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When Abel Dottin William Best, ensign of the 80th Regiment, on 26 June 1837 embarked on the James Pattison and began this journal he was a young man bound for the other side of the world and starting on his life as a soldier. We know very little about him. His father, John Rycroft Best, had property in Barbados and was a member of the Legislative Council there; his mother was French, the daughter of Comte Richard de Vins, seigneur of Vilette-Nivernois. 1 He was born on 16 July 1816, and when 15 years old, entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, on 4 October 1831. 2 He left it on 30 June 1835, 'superannuated', that is, he had not completed the full course before reaching the age of 19. From this we may assume that he was not a very brilliant student, and perhaps it is not surprising that almost two years passed before he purchased an ensign's commission in a regiment then being sent on the depressing task of guarding convicts in New South Wales.
We know very little about this young soldier, but we can find him in his journal. It was an age devoted to the keeping of journals, particularly of travel and foreign parts, and he had promised his family to keep one from the day of embarkation. At the end of his first manuscript volume he explained its purpose. It had been something on which to pour out overflowing spirits or to turn to for comfort and steadiness when he was depressed. It had recorded his thoughts and feelings, to make them known to his family and redeem his promise; it was not intended for wider circulation. Best seemed to have his family clearly in mind as he wrote this volume, and the image of his ship days is very sharp - the books he read; his shooting of birds and attempts to skin them; the fishing; the routine of meals; his nightly wakings and rounds of the sentries; his watchful zeal and his obvious fear of the convicts; and his relations with his fellows in the cuddy.
In this last respect the journal is outstanding among many such records. The cabin was not large, its occupants had very little in common, and the circumstances of the voyage were not such as to make them cast away their differences, but only to submerge them from politeness and necessity; and sometimes the submergence was far from complete. The passage was rated a swift one and there was no serious trouble or illness, but we may all feel relieved at the end of those 101 days and the inevitable games of backgammon.
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The convicts get very little mention - their quarters are not described, and very few of the prisoners seem to catch his attention; if the James Pattison's cargo had been cattle, Best could hardly be more indifferent to them, apart from his apprehensions over any slackness of the guard, though in a letter he allowed they were 'as orderly as such a set of rascals can be supposed to be'. 3 The sulky behaviour of a soldier is noted, however, and the quarrels of the soldiers' wives are occasionally set down with a simple immediacy that brings before us all the close squalor of the steerage.
But, if the first volume is a clear and, apart from the convicts, almost self-explanatory record of his days, this character thereafter gradually changes. The family recedes. Best records his doings, but gives little account of the background against which he moves. Within the Army the service of convict-driving was rated so unpleasant as to deserve rapid promotion. Presumably Best found it too distasteful or too uninteresting to write about - he does what he has to do and thinks about it as little as possible. He mentions a severe military flogging with curt repulsion, and spares three words for the cause of it. When he attends a court martial he describes the journey riding to it, but gives nothing on its purpose or outcome. His journal skips over duty weeks in a few words but expands on his shooting and kangaroo hunts; records long jolly evenings at mess, visits of fellow officers, and his own evasion of a tyrannical order when embarking for Norfolk Island.
Nor, after his initial outburst on convicts, did he find New South Wales sufficiently interesting to describe. By 1837 there was a large free population, farmers were spilling out into the hinterland, and the colony, no longer a mere convict camp, was dedicated to sheep and the men who owned them. Though Best mentioned his dinner nearly every day, he seems to have taken the merinos quite for granted, except for his references to wool drays and their hard-driven bullocks, and to the pressing of wool. And apart from Sir George Gipps's inaugural levee and ball, in gratifyingly good style, a disastrous ball on St. Patrick's day, and one immortal picnic, colonial society was not much more honoured by his pen.
At Norfolk Island, that centre of punishment, journal-keeping was evidently difficult. No doubt it had become a habit, something of a duty, and thereby somewhat irksome. It was more irregular, particularly after the departure of the amiable Captain Gunton and his wife, a couple who had played a lively and necessary part in the diversions of the officers; and in April 1839 it lapsed altogether, except for a few notes obviously written up a long time after. Only in these notes are the convicts mentioned at all - the daily entries are all of game shooting, cliff walks, picnics, bathing, the weather, occasional sicknesses, and criticisms of Major
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Anderson. Certainly if the journal was still intended for the gentle eyes of the 'beloved Sister R. E. B. Best', the grim business of Norfolk Island would have been distressing. Best himself thoroughly accepted the view that convicts were there to be punished, but he did not care to dwell on the dismalness of the human society on this lovely island - the listless shirking degraded convicts in their squalid prison; their ignoble overseers; the soldiers easily sinking into slackness under the warmth of the climate and the overwhelming inadequacy of the establishment; and the officers themselves depressed by their isolation and by the ugly people and ugly system they administered. It was better to think about the picnics.
There are, then, many background things not explained in the journal. Some were common knowledge at the time, some were unpleasant, and some just did not interest Best. The journal in some parts is more a commentary on what was going on than an account of it. To get the value of his comments one must bear in mind something of what he took for granted in his several tasks, in the convict ship, at Sydney, and at Norfolk Island.
Convict ships 4 were merchantmen chartered complete with officers and crew by the Admiralty for each voyage. Some ships carried convicts many times, some once only. The James Pattison had made one earlier voyage, between October 1829 and January 1830. There were many 'hell-ships' in the first years of transportation, when convicts were at the mercy of rascally contractors or sadistic captains too readily afraid of mutiny, but as defects appeared the authorities tried to tighten the contracts, and affairs improved very much after 1815 with the appointment by the Admiralty of surgeon-superintendents and the gradual increasing of their powers.
In each ship this officer became the chief authority over the convicts, and the master of the ship and the commander of the guard were expected to heed his requests, though the power of punishment was entrusted conjointly to the surgeon-superintendent and the master. The instructions of the former 5 show how comprehensive were his duties. He knew the terms of the ship's charter, had lists of the stores as well as of the convicts, and had to keep a number of returns and a detailed journal. Every cask of provisions was opened on deck before him and he noted in his journal its state, mark, and contents, and thereafter saw the salt beef and pork placed in padlocked harness casks and the keys handed to the mates.
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These arrangements checked both the master and officers from stealing the convicts' food in order to sell it, and the contractors from giving short supplies. Further, he had to see that each convict got his due share without deduction, and that food was properly cooked and served at regular times. He was to admit the convicts on deck as much as possible, consistent with safety. He was responsible for the cleaning and ventilating of the convict's quarters, and for the cleanliness of the convicts, whom he inspected daily. The sick he saw twice daily. He should do his best to establish schools, especially for boys, who were to be kept apart from the men; and he read divine service on Sundays.
Among doctors, the convict service was not highly regarded. There was more lucrative and congenial work ashore, or with the Army and Navy. Thus the qualifications and character of those in the service were often of low standard - many were either novices fresh from the lecture rooms or failures in the profession. Some again were emigrating and worked their passage this way.
The ships were ordinary British merchantmen, square rigged, and of moderate tonnage; for many years they were usually between 200 and 400 register tons and later they were generally under 600 tons. They were well inspected by naval authorities when chartered, and no convict ships foundered on the voyage to Australia, though there were such losses in other trades. It seems that the convict service used neither the best nor the most decrepit ships. It chartered the best ships tendered, and with few exceptions these were well found and seaworthy. After Lloyds' Registry was established in 1834, only vessels rated A1 or AE1 were employed. AE1 rating meant that vessels were past a certain age, and they had not been sufficiently repaired to continue or restore their A1 certificates, but they were well found and equipped. Among the transports to Sydney the classification of which can be established between 1835 and 1837 thirteen were A1 and 23 were AE1; from 1838 to 1840, twenty were Al, eleven were AE1.
Convict ships made leisurely voyages, especially in the earlier years, when they normally called at two or three ports; later, when the direct voyage became increasingly common, the length was notably shortened, but even so only a few took less than 110 days. The James Pattison, square rigged, 513 tons, built at London in 1828, made her voyage with Best between 16 July and 25 October 1837, one hundred and one days. This was the fastest passage among the 15 convict ships sailing to Port Jackson that year; the slowest was the 155 days of the old Henry Wellesley, built in 1804, which called at the Cape of Good Hope. Six of these ships took between 101 and 110 days, six between 110 and 120, and three between 120 and 155 days.
Transports normally carried about 200 prisoners, guarded by soldiers going to serve either in Australia or India. Usually there were one or two
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officers and about 30 other ranks, though in the later, larger ships the guard sometimes totalled about 50. The ships were fitted up to a standard pattern. The prisoners were housed in the between decks, where on either side were two rows of sleeping berths, one above the other, each 6 ft square and holding four convicts, so that each man had a space 18 in. wide to lie on. The hospital in the fore part of the ship was separated from the prison by a bulkhead with two locked doors. Boys had their quarters apart from the men. At the fore and main hatches strengthened doorways with thrice-padlocked doors secured the convicts at night; the ladders by which they climbed to the deck by day were drawn up, and a lantern was kept burning. The prisons, despite the cleaning routines, were gloomy and airless, very unpleasant in the tropics and during rough weather, when even though battened down they were often very damp. Each mattress, blanket, and pillow, and every article of clothing, was stamped with consecutive numbers, one for each man, to make inspection easy, and to prevent stealing by the lazy men who, rather than wash a dirty shirt, would throw it overboard and steal a clean one.
Idleness and tedium were persisting evils. In these cramped quarters not many occupations were possible except oakum picking for the men and sewing for the women. Dancing and singing were encouraged as healthful and cheering diversions, and there was usually some effort made to organise those who could read and write into teaching those who could not.
The convicts' food was two-thirds of navy rations. Peter Cunningham, a surgeon-superintendent of the 1820s, gave this account of it: '... three-quarters of a pound of biscuit being the daily allowance of bread whilst each day the convict sits down to dinner off either beef, pork or plum pudding, having pea soup four times a week, and a pot of gruel every morning, with sugar or butter in it. Vinegar is issued to the messes weekly; and as soon as the ship has been three weeks at sea each man is served with one ounce of lime juice and the same of sugar daily, to guard against scurvy; while two gallons of good Spanish red wine, and one hundred and forty gallons of water are put on board for issuing to each likewise; three to four gills of wine weekly, and three quarts of water daily being the allowance. The sick are in like manner provided with all requisite medicines and comforts, as well as with warm dresses, spare bedding, sheets, and every description of hospital furniture.'
Each mess of six convicts was supplied with cooking and eating utensils, and in women's ships they were also blessed with tea kettles. Mess captains were appointed from the convicts, who, besides drawing the rations, were responsible for the tidiness and orderly conduct of the mess. Two delegates, chosen in succession from the several messes, daily saw the provisions weighed out. Half-a-dozen of the more deserving mess captains were chosen as captains of the deck, to see that the surgeon's orders were
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obeyed and that the decks and prison were daily scrubbed, swabbed, scraped, or dry holystoned, according to the weather, all prisoners staying on deck till the prison was dry. At night, if it was thought necessary, 12 or 14 of the most trustworthy would be chosen as watchmen, to keep watch in pairs for two-hour stretches. At every half hour, in a tone of voice sufficient only to be heard, they would report to the sentries at the hatchways, 'All's well', and if there were any disturbance they would report it at once to the sentries. 6 Captains of the deck were rewarded with a double allowance of wine when it was served, and a glass of rum on the other days; while the others in office got only the double allowance of wine, but were allowed to carry it away.
Flogging was a frequent and severe punishment on the early transports, but under the surgeon-superintendents it became much milder and on many ships did not occur at all. Another common punishment was ironing with single or double irons - that is, with handcuffs or with both handcuffs and leg irons. Sometimes, especially at night, prisoners might be linked together with a chain passed through their irons and fastened to a ring bolt at either end. Ironing too was much diminished in the later years of transportation; offenders instead were made to stand erect in a narrow box on deck. In the James Pattison the box several times held unruly soldiers.
In all, it could be held that the worst features of convict voyages had ended with the dawn of the nineteenth century, and from the 1820s onwards there were relatively few grave complaints. Conditions on the later ships, probably because discipline could be maintained aboard, were better, or at least no worse, than in the early emigrant vessels, and convict ships had a better health record and (as already noted) fewer marine disasters.
What sort of people were the convicts who filled the James Pattison and who excited Best's indignation when he came to Sydney? It seems necessary to cast a brief glance over the convict system at this time, both to explain his occasional references to prisoners, and to suggest why references are so few. It seems clear from this near-silence and from one or two remarks that Best thoroughly disliked his task. It also seems clear that he hated the convicts not only for their crimes but because they appalled and frightened him. His attitude was very similar to that of a South African believer in apartheid; or of Browning's 'Childe Roland' on seeing a blind and wretched horse - 'he must be wicked to deserve such pain'. Much as one regrets his inhumanity, his impulse literally to
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lash them down, one can in a measure understand these things as the reaction of a young man fresh from English middle-class life faced suddenly with massed convicts. Nor was he alone in this revulsion; probably it was shared by many refined and educated people. Louisa Meredith, an acute observer of many aspects of Best's New South Wales, could write of the chain gangs - 'the villainous countenances of the greater number, the clank of their chains, and the thought of how awful an amount of crime had led to this disgraceful punishment, made me positively dread passing or meeting a band of the miserable wretches...' She went on to make it clear no sympathy need be wasted on them;
'... [they] do not perform on an average the third part of the labour which any English mechanic or labourer does gladly and cheerfully. Their rations of food are wholesome and abundant, their huts or barracks provided with every necessity. When sick they have the best medical care and whatever additional luxuries their state may require; and when I apply to them the term "miserable wretches" I would be understood as applying it to their crimes and social degradation, not to their corporal sufferings.' 7 No doubt the good lady believed all this - she mentioned the guns of the guards, but presumably she had not seen the triangles of a jail, nor had she inspected the necessities of the huts. Best could not have shared her ignorance, yet he was very close to her point of view.
Certainly convicts in the mass were not attractive people, and wiser men than Best found them hopeless and depressing in the extreme. In turn, his attitude illustrates how the lack at all levels of informed, efficient superintendence was one of the great weaknesses - nay, evils - of transportation in Australia.
What sort of people were these criminals to start with? Economic and social changes in England during the earlier part of the century produced great poverty, accentuated by the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. Thousands lived in wretched filthy dwellings on bread-line wages, with no resource against being out of work or sick except the workhouse, run on prison lines and dreaded like prison; and with the ruinous joys of cheap liquor their only attainable pleasure. They were ignorant, hopeless, and reckless. Society gave them so little for their lawful labour that many would get what they could outside the law.
The legal reforms of the twenties and thirties had removed the penalty of transportation from many minor crimes; the application of death was likewise narrowed. Presumably those transported thereafter were more desperate criminals than in earlier days, when theft of a few shillings could send a man to New South Wales for seven years, and a sheep or two would send him there for life. From 1820 to 1850 the majority of those transported were young men, between 18 and 20 years old, mainly from the
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cities of Britain, and convicted of serious crimes. 8 Still, for many of these crimes, transportation for seven years, 14 years, or life - there were no shorter sentences - now sounds painfully severe.
Transportation was a punishment very imperfectly understood by the potential criminal. Being remote, it was largely unknown. Those who returned from it were those who had been lucky. Some, to induce their wives to follow them, wrote tales of comfort; and, though grisly stories surely circulated also, to people sufficiently wretched sentence of transportation may have offered hope for a better life. All these factors, distress at home, severe laws, and ignorance of the full misery possible in convict life, helped to fill the transports with men far from virtuous but still only light-weight criminals.
But though a man might be a light-weight criminal when convicted, the odds were high that he would be an accomplished villain before he had served his time. Before embarking, and on the voyage, and in the prison barracks, convicts were herded closely together without any classification, the wicked with the less wicked. A few depraved, defiant men could soon corrupt and harden the milder sort, and every vice from profanity to bullying and sodomy could be learned in such schools, along with the niceties of pocket-picking and burglary, and the philosophy of every Jack for himself and devil take the hindmost. Docile men, targets for the constant jeers and persecutions of the recalcitrant, assumed recalcitrance themselves, were punished for it, and moved steadily deeper into the vortex of crime and punishment.
When Best arrived, Sydney's convict settlement was just half a century old, during which time 43,500 men and 6,800 women convicts had been received, at the rate of nearly 2,500 a year during the last five years 9 . There had never been prisons to house more than a fraction of them. In the early days they had lived in huts they made for themselves and worked at government tasks from 6 a.m. till 3 p.m. Later, when free settlers came needing cheap labour, it was effective to 'assign' convicts to them as servants. During these 50 years convict management and discipline had varied very much - there had been great laxity at some stages and at others great harshness; and there were throughout attempts to diminish the laxity and regulate the severity. By the later 1830s it might be said that while there were very few chances of prisoners getting off lightly, the worst excesses of magistrates and masters had been curbed.
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In September 1836 the total population of New South Wales was 77,096. Of these 27,831 were convicts (25,254 men, 2,577 women) of whom 2,190 were in road and ironed gangs, and 1,571 in penal settlements; 6,706 lived in towns, while the rest were assigned in country districts where labour was much needed and there was less chance of dissipation than in the towns. There were 49,256 free men, women, and children (of whom 17,000 had been convicts); 28,740 lived in the towns, 20,516 in country districts. Sydney itself claimed 16,211 free people and 3,518 convicts. 10
Assignment was essentially a slave relationship. The convicts, mostly unskilled labourers, worked without wages but were fed, clothed, and housed by their masters. They were generally resentful and took every opportunity of avoiding work, while the masters, aware that only great labour could win prosperity out of the raw new land, strove to get as much work as they could from their unwilling servants. Consequently there were regulations by which the convict servant could be punished with up to 50 lashes or from six to 12 months in a road or ironed gang for faults that had nothing to do with English law - neglect of work, laziness, disobedience to orders, insolent or insubordinate conduct, let alone drunkenness, absence from work, or pilfering. The master could not beat his servants himself, but he needed only to charge them before a magistrate with these or similar misdemeanours to have them very efficiently flogged by a convict scourger. Magistrates, being employers themselves, understood a master's problems, and the extent of flogging was enormous. 11 True, a servant who proved that his master starved or ill used him could be transferred to another, but except in extreme cases the master would readily replace him.
As for food, the basic ration per week was 12 lb of wheat or 9 lb seconds flour; or 3 1/2 lb maize meal with 9 lb wheat or 7 lb flour; together with 7 lb beef or mutton or 4 1/2 lb salt pork; 2 oz salt; 2 oz soap. 12 Anything extra that the master supplied was an indulgence and at his pleasure. Many of course allowed more, and served out tea and sugar, milk and vegetables. The convicts themselves ground the wheat with small steel hand mills in their own time - that is, outside the 10 hours a day due to their masters. The flour made heavy cakes which were baked in the embers of their fires, and afterwards were often fried in the pork fat. 13 Most of the convicts lived in rough huts on the farms or stock stations of their masters; town-dwelling ones were more variously lodged. They wore no uniform, but
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were entitled each year to two jackets, three shirts, two pairs of trousers, three pairs of shoes, and one hat or cap, issued at certain dates.
Assignment, as its critics declared to a select committee of the House of Commons very soon after Best reached Sydney, was a most uneven punishment, depending wholly on the master. With an easy master, particularly a small farmer or shopkeeper, who needed but little help, convicts could be little worse off than ordinary servants. Food and treatment were much the same, the loss of liberty was very slight, and they were often paid small, though illegal, wages - during the 1830s, £10 per annum was very often given. But with a hard master, particularly on a large estate with many servants under the charge of overseers, themselves usually brutalised ex-convicts, the assigned man could be a slave indeed.
On the other hand, it must be remembered that many convicts were, or speedily became, very poor characters, lazy, thievish, and drunken, exploiting the weak master as far as possible. Liquor was always close at hand to betray them, and as by law they were not allowed to possess money or goods, they could very rarely save anything to better themselves.
As for the women, Best's strictures are not surprising. The critics of transportation declared them the greatest nuisance in the colony. 'When a woman is bad she is usually very bad' was an opinion widely held. The women transported were, with few exceptions, a coarse lot; there was no adequate prison to keep them in quietness and order; nothing was done to reform them; and the whole system, or rather lack of it, degraded them further. They were often drunken and foul mouthed, sometimes vicious; some lamentable stories were told to the select committee of the corruption of children unwisely left in the care of assigned women. Many respectable families refused to have them, preferring men convicts for their domestic service. Other households were very ready to receive them, but as prostitutes rather than housemaids, and this the authorities could not sanction. Even when decently assigned they were so besieged with paramours that they were fairly driven to choose one to keep off the rest. Almost inevitably they returned pregnant to the factory at Paramatta. This inadequate institution held the new arrivals, those waiting to be reassigned, those waiting to be delivered of babies or nursing them (in 1836, out of 590 women there 108 were nursing children), and those sent in for punishment. Punishment was less rigorous than for men - solitary confinement for not more than 14 days with bread and water was the extreme. The women were supposed to sew and weave coarse woollen cloth for prisoners' clothes, but idleness and noisy, crowded disorder prevailed. There was no sleeping room for many of the women sent there; left to find their own lodging, they resorted to prostitution as the obvious - almost the only - means of doing so. Whatever the damage to proper notions of punishment, it was found that the most effective way of dealing with women convicts - that is, of getting rid of them - was to let them marry, either free men or
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satisfactory convicts. 14 Many thus wed were reformed into worthy wives and mothers; others were not, continued promiscuous and the centre of quarrels, or renewed their criminal pursuits.
Besides the assigned servants and the intransigent women, there were ticket-of-leave convicts. These had satisfactorily served a proportion of their sentences - four years of a seven-year term, six of a 14-year one, and eight of a life sentence - and were granted leave on sundry conditions (such as remaining in a certain district and reporting to the police at certain times) to find their own work and receive wages during the remainder of their sentences, though this leave would be speedily cancelled at any fresh offence.
There were also the government-employed men. At Sydney new arrivals, those waiting to be reassigned, and some sent in for punishment were housed in Hyde Park Barracks, King Street, where 12 large dormitories held 600 to 1,000 men, the better behaved and the most vicious all together. Each day they were sent out, chained, in prison grey, to work in the streets or on public works about the town - buildings, quarries, dockyards. Outside Sydney several smaller jails, as at Windsor, held convicts who worked mainly on the roads, for the heavily trafficked roads towards Sydney were always needing repair. There were also the road and ironed gangs with no fixed headquarters. Men of bad character or under punishment worked in gangs of about 80, under a military assistant-engineer, making roads, bridges, and breakwaters, felling and burning trees, and clearing land. Formerly, unchained and loosely controlled road gangs had been a great evil, with convicts wandering off to rob settlers and get drunk on spirits bought with the stolen goods from emancipist sly-grog sellers; while some assaulted settlers, as well as robbing them, or absconded and became bush rangers. In 1835, out of 2,200 men on the roads, 1,100 were not in chains, but thereafter parties out of chains were greatly lessened.
The chained gangs had no chance of such dissipations, and their lives were harsh and miserable in the extreme. Chains clanked about them, they wore grey patched with various grade-colours, speech was forbidden, they were guarded by soldiers, kept closely at work by overseers, locked up in their huts or caravans when not working, and for all offences such as disobedience, neglect of work, abusive language, and so on, were tried before the military officer in charge and punished with up to 50 lashes. These were laid on by a scourger, himself a convict, who thereby earned 1s. 9d. a day, increased to 2s. 9d. after a year's faithful service. James Backhouse, a Quaker who visited all the penal establishments very
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thoroughly during the 1830s, wrote of a chained gang at Marulan in October 1836:
'Prisoners who are not of good character are assigned into service, in places remote from Sydney, in order that they may be separated more completely from their old associates. The Marulan gang consists of such as have committed offences after such assignment. They present strong marks of depravity in their countenances and not a few have defectively formed heads. This circumstance, which is not uncommon among convicts, and is probably among the causes of their turpitude, ought, in some points, at least to be taken into account; some of them appear to be in a state bordering on insanity or idiotism.... Their case is a very affecting one and their moral responsibility must be left to the Judge of all the earth. Here the punishment... for misconduct in the gang, is flagellation; and in some instances they have received, from 600 to 800 lashes, within the space of eighteen months, at the rate of not more than fifty lashes for one offence!' 15
Their wooden houses were densely crowded. The Reverend W. Ullathorne, who visited a gang near Parramatta on a Sunday, was astonished at the number of men who emerged - 'I could not have supposed that these boxes could have held so many' - yet they were locked in all Sunday and every night from sunset to sunrise. Looking in, he saw that there was a ledge on each side and the men were piled up on the ledges and others upon the floor, averaging about 18 in. of width per man. This crowding he was sure promoted homosexuality. 16 Faces, hands, and feet were washed each night in tubs of water, and, on Saturday afternoons, under strict guard, the men washed themselves and their clothes. But imagination baulks at the idea of these close-packed bodies, with open tubs for privies, under the Australian sun. Groups sufficiently guarded were allowed to take the air for an hour at a time in the immediate neighbourhood of the house, but this was a matter of favour. 17
Having glanced over the life of the convicts that Best guarded with so much reticence in his journal, both on the transport and in New South Wales, let us return to Best, and consider what else was around him. The
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birds, beasts, and bush he makes known to us, from the angle of the huntsman; of human society he wrote little.
Arrived at Sydney, what did our young ensign find? A harbour town spreading over about 2,000 acres, with some comely public buildings, for which Governor Macquarie, an enlightened despot who had ruled the colony nearly 20 years ago, was largely responsible. Along its streets sprawled warehouses handling wool, stores, shops, offices, hotels, and houses, sinking here and there into a mass of poor dwellings and huts. Mrs Meredith found it 'a large busy town reminding me of portions of Liverpool or Bristol, with many good buildings though few have any pretensions to architectural beauty. The newer portions of the town are laid out with regularity and advantage. One long street traverses its whole length, about a mile and a half, full of good shops exhibiting every variety of merchandise; and in the afternoon, when the ladies of the place drive out, whole strings of vehicles may be seen rolling about or waiting near the more "fashionable emporiums", that being the term in which Australian shopkeepers especially delight.... as no "lady" in Sydney (your grocers' and butchers' wives included) believes in the possibility of walking, the various machines upon wheels, of all descriptions are very numerous... George Street seems by common consent considered as the Pall-Mall or rather as the "Park" of Sydney, and up and down its hot, dusty, glaring, weary length go the fair wives and daughters of the "citizens", enjoying their daily airing.' 18 But not far off was 'The Rocks', the area by the harbour near the lower end of George Street, equalling any of the slums of England for squalor and vice. The villas of the wealthy studded favoured parts of the country nearby. Sydney town had about 20,000 people, of whom 3,500 were convicts, mostly in assigned service, while about 7,000, the greater part of the small shopkeepers and middling class, had probably been prisoners. Emancipists of property had often acquired it by doubtful or dishonest means, such as keeping grog shops or gambling houses, or receiving stolen goods, but they rated enough money and respectability to make up a quarter of the jury lists.
Small robberies by convict servants were very common, the profits therefrom speedily finding their way into the town's 219 public houses, or the unlicensed grog shops so numerous that the police could not guess at their number. 19 Drunkenness was everywhere, for liquor was plentiful and readily obtained, while other goods were dear and scarcer. Convicts, not allowed by law to hold any money or property, squandered at once even money honestly gained. For them, and for many of the free emigrants, drink was almost the only pleasure known in England and here it was the
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only one available. The police, often ex-convicts or ticket-of-leave men, were inefficient and corrupt. Convict servants, apart from their masters' demands on their time, were constrained only by the regulation that they should not be abroad after 8 p.m. This was largely a dead letter; the police did not know who was a convict and who was not, and their opportunities for drinking and thieving were limited only by their willingness to risk a flogging.
But by 1838 New South Wales was not merely a convict colony. John MacArthur with his experimental flock of merinos and other pioneering sheep farmers had proved that the country could grow good wool for which the looms of Yorkshire were hungry. New South Wales called aloud both to the man of capital and the labourer. An advancing army of pastoralists spread out into the back country as fast as their sheep would multiply. In the early 1830s, the government, influenced by the Wakefield theory of balanced settlement, decided that land should not be squatted on, but sold and compactly occupied, and strove to keep them within the Nineteen Counties, the boundaries of which were roughly a semicircle 150 miles out from Sydney; but the government might as well have tried to halt the tide as the squatters, and in 1836 Bourke permitted anyone to squat on Crown land for £10 a year. Meanwhile another tide, of free emigrants, was sweeping in, swamping the convict population.
Between 1832 and 1837 the average number of free emigrants to the Australian colonies was 3,444 a year, all but a few of whom came to New South Wales. In 1837 they totalled 5,054, but in 1838 there was a sudden, remarkable increase - 14,021 men, women, and children packed into ships bound for Australia. Over 3,000 of these went to the new settlement of South Australia, begun in 1836, and 10,189 came to Sydney. Two factors were behind this sudden influx: the Canadian rebellion of 1837, which greatly reduced emigration to North America and the United States (from 68,000, the average of the preceding six years, to 18,000 in 1838); while the Australian governments were assisting emigration both directly, through agents in the United Kingdom, and by paying bounties to shipowners who brought out settlers. For instance, the James Pattison in 1838 carried 190 men, women, and children to Sydney, for whom £2,748 bounty was paid. 20 Best nowhere mentions this rush of newcomers, though they must have been visible enough, and the topic of many conversations; but being a newcomer himself he may well have noticed them less.
Very many were assisted emigrants 21 and most were labouring people, without property or education. Distinctions were nevertheless sharply
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drawn between them and the emancipists - those who had served their time or gained pardons. The free man, however poor, felt entitled to despise the convicts and emancipists, while the latter held together, which gave them an advantage, for instance, in small shopkeeping. Employers preferred the newcomers, and any former convict who committed an offence was liable to be punished much more severely than a person who had come free or been born in the colony; one might get a sentence of two months, the other of seven years.
Among the free, class distinctions were rigorously maintained. Already the large sheep graziers had established their leading place. There was no solid respectable middle class - professional men were few - and a broad gulf divided the small farmers and shopkeepers, the labourers and artisans, from the aristocracy of wealth, the exclusive groups of those prosperous in commerce and farming. Magistrates, officials, and the legislative councillors, who since 1825 advised the governor, were all drawn from those whose chief characteristics were a somewhat ostentatious display of respectability and a firm belief in social inequality. 22 They lived in comfortable homes near Sydney, with the Camden Park area, seat of the MacArthurs and their friends, the ne plus ultra; their back country estates were run by managers and they knew how to use convict labour. The officers of the troops guarding and supervising the prison establishments were considered part of this upper crust of wealth and officialdom; though Best, as a junior officer, would not have been rated very highly, nor would he have much relished the company. As one critic wrote, there was plenty of society but little conversation - colonial ladies seldom spoke of anything except dress and domestic affairs, especially the badness of their servants, while the gentlemen had their souls so felted up in wools, fleeces, flocks, and stocks that it was possible to sit through a weary dinner and evening of incessant talking and hear not a syllable on any other subject. 23
There is almost no mention of the social structure in Best's journal. He stuck to his army cronies and waited not on the gentry. He complained about the convicts, voted for greater severity, then retreated to his military duties and recreations. He said nothing of sheep, and the only farmer he mentioned was one on whose land he hunted. It would seem that he accepted things as they were, without questioning or perhaps even perceiving them; but of course he was in New South Wales only a short time, 10 months, before he was banished to Norfolk Island in August 1838.
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For serious crimes committed in New South Wales, such as robberies and crimes of violence, men were sent to penal stations - in the mid-thirties, Moreton Bay with about 300 prisoners, and Norfolk Island with about 1,200. A few were sent direct to the latter by their judges in England. Like Best, everyone who saw it proclaimed the loveliness of this little island, about 20 miles round, its green bush-covered hills falling in steep cliffs to the pounding surf. Within the hills cleared patches, about 800 acres, grew all kinds of fruit - oranges, grapes, figs, loquats, bananas, peaches, pomegranates, melons, and pineapples - as well as small crops of wheat, barley and oats, and maize, which last was the staple food of the convicts. Sheep and cattle also thrived. The climate was warm, the land fertile and beautiful; but both convicts and garrison were dismayed at being sent there.
There were no free settlers and no assignment. The gangs worked in the quarries, on roads and buildings, or tilled the ground with spade and hoe. Many had hopelessly long sentences, there was no chance of escape from the cliff-and-sea-bound island, they had not even the occasional solace of smuggled grog or tobacco; many worked in chains; and the commandant, the supreme authority, could order up to 300 lashes. Before 1834, when it was enacted that judges should be sent to Norfolk when needed, capital crimes had to be tried at Sydney, and such crimes were planned and attempted so that the accused and a number of witnesses could get a trip to Sydney, where with luck the trial would collapse under the lies of the witnesses, or at worst the accused would be executed; there was also the faint but cherished hope of escaping en route, and in any case it was not much loss to exchange life at Norfolk for the hangman's rope.
Quarrelling and sodomy were almost their sole diversions, and the practice of herding over 1,000 men into the barracks unsupervised gave ample scope for them. Backhouse in 1835 was told that if the officers took as much pains to annoy the prisoners as many of the prisoners took to annoy one another the place would be worse than hell itself. It was, wrote Backhouse, a place of torment, 'not so much by the punishments of the law, as by their conduct one to another. They form schemes of mischief and betray one another; and being idly disposed, they are very generally chafed, by the exertions of the prisoner-overseers to keep them at work.' 24
Their living conditions were squalid in the extreme. At night they were crowded into the barracks, a three-storey stone building, where they slept in hammocks in large wards with no effective supervision. Near by was the lumber yard, an enclosure with high walls, containing the cookhouse, a stove, and the carpenters workshops. Two inner sides were roofed over, to form open mess sheds, roughly furnished with benches and tables, at
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which about 600 men could eat at a time. Just inside the gateway of the yard was the cookhouse, with large coppers for boiling meat and the hominy made from part of the 24 oz of coarsely ground maize meal issued daily. The rest of the meal was made into bread by the convicts themselves and taken to the bakehouse some little distance off. Quite close to the yard was a large open privy, a drain from which led to the settlement creek not far below the waterhole whence the officer's supply was drawn. In this yard, its open space covering about half an acre, the prisoners spent all the time they were not at work or in the barracks. 25
The hospital, with its 20 beds, was so close to the beach that it was damp and salty, but the sea air was tempered with the smell of another privy. The jail, also close to the sea, could hold a little over 40; it was both damp and stuffy, and at its entrance stood the gallows. The buildings were minutely described by an investigating official, R. P. Stewart, in 1846; and William Forster, who had been superintendent of prisoners there since 1837, said in the same year that, except for the new jail, the convicts' buildings were the same as when he arrived. 26
Apart from the corn meal, the daily rations were 1 lb salt meat, 1 oz sugar, 1/2 oz salt - unsuitable diet for a near-tropical climate, ill balanced and meagre also. It disturbed at least one clergyman, the Reverend T. B. Naylor, who wrote, 'It would astonish the criminals of England if they saw the miserable dinners of these men served out, after the loss sustained in various ways, and passing through so many hands.' He wrote also of the ravages of dysentery, which contributed to their indolence. 'Few persons would conceive it possible that such a number of men, all apparently employed, could contrive by any ingenuity to do so small an amount of work.' 27
Given such conditions, it is not surprising that these doubly convicted felons were a savage-looking lot. The priest Ullathorne, a much more experienced and compassionate man than young Best, said that when he used to go to the barracks at six in the morning to read prayers, and watched over 1,000 men filing out, he was very much struck with their shocking outward appearance and the hard-fixed traces of crime on their countenances. 28 Even Captain Maconochie, afire for their reclamation, was to find them frightful to look upon. One must suspect that our ensign found them scarcely human.
Like all institutions Norfolk Island varied from time to time in response to the men at the top. Major Joseph Anderson, 50th Regiment, who was commandant during most of Best's term, was one of the more lenient.
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He had come in April 1834, after a major mutiny for which 31 were sentenced to death by a judge from Sydney. A few days before the execution date Ullathorne arrived to offer religious solace, and carried to the condemned cells the news that 18 had been reprieved. 'I said a few words to induce them to resignation and then stated the names of those who were to die;... they, one after another, as their names were pronounced, dropped on their knees and thanked God that they were to be delivered from that horrible place, whilst the others remained mute and weeping.' 29
This event probably marked the end of the worst savagery of the island. In November 1937 [sic] the Governor-General, Sir Richard Bourke, wrote that for the past four years the prisoners, now above 1,000, had been remarkably quiet and orderly, while considerably increased labour had been exacted. He attributed this tranquillity chiefly to the humane but firm and vigilant superintendence of Major Anderson, but in a great measure also to the power obtained three years ago of trying capital offences in the island, which ended the pleasures of trips to Sydney for trial.
James Backhouse, the Quaker, visiting in March 1835, remarked, 'Flagellation is now but seldom resorted to here; when it was frequently inflicted, some of the more callous prisoners said, they would stand a hundred lashes for a small piece of tobacco; and the recklessness with which they committed offences, to which this punishment attached, accorded with their declaration. It was accounted a mark of bravery with them, to bear the punishment unmoved.' 30
According to Ullathorne, who paid a second visit in 1835, Major Anderson was severe to those who continued in crime but ready to reward and encourage those who improved. After good conduct for a certain time, generally one chain was taken from one leg; if the man continued virtuous for, say, 12 months longer, a lighter chain was given; and later still the chain was taken away altogether. As a further encouragement, some were allowed small patches of land on which to grow potatoes, pumpkins, and other vegetables for their own use, which gave them spare time occupation and some property in which they could take a pride. (He did not mention the improvement in their monotonous diet.) Some remarkably well conducted men were removed from the rest as servants to officers, or as shepherds; and if they continued well he would recommend to headquarters that their sentences be reduced by one to three years. 31
Charles White, a historian of Australian convictism, writing in 1889, quoted a paper 32 dated 1839 by an unnamed man who had been govern-
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ment chaplain on the island for some years and who wrote: 'In taking a general view of the affairs of Norfolk Island it will be found that the most efficient improvements had been made within the last five years both as regards the condition of the settlement and of the prisoners.
'Since Major Anderson's command there has been no mutiny, no carrying off of boats, and comparatively few heinous offences, such as attempts at murder,' continued this unknown observer. Major Anderson had attempted to separate the sheep from the goats of his flock by dividing them into three classes. All who for two years had been clear of recorded offences made up the first class; they had the best rooms in the barracks, with only 22 to 38 in each; they worked and messed by themselves, and had the lightest work. The third class, the known bad characters and malingerers, had the worst rooms, worked by themselves, and were not allowed to go into another prisoner's garden nor out of the lumber yard except to wash clothes at stated times. A year of good behaviour was needed to admit them to the second class, which contained all the men not bad enough for the third and not good enough for the first. In January 1838 there were 648 in the first class, 691 in the second, and 107 in the third. Moreover, by an Act passed in 1838, men sentenced to seven years were, after 12 months' satisfactory conduct, eligible to be recommended to the Governor-General to return to headquarters and work in irons on the roads for not more than three years; the 14-year men were eligible for the same consideration after three years; and the lifers after five years. The first draft of prisoners to leave the island on these terms departed on 30 January 1839.
As for improvements to the settlement, a piece of swampy ground in front of Government House had been converted into a tastefully laid-out plantation. The new military barracks had been built on a site cut out for it from the Red Bank - this last involved cutting down part of a hill 80 ft high, 300 ft in depth, with a front of 700 ft, a heavy task for chained men with picks and spades. A new commissariat store had been built, and some cottages for civil officers. A new jail was begun but on swampy ground (unlike the military barracks) and the foundations gave way. The agricultural department had managed to support the island with grain and vegetables though the convict numbers increased.
Early in 1839 the new commandant, Major Thomas Bunbury, 80th Regiment, arrived, but Anderson continued in office till 5 April. His wife did not produce her long-expected child till 9 February, and Bunbury had been advised to expect some delay in taking over. He commented acidly in his reminiscences that Anderson 'from the force of long habit had brought himself to believe that he was necessary to the well-being of the establishment and what was more, had contrived to make the authorities at Sydney think so also.' 33 This was not a view held by Bun-
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bury nor by Best, who thoroughly approved the tightened discipline of the new regime.
'Spare the cat and spoil the convict' could well have been one of Bunbury's guiding principles. He set forth his attitude quite clearly - 'I was not so imbued with the maudlin spirit of modern sentimentality as to be able to comprehend why a villain who had been guilty of every enormity should feel shame at having his back scratched with the cat-o-nine-tails when he felt none for his atrocious crimes. To talk of degrading some of these men in the eyes of their fellow creatures is a farce.' 34
The bracing methods with malingerers which Best notes briefly and approvingly were expounded by Bunbury with some satisfaction. If the doctor found a man too sick for his usual work he was also considered too sick to eat, and performed his light duties on light rations; while if a man reported sick but was judged fit by the doctor he was 'severely punished'. No doubt there were many practised malingerers on Norfolk Island, but it is small wonder that those claiming sickness diminished greatly. Bunbury evidently did not believe his doctor could make mistakes, except perhaps that of killing himself with hard drinking.
Rewards for good behaviour continued much as before. Some were allowed to act as gardeners, poultrymen, and so on to the officers during the day, sleeping in the barracks at night. Some had light chains and a great many were unchained. Many were allowed gardens to grow sweet potatoes, and each gang at work had a man to collect fruit - guavas and lemons. To the overseers selected from the best prisoners on the island, there was a small allowance of tobacco. 'It is difficult', remarked Bunbury, 'to conceive the avidity with which tobacco was sought after by the prisoners', and, as it was evident that more found its way to them than was permitted, it was clear that it came from the troops.
The soldiers too had gardens, and these favoured the tobacco traffic. A prisoner might steal a turkey or something else desired by the soldiers. He would hide it in a known place and tobacco would be left in its stead; which transaction was called 'a plant'. The soldiers had built a cluster of huts behind their barracks, in which to keep their garden produce and tools and this 'Irish Town', as it was called, was a general receptacle for stolen property; for the huts, so arranged that they could not be overlooked by Government House or the officers' barracks, could be visited unobserved at all hours. Bunbury, bent on tightening the discipline of the troops as well as that of the convicts, resolved to stop this tobacco traffic, and the pilfering of government tools, by razing Irish Town and building new huts full in official view. This triggered off the mutiny of troops in July 1839 that Best refers to so guardedly in the notes at the end of his Norfolk Island journal.
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According to Bunbury's official report, at 8 a.m. on 1 July, Captains Gulston and Lockhart came to him saying their men had assembled in a very riotous manner and driven away the overseer and prisoners directed to raze the huts and build new ones. Bunbury, thinking they would not mind the work being done by their own comrades, collected a fatigue party, but immediately 40 to 50 men with loaded muskets rushed out of the new barracks towards him. The major tried in vain to drag the foremost few back to their quarters, but at length they returned there, 'the more readily as it commenced to rain'. However, they formed again, armed and accoutred, under the veranda. There Bunbury addressed them - 'I confess not in very flattering terms' - and heard their complaints. Some wanted to have the same issue of spirits as in New South Wales - which he stoutly opposed - and others said that they had purchased their gardens and huts on arrival from members of the 50th Regiment, which they relieved, and thought they had a right to retain them. Bunbury reminded them it was against orders to buy the gardens, which should have devolved upon them without payment. To which they replied that had they not paid, the crops would have been rooted up and they would have been months without vegetables. Bunbury told them he could never allow such irregularities to continue, that in future their messes would be supplied from a government garden, and each man charged for these vegetables and for any fruit required. 'This last proposition was received with evident distaste; they did not seem to disperse. I therefore left them to attend to other duties, when finding that they could not by menaces extort any promise from me, and that no further notice was taken of them, they very quietly returned to their duty...
'The officers of the detachment, I must also do the justice to say, exerted themselves in the tumult in the most praiseworthy manner. They repaired to my assistance with the utmost alacrity, and so much so, that I was twice under the necessity of peremptorily ordering them to retire, as I feared they might attempt to employ force, and which I could see would only have increased the irritation, and might have endangered the safety of the island.' 35
It was a confused, useless little mutiny, for which some of the men later paid dearly, as Best relates. In the meantime, Bunbury, aware of the possibility of an understanding between the troops, numbering about 155, and the prisoners, let Irish Town stand. The authorities at Sydney decided to relieve the entire garrison at Norfolk, then wholly of the 80th Regiment, and Bunbury likewise. In September 1839 the ship Cornwall was sent with 180 men of the 50th Regiment under Major Ryan, who was to succeed Bunbury, with HMS Alligator in company, to reconquer the island if necessary. It was not necessary, everything was orderly, and
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Irish Town was speedily in flames. Bunbury and the 80th, including Best, embarked in the Cornwall and were back in Sydney by 15 October. 36
Probably Best went back to Windsor, the headquarters of the 80th. His journal, which had ceased in April, was not resumed regularly till he embarked for New Zealand. He closed his Norfolk Island volume with a few notes and anecdotes obviously written long after the events described. These illustrate the cunning of convicts and compare unfavourably Captain Maconochie's conduct of the Island with that of his predecessors in office.
The House of Commons inquiries of 1837-8 into transportation had shown that at Norfolk Island the prisoners were both very harshly treated and grew more depraved. Accordingly, Captain Arthur Maconochie was sent in March 1840 to try his 'social system', based on the belief that the object of imprisonment was neither vindictive punishment nor deterrence to others, but reformation of the offenders. Previously, good conduct had led to shortened sentences and easier treatment, but somewhat uncertainly. Maconochie aimed to inculcate habits of industry and self denial by a system of marks. According to their lengths, sentences were assessed in marks, to be reduced at daily rates by labour well done, or increased by misconduct. After a certain proportion had been worked through, a man could expend marks for tea, sugar, tobacco, or clothing at the commissariat store. If he denied himself these pleasures he could get through his sentence more quickly, and exercising this choice would be a preparation for freedom. Later still, prisoners were to form themselves into parties of about six; each member would be held responsible for the others' conduct, and gain or lose marks according to their behaviour. This was intended to promote a sense of common interests instead of the intense selfishness usual in the criminal. 37 Maconochie's critics declared that it punished the innocent for the guilty and was more likely to produce murders than reformation.
Maconochie found his 1,400 doubly convicted felons no prettier than they seemed to Best. 'A more demoniacal looking assemblage could not be imagined and nearly the most formidable sight I ever beheld was the sea of faces up-turned to me when I first addressed them. Yet three years afterwards I had the satisfaction of hearing Sir George Gipps ask me what I had done to make the men look so well? - "He had seldom seen a better looking set, they were quite equal to new prisoners from England".' 38 Apart from the marks system, Maconochie's efforts to bring forth the better part of every man were many and various, including the bestowal of gardens - 'a boon to the industrious but none to the
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idle' - cooking utensils, tin pannikins, knives, and forks; and celebrating the Queen's birthday with games and a very weak punch. He maintained that it was all justified by improvement in the men, but he did not deny the attempts to escape - 'with all my imputed indulgence my men on Norfolk Island were always trying to leave me.' 39
Maconochie had to work with the usual military and civil staff and prisoner-overseers, with only four free overseers whom he brought with him, and the barracks were not improved. He had very lukewarm backing from his superior, Sir George Gipps, who dreaded the effect in New South Wales of diminishing the terrors of Norfolk Island. Because he tackled homosexuality and brought it to light, it was thought to have grown with his rule; and the increased expenses, 'such as to defy all previous calculation', were also deplored. 40 Moreover, sentence reduction by his marks system was not made legally effective. In all, Maconochie's system was reckoned a failure, and he was recalled in 1844. His successor, Major Childs, neither strove for reform nor restored rigid order, and in July 1846 the convicts rebelled. Thereafter the home authorities decided to abandon Norfolk Island as a penal station.
But this is running far away from Best, who was posted to New Zealand in April 1840, some six months after his return from Norfolk Island. Meanwhile he had been promoted, obtaining a lieutenant's commission by purchase on 4 October 1839. 41 When Best arrived New Zealand had lately become - or, to be more exact (for it was not until 21 May that the Queen's sovereignty was proclaimed in full over these islands) was becoming - a British colony. He was soon sent to Wellington, and there his journal has so many terse passages on the New Zealand Company that it may be well to sketch the background relations between that body and the Crown.
During the late 1830s British subjects in New Zealand in one way and another slowly pushed a reluctant British government into adding this country to its responsibilities. For nearly 40 years whalers, mainly British and American, had fished off the coasts, and since 1827 had set up scattered shore stations for bay whaling. The Bay of Islands had become a well known harbour for whalers and others, where several substantial merchants supplied ships' stores, and a crowd of grog shops catered in disorderly fashion for the crews and collected some of the runaway sailors, ex-convicts, and such who belong to places that have plenty of liquor and
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not too much law. A few traders for flax and timber had toted their trade-goods to more remote places. Altogether there were, estimated the well informed missionary Henry Williams, no fewer than 1,100 white people in the North Island, excluding missionaries, half castes, and visiting ships. Conflict among these vigorous and often conscienceless adventurers and the Maoris was inevitable, and lawlessness in New Zealand became one of the British government's minor problems.
Meanwhile at that government's elbow a very articulate coterie of colonial theorists dominated by E. G. Wakefield urged that New Zealand was a proper field for the ideal colony, where, the due proportions of labour and capital being nicely adjusted by the selling price of land, the straggling character and the forced equality and coarseness of unplanned colonies, such as Canada and America, would be avoided. At the same time, the missionary and humanitarian interests so lively at this period raised their voices in conflict, some urging that the Maoris should be left to themselves and the gospel, others claiming that Christianity could be reconciled with colonisation. Meanwhile speculators in New South Wales, anticipating that sooner or later New Zealand must be annexed hastened to buy land, rapidly and vaguely, to get in ahead of rising prices.
During 1838, the British government, anxious to do just as little as was necessary to establish order, or at any rate reduce outrage, and prevent the spoliation of the native people, was considering favourably the suggestion of Captain William Hobson, who in 1837 had visited the Bay of Islands in HMS Rattlesnake, that by making treaties with some of the chiefs Britain should acquire jurisdiction over and purchase the areas where British subjects were concentrated. Governmental wavering and changes delayed this decision. Meanwhile the colony planners, organised as the New Zealand Company, checked in obtaining a royal charter to colonise, decided that they could make the best of the situation by simply starting their colony. Without any official blessing, Colonel William Wakefield set out in May 1839, in the Tory, to buy land in a central position and prepare a site for the first and principal settlement.
The government, accepting the inevitable, in mid June 1839 extended the boundaries of New South Wales to include any part of New Zealand 'that is or may be acquired in sovereignty by Her Majesty'; and in August dispatched Captain Hobson with commissions as consul and lieutenant-governor over any such territory. It was already becoming an established practice with the British government to attribute sovereignty to native chiefs, and Hobson was presumably intended to treat with them first as consul, then to assume lieutenant-governorship over the ceded lands. But Hobson landed at the Bay of Islands on 30 January 1840 and straightway issued two proclamations, one declaring himself lieutenant-governor of any territory within New Zealand 'which is or may be acquired in sovereignty by Her Majesty'; the other declaring all titles to land invalid
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unless confirmed by the Crown. Then, working with Henry Williams, the missionary, and James Busby, the British Resident, who since 1833 had attempted to keep order at the Bay, Hobson drew up the Treaty of Waitangi, which was first signed by some 46 chiefs at Waitangi on 6 February.
Thereafter other local chiefs signed, and, after substantial numbers had done so at Hokianga and Waimate during the next fortnight, although the Kaitaia signatures were not yet collected, Hobson wrote to the Colonial Office, 'I therefore propose to issue a proclamation announcing that Her Majesty's dominion in New Zealand extends from the North Cape to the 36th degree of latitude. As I proceed southward, and obtain the consent of the chiefs, I will extend these limits by proclamation; until I can include the whole of the islands.' 42
On 1 March Hobson was stricken with a paralytic illness, and though he recovered in about a month, did not himself go travelling with the treaty. He sent copies to distant areas by missionaries and officials. Bunbury in the Herald went off on 29 April to Coromandel Harbour on his diplomatic mission, combining signature-getting with showing the flag. He went to Mercury Bay, Tauranga, Hawke's Bay, and Banks Peninsula collecting signatures; visited Stewart Island, proclaiming sovereignty there on 5 June by right of discovery; obtained a few more signatures at Ruapuke Island, Otakou, and Cloudy Bay, where on 17 June he proclaimed sovereignty over the South Island by cession; called at Kapiti to impress the redoubtable Te Rauparaha; and paid a flying visit to Port Nicholson.
Previously, in September 1839, Colonel Wakefield had selected Port Nicholson as the site for his settlement, and bought a large area on both sides of the Strait, signing three deeds with three groups of Maoris and giving three lots of trade goods. On 27 September he had made an agreement with Te Puni, Te Wharepouri, and other local chiefs for the 'all the land between Rimurapa 43 and Turakirae and from the sea to the Tararua'. 44 Thereafter, hearing from the whaler John Guard at Cloudy Bay that Te Rauparaha and his allies, who claimed to have conquered this land and allowed its present possessors to occupy it, would make a fight about this sale, Colonel Wakefield went to Kapiti and on 25 October persuaded Te Rauparaha, Te Hiko, Rangihaeata, and eight other notables of Ngati Toa to sign away their interest in the land lying between the 38th and 43rd degrees of latitude on the west coast and the 41st and 43rd on the east coast. Then at Queen Charlotte Sound on 8 November a similar deed was signed by Ngati Awa chiefs. The Colonel now thinking he had extinguished all the claims over the Port Nicholson land and a good deal more besides, wrote cheerfully that though the transaction was so large, 'I conceive that
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I have obtained as safe and binding a title as if the subject of negociation had been but a single acre and defined by a creek or a notched tree.' 45
The Cuba brought the surveyors to Port Nicholson on 3 January, and the first five emigrant ships - Aurora, Oriental, Duke of Roxburgh, Bengal Merchant, and Adelaide - arrived between 22 January and 7 March. Before leaving England, the emigrants had signed a deed of agreement setting up a provisional constitution, to preserve peace and order. This created a committee (it was later called the council) of leading colonists, with Colonel Wakefield as president. The emigrants undertook to muster and drill as directed. The laws of England were to be maintained, with machinery necessarily modified. An umpire (George Samuel Evans, a barrister, in the first instance) was to preside at all criminal proceedings and, with the assistance of seven assessors, to decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused; punishment was to be determined by the umpire, but without special approval of the council there was to be no imprisonment over three months and no fine over £10. In civil cases each party would choose an arbitrator, and the umpire's vote would be decisive. The committee would appoint five members as a committee of appeal in all cases, civil or criminal, and its verdict would be final. The committee would have power to call out the armed inhabitants and make rules and regulations for governing them; and in this military department the principal agent would be the highest authority. The committee also was to make regulations for the peace of the settlement, and to levy such rates and duties as might be necessary to defray the expense of managing affairs and administering justice.
The Company's colonists were very anxious to have their affairs in proper order. On 22 March Colonel Wakefield wrote to the secretary that Captain Hobson had acquired the sovereignty of the northern parts of the North Island and was on his way to Port Nicholson when he had been seized with a paralytic fit which was likely to lead to his resignation. 'In the absence of a Representative of the Queen in this port, the Committee of Colonists are taking steps for maintenance of the peace and for the payment of public works, under the sanction of the native chiefs who are about to execute a formal Document, authorising the white people settled in their territory to govern themselves.
'This measure will ensure the legality of any acts done under the Deed of Agreement until the Sovereignty of these parts be acquired by the Government.' 46
Wakefield was proceeding on the principle adopted by Hobson and the Colonial Office - the recognition of the native chiefs' sovereignty. The Port Nicholson newspaper, the New Zealand Gazette, in its first issue there of 18 April, carried the position a step further: 'The Council
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believe and hope, that, ere long, the authority of the English Crown will be established in this place. That authority does not, however, exist at the present moment. On the contrary, the Government of England has recognised every petty tribe in New Zealand as an independent foreign power, and has by implication asserted the right of the Chiefs to exercise authority over every person residing within their territories, according to the laws, or rather customs, of the tribe. Every act of Government, therefore, within the Colony, whether legislative or executive, must derive its validity from the assent, express or implied, of the principal Chiefs of the district. And every act of government thus sanctioned, must be recognised as valid by the Government of England and every civilised Government.'
The same paper 47 printed the provisional constitution in full, and below it the 'Ratification and Extension of the above Contract by the Sovereign Chiefs of Port Nicholson'. The latter set forth that the committee, now called the council, should remain in office till 1 January 1841, when a fresh council should be elected. The president was to remain in office five years, and have the right of veto upon all resolutions of the council, but any such resolution, if adopted by a subsequent council, was to be law. No taxes or duties were to be levied by the chiefs, or any other act done which might affect the interests of the whole colony, without the advice and consent of the council. Natives were to have equal rights with the colonists, except that for the first five years they should not vote for the council nor serve as assessors, except where natives were concerned, when at least three assessors should be natives. Major Richard Baker was appointed magistrate, and Henry Cole and James Smith were constables.
The Gazette voiced its constitutional principles again rather vigorously on 2 May. Having reviewed the virtues of the Wakefield system, the editor, Samuel Revans, went on: 'This system the Colonists will do all in their power to maintain, because it is alike useful to them and their mother country. Living under a Constitution which England will be bound to respect, should any disputes about land arise, they must be referred to our own tribunals; for the commission to enquire into titles to land, to be composed of the disinterested folks of Sydney, cannot exercise its endless functions at Port Nicholson. It can have no jurisdiction here, which ought to be a subject of congratulation to our fellow Colonists.
'The Colonists of Port Nicholson would be willing and pleased to receive His Excellency among them, provided he would recognise their rights, which he is bound most sacredly to respect, and which could only be infringed in defiance of all justice, under the feeling that the people here have not the power to resist oppression. His Excellency may plead he has not the power to recognise the constitutional rights we have acquired
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from the Sovereign Chiefs of this Port. Two things, however, are in His Excellency's power: the one to come and satisfy himself of the suitableness of Port Nicholson for the British seat of Government; and the other is to abstain from selecting until he has communicated with England on the propriety of his agreeing to be here, and with a Representative Government.'
But there was trouble brewing. Captain Pearson of the bark Integrity was arrested for illegal conduct towards his charterer, Wade, and was brought before the magistrate, Major R. Baker, on 14 April. He refused to recognise the court, was committed, but escaped next day. An escape warrant was issued 48 but as he was aboard his ship it was obviously ineffective and was suspended. 49 Early in May the wrathful Pearson sailed for the Bay of Islands.
Hobson knew settlers had arrived at Port Nicholson and had heard they were laying out a town, but he had no details of their proceedings. Now he heard a great deal from several sources at once - from Williams, whom he had sent by sea to collect treaty signatures; from Captain Pearson; from the New Zealand Gazette; and, surprisingly, from a Company colonist called Dudley Sinclair, a young capitalist impatient to know what the government was going to do, who took passage with Pearson. The Integrity arrived on 20 May and he saw Hobson next day.
Hobson, acutely conscious of his own limited powers as lieutenant-governor - he could not, for instance, appoint a magistrate - was violently startled to hear that the Company's settlers had 'formed themselves into a government, had elected a council, appointed Colonel Wakefield as president, and had proceeded to enact laws and to appoint magistrates'. Government House must have been excessively busy that evening, and Hobson's excited letter to the Colonial Office a few days later carries a high sense of emergency, or perhaps of hysteria. Without one hour's delay he had called for 30 soldiers to go to Port Nicholson with the acting colonial secretary, W. Shortland, J.P., in whose firmness and discretion he had every confidence, and whom he cautioned - alas, unavailingly -against using irritating measures or language. Shortland was supported by Lieutenant H. D. Smart, J.P., of the 28th Regiment, and mounted police, with five constables. Hobson did not mention to Lord John Russell that Lieutenant A. D. W. Best was in charge of the troops.
'According to my opinion, unaided by legal advice', wrote the distressed Governor, 'the proceedings of the Association at Port Nicholson amount to high treason' - they had established a constitution, appointed magistrates, and levied taxes. He would not, however, take immediate cognisance of these acts, but Mr Shortland would order the illegal government and all its works to disappear. He enclosed copies of the New Zealand
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Gazette containing the constitution and its ratification by the native chiefs - 'a shallow artifice' - and explained how he had secured the Queen's sovereignty against the usurpations of the demagogues.
'Availing myself of the universal adherence of the native chiefs to the Treaty of Waitangi as testified by their signatures to the original document in my presence, or to copies signed by me in the hands of those gentlemen who were commissioned and authorised to treat with them, I yielded to the emergency of the case arising out of events at Port Nicholson; and without waiting for Major Bunbury's report proclaimed the sovereignty of Her Majesty over the Northern Island. Actuated by similar motives, and a perfect knowledge of the uncivilised state of the natives, and supported by the advice of Sir George Gipps, previously given, I also proclaimed the authority of Her Majesty over the Southern Islands, on the grounds of discovery.' 50
This was, of course, nonsense. Poor Hobson, appalled at the idea of an independent organised government, had thrown his cautious extensions of the Queen's sovereignty to the winds, and proclaimed the whole completed before Bunbury had reached the South Island and while several missionary-borne copies of the treaty were still being smudged and signed - or not signed, for quite a few important chiefs, notably those of the central districts and the Bay of Plenty, rejected it. Though all this made no difference to the hard facts that New Zealand was occupied as a British colony and Her Majesty's government was formally established, Hobson's proclamations of 21 May were destined to trouble his immediate successor Willoughby Shortland - or rather, his legal officers - in a native dispute at Tauranga late in 1842, in which Best, as a soldier, was involved.
Besides these proclamations of sovereignty, Shortland carried to Port Nicholson another document dated 23 May:
'Whereas certain persons residing at Port Nicholson, New Zealand, part of the dominions of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, have formed themselves into an illegal association, under the title of a Council, and, in contempt of Her Majesty's authority have assumed and attempted to usurp the powers vested in me by Her Majesty's letters patent, for the government of the said Colony, to the manifest injury and detriment of all Her Majesty's liege subjects in New Zealand.
'Now, therefore, I, William Hobson, Lieutenant-Governor of New Zealand, command all persons connected with such illegal association immediately to withdraw therefrom, and I call upon all persons resident at Port Nicholson, or elsewhere, within the limits of this Government, upon the allegiance they owe to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, to submit to the proper authorities in New Zealand, legally appointed, and to aid and assist them in the discharge of their respective duties.'
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Shortland also bore a letter from Hobson to Colonel Wakefield, written on the same day as his dispatch to Lord Russell, but in a much milder manner. He mentioned the Colonel's letter of 27 April, thanked him for his offer to promote the views of Her Majesty's government, introduced Shortland, Smart, and Best, then went on:
'I am rejoiced to hear such favourable reports of the prospects of the colonists at your end of the Island. I trust they have taken measures to guard against the severity of Winter.
'I have viewed with some solicitude the attitude assumed by yourself and others around you: I trust it was only a temporary measure to provide by the semblance of power, for the absence of any legitimate authority to restrain the licentiousness of your people; if so, the presence of Mr. Shortland and Mr. Smart, both of whom are in the Commission of Peace will relieve you from any uneasiness.
'My health is quite restored but I have not yet regained all my strength. I hope however to be quite able to visit Port Nicholson when the arrangements of Govt are compleat.' 51
The Integrity arrived on 2 June and found Port Nicholson all readiness to give up the tasks of government. Shortland reported to Hobson that before landing 'I was waited on by Dr Evans, Mr Chaffers and Mr Tod, who informed me that the settlers were delighted at my arrival. They assured me that they had been greatly misrepresented. Dr Evans stated that the council had been formed to keep the peace, and for mutual protection, until the arrival of your Excellency or any persons appointed by you.
'I told him I was disposed to view their proceedings in that light, provided the council vanished, and that the flags were immediately hauled down; but that any proposal from any body of persons assuming any power or rights I should consider hostile. He assured me of the loyalty of the emigrants, and that my wishes should be complied with.
'I landed at 2 o'clock accompanied by Lieutenants Smart and Best, and attended by the mounted police. We were received by Colonel Wakefield, Dr Evans, Captain Smith, R. N. and all the principal inhabitants. The proclamations were responded to with three hearty cheers and a royal salute from the Europeans, and with a war dance and a general discharge of musketry by the natives, who had assembled in great numbers.
'I was again assured of the loyalty of the settlers, and that they were actuated in their proceedings solely with a view to preserve the peace and protect their property. I have great pleasure in informing your Excellency that Her Majesty's Government is fully established, and that both the European and native populations are in a very satisfactory state.' 52
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Colonel Wakefield reported to the secretary of the Company, 'I understand that the notion of sending troops here arose from misrepresentations made to Captain Hobson by persons from this place to the effect that the Council of Colonists was prepared to take steps to resist the introduction of the Queen's Authority. Mr Sinclair was on a visit to the Bay of Islands and Captain Hobson acted on his representations. I am afraid that, although Mr Shortland has removed the unfavourable impressions made on Captain Hobson's mind by one of our own body, a report of those impressions was sent to the Colonial Secretary of State.' 53
To clear up these misunderstandings more fully, a public meeting was held at Port Nicholson on 1 July, where a loyal and welcoming address was voted to Hobson, expressing the settlers' pleasure that he had taken them under his protection and hoping that he would himself come to Port Nicholson, where land reserves for government offices had been made and where a large prefabricated house (from the same firm that had built Napoleon's house at St. Helena) for him was expected shortly. The house, provided by the British government, had been shipped in a vessel chartered by the New Zealand Company, the Platina, which finally took it on to Auckland.
The part of Dudley Sinclair in all this is somewhat curious. He had land orders for a number of sections at Port Nicholson, five of which he had sold to J. C. Crawford of Sydney for 1,300 guineas in February. 54 Later, when town sections were first offered at Auckland, he bought a number and accused Hobson's officials of land jobbing. Some of the letters 55 concerning these affairs suggest he had a flair for cloak-and-dagger work. At the public meeting of 1 July Colonel Wakefield said 'one of their own body had asserted that they were prepared to resist the introduction of British law; that an organised force was established here to resist "even to the knife" (that, he believed, was the expression made use of) - the authority of the British flag.' 56 It was certainly a phrase quoted by Best. The Gazette reminded him that earlier he had opposed sending a deputation to Hobson. Sinclair did not return till September, when he denied it all in a letter to the Gazette, which denial Best called 'a dirty shuffle'.
'Perceiving with astonishment the remarks made [at the meeting] by Col. Wakefield and others relative to myself, I communicated with the former on the subject, and hearing therefrom that Mr. Shortland was the party from whom they had emanated, I take this opportunity of publicly declaring that the assertion "that I made to Capt. Hobson
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reports that the feelings of the Colonists here were hostile to the British Authority" is false and unfounded.' 57
A letter from Sinclair, written at the Bay to his uncle a few days after seeing Hobson, casts a dim ray of light: 'You will no doubt have seen our newspapers and our independence etc. But the English Government have now claimed possession of the whole Northern island, and Captain Hobson claims jurisdiction there by virtue of a treaty made here with the chiefs, as he says the government never recognised the independence of the native chiefs to the south of the Thames.... I am rejoiced that the Government are going to take us in hand, by levying dues on imports etc. The idea of Universal Suffrage and a Representative Government in the infant state of the colony would be ridiculous.' 58
Possibly Port Nicholson affairs had seemed to Sinclair to be getting out of hand, too wildly democratic. However, higher authorities took the matter more calmly. Sir George Gipps on 29 May, introducing his Bill for settlement of titles in New Zealand, declared that 'no band of adventurers, however respectable they may be, have a right without the leave of the Crown to found colonies, this principle is incontrovertible; if they set up the name of Her Majesty without her authority they would be guilty of something he did not like to name, but it would be between a misdemeanour and high treason...' 59 Lord John Russell, too, on 10 November wrote soothingly in reply to Hobson's agitated dispatch of 25 May, enclosing his three proclamations:
'I have given due publicity to the two first mentioned Proclamations [asserting the sovereignty of the Queen] by insertion in the London Gazette. As far as it has been possible to form a judgment, your proceedings appear to have entitled you to the entire approbation of Her Majesty's government.
'I shall soon be able to transmit to you letters patent under the Great Seal, constituting New Zealand a separate government, together with your commission as first Governor...' 60
This was the chain of events which in June 1840 brought Lieutenant Best with his 30 soldiers to Port Nicholson, where he remained till the following February. He came hoping for an actual fight with the 'rebel' settlers, and being disappointed of it, peppered his journal with sharp comments on the Company and all its works. He was soon occupied with his usual strenuous pursuits - long walks, shooting expeditions, fishing, boating, and
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the like. As before, he made almost no mention of his troops, but he planted and fenced a garden, floored his whare, became acquainted with a few settlers, and enjoyed the company brought by occasional ships. He also grew friendly with some local Maoris, friendship that culminated in a hunting trip to Wairarapa, described in some of the journal's liveliest passages.
Two public questions now perplexed the settlers with hope and fear and rage. First was the urgent desire that Hobson should sweeten the Queen's authority at Port Nicholson with his viceregal presence. Some ardent constitutionalists like Sam Revans, editor of the New Zealand Gazette, regretted the loss of their representative constitution; but all the men with money, and no doubt the labourers also, were certain that if their town became the capital the whole venture would be crowned at once with success. Revans put it bluntly: 'The feeling appears to be that being under the Government of Captain Hobson every effort should be made to make the best of it - which extended means to cause the place if possible to be made the seat of Government and secure to it as great an outlay of public money as possible.' 61 Colonel Wakefield went to the Bay of Islands to woo the Governor with a loyal address from Port Nicholson, and the Company exerted all its considerable powers, both in the colony and in London, to persuade him southward. All to no avail, for Hobson, without himself visiting Port Nicholson, founded the new town Auckland, on the Waitemata Harbour, in September 1840. The Company never forgave him, and Hobson realised the source of their enmity. As he wrote to the Colonial Secretary in May 1841, if he had preferred his own comfort to the public benefit he could have established himself at Port Nicholson, where, surrounded by a compact society all personally identified with the place, he might have left the Company's agents or their press to answer any censure which might flow in upon him from other quarters. 62
Then there was the problem of land ownership. The terms of sale 63 in the first and principal settlement of the Company proposed a town site of 1,100 one-acre sections together with reserves for streets, quays, cemeteries, parks, and so on, surrounded by a broad belt of public land (which would contain the original town acres and augment their value), and 110,000 acres of country land. This would be divided into 1,100 allotments, each consisting of 100 country acres and one town acre. Of these, one-tenth (110) were to be reserved for the natives, and the remaining 990 sold in England for £101 each. When all were sold, on 29 July 1839 64 a lottery determined the sequence in which holders of these land orders or their agents should select their allotments. The sections for native
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reserves were included in this lottery as if each had been bought by a private person, but Company officials were to select them in turn with the rest, according to the numbers they drew settling the order of choice.
The colonists, then, had paid the Company for their sections more than a month before the Tory reached Cook Strait, and they expected to occupy them when they landed. The first six ships arrived to find the site of the town itself in doubt, and the Company's title to the land it claimed subject to investigation by the Crown. They had to camp and wait while summer passed into autumn and autumn into winter, 'with everything in abeyance, all squatters and trespassers being allowed to hold possession'. 65 In April it was finally decided to place the town at Lambton Harbour, not on the Hutt River. Captain Mein Smith, the Company's surveyor-general, had only a small staff of three assistant surveyors and 20 labourers, but, urged on by the settlers and Colonel Wakefield, was, at the end of July, able to place his map before the impatient selectors.
Confusion was inevitable, and Best's comments on the confusion are tart. There are other documents that cast light on the scene. First there is Mein Smith's description of the conditions in which the surveyors laboured: 'The plan of the present town was worked out under every species of disadvantage and inconvenience; by the time it was commenced a large body of settlers had arrived in the Aurora, the Oriental, Bengal Merchant, Duke of Roxburgh, Glenbervie and Adelaide; their importunities were increasing and a great interruption. They had expected to find the town ready for them on their arrival, and I was urged towards giving out the town sections with more speed than I thought prudent. At first my tent was my office and drawing-room, Colonel Wakefield not wishing to put up an office for me till a proper site should be decided on. The winter was rapidly advancing, and I was soon driven out of the tent. I retired to a Mauri hut, which I had purchased as a private residence temporarily, till the sections should be given out, and I could bring my family and house over from Petoni, where I had left them. This hut, though dry, was very dark; the little light that was admitted finding its way through a low doorway, close to which I was obliged to keep my table for drawing, but frequently in bad weather I was obliged to close up the door and work all day by candle light. The winter had how set in; and the work out of doors was stopped sometimes for three or four days together. My staff proved to be too weak to proceed with the rapidity necessary to satisfy the wants of the settlers in this most difficult country; and to make matters worse, Mr Carrington was taken ill from exposure and wet.' 66
That there were errors in the work is not surprising. The Gazette of 8 August admitted: 'In consequence of an error being detected in the plan
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on Friday last, it was determined on Saturday to delay making any more selections until the ensuing Monday week. In the interval the plan is being examined and verified and copies made for the sake of security. It having been considered of the utmost importance to put land-holding proprietors in possession of their land as soon as possible these usual precautions were set aside for the moment.'
F. A. Molesworth, a considerable land holder and a loyal Company man, wrote: 'If I had to choose again I should make exactly the same selections. The choosing was almost entirely from the map; for although I had for five weeks constantly been on the ground and likewise several times previously walked over it, yet, on account of the acres not being staked out, it was impossible to determine anything more than the general position of the land, and perfectly impossible to make out any single acre with certainty except in a few instances. The reasons which guided me generally were, neighbourhood to water, large frontages, and positions on what might be considered leading streets.
'While the selection of the town was still going on a ship arrived from Sydney with a copy of the bill before the Council of New South Wales, appointing commissioners to inquire into titles of parties holding land in New Zealand.
'As to the laying out of the town, my opinion is, that an acre town lot is a great deal too much, half an acre being as much as ought ever to be given. Secondly, I do not think (and this is the general opinion) that the surveyor has run his lines of streets well; that is, he has not been sufficiently guided by the formation of the ground.' 67
The intertwining of the several threads of confusion - the mistakes in the plan, the unmarked ground, and the Sydney land bill - is brought out clearly in a long letter from R. D. Hanson, who was acting as principal agent in the absence of Colonel Wakefield, now on a visit to Hobson. The survey, he wrote, was barely completed on paper, the acres were not staked out or numbered on the ground, and, as most of the streets had been laid out with very little regard for the natural features of the country, these gave no help. When selection was due to begin, on Monday, 27 July, the principal landholders and agents protested - Hanson added that had he not been acting as agent for the Company he would have joined them - that they could not do justice to themselves or their clients, that they respectfully declined to proceed with the selection, and begged that the surveyors should stake out and number the acres; they further suggested 'a reduction of the plan and its publication by means of the lithographic press'. Hanson knew that many small holders were ready to start work on their land and had already suffered seriously by the delay; he also felt the injustice of proprietors having to make their choices in
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circumstances which made the exercise of any sound judgment altogether impossible. It was therefore arranged that the selection would go on, but only a certain number would be chosen each day 'and that while the choice of the earlier sections was proceeding, with regard to which less difficulty would be experienced' the surveyors would stake out the lines of the streets.
Accordingly selection began on Tuesday, 28 July. On that and on the following day 100 sections were chosen, but on Thursday an important error was discovered in the plan which seriously affected the value of two sections - one of which Dr Evans had chosen. Protest and discussion led to the decision that 'certain steps should be taken by Captain Smith' to make these sections 'equal in value to what they appear to be on the map'; and that to avoid similar mistakes further selection should be postponed till the following Monday, so that an authenticated copy of the original surveys could be put in.
The settlers probably would not have accepted this arrangement, went on Hanson, but for the arrival of the Bill for the settlement of land titles in New Zealand now before the Legislative Council of New South Wales. This Bill threw so much doubt upon the security of all titles to land, but particularly town land, that most of the Port Nicholson proprietors felt that, as choosing their sections was merely a form, it was not worth while raising difficulties; so selection was resumed and completed in four days. In conclusion Hanson remarked that the Company had been quite unable to provide the large reserves for government and public use, which it had promised; even after sacrificing all such reserves, 'great difficulty had been experienced in finding the 1,100 acres of which the town is to consist.' 68
The Company publicists might claim that the selections had gone off smoothly; but it was the smoothness of despair. Gipps's Bill, inspired by the effects of scattered speculative buying in South Australia, had two clauses that seemed to strike directly at Port Nicholson: the commissioners, who were to examine every land purchase, could not recommend granting more than 2,560 acres to any buyer nor support a claim to any land on a river or harbour which might be the site of a town. Certainly the speculative element was not absent at Port Nicholson. Only a small proportion of the land buyers had emigrated or intended to do so; they hoped to lease their town acres profitably and to sell handsomely as values rose. Of the moneyed emigrants, many had several sections and hoped, with trading and business, to live off them without undue toil or hardship. The eloquent Revans wrote despairingly:
'The arrival of the news respecting this bill was most inopportune. We had endured a great deal of discomfort but were supported by the idea that we were on the eve of beginning the work of settlement. We were
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going to select the town acres, and all was bustle and excitement. The news created a panic and many doubted whether they should select at all, but this doubt subsided and the work has not only been commenced but completed. All would have hastened to take possession but the feeling is now that all outlay should be avoided and the consequence is general stoppage of business and workmen out of employ. The utter prostration of the settlement is complete,... I consider our town lands lost...
'... In the meantime Hanson is acting as Company's Agent and on receipt of the bill devised the scheme of transferring all of us to Chili - It has been approved by many and he has ordered the Cuba to get ready for sea and I believe even thinks of starting for Chili immediately. The scheme is surrounded with difficulties nor do I believe it could be carried into effect. And I am pretty confident that Col: Wakefield would not undertake the enormous responsibility attached to carrying out the scheme....
'It is very evident to most persons here that this Sydney law concerns not so much all the settlers here as about 70 of us who have land or rather a claim to land...,' 69
Hoping to obtain better terms, a deputation consisting of G. S. Evans, R. D. Hanson, and H. Moreing sailed off in September to Sydney to interview Gipps. Meanwhile trouble arose with the Maoris over the occupation of the land. The Ngati Awa inhabiting Port Nicholson had come there during the late 1820s and early 1830s from north Taranaki where they were being hammered by the Waikato tribes and Ngati Maniapoto tribes. They killed or expelled the Ngati Ira, who were there before them, and warred with the Ngati Kahungungu of Wairarapa. Late in 1835 a section of these Ngati Awa, the subtribe called Ngati Mutunga, under their chief Pomare, seized the brig Rodney and compelled her captain to take them to the Chatham Islands, which they conquered and possessed. The Ngati Awa remaining at Port Nicholson and the Hutt, thus depleted in numbers, were in a rather nervous state; for not only were the Ngati Kahungungu, on the one hand, likely to seek revenge, but, on the other, the Ngati Raukawa of Otaki and the Manawatu were longstanding enemies. This enmity was not affected by the fact that Ngati Awa and Ngati Raukawa had joined forces on the migration southward from Taranaki, together with Ngati Toa under Te Rauparaha.
It was chiefly with Te Puni of Pito-one and Te Wharepouri of Ngauranga, his kinsman, leading Ngati Awa chiefs, that Colonel Wakefield, with Dicky Barrett, that highly inadequate interpreter, made his land-buying arrangements. Not unnaturally, they were anxious to have white men living among them as protection against their foes. They divided the sale goods among the several settlements, they with some others signed the agreement, and they never denied that they had sold their land;
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although they had had no idea that so many white men would come, in ship after ship, to outnumber them.
There were, it later appeared, some jealousies and disagreements between these chiefs and their people, and those at the other end of the harbour. At one time Te Puni's people had some cultivations in the neighbourhood of what is now Thorndon, but, owing to the distance from their usual homes and the growing disagreements with Pipitea and Kumutoto, they had retired from these gardens altogether. That did not keep Te Puni from thinking he could dispose of the neighbourhood, though it had long since reverted to the followers of Moturoa. 70
The chiefs of Pipitea, Kumutoto, and Te Aro had not signed the agreement and denied that they had sold the land, though they had received some goods - in his diary Colonel Wakefield remarked that on landing at the 'Taranake settlement' (Te Aro), Wharepouri represented the value of English settlers coming and excused the smallness of the quantity of goods he had sent to them on the plea of the 'free' settlements having required the greater share, but at least they had received one case of muskets. 71 The Colonel mistakenly believed that Te Aro was a slave village. It was amongst the cultivations and dwellings of Pipitea and Te Aro that the town was now taking shape. Te Aro, the largest pa, on the south-east head of the harbour, was an area favoured by the selectors as a valuable commercial part of the future town.
It seems that Shortland tried to inquire into the matter, and a report that he wrote in October 1840, at Hobson's request, follows the lines of Best's remarks (p. 234 below), though his strange renderings of Maori names are confusing.
'I have the honour to inform Your Excellency that the chief Muturoa stated to me that he had not sold his land to the Company; that he neither signed their deed of conveyance nor received any part of the payment given to the other chiefs.
'Muturoa possesses a considerable part of the land, both at Pipitea or Te-Oro (or Taranachi) on which the Company's town has been laid out.
'The natives of Pah Taranaki complained to me, shortly after my arrival, that the Company's surveyors were placing marks on their land; they said they had not sold it, and would not give it up; that the land belonged to them and not to Warreponia [Wharepouri] and Epouni [Te Puni] and the chiefs who had sold their land to the Company; at the same time they stated that a case of muskets and some blankets had been given them by the chiefs, and also some blankets by Colonel Wakefield, for permission to allow surveyors' points to remain unmolested.
'When the selection of the town acre sections commenced, the natives having heard reports that they were to be dispossessed of their lands and
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driven to the mountains, they again came to me, and amongst others Epouni, Wedcropa [?] and Pouruto [?].
'On my inquiring whether the land claimed by Muturoa and the natives of Pah Taranaki belonged to Kirripori [Wharepouri] and themselves, they replied that they "did not"; I then asked them whether they had sold the lands claimed by those chiefs to Colonel Wakefield, Epouri answered, "Yes; how could I help it when I saw so many muskets and blankets before me."
'The chiefs of Pah Taranaki invariably maintained that they had not sold their land and persisted in disputing the Company's claim to it; and the dispute was not arranged till I entered into the agreement which I had the honour to forward to your Excellency from Port Nicholson.' 72
On 26 August there occurred the incident described by Best (p. 239 below); some Te Aro men pulled down a house Revans was building there, Captain Daniell remonstrated with them and was hit, and the Europeans, having rushed along with weapons, were summarily sent away by Shortland. On 29 August the Gazette bore a notice from Shortland cautioning all persons against assembling with arms on any pretext whatever, without being duly authorised to do so. On the same day he arranged that the natives of Te Aro should give to him all rights in the disputed land, promising in return that the dispute should be submitted to the Governor, and that if the land had not been fairly bought, fair and reasonable compensation should be paid. 73 This he made public, and declared further that all persons wishing to occupy any of the land in question would be placed in possession by applying to him, through Colonel Wakefield; while anyone attempting to take possession without such permission would be proceeded against according to law. 74 To Colonel Wakefield he wrote, '... the argument entered into by me with the natives of Pah Taranaki is subject to the claims of the New Zealand Company, and with no intention to injure their interests, but with a view to settle the question pending.' 75 The Colonel, on behalf of the Company, acknowledged 'the handsome expressions of consideration for their interests conveyed in your letter and verbally to myself.' 76
As William Spain, commissioner of land claims, later wrote, 'a sort of cession' was made by the natives to the Crown of their interests in the disputed ground, on the understanding that they should retain possession of their pa, their claim for payment to be entertained when land titles of the area should be investigated. 77
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Spain began these investigations in 1842, and finally in March 1845 awarded the Company 71,900 acres in all. Meanwhile he had suggested that Colonel Wakefield should make further payment for some of the land. This was worked out between the Colonel and George Clarke, protector of aborigines, and in February 1844 £1,500 were paid to the several villages, Te Aro getting £300 and Kumutoto and Pipitea £200 each for their land, exclusive of the existing pa and cultivations, which they retained. 78
With uncertain land tenure paralysing development, labourers were presumably short of work at Port Nicholson, though most Company sources deny this or pass lightly over it. At the same time they were desperately needed at the new capital, Auckland, and in Van Diemen's Land, where a bounty was paid by the government to those bringing in emigrants. Best records the arrival of the schooner Essington from Hobart with Mr R. Brown aboard. This Mr R. Brown's sinister purpose, which Best does not mention, was to entice away the mechanics and labourers brought out at the Company's expense; and apparently he hoped to collect the bounty, 79 as if he had brought out emigrants from England. But Colonel Wakefield's appeal to the Governor of Van Diemen's Land was promptly answered: 'the views expressed by you... are precisely similar to those communicated by Sir John Franklin to the applicants requiring labour.... Fully alive as Sir John Franklin is to the importance of importing free labour into this Colony... His Excellency would never countenance, much less sanction, the gaining such an advantage to the Colony under his Government by depriving an Infant State of its means of future advancement.' 80
None the less, Mr Brown, with promises of regular employment at high wages and a plot of ground for each family, with delusive statements about the price of provisions in Van Diemen's Land, and with 'forebodings of evil to this Colony working on the minds of ignorant people labouring under the depressing effects of the inevitable discomforts of a new location', prevailed on more than 60 men and women to return with him to Hobart in the barque Lord Sidmouth. 81
Smaller but more outrageous were the depredations of Captain Hobson, who placed a government notice in the New Zealand Gazette of 14 November, calling for carpenters, sawyers, bricklayers, and stone masons, 27 in all, to go to Auckland, at wages ranging from 9s. to 7s. 6d. a day, provisions at cost price, and peppercorn rents for 1/4-acre sections while in government service. This he followed up by sending the Chelydra to
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carry the 21 mechanics 82 so recruited free to Auckland, along with Best and his 30 men of the 80th. Port Nicholson exploded with fury, calling the attention of Sir George Gipps, 83 the Queen, 84 and all other right-thinking persons to the atrocious activities of 'Captain Crimp'; and bringing down on that official a mild rebuke from the Colonial Secretary - 'I cannot disguise from you my opinion, that in offering a free passage to Auckland to mechanics who had been introduced into the Company's settlement at their expense, you judged erroneously.' 85
This stealing of labourers was the more resented because in December the deputation to Gipps had returned with good tidings. Gipps had been sympathetic and given assurances that his government would do its best to confirm the settlers in their Port Nicholson possessions, provided they took their 110,000 country acres in a compact block adjoining the town, where some 20 acres of the best commercial land must be reserved for government purposes, while the selection of native reserves, one-tenth of the whole purchase, was to be approved by Hobson.
The settlers who had expected to select their country sections from the large area of the Company's purchase were disappointed to be thus limited to about 15 miles square of the rugged hilly country around Port Nicholson; but Gipps reminded them that a lottery implied blanks as well as prizes, and they were relieved to have official recognition of their claims and to be assured of their town. At a public meeting on 9 December 1840 Colonel Wakefield promised that they would not have to accept barren rock, and that the surveys would be so managed that each holder of a land order would get a portion of 'available' - that is, usable - land; for while expecting the Colonial Office to endorse Gipps's check on the selecting of scattered favourable areas, he expected also that the Company would be allowed to settle another block in another district: therefore he would proceed to open Wanganui to buyers of the second series of land orders. 86 His expectations were justified--in April news came that the colony had been separated from New South Wales, and Gipps's Bill accordingly disallowed; while Lord John Russell in November had made an arrangement between the Company and the Crown which promised to ease many of the Company's difficulties.
This was in the future, of course, but already, at the start of 1841, the settlers of Port Nicholson were confident again. They turned with factional zeal to the celebration of the first anniversary of their arrival, and Best became involved in the factions. A few weeks later he was recalled to Auckland and went very cheerfully.
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Now begins the last phase of Best's journal. Soon after returning to Auckland he went on several expeditions among the Maoris, two being peaceful flag-showing missions, while two were inquiries into acts of cannibalism. It was welcome activity to our energetic young soldier, especially in preference to the barrack-building that was occupying everyone at headquarters, and the boredom that hung over Auckland; while an officer eager to go out among the Maoris and acceptable to them must have been very useful to a government acutely short of such men. Best's ability to get on with the Maoris was noticed quite early by his superiors: in October 1840 Shortland told Hobson 'the services of Lieutenant Best of the 80th are particularly valuable; by his kind and considerate manners and from the great care he has taken to create a good understanding between the natives and the soldiers, he has possessed himself of their entire confidence and good opinion.' 87
Best was fortunate in his companions on these travels. It is clear that his interests were widened and his observations sharpened by some of them. Symonds, full enterprise and ability; Dieffenbach, a good naturalist, perceptive of Maori problems; and Edward Shortland, destined to be a distinguished administrator and to write books on the Maori that have become classics, were more stimulating company than Lieutenant Smart and Willoughby Shortland.
Captain William Cornwallis Symonds was the son of Sir William Symonds, surveyor-general to the Navy, who had been connected with the New Zealand Company in its earlier phase, in 1837. He himself, an unattached half-pay Army officer, had come to New Zealand in 1839 as the agent of a Scottish land company which in 1838 had obtained at second hand a land-sale deed for about 90,000 acres in the Manukau-Waitemata area, acquired from the natives by Thomas Mitchell of Sydney in 1836. Before selling this land to emigrants the Company sent Symonds out to examine it and check on the purchase with the natives. Symonds, an able adventurer, settled into a pakeha-Maori life at Kaipara and Karangahape, 88 on the northern shore of Manukau Harbour. In February 1840 he reported to his company that he had inspected the lands it claimed and been put formally in possession by the natives thereof. Naturally, the possibility that Hobson's capital would be on or near these lands keenly interested Symonds, and his presence in Hobson's first expedition to inspect the Waitemata in February 1840, and again in June, may have influenced the selection of the site of Auckland. 89 The Company happily 'authorised Captain Symonds... to offer His Excellency every facility which their property will afford for the selection of a capital, as well as to adopt such plans in the distribution of the sections as will harmonise
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with the views of Government.' 90 But if Symonds's interests needed Hobson's favour, Hobson needed Symonds. He was miserably short of officials to deal with the Maoris. Symonds was an effective collector of signatures to the Treaty of Waitangi, in the Manukau - West Coast - Waipa area. He was made a magistrate in March 1840 91 and deputy surveyor in June - which last appointment was confirmed by the Home government in February 1841. On 31 December 1839 the War Office had gazetted him to the 96th Regiment, 92 in New South Wales, but Hobson, declaring that he had derived great assistance from Captain Symonds's intelligence, activity, and intimate knowledge of the country, applied for him to retain his position as police magistrate in New Zealand. 93 In New Zealand he remained, to drown after a valiant struggle in Manukau Harbour, in November 1841.
Ernst Dieffenbach (1811-55), German-trained surgeon and naturalist whom political pressure had sent to earn a narrow living in London, came to New Zealand in the Tory in 1839, to observe and make known to the world its natural features and its value as a colony. Before his journey with Best in April 1841, he had already travelled a good deal. In the Tory he had examined the Cook Strait area between August and mid November 1839; then he went by boat to the site of New Plymouth, climbed Mount Egmont, at the second attempt, on Christmas Day, and explored along the coast as far as the Mokau River. In February he had gone off to report on the Chatham Islands (which the Company tried to buy as a speculation) and, returning to Port Nicholson, had explored the upper valley of the Hutt in August 1840. He had then gone in the Cuba to Sydney, returning in October to the Bay of Islands, to coast the far north of the island with Captain Bernard, an adventurous Frenchman, in a little 16-ton schooner.
Back at the Bay in November, Dieffenbach wanted to go to the Thames and thence across country to Wanganui and Port Nicholson; and Hobson, who received him 'with great affability', offered to convey him to the Thames to join the protector of aborigines who was attending an assembly of natives there. Accepting this offer Dieffenbach explained rather anxiously to Colonel Wakefield, 'I beg leave to assure you that I continue to regard me as the servant of the Company and that I think it my duty to further her interest as much as it is my power.' 94 At the same time R. D. Hanson wrote to the secretary that he had given Dieffenbach £50 for the trip, 'which I imagine the smallest sum requisite under the present position of the place. In fact it would not be enough, for the natives are
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everywhere acquiring more extravagant expectations... were it not that at least a portion of his journey will be performed in company with the protector of aborigines.' 95
The protector, George Clarke, visited the Thames and Waikato between 19 December and 19 January 1841. Presumably Dieffenbach accompanied him, though Clarke's published report does not mention him, and Dieffenbach's Travels describes the Thames in general terms only, which is not exceptional - he pruned the personal element severely in his narrative. He did not go on to Wanganui, however, but returned to the Bay and offered to traverse New Zealand for the government and scientific knowledge. 'In wishing to exchange my position to the Company with a similar one under government, I am guided by the persuasion that I shall thus be enabled to fulfil more fully my intention to visit the whole of the islands, instead of a part of them; and by a close examination to direct the attention of the government to those places which are likely to become of the greatest importance.' 96 Hobson embraced the idea enthusiastically and wrote to Gipps: 'Dr. Dieffenbach's attainments are of the highest order; he is most enthusiastically attached to science and he possesses physical powers which enable him to pursue his researches to the greatest extent. My opinion is, that such a man may unfold to us the real resources of the country, and that we are proceeding blindfold until such knowledge is obtained'. Dieffenbach asked merely that his travelling expenses should be paid, 'and he plainly told me that these were the conditions, without salary, on which he served the New Zealand Company'. He was withdrawing from the Company because he was restricted to a partial examination of the country, his researches were not faithfully reported, and only those parts which suited the purposes of the Company were published. 'Pending your Excellency's sanction, I will propose to Dr. Dieffenbach to traverse the country between this and Auckland, the expense of which I will defray, and if it should meet your approval that he be retained... I will next direct his attention to the central districts, which are at present but imperfectly known.' 97
To Lady Franklin, who visited him about this time, Hobson said that he had little doubt of Dieffenbach's engagement being approved, but if not he would rather pay for it himself than dismiss him. 98 But alas for Hobson's hopes and scientific colonisation - Gipps bleakly replied that he was not at liberty to apply any New South Wales revenue to a purpose in New Zealand not essential to the establishment of Her Majesty's government there; 99 which refusal Lord John Russell endorsed, reminding
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Hobson of the need for strict economy. 100 In September 1841, just three months after returning from the thermal regions, Dieffenbach suddenly sailed for England.
Gipps's letter could not have arrived before Dieffenbach started on his central journey, but in any case Hobson had prudently linked scientific exploration with furthering the Queen's authority. Sovereignty had been proclaimed; it was necessary to exercise it slightly, though only the slightest exercise was possible with Hobson's modest establishment. He sent Symonds, the active young magistrate, with Dieffenbach to the Waipa and the thermal regions, holding courts where charges could be laid and heard, and urging the Maori to adopt British ideas of law - in particular, Symonds spoke repeatedly against murders, those sudden almost irresponsible Maori reprisals, for which in turn revenge must be exacted, leading deeper and deeper into tribal embroilments. Symonds, however, did not mention this purpose in a letter to the Sydney Herald, dated 6 April 1841, where he wrote that he was engaged on an expedition into the interior 'partly to gratify my own curiosity and partly to ascertain the resources of this island'. 101
Just how Best came into the party is not known. He was not essential to it, for when his leave expired he had to hurry back alone from Taupo, while the others went on to Rotorua and Tauranga. It would seem that he wanted to go and persuaded Major Bunbury to let him. Bunbury's careful explanations to higher authority when Best went to the Thames in July 1842 - that Best having applied for permission to go, 'I deemed it proper to grant it... and I trust His Excellency the Lieutenant-General will not disapprove of my having on this occasion taken upon myself to permit Captain Best absenting from the detachment for so short a period' 102 - could suggest that the Major had been reprimanded for this earlier and longer absence.
Dieffenbach's Travels in New Zealand mentioned his companions very little. He explained that having a great disinclination to describe personal incidents he omitted them altogether and risked the reproach of tediousness by giving what he thought more useful, 'a topographical description of the different parts of the country and afterwards look over the whole in a bird's eye view.' One may regret this disinclination - a few remarks to balance, for instance, Best's mention of the inadequate trench Dieffenbach dug round the tent, would have been welcome. Best himself wrote an account which was published in the United Service Magazine, for June 1842. In an introductory note 103 he said that, being aware of the greedi-
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ness with which any information on New Zealand was devoured in England, he had tried to give a general idea of the country and the customs of the Maori, disclaiming any intention of bordering on the scientific but expressing gratitude to Dieffenbach for geological information. This account follows the journal pretty closely, though personal elements are subdued, geology reduced, and punctuation increased, while the printer's rendering of some Maori names is understandable but strange.
After this journey, Best spent several months in Auckland. On 2 July 1841 he was promoted, again by purchase, to the rank of captain; 104 he must have received news of this about October, but he made no mention of it. He had been glad to leave Port Nicholson, but it is clear that Auckland pleased him little better. Nor is this surprising. The little shabby town on the raw edge of the wilderness was made more shabby by the pretentions and distinctions of people anxious to maintain or improve their gentility. Best preferred the hospitality of a trader's two-roomed hut. Moreover, Auckland society was cankered by a coterie of speculators keen to make their fortunes in land dealing. They bought up sections at extremely high prices, not for their own use, but to sell or lease profitably to later comers, and, when these actual men of business and industrious labourers were slow to appear, they blamed the Governor and everyone but themselves for Auckland's stagnation. Early in January 1842 the first race meeting put everyone in a good humour for a few days, but immediately after this interests and passions ran high over Hobson's unfortunate land claims Bills. Then came an extraordinary series of challenges and postings as cowards, surely symptomatic of boredom and rancour, in which Best became involved. In one he vainly offered his services as second, in another he was himself challenged by W. E. Cormack, one of the land-jobbing group, for reasons which remain hidden, though every subsequent movement of the affair was published in the newspaper. Best himself mentions these matters very little - 'the day of the fight' is his marginal comment on 18 March when he went to the duelling ground, was withdrawn by his second over the choice of weapons, posted as a coward by his opponent, and justified by a meeting of brother officers. His second in this affair was Edward Shortland, whom he had as yet scarcely named in his journal, but who was soon to be the satisfying companion of his next three excursions.
Edward Shortland, born 1812, having graduated M.A. and studied medicine, came out to join his brother Willoughby, now colonial secretary of New Zealand, in 1841. Willoughby Shortland was obviously a very limited man, but his younger brother was lively, humane, adaptable, and quickly gained a profound understanding of Maoris. He was Hobson's private secretary from June 1841 till June 1842, 105 and became a police
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magistrate and subprotector of aborigines in August 1842 106 - a post for which he was, as Best remarked, eminently fitted. Together he and Best began to learn the Maori language and Shortland soon became highly competent. As he later wrote, he believed, while realising that the native people should learn English ways and speech, 'that those who are anxious to teach the New Zealanders English, will be better able to do so, having first learned their language'. 107 Between August and October 1843, he accompanied the land claims commissioner, Colonel E. L. Godfrey (whose company Best had enjoyed), on his inquiries into purchases of native land at Banks Peninsula and Otago, performing the double duties of interpreter and protector of native interests. He then spent the rest of the year visiting and taking a census of the scattered Maori settlements and the whaling stations between Moeraki and the Taieri River; and finished his travels by walking 200 miles along the coast back to Akaroa, in January 1844, being one of the first white men to tread this coast - the other was Bishop Selwyn, whom he met near Timaru. Shortland returned to his work in the Bay of Plenty area, began to write The Southern Districts of New Zealand 108 and, in the war of 1845-46, combined the duties of assistant medical officer and interpreter to Colonel Despard. Shortland did not remain uninterruptedly in New Zealand - he first returned to England early in 1847, 109 and in England published his two most important books. These were The Southern Districts of New Zealand (1851), a first-rate account of a very interesting period, and Traditions and Superstitions of the New Zealanders (1854, second edition, 1856), which remains valuable for its acute observations of many of the subtler aspects of Maori life. Later, having become a member of the Royal College of Physicians, he practised medicine at Auckland. He published an article, A Short Sketch of the Maori Races, at Dunedin in 1865, and Maori Religion and Mythology - 'collected by the author many years ago' - at Auckland in 1882. How to learn Maori (Auckland, 1883) was his last contribution to the study he had commenced with Best 40 years earlier.
In April 1842 Hobson and William Martin, the chief justice, with Best and Shortland in attendance, went up the Waikato and Waipa to Otawhao and back by the west coast, ground that Best had already travelled with Dieffenbach. Shortland's journal of this trip supplements Best's admirably, revealing their comradeship as they set themselves to learn the language, and sat blanketed, with their pipes, late into the night talking with the Maoris, whom they found courteous and patient teachers.
Both Shortland and Best were divided a good deal in mood from the Governor they attended. This was Hobson's first and last long excursion by
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land. Its exact purpose is not clear - no doubt both Hobson and Martin wished to see for themselves something of the interior and its people, and a state visit would promote loyalty and land sales. Also Hobson must have desperately wanted a holiday from his worries. He was not well - he died six months later, aged only 49 - and he was being vociferously attacked from all sides. The task of a colonial governor was never easy; distracted between the demands of the colonists and the restrictions of conscience and economy imposed by the Colonial Office, it was made still more difficult by incomplete and slow communications. To withstand these strains needed a tougher, less anxious man than William Hobson. He was the obvious target for all the colonists' dissatisfactions, usually expressed with more vigour than justice. The New Zealand Company, resentful that he had refused to make Wellington his headquarters and had insisted that its further settlements should be in the neighbourhood of Cook Strait, sniped at him steadily. His land claims Bills quite understandably were very unpopular. Outlying settlers, irritated by inevitable differences with the Maoris, were impatient because the Governor did not teach the savages a sharp lesson instead of sending the protector of aborigines to inquire into complaints; they chose to ignore the possibility of a military defeat, which would have made their neighbours vastly more outrageous. He was short of officers. He was also short of money and was driven to use for routine expenses money from land sales which it was expected would be spent in bringing out emigrants who would somehow turn Auckland into a thriving business centre. Dissatisfied parties were getting up petitions and meetings of protest against the Governor even as he set out for the Waipa; and they held their fire till his return.
A year earlier, the perceptive Jane Franklin had written to her husband, the Governor of Tasmania: 'Never having seen Captain Hobson before I am unable to say that he is a very altered man, but he gives me such an impression. His figure is shrunk and emaciated, his complexion pale and his whole appearance and manner feeble, though he is occasionally flushed and excited. At first I thought his mind indicated some slight deterioration also, but in this further acquaintance convinced me I was mistaken, unless it might be in some slight degree in memory. Whatever Captain Hobson may once have been he is even in his decline and decay, (if indeed he may be considered in such at all) more vigorous and active-minded than many or most men in their prime; I think him a clever man, quick, of ready and sound judgment, and singularly active-minded and observant; perhaps fidgetty and busy-bodyish. Nothing escapes him and there is nothing he refrains from meddling with. He seems to understand how to do everything and to be as conversant with his wife's storeroom or his children's toilette as with the affairs of the new colony'. 110
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How Best regarded Hobson is not explicit. He mentions his kindness, he hints at fussiness, one can sometimes detect a half-contemptuous forbearance; and he would probably have agreed with the sharper remarks of Lady Franklin. It is clear that this viceregal journey was subject to all the delays and vexations of rain, tides, canoes not ready when wanted, and Maori leisureliness that beset most early New Zealand travellers. Hobson chaffed under them, becoming more vexed and impatient towards the end. It was an odd shabby little party - the Governor generally mounted on an unremarkable horse, his secretary, aide-de-camp, and interpreter travelling in rather casual fashion, sometimes with the Governor, sometimes ahead of or behind him; the pack-horse, frequently bogged; and the usual straggling band of Maori carriers.
After this trip with Hobson in April 1842, Best's journal remains silent for two months, till his next excursion. In May, Taraia, a chief of the Thames district, disturbed New Zealand by making a surprise attack on a pa at Katikati, killing eight people and carrying off 12 as slaves; moreover, two of the slain were eaten. Fighting was alarming enough, for in New Zealand one fight usually bred another, but cannibalism was one of the practices that Hobson's instructions expressly urged him to put down by every means he could, as contrary to the universal laws of morality. George Clarke, chief protector of aborigines, went off to investigate early in June, and with him the newly arrived Bishop Selwyn. 111 The action arose out of long-standing tribal enmities. Taraia was unrepentant. He admitted the killing, the carrying-off of prisoners, and the cannibalism, which by old custom were proper reprisals for the encroachments on land and other provocations he had received; and declared that as no European had been injured it was a matter for the Maoris alone, and the Governor had no business to interfere. Neither he nor his allies in the attack (chief of whom were a party of Ngapuhi from Whangarei who had been visiting him) would give up their captives on the spot. Clarke returned thinking that something must be done by force, or the government would lose much influence among Christian and peaceable tribes looking for protection. 112 Major Bunbury advised that he could supply 53 men and would lead them himself.
While waiting for the brig to come round from Manukau, however, Clarke changed his mind, deciding that force would be useless or worse. 'The capturing of Taraia, who is only a small portion of the party concerned, is not only uncertain, but hazardous', he wrote. It might cause the destruction of all Europeans and their property within the range of the Thames tribes. There were heathen natives well disposed towards the
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government who would feel obliged to assist Taraia; and Christians who might through fear show hostility. 'The parties who are soliciting the Government to coerce the others are not to be relied on for assistance in the event of a failure of Government plans; the persons of Europeans would, I fear, no longer be held sacred, and a failure would be productive of endless mischief.' He thought it neither prudent nor right to attempt to arrest Taraia. 'Great provocation has been given Taraia; no means have been adopted to settle their quarrels, continually arising out of the boundaries of their land; they do not know where to refer them, nor how to get redress....
'In the whole of this unhappy affair, there is a fair exhibition of native character towards the Government; it is evident that there is still a large body of natives who dispute the right of sovereignty in cases purely native; much of this feeling arises, and I fear is on the increase, from the absence of proper authorities among them to represent the government. An efficient number of protectors would do more to prevent the recurrence of such scenes, and to establish the government on a firmer basis, than a large army of soldiers.... It cannot have escaped his Excellency's notice, that one protector, and one subprotector, to attend to the wants, complaints and interest of 120,000 natives scattered over the islands, is an inadequacy unknown in any other department, alike destructive to the peace and property of both native and European.' 113
Clarke's report is quoted thus fully for giving a fair exhibition of the working difficulties of Maori-European contact at this stage, which, together with the almost negligible machinery for coping with them, were to carry New Zealand into war; it also displays the climate of ideas in which Best worked.
It was decided that the colonial secretary, Willoughby Shortland, should go with his brother Edward and Clarke to arrange the affair without soldiers. Best went too, charged to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the defences in general use by the natives, and to present a written report thereon. 114 This report was not published, but Best's journal has some notes on the defences of various pas. On this second visit Taraia was more compliant. The colonial secretary's report, which was closely echoed by Best's account, described Taraia's attitude acutely in surprisingly few words - perhaps it was drafted by his brother Edward:
'On our arrival at Taraia's pah we were received with great civility. He told us he had heard that the Governor intended sending soldiers to capture him, and that the Pakehas had informed him he would be hung "like Maketu." "If this be true," said Taraia, "I will first take payment for myself," (meaning that he would kill some Europeans as satisfaction for his own death.) "The Governor may then send his soldiers to kill me;
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here I will remain that my people may see my death." We informed him that the object of our visit was to explain to him the true words of the Governor, which were these: - That war must cease; that a payment must be made to the injured parties, and the land in dispute sold to the Governor by all the claimants. "What relation is the Governor to Wanaki" (the chief killed at Kati Kati), exclaimed Taraia, "that he should love him so much? I have no objection to pay his people, provided they pay me for all my relations whom they have killed. Have they not eaten my mother? Have we not been at war many years? This is not the first time."' 115
None the less, after much more conversation Taraia agreed to all their proposals, and the peace-making party went on to Tauranga where they found the people clamorous for redress: Taraia should be hung 'like Maketu', and they themselves take payment according to ancient custom. But at a second large meeting they agreed to sit down in peace and leave the settlement of the affair to the Governor. They asked that a pakeha should be sent to live among them and that there should be a European settlement at Tauranga, for which they offered to sell land, and also a block of land between them and the Rotorua tribes, to end the war that had so long persisted. Thus the expedition ended very satisfactorily with the protector of aborigines performing at one stroke both his tasks as settler of disputes and buyer of land for the Crown.
This satisfaction was soon dimmed. Some three months later, on 29 November, Acting Governor Shortland with his wife and his brother Edward, now a subprotector of aborigines, William Spain, commissioner of land claims, and several others, including Captain Best as aide-de-camp, set off for Port Nicholson where Shortland hoped to make good the land purchase of the New Zealand Company, which was being disputed by the Maoris. Best's mention of trade goods shows that it was also intended to arrange a land sale with the Thames and Tauranga natives. Presumably the visit made to Great Barrier Island was merely sightseeing; the Auckland Times of 15 December 1842 bitingly suggested that a 'progress' was a proper description of this expedition by the Acting Governor and his suite. On 3 December they entered Tauranga, and found it abuzz with war.
A small coaster, the Nimble, run by two Europeans, Peter Lowrie and Charles Joy had called at Maketu. Here three Maoris who wished to visit Auckland - a chief named Tangaroa, a young man, and a lad about 12 years old, the son of Tohi-te-ururangi, a leading Ngati Whakaue chief - embarked with them. Two days later, on 7 November, they were
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off Katikati, with the wind against them. They put in there, anchoring near the pa of Wanake, deserted since Taraia's attack six months before, and took away six or seven baskets of potatoes, which were highly tapu on account of the deaths at the pa. At a subsequent inquiry the Europeans said they went to Katikati because of the wind and to get wood and water, and that the Maoris had been foremost in taking the potatoes; 116 the missionary Thomas Chapman said he had learned that it was at the suggestion of Tangaroa that the vessel anchored off the pa; 117 George Clarke, after investigating the affair, declared they must have gone there for potatoes - wood and water could have been obtained at the entrance to the harbour much more conveniently than where they anchored. 118 The Maoris claimed that it was in spite of their own entreaties that Lowrie and Joy had gone into Katikati, the place of Maketu's enemies, and taken the potatoes, saying, 'What have Europeans to do with Maori tapu?' 119 In any case, the party was seen by the people of Matakana, who rushed upon them threateningly, stripping the Europeans and plundering the boat. The Maketu Maoris ran into the bush, and the boy, separated from the other two, was not seen again. Lowrie and Joy were taken to Matakana, whence after two days Joy started for Auckland, by way of Waikato, while Lowrie remained at Tauranga. The Matakana people kept the boat.
The day after this affray foul winds forced James Farrow, storekeeper of Tauranga, on his way to Tairua, to go into Katikati. Tangaroa and his friend appeared and asked to be taken to Maketu, which Farrow said he could not do, though he would take them to Tairua. Next morning, when Farrow and his brother were returning from a hill after having a look at the entrance bar, Tangaroa and his friend rushed ahead, seized the boat, and shouting 'Hime, go back to Tauranga and look for my child, bring him to Maketu, and then I will give you the boat', sailed off to Maketu. 120
A few days later Tangaroa and Tohi, the boy's father, with about 20 men, came in this boat to Maunganui to look for the boy. The Tauranga missionary, A. N. Brown, went to them and told them that a search had been made for him but he had not been found. Declaring that he was murdered and vowing vengeance, the Maketu party departed. They made straight for Tuhua (Mayor Island). The people here were a branch of the Tauranga tribe. Recognising the boat as Farrow's, and all unsuspecting, some of them came alongside in a canoe. Tangaroa's party fired, killing
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four, wounding several, and capturing two youths. They took the slain back to Maketu and made a cannibal feast.
Here was an end to the pleasant 'progress'. A Tauranga party bent on revenge was persuaded to wait, while Edward Shortland and George Clarke, junior, both subprotectors of aborigines, were sent to Maketu to express disapproval, retrieve Farrow's boat, and release the two prisoners. Best went with them to inspect Maketu from a military point of view. They were met with arguments and the boat was refused. The Acting Governor, finding his endeavours with one party fruitless and his influence with the other but doubtful, sent Best back to Auckland in the Victoria to fetch Bunbury and the troops.
These arrived on 18 December, bringing a protest from George Clarke, chief protector of aborigines, and an opinion from William Swainson, attorney-general, that only those natives who had acknowledged the Queen's authority by signing the Treaty of Waitangi or otherwise could be considered British subjects, amenable to British laws. This opinion was not rebutted 121 by the chief justice, William Martin, who, in making a long journey through the island with Bishop Selwyn, had arrived at Tauranga the day before the troops. Major Bunbury was ready to go into action at once, but, as Edward Shortland put it, he did not like the idea of remaining in camp at Tauranga as a rod of terror placed over the heads of all parties; while the soldiers and the marines borrowed from the Tortoise thought it would be prime sport to destroy a pa and kill a few Maoris. 122 Possibly Willoughby Shortland, and Best himself, may have wished to give battle, but in face of the legal opposition this was not to be done. Meanwhile the troops were encamped near Mount Maunganui, and the natives both at Maketu and Tauranga were assured that they came not to take sides but to impose a barrier between the tribes.
This did not satisfy the aggrieved people of Tauranga. They clamoured for the Governor to take action against Maketu and recalled the warning that had been published in the Maori Gazette in August and September after the Taraia affair: that if in future they should rise to fight one another the Governor would also rise and compel them to cease. 123 They clearly showed, however, that while they wanted the government to coerce their enemies (just as they had customarily made alliances with other tribes against foes) they themselves were willing to obey it only so far as obedience might suit their plans and interests. 124
Willoughby Shortland rightly felt that to admit incomplete sovereignty by renewing treaty negotiations would be disastrous, and that it would
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also be disastrous to apprehend Tangaroa and not be able to sustain the charges against him. He sidestepped the difficulty by maintaining that British sovereignty existed over the whole of New Zealand, encamping the troops as a barrier to war parties, and leaving the protector of aborigines to recover Farrow's boat (the Nimble had been returned already) and make peace between the tribes, while he himself wrote to the Colonial Office for instructions 125 and departed for Port Nicholson on 31 December.
George Clarke the elder had arrived the same day and proceeded with his pacifying. It was clear that Tupaea of Otumoetai was the most war minded of the chiefs. Best describes him as a man corroded and embittered by the ravages his once-powerful tribe had sustained. The pa Te Tumu, sacked by Rotorua in Waharoa's war seven years before, had been his, and Clarke wrote that he seemed determined never to forget this disgrace, for which he still demanded payment; instead, he had to endure new outrage on his relatives at Tuhua. He wanted the Governor to fight his enemies, but perceived no obligation to obey the Governor himself. Taipari of Maungatapu was far more pacific; his wife was from Rotorua and he was less closely related at Tuhua. At Maketu on 11 January Clarke found everyone now willing to restore Farrow's boat, with pigs and potatoes as compensation; also they wished to make peace with Tauranga and to have Europeans living among them. When told that Edward Shortland would spend part of his time with them they were delighted and pressed for a large part. Tohi said it would be as though his son had come to life. Edward Shortland himself drily remarked that he believed the chief object of their request for him was expectation of increased trade with Europeans - they were urgent he should ask the Governor for five Europeans to live and trade with them. 126 On 17 January Clarke started for Rotorua, where again all the chiefs were bent on peace.
As for the rights and wrongs of the matter, Clarke thought there was much blame on both sides, but the originators were the Europeans who took the Maketu natives into Katikati against their will; thereafter, directly or indirectly, the Tauranga men had caused the death of the boy, and were thus the first aggressors, while those of Maketu were the avengers of injury - on innocent people, alas, but this was in accordance with native custom.
Clarke considered that the negotiators, backed by the troops, had prevented further retaliations, which might have led to a general war; and 'by these pacific measures we have made one of the most hostile tribes friends to the British Government without sacrificing British honour or British humanity.' Tupaea remained sullen and would promise nothing, but if the Tauranga natives were restrained from retaliation for a few months by the continued presence of Edward Shortland a permanent peace
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should ensue. 127 A. N. Brown, the missionary at Tauranga, however, did not approve of these arrangements, which seemed to him 'little short of a premium for murder, and which must necessarily tend to exasperate the Tauranga tribes who have been already so deeply injured.' 128
Brown had much to disapprove. He wrote again:
'12 February [Sunday], The Government brig arrived to fetch the soldiers, who, without any regard for the sacredness of the day commenced making preparations for departure.
'13 February. The soldiers to our great joy left, but I fear the abominable example that they have set to the Natives of drunkenness and fornication will long continue its pestilential influence. While Major Bunbury was in command, the camp presented a scene of order and regularity. From the period of his departure in January, the camp has been a disgrace. Captain Best, who was received into our houses with hospitality, repaid our kindness by having two Native women one of whom resided with Mrs Kissling and the other with Mrs Brown, to live with him at the camp in open sin.'
Best's journal says nothing of this, though on other occasions, especially at Taupo, he had declared his feelings for a Maori girl - 'O ye Gods all the Venusses that were ever drawn or sculptured were deformities compared to her.... Every motion every attitude was the perfection of grace and elegance.... I am not ashamed to say that I fell desperately in love and I would at this moment walk the distance again to look at a woman one half as lovely.' The journal at Tauranga about this time shows him alert for signs of trouble but on good terms with the Maoris, joining in fishing expeditions, quieting a mad woman, and willingly shaking hands with Tohi, repentant cannibal and grieving father. But no Venus is mentioned, and suddenly, on 8 February 1843, the journal ends, with a thick volume half empty, leaving us to wonder and regret that the habit of five years was broken so sharply. It seems indeed that Best had fallen in love again (though we may perhaps question Brown's two women - no more than one is mentioned in the later repercussions) and perhaps his very silence is significant, for had he not been silent about other personal matters that must have affected him deeply, such as the duel, and his promotions?
Edward Shortland, left alone at Tauranga, wrote rather forlornly on 13 February: 'I now took up my abode in a cave which lately served for a powder magazine.... In the afternoon the Brig sailed and I went to our old seat on the hill to see her come round the head. I must say I felt particularly lonely as the sun sank gradually behind Maunganui, the Brig lengthening her distance, but so near I could see her decks crowded and
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hear the sounds of music, the demonstration of their joy at leaving their old encampment.' Next day after visiting a pa, he returned to the old encampment. 'Mrs Best was seated on the shore with her brother ready to start the next day for Matamata.'
This is not quite the last of 'Mrs Best'. It is possible that she followed Best to Auckland, and though within the next three months he was sent back to Sydney, ripples of the affair reached after him. Bishop Selwyn, informed by the outraged Brown, found it his painful duty on 8 July 1843 to write to Sir Maurice O'Connell, commanding the forces in New South Wales, complaining that Captain Best had seduced a native woman from the mission where he had been received as a guest, hoping that he could offer extenuating explanations, and that it would not be necessary for the bishop to instruct his clergy to close their doors to any military officers quartered near them. Apparently Best made no reply to this, for Selwyn, when he heard that Best had returned to New Zealand, wrote to him repeating his request for an explanation. 129
Best came back in the wake of the Wairau massacre of 23 June 1843. The Wellington and Nelson settlers, fearful of further attacks from Te Rauparaha and his friends, called for protection. Best, with 50 men of the 80th was sent in HMS North Star, commanded by Sir Everard Home, with orders that the troops were not to be landed anywhere in New Zealand unless absolutely needed for the protection of life. After visiting Auckland briefly they came to Port Nicholson on 31 August, where they remained for over a month.
Early in October, just as Sir Everard was about to sail for Banks Peninsula, believing all quiet, came renewed reports of Maoris gathering with many canoes in several places around Nelson. Although sceptical, he visited Mana Island and Te Rauparaha and came to Nelson on 10 October, where he 'found the people in a very great funk - they had built a battery and had erected a wooden place for the women and children.' 130 With Best and others he visited the various pas but found no warlike preparations, and on the thirteenth bluntly told a deputation that they had nothing to apprehend, the troops could not be landed except to protect life, and that he would forthwith depart for Sydney. Someone asked if troops could be landed at the request of a magistrate to enforce laws; to which Sir Everard replied certainly not, he would do nothing against his own judgment, nor would he land a man for any magistrate; and left the meeting. His report continues:
'The feeling uppermost in their minds is revenge and that word was used by one, a gentleman in the place, one of the persons who composed
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the meeting, hoped to live till the day arrived when a Maori might be shot like a dog, he was answered very well by Captain Best who was at the Parsonage where the expression was used. At Port Nicholson a person was heard to declare he would give £20 to be on a jury that tried the chiefs, and in these places it appears to me that a feeling of revenge exists beyond any other, and justice could not be expected in either place. In Nelson they want force not to resist the Natives but to control themselves, 300 ill-disposed labourers in the service of the Company require control... if anything does take place it will be these labourers rising and taking possession of the Fort.' 131 He noticed that the surveying of the Wairau, the occasion of the trouble in June, was still going on, in spite of denials by Company officers. One may imagine with pleasure how Captain Best answered the gentleman who hoped to shoot Maoris, and regret again that we have no journal entry for it.
After visiting Akaroa, the North Star called at Auckland on 10 November and returned to Sydney. The Mitchell Library article supplies a last fragment from Best: 29 November 1843 was, he wrote, 'the happiest and proudest day of my life', for by the General's order he was thanked on parade by the Colonel for his part in the late expedition to New Zealand. The letter continues with yearnings for India, the 80th's next place of duty:
'What glorious victories are those of Sir Charles Napier. When will it come my turn to share in such deeds. Really it is disheartening to be kept year after year driving Convicts or disputing with a few poor savages, and a shame that the period of service three years of such work, should be extended to seven. Had we gone to India at the expiration of three years we might have been in at least two of the wars in India or China. I trust that the time will not be long e'er we have an opportunity of showing that the 80th are not inferior to any of the gallant brethren in the East. Our men, and I think I can safely add the Officers, are eager to try their strength, and there is on record a prophecy of an old Peninsular Officer that in our first action we are to do something dashing. Vanity and egoism apart - they are a fine body of men.'
It was not till 12 August 1844 that the regiment embarked in four ships, the Ensmore, Lloyds, Royal Saxon, and the Briton. The first three reached Calcutta safely, but the Briton, with both Best and Major Bunbury aboard, after clearing the straits of Malacca, met a hurricane which on 11 November drove her ashore on one of the Andaman Islands. She was carried over a coral reef and stranded upright in a mangrove swamp. Another ship, the Runnymede, with detachments of the 10th and 50th regiments,
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was stranded close by. The troops were landed and Major Bunbury with his customary firmness took command. Taking the Runnymede's long boat, decked and repaired, Captain Hall of the Briton and Lieutenant Leslie of the 80th set off on 25 November, and sailing due east reached Mergui on the Malay Peninsula on 7 December. Here East India Company officials lent them a larger boat, in which they reached Moulmein on 20 December, while some supplies were promptly sent from Mergui to the shipwrecked camp. Relief ships arrived on 29 December and took them off. During 50 days on the island only four soldiers and three children had died, though two seamen and a soldier of the 80th had been drowned - in the circumstances, light losses, of which Major Bunbury was duly proud. From Calcutta, the 80th was sent to Agra, arriving in April 1845.
In November 1845, when the Sikh war broke out, the 80th moved up to Amballah. Thence on 11 December, with other troops, they began a rapid march north-west, in six days covering upwards of 150 miles over roads of heavy sand. At Ferozeshah, late on 21 December, they joined in an attack on strong Sikh entrenchments and, though weary, thirsty, and bewildered, hung on throughout a grim night to the gains they had made, every movement saluted by Sikh artillery. About midnight, the 80th carried out orders to silence an advanced heavy gun which was particularly destructive. 132 With the morning the attack was forced on; but when inside the battery, wrote Bunbury, 133 the regiment met its heaviest losses. Numbers of the enemy lay about the guns and in the tents apparently dead, rolled up in cotton-quilted razihars which could not easily be pierced by the bayonet. The men, thinking the immediate fight over, were pausing to examine the captured guns. Bunbury shouted orders to them to fall in and beware of dead Sikhs, but his words were scarcely out of his mouth when the dead men sprang up and took them by surprise. Best and another officer were killed, rallying their men. The British won the battle with nearly 700 killed and over 1,700 wounded. It was a battle like other battles. They claimed their share of the eager young officers who passed from military colleges into a life which they hoped would be exciting, if not glorious, and turned out to be dull, obscure, and short, on the frontiers of nineteenth century empire. Best was lucky; at least he had had some excitement, some interesting service, to balance boredom, ugly duties, and harsh death.
Best's life ended, that 22 December 1845, as suddenly as his journal had ended nearly three years before. So much remains unknown of his early life and of these last three years, and of what happened to the journal between 1843 and 1955, when it was found by the Turnbull Librarian; though it is very likely that after this publication much of the unknown will
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emerge, to the confusion of the editor. But while regretting these gaps I cannot feel that they spoil the journal as it stands. In it we meet Best as his contemporaries met him, for he would not have hastened to explain himself or fill in his background; they could perceive his quality and like it or not as they chose, and we must do likewise. Nor do those contemporaries, who often mention but never describe him, help us in our perception. E. J. Wakefield gave no lively caricature of him; Dieffenbach, Symonds, Edward Shortland made no comment; Jane Franklin, who might have caught his appearance and bearing in a few swift sentences, did not meet him; Charlotte Godley came to New Zealand 10 years too late.
But in the five years of the journal we can come to know Best pretty thoroughly. We know the books he read and the dogs he loved; we realise his physical vigour and fearlessness, his pleasure in a spirited horse and a well handled boat, his ruthless walking pace, and his cheerful scorn of others less hardy. We have his odd reticences, his gaiety, his enthusiasms (and they are many), his antipathies (and they are not few); his zest for shooting birds, the clutter of trophies in his room, his collections of beetles and of Maori songs; his attitude to authority - sometimes sceptical, often impatient, never humble. We see him gardening, flooring his whare, dancing all night, throwing chairs at a mess party. We watch his growing interest in the Maoris, his occasional compassion, the respect they obviously felt for him - a respect which he returned. In all, we watch Best grow; it is a long way from the young ensign nervously watching his convicts on the James Pattison to the young captain among the cannibals at Tauranga. Was the way as long, we wonder, to the Sikh guns at Ferozeshah?