Fourth Meeting. 16th September, 1871.
T. M. Hocken, M.R.C.S.E., Vice-President, in the chair.
This was the first meeting of the Society held in the Otago Museum. The objects necessary to illustrate the papers to be read had been gathered into the Botanical Room, which being large, and containing no table cases, is well adapted for the purpose of meetings.
New members.—Mrs. Burn, Professor Shand, D. Ross, Mr. Jennings.
1. “On Recent Moa Remains in New Zealand,” by James Hector, M.D., F.R.S. (See Transactions, p. 110.)
Mr. J. S. Webb explained that this paper had been held back with the view of getting additional information from a late discovery of Moa remains in Otago, which, however, had not yet been obtained; also, that some of the matter contained in it had already been forwarded to a scientific periodical, but that none of it had been read before any scientific society.
2. “Notes on Moa Remains,” by W. D. Murison. (See Transactions, p. 120.)
Mr. Gillies mentioned, as a proof that the Moa had survived in this island till a comparatively recent period, that old whalers, here in the early days of the settlement, used to say that they had seen dogs gnawing the bones of the Moa. The absence of traditions among the Maoris here on this subject could be accounted for by the fact that those who lived here were slaves, were not descended from the old inhabitants, and knew little or nothing of the country.
Mr. Alexander Bathgate said that he was at Clyde soon after the Moa neck, referred to by Dr. Hector, had been found. Dr. Thomson had shown it to him, and also a pelvis and sternum, found in the same place as the neck. From what he could judge as to the size of the bird of which these bones had formed part, and from the information given by the miner who found the pelvis as to the height, from the floor of the cave, of the lower surface of the rock under which he had found it, and under which the other bones had also been found, he concluded that such a bird could not have got under the rock easily. It must have either crawled in, or perhaps the rock might have afterwards fallen upon it. The miner who found the Moa neck chanced to do so
while searching for guano, which was found in considerable quantities in caves and hollows of rocks in the Dunstan District. This guano was also found on the Old Man Range; and at the Leaning Rock, and was used by the people of Bendigo Gully and Cromwell for manuring their gardens. It must have been deposited by some bird. There were now no birds existing there in numbers sufficient or likely to produce such deposits. The guano was pure, and not nearly so strong as Peruvian guano. It is, however, too strong for plants if applied in too great quantities. Some few years ago a letter had appeared in the “Dunstan Times” from a miner, who stated that he had seen some large bird walking, in the dusk of the evening, along the crest of a hill somewhere beyond the Nevis, and that it was going very fast. He mentioned the fact because Dr. Hector had stated the possibility of the Moa having existed at a very recent period in some of the open birch forests on the West Coast. It was also strange that the portion of the neck had been found on the same range on which the writer to the newspaper had said he had seen the bird walking.
The Chairman said, in reference to this, that he remembered the writer had also stated that he had seen the foot-prints of the bird, and described them as those of a large bird, with a hind toe, which the Moa did not possess. If the writer, therefore, meant it to be understood that he had seen a Moa, he was convicted out of his own mouth.
Mr. A. Bathgate said that he was at Mr. Murison's station a day or two after the bones obtained there were found. He inspected the surface of the ground there, and found it covered with small chips of chert and fragments of Moa egg-shells, which were lying exposed. In talking the matter over, he, and the other gentlemen present, at first conjectured that the bones might have been sufficiently green to have been used as fuel, as some were a good deal burnt, a fact which lent a colour to the supposition. But on second consideration they recollected that there were no large bones, such as those of the leg, to be seen in the oven which he saw opened, but only smaller bones. A number of the larger bones were found in a gully about 300 yards away, and from this they concluded that the Moa-hunters had left the legs and other comparatively fleshless parts there, and had only carried the parts they liked best as food to the oven. There must have been a great number of the birds in that district, as on the other side of the Maniototo Plain, distant about eight or ten miles in a direct line, a miner at work in that part told him that every time he washed up he used to get numbers of pieces of egg-shells, some of which he gave him, and the largest of which was fully an inch square. Mr. Bathgate laid on the table some of the tracheal rings of the Moa, which he found in the oven opened at Mr. Murison's station, and some specimens of the egg-shells which he procured from the miner referred to.
3. “Work for Field Naturalists,” by P. Thomson. (See Transactions, p. 138.) The author's motion for the formation of a Field Naturalists' Society was seconded by Mr. J. S. Webb, and carried.
Mr. Maitland, on or near whose property the bird had been shot, said that it looked very long for its size when in the air; its flight was heavy; it made a peculiar whistling cry; the flock flew in a wedge shape, and always kept close together. One of them had been shot, and they numbered when last seen only ten, but he hoped they would remain in the neighbourhood, as they had done up to the present time, and increase.
In answer to a question, Mr. Maitland said that the birds whistled with their mouths, not with their wings.
A member said that the bird might be the Australian Whistling Duck, as a late number of the “Otago Daily Times” had suggested.
Mr. Purdie said that the bird was not an Australian Whistling Duck, specimens of which he had seen.
Papers by Dr. Hector and Mr. J. S. Webb were held over till a future meeting.
The Chairman had on the table a powerful Microscope, and various interesting microscopic objects.
The books recently acquired for the Library of the Society and various scientific papers were on the table.
[Footnote] * Determined by Captain Hutton to be Dendrocygna eytoni, Gould, or Whistling Duck of Australia.—Ed.