Thursday, 2 June 2016

Captain William W Stewart - pilot , sealer and trader

The Wreck of HMS Buffalo Heritage Board Buffalo Beach, Whitianga 2015 - photo courtesy Chris R Ball

When HMS Buffalo was wrecked on 28 July 1840 in Mercury Bay, Coromandel Peninsula, there also, were  Maori , Gordon Browne ( AKA Brown) of the timber camp and Captain William W Stewart. This Captain Stewart, was with a reputation for being  a ship's pilot in New Zealand waters. Both Browne and Stewart, were attributed with assisting Captain Wood  and  the crew of  HMS Buffalo, in the aftermath of the ship wreck.
This Captain William W Stewart is not to be confused with another  Captain James Stewart of the brig Elizabeth. Research has shown a number of writers through the one hundred seventy six years since 1840, have confused the two.
The name of this  Captain William W Stewart was said to be the source of  Stewart's Island being called this during the 1800 and 1900's. ( Now this island is referred to as  Stewart Island/Rakiura) This Captain Stewart was the first mate aboard the Pegasus in 1809 and chartered the waters around Pegasus Island ( renamed Codfish Island / Whenua Hou and designated a nature reserve in 1986 - today in 2016 known as the Whenua Hou Nature Reserve)
Stewart Island - Port  in 2012 - photo courtesy Chris R Ball

McNab, referring to this voyage of Pegasus one hundred years later in 1909 wrote "
" Leaving Hobart Town after this date, probably in July, she made across to the southern portion of New Zealand. We find in August, 1809, that she was under the command of Captain S. Chace, with Mr. William Stewart (after whom Stewart Island was named) as first officer. On the 7th of that month, when skirting along the southeast coast of Stewart Island, she fell in with a harbour, to which was given the name of Southern Port and into which she sailed, while Mr. Stewart took observations of the position, and made a chart of the harbour, showing the depths of water with great detail. The draft of the chart was forwarded to the editor of the “Oriental Navigator” and published by him in 1816." ( McNab 1909)
Captain William Stewart is said to have first arrived in Port Jackson, Sydney aboard the  brig Harrington in 1801. A  Messrs Chace and Co. owned vessel, this sealer had arrived from Calcutta, Captain William Campbell her Master.
Sydney two years before Captain Stewart arrived at Port Jackson in Sutherland, A , M.A & Sutherland G ,M.A. 1894. History of Australia and New Zealand . London: Longmans, Green and Co.
A search of Australian newspapers show that for those first few years, Captain William Stewart as master of Venus, Commerce, George Edwin, Cumberland  and Prince of Denmark.
 The support in 1824 of  English merchants, Thomas and David Asquith, for the establishment of a settlement at Stewart Island, saw this eventuate in June 1826. The Hobart Town Gazette wrote:
" Captain Stewart, of the ship Prince of Denmark, had also arrived from England and had commenced his settlement of his own or Stewart's island, which since the discoveries of Captain Cook was supposed to form the southern extremity  of Tavaipoenamboo, or the southern island,  but which Captain Stewart first discovered to be an extensive island separated from the main by a Strait of 20 miles." ( Hobart Town Gazette 10/06/1826)
Captain Stewart set up ship building at Pegasus with the sawyers and ship wrights who were the settlers. . Out of the enterprise was to come the  schooner Joseph Weller - the first vessel to be on the New Zealand Register.
It was also at this time that the Rosanna, Captain Herd carried a number of immigrants to the River Thames for settlement. The cargo on this voyage was also made up of sheep and cattle. On the voyage, Captain Herd called at Port Pegasus, Stewart Island briefly.
 The settlement at Pegasus came to nothing and was abandoned.
Just over a decade later ,  1840 was significant for a number of events occurring  in New Zealand. These events also involved Captain William Stewart by nature of place, occupation and disaster.
In January 1840, HMS Herald, Captain Nias,  was reported departing Port Jackson, Sydney for New Zealand, the new  Lieutenant  Governor of New Zealand, Captain Hobson  :-
" 19.-For New Zealand, H.M.S. Herald. Passengers-Captain Hobson, Lieutenant Governor of New Zealand, and family, Mr. Felton Matthew, Dr. Johnson, and Mr. Hustler." ( Australian Chronicle 21/01/1840).
It seems from newspaper accounts that Captain Hobson and Captain Nias had a number of heated arguments with each other on this voyage.
Captain Nias of HMS Herald  was to play a  part in both the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi 6 February 1840. Then subsequent voyages of HMS Herald down the coasts of New Zealand to Stewart's Island for Major Thomas Bunbury of the 80th Regiment to obtain signatures for the Treaty of Waitangi. Bunbury was commissioned by Governor Hobson who by  then was not feeling well. Some of Major Bunbury's 80th Regiment troops were sent to New Zealand aboard HMS Buffalo as military support also in February. Captain William W Stewart was also to play a part as pilot aboard HMS Herald for these voyages and in some instances witness to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.
Buick in " The Treaty of Waitangi" in 1914, wrote:-
"On the morning of April 28 the Herald left her anchorage in the outer harbour of the Bay of Islands, carrying with her Major Bunbury, commissioned to accept the signatures of the Southern chiefs ; Mr. Edward Marsh Williams engaged to act as interpreter, and a small company of marines whose presence it was thought would add somewhat to the impressiveness of the occasion." ( Buick, 1914, p167)
Edward Marsh Williams, interpreter,  was said to be son of the Reverend Henry Williams. This Mr. Williams is said to have revisited England in 1835 aboard HMS Buffalo. HMS Buffalo had arrived in April 1839,  on her third voyage to New Zealand waters to procure timber spars for the British Navy. This voyage bought HMS Buffalo further down the coast than Tutukaka and Ngunguru Bay in the 1837 voyage.  Down to the Eastern Seaboard coast of the Coromandel Peninsula - Mercury Bay at Whitianga and Te Karo ( today in 2016 sometimes referred to as Sailor's Grave) near Tairua.
 William W Stewart was said to have been visiting his friend and timber trade partner ,  Gordon Browne ( AKA Brown) at the Mercury Bay timber camp in 1840 - the timber camp established at Mercury Bay by Browne about 1838.Captain Dacre, who is said to have helped establish that timber camp had a deal of quality timber spars for HMS Buffalo who in the first half of 1840 was in these waters.
HMS Herald had proceeded to Coromandel from the Bay of islands, arriving on 30th February. Major Bunbury and Williams visited William Webster - an american who had set up a timber and trading station  at Whanganui Island on the Coromandel Harbour.
Buick writes that Major Bunbury: 
"Hearing that the Scottish exile, Captain Stewart, the discoverer of the southern Island which bears his name, was at Mercury Bay, a special messenger was hurried off to him requesting that he would pilot the Herald in these waters, and likewise use his influence with the chiefs of Mercury Bay in the direction of securing their presence at the meeting, to both of which the sealer Captain gave a ready response." ( Buick, 1914, p168)
HMS Herald continued her journey South, reaching Akaroa, Banks Peninsula on 24th. Now accompanying Major Banbury,  were Edward Williams and Captain William Stewart.
Their skills as interpreters and acquantaince with the maori chiefs were said to be useful. Following Akaroa HMS Herald continued on down the Eastern Coast, of what is now known as the South Island of New Zealand, to Stewart Island / Rakiura.
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