Art. LXVII.—On the Changes effected in the Natural Features of a New Country by the Introduction of Civilized Races.
[Abstract of Lecture delivered at the Colonial Museum, Wellington, August 27, 1870.]
After shortly recapitulating the points noticed in his two former lectures, printed in Vol. ii. of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, the lecturer proceeded as follows:—
When left to themselves, the natural forces which regulate organic life tend to counterbalance each other, and all life is by degrees brought to a condition of nice equilibrium, check and countercheck being most admirably applied. But the direction of these forces is changed, and the equilibrium arrived at disturbed, with more or less violence, when man appears as an actor in the scene, the amount of disturbance being, as I have already shown, affected chiefly by the character in which he appears, and usually being greater in proportion to his own advance in civilization.
These islands, indeed, afford us a most pregnant instance of my views on this point, as I now propose to show by reference to what has already occurred and what is constantly taking place under our own eyes, in the direction of modifying and displacing the life native to the soil. Let it be remembered, in this connection, that when civilized man transplants himself to a new country he carries with him a special knowledge of the value of a certain number of organisms, which have been gradually brought into subservience to his wants in the country which he formerly inhabited, whilst, in all probability, he is absolutely, or at least greatly, ignorant of the uses or value of the natural productions of his newly-adopted home. Moreover, his own necessities demand that he should, without any delay, introduce such of the productions of his former home as are most suited to his wants and offer the best prospects of succeeding in his new country, having regard to its climate and soil. He has at this period of active settlement no time to study the value or character of the organic life which he finds there, and accordingly he proceeds at once to bring land under cultivation, to sow it with the seeds of plants previously foreign to the soil, and to introduce such domestic animals as are most useful to him, either in the way of food or for purposes of labour.
In the struggle which he is thenceforth destined to carry on as a colonist, he becomes, as a rule, more and more careless of the native productions, unless they present some prospect of being immediately and directly profitable. The native timber is used for building and fencing, and in some few instances becomes an artile of commerce; but, as a rule, the forest stands in the way, and is recklessly and improvidently burnt or otherwise destroyed, without regard either to the immediate effects which such destruction may produce
upon climate, or to the certain injury which must be inflicted upon posterity. The native grasses are temporarily utilized for feeding sheep and cattle, but little attention is paid to their feeding values or to the probability of bringing them, either alone or mixed with exotic grasses, into that condition of cultivation in which they may become permanently valuable or be made to yield the largest return.
In these islands we have already seen this course taken, and those who look beyond the present, cannot but be struck with the immense direct injury which has already resulted from the indiscriminate and reckless destruction of the forest and of many other of the natural productions. As a pregnant example, bearing upon this point, I may take the instance of the Phormium tenax, which, for nearly thirty years, has been destroyed to a greater or less extent in every part of the country. I have seen thousands of acres of this plant, of a growth which would yield nearly a ton and a half of pure fibre per acre under any fair system of manufacture, burnt recklessly for the purpose of substituting grass; and I have seen the land upon which the flax plant had stood in its greatest luxuriance, so injured by the fire which was used for clearing it, as to be unfit for the production of any other crop except at an outlay for which no adequate compensation could be obtained.
Our large rivers, which most colonists remember as inflicting, in former days, but little injury to the valleys and plains through which they flow, have now in most instances become raging torrents, against whose injurious effects we are called upon to guard by expensive and difficult engineering works. We may trace the course of this change to precisely the same violation of natural laws which has brought about similar results in other countries. There, as here, when the forest has been destroyed, the moisture long stored up in its mould is evaporated, and returns in deluges of rain, which wash away the dried soil into which the accumulated mass of mould has been converted. The water-courses become choked and encumbered with the debris, and the country which had previously presented an appearance of rich vegetation is converted into bald hills and dessicated plains, liable to be still further damaged by the ravages of the intersecting streams. There can be no doubt that this process is now going on in many parts of these islands, and we have seen, during the last two or three sessions of the Legislature, measures introduced for the purpose of checking the growing mischief.
We are told by a distinguished author, “that there are parts of Asia Minor, of Northern Africa, of Greece, and even of Alpine Europe, where the operation of causes set in action by man (causes precisely similar in character to those which have been recklessly set in action in this colony), has brought the face of the earth to a desolation almost as complete as that of the moon; and within that brief space of time which we call ‘the historical epoch,’ they are known to have been covered with luxuriant woods, verdant pastures, and
fertile meadows, they are now too far deteriorated to be reclaimable by man, or to become again fitted for human use, except through great geological changes or other influences or agencies of which we have no present knowledge, and over which we have no prospective control.” The same author without hesitation affirms, and a careful study of the question as it affects many parts of the world, leads to a perfect acceptance of his views, that “the earth is fast becoming an unfit home for its noblest inhabitant, and that another era of equal human crime and human improvidence and of like duration with that through which traces of that crime and that improvidence extend, would reduce it to such a condition of impoverished productiveness, of shattered surface, and of climatic excess, as to threaten the degradation, barbarism, and, perhaps, even extinction of the species.”
This is strong language, but I may confidently appeal to any of those who have visited the plains of Babylon and Nineveh, and those parts of Judea, once described, and truly described, as flowing with milk and honey, and now converted into a howling desolation, in confirmation of their absolute truth. I may be told that these are evidences of God's wrath against the people who inhabited those countries; but setting aside all questions of controversy as to whether the Great Author of Nature ever so deals with man as intentionally and mischievously to interfere with the conditions of life, it is clear that it is to man's action, as a primary cause, that we may attribute the misery and desolation to which they are now reduced—and as a proof of this, let me cite an instance in very modern times of the class of mischief to which I have alluded, and one which bears very directly upon the line of action pursued in various parts of these islands.
[The lecturer here quoted descriptions of the devastations caused by floods in the Alps of Provence and other parts of France, as described by Blanqui, Surell, and others.]
What a picture of evils have we here! And yet in this country, with similar results staring us in the face, we still persist in the course which has led to them.
One of the authors from whom I have quoted, however, guards himself from any charge of rash and unphilosophical attempts either to set limits to the ultimate power of man over inorganic nature, or to speculate as to what may be accomplished by the discovery of now unknown and unimagined forces, or even by the invention of new arts and new processes. He properly cites the comparatively modern discovery of the motive powers of elastic vapours, the wonders of telegraphy, the destructive explosiveness of various compounds (even when as innocent looking as gun cotton), as instances which serve to show that we have by no means reached the limits within which man may bring his own powers to the aid of physical conquest, and, therefore, he calls upon his readers to understand, that when he speaks of the apparent
impossibility of repairing the injuries which have been inflicted upon immense tracts of country by the improper action of man, he refers only to the agencies now known to and directed by man. And, indeed, even with the aid of these agencies, however inadequate to the complete restoration of wasted hill-sides and desolated plains to their former fertility and healthiness, we find there is a partial reverse to the ugly picture which I have presented to you.
We have seen in the case of Holland (for example) immense tracks of country recovered from the sea and great lakes drained of their waters, and the land thus laid bare converted into valuable pastures; we see rivers compelled to aid, by the deposit of the slime and silt with which they are charged, in filling up low-lying tracts and swampy morasses; we see fertile oases created even amidst the barren sands of Sahara, by means of Artesian fountains; but all these achievements are on too small a scale to give hope that we shall ever make full atonement for former spendthrift waste, and it becomes our positive duty, imposed upon us as a sacred trust, not merely to abstain from wanton destruction of the natural resources of this country, and from undue interference with those operations which in the past have tended so much to fit it for the abode of mankind, but also, in all cases in which, through recklessness, or carelessness, or accident, anything has been done tending to injure them, that we should endeavour to effect all the reparation in our power.
It has well been pointed out, that if “the old world which man has over- thrown, were rebuilded, could human cunning rescue its wastes and desert places from solitude and nomadic occupation, from barrenness, from nakedness, and from insalubrity, and restore the ancient fertility and healthfulness of the Etruscan sea coast, the Campagna and the Pontine Marshes, of Calabria, of Sicily, of the Pelopennesus and Insular and Continental Greece, of Asia Minor, of the slopes of Lebanon and Hermon, of Palestine, of the Syrian Desert, of Mesopotamia, and the delta of the Euphrates, of the Cyreniaca, of Africa Proper, Numidia, and Mauritania, the thronging millions of Europe might still find room on the Eastern Continent, and the main current of emigration be turned towards the rising instead of the setting sun.” Whilst, therefore, we are devising great political plans for the extended peopling of these Islands, let us not forget how much it is our duty to preserve them from those destructive processes which even civilized man, in ignorance or wantonness, unhesitatingly applies in his attempts to bring new countries under the dominion of his wants.
[The lecturer then proceeded to point out that where natural arrangements are disturbed b′y man, they are not usually restored until long after he has retired from the field, and free reign has been allowed to the spontaneous recuperative energies of the natural forces. He then continued as follows]:—
And now let me turn to the consideration of some of the more important changes which have already been effected in the physical character and organic life of these Islands. In my former lectures I pointed out how little, if anything,
was to be found amongst the indigenous animal or vegetable productions which was useful for the permanent sustenance of civilized man, and it is only necessary to recall the dreadful extremities to which the first European settlers were reduced in the early days of American discovery, and that, too, in a country whose useful natural productions were enormously in excess of those of these Islands, to understand how little could have been done here, by even the most civilized and energetic settlers, without the aid of the animals and plants which have been introduced.
Take the case of the Provi′ce of Canterbury for example. Consisting of several thousand square miles of valuable plain and undulating land and mountain, its lower grounds, near the sea, containing many rich tracts covered with swamp-loving growth, whilst its upper grounds were dry, and clothed either with forest or with waving tussock grasses well fitted to support pastoral animals, it was yet, in its natural condition, utterly unfit for the abode of civilized man. Not a plant did it produce which could have been turned to account for purposes of constant food; and with the exception of a few birds, which would have yielded an occasional but scanty meal, it was devoid of all animal life. But now, how changed is all this! The city of Christchurch, destined, in my opinion, to occupy a foremost position amongst the cities of the colony, built upon a spot of which a large portion was originally a swamp, now presents to us substantial and elegant public and private buildings, which might fairly vie with those of many large provincial towns in England; markets supplied with meats and vegetables and fruits, in no degree inferior, and in many respects superior, to those which are produced in the best gardens of Europe; well kept streets, in which a busy population is carrying on trade and commerce and intercourse; foundries and factories producing machinery and implements of trade necessary for the agriculturist and the artizan; collegiate and other schools for the instruction of youth, and institutions of various kinds for the diffusion of knowledge amongst those of more advanced years, and which in their operations are guided and governed by men whose intelligence and perseverance are not only making their fellow-citizens better acquainted with the natural resources of their adopted country, but are also greatly instrumental in relieving life from the weariness and tedium inseparable from the struggle for fortune—whilst those lighter distractions are not wanting which are essential, at all events to youth. Outside of the city we see extensive tracts of country redeemed from the character of a wilderness; handsome villas with well kept grounds, in which are flourishing the flowers and plants, the trees and shrubs, of many foreign countries; smooth Macadamized roads, along which a great and increasing traffic is carried between the chief city and many outlying towns and hamlets, and upon which are to be seen every kind of vehicle, from the elegant carriage built in England or America to the humble spring cart of the market gardener, and from the huge five-horse coach of the
enterprising Yankee proprietor to the inconvenient cruelty-van drawn by a single jaded horse. On every side, as we travel along these highways, we see evidences of energy and civilization; farms and corn fields stretching for miles on either hand, enclosed by well-kept hedges and fences; sleek-looking cattle and sheep, and happy horses snorting, as with tail and mane erect they canter over their pasture; steam threshing engines puffing their circles of smoke into the clear air, whilst the rumble of the machine as the sheaves pass through the rollers, mingles pleasantly with the various other sounds of country life, all tending to carry the traveller back to those home scenes which are usuall associated with his happiest hours. Here, too, we see the mighty iron horse drawing his load along a line of railway, constructed under circumstances and in a manner which, but a few years ago, would have been looked upon with wonder, even amongst the greatest countries of Europe. Indeed, it is almost impossible for those who had not seen the country I refer to in its original condition, to realize the amount of change and improvement which have been effected by the energy and industry of our race in the short space of twenty years, and it is difficult, even for those who have witnessed this gradual change, to comprehend or grasp its wonderful results.
Take again the Province of Auckland. Here we find a chief city, also distinguished by the possession of handsome and substantial public and private buildings; its merchants, men of enterprise, carrying on extensive commercial operations with various parts of the world; its harbour not only filled with ships and vessels the property of Europeans and foreigners, but also teeming with small craft belonging to native proprietors, engaged in exchanging articles of food and export for others either of local or foreign manufacture. Outside of the city, too, we see numbers of handsome country residences, and farms in a high state of keeping and cultivation, and occupying ground which was not long ago the battle field of some of the fiercest native tribes, and the scenes of barbarities at which humanity recoils.
The Province of Otago presents equal evidences of change. Here, too, we have a large and picturesque capital city, vying successfully, if not in many respects surpassing, the other cities of the colony in the elegance and substantial nature of its public and private buildings; its people distinguished not merely by their commercial enterprise and sagacity, but also by the higher characteristic of devotion to the cause of educational progress. Here, also, outside of the chief town, we find civilization spreading its arms over millions of acres, and gradually converting a wilderness into a smiling country, whilst thousands of busy and hardy men are daily engaged in exploring the recesses of its hills and valleys, and the ancient deposits of its river systems, in search of mineral wealth. Indeed, in the cases of Auckland and Otago, not less than in that of Canterbury, it is almost impossible to realize the extent of change which has taken place since they first became the scenes of systematic colonization.
But let us take another and even more extraordinary instance. I mean that of Westland, and the country to the north of it, forming part of the Province of Nelson, and lying to the westward of the Mount Arthur Range and the Spencer Mountains. The whole of this extensive tract consists of broken mountain ranges, attaining, on a base of thirty to thirty-five miles from the West Coast, a general elevation approaching 7000 feet, whilst in Mount Cook we find it rising to upwards of 13,000 feet, and in the Spencer Mountains to upwards of 9000 feet. From these ranges a large number of rivers flow to the coast, the principal ones being the Buller, with its great tributaries, the Maruia, the Inangahau, and the Matakitaki; the Grey, with its tributary the Ahaura; the Teremakau, the Hokitika, the Waihau, flowing from the Mount Cook glaciers; the Haast, and the Arawhata; whilst a host of smaller ones help to carry off the abundant rain-fall by which this district, in common with the western slopes of these Islands generally, is characterized. The country in question is, moreover, densely clothed with forest, consisting chiefly of Fagus, after reaching an elevation of seven to eight hundred feet, whilst the alluvial deposits near the mouths of the rivers support various species of the Coniferœ of New Zealand, with the usual dense undergrowth.
At a few places along this coast, in and previously to the year 1864, small settlements of natives existed, the people of which lived in great seclusion and poverty, subsisting chiefly on fish and small degenerate potatoes, whilst the whole district remained in the condition of an almost virgin country, showing but little sign of interference on the part of man. In the year 1847, shortly after the establishment of the Nelson settlement, Mr. Thomas Brunner, lately Chief Surveyor for the Province of Nelson, undertook to explore the West Coast of the settlement, and, accompanied by a small party of natives, he succeeded, after undergoing great fatigue and hardship, in reaching a point somewhere to the south of the Grey. He was actually absent for upwards of twenty months, during which time he had no opportunity of communicating with any other European; and, in the journal which he published, he described the country as being rugged, worthless, and unprofitable to a degree, and the rain-fall as utterly excessive. His description of its character, the length of time spent in his explorations, the extreme difficulties and hardships he encountered, were quite sufficient to deter any attempt to utilize it for purposes of settlement, and it remained an almost unknown land until visited, many years after, by Mr. James Mackay, in connection with its purchase from the natives. In 1861, in consequence of suggestions made by persons in Nelson, who were desirous of having further information in regard to its topography, geology, and natural productions, Dr. Haast was appointed by the Nelson Government to make a further exploration, and to report upon it. The result of his examination was embodied in a report presented to the Nelson Government, at the end of that year, in which, however, Dr. Haast made no
suggestion of the rich auriferous deposits which have been since found upon the Grey, and to the north and south of that river. On the contrary, he says in his report that, “north of the Buller, in the Maruia, as well as in the whole course of the Grey and its tributaries, rarely leaving untried any spot which seemed likely, we searched in vain, unable to detect the least sign of the precious metal.”
In 1864, reports which had for some time been current as to the existence of gold in payable quantities in the country to the south of the Grey River, were proved to be correct, and shortly afterwards the district in question was “rushed” by an immense body of miners from all parts of New Zealand and Australia. In the course of a very short time towns sprung up, and a great trade was carried on at various points of the coast, but chiefly at Hokitika, Greymouth, Westport, Charleston, and other places, which, but a few years ago, had only been trodden by occasional bands of savages, engaged in a search for greenstone, or upon a mission of slaughter and cannibalism. The miserable remnants of pas, with their wretched half-starved native inhabitants, speedily gave way to the busy haunts of the digging population. The rivers, rarely visited even by the canoe of the savage, are now used as ports by large steam and sailing vessels. The forest in the vicinity of the towns is disappearing, to be replaced by grass paddocks. Good roads and railways are being substituted for the miserable bush track; millions of pounds' worth of the precious metals are extracted from the river courses and their ancient deposits, and exchanged for food and all the other various articles required for the use and the luxury of man, and the hardy diggers, who have set all this in motion, are gradually altering the whole face of the country under the influence of “the sacred thirst for gold.”
It is, indeed, wonderful that there is scarcely a nook or cranny in the Middle Island—a country as large as England, though inhabited by a population not exceeding that of a second-rate provincial town—in which, after thirty years occupation, some evidence of the existence of civilized man is not to be found; a fragment of a glass bottle—an empty match-box—a piece of woven cloth—or of manufactured leather—being often discovered in localities affording no other indication whatsoever that man had ever been there; whilst familiar European plants, weeds or flowers, as the case may be, occurring in the most sequestered valleys or upon the most rugged mountain slopes, show the presence of the invader and the effect of the new forces which have been brought into operation, and which are engaged in altering and modifying the original physical features of this country.
[After some further account of similar changes in other parts of the Islands, the lecturer proceeded as follows] :—
There are few subjects of greater interest to the biologist than the “replacement of species” (as it has been termed), which occurs when foreign organisms
are brought into contact with previously undisturbed and purely native races. Now, there can be no doubt that whenever man transplants a vegetable organism, for example, from its native habitat to a foreign soil, he introduces a new force to act upon the indigenous flora, a force which experience has shown to be usually so exerted as to lead to the more or less rapid, but in the long run, certain displacement of some portion of that flora. Dr. Hooker, in his admirable paper on “Insular Flora,” has shown how effectually this displacement has been carried out in small oceanic islands, instancing Madeira, St. Helena, and others, but he did not in that essay apply the theory to such extensive tracts of land as the islands of New Zealand.
[The lecturer then adverted to instances of “displacement,” collected from the writings of Hooker, Marsh, and other authors, and proceeded as follows] :—
The most important point, however, to be noticed in this connection, and one which must be carefully borne in mind in all investigations into the character and extent of the changes to which I am now referring, is, that man has been either intentionally or unintentionally the chief instrument in bringing them about, and that it is only when he co-operates, if I may use the term, with the forces he sets in motion, that they produce any striking or rapid results.
It must furthur be borne in mind, that such operations, when civilized man engages in the work of colonization, are usually conducted on a very large scale, and this whether the result be intentional and contemplated, or unintentional and unforeseen. And it must still further be observed, that man is naturally aided in this respect by the circumstance that vegetable organisms when naturalized in a new country, either as the result of design or accident, generally exhibit an increased luxuriance of growth. This is attributable, amongst other things, in the first place to the fact that they have been removed from the influence of those checks to undue increase which have gradually developed themselves in their natural habitat, whether under the operation of the laws governing the “struggle for life,” or in consequence of their interfering with the cultivation of the soil; in the next place to the existence of that attribute to which Mr. Darwin has applied the term “prepotency;” and, moreover, to the circumstance that the indigenous vegetation is invaded by a new and unexpected force, against which it had not previously been armed. Until the Ngapuhi tribes had become possessed of firearms, the wars of the New Zealanders were conducted upon a general scale of equality; but the possession of this force gave to that tribe an increase of power which led to the most frightful results to other tribes. Bands of these heroes marched from one end of this Island to the other, spreading desolation and terror, and ultimately driving the whole native people to the alternative of either adopting a different system of living and of warfare, or of submitting to extinction. The
European cardoon which broke out of some garden on the banks of the River Plate, acquired a gigantic structure, and rapidly spread, in impenetrable thickets, over thousands of square miles of the Pampas. The Anicharis alsinastrum, a water plant not much inclined to spread in its native American habitat, has found its way into English rivers, and in some instances has not only greatly retarded their currents, but has formed a serious impediment to navigation. The water-cress introduced into the River Avon, in Christchurch, has spread to such an extent as to obstruct the flow of the river and greatly to raise its natural level, evils only counteracted by the annual expenditure of large sums of money. The Scotch thistle is spreading over both islands, and has already entailed upon the farmer and the squatter a serious addition to his expenses.
So far as New Zealand is concerned, there can be no doubt that what is taking place must be at the expense of the native flora, and must, even alone, have sooner or later led to the extirpation of many of the native plants. But when, in aid of these operations, we find the whole country roamed over by man himself, and by countless herds of animals which he has introduced, we may feel assured that the native life has but little chance against the invaders. Wherever we fire the forest or cut a track, we make room for the invader, and where the hardy European vegetable once begins to grow it usually retains its hold. I noticed recently, at sub-alpine elevations in the Middle Island, that Trifolium pratense was gradually displacing native herbaceous vegetation, a process the more certain in proportion to the treading which the soil receives from cattle and sheep. But, perhaps, one of the most noticeable facts is, that along our lines of highway, especially in the Canterbury Province, you scarcely see, for miles together, a single native plant in the hedge rows or fences, whilst the familiar wayside weeds of Europe are found as abundantly as they are in the mother country.
The author concluded his lecture by observing (in the words of an eloquent author), “that the mysterious but undeniable movements which he had attempted to elucidate were ever going on, progressing on a grand and imposing scale, and altering the vegetable character of the whole country, showing, in indelible signs, the silent but irresistible force with which humble plants may prescribe a path to man, and that strange relation between them which makes plants of equal importance to his existence and to his welfare.”
The author then apologized for not having extended his lecture to the case of the fauna as well as that of the flora, but pleaded his pressing engagements as his excuse. He, however, expressed a hope that on some future occasion he should be able to deal with the subject.
Since the above Lecture was delivered I have observed that Professor Rolleston is reported in Nature (No. 47, Sept. 22, 1870, p. 426) to have made the following remark in addressing the Biological Section of the British Association, in September last, namely, “To this I would add that experiments with a positive result, and that positive result in favour of the second hypothesis, if hypothesis it can be called, are being constantly tried in our colonies for us, and on a large scale. I had taken and written here of the Polygonum aviculare, the “knot” or “cowgrass”—having learnt on the anthority of Dr. Hooker and Mr. Travers (see Natural History Review, January, 1864, p. 124, Oct., 1864, p. 619), that it abounds in New Zealand, along the roadside, just as it does in England— as a glaring instance, and one which would illustrate the real value of the second explanation even to an unscientific man and to an unassisted eye. But on Saturday last I received by post one of those evidences, which make an Englishman proud in thinking that whithersoever ships can float thither shall the English language, English manners, and English Science be carried, in the shape of the second volume of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, full like the first, from beginning to the last page with thoroughly good matter. In that volume, having looked at its table of contents, I turned to a paper by Mr. T. Kirk on the Naturalized Plants of New Zealand, and in this, at p. 142, I find that Mr. T. Kirk prefers to regard the Polygonum aviculare of New Zealand as indigenous in New Zealand. Hence that illustration which would have been a good one falls from my hands.”
I regret to differ with Mr. Kirk in regard to Polygonum aviculare being indigenous in New Zealand. In common with others, who for upwards of twenty years have had large opportunities of observing the flora of this country over very extensive areas, I look upon it as an introduced plant. Dr. Hector and Mr. Buchanan in particular both concur with me on this point. The natives, moreover, who suffer much inconvenience from its spread, call it a “pakeha” or foreigner.—W. T. L. Travers.