It was a tough life, chasing whales, so it’s not surprising that visiting whalemen sought a little R&R in the grogshops of Kororāreka. Rest & relaxation quickly turned to revelry and one January day in 1851 the revelry became a riot. Then 19 year old boat-steerer Nelson Cole Haley, of New Bedford whaleship the Charles W Morgan left an account of the day’s events: ” We took on wood and water, painted ship, and then started to give liberty. The other ship’s crews were having liberty at the same time which caused a large number of men to be on shore each day; and it made the two or three policemen on duty in this small place almost crazy to keep any kind of order among so many wild sailors, some being full of fighting rum…when two different ships’ men got at it, the whole circus would be in sight, for others from more ships would join in, and fighting would be the order of the day from one end of the beach to the other…drunken fools lost all idea of what they were fighting for…The poor unfortunate policemen at such times would be dancing around the outside like performing monkeys, brandishing their clubs and shouting ‘Order, in the Queen’s name!’ and getting tumbled head over heels by some of the crowd… that were improving the shining Sunday hours to see who could hit the hardest.” The arrival of a squad of soldiers with fixed bayonets finally quelled this disturbance. The jail was soon full so the Morgan’s crewmen were locked in an old building. Once sober they broke out and long before daylight every one of them was back aboard. Haley continues: “The next afternoon an officer came on board to find out the names of those who had been on shore the day before; but strange to say he could not find any…”
The Charles W Morgan made many visits to Russell. A model of the ship, currently on loan to the museum, is on display in the ship wing – not far from the anchorage where young Haley sat and watched the “circus”.
Source: Whalehunt: The Narrative of a Voyage by Nelson Cole Haley, Harpooner in the Ship Charles W. Morgan 1849 – 1853. Robert Hale Ltd. London. 1950