The visits of four Royal Navy vessels to New Zealand between 1820-43 to obtain kauri spars need to be put into a wider world context, writes maritime historian Don Armitage.
In fact, I'll have to go back to the last half of the 1500s when Francis Drake was pirating Spanish ships. He was so successful that when he returned with the looted treasure, Queen Elizabeth I's half share more than paid off the entire national debt, and, as a result, England entered a period of expansion and relative prosperity.
During the mid-1600s England produced a remarkable man who would lay the foundations for the greatest empire seen on Earth, upon which the sun never set. Samuel Pepys lived from 1633-1703. He rose to become Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board in 1660, then Secretary to the Admiralty in 1673.
Both were powerful positions which he used to fashion a highly successful rule-based bureaucracy and created the most powerful navy in the world which went on to encircle the world. He is known as the father of the civil service.
Pepys is also renowned for the extensive diaries he kept which, among other things, recorded his observations of the great fire of London, the great plague, the mini ice age and the Dutch attacking England.
Pepys' next door neighbour in London was Admiral Penn whose son William became a Quaker and emigrated to America. Pennsylvania, the ''Quaker state'', is named after him.
My Quaker ancestor Samuel Armitage and other relatives emigrated there later, in 1739, including a man called Samuel Lount, who happened not to be a Quaker.
Maintaining Britain's growing naval fleet meant satisfying the enormous appetite for suitable trees for ship construction – and it couldn't grow enough trees, or the right species, to supply the demand.
After Cook rediscovered New Zealand in the late 1700s and noticed the trees growing here, just what the royal dockyards may need, the amazing qualities of the New Zealand kauri for masts and yards quickly became known by others.
Australia, only a few days sail from here, started to be colonised from 1788, bringing many British ships this way. The American Revolution in the early 1800s closed off a traditional source of timber, at a time when Britain was heavily engaged with France under Napoleon.
Because of their support for the British monarchy, the Pennsylvania Quakers were forced into Canada, mainly to the Ontario area. Included were my ancestors and their relatives, including Samuel Lount.
In 1815, England defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and began a century of almost uninterrupted expansion of its empire, dependent on a strong Royal Navy which in turn depended upon the means to construct the largest of naval battleships or ships-of-the-line.
Between 1820-43, four different Royal Navy vessels — barques — were in New Zealand: HMS Dromedary in 1820, a little later HMS Coromandel, then in a series of three voyages, HMS Buffalo (its final visit to Coromandel Peninsula's east coast in 1840 where it was wrecked) and finally HMS Tortoise in 1842-43.
Their missions were to get kauri spars for topmasts for the ships of the line. Topmasts are the middle section of the three-part masts, needing certain characteristics to function well — strength, flexibility, size and lightness. Kauri had all those characteristics.
Once landed in England, the spars, 65-90ft (18-27metres) long and up to 30 inches (76cm) square, were sunk in seawater ponds for about two years to alter the timber's resin to make them more flexible and less liable to snap.
Now, I'd like to look more closely at other events between 1837 and the early 1840s because they have interesting connections to HMS Buffalo's final voyage from England, via Canada and Australia, to New Zealand.
Just five months before the Buffalo was wrecked, the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed.
Both Edward Gibbon Wakefield and John Lampton, otherwise known as Lord Durham, became involved in working on the New Zealand Association scheme.
There were British colonies in various parts of the world, all ruled by governors or lieutenant-governors, including Upper Canada, now known as Ontario.
Samuel Lount, chased north from Pennsylvania, was elected to the Parliament of Upper Canada in the early 1830s but became disillusioned at the undemocratic power structure that operated there. He led what came to be known as the Rebellion of Upper Canada which Governor George Arthur put down, with most of the rebels arrested and Samuel Lount and one other hanged.
Arthur was prevented by cooler heads in England from hanging many others, instead transporting them to Hobart and Sydney. Arthur was an ex-Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemans Land, now Tasmania, and knew of the cruel treatment meted out to convicts there.
James Wood, the Master-Commander of HMS Buffalo, left Plymouth in 1839 and went to Quebec where he loaded 141 of the rebels. Eighty-three of them were off-loaded at Hobart, and a few days later another 58 off-loaded at Sydney. Included was the ancestor of McKenzie-King, the Canadian Prime Minister in the 1920s-40s.
Emptied of its convict cargo, the Buffalo came on to New Zealand but was wrecked at the place now called Buffalo Beach before it could load kauri spars. On an earlier voyage, the Buffalo had collected kauri spars just north of Whangārei Heads.
■ Next week, more maritime expeditions and historic entanglements with connections to Northland.