Demise of the partners - Trade among the Islands

Copyright 1993  

Within the Henderson & Macfarlane Shipping company management, changes were taking place as the Henderson family moved on to new ground, bringing in George Dunnett and later James Young as newly appointed partners. Thomas Henderson jnr. had been offered the position of Auckland Manager for the Union Steamship Company, where he remained until 1898, when he was asked to go to Hobart and take up the position of General Manager, Australia.

Harry Henderson, who had been the beneficiary under his father's will and had been working for several years in the Pacific Islands with the firms fleet of vessels, decided to retire from the sea and open up an office for the company in Pitt Street, Sydney, becoming an agent for the many steamship lines plying to Australia and New Zealand from America, Europe and England. He gained the agency for the P & O Shipping Line and the Shaw, Saville & Albion Company in London and also the San Francisco Mail Steamers, as well as agent for the Auckland based Union Steamship Company.

Cruising the Pacific islands aboard the schooner CERCI, George Henderson, Thomas's eldest son, sailed into Auckland unaware that his father had passed away and gained the sad news of his death on arrival. George had been unwell himself over a period of a year and the abdominal pains he suffered had worsened during his voyage. He attended the doctor soon after his return and over the next three months his condition deteriorated and he was in considerable pain and confined to his house. He died on the 11th November, 1886 of cancer of the liver and was interred in the family grave at Grafton Cemetery, Auckland.
As the steamship trade spread into the Pacific Ocean, the firm gradually sold off their sailing ships and reduced the fleet to a few small vessels among the main trading islands. Harry Henderson bought the 600 ton, iron screw, topsail rigged steamer, the JANET NICCOLL, which carried a crew of nine and was under the command of Captain Henry with orders to make a final round of the island posts to collect the cargo waiting there. The vessel was made ready to sail from Sydney on the 11th April,1890 bound for Auckland and the Pacific Islands.


Seven days later she berthed at Queen's Wharf, Auckland, to take on provisions, coal and passengers. Harry Henderson and Mr. Hird joined the ship as supercargo, together with Jack Buckland, a trader for the firm returning to his island post. Robert Louis Stevenson [later to become the author of 'Treasure Island'] a close friend of Harry Henderson, together with his wife Fanny and son Lloyd, who was a keen amateur photographer, joined the ship with about forty islanders from the Solomon, New Hebrides and eight from Nuie, all returning to their island homes.

The JANET NICCOLL sailed on the evening tide from Auckland and as the journey progressed Mrs. Stevenson compiled notes on the voyage in her diary, later to be written as a book published in London, entitled,'The Cruise of the Janet Niccoll in the South Seas'. Gales and rain were encountered on the first leg of the journey to Niue where they received a grand welcome by the resident missionary, Mr. Lawes. Continuing passage to Apia, Samoa, they were met by the German Consul- General and made welcome while they provisioned and took on copra. Sighted Pukapuka on the 4th May, wrote Mrs. Stevenson. They had several natives to drop off here and as they approached they became wildly excited. This is a group of three islands, the only one inhabited is Pukapuka which has its own king. The king would not allow anyone to gather coconuts without his permission and therefore little copra is made and the island did not pay enough to have a trader stationed there.

"Captain Henry", related Mrs Stevenson, "blew the ship's hooter as we came abreast of the island. Every paddle in the canoes coming out to meet us, stopped dead and the crowds on the beach seemed turned into stone. The Pukapuka passengers called out re-assurances from the ship, but it was some time before the people summoned up courage to come alongside."

Robert Lewis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson, his wife Fanny and natives

Sailing on to Penryn after calling at Manihiki to pick up a large consignment of cargo, she noted that there were no white women on the island and only three white men. The Penryn lagoon entrance was extremely narrow and dangerous and about two ships wide. Rocks and coral lie on either side, but Captain Henry managed the ship well with an islander stationed at the masthead and brought them safely inside. At that time the missionary and his wife had been asked to leave as the whole island reverts to its pagan ceremonies and the place becomes unsafe for visitors.

The ship reached Suwarrow atoll which Mrs Stevenson found to be
      a fascinating place to explore. She found the house occupied by
      'Sterndale' and wrote many notes on its contents of old maps, guns and
      rusty steel cutlass hanging on the wall. The coconuts planted in those
      earlier times were not flourishing well, Harry Henderson stating that they
      had not been planted deep enough in the soil. Bananas were doing well, and
      also the chilli peppers and imported cotton plants which had become wild
      and flourishing well in the imported soil.

Loading copra, cotton, coconuts and shell, the JANET NICCOL set sail for Swain's Island where they were entertained by the American, Eli Jennings and his wife in grand style, while the business of loading the cargo of copra and shell was supervised by Captain Henry and his crew. Expecting to make Funafuti, the first of the Ellice island group at daybreak, at nine o'clock there was no sign of land. Blaming bad steering, the Captain brought her about and the island was sighted at 2pm. Two wretched looking traders came aboard, related Mrs. Stevenson, one a half-caste Samoan who was suffering from elephantitis in both legs, the other a frail pallid man who looked half staved named Rosterau. The island had about 150 residents at that time. The half-caste related how in 1871, while he was sailing with the notorious American Captain Bully Hayes, three slave ships called at a small island near Arorai in the Kingsmill group.

The crew of the ships distributed presents to everyone and soon the islanders were coming to the landing place in groups to get theirs too. The King, anxious that as many of his people as possible should get a present, sounded his horn to summon them from far and wide. Two thirds of the population were herded at gunpoint into the ships holds by the slave-traders, leaving only the very young and old.

At Nanui in the Gilbert Islands they took on more cargo and because the weather was clouding up and unsettled, Harry Henderson asked all the able-bodied men to help load the cargo of copra, even though it was Sunday. Onwards to Majuro Atoll where more copra was taken aboard and then to Tapituea, which was Jack Buckland's trading station. He was waiting on deck, his bags packed in readiness and his pig lay tied up on the deck beside him, when a canoe came out to meet the ship with news that he would be unwise to go ashore. Retracing their passage to Nanouti, they said their goodbyes to Jack as he climbed into the waiting canoe with his pig underneath his arm, waving as he was paddled ashore to join another trader.

Sailing from Arorai, the JANET NICCOLL took passage to Mare's Island in the Loyalty Group, about 45 miles from Numea, the first civilised port and the last before returning to Sydney, Australia. At the end of 1890, Harry Henderson sold the ship to the Union Steamship Company, who kept her in service until 1903. In later years, after she had been sold to a Penang Company, she was wrecked some three hundred miles north of Penang in May,1914.

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