Letter 13

Edwin Harris to father James Pasco Harris. Weekeston, New Plymouth, 16 March 1844

New Plymouth New Zealand
March 16th 1844

Dear Father

I received your letter of the 4th of August which I received about a month since having been some time in New Zealand. The Teresa arrived here on the 26th and to our great joy landed a box for us which I am happy to say is in good condition and contains quite a mine of wealth for which I am very grateful. Your letter as well as the Ships Agents’ I received some days after I received the box and which explained what had rather puzzled me at first as to how the box had come, having called at the Post Office when the ship first arrived to ascertain if there were letters for me and received the same answer that I had received on the arrival of two other vessels which I suppose you had not heard of or you would certainly have sent letters by them.

The first enquiry on opening the box was for letters of course; that satisfied we proceeded to examine more leisurably. The first letter which I found was from my nephew James Harris who enquired what prospect there is for him should he come here. I cannot yet answer this question. There is at present no printer in the settlement but it is rumoured that one will be here shortly. If so there will be less chance for James should he wish to set up on his own account & whilst the business that can be expected here will certainly not require an assistant, in fact I cannot perceive as yet any opening until the Settlement is further advanced. There are printers in the settlements of Auckland, Port Nicholson and Nelson where a Newspaper is published in each and certainly a Newspaper would be exceedingly desirable to advocate the interest of this place which up to the present time has been most sadly misrepresented. But I fear there are not yet a sufficient number of persons to support it. I have to thank James for his long letter. I have heard of Hullah and should James come here be will find music is not unregarded. The singing and chanting at the Church is beginning to be talked of as an example to the churches in the other settlements. Mr Hill’s letter, Emma Hill’s, Elizabeth Hill’s and lastly your servant’s Elizabeth Watts’ were all read in turn. But we hunted in vain for your letter or Augusta’s which as I told you before I received some days after owing to some bungling on board the ship in not sending all the letter bags on at once. Indeed the Captain insisting that there were not any more and many letters would probably have been taken on to Port Nicholson had it not been for the perseverance of the Company’s Agent Mr Wicksteed who considered there must be some for this place.

All the things were exceedingly acceptable but I must not pass over James’ present viz the miniature portrait of Aunt Maria who I am glad to see is just in as good condition as ever. How I should value your own and Mother’s the same size.

We are all well, but I have almost nothing to do, yet still I live but at times with great difficulty. There is very little private surveying partly owing to the uncertainty with regard to the land – the land question not being yet settled and the natives not being willing to allow certain tracts of land to be cultivated not having sold them or not having had sufficient. Unfortunately this has happened on sections belonging to persons here who are willing to cultivate and has caused great dissatisfaction of course, particularly as the natives are not to be made amenable for any outrage they may make on that head.

Colonel Wakefield is expected for the purpose of settling this matter. I believe he is working his way up having the places between Port Nicholson and this place to settle first. I think the affair with the engagement to employ the labourers sent out must make the colonization of New Zealand a very unprofitable affair to the Company.

I have a son of Captain King’s to teach drawing who received some lessons from James previous to his sailing from Plymouth. I have also lately sold by subscription a large water color drawing of the Town and Roadstead. It made nearly ten pounds so that at the moment I am rather better off than I have been for some time.

My small plot of ground is invaluable. This summer for the first time I have sufficient corms for six months’ potatoes, and other vegetables for twelve months. I shall grow enough corn this year for my own consumption at last.

The wheat crops have been very abundant and being the first caused a great deal of excitement. Some of my neighbours got as much as sixty Bushels to the acre. We are now quite satisfied that this may be a great corn country and we shall no doubt another year not require any flour to be imported. There are two Flour Mills erected in the town, others are talked of to be built in the country so that we are getting more and more like home.

We were in expectation of a visit from Captain Fitzroy the Governor, and an address had been prepared but owing to the weather not being favourable on his return to Port Nicholson and Nelson it has been put off sine die.

I learn by a Nelson paper that he has decided in the affair of the [Wairau] Massacre that the white man was wrong. This of course has given great dissatisfaction. He also in his answer to an address from the inhabitants requiring more soldiers has refused adding that the Government at home would, rather than coerce the natives, abandon New Zealand as a British Settlement. I trust that he will see the necessity of more rigour being used toward the natives, a very false notion having been raised at home of their docility and civilization, no doubt from the reports of the missionaries who without any intention of misleading are very likely themselves to be deceived. They are still savages and ought no more to be trusted with the management of their affairs as it regards their intercourse with Europeans than a child would intrusted to manage its property. The native protectors may be supposed to act for them but they have not the slightest influence when acting in opposition to their wishes. The missionaries also have not that influence they had. Indeed the Bishop, who on his first coming to New Zealand had the greatest expectations and as a newcomer had perhaps some influence, has declared that he has no hope of the present generation. It is therefore a great cost having a new officer who has to find out the real characters of the natives and who by  his treating the natives as already civilized yielding to their demands taking no measures for punishing outrages and appearing to them to be afraid to do so. But I hope that by more vigorous measures the interests of the Europeans will be defended and our lives and properties preserved.

You desire me to mention any particular thing that I may want or be desirous of having sent out. I will therefore mention some things but you are not to put yourself to the slightest inconvenience or to think of sending all that I might mention. In the first place I should like much some of the cheap paper hangings that I remember seeing before I left sufficient to paper a room 10 ft by 10 and say 7 ft high; a small quantity of Flake White as I intend trying an oil picture or so having all the other colours; a cake of Prussian blue; two or three cheap chairs without being put together might be laid very well in such a box as the one we received last; cheap drapery for a french bed would be exceedingly acceptable.

A drawing of the house shall be sent in another letter as I find I have too much to say to find a corner anywhere in this. I hope however that I may be fortunate enough to meet with a purchaser for this some time or other so as to enable me to get a section, the cultivation of land being the only means that I can see as affording a chance of becoming independent. It is said that a House and a land taxes is to be put on I think it is rather premature. It is also said that at Auckland they are determined not to pay it – it is hard to have to pay to so many officers to attend to native matters. I think they have made a complete job of the New Zealand Government and done a great deal apparently to spite the New Zealand Company who have spent an enormous sum in fixing the different settlements without as yet receiving any returns.

Please to give my best thanks to David Murray for the very handsome present of Books and Stationery. If I can find sufficient interesting matter enough to fill a letter to him I certainly will write him. Tell Dobson that his book on Cottage architecture is a treasure, the very thing I wanted.

With best wishes for health and prosperity to all, the list of kind relations and friends too long to be written, believe me to be Dear Father and Mother,

your very affectionate son

Edwin Harris.

Dixit Edwin Harris, Surveyor, Weekeston, New Plymouth.

Handwritten transcript of MS letter to father James Pasco Harris, Plymouth, England. Written in Weekeston, New Plymouth, NZ, 16 Mar 1844. Copying date unknown. Puke Ariki. ARC2019-112. Letter 1.


Dear Father
Edwin Harris’s letter to his parents James Pasco and Mary Roberts Harris is the first of eight letters 1844-1853 that were transcribed into a notebook by an unknown hand. The notebook transcriptions were later re-copied by Constance Emily Jones nee Murray (1881-1979) and were passed down the Jones family, who are descendants of Edwin’s sister Ellen Susan Murray nee Harris. In 2019, the notebook was acquired by Puke Ariki (ARC2019-112). We reproduce the notebook text in letters 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 24 and 31.

The Teresa arrived here on the 26th
The barque Theresa arrived in Taranaki 19 Mar 1844. She left London with 18 passengers and cleared the channel 29 Nov 1843 (Wells 104). Edwin explains that although the family received the box from England in late March, it was some time before his father’s letter could be retrieved from the Theresa. The date of his reply (16 March) is a transcription error.

The first letter which I found was from my nephew James Harris
Son of Edwin’s brother James Cobham Harris, born 1822 in Plymouth. James Harris was a printer and later a painter. He and his wife Mary were living at 164 Martin St, Plymouth in 1891 (1891 England Census).

There are printers in the settlements of Auckland, Port Nicholson and Nelson
Auckland’s Southern Cross began publication in 1843. The New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator started in 1839). Its competition the New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser began in 1842. The Nelson Examiner and New Zealand chronicle also appeared in 1842. The Taranaki Herald did not begin publication until 1852.

I have heard of Hullah and should James come here be will find music is not unregarded
John Pyke Hullah (1812-1884) was an English composer. and teacher of music (DNB).

Colonel Wakefield is expected for the purpose of settling this matter
Commissioner William Spain of the Land Claims Office in Wellington requested Wakefield’s presence in New Plymouth for the enquiry into Taranaki land purchases. Wakefield, Spain and his party travelled overland from Whanganui, arriving in New Plymouth in late May 1844 (Wells 105).

I have a son of Captain King’s to teach drawing who received some lessons from James
William Cutfield King (1829-1861) was the only child of Captain Henry King and his wife Mary Anne. He married Eliza Mary Richardson in 1855 and the couple had two daughters. King was elected MP of the third New Zealand government Nov 1860 but was killed in ambush before he could take his seat.

I have also lately sold by subscription a large water colour drawing of the Town and Roadstead
Perhaps one of two works referred to by Sarah Harris in her Oct 1844 letter (#15). Edwin Harris works from the 1840s and 1850s include:

  • Entrance to …. from Cloudy Bay / looking from Port Underwood / looking S.W.’ Watercolour and pencil depicting Marlborough District coast taken from the deck of the ‘William Bryan’ – March 1841. Puke Ariki. A65.904.
  • Untitled (‘William Bryan’) Drawn from the deck of the ‘William Bryan,’ March 1841, on the way to Moturoa with Plymouth Company Settlers. Mount Taranaki and ranges in background. Watercolour and pencil depicting the ‘William Bryan’ off Taranaki Coast, 1841. Puke Ariki. A75.456.
  • Untitled (Panorama of New Plymouth from Queen Street). 1844. This watercolour depicts a panorama view of New Plymouth from Queen Street. Clearly visible in the distance is William Spain’s land tenure meeting on Mount Eliot.) Puke Ariki. A64.821
  • Plan showing additions to the Te Henui Vicarage (stone portion still remaining), Courtenay Street, New Plymouth. Showing the site plan, front elevation, plan and section of chimneys. 3 March 1846. Watercolour/ink Edwin Harris Surveyor. Puke Ariki. Acc # A65.917.
  • Untitled (Residence of Edwin Harris, Frankley Road, New Plymouth). Watercolour and pencil. Puke Ariki. A65.916.
  • Untitled (Waiwhakaiho Bridge). Watercolour and ink. Suspension bridge over the Waiwhakaiho River, with Mount Taranaki/Egmont in the background. Puke Ariki. A66.768.
  • Untitled (Mt. Taranaki/Egmont viewed through a classical portico of columns and arches.) Undated. Pencil. Dr Peter Wilson Collection. Puke Ariki. A64.817.

There are two Flour Mills erected in the town
Wells (103), quoting Wicksteed to Wakefield 2 Mar 1844: ‘Two flour mills are at work on the Huatoki, within five minutes walk of Mount Eliot. In one of them Italian stones are used; in the other, stones cut out of the trachytic rocks on the sea beach.’

We were in expectation of a visit from Captain Fitzroy the Governor
Captain Robert Fitzroy (1805-1865), RN, was a hydrographer, meteorologist and captain of HMS Beagle on her survey voyages off South America and in the Pacific 1828-30 and 1831-36. The Beagle, with the young Charles Darwin on board, visited the Bay of Islands in 1835. Fitzroy was appointed Governor of New Zealand in Apr 1843 and arrived in Auckland in late December of that year (Te Ara).

I learn by a Nelson paper that he has decided in the affair of the Wairau Massacre
The Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle of 10 Feb 1844 (‘Arrival of the Governor’) reported Fitzroy’s findings in the wake of the deaths of 4 Māori and 22  Europeans 17 June 1843 at Tuamarina in the Wairau Valley, Marlborough.

it has been put off sine die
Latin: ‘without any future date being fixed’

Please to give my best thanks to David Murray for the very handsome present of Books and Stationery
Brother-in-law David Murray, a bookseller, was married to Edwin’s sister Ellen.

Tell Dobson that his book on Cottage architecture is a treasure
Brother-in-law George Dobson, a civil engineer, was married to Edwin’s sister Augusta.

Dixit Edwin Harris, Surveyor, Weekeston, New Plymouth
Latin: ‘he has said’