Seizure Of The Schooner Active

The following article was published in the Sydney Herald on 7 April 1836 and is an account of the seizure of the Schooner Active by Native New Zealanders written by Captain Henry Wishart. He died three years later after a whale upset the ship he was sailing in.

GENTLEMEN – Having just returned from New Zealand, where the vessel I command was seized by Natives, I enclose you an account of their proceedings, which you may publish if you deem it worthy of a place in your Paper.

And I am, Gentlemen,

Your most obedient servant,

HENRY WISHART. On board the Schooner Active, Port Jackson, April 2, 1836.


The Active was becalmed off Waiderippa Bay, afternoon on Monday the 11th of January, 1836. A large canoe filled with natives came off to her, and the principal man (named Warepowre) and I mutually recognised each other as acquaintances formerly at Tarenackie.  He wished me to run into the bay and bring up off his pah, as he had a quantity of whalebone to sell; but upon my refusing to go into such an unsafe place he asked me to shew the trade I had on board, and expressed himself so much pleased with it that he proposed sending his canoe ashore to tell his people to bring the bone to the schooner next morning, and remain on board himself, if the vessel would stand to and fro during the night, which was agreed to.

Next morning early I stood into the bay, expecting to meet the canoes, and thereby save time; but the wind dying away and none appearing, I let go an anchor about 9 o’clock A M.  Some time after, a number of canoes came in sight from the mouth of a river that runs into the bay, and having come alongside, the vessel was soon crowded with natives – men, women and children.  They had no whalebone with them, having come from their provision grounds, and the bone being at the pah, where they wished me to go and look at it, and approve of it before they had the trouble of bringing it off.  I however sent the mate, who soon returned, and reported having seen a considerable quantity of very good bone.  I then desired the natives to bring it off and I would buy it; but, after much talk together, they said they did not want trade at present – they wanted a vessel to carry them to Stewart’s Island, or elsewhere if that did not please them – that the Active would do, and the bone would be given in payment.  Some of them then began fathoming the vessel with out-stretched arms,’ and concluded she would carry about two hundred ; while others poured water into the guns on deck, and spiked them with wood.  In the mean time, Warepowre tried to get my empty water casks, in order to fill them; and several people in canoes kept bringing fire- wood on board, saying they did not want payment for it, nor would they desist until I ordered it all to be thrown overboard, so that the sea was covered with drift wood.  When I saw the vessel was completely in the power of the natives, and that resistance at the time would be folly, I endeavoured to dissuade them from their project – and apparently with success, one native with them (who had once accompanied me all round New Zealand) saying I spoke the truth when I told them any place they could go was already occupied by strong tribes, who would kill them all.  Much conversation then took place amongst themselves, many arguing against going, until an impudent, ill-looking fellow named Waiderippa got up, and with violent action said, the captain speaks very well, but as we have taken the vessel we will go somewhere, and if we are not strong we may as well be killed where we go as remain and be killed by the Rowpers.  Every one then agreeing with the last speaker, I appeared to be satisfied – told them if they would go after what I had said, that I was ready to take them, for the whalebone ; and that as soon as a breeze got up I would go to Port Nicholson, close by, where the vessel could lie in safety, and wait until their provisions were got ready.  Warepowre said I had nothing to fear from the weather at that time of  year, and must remain where I was, as everything would be ready the next day.  He then demanded a white man to be left at Waiderippa until the vessel’s return, as a hostage for the safe performance of my word.  I refused – and he insisted on having one; and matters continued in this way until near eight in the evening, when a breeze began to spring up.  The women in the interval kept paddling the canoes from the shore to the vessel, bringing long-handled tomahawks, and cooked potatoes and fish for the suppers of the men, who meant to lie on board all night.  As the breeze freshened I gave orders aloud to the man in the windlass, to ascertain what lengths the natives would go to detain me; but the crew had hove only a few squares when the women and children were huddled overboard into the canoes

The alarm was given to the people on shore by whistling shrilly on the fingers – and Warepowre, leaping upon the boat, which was carried on deck, gave the war-cry, and in an instant from eighty to a hundred natives, stripped to the skin, each armed with a tomahawk, commenced the war-dance on deck, yelling hideously, and making the vessel quiver with their violent jumping.  The crew upon this pulled up the muskets they had been provided with when we came upon the coast, from the forecastle, which Warepowre perceiving, called out to me aft, where I remained alone, to stop the men from firing or every one on board would be killed – and some of the natives having begun to cut away the rigging, I went forward and told the crew to put away the muskets.

Peace being restored, the natives crowded into the forecastle, so that the crew could not move without being observed, and overpowered if resistance was attempted – taking care also to shake the priming from the muskets.  About midnight I began to get the sails loosed, and (under various pretences and against great opposition) succeeded in getting most of them set.  The vessel soon began to drive outwards, but the natives observing it gave her more cable, and threatened to cut away the other anchor – and some of the most unruly, cut up a ball of spunyarn to tie all hands.

Early on Wednesday morning, canoes came alongside with the whalebone, and put it on board.  I told Warepowre it was very good, and to send his people ashore to get their potatoes and pork at once, while there was a fair wind that would rattle them where they wished to go in a couple of days.  He highly approved of what was said, and sent all ashore but twenty men and women, including himself.  I now had more muskets and some cutlases quietly passed forward through the hold, which was cleared of natives, and when I saw the canoes all beached began to get up the anchor; for, although the chain had been unshackled the day before, so as to slip it if a chance of escaping offered, I felt unwilling to incur such a loss without an effort to see it.  Warepowre upon this laid aside his marie (hatchet of green stone) and went forward to see how matters stood, and to keep him quiet as long as possible, I told him I meant to tack about in the bay until his people were ready.  He seemed satisfied, and assisted to heave a square or two of the windlass, but then went aft again, resumed his marie, and conferred with the others, the result of which seemed to be that resistance was useless.  The anchor soon coming up – the sails being already set – the vessel got under weigh with a fine breeze, without our being constrained to use arms against the natives on board.  As soon as she was observed by those on shore to be under weigh, two canoes put off after her; but when within musket-shot, finding no signal made by their friends to approach, put back again.

When nearly clear of the bay, I demanded the tomahawks from the natives, who quietly surrendered them; and laying the vessel too, had the long boat hoisted out, as I judged the most prudent way to dispose of the captives would be to give them the boat and two oars to go where they chose.  I then told them my intentions, and ordered them into her, much to their surprise and satisfaction, especially when I returned their tomahawks, and remunerated them for the bone they had put on board.

Just as the boat was cast off from the vessel, Warepowre sprung into the main chains, saying he knew I meant to fire upon the boat, and clung to the chains, until I allowed him to come on board.  Perhaps the unmerited clemency he experienced induced him to suppose that he might still persuade me to put into Port Nicholson; but in the evening, when past that place, he was in great dread, lest he should be taken to Port Jackson.  Next day at his earnest entreaty, and being anxious to get rid of him rather than take him to the different places I had to call at, and where the natives, enemies of his, would be glad to get hold of him, and take him from me by force, I landed him at Queen Charlotte’s Sound, amongst his own friends.  I may add that Waederippa is an open bay, unapproachable in the winter season when the southerly winds prevail, and situated between Cape Pattison and Port Nicholson, where the brig Lord Rodney was taken possession of by the New Zealanders; that Warepowre and his tribe belonged originally to Tarinackie on the west coast, which place they deserted after the chastisement the natives there received from the Alligator sloop of war, and removing to Waederippa settled there, where they dreaded being destroyed by the Entry Island natives, a numerous people under the Rowpera, and alleged that as the reason of their wishing to remove—a wish which the success the Port Nicholson natives met with in removing to the Chatham Islands no doubt encouraged. I fell in with the Lord Rodney at the East Cape, and heard from Captain Harwood an account of her seizure, and he also told me the first vessel that went there was sure to be taken; but I looked upon what he said as one of the stories New Zealand traders indulge in, to prevent others from opposing them; I was even illiberal enough to suppose the seizure of the Lord Rodneywas fictitious, and under that impression had no hesitation in going amongst the natives there who completely undeceived me on that point. I feel confident that if I had made one trip with natives, a second, probably a third, would have been required of me before all were transported, and that they would have stripped the vessel when they had no further need for her, as they were greatly in want of such things as I had on board.