Letter 6

Sarah Harris to father William Hill. New Plymouth, 13 November 1841

New Plymouth, New Zealand                  Nov. 13th 1841

My dear Father,

The ship Oriental leaves this place tonight, she has had a fine voyage but very few passengers all of which are safely landed except one child which died on the way. She has not brought any provisions which is a bad thing as our living entirely depends on the stores brought from England.

The Amelia Thomson had only just left when the above vessel arrived. The Regina is now lying on the beach driven on shore by the rough weather, she is not much injured and is discharging her cargo.

The spring is now advancing and the garden looks a little green. We are all anxious for the produce, our living is very unprofitable and poor, month after month we have tasted nothing but flour and pork, there has not been a potato for three months. The natives are very busy planting them for next year. We know nothing about the fruits if there are any, they are wild. We can only get fish from the natives who do not go out once in a month, and we cannot get any under a shilling each, it is rather a large sort. Everything is so dear that no family with three or four children can live here for less than 4 shilling and sixpence or 5 shillings a day.

We are doing a little better, Edwin gets two pounds a week, but of course we shall never give up going to Captain Hobson when it is possible.  We have forwarded his letters and Edwin wrote him previously without receiving any answer. Captain Cook brought a letter from Mr Harris, which we put in the post at Port Nicholson, it being directed to the care of his Excellency, that letter we have not received, two reports have arrived from Port Nicholson, since, but no news for us. Captain King is succeeded by Captain Liardet, a man qualified to fill the situation in every respect, and I think something will now be done  for the Colony. He has made a purchase of some land about 8 miles from here for the advantage of small ships to run in.

The surveyors are going on fast, there are some surveyors remaining as Edwin did, without employment, the Company will not take on any hands except labourers or carpenters, which men brought up as they have been are not able to do, there are several very respectable men obliged to go out. There is no chance for our doing better in this place as all the Companies are formed in England, and the managing staff is also formed there, and our friends in England must look out. We think that many owners of land would be glad to appoint him their agent, which he could take with his present employment, his salary cannot be advanced without the Company’s sanction, he is very much liked by Mr Carrington, and the men all prefer him as their master.

Yesterday a petition was sent to Captain Liardet by the emigrants that first came out, for a small piece of land to be given them for their houses, in consequence of the grounds that they were allowed to build on being put in as town sections, it is a hard case for them after making the place desirable and spending all their savings, and I think more in making houses for their families and affording a shelter for all who have arrived since, to have it taken from them, they are promised it for two years, and then shift for themselves, but that is uncertain as the landowners will try all they can to get it if they make choice of it. It was understood by the people before they left England, that they as Pioneers of the expedition would be privileged above all that came after. If their houses and gardens are taken from them at the end of the two years and they receive no remuneration they will not have had any other privilege than others who build a temporary house where they like but those have built with the idea that the 20 perch of land would be given.

This is my dear Father a beautiful country but rather flattered in England; we have had six months winter not cold but continual rains, if you are caught in a shower you get wet through in five minutes, the sun always shines when it does not rain and is very hot, the dews are very heavy, a great deal of thunder. We have had a shock of an earthquake which was felt by everyone two months ago. Everything in the house moved, the beds shook, and the dishes etc. began to rattle, it lasted five minutes and about ten minutes after a second shock took place, most of the people were in bed, but those who were awake were greatly alarmed. The natives say that this country is subject to them twice a year, but they never do any harm. That may be very true for their huts would not be very easily thrown down, nor our warries [whare] which are made of sticks and straw, would not do much mischief, but a house of stone we all fear. One man has built a stone chimney which stood it, and another he had just finished fell two days after, supposed to be occasioned by the shock. There is no lime stone yet found, what is used is a soft kind of sandstone found on the banks of the rivers easily cut with the trowel.

There is a very nice family who live near us called Merchant, we are very intimate, he is a landowner, they have some property, young people with one child, they are genteel and well-bred, and feel so much the discouragement we and other professional men have met with here. Nothing my dear Father could ever reconcile me to staying here but the restoration of my health. No one can, that has always had a shelter for his head in England, form an idea of the hardships that first colonists are obliged to go through. When we go to bed be the night ever so fine we are not certain but that our bed clothes and room may be quite wet by the morning, so heavy are the rains that the thatch will not keep out the wet.

So troublesome are the rats that we shake them off our beds and you will laugh when I tell you that Caroline, who lives with me, the same who lived with Mrs Court, has a poultice up to her leg and the rats ate through the bed clothes and cloths to the bread which they devoured from her leg, and she did not know it. There are no comforts we have never tasted a drop of beer or porter since we came here, there is a little now to be had at one shilling and sixpence per bottle, we could not afford it, there has not been any tea here for months, butter we cannot get, I have given sixpence per pound for flour, and sixpence per pound for coarse biscuit, one penny per pound for potatoes, pork seven pence all through the pig.

I sent letters last month, indeed we never let an opportunity escape us, we were disappointed at not hearing from you by the Oriental, and we are not yet sure of your having heard from us, we have sent four different times letters, what a distance we are from you, shall we ever meet again, I fear not, it is a bitter thought but there is a Heaven above where we can meet again if we serve the Lord, oh, my Father, what a comfort it would be to your absent child to know that your heart was fixed on Christ Jesus, and that worldly pursuits had no hold on you.  I have often heard you say you had no happiness, how can you if you do not study to please that Blessed Saviour. Whatever thy necessities are in Jesus’ name there is a supply for all, art thou poor, He is rich, sick, He is thy health, weak, He is strong, sinful, He is the Lord thy Righteousness, everything and in every way upon all accounts and upon all occasions His name through faith, in His name is the universal charm.

Corbyn grows a fine boy, I teach him with a few other children, and he is fond of his book, reads very well. Emily does not advance with her book but in all things else, and baby is just able to prattle. I attend the Sunday School, there are a great number of children, the missionary has the native school to attend to and therefore cannot assist us. You need not fear the natives, there are few here, sometimes they come in great numbers to visit us, and it has been said that there would be a war between two parties about this land as the Wicato [Waikato] people consider the Taranaki natives had no right to sell the land. However, we don’t think there is truth in this report, and we have no fears. I shall write William next time and send him all the news with our affectionate loves. Remember us to Aunt and all and believe me

Your affectionate daughter
Sarah Harris

Typed transcript of MS letter to father William Hill, Plymouth, England. Written in New Plymouth, NZ, 13 Nov 1841. Typed for Mary Mountjoy Paddon, Aisholt, Watford Heath, Hereford, England, [1922]. ATL. MS-Papers-3761. (#2).


The ship Oriental leaves this place tonight
The barque Oriental arrived in Taranaki 7 Nov 1841. She was the third of the Plymouth company ships, leaving Plymouth 22 June 1841 with 191 passengers, many of whom disembarked in Wellington.

The Amelia Thomson had only just left
The barque Amelia Thompson arrived in Taranaki 3 Sept 1841. She was the second of the Plymouth company ships, leaving Plymouth 25 Mar 1841 with 187 passengers. She was accompanied by the schooner Regina, a supply ship chartered to carry stores and baggage. The Regina arrived in Taranaki 3 Oct 1841 and was wrecked near the landing place 4 Nov.

The spring is now advancing and the garden looks a little green
The exact location of the Harris’s Devonport allotment is unknown. The family lived there from May 1841 until Mar 1842, paying the New Zealand Company a peppercorn rental of sixpence per annum.

We have forwarded his letters and Edwin wrote him previously
Perhaps Edwin was given more than one copy of Rendel’s letter of introduction to Hobson, since the family retained a letter and later generations assumed it had not been delivered to Auckland. Hobson died in office Sept 1842 and Colonial Secretary Lieutenant Willoughby Shortland, RN, took over as administrator pending the arrival of a new Governor.

Captain Cook brought a letter from Mr Harris
James Pasco Harris (1771-1846) was Edwin’s father. Captain John George Cooke, formerly of the 11th Regiment, was a passenger on the Amelia Thompson, Sept 1841.

Captain King is succeeded by Captain Liardet
Captain Henry King, RN, his wife Mary Anne and son William Cutfield King, were passengers on the Amelia Thompson. King took over as Plymouth Company agent from his brother-in-law George Cutfield Sept 1841. Captain Francis Liardet, RN, arrived in Taranaki on the Regina to take up the position of resident agent of the New Zealand Company, which had recently absorbed its struggling offshoot in Plymouth.

He has made a purchase of some land about 8 miles from here for the advantage of small ships to run in
Waitara, already a point of contention between Māori, Government and NZ Company interests. Parsonson (41): ‘Governor Hobson had written to Colonel Wakefield on 5 September 1841 stating that the Crown would forego its right of pre-emption to certain specified lands in favour of the New Zealand Company, and that the Crown would compensate any previous purchasers within those districts. The lands specified included the town of Wellington and some surrounding districts, Whanganui, and Taranaki – 50,000 acres in the neighbourhood of New Plymouth, a block extending 10 miles up the coast from the “Sugar Loaf Point” and 8 miles inland. […] The publication of Hobson’s letter, it may be noted, produced a howl of outrage from the surveyor Carrington, who pointed out to Captain Liardet that the Taranaki boundary excluded ‘the most valuable and indeed the very piece of country which was the Cause of my giving preference to this part of the New Zealand Company’s land’- namely Waitara. Liardet went to Port Nicholson at once, and by November had secured Governor Hobson’s authority for the Company survey to cross the Waitara River, extending some four miles beyond it.’

Yesterday a petition was sent to Captain Liardet
Carrington’s plan of the town site was ready for inspection 4 Nov 1841 and selections were to take place ten days later. Chilman 6 Nov 1841: ‘On Thursday the plan of the town was exhibited at Mr. Carrington’s, it is very simple in its design, the roads being all formed at right angles, there are two Squares marked out, and about 60 Acres for a Park, to be called Victoria Park. A meeting was held the next day to postpone the selection until Capn. Liardet’s return, in consequence of one of the best portions of the Town being occupied by the Emigrants under a promise from the Company’s Officers to retain it for two years, & consequently to ascertain whether the Company would remunerate parties choosing those sections. It was however decided to proceed with the selection on the day named, I voted in the minority – with two others only – a shameful defeat.’

We have had a shock of an earthquake which was felt by every one
Chilman 18 Sept 1841: ‘We were terribly alarmed last night by a smart shock of an earthquake, we had been in bed an hour or two & were awoke by a sudden jerking & the noise of the plates & dishes etc rattling – at the moment I could not imagine the cause, being in a great fright, but it soon struck me what was the occasion of it; the bed rocked about & produced the sensation of being in a ship with a head sea on & pitching about. The Mauries say it is a common occurrence here, I have heard of no damage being done, with the exception of two chimneys constructing of stone, the seams of which were all cracked.’

There is a very nice family who live near us called Merchant
Charles Edward and Mary Elizabeth Merchant and their young son Frederick Leopold were cabin passengers on the Amelia Thompson, Sept 1841. Their youngest son, John Poole, died on the voyage (Wells 70). Charles Merchant (1807-1894) opened a school in Currie St, New Plymouth, and was the first official Church of England teacher in Taranaki (HW Insull 5-6). The Merchants left Taranaki for Sydney on the schooner Star of China in 1849 with five children, intending to settle in Hobart. (Newland 3 May 1849; ‘Shipping Intelligence,’ Sydney Morning Herald 31 May 1849) Charles and Elizabeth Merchant and two of their children are buried in St Kilda Cemetery, Melbourne.

Caroline, who lives with me, the same who lived with Mrs Court
Caroline Screech was a passenger on the Amelia Thompson, Sept 1841. In England Caroline lived in the household of Emma and Stephen Court, Edwin Harris’s sister and brother-in-law, and was apprenticed to Stephen Court, a glazier, who received financial support for her when she fell ill in 1836. See records for Parish of Ashbrittle, Wellington, Somerset. Caroline would have been 15 at the time of her apprenticeship and 20 when Sarah wrote her letter. Her mother was Ann Screech, who was convicted of theft and prostitution in 1840 and transported to Hobart, Australia, in 1841. See Brianna Vincent, ‘Caroline Screech.

Corbyn grows a fine boy, I teach him with a few other children
Sarah Harris and Mrs Frances Newland were remembered by distinguished New Plymouth teacher Miss Lydia Shaw as her first teachers in the settlement. Miss Shaw (1834-1927) arrived with her family on the Amelia Thompson and was still living in the original family home in Currie St in 1927 (‘A Taranaki Pioneer,’ The Budget, 13 Aug 1927: 31).

You need not fear the natives, there are few here, sometimes they come in great numbers to visit us
John Newland describes the visit by Waikato 27 Dec 1841: ‘This morning at 8 o’clock the much talked of tribe of Wykata passed through N.P. on their way to Mataroa. They halted at the Missionary Station having been met by that Person, they then and there prepared themselves by taking off their blankets and placing them round their waists  which left their persons quite naked together with their tatood faces and beautiful black curly hair, added to their copper coloured countenances, gave them what they fall very little short  of I am informed, complete savages.’ Newland’s journal 1841-1873 supplies detailed information on the early years of the New Plymouth settlement and is held at Puke Ariki. Newland, his wife Frances and their four eldest children arrived in Taranaki on the Amelia Thompson, Sept 1841. The Harris and Newland families lived on Frankley Rd in the 1850s and were still in touch in the 1890s.

I shall write William next time and send him all the news
Sarah’s brother William Hill, resident in France. Neither the Amelia Thompson nor the Oriental brought letters for the Harrises apart from the letter Edwin’s father sent by Captain Cooke. Sarah’s mention of sending letters to England four times since arriving in New Plymouth may have included mail forwarded to Wellington by smaller vessels as well as letters carried by the returning emigrant ships.