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Historical Records of New Zealand

The Deposition of Francis Ewer (Prisoner)

page 525

The Deposition of Francis Ewer (Prisoner).

I, Francis Ewer, state that I met Captain Riggs in Sydnoy about three weeks prior to the General Gates sailing from Port Jackson, and asked him if he wanted any man in my line, meaning a painter and glazier, or to do any work on board his vessel. He told me he wanted a head pump fixed, and asked what I would do it for. I told him twenty pounds. He said it was too much money, and that he could not have it done. I then said I was a prisoner for life, and wanted to make my escape. On hearing that he told me he would consider of it. After that he met me near Mr. Middleton’s house, and asked me if I was willing he was agreeable to take me. I told him, Yes. I had no other conversation with him until I met him by appointment at Mr. Storer’s. On my arrival at Mr. Storer’s I met Captain Riggs, Nat Ewer, Thos. Lewe, Henry Gordon, James McDonald, alias McDaniel, and a man named Smith. Mr. Storer came frequently in the room, attending to his business, bringing liquor, when the subject was dropped. I settled nothing finally that evening, but was requested to meet him again at Mr. Storer’s the next day (Saturday) for the purpose of finally settling and arranging about being taken away. Having met and arranged, he desired me to go down to Campbell’s wharf, and that he would bring his boat and take us off. After waiting about an hour Captain Riggs came with his boat and took us to the North Shore; landed us there, gave us provisions, and said he would use us as his own ship’s company. He said the reason for his not taking us then on board was he was afraid the ship would be smoked, but that he would come and take us off; and as a signal for us to know it was him he would have a light in the boat. We remained in the bush from Saturday night until late on Wednesday or early on Thursday morning, when he came and took us all on board his vessel, with the exception of Smith. On arrival on board he stowed us away under some sails and different stores forward, where we remained until the ship was at sea. When let out, he ordered the steward to give us four pounds of bread a week, and I believe a pound of meat a day, and we remained on these provisions until we arrived at the Bay of Islands, when he added to our provisions three glasses of rum and three gills of molasses pr. week, and three gills of flower on Sunday. He told us he was in great expectation of seals, and that he wished us to sign articles, which we did, and sailed from the Bay of Islands as the ship’s crew. Not finding any seals, he treated us severely, and reduced our provisions. When we arrived at Camel’s Island the ship got on shore, and I was sent on shore with three more hands with empty casks and wood for the purpose of lightening the ship. Having worked very hard page 526 on shore and on my return to the ship, I was given two glasses of rum, and after this I went to bed and told the men if I had known as much as I did now I would not have left the Sydney. The chief mate came down to call me. I told him I was unwell, being fatigued. He then went up and brought down a bucket of water, and threw it over me, and went up and told the captain, who came down with some rope nettles. He called me a convicted scoundrel, and made use of many other reproachful words; struck me on the face and neck with the nettles, which I took from him, when he began to kick me on the head, face, and ribs. I told him if he did not leave off I should be under the necessity of making him. The sealing knife and steel hanging up over my head, I took them down and told him again if he did not leave me I would make him, when he said, “Damn-me, I will settle you.“ He went on deck, brought with him a cutlass and pistol, and said, “Now, my boy, who has the largest knife?“ I answered, “You have,“ and gave in. He then made a blow at me with the flat part of the cutlass. I told him that his cutlass would not frighten me. He then ordered me to be ironed hand and feet, but the chief mate said he did not like to iron me, in consequence of my legs being bad. I was then put in the coal hole, and ordered bread and water, where I remained on a biscuit a day for three days. When I was brought up, on the afternoon of the third day, I saw the captain, who had nettles in his hands, who told me he was going to flog me, and told John Lovatt if he did not seize me up to the gun he would flog him, when I was seized up, and received four dozen lashes on my back. After this he ordered the steward to get some brine. The brine being brought, one of the men said, “Throw it over his back“; but Captain Riggs said, “Damn him, rub it into him, iron him, and put him below.“ I was taken down; but Mr. Clarke, sealing captain, then solicited for me to be taken out of irons, as my back was so bad. I was taken out and remained sick below for a week. After this I did my duty on deck in the day, and ironed every night for about a fortnight, when he sent for me into his cabin, called Nat. Ewer and Cadwallader, and told them if I committed the least fault he would hang me at the yard arm. Not being successful in getting skins he sent for Storer, Lewe, Johnson, Purcell, and myself, in Dusky Bay, and told us that he understood we were going to take a boat away. I then said, “Captain Riggs, I hope you are not going to lay any more charges to me,“ when he answered, “Damn you, I have not done with you yet.“ He then ironed us, put us in the hold, and in the morning following called us up, brought some nails and pieces of salt pork, and asked me if I knew anything about it. When I told him No, he then asked the rest the same question, who all page 527 answered No. He then told Johnson and me to strip. I asked him for why. He said again, “Damn you, strip.“ I then said, “You have no charge against me,“ when he replied, “I have not done with you for the last.“ After tying us both up in the rigging. he walked up and down the deck with nettles in his hand, asking if we knew anything about the pork. I told him I did not, and the ship’s company knew the same. He then commenced flogging Johnson, telling him he would not leave off till he told him where he got the pork. Johnson then told him that, being starved, he took it. He then told him he would flog him for taking it. and, I think, gave him about four or five dozen lashes. After flogging Johnson he came to me, and punished me with nineteen lashes, when a hiss and kind of growling was heard among the ship’s company. He then cast us off, ironed us, put myself, Storer, Lewe, and Johnscn in the hold, and ordered us to have nothing served out to us, and only to be allowed one hour on deck in the day, for the purpose of catching fish; and if we did not catch fish, we might starve. The steward frequently solicited to have bread given us, but was not allowed. After remaining in this manner five weeks we made Chanchi Harbour, on the coast of New Zealand. We were released, and the hands being sent away sealing, we were allowed four pounds of bread a week, and a dram of spirits pr. day to do the duty of the ship.

Dated on board H.M. Store Ship Dromedary, Bay of Islands (New Zealand), the fourteenth day of April, one thousand eight hundred and twenty.

Fras. Ewer.