1852 - MacGillivray, J. Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake [New Zealand pages only] - CHAPTER III, p 85-95

E N Z B       
       Home   |  Browse  |  Search  |  Variant Spellings  |  Links  |  EPUB Downloads
Feedback  |  Conditions of Use      
  1852 - MacGillivray, J. Narrative of the Voyage of H.M.S. Rattlesnake [New Zealand pages only] - CHAPTER III, p 85-95
Previous section | Next section      


[Image of page 85]



SOON after our arrival in Sydney we had to lament the loss of our much respected commander, who died suddenly on March 13th, while apparently convalescent from a severe illness contracted during our last cruise, induced, I understand, by long continued mental anxiety, and the cares necessarily devolving upon the leader of an expedition such as ours, of which probably no one who has not been similarly situated can ever fully comprehend the responsibility. Thus died at the early age of thirty-nine, but after the successful accomplishment of the chief objects of his mission, Captain Owen Stanley, who had long before won for himself an honourable name in that branch of the naval service to which he had devoted himself, and whose reputation as a surveyor and a man of science stood deservedly high. Although it would ill become me as a civilian attached to the expedition to enter upon the services 1

[Image of page 86]


and professional character of my late captain, yet in common with many others, I cannot refrain from adding my humble testimony to his worth, by recording my deep sense of many personal favours, and the assistance which was always liberally rendered me during my natural history investigations throughout the voyage, whenever the more important objects of the survey permitted.

By this unfortunate event all previous arrangements regarding our future proceedings were annulled. It had been intended by Captain Stanley to return to England by way of Singapore and the Cape of Good Hope, adding to the charts of the Inner Passage as we went along the east coast of Australia, and making a careful survey of the Strait of Alass, between the islands of Lombock and Sumbawa. Captain the Hon. Henry Keppel of H. M. S. Moeander, as senior naval officer present, having appointed Lieutenant Yule to the vacancy in the command of the Rattlesnake, with orders to proceed direct to England, we left Sydney for that purpose on May 2nd. The Bramble was left behind in the colony, and in addition to her former crew, the limited accommodations of our ship were still further crowded with the greater number of the Port Essington marines, some invalids, and other passengers, making up the number on board to upwards of 230 persons.

A course was steered to pass to the northward of New Zealand without calling there, but shortly

[Image of page 87]


after leaving Sydney some defects in the ship were found out; which rendered it necessary to put into the nearest port, as the principal one, causing a leak in the after gunroom, could not he repaired at sea. It was also considered expedient to get rid of the Asp in order to lessen the straining of the ship during the prospective passage round Cape Horn, which so much top weight was considered materially to increase. On May 14th the land about Cape Maria Van Diemen and the North Cape of New Zealand was in sight at daylight, appearing high and mountainous, with steep maritime cliffs. On our passage across from Australia we had seen few sea birds, but now albatrosses of three or four species were very numerous, together with a few petrels, chiefly Procellaria Cookii. Next morning we found ourselves to leeward of Cape Brett, having experienced a southerly current during the night of two knots an hour; it took us the whole day to work up into the Bay of Islands, and after dark we anchored in 28 fathoms, about six miles from the entrance of the Kawa-Kawa.

May 16th.--The view from our anchorage, although under the favourable conditions of fine weather, struck me as being dull and cheerless. The surface of the country is hilly and undulating, shewing patches of wood more or less extensive, and large tracts of fern of a dull greenish hue. The shores of the main land and the numerous islands exhibit every here and there argillaceous cliffs, and banks of a brown,

[Image of page 88]


reddish, or yellow colour, from their steepness almost devoid of vegetation. In the morning it was a dead calm, but at length a light air sprang up and carried us into the bay of Kororareka, when we anchored in 4 1/2 fathoms, mud and sand, off the village of the same name, also known as the township of Russell.

May 11th.--On landing at Kororareka, one finds that what from a distance appear neat and comfortable cottages lose much by close inspection. The township consists of about thirty small wooden houses, mixed up with many native hovels. It extends along the shore of a small bay, with a shingly beach in front and a swamp behind. The number of houses was formerly much greater, most of those now existing having been built since May 1845, when the greater part of the town was burnt down by the natives. Even now it supports two public houses, and several general stores, where necessaries may be procured at double the Sydney prices. At one time much trade was done here, before the duties imposed on the occasion of New Zealand becoming a British colony drove away the whalers which used to resort in great numbers to the Bay of Islands to refit; at present, besides the Rattlesnake, the only vessel here is a brig from Hobarton, bound to California, which put in to this place to get a new rudder. Live stock is plentiful and the prices are moderate.

There are many natives living in the settlement.

[Image of page 89]


They afford a striking contrast to the wretched specimens of Australian aborigines one occasionally sees in the streets of Sydney. Many of the men are athletic and well made, and in their gait and expression exhibit much manliness of character. The faces of some of the principal people present good specimens of elaborate tattooing. The women appear strange figures from their ungainly modern dress, consisting merely of a loose smock of calico, fastened at the neck and wrists. Some were tolerably handsome (according to our notions of female beauty), and among them were several half castes. Their fashion of dressing the hair is curious,--in front it is cut short in a line across the forehead, but is allowed to grow long behind. We met Waka Nene, a Maorie chief, possessing considerable influence, especially in the neighbouring district of Hokianga, who, by siding with the English during the war, rendered such important services that the Government rewarded him with a pension of £100 per annum, and a house in Kororareka. Besides this he owns a small vessel or two employed in the coasting trade. I peeped into the hut of one of his people. A small entrance served the combined purposes of door, window, and chimney, the roof was so low as to preclude one from standing upright inside, a small fire was burning in the centre of the earthen floor, and a heap of mats and blankets in one corner pointed out a sleeping place.

Behind Kororareka one of a series of hills over-

[Image of page 90]


looking the town is memorable as the site of the flagstaff, the cutting down of which by Heke was one of the first incidents of the Maorie war. On March 11th, 1845, an attack was made upon the place before daylight, by three of the disaffected chiefs. Kawiti with one division entered the town from the southward by a pass between two hills, and after a short conflict forced a party of marines and seamen from H. M. S. Hazard to retire with the loss of seven killed and many wounded. While this work was going on, a small detachment of soldiers occupying a blockhouse on the flagstaff hill was surprised by Heke and his party, who killed four men, and drove away the remainder, and levelled the flagstaff to the ground. The English residents took refuge on board the shipping, and two days afterwards the Maories sacked and burned the town with the exception of the two churches, and a few houses contiguous to the property of the Roman Catholic Mission.

The greater part of the country about the town is covered with fern and the manuka bush (Leptospermum scoparium),--the latter a low shrub with handsome white or pinkish flowers. In some of the ravines two species of tree-ferns of the genus Cyathea grow luxuriantly in the moist clayey soil. Every where one sees common English weeds scattered about, especially the sow-thistle and common dock, and a British land shell (Helix cellaria) has even found its way to New Zealand and is to be met with in some of the gardens.

[Image of page 91]


Much rain had lately fallen, and many of the paths were partially converted into water-courses. I walked across to a neighbouring bay, and employed myself in searching for shells in the mud at low water. Some bivalves, common there--various Cythereae and Mesodesma Chemnitzii--constitute an important article of food to the natives, who knew them by the name of pipi. A marshy place, at the mouth of a small stream, was tenanted by a curious wrinkled univalve, with a notch on the outer lip, Amphibola avellana of conchologists.

May 18th.--I joined a party made up to visit the falls of the Keri-Keri river, and we started, after an early breakfast, in one of the ship's boats. The morning was dull and rainy, and we had occasional showers during the forenoon. In an hour after leaving the ship we entered the estuary of the river, a large arm of the sea, which we followed for several miles. The scenery reminded me of that of some of the sea lochs on the west coast of Scotland, and although fern was here substituted for heath, the "Scotch mist" was perfectly represented at the antipodes. The country is scantily wooded, and the muddy shores are occasionally fringed with a small mangrove (Avicennia tomentosa). Here and there were a few settlers' houses, with the accompanying signs of cultivation. One of the small islands, and also a hill top on the northern shore, had an artificial appearance, their summits being levelled and the

[Image of page 92]


sides scarped--they were the remains of former fortified villages or pahs. At length the estuary narrowed, and assumed the appearance of a winding river, with low hilly hanks covered with fern and hushes. One and a half miles from this brought us to a rocky ledge across the stream, preventing further progress in the boat, and marking the junction of the fresh and salt water.

Here Mr. Kemp, a schoolmaster of the Church Mission Society, has been located for upwards of thirty years. A well built store, a neat cottage and garden, and residences for a few Maories, complete the establishment. From this place a dray road leads to the extensive Missionary establishment at Waimate, distant about ten miles. Crossing the river, we started for the falls, in charge of a sharp little urchin who acted as guide. After leaving the narrow valley which the river has cut for itself through a superstratum of yellowish clay, the country becomes nearly level--a dreary plain, covered with fern and the manuka bush. The extensive tract of country now in sight is said to have once been a great kauri forest--a few of these noble trees {Dammara Australis) were pointed out to me from a distance. When about half way we left the road, and within the distance of a mile our guide contrived to lead us into five or six bogs, where we were up to our knees in water, besides entangling us in several thickets nearly as bad to penetrate as an Australian

[Image of page 93]


scrub. At length we arrived in sight of the waterfall, then in full force from the quantity of rain which had lately fallen.

The Keri-Keri, after a long course through a country composed chiefly of upland moors and gently undulating hills, here suddenly precipitates itself over a rocky wall into a large circular pool eighty feet below, then continues its course for a while between steep and densely wooded banks. Behind the fall the rock is hollowed out into a wide and deeply arched cave, formed by the falling out of masses of columnar rock. A winding path leads to the foot of the fall; whence the view is very grand. Some of the party crept over the slippery rocks, and reached the cave behind the fall, where they were much gratified with the novelty of the scene. The luxuriant and varied vegetation in the ravine affords a fine field for the botanist. The variety of cryptogamic plants is very great--every rock, and the trunk of each tree, being covered with ferns, lichens, and mosses. Among the trees I noticed the pale scarlet flowers of the puriri or New Zealand Teak (Vitex littoralis), the hardest 2 and most durable

[Image of page 94]


of all the woods of the country. A short search among the damp stones and moss brought to light some small hut interesting land shells, consisting of a pupiform Cyclostoma, a Carocolla, and five species of Helix. This leads me to mention, that although the number of New Zealand land shells hitherto described scarcely exceeds a dozen, this does not imply any scarcity of such objects in the country, as an industrious collector from Sydney, who spent nine months on the northern and middle islands, obtained nearly a hundred species of terrestrial and fluviatile mollusca. The scarcity of birds during our walk surprised me, for the only one which I saw on shore was a solitary kingfisher (Halcyon vagans): during our ascent of the Keri-Keri, however, many ducks (Anas superciliosa) flew past the boat, and gulls, terns, and two kinds of cormorants were numerous.

Returning to the road by a path which avoided the swamps our guide had taken us through, in little more than half an hour we reached Mr. Kemp's house, and after partaking of that gentleman's hospitality returned to the ship. On our way we landed at sunset for an hour upon a small island, which will probably long be remembered by some of the party as having furnished us with a supper of very excellent rock-oysters.

Having effected the necessary repairs, and disposed of the decked boat, we left New Zealand on May 22nd on our homeward passage. On July

[Image of page 95]


5th having passed to the eastward of Cape Horn we bore up for the Falkland Islands, having taken forty-three days to traverse a direct distance of a little more than 5000 miles. During this period the wind was usually strong from the south-west, but on various occasions we experienced calms and easterly winds, the latter varying between N. E. and S. S. E. and at times blowing very hard with snow squalls. The lowest temperature experienced by us off Cape Horn was on the day when we doubled the Cape in latitude 57° S. when the minimum temperature of the day was 21° and the maximum 26°. This reminded some of us that we had now passed through, not less than 75 degrees of temperature in the ship, the thermometer in the shade having indicated 96° during a hot wind in Sydney harbour.

A passage such as ours, during which at one time we were further from land than if placed in any other portion on the globe, must almost of necessity be a monotonous one. We saw no land, not even an iceberg, and very few vessels. For five or six successive evenings when in the parallels of 40° and 41° S. between the meridians of 133° and 113° W. we enjoyed the fine sight of thousands of large Pyrosomae in the water, each producing a greater body of light than I ever saw given out by any other of the pelagic-luciferous mollusca or medusae. The towing net was put over on several occasions but produced little or nothing to

[No further mention of New Zealand.]

1   See O'Byrne's Naval Biographical Dictionary, p. 1109.
2   This wood was much used in the construction of the pahs which, in 1845, under the Maorie chiefs Heke and Kawiti, long resisted the attacks of disciplined forces, aided by artillery. In reference to the puriri wood used in the palisading of one of these, it was officially stated, that "many of our six-pound shot were picked out of the posts, not having actually entered far enough to hide themselves."

Previous section | Next section