Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 6, 1873
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Before proceeding to the business of the evening I have to announce to the Society the loss of one of its most active and zealous members, through the recent death of Dr. Frederick Knox, at the ripe age of 82. More than half a century ago Dr. Knox was the assistant and friend of some of the leading anatomists of that day. As curator of the Museum of the College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, and as assistant to Dr. Barclay, he was chiefly instrumental in producing that magnificent collection of anatomical preparations, illustrative of the various forms of animal life, which is known as the Barcleian Museum. Upon the retirement of Dr. Barclay from the Chair of Anatomy, in 1824, he became assistant to his brother, the eminent and brilliant lecturer on comparative anatomy, and continued to be curator of the Museum until he emigrated to this colony in 1840. During his career in the old country he effected many discoveries in anatomy, and especially in connection with his favourite branch of study—the Cetacea; and, in his later days, he frequently had just cause to complain that many of his early discoveries, disputed or neglected at the time they were made, had been since appropriated by subsequent writers. Since the foundation of the New Zealand Society, of which he was one of the original members, he has taken a lively interest in its proceedings, and there have been but few meetings at which some anatomical preparation, evincing his characteristic skill and industry, has not been exhibited as a new addition to the Museum. His last contributions were the skeletons of the male and female elephant fish, which

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have never been hitherto obtained, and he had given notice of the title of a paper describing them, which he intended to have laid before the Society this evening. I am sure that you will all agree with me that his loss will be felt at our meetings, and we shall miss the good example which he set us, of the strong and earnest love of science for its own sake.

Our Society has now been re-constituted for six years, and I think there is every reason for congratulation in the progress which has been made during that period, not only in the increased value and interest of the communications which are read to the Society, but also in the gradual increase in the number of members, and, what is still even more important, in the number of members who take an active part in our meetings.

The annual report of the affairs of the Society has been, for the first time, printed in the current volume for the year. Hitherto it has been included in the proceedings for the subsequent year. From this report it appears that, with those we have just elected, the Society includes 142 members.

The fifth volume of Transactions of the New Zealand Institute has been distributed to our members for some months, so that I may assume all who are present this evening have, at least to some slight extent, made themselves acquainted with its contents, and with the share which is occupied in it by the contributions of this Society. At our meetings last year forty-eight original papers were presented to the Society, some of which possess a value from the originality of research which they show, which will make our Transactions in future times important for reference.

In reviewing these communications, the first in order, and also in importance from the general interest which it cannot fail to excite, is Mr. Travers' history of “The Life and Times of Te Rauparaha.” The career of this remarkable man is not merely of interest from its association with the early history of the colonization of these islands, but it affords a useful subject for study in connection with the more general historical question of the rapidity with which changes have been effected in uncivilized races, and the aptitude which they show in acquiring the arts, both peaceable and warlike, from conquerors or colonists, as the case may be. At the same time, this is only a small portion of the valuable material relating to the Maori race which would find a fitting place in the publication of this and the other affiliated Societies of the Institute. The Maori present a peculiarity of mental type, the reason for which is not yet fully explained. As a race they show evidence of greater mental vigour than might have been expected in a people possessing no written language. The facility with which they acquire our written language, and the delight which they take in exercising it—in reducing to writing their ancient waiatas (songs) and traditions—is of itself a remarkable evidence of this vigour of mind. In passing, I should, however, say that the

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employment of the Maori narrators in reducing these war songs to writing does not appear to be a reliable course to adopt in their collection, as it must be a process of translation of a most complex kind, and must lead to the loss of accuracy, both in matters of fact and in form of expression.

A most interesting feature of the Maori language is the minute detail with which natural objects have been discriminated and named. In other savage races, such as the North American Indians, even those tribes which inhabited the thick forest country and had to obtain a livelihood by the exercise of the most perfect foresight and accurate knowledge of the natural phenomena by which they were surrounded, had only a few general names for objects which were not of immediate and practical utility in their affairs of every-day life. But the Maoris appear to have possessed a pure love of exercising their discriminating faculty. Every tree or shrub, useful or useless; nearly every fish, of large size or insignificant; and even many insects and lower forms of life, that would remain unnoticed by most Europeans unless specially trained to the observation of such objects, have all distinctive Maori names. The frequent reference made to natural objects in their songs and traditions invests them with a richness of imagery adapted for the poetical expression of sentiments and emotions that could only have been feebly, if they were at all, developed in the minds of the original actors and narrators. One of the most important events, therefore, which has to be chronicled for the past year, in connection with literature and science in New Zealand, is the classical embodiment of these ancient Maori traditions and songs in the poem of “Ranolf and Amohia.”

All who love natural history have reason to feel grateful to the gifted author of this work for the abundant allusions which he has made to the characteristic features of the fauna and flora of the country, and the care which he has exercised in making his descriptions accurate. When a poet qualifies himself to appreciate the precise relations of the objects that enter into the scenes he depicts, he will find that it is not necessary to sacrifice either facility or grace of expression in order to obtain the impressiveness which arises from strict accuracy.

From this point of view Mr. Domett's poetical descriptions of the natural history of this new country cannot fail to aid in linking the sympathy of literature and fancy with the study of science, and so do good service to those objects which our Society has most in view.

While referring to the poetical rendering of Maori legends, I must not omit to mention the briefer, but commendable, poetical effort in the same direction by our fellow-member Mr. G. H. Wilson, whose graceful and vigorous pen has been devoted to the rendering of those legends which relate to events that occurred in past time in our immediate neighbourhood.

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The papers relative to the first discovery of Moa remains, by the Hon. Mr. Mantell and the Rev. Mr. Taylor, support the view of the recent extinction of these giant birds which I expressed in my former address; and the researches in the Moa cave, at Earnscleugh, by the Hon. Captain Fraser, have resulted in the discovery of a sufficient number of bones of that curious genus Cnemiornis to enable me to determine its affinity to the Natatores, or duck kind, and to restore a skeleton which is now before you.* This discovery adds another instance in New Zealand of a non-volant bird with a keelless sternum, belonging to an order other members of which are possessed of full power of flight. Thus, in addition to the Kiwi and the extinct Moas, which represent the Struthionidæ proper, we have, in the Kakapo (Stringops), a parrot with a keelless sternum; rails without power of flight, in the Notornis a coot, and in the Weka (Ocydromus), and also a curious little rail from the Chatham Islands; while, going beyond our own country, we have the Dodo of the Mauritius, which was a flightless pigeon; and now we have the Cnemiornis, which was a large goose-like bird that apparently had neither power of flight nor of swimming. The loss of the power of flight from disuse, and the corresponding change in the structure of the bird, do not therefore appear to confer a character of such high anatomical importance in systems of classification as has hitherto been conceded to it; and, indeed, the observations of Professor Cunningham show that in the case of the Steamer Duck (Micropterus), which inhabits the seas in the neighbourhood of Tierra del Fuego, the power of flight is lost from disuse even during the lifetime of individuals, for, in this species, while the adolescent forms have the power of flight, the mature ducks are non-volant, the use of their wings being confined solely to propelling the bird through the water.

The additions which have been made to the zoological literature of the colony during the past year, include some important works, besides the valuable papers which appear in the volume of our transactions; chief among them is Dr. Buller's great work on the Birds of New Zealand.

It is satisfactory to learn that Dr. Buller's work is to be rendered more complete by the publication of additional plates, so as to give figures of all these birds; and, as the first edition is now exhausted, we may hope that the author will receive encouragement to republish it, and have an opportunity of bringing up the information to a still later date.

[Footnote] * An old native at Hikurangi lately described to me what must have been this bird, under the name of Tarepo. He stated that it was not a Moa, but a short bird that made a cry like a Putangitangi (Casarca variegata), with very thick legs, and so strong that it could “upset a man,” and that, in his youth, he had seen one alive. The Moa, he said, had been longer extinct; but, in boyhood, he had seen an old man, who, in his youth, had killed one. The name Tarepo was erroneously taken for a synonym of Moa by the late Rev. R. Taylor, in 1839 (Trans. N.Z. Inst., Vol. V., p. 97).

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The enumeration of our Whales and Dolphins, which I communicated to this Society, has already called forth critical remarks from the veteran zoologist in this branch, Dr. Gray, and these, with several other communications which have appeared in home publications relative to this class, and most interesting to the New Zealand reader, have been placed in the library of the Society. I would specially refer to the elaborate description, by Professor Flower, of the skeleton of the Berardius arnouxii, which was sent home by Dr. Haast, and is now in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons.

With reference to the Seals which inhabit our coast, I may state that the examination of a large number of young and old skulls, on my recent visit to the west coast of Otago, confirms me in the opinion that our present Fur Seals belong to one species, Arctocephalus cinereus, which is distinct from the Fur Seal of the island groups lying further to the south, such as the Auckland and Campbell Islands. However, in Dr. Haast's collection of bones from Sumner Cave, which is perhaps one of the most ancient kitchen-middens that has been examined, I found the skull of this more southern species, which resembles Arctocephalus lobatus.

The discovery of a second specimen of a skull of the great Elephant Seal among the sand-hills south of Hokitika—the first specimen having been obtained in Otago—is another instance of the modern extinction of a southern form of seal in these latitudes.

In our ichthyology several very important additions have been made. The valuable communication by Captain Hutton added many new species of fish to the fauna, and already material for a still further addition has been obtained for the Museum.

The successful introduction of Salmon during the past year is a subject of great importance, although the experiment was not successful on so large a scale as was anticipated. Still, it has been proved that the ova can be brought out uninjured, even when submitted to hardships and delays that are quite unnecessary under a properly-organized system. For my own part, as I urged many years ago, I should prefer to see the experiment tried of obtaining the ova, not only of salmon, but of trout, white fish (Coregonus), and other species that inhabit the inland waters of British Columbia, in preference to shipments from Britain. The argument that the flavour of the West American salmon is inferior should not have any weight, when we remember that the salmon of every river has its peculiarity in this respect, and that nothing is more easily affected than the flavour of a fish according to the food upon which it lives.

The catalogues of the Marine Mollusca and the Star-fish of our coasts, prepared by Captain Hutton, will be found invaluable to collectors; but the most interesting contribution to the zoology of New Zealand is Captain

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Hutton's essay on the geographical relations of its fauna. In this paper the author traces the relationship of the representatives of the different orders of animal life with those of other countries, and arrives at conclusions respecting the geographical relations and changes in outline during past times of the area of which New Zealand forms part. Whatever difference of opinion there may be respecting the more theoretical deductions in this paper, there can be no question about the immense industry and research which it displays. To some extent the conclusions arrived at support the speculation on which I entered in my last address, that the peculiar insular character of the forms of life in New Zealand have been preserved from a very remote period. But on this subject I am still of opinion that the evidence to be derived from the recent and fossil botany of the country should have much greater weight than mere considerations of the fauna. The investigation of the southern ocean by sounding and dredging, which is to be performed by the scientific staff now on board H.M.S. Challenger, will add so many new facts relative to this subject that it is premature to discuss it at present; but it behoves us in these colonies to use the utmost diligence in the collection of facts that will assist the eminent naturalists belonging to that expedition in making the most of the short time which has been allotted in their programme for their examination of this area. The collection which our Museum contains will, no doubt, be scrutinized with keen interest, and the more ample material we can obtain for their inspection, the greater advantage will the colony receive from their reports; moreover, collections of even the most common objects of natural history will be welcome additions to their stores, which are being formed with the special purpose of obtaining accurate information respecting the geographical distribution of species.

As relating to the study of the South Pacific Ocean, and especially its meteorology, I must call the attention of members to the magnificent charts recently issued by the Hydrographic Office, copies of which have been presented to our library by our distinguished honorary member, Admiral Richards. It is highly probable that the ensuing year will add to our knowledge of the great southern continent, which lies only 1,200 miles off, or at about the same distance as Melbourne from Otago. The little we know of this land is full of interest; its active volcanos, raising vast piles of scoria and lava streams amidst the perpetual antarctic snows, probably exercise a marked influence in producing the variations of our climate. There is a strong agitation in progress to have a party of observers stationed at Possession Island, on the coast of Victoria Land, in latitude 71° S., for a whole year prior to the transit of Venus, in December of 1874; and it has been justly pointed out that collateral observations in meteorology and magnetism, which the party would have an opportunity of making during this long period, would probably not be the least valuable and interesting results of the expedition.

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New Zealand and the other Australasian colonies are directly interested in the successful carrying out of this proposal, and although the appliances required are quite beyond the means of the colony to supply, yet an expression of interest in the effort would greatly strengthen the hands of those who desire to see such an expedition organized. Merely as a commercial venture the further examination of the southern lands might lead to valuable results, on account of the extensive deposits of guano, which are described by Sir James Ross as having been forming for ages, and which, he surmises, may at some future period be valuable to the agriculturists of the Australasian colonies; and he also draws attention to the great extent of undisturbed whaling ground, in which whales of several different species abound in great numbers.

The paper by Captain Hutton, on the date of the last great glacier period in New Zealand, discusses a subject upon which there is room for great difference of opinion, owing to the complicated manner in which many subordinate questions have been mixed up with it. I gather that the author disagrees from the opinion expressed in my last address, that there has been a general subsidence of the New Zealand area, on a grand scale, during the post-pliocene or post-glacier period; and that, on the other hand, the whole evidence is in favour of elevation during the pleistocene period. His argument chiefly rests on the assumption that terraces prove elevation, but I may point out that, with reference to the Waikato basin, he asserts that it has never been elevated more than 50 feet above the sea, and yet its main tributary valley, the Waipa, has, according to Hochstetter, a most remarkable development of terrace formations.

But it appears to me that, with a general subsidence of the mountain centres, inequalities of movement are quite compatible, and in this way the elevation of post-pliocene marine deposits at Wanganui, which is in the centre of a great tertiary plain, affords no proof of the elevation of mountain masses at a distance of many hundred miles. The rigidity of the earth's crust, which such an argument would imply, is indeed quite opposed to Captain Hutton's own views in the lucid and thoughtful lecture on the causes which have led to the elevation of mountain chains, another valuable contribution by him to the current volume of the Transactions of the Institute. Unless palæontological evidence of a more recent period can be obtained from strata occupying valleys that were eroded during the last extension of the glaciers, I must still adhere to my formerly-expressed opinion, that the geological period previous to that which may be termed the recent period (not to be confounded with the very short “human” period in New Zealand) was characterized by a prolonged, though perhaps not excessive, elevation, and that, especially in the South Island there is, in consequence, a marked absence of marine drifts and tills, and that the subaerial deposits and fluviatile drifts of the former period still remain

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resting undisturbed on the surface of the country. The extension of this period of elevation back into pliocene times, which the author suggests, I am quite willing to concede, if subsequent examination of our fossiliferous deposits should prove the existence of a sufficient break between our pre-glacier marine fauna and the existing fauna of our coasts.* But much has still to be done before any decision on this point can be arrived at. The arguments which affect the question can only be given in the form of detailed descriptions of particular localities, as general arguments on such a subject, where the elements of proof are derived from different and often distant areas, cannot be received as conclusive. I recommend the subject of the study of our soils, surface drifts, and beach rocks to the members of the Society, and will take an early opportunity of communicating the results of observations that I have made on this subject during past years.

With respect to the subject of glacier drifts and the formation of rock-bound basins, on which we have also a very interesting paper by Captain Hutton, and with whose conclusions I, in the main, agree, there is still a wide field for observation. The estimate I have been led to form of the rapidity with which a mountain ice-cap performs its work of eroding the elevated rock-mass into ridges and peaks is, however, very different from that of Captain Hutton. After the first rough excavation has been performed, and only the hard cores of crystalline or tough metamorphic rocks have survived the denudation, and when the valleys have all been perfectly moulded to perform their functions as ice-gutters, then I grant that the process of waste is very slow. Such a state of things may be found in many mountain ranges, and there the glacier ice is generally characterized by its purity of texture and its comparative freedom from débris resting on the surface. But in the New Zealand mountains, especially those culminating in Mount Cook, which are formed of rock masses of the most friable kind, such as crumbling schists and slaty sandstones cleaved and jointed in every direction, that causes them to break down with such facility, there, we learn from Dr. Haast, that the ice of the glaciers is hardly recognizable underneath the lode of fine débris by which it is covered, indicating the enormous erosive action which is in progress.

Owing to the softness of the rock that forms many of the narrow ridges which constitute côls, which I have examined in this mountain district, these heights are being rapidly cut through and lowered at the rate of many feet in a year; and, in several instances, true passes of low altitude exist, which show evidence that they have been formed at a very recent period by this process. The rapid change in the extent of the snow-line of the New Zealand mountains is also very remarkable. Thus, owing to the prevalence of dry winds during the past

[Footnote] * The original application of the word Pleistocene included Upper Pliocene.

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two years, the summer snow has greatly diminished, and a corresponding diminution has taken place in the supply of ice at the terminal faces of many of the glaciers. Within the last few months a great change is reported to have taken place in the outline of the summit of Mount Cook, owing to a great avalanche having slipped from the ridge, which leaves a conspicuous gap in the formerly even, tent-like form of the apex.

As I have stated that I agree in the main with Captain Hutton's views respecting glacier action, I may be permitted to explain, without entering on a controversy, that I was the first to describe the formation of the Wakatipu Lake as a clearly-marked example of glacier erosion, in my report to the Provincial Government of Otago, in 1864; and that, at the same date, Mr. M'Kerrow—to whom Captain Hutton attributes the idea, as if it was opposed to my views—reported that the problem of the manner by which these lakes had been formed still required solution, and made no allusion to any ice action having taken part in their formation.

I must refer to the volume of geological reports for the progress which has been made during the past year in the survey of the country, and may state that the descriptive catalogues of fossils from the tertiary formations, and also an illustrated work on the fossil plants from the different coal-bearing formations, are now far advanced towards publication. The development of the wonderful Reptilian fauna in our upper secondary rocks will be communicated to the Society during this session. Already at least seven distinct forms have been worked out from the blocks of matrix collected at the Amuri Bluff and at the Waipara, and these gigantic Saurians will be sure to excite great interest in the study of the geological structure of this country, and, by exciting discussion at home, will indirectly attract attention to its mineral and other resources.

The only papers contributed to the Institute on purely chemical subjects emanate, as usual, from Mr Skey. In them I find that the author has continued his researches into the formation of native gold, and he begins his description of the results of these by combating the idea that gold is precipitated from solution only by organic matter. He then proceeds to describe a method of producing alloys of gold with silver by a “wet process,” and thereby removing one of the great objections which has been urged against the hydrothermic formation of auriferous veins. In these experiments the solutions and re-agents employed were precisely such as were known in lodes that traverse rock masses, and he therefore maintains that our native gold alloys, which are so largely developed on the Thames Goldfield, have been produced by this method. Another paper by Mr. Skey is devoted to the discussion of the origin of large gold nuggets in drift formations; and, by a series of experiments, has confirmed the view first hazarded by Mr.

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Selwyn, on geological grounds, that the nuggets occurring in such situations have been formed in sitû by the aggregation of gold by precipitation from solutions permeating the drifts.

Mr. Skey, in other papers, suggests an improvement in the process of the manufacture of iodine, and shows an absorptive power which clay possesses for strychnia and other alkaloids, which he traces to the action of silica in combining with these alkaloids.

I have thus shortly touched on the principal subjects to which the work of our Society has been directed during the past session, and it now only remains for me to thank you for the courtesy and support which I have received during the period for which it has been my duty and pleasure to preside at your meetings.

Dr. Hector then vacated the chair, which was taken by Mr. W. T. L. Travers, F.L.S., in the unavoidable absence of the President, Mr. Charles Knight, F.R.C.S.