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MR. ALEXANDER BERRY.
On Wednesday, 17th September, 1873, a colonist who had nearly completed the ninety-second year of his life, and who had been known in New South Wales for sixty-five years, closed his career in this world. The removal of one who was for a long time an active member of this community, and whose enterprise and large possessions have caused his name to be familiar to the people, naturally awakens a desire to learn something of his earlier days.
Alexander Berry, one of a numerous family, was born in Fifeshire, Scotland, on the 30th November, 1781. He was sent to school at Cupar, the country town, where among his schoolfellows were Sir David Wilkie and Lord Campbell. After leaving school he went to St. Andrews University, and thence to the University of Edinburgh, where he passed through a course of study in preparation for the medical profession. Having obtained an appointment in the service of the East India
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Company, he went out to India, and spent some years in that country. Then entering upon mercantile enterprise he visited Australia, New Zealand, and several islands in the Pacific. In the year 1808 he first came to Port Jackson, as owner of the ship "City of Edinburgh."
In the latter part of 1809 he visited the coast of New Zealand in order to procure a cargo of spars for the Cape of Good Hope. In December of that year, while he was at anchor in the Bay of Islands, some Maoris whose confidence he had gained on a former visit came to him, and told him that a British ship had been taken by the natives at Whangaroa, a spot about twenty miles to the north-west of the Bay. He resolved to proceed to Whangaroa, to ascertain the fate of the crew, and if there were any survivors to attempt their rescue, and as soon as he had completed his cargo and made arrangements for the protection of the ship, he set out with three armed boats for the scene of the disaster. Bad weather compelled him to return without reaching Whangaroa. But he was not a man to yield in the face of difficulties and dangers.
In his own narrative of the event he says:-- "Having recruited my strength and spirits, I was shocked at the ideal of leaving my country-
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men in the hands of the savages, and determined to make a second attempt. We had this time better weather and reached the harbour without any difficulty." The vessel whose captain and crew had been killed in Whangaroa harbour was the "Boyd," Captain Thompson. She sailed from the Thames on the 10th March, 1809, with convicts, and arrived at Port Jackson on the 14th August. From this port she sailed to New Zealand for a cargo of timber.
Captain Berry, in a letter to her owner, Mr. George Brown, thus relates the issue of that unfortunate voyage:-- "We found the wreck of the "Boyd" in shoal water at the top of the harbour, a most melancholy picture of wanton mischief. The natives had cut her cables and towed her up the harbour, till she had grounded, and then set her on fire and burnt her to the water's edge. In her hold were seen the remains of the cargo, coals, salted seals, skins, and planks. Her guns, iron standards, &c, were lying on the top, having fallen in when the decks were consumed."
The history of the attack and massacre, as related to him by one of the survivors, was as follows:-- "The ship was taken the third morning after her arrival The captain, it
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appears, had been rather too hasty in resenting some slight theft. Early in the morning the ship was surrounded by a great number of canoes, and many of the natives gradually insinuated themselves on board. Tippahee, a chief of the Bay of Islands, who. had been twice at Port Jackson, also arrived. Tippahee went into the cabin, and after paying his respects to the captain, begged a little bread for his men; but the captain received him rather slightingly and desired him to go away and not trouble him at present, as he was busy. The proud old savage (who had been a constant guest at the Governor's table in Port Jackson) was highly offended at his treatment, immediately left the cabin, and after stamping a few minutes on the deck, went into his canoe. After breakfast the captain went ashore with four hands, and no other arms but his fowling piece. From the account of the savages, as soon as he landed, they rushed upon him; he had only time to fire his piece, and it killed a child. As soon as the captain left the ship, Tippahee, who remained alongside in his canoe, went again on board. A number of the sailors were repairing sails on the quarter deck, and the remainder were carelessly dispersed about the decks, and fifty
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of the natives were sitting on the deck. In a moment they all started up and each knocked his man on the head, a few ran wounded below, four or five escaped up the rigging; and in a few seconds the savages had possession of the ship. The boy Davidson escaped into the hold, where he lay concealed for several days, till they were fairly glutted with human blood, when they spared his life."
A woman and two infant children were also spared. The woman described to Captain Berry the manner in which, after being spared by Tippahee on board the ship and sent ashore, she was a second time saved from being murdered. "As soon as she landed a number of men started up, and marched towards her with their patoo-patoos; a number of women ran screaming betwixt them, covered her with their clothes; and by their tears and entreaties saved her life."
The natives spoke freely of the massacre of Captain Thompson and his men, evidently regarding it as a most heroic exploit, in the same way as a party of British tars look back with pleasure to some successful attempt against an enemy's ship of superior force. They readily mentioned the name of the ship and captain and the number of men and guns.
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When asked the reason of the attack, they replied, "Because the captain was a bad man." On enquiring what he had done, they answered that, one of their chiefs having secreted a carpenter's axe beneath his clothes, the theft was detected before he left the ship, in consequence of which the captain tied him to the capstan, where he left him for several hours, and threatened to flog him. On being told that the conduct of the chief merited the treatment he received, they replied that any indignity offered to a chief was never forgiven. "I then," continues Captain Berry, "enquired if there were any survivors, to which they readily replied in the affirmative, mentioning their names with great familiarity and even with an appearance of kindness and sympathy. They were then informed that we had come to Whangaroa for the purpose of delivering the captives. I then pointed to my men and their muskets on the one hand, and to the heaps of axes on the other, bidding them take their choice, and either deliver the captives peaceably, when they should be paid for their ransom, or I would otherwise attack them. The chief, after a moment's hesitation, replied, with great quickness, that trading was
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better than fighting; then give us axes and you shall have your prisoners."
After considerable delay, and repeated trials to the patience and courage of Captain Berry and his party, the captives were given up to them. The woman and her infant child and the boy Davidson were first restored. With greater difficulty they afterwards prevailed on the natives to hand over to them the infant daughter of Mr. Commissary Broughton. Two chiefs, who were before acquainted with Captain Berry, Metenangha and Towaki, assisted him by their influence in recovering the captives.
The "City of Edinburgh" left New Zealand in January, 1810, for the Cape; but they had a perilous voyage, being driven among the ice of the southern ocean; and after finding shelter under Terra del Fuego, they sailed to Valparaiso, and reached that port in May following. Thence they passed on to Lima, where the boy Davidson shipped for England in the "Archduke Charles." The woman died at Callao; her child was kindly taken care of by a Spaniard and the little daughter of Commissary Broughton was nursed with great tenderness by a Spanish lady, Signora Rico. Captain Berry had some
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difficulty in inducing these kind persons to give up the children; but in course of time they were sent to Sydney, and reached this port in safety.
After this voyage Mr. Berry resolved to settle in New South Wales; and entered into business with Mr. Edward Wollstonecraft. He married the sister of this gentleman, Miss Elizabeth Wollstonecraft. In the year 1820, in company with Lieutenant Johnston, he explored a large and rich tract of country in the valley of the Shoalhaven River, of which the government of the day made him a free grant. It was a splendid estate; and as he was the first to perceive its value he had the opportunity of turning it to profitable purposes. Shortly after obtaining possession of this grant, he came to the conclusion that the Shoalhaven, which was shut off from the sea by a sand bar, might be made open to navigation by cutting a dyke from its channel into the Crookhaven which runs into the sea about seven miles further south. The project seemed to many a sheer impossibility. But Mr. Berry had the sagacity to discern its feasibility and the resolution to persevere in carrying it out. He obtained a large number of assigned servants and had the dyke cut,
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in the year 1825, thereby conferring a great advantage upon the country.
In 1832 his partner, Mr. Wollstonecraft died in Sydney. In 1845 he lost his wife, who died at the age of 63, leaving no children. Mrs. Berry and her brother were both buried in St. Leonards cemetery.
Mr. Berry was one of the nominee members of the Legislative Council, when there was only one House. And when the new Constitution came into effect on the 13th May, 1856, he was appointed by the Donaldson Government a member of the Upper House. He retained this position till May, 1861.
In politics he took a conservative view of affairs; and looked with strong disapproval on the innovations of parliamentary and municipal democracy. In private life he was a hearty and steadfast friend to those who came within the circle of his favour. --Extract from obituary notice in the Town and Country Journal, September 27, 1873.
The reminiscences and autobiography so spiritedly written by Mr. Berry in extreme old age conclude abruptly. At the last line are the words: "6th April, 1872, A. B.," probably the date when Mr. Berry, under the pressure of increasing infirmities, laid aside the pen;
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although the manuscript bears, here and there, marks of revision which were probably added subsequently during the last few months of his life.