When I noticed this internet entry of the first known NZ European settler I immediately set about investigating - looking for authentic historical records and I'm happy to say there was plenty. I became engrossed and almost delayed cooking my dinner (with minted new-potatoes, steamed greens from the garden - Yummie).
James Cavanagh was a convict on board the Australian convict ship Lady Nelson and he escaped in June 1804 while working ashore collecting firewood on The Cavelli Islands near Whangaroa, Northland. The islands are close off shore to the east of Matauri Bay.
The Cavalli Islands, Northland, North Island.
The Lady Nelsons Captain, Acting Lieutenant James Symons was newly appointed in 1803 and would have been most unhappy at loosing one of his sixteen convicts when driven off course for the Norfolk Islands Penal Colony - and while desperately short of both water and firewood. - Not a good start eh.
The shallow draft Lady Nelson had been very busy despite the foul weather - making multiple voyages on the eastern coast of Australia since Midshipman Symons had taken over as Captain - following George Curtoys being sent to sick quarters on shore.
Eventually after setting off for Norfolk Island they discovered that all their water, stored in three casks in the hold had leaked entirely away and the eighteen days of storms had blown them so far off course - that they instead decided to bear away for New Zealand and replenish their water and fuel there.
16m Armed Brig The Lady Nelson 1799.
Six Brass Carriage Guns (3 and 4 pounders)
She was Built as a Cutter but converted to a Brig
with Three Sliding Keels or 'Centreboards'
Her sliding keel centre boards gave problems right from her initial voyage - breaking and needing replacement often. - Remember this is foul mid winter weather when they arrive at the Cavellis..
The Logbook of the Lady Nelson:
Tuesday 12th June 1804.
"At six the boat came on board with wood and an account that James Cavanagh a prisoner who was sent to cut wood had run into the brush and that a party of men had been in pursuit of him and could not find him and he was left behind; at 1/4 past nine a heavy squall: gave the vessel more cable: found her driving to shore very fast; the gale continuing and a heavy sea. Set the top-sail, main-sail and fore-top-stay sail and cut the cable. not being able to get anchor on account of vessel driving so fast; the anchor was lost, 120 fathoms of cable before 10 tacked ship, 10 past 10 began to run between Cavelli's Island and mainland, not being able to work out of the bay, up keel and fore-sail down jib and main-sail. At 11 being quite clear of land shortened sail and hove to."
The Lady Nelson eventually saw Norfolk Island in the distance on 19th June, landing June 22nd - less one prisoner after a tempestuous voyage..
- In 1805 a Captain Philip Skelton reported seeing a white man in New Zealands Bay of Islands area believed to be James Cavanagh.
- Then in 17 June 1806 the unruly crew and convicts of colonial brigantine The Venus mutineered in the bay at Port Dalrymple (Tasmania) arming themselves with muskets - leaving the captain and some crew on shore before crossing the Tasman Sea to New Zealand where six (inc.3 women) of the party left The Venus and joined James Cavanagh residing at Rangihoua in the Bay of islands.- But all of those six Venus mutineers had left within a couple of years time - the two men imprisoned in irons.
Brig The Venus - Became a Pirate Ship.
The Venus with her remaining convict/pirate crew sailed on in NZ waters and were last reported to be seen in distress in May 1808 off the NZ coast.
James Cavanagh is said to have thus become the first recorded permanent European settler in New Zealand, (as opposed to short term onshore whalers and sealers) - and was a 'Pakeha-Maori' of some value to the tribe as translator and later - when muskets became more available - as a skilled instructor of musketry for the Maori Wars..
The Bay Of Islands became a notoriously wild centre for whaling, sealing and logging with the frontier town of Kororareka becoming present day Russell - after once burning to the ground.
French Seamen on Beach at Kororareka (Russell) 1835.
Note: Many of these seamen on Australian government vessels were at this time recruited from ranks of the transported convicts - there being general shortages of labour - so the crewmen in charge of convicts .. were convicts.
Note 2: That my son is named James Kavanagh may have something to do with my interest! - There is no shortage of 'Kavanaghs' in the convict records of that era 200 years ago - but I had to pay for Boing747 seats to fly down here.