1928 - McRae, A. Journal kept in New Zealand in 1820 - EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION.

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  1928 - McRae, A. Journal kept in New Zealand in 1820 - EDITOR'S INTRODUCTION.
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It will presumably prove interesting to have some explanation of the publication of these papers. A younger sister of Mr. Alexander McCrae, the author of the Journal, was the wife of Dr. Thomas, a well-known early colonist in Melbourne, Victoria. Mrs. Thomas, long after her husband's death, came to Dunedin with several daughters and there resided for some time, including the year 1880, in the district known as Pelichet Bay. I also then dwelt at Dunedin. I frequently met Mrs. Thomas at the house of my father, the Hon. H. S. Chapman, formerly a Judge of the Supreme Court of New Zealand and a member of the Executive Council of the Colony of Victoria. Mrs. Thomas informed me that she was a very little girl when her brother returned from his voyage to Australia and New Zealand. She could just remember his return; he brought back some interesting objects, including a dried tattooed Maori head and some objects of nephrite with which she was allowed to play. These objects from the hands of the family in Scotland have since passed into a local museum.

I have adopted "McCrae" as the proper spelling of the diarist's name, as that that is correct is amply borne out by a sketch of the family history furnished to me by his grandson, Mr. Maurice Blackburn, of Melbourne, and further information from his nephew, Mr. George Gordon McCrae (1833-1927). It is not improbable, however, that originally there was a want of care in following the spelling, as the Army List for 1840 has the career of Captain Alexander McRae, referring to the same individual. The late Dr. Hocken, of Dunedin (who spells the name both ways), in his Bibliography of New Zealand Literature (p/39) quotes a statement from a manuscript journal of one Edward Markham, who visited the Bay of Islands in 1834, to the effect that Captain (afterwards Major) Cruise, author of A Journal of a Ten Months' Residence in New Zealand (1823), was not the real author of that well-known and highly interesting work, which was written by a subordinate. Dr. Hocken conjectures that, if this be the case, Mr. McCrae was probably the subordinate who wrote it. It is quite likely that Dr. Hocken knew Mrs. Thomas at Dunedin, and equally likely that he learned of the existence of McCrae from her (or possibly from myself), as Cruise never mentions his name. Reading again Cruise and these papers, I find no support for the suggestion as to McCrae having written or inspired that book. Coincidence of dates and of happenings on those dates afford altogether inconclusive proof of such a statement. The two men were never far apart during the ten months' sojourn at the Bay of Islands, and they returned to England together in H.M.S. Dromedary in 1821. Books and papers relating to the earliest settlement of Europeans in New Zealand are very few in number and by no means copious in matter. Apart from the works of navigators, we have the following works bv actual visitors:--

(1) Captain King's account of his visit in 1793, narrated in David Collins's Account of the English Colony of New South Wales, with some Particulars of New Zealand. (1798.) See the Governor's correspondence, McNab's Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 1, p. 169.

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(2) William Neate Chapman's account of the same visit in a letter to his mother, dated 19th November, 1793. Printed in Polynesian Society's Journal, Vol. 7, p. 42, and R. McNab's Historical Records of New Zealand, Vol. 1, p. 185.
(W. N. Chapman, then a midshipman, was my grandfather's half-brother.)

(3) John Savage, Surgeon: Some Account of New Zealand, particularly the Bay of Islands. (1807.) This is really the first book on New Zealand by a visitor other than a navigator.

(4) John Liddiard Nicholas: Narrative of a Voyage to New Zealand, performed in the Years 1814 and 1815, in Company with the Rev. Samuel Marsden, Principal Chaplain of New South Wales. (Published 1817.)

(5) Richard A. Cruise, of the 84th Regiment of Foot: Journal of a Ten Months' Residence in New Zealand. (Published in 1823.) Relates to his visit in 1820, when accompanied bv Alexander McCrae and other military subordinates.

(6) William Ellis: Polynesian Researches, Vol. 3. (Published in 1831.) This energetic missionary visited New Zealand in 1816. 1

To these may be added serial papers published by missionary societies and other publications containing information from people who had visited New Zealand or who had received information about it, such as George Barrington (1810) and J. A. Turnbull (1813). From these sources bearing on the year 1820 the late Mr. S. Percy Smith, formerly Surveyor-General of New Zealand, quotes very fully in Part 4 of the "Wars of the Northern against the Southern Tribes of New Zealand in the Nineteenth Century," published in Vol. 9 of the Journal of the Polynesian Society.

To these may now be added this publication, which relates to the same period as the work of Cruise and supplements the information there given, in addition to which are the miscellaneous pieces of information of various dates, and collected by the late Hon. R. McNab in his Historical Records of New Zealand, hereafter mentioned.

In view of the scarcity of historical matter, despite the fact that hundreds of ships visited New Zealand, it is very desirable that papers preserved by missionaries should be reprinted in an accessible form; of these several diaries are known to exist.

It has proved somewhat perplexing to determine what to publish, as, in addition to keeping a diary, McCrae has evidently started, or contemplated starting, an extended narrative: indeed, he appears to have twice attempted this. After full consideration I have decided to include in this publication the whole of the MS. in my hands, excepting a sea diary relating to the voyage of the Dromedary, but not to New Zealand, and the commencement of a narrative which closely follows the Journal. One immaterial statement in it is that on the voyage from Port Jackson to New Zealand the natives on

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board the Dromedary used stringy-bark, a well-known Australian Eucalyptus, to make their spears. Another statement is that it was rumoured that there were centipedes on the Three Kings Islands. This statement has not been repeated by visitors to these still-uninhabited islands. The method adopted may result in some repetition of matter, but only to a very slight extent; nothing of value is omitted.

As Cruise's Journal ending the 5th December, 1820, goes a long way beyond the last date in this Journal, it seems on first thoughts probable that some of McCrae's papers are missing. This, if it be the case, may be accounted for: Mrs. Thomas's house at Pelichet Bay, with all its contents, was suddenly burnt. A box containing papers was among the things dragged out of her house: the contents of this box included the papers of which those now published are copies, but I understood that others, including the rest of the Journal, perished. Mrs. Thomas sent me many years ago the copies--and in some cases originals--of the papers now published.

There is, however, one circumstance which seems to tell against the notion that the Journal was continued. There is no doubt that McCrae remained in New Zealand throughout the ten months' stay of the Dromedary; yet after the 18th March there is a gap, taken up in narrative form about the 29th March, while on the 1st May commences a set of jottings rather than a continuance of the Journal. At the same time, the Recapitulation, which I have rejected as surplusage, ends exactly where the Journal ends, which as a mere Coincidence would be somewhat singular. Of course, a conjecture may be made that part of the Journal may have been handed either to Captain Cruise or to Commissioner Bigge. It is easier to account for the coincidence by supposing that the rest of the Journal and narrative were separate from these papers when the house perished.

The text of the various documents has been carefully revised, especially to make sure of the author's spelling of Maori names. It is evident that, though fairly consistent spelling is adopted, this represents a local dialect--presumably the Ngapuhi dialect--used by the missionaries in the North before the spelling of Maori was standardized. The letter d often replaces t; oo is used as in English where the sound would now be represented by u -- thus "Muriwhenua" becomes "Moodewhenooa"; sh for h results in "Shungie" for "Hongi,," and "Shukianga" for "Hokianga." Most of these variations are easy to follow, and their consistency would enable a person moderately versed in Maori to transpose the text into the standard Maori which has for many years been used for printed matter by both races. What I call the "standard Maori" is spoken in the Waikato valley. The matter of dialect is unimportant outside New Zealand, while those familiar with northern orthography of the period will easily make their own corrections or conversions.

Upon the stay of the Dromedary and her consort, the schooner Prince Regent, in New Zealand waters several of the documents set out in Historical Records of New Zealand, by the Hon. Robert McNab, Minister of Lands and Agriculture, published by the Government Printer in 1908, have an important bearing. It must be borne in mind that the store-ship Coromandel, Jas. Downie, master, on a similar service, was operating at the same time a little to the southward, in the estuary of the Thames.

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In McNab's book comes on the scene Commissioner Bigge, whose exact status, though not explained, may be gathered from the documents. He had been sent out to New South Wales by the Admiralty to make certain inquiries. The Rev. Samuel Marsden addresses him as "The Honourable Commissioner of Enquiry" in documents commencing prior to the Dromedary's visit. The inquiries take a very wide range, including the condition and disposition of the New-Zealanders--the name "Maori" for the native race had not then come into use--and matters relating to other Pacific islands. The volume quoted contains numerous communications from missionaries and others, sometimes in answer to regular sets of interrogatories drawn up by Mr. Bigge, often relating to economic matters. On the 12th January. 1820, Mr. Marsden, in a letter to Missionary J. Butler, writes: "I have had repeated conversations with the Commissioner respecting New Zealand, and I hope Government will attend to it when the present powers that be are removed." On the 14th January he writes to the Rev. J. Pratt: "I have seen the Commissioner of Enquiry since my return. He will lay open the state of this colony very fully to the British Government. I have a very high opinion of the Commissioner's character, but the generality of the inhabitants agree with Mr. Wilberforce that two would have been better than one."

On the 7th February, 1820, Mr. Marsden announces that the Honourable Commissioner, as well as the Captain of the Dromedary, wished him to go to New Zealand, and he had decided to go.

A very large amount of evidence was taken which proves highly interesting reading. It includes reports to Captain Skinner, of the Dromedary. One document purports to be: "Evidence given before Commissioner Bigge: Ensign McCrae, 84th Regiment. May, 1821." This date makes it certain that the Commissioner and McCrae returned together to England by the Dromedary.

The itinerary given by Cruise ends as follows: Returned to Sydney Cove, 21st December, 1820; after refitting, sailed on 14th February. 1821: 1st April, doubled Cape Horn; 3rd July, anchored at Plymouth.

Commissioner Bigge reported to Earl Bathurst on the 27th February, 1823. He refers to his visit to New Zealand in the Dromedary. It may be that the voluminous evidence he had obtained, referred to by McNab as docketed "Bigges Appendix, Vol. 142," was at times contradictory. This defect he seeks to clear up by reference to the evidence of Ensign McCrae. I now, therefore, quote this. Bigge writes: "I was unable to procure more correct information than I could have expected from persons composing or connected with the missionary establishments. In the evidence of Mr. McCrae, a verv intelligent officer of the 84th Regiment, and who in the course of service with his detachment on board the 'Dromedary' had an opportunity of making tours in the interior (in one of which he was accompanied bv the Rev. Mr. Marsden), I have been able to obtain information upon the present state of New Zealand, upon which I am justified in stating that the greatest reliance may be placed. The intelligence and activity of Mr. McCrae, and his impartiality and candour, are fully admitted by Rev. Mr. Marsden whenever any appeal was made upon questions of doubtful authority, and it is certain that

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no person that ever visited the island enjoyed so many opportunities of observing the character of the country, as well as its inhabitants." The Commissioner certainly makes the best use of his facts, and gives an excellent and trustworthy description of northern New Zealand and some of its products. Referring to New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax), he continues: "Mr. McCrae states that, he passed through a valley of six miles in extent which was covered with this plant.

. . . From the observations of the thermometer, registered by Mr. McCrae from the 1st May, 1820, to the 7th December, the variations during the winter months appear to have been between 39deg. and 60deg. and at noon in the month of December they did not exceed 68deg. . . . The use of spirituous liquors has fortunately no attraction for the New-Zealanders, and it is stated by Mr. McCrae (but upon what grounds I am unable to conceive) that the opinion they have formed of the European character is in no wise affected by the conduct of the crews of the vessels that from time to time have visited their shores. . . . It is the opinion of Mr. McCrae that although the natives would not hostilely oppose the settlement of a body of Europeans or of English in New Zealand, landing with pacific or friendly objects, yet that their indiscriminate revenge and sensibility to injury would expose individuals to a great degree of personal danger."

The Commissioner goes on to mention that quarrels between natives and his sailors were settled by the prudence and discretion of Captain Skinner, of the Dromedary, adding that, on account of the liability of the natives to be moved by hidden impulses, "Mr. McCrae considered that a small military force would be necessary in case it should be deemed expedient to give encouragement to the colonization of New Zealand."

In the concluding paragraph of his report the Commissioner says: "I beg most respectfully to refer you to the evidence of Ensign McCrae, and to that of Dr. Fairfowl, Surgeon of His Majesty's store-ship 'Dromedary,' that I have the honour to enclose, together with the replies of Mr. Kendall and two other missionaries to certain queries that I addressed to them by the first opportunity that occurred after my arrival in New South Wales."

Mr. McCrae mentions dogs and rats as the only quadrupeds seen. The dog resembles the New Holland dog, but is more easily tamed. He speaks of small emus, as do other writers, obviously referring to the kiwi. He heard of large lizards "southward"--a myth repeated later by the Rev. Richard Taylor in Te Ika a Maui, or New Zealand and its Inhabitants. (1870.)

The evidence of Alexander McCrae occupies sixteen pages of McNab's volume, and comprises 168 questions and answers. I abstain from summarizing this, as the quotations from Commissioner Bigge's report give a sufficient summary of McCrae's observations. They are well worth a careful study, but, having been once published by authority of the New Zealand Government, it is unnecessary to reproduce them.

The extensive cultivation of potatoes is often mentioned by early visitors, including McCrae. Recent writers tell us that the potato, though long known, did not become the universal food of our race until a little more than a century ago. This accounts for the circumstance that the missionary Ellis, visiting New Zealand in 1816, notices

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with some surprise the extensive cultivation of what he calls "the Irish potato" by the New-Zealanders at the Bay of Islands. Accumulated evidence shows that at various points down to the extreme south the Maori, who must have received seed from sealers, whalers, and others, were cultivating this food at a very early date. (See Maori Agriculture, by Elsdon Best: Wellington, 1925.)

After considerable delay, caused by the mistake as to the spelling of the name, I am now able to give a few particulars of the life of Captain Alexander McCrae, for which I am mainly indebted to his grandson, Mr. Maurice Blackburn, of Melbourne. I have, however, in addition received letters from his nephew, the late Mr. George Gordon McCrae, of Melbourne, who at the age of ninety-four wrote giving me some interesting facts relating to the clan and accounts for variations in the spelling of the name. This honoured gentleman died before our correspondence was quite concluded.

Alexander McCrae was born in Edinburgh on the 25th January, 1799, the son of William Gordon McCrae, an advocate, who, born in Jamaica, had broken with his father, a planter, on the issue of slave-emancipation. Alexander entered the Army at the age of fourteen, in the Chasseurs Britanniques, from which corps he passed, on its disbandment, to the 84th Foot. His military career, as summarized in the Army List for 1840, is as follows: 9th September, 1813, Ensign in the 84th; 18th July, 1822, Lieutenant; 30th August, 1831, Captain. The last mention in the Army List is in 1840, when he is still described as Captain Alexander McRae. He was thus of the rank of Ensign only when he visited New Zealand in 1820. Mr. Blackburn adds that McCrae's brothers and sisters came to Port Phillip in 1839. His mother, a lady of distinguished Scottish ancestry, died in Melbourne in 1840, and Captain McCrae himself arrived there in the following year. He became Postmaster-General under the Governorship of Captain La Trobe. Labilliere, in his Early History of Victoria (1878), mentions him as Postmaster-General among the more important functionaries whose names appear in the Victoria Government Gazette of the 15th July, 1851.

Philip Mennell, in his Dictionary of Australasian Biography (1892), in a full notice of the life of George Gordon McCrae, one of the most distinguished literary men Australia has known, writes: "Another uncle, Captain Alexander McCrae, of her Majesty's 84th Regiment, was the first Postmaster-General of Victoria." From this office Alexander McCrae retired when, under constitutional changes, the position became political. He never held any other office, save that of an honorary Magistrate. He died at Richmond, Victoria, on the 8th May, 1871. I have a faint recollection of having seen him when I was a boy. Captain the Hon. George Ward Cole, who gave his name to Cole's Wharf, and was a prominent man in early Melbourne, was related by marriage. The descendants of Alexander McCrae are numerous.

I desire to express my obligation to Mr. Johannes C. Andersen, of the Turnbull Library, for numerous suggestions, and especially for his notes on the Maori names, and my further obligation to members of the McCrae family.


1   There has just been published (1927, but issued 1928) Earliest New Zealand, The Journals and, Correspondence of the Rev. John Butler, compiled by R. J. Barton. Butler first came to New Zealand in 1819, and his diary, which covers the period dealt with by McCrae, has a number of references to the Dromedary and its people.

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