Saturday, 31 May 2008

Message stick

Two posts today!

I've not much to say about this article, it speaks for itself really, and I don't know anything about the people involved. A nice neat story about a resourceful man.

I'm off to the South Seas myself tomorrow, for a fortnight in New Zealand to work on my boat and see some friends, so the blog will be quiet for a little while.

Source: Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India and its dependencies. New series. June 1832. pp 103-4.

A letter to the King

Finding the texts of the 1835 Declaration of Maori Sovereignty and the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi is a pretty simple thing. The letter here is often cited as a major step toward the annexation of New Zealand, but never reproduced.

It's a funny sort of letter, composed by a rather heavy English hand (Probably William Yate, who also wrote this). I've not seen the original, so can't say whether the men whose names appear at the bottom were actually signed individually, or if they drew their moko (facial tattoo) as was more normal in those days.

The "Tribe of Marian" is named for Marion Du Fresne who visited New Zealand in 1772 and was killed there by Maori who took exception to the Frenchmen fishing in a bay protected by a tapu.
There was a suspicion at this time that France was about to claim sovereignty of New Zealand, or at least parts of it. Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula near Christchurch still has a strong French influence, due to a settlement made there in 1840.
I quite like the final paragraph of this letter, where it is politely requested that the British control their subjects. It warns that should the British subjects continue to misbehave, then Maori are not going to answer for their actions. The last thing you wanted to do in those days was make Maori angry!
Source: Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India and its dependencies. New Series. November 1832. p 133-34

Monday, 26 May 2008

Shipwreck! Addendum

As an aside to the previous post, it's interesting that someone can sell the rights to film a version of the Grafton and Invercauld story, as the original accounts are well out of copyright and easily available (here and here), and there is so much digitised contemporary info available surrounding the events, that I would have thought you needn’t bother. Good luck to the seller of course (and I haven’t read the book), but it seems a waste of money on the film company's part.

Crikey, a librarian can find all the necessary in a day or two, then give it to the scriptwriter to work up. Hey - I could do with the money!

Saturday, 24 May 2008


From the Government Gazette (Calcutta). 03/01/1828. page 4

"Below the 40th parallel south there is no law. Below the 50th there is no God." Sailors' proverb

I tried looking for the logs of the ships mentioned here in the BL collection but came up short (though I hope the explanation for the "Hope" is that the Officers fell overboard along with their gear). It's very frustrating. The East India Company, as most businesses do, destroyed much of its records when it was wound up in two waves: in 1833 when it was discontinued as a trading company, and again in 1858 when it ceased its administrative role when nationalised by the British government to create the British Raj.

When I write about Flinders' wreck adventure, I'll include some of Rolla's log entries from the episode which have luckily survived, if in a rather interesting form. There may be something at the ANMM, Greenwich or Mystic recounting this episode, as perhaps not all involved were company ships.

Sealers and whalers were shipwrecked or stranded on a depressingly regular basis, in very remote areas, as it was the nature of their work to seek hunting grounds not yet cleaned out (check here for a list of wrecks and strandings for one very small area, and here to see actually how small that area is).

You can't get much more remote - even these days - than Amsterdam and St Paul, right smack bang in the middle of the South Indian Ocean. In fact they were really less remote then than they are now - as evidenced by the sightings these men made while on the island and the nature of their rescue. Captains often visited these waters to use the islands to get an accurate fix of their position, so even if they didn't land, there was plenty of traffic and attention paid was to them. These days ships rarely keep a visual watch, so starting a bonfire or waving your arms around won't accomplish squat.

The stories that come out of these adventures scare the hell out of me and fill me with a sense of awe at how tough and resourceful these people were. Imagine yourself dumped on a cold and windy barren island, soaking wet with not so much as a knife, zippo, or a snickers bar; nor even a TV crew or youtube there to witness your solitude.

I daresay I'd be dead in a fortnight, though of course all depends on how much you are able to salvage, and the company you find yourself in.

For a good example of this check out the experiences of the Grafton and the Invercauld, which both wrecked in 1864 on the Auckland Islands. Each party was ignorant of the other, and isolated for almost two years. Much was salvaged from the Grafton, and nothing from the Invercauld. Survivors of the Grafton managed to save themselves, while those of the Invercauld ended up killing and eating each other before the few left were picked up.

I heartily recommend Raynal's and Musgrave's respective books on the wreck of the Grafton. Must write about them also at some point, though a lot already has been written and apparently there's a movie being made so perhaps won't bother. Read the original accounts though.

Modern life being what it is, wealthy tourists may now visit the subantarctic reasonably easily, though if you get stranded on St Paul or the Auckland Isles without an epirb, you'll still have a long wait between hot meals. I wish the tourists (and operators) who visit these places in old Soviet oil guzzlers, oohing and aahing at the pristine wilderness would stop and think about what they're doing for a second. And then I wish they would sink, get magically glazed in a nice big iceberg, and float around Dutchman like, to act as a warning to others. I mean, I'm not a green crusader, but you've got to be reasonable. If you want to go that much, take a sailboat, and learn something about yourself while you're at it.

Actually, last year one of these tour buses did get in a lot of trouble, and sank. God knows (should he exist in those latitudes) what's leaching out of the wreck now. I'm glad no-one was hurt, but the only reason private people should take a ship to the poles is if they are going to ram a "Scientific" whaler with it.


Seems people don't want to go through the rigmarole of leaving a comment here (sorry for putting the barriers up but I don't want people cleverer than me showing me up), so here are a few:

2/4th and the battle of Cairns: I've had from a horse's mouth that some very gruesome things were intentionally left out of the book 'Tidal River to Tarakan'. For example: Timorese children playing football with people's heads. No details though as to whether they were Australian, Japanese, Timorese, Dutch or Portuguese heads.

Bad Luck Brigs 1: The granddaughter of Jack Byron. Mad Jack may not have had much luck (nor indeed his crews), but his progeny were quite something: as well as fathering the poet as mentioned, he was grandfather to the presciently, if rather unfortunately, (taking into consideration the majority of traffic on the internet) titled
Ada. She is credited with inventing the concept of the computer. That family seemed to have a habit of dying young didn't they. Lucky for us they were high achievers.


1. I've been told by the second best cataloguer in NZ (and will be the best should Pleasance Purser ever wish to lay down the mantle) that I should watch my spelling.

2. An ex-newspaper journalist/editor (who worked the business back when a high level of literacy was required for the job – no offence intended to the NY Times, London Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, and the German broadsheets) says I should watch my grammar; tells me which rules I've broken, but not where. Reading that last sentence over I'm sure I've broken another one.

It seems I need an editor.

and last but by no means least:

Friday, 23 May 2008


OK - I think I've solved my little problem of getting the images to open up. For giving me such a turn, I sentence my technology to 20 lashes of the cane. Oh, to be kind, make that 100 of the cat.

I remember getting the cuts with a cane at school. It didn't hurt that much! And it was definitely better than the drudgery of detention. Curse those liberals for making kids stay at school an extra hour when it all could be solved with a quick visit to the Principal! It just makes the poor sod who drew the detention shift resent the kids even more. Slippery slope.

Rattan is different stuff though thank goodness. I understand that the rattan cane splits lengthwise after two or three lashes and gives really nasty, multiple, razor like cuts with every whack. Nevertheless, I never thought I'd see someone saying that the cat was the humane option. I mean - why not just leave as is if you are going to multiply the strokes to get the same effect? Someone's gone troppo!

This little notice appears under 'News from Madras' section of the Asiatic journal and monthly register for British India and its dependencies (Calcutta). July 1829.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

French Pass 2

OK - Blogger doesn't seem to want me to show you the text of my scans. You'll just have to get it out from the library!

Must investigate further...

Thursday, 15 May 2008

French Pass

This image comes from the collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library.

Not all Frenchmen are surrender monkeys. Some take it to the other extreme. Witness Dumont D'Urville and his very dangerous and rather pointless conquest of what is now called French Pass, at the Northwest corner of the South island of New Zealand, in 1827.

This account is from his diaries, translated by Olive Wright and published in 1950 by the Wingfield Press.One thing I can think of to match this kind of recklessness is the passage I made of French Pass with my good friend and solid shipmate Sean in his then newly-acquired yacht Rogue, built 1892 by Chas Bailey Jr in Auckland. We were taking her from Nelson to Wellington. As a side coincidence, Sean's Birthday is the same as D'Urville's. But that story might be for another post. Or a yarn at the pub. This is about D'Urville in 1827.

This was D'Urville's second visit to New Zealand. The first he made as second in command of a scientific/ reconnaisance voyage to Australia and New Zealand. During that trip they delivered two Maori passengers from Port Jackson to the Bay of Islands in 1824 (the Nga Puhi at this time were already active traders), and it is likely through them that D'Urville learned the language of New Zealand, and picked up the sensitivity he shows toward the Maori culture in this, his second of three visits.

One of the missions of this voyage, as just about all French voyages of the time, was to try to find out the fate of the La Perouse expedition, which disappeared in 1788 (D'Urville's ship for this journey was named after Perouse's flagship "Astrolabe"). When in Australia, D'Urville heard that evidence had been found only months before by the trader Peter Dillon, in an area which he planned to investigate. D'Entrecasteaux in his 1791-93 voyage had had suspicions about Vanikoro, but poor weather precluded landing at the time. He followed in Dillon's wake and found many artefacts, but I bet he was gutted that a foreigner had solved the mystery.

Reading memoirs of some voyagers and traders of the 1820s and 30s, I sense a certain desperation creeping in, a desperation to shine like their immediate forbears and mirror or surpass their prodigious scientific and navigational discoveries. Arguably, the last great voyages of discovery and chart-making had been those of Baudin and Flinders made in the first years of the 1800s. The rest was just a matter of filling in the gaps; like here, where a great deal of risk was taken to run though a channel when it was easy to prove the existence of the island by simple survey, using the small boats.

D'Urville believed in using the local names in his charts, which I find admirable. He says himself that it seems foolish to name places which have already had names for hundreds of years. He noted that he acquiesced to the naming of D'Urville Island until its "real" name be determined (Rangitoto - the name given to the group of islands of the area). It still bears his name, as the name "French Pass" memorialises this episode, but I don't think he would have approved.

Shortly after this adventure, D'Urville received a visit from a couple of Maori men from the Cape Palliser area. I suppose they were Ngati Kahungunu men. D'Urville names them as Tehi Noui and Koki-Hore (his spelling). They remained on board through a bit of harmless guile, and stayed on until they reached the Hawke's Bay. From these two men D'Urville learned the names of the features of the Cook Strait and East Coast of the North Island, which he entered on his charts. Most of these still bear those names, though he kept the names that Cook gave the larger areas, which have since stuck in officialdom. Interesting that all and sundry at this time charted the major Islands as Ika a Maui (Maui's Fish) and Te Wai Pounamu (The Greenstone Waters) and we've ended up with the evocative names of North and South Island respectively. That must be the Scottish Presbyterian influence kicking in!

D'Urville commanded a third expedition to the Pacific, which visited Antarctic waters, and he claimed to have found the South magnetic pole. This is dubious to say the least.

D'Urville's has other claims to fame: he wrote the first novel with Maori protagonists, He brought the Venus de Milo to France, and he and his entire immediate family died in France's first railcrash disaster in 1842.

Anyway, here is his account of the passage, which shows a bull-headishness usually associated with WWI Brigadier Generals. Well, he liked a bit of Phrenology, did D'Urville...
[Technical hitch with the scans unfortunately - will try to upload them Monday]

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

John Pearse

As promised in my last post, here is some detail on the life of John Pearse, RN. This comes from The Naval and Military Press' 2003 reprint of the 1849 publication "A Naval Biographical Dictionary, comprising the life and services of every living officer in her majesty's navy, from the rank of Admiral of the fleet to that of Lieutenant, inclusive" (They liked long and explicit names them days!). The entry includes mention of the article I posted the other day.

Next time, a bit closer to home with the adventures of Dumont D'Urville in one of my favourite places on earth: French Pass.

Monday, 12 May 2008

On the Standing and Setting of Sails

I’ve been trying to work out some funny entries to the log of the Rolla on Her journey from Sydney to Canton, then to England in 1803-1804. It doesn’t make sense. Anyway, more on that later. It’s getting me behind so here is a very interesting article on the management of ships (and a few interesting remarks on private racing yachts as well – see page 412
. This is from the United Service Journal and Naval and Military Magazine of 1829. I'll post up a little bio of Commander John Pearse tomorrow. An interesting chap

...and of course the later letter to the editor:

Friday, 2 May 2008

Bad Luck Brigs 2

Here is George Bayly's account of the Calder wreck in Valparaiso in 1825. Stranded in Sydney, he needed a job. The skipper of the convict transport he was apprenticed in had been accused of smuggling tea. Bayly took discharge and shipped on the Calder, bound for Chile, as third mate. This account comes from my copy of his memoir published in 1885, "Sea Life Sixty Years Ago".

Bayly was discharged from the Calder in Chile, and was forced to sell his sextant to pay for lodgings. He found a buyer in Peter Dillon, Who later re-employed him for the St Patrick, again as third mate. I wonder if he got the sextant back, and at what price? Dillon didn't have much time for scientific navigation, letting his officers take the Latitude and did the rest by dead reckoning (he was acknowledged a master by those who left records of him).

By the time this voyage was over, Bayly had had a gutsful of Dillon and sailed back to England from Calcutta. Unable to find an officer's berth, he considered sailing before the mast. He was saved from this when he found a post shipping as sailmaker aboard the Hooghly; grateful that his father made him get a trade before he went to sea. He eventually became a trading captain himself.

I like Bayly, he takes things as they come and seems a cheerful soul. His diaries are held in the Hocken Library in NZ, and have been republished under the title "A Life on the Ocean Wave" by the Miegunyah Press. The picture of the Calder above is reproduced from that publication.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

Bad Luck Brigs

Some vessles just can't keep away from disaster, and often get a name for themselves as death ships. The same goes for certain vessel names (variations on "Titan", or "Wahine" for example), and skippers: Foul Weather Jack, also known as the "Jonah of the Wager", was dogged by bad weather through his career. He was father to John "Mad Jack" Byron (who happened to be the famous poet's father) who himself had a reputation for losing an inordinate amount of seamen on his voyages. This would take some doing in the 18th century.

Whether or not the Calder ever got such a reputation, it certainly deserved one. Owned at the time by Peter Dillon (a man of no mean reputation himself), it was run aground during a storm while at anchor at Valparaiso, Chile, in 1825. A great deal of the cargo was luckily able to be brought off and sold. However the Calder was very badly damaged. Dillon sold it off "as is where is" and bought out his partner's share in the St Patrick. During the St Patrick's ensuing voyage Dillon discovered evidence of the fate of the Boussole and Astrolabe of the La Perouse expedition and found his place in history.

The unfortunate new owners of the Calder suffered a mutiny. Here the mutiny is reported in the India Gazette (6 July 1829, supplement page 2), published in Calcutta.

Apologies for the poor quality - this source also acts as an object lesson in how not to microfilm a newspaper. In the next few days I'll publish a post detailing a first hand account of the Calder's accident in Valparaiso.