The Enderby Settlement diaries – review by Barbara Ludlow


Many people are familiar with Enderby House, Enderby Wharf and Enderby Street in East Greenwich but until now little has been known about the ill-fated expedition to the Auckland Islands, one of which is called Enderby Island. In 1849 Charles Enderby of Greenwich left Plymouth in the Samuel Enderby whaling ship hoping to found a prosperous whaling station in this newly created British Colony to the south of New Zealand. Why? you may ask, did the senior partner of a once very successful shipping and whaling business go to a distant part of the world where there was nothing and worse, to put it mildly, the climate is not good.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Enderbys were looking for new whaling grounds and began exploring the southern oceans. Whales were scare in northern seas and the raw material which produced Enderby’s barrels of oil was much farther away from their base in London. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Enderby captains such as Bristow, the discoverer of the Auckland Islands in 1805/6 were away for several years but not returning with enough oil to cover the cost of the trip. As the whaling ships went towards and into the Antarctic seas the cost of strengthening each vessel began to eat into profits, but Samuel Enderby and his son Charles were excited by and committed to exploration.

At the beginning of the 1830s Charles Enderby, who had become the senior partner in 1829, established a rope works and sail making factory on Greenwich Marsh, the site today of Enderby Wharf and Alcatel. Charles had a house built on the riverside by his works and it became both workplace and home for him. His brothers George and Henry did not live there for long. In 1837 Charles was approved to make a waterproof rope covering for telegraph wire but unfortunately failed in this enterprise as water seeped through the hemp. However, whilst he entertained explorers and scientists at Enderby House and listened to some glowing descriptions of places like the Auckland Islands, he put much effort into making the Greenwich rope works a success.

All this came to an end when on 8th March 1845 the majority of the East Greenwich works went up in flames. The damage to everything was extensive. This was a disaster for the company as they were not as prosperous as they had been and Charles set about seeking a way to revive their fortunes. He put forward the ideas of promoting a new whaling company with the help of the British Government. Alarmed at the decline of the nation’s whaling industry the Government was eager to help.

In 1847 Sir James Ross, the famous Antarctic explorer, totally backed Charles Enderby’s choice of the Auckland Island as a fixed whaling station and in 1849 the Southern Whale Fishery company was granted a Royal Charter. Charles was appointed the company’s resident Chief Commissioner and the Crown conferred the office of Lieutenant Governor of the Auckland Islands on him. No doubt he wondered what honour would be bestowed upon him if the station were successful – Sir Charles Enderby or Lord Enderby of Greenwich?

The family fortunes were certainly in the balance as Charles sailed out of Plymouth on 18th August 1849. In October 1849 the following appeared in the Times ‘Messrs Charles Henry and George Enderby for many years connected with the whaling trade and lately engaged on a large scale as rope manufacturers at Greenwich, have announced themselves unable to meet their engagements. The general liabilities of the house are extremely small but it is feared that various members of the family will suffer severely.’ The paper also predicted that the Southern Whales Fishery Company could be nothing but an advantage to the Enderby firm, Alas this was not so.

The colony only lasted a few years and by 1852 the Southern Whales Fishery Co, was facing financial disaster. For Charles it was also a personal disaster. His Assistant Commissioner, William Mackworth, age 25 years (Charles was 52 when he left England) tended to hold Enderby in disdain, declaring that he could not manage personnel, settlers,or the whaling. Eventually the company sent Special Commissioners to take over from Charles in December 1851. They were back there to wind up the company and Charles had reverted back to being called ‘Mr. Enderby’ instead of ‘His Excellency’. On 27th January 1852 Enderby was made to resign as Lt. Governor but he became angry over this and declared ‘ he was determined to shooter either Mackworth or any other man attempting to remove him or his effects by force’ . The Special Commissioner threatened to put Enderby in irons. In the end Charles Enderby took them to court in Wellington and eventually the whole affair became the subject of two detailed Parliamentary Papers. Charles Enderby returned to England in July 1853 and the firm of Enderby Brothers was formally wound up in 1854. Charles died in Fulham on 30th August 1876 in an ‘impecunious state’.

The diaries of William Mackworth, Assistant Commissioner and William Munce, Company Accountant, start on 1st January 1850 and finish on 13th August 1852. They have now been published in New Zealand. As well as a complete transcription of the diaries there are excellent chapters on all aspects of the Auckland Islands settlement. This 288 page book is well priced and contains 32 plates plus maps and plans.

I shall never walk past Enderby House again without thinking of Charles and his dreams of creating a new whaling station in the Auckland Islands. Little did he know that it would all end in tears.

The book is edited by Dingwall, Fraser, Gregory and Robertson and is limited to 1,000 hand numbered copies. It is published by Wild Press, PO Box 12397, Wellington NZ and Wordsell Press PO Box 51168 Pakuranga, Auckland, NZ. Price £25 postage and packing included. ISBN 1 87245 01

Return to The Enderbys and their work

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