Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Ships, Voyages and Places of Captain Dacre

Flaxmill Bay Coromandel Peninsula Photo CRB 2012

Used to love visiting  Maramaratotara or  Flaxmill Bay more than fifty years ago back in the 1950's.The road there was not much then - loose metal - however it was a treat to visit my uncle and his family who were staying there for the summer holidays. Swimming and exploring the beach were daily activities and being told the history of the area which goes back a very long way - before European came to the area, when Captain Cook stayed a few days to observe the transit of Mercury and the first European settlers who arrived in the area back in the 1830's - Gordon Browne and Captain Dacre. 

Captain Ranulph Dacre is remembered today at Flaxmill Bay mainly for the purchase of land in the area. However the story is more than just the writing on the heritage board as in the photo below.

Signage Flaxmill Bay - Photo CRB 2012
Captain Ranulph Dacre spent his early years in the Royal British Navy, moving  on to the mercantile navy.  Dacre was first reported in Australasian waters in 1823 - captain aboard the 400 ton ship Elizabeth, bound for the London run with a cargo of wool. Merchants and shipping owners and agents,  Raine & Ramsay, the New South Wales Agents and Robert Brooks, the England based owner.

A few months later in  June of 1824, the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported Captain Dacre to be now of the schooner Endeavour and loading at Otaheite for Port Jackson. (Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser   
17 /06/ 1824  Page 2)

The schooner Endeavour was said to be a Mission  Schooner bought by the London Missionary Society in 1817 -Missionary John Williams and the chiefs of Raiatea.  It was as Master of this Mission Schooner that Captain Ranulph Dacre made his first visit to New Zealand shores.

On 15th July 1824 Dacre sailed in to  Whangaroa Harbour. On board were missionaries Daniel Tyerman, George Bennet, Launcelot Threlkeld and his son, Joseph Thomas Threlkeld.

From Totara  North Looking across Whangaroa Harbour - photo CRB 1993

Their stay, although strained with tension , was more fortunate  than those on board  the ship  Boyd fourteen years earlier, in 1809 also at Whangaroa. The Endeavour left Whangaroa on 18th July and voyaged on  to Port Jackson, Sydney.

Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet who were aboard the Mission Schooner Endeavour
Tyerman, Daniel, Bennet, George, Montgomery, James, London Missionary Society. 1832. Voyages and travels; Missions. Boston & New York : Boston : Crocker and Brewster ; New York : J. Leavitt.


Captain Dacre on arrival back in Sydney, continued to trade along the East Coast of Australia and across to New Zealand. He also carried out a couple of voyages on the London run as Master of the Surrey  for Robert Brooks , the owner.  Brooks was also the owner of the 238 ton barque Lucy Ann of which Captain Dacre was also recorded Master of in 1927.

   From Lloyds Shipping Register 1827
It was while Captain Dacre was Master of Lucy Ann that he visited Whangaroa, Mercury Bay and Hokianga on the look out for spars for British sailing ships. Mercury Bay where Maramaratotara or  Flaxmill Bay opens onto. 

The kauri tree was ideal for the purpose - yielding  straight spars and fine timber - one of the contributing factors to the beginning of the timber industry in New Zealand. One of the first ships to call in for a cargo of spars was HM's Coromandel ( for which the town Coromandel was named after ). That was back in 1820. The HM's Buffalo left Sydney for New Zealand in 1833, intending to load spars at Hokianga - however insufficient vessel draught meant she could not enter that harbour. Later on another voyage home to England in 1837 the HM's ship Buffalo  obtained the first spars from  Ngungaru and area in Northland. In 1842 the HM's Tortoise was gathering spars at Te Karo near Tairua. 

Captain Dacre gained a contract to supply spars to the Admiralty in 1831.

The Late Captain Dacre In
The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand, Vol 2, Auckland Province. Christchurch: Cyclopaedia Company Limited, 1902.

Meantime Gordon Davis Browne had become the one of the first private Europeans  in the New Zealand timber trade operating out of Horeke, Hokianga
in partnership  with merchants Raine and Ramsay in Sydney. Captain Dacre is said to have taken one of the first cargoes from Hokianga.The Hobart Town Gazette reported in 1827 the arrival of the bark Lucy Ann, Ranulph Dacre, with amongst the cargo "110 planks  New Zealand pine timber." (Hobart Town Gazette 11/08/1827 p5)

There followed  a few years of change, uncertainty , set backs and misfortunes for both Browne and Dacre. The Horeke timber business and shipbuilding yard was not successfully run  and by 1830 the firm was bankrupt.

Captain Dacre  retired from long sea voyages to London  and established himself as a Sydney based merchant - Dacre and Wilks.  In those days Sydney was a hub of commercial enterprise and Port Jackson a key port for Australasia  for the movement of goods and people inwards and outwards. It was where taxes and customs excise on cargoes were received. 1845 saw the building of the first Customs House in what is now  Circular Quay near the waterfront.

Customs House on Circular Quay Sydney, Australia - Photo CRB 2013
 In September 1831 Dacre purchased the barque Darling for £700. ( The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 17/09/1831)  Dacre is said to have sent Captain Skelton aboard Darling to establish spar stations at Mangonui and Mercury Bay. The venture was not successful. Dacre met Browne also in 1832. A spar station was established at Mahurangi, Northland  in 1832 - Browne and fifteen other men taken there aboard the barque Bolina ( Dacre & Wilks Agents ). This venture also proved unsuccessful, with Dacre stating that his trees had been appropriated by HM's Buffalo and higher prices paid to the maori who were felling the timber. 

Dacre then established Browne in another timber station in Mercury Bay in 1837. Here Browne erected the stone wharf ( still used today in 2014 ) and what was said to be the first water - powered sawmill in New Zealand - both to enable processing and transport of the timber more easily. The first mill was said to be near the stone wharf on the same side. 

Mercury Bay at Whitianga - Photo CRB 2012
 In 1838 when Browne was setting up the Mercury Bay station, the partnership of Dacre & Wilks came to an end. 

The Australian  6 April 1838 p1 courtesy Trove newspapers National Library Australia

The Mercury Bay venture was costly and despite Browne's ingenuity in establishing the wharf and sawmill, the Browne's project soon owed Dacre  £4000. The debts kept accumulating and along with a rejected shipment of spars from the Admiralty, regarded by them as being sub - standard was enough to send Browne into melancholia. 

Dacre had been involved in several purchases of land  during his spar ventures  and in 1841 began the long process of land claim with the Government - finally settled in 1862. This included the land previously known as G.D. Browne's grant purchased in 1837 and situated between Whitianga Harbour and the Purangi River. As Browne had died in about 1842 the Court awarded Dacre the land in 1862 and it then became known as Dacre's grant. The area at what is now known as Flaxmill Bay and the signage seen today listing the purchase price -

" for 16 pounds cash, 36 Sydney pieces worth 3 pounds each, 24 blankets, 10 tents,10 hats, 20 tomahawks, 20 tinder boxes, 20 boxes of lucifers, 10 pairs of scissors, 10 looking glasses, 3 sixty pound boxes of tobacco, 140 pounds in Spanish dollars and articles of merchandise. Sale Acknowledged by  Taharakee on 27 October 1837. "

Looking out from Flaxmill Bay Coromandel Peninsula Photo CRB 2012
 Captain Dacre, despite owning a number of ships, properties, being a successful merchant  and having been one of the first directors of the Union Bank of Australia, succumbed as many did during the 1843 - 1844 Depression in Australia and became insolvent.

Not deterred Dacre rose once more as a successful Merchant - this time based in New Zealand. Going there in 1844 he established a business relationship with James Macky who was in the employ of L.D. Nathan. In 1854 Dacre went into partnership with Macky's brother Thomas Macky ( who was also father of the son who was part of the well known firm of the late 1800s - Macky, Logan and Steen. The large family moved to New Zealand in 1859 and contributed via business, community and sport.

So ends the story of " more than just a sign at Flaxmill Bay - a part of the past of New Zealand history on the Coromandel Peninsula and beyond.


Reference Source:

  • The Cyclopaedia of New Zealand, Vol 2, Auckland Province. Christchurch: Cyclopaedia Company Limited, 1902.
  • McLintock, A.H. An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand Volume 1. Wellington, New Zealand: R.E. Owen, Government Printer, 1966.
  •  Tyerman, Daniel, Bennet, George, Montgomery, James, London Missionary Society. 1832. Voyages and travels; Missions. Boston & New York : Boston : Crocker and Brewster ; New York : J. Leavitt.
  • Maori Deeds of Old Private Land Purchases in New Zealand, From the Year 1815 to 1840, with Pre-Emptive and Other Claims  Author: H. Hanson Turton - 408
  • Maori Deeds of Old Private Land Purchases in New Zealand, From the Year 1815 to 1840, with Pre-Emptive and Other Claims Return of Land Claims Finally Settled Since 8th July, 1862 H Hanson Turton

  • Frank Rogers. 'Dacre, Ranulph', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 27-Jun-2013

  • by D. Shineberg  Dacre, Ranulph (1797–1884) This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966
  • The HMS Buffalo: Part One, Two and Three
  • The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser Thursday 17 June 1824  Page 2 
  •  Hobart Town Gazette Saturday 11 August 1827 page 5
  • NEW ZEALAND FORESTS. New Zealand Herald, 4 March 1926, Page 13
  • THE LATE CAPTAIN DACRE. New Zealand Herald, 11 October 1884, Page 1

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