarded as all hands were down below in their berths. Hayes appeared on deck and demanded the reason for the party coming aboard. Akersten explained his mission and demanded the payment of the sum named in the mortgage or the possession of the ship. The money was not forthcoming and Hayes dared the party to seize the ship. Akersten simply ordered his men to man the windlass. A short scuffle ensued in which an axe was grabbed up for a weapon. This was sent spinning overboard and all the opposition soon dealt with. The Black Diamond was sailed into Port Nelson and anchored near the foot of Russell Street. Court actions were brought against Hayes and a good deal of feeling was aroused when he was allowed to sail from Nelson before all the various issues had been decided.

The Black Diamond was put up for sale by auction in September 1864 but the best bid of £275 was not accepted. Later John Kerr eldest son of the original settler, bought her privately for £300. At the time of sale the Black Diamond was described as being 73 feet long, with a beam of 20 feet, and rated at 102 tons, Kerr's plan was to import beef cattle from Taranaki to supply the markets in Nelson, and on the West Coast where the goldfields provided a ready sale market for meat, Kerr appears to have got his plans under way very promptly as his first load of cattle from Wanganui to Nelson, 50 head, arrived on October 28, 1864. The Black Diamond continued trading satisfactorily for a while but then Nathaniel Edwards, the shipping agent, told Kerr that the skipper he had engaged was a drunkard and should be replaced. Kerr reckoned the skipper was all right but allowed himself to be persuaded. On the very next trip the ship went aground and became a total loss. She had arrived at Wanganui with 54,000 superficial feet of sawn timber from Havelock and about half of this had been unloaded. In worsening weather the ship drifted on to the beach and soon broke up. A report at the time stated that "there appears to have been gross mismanagement with regard to the wreck of this vessel." Everything that it was possible to recover was sold by public auction on the beach but all this only realised a total of £18.4.0.

page 31

This slight setback did not end John Kerr's interest in fat stock as he took up large areas of back country for grazing purposes. He wanted a market for his fat stock but was unable to get satisfactory prices from the butchers so he built a shop in Trafalgar Street and set up as a butcher. For a while his son, Robert, managed the shop but then left so John took it over himself.

In March, 1877, this advertisement appeared in the Nelson Daily Times.

Cheap Meat         Cheap Meat

John Kerr, the man who broke the monopoly and first reduced the price of meat in Nelson, begs to inform his customers and the general public that he is, at his New Butchering Establishment, Trafalgar Street, still selling the primest meat that can be brought into Nelson Market, at the following prices: —

Mutton 3d to 4d.         Beef 3d to 5d.

Pork, veal and every kind of small goods proportionately reasonable.

J.K. begs to intimate to his numerous customers that his motto being 'Small Profits and Quick Returns', to ensure the success of his undertaking, and enable him to continue the supply of a Good Article at a Reasonable Price, it will be necessary to rely upon prompt payments. The nimble ninepence is better than the lazy shilling, but unless the nimbleness of the lesser sum is assured, the benefit is lost to the purveyor of cheap goods. He must therefore insist upon All Accounts for meat supplied at the reduced prices being Paid at the Month's End, otherwise the old-fashioned rates will be charged.

Customers are requested to notify any want of punctuality or care in the execution of their orders to the undersigned, when the complaints will meet with prompt attention.

John Kerr, Wholesale, Retail, and Family Butcher, Trafalgar Street (next to the Bank of New Zealand). Shipping Supplied.

Naturally Kerr fell foul of the other butchers. As he could not get his meat at a payable price he had a shipment of cattle sent down from Wanganui and landed at Port Nelson. Here they were auctioned but no one other than the auctioneer knew that the cattle belonged to Kerr. The other butchers forced the price up and after the sale one of them told the auctioneer that they had again settled Kerr. Actually the boot was on the other foot as they found that they had been buying Kerr's cattle and all those that he had for his own requirements had actually cost him nothing!