First Meeting. 5th March, 1874.
Julius Haast, Ph.D., F.R.S., President, in the chair.
New members.—Hon. E. W. Stafford, Hon. J. Barton A. Acland, Rev. W. J. Habens, John Anderson junr., C. C. Corfe.
The President delivered the following
When two years ago you kindly assented to my request to elect some other member of our society as your President, I thought that you would continue to do so at least for several years more, hoping that under those circumstances we should have been privileged to listen to a series of addresses for the opening of each session, in which the president elect would have given us, either the result of his own individual studies, or the experience obtained during the performance of his professional duties. However, whatever may
have been my individual wishes, I have bowed to the flattering and unanimous opinion of the members of this society, and have again ascended the presidential chair, trusting that you will kindly overlook my shortcomings. Once more I beg to thank you for this proof of your confidence, and I wish at the same time to assure you that, as in the past, so in the future, it will be my earnest endeavour to advance the interests of our society, which, I trust, will rise in a very few years to a conspicuous place amongst its sister institutions in New Zealand. Generally it is the custom of the president elect of a scientific body to devote his opening address either to a general survey of the scientific work done during the year, to allude to important discoveries in the several branches of science, or to select one or several special subjects, of which, by his own vocation, he is able to trace the advancement in years past.
Owing to the peculiar geographical outlines with which New Zealand is endowed, we do not possess one intellectual centre, as is the case in most older countries, or even in many of the neighbouring colonies; but the favourable position and high aspirations of most of the provincial capitals, aided by the foresight and wise legislation of the Provincial Councils, have secured to them peculiar advantages, which generally are not neglected, and will, I have no doubt, be greatly instrumental in securing the rapid intellectual and material development of this colony in every direction. Under these circumstances the President of this Institute, as well as those of the other societies forming part of the New Zealand Institute, have followed a middle course, and, by devoting some portion of their addresses to general observations, have not neglected to enter into those special topics with which, by original research, they are best acquainted. And whilst the New Zealand Institute has done good work in acting as the publishing medium of these societies, I think, in the interest of the colony and of members of the affiliated societies, that a further step should be taken to make this central institution still more useful.
Amongst the improvements which I might venture to suggest, it would simplify matters very much if the Presidents of the five affiliated societies, or as many more as join in the future, were Governors ex offido, by which the Board of Governors would gain in strength, and give each society, as it were, a personal interest in the doings of the Central Board, always provided that their attendance and assistance are required, and that their office is not an honorary sinecure. At the same time it would be desirable to have a general meeting of all the Governors each year at one of the centres of population, giving precedence to those where affiliated societies are located. During these meetings, which might be arranged in the manner of those of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and other similar institutions on the Continent, the principal work of the year could be done, and thus all the chief towns in the colony would in their turn derive the advantages of such
meetings. Acquaintances would be formed to mutual advantage, and local rivalries led, at least in intellectual matters, into such channels that they would benefit the country at large. And thus the high position which the New Zealand Institute has already obtained amongst kindred societies would not only be maintained, but the advantages derivable from it would become more manifest in each part of the colony where the meetings of its members were held.
Proceeding to the few topics I have chosen for to-night, I wish to make first a few observations on the Geology of the Canterbury plains, as far as their mode of formation is concerned. I thought that this subject, to which I have devoted considerable time, and of which my reports on the formation of the Canterbury plains, 1864, and on the head waters of the River Rakaia, 1867, give the necessary data, did not require any more consideration, except adding those new details which further surveys and altitude observations, or railway cuttings, etc., would bring within our reach. However, as Captain Hutton (in a paper “On the Date of the Last Great Glacier Period in New Zealand,” published in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. V., pp. 384--393) has come to the conclusion that the Canterbury plains are of marine formation—although when writing that paper he had never seen them, and moreover finds, in a most peculiar way, in my own reports a portion of the proofs for his assertion—I am obliged to return to this subject to put the reader of that article on his guard; the more so, as Captain Hutton, since the article alluded to has been written, has paid a flying visit to the Malvern Hills, examining at the same time the middle course of the Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers, and, as he since informed me verbally, has not changed his mind in respect to this geological question.
Fortunately, since my reports were written the extensive surveys of Mr. Doyne and other gentlemen, made for railway and other purposes, have confirmed in a remarkable degree my views concerning the “fan” character of the deposits of the principal rivers in every respect. I wish to refer here only to the interesting and highly-instructive map attached to Mr. Doyne's second report upon the River Waimakariri and the lower plains, where the fan levels are shown over a large area of ground. Instead of refuting all Captain Hutton's principal arguments, or showing how that gentleman has not read my reports with such care as he should have done if he intended to quote therefrom, I may be allowed to present you, as concisely as possible, with a short résumé of the points at issue.
I stated and proved, as I trust somewhat satisfactorily, that in post-pliocene times—without, however, being obliged to assume greater elevation of the land, which may or may not have existed—glaciers of enormous size were formed, which reached far down the present river valleys, in some instances even
advancing beyond the eastern boundaries of the ranges now bordering the Canterbury plains proper. Of these gigantic ice streams, the glacier advancing through the then united valleys of the Southern Ashburton and Northern Hinds was, if not the largest, at least equal in size to the Rakaia glacier, owing to the fact that it received enormous additions from the valley of the Rakaia (by the lake Heron) and from that of the Rangitata (by the lakes Tripp and Acland depressions). * It will thus at once become manifest that Captain Hutton's argument (p. 387) concerning the small size of the present Ashburton and Hinds rivers falls to the ground, and that he was not sufficiently acquainted with all the facts given in that report of mine.
We thus have north of Timaru four distinct fans, namely, those of the Waimakariri, Rakaia, Ashburton, and Rangitata, with smaller rivers having their sources in the front ranges running between them; the Selwyn between the Waimakariri and Rakaia fans, the Northern Ashburton between those of the Rakaia and of the Ashburton—Northern Hinds; and the Southern Hinds between the latter and the Rangitata fans. The gravel formation of these fans, where they remained undisturbed, does not warp, as Captain Hutton assumes, round the spurs of the hills at the same level that it has at the river gorges, but has a steady fall towards the small streams flowing between the fans of the two large glacier torrents; however, in some instances, this has been concealed by detritus from the mountains, or by re-arrangement of the original river beds on the surface of the upper portion of the plains when the glaciers retreated. But, I may add, the general outlines are nevertheless clear and distinct.
In my geological notes on the Malvern Hills † I have given an illustration of this. I have shown how the great Rakaia glacier, having also an outlet by the upper course of the river Selwyn, covered with its gravel deposits the lower eminences forming the Malvern Hills, west of the dolerite range, and had its outlet in a N.E. direction in the neighbourhood of Little Racecourse Hill, thus throwing, doubtless, the bed of the Waimakariri more to the north. When this glacier outlet ceased to flow and to deposit any more boulders and gravel in the district alluded to, the Waimakariri soon began to remove the alluvial beds thus formed by the Rakaia branch, until harder rocks upon which they were reposing were reached. This fact alone, I trust, will prove that a detailed examination of all physical features in that portion of the country is requisite to enable us to understand the sometimes complicated nature of the fluviatile beds, and that my explanation of the formation of the Canterbury plains is not a mere hypothesis, but based upon a great number of observations made during a number of years.
[Footnote] * See “Report on the Formation of the Canterbury Plains,” by Dr. Haast, p. 9, et seq.
[Footnote] † Rep. Geol. Expl., 1871--72, pp. 33--36.
Captain Hutton, in the same paper, observes:—“It is so universally acknowledged amongst geologists that river terraces prove elevation, that it is quite unnecessary to go over again such well-trodden ground,” and he brings forward a formidable array of scientific authorities in support. However, nobody ever doubted his statement, but he forgets that there is still another and important agency by which terraces are formed, and which, not only in New Zealand, but in many other mountainous regions, has been the principal, if not sole, cause of their formation—namely, the retreat of the river sources to higher and more distant regions. In my different reports, already cited, I have treated of that subject at length, and shown why and how rivers with less velocity do gradually lower their beds, so that I need not repeat myself here.
But a still more formidable objection to Captain Hutton's hypothesis presents itself: if the Canterbury plains were of marine origin, the beds of which they are composed would have preserved some traces of it; but, although we have clear sections several hundred feet high in almost every river, their fluviatile character is unmistakable. The boulders, shingle, gravel, sand, and ooze are all deposited as a river torrent would place them, according to their form and size, and according to the greater or less amount of water being brought down. The peculiar character of surf shingle is nowhere exhibited, but all the pieces of stone have the subangular form so peculiar to river shingle. Marine fossils are missing throughout. Moreover, if elevation had taken place during the post-pliocene or glacier period, Banks Peninsula would certainly show this most conspicuously; but what does a close examination of that interesting, isolated, volcanic region reveal to us? We observe no trace of marine action, except the results of a slight oscillation of about 20 feet, by which the peninsula has been raised after undergoing probably a similar submergence. It is true that its lower portion in several localities, up to 800 feet, is covered more or less with silt—a fine loam—which in many instances is a true slope deposit, partly derived from the decomposition of the rocks in sit, or partly brought down from higher regions by running water. Moa bones and pieces of small land shells have been found in these deposits, of which there are many splendid sections to be examined, but nowhere could the least sign of marine life be detected in them.
This fact a alone shows that the emergence theory has not the least foundation; on the contrary, from the nature of these silt beds and their partial denudation, we might conclude that the peninsula has undergone a depression since they were deposited. Had a rise of the ground taken place, by which the Canterbury plains had emerged from the sea, we certainly should find the proofs of it along the slopes of the peninsula in the form of raised beaches, deposits of sea shingle and sand with recent marine shells, but nowhere is a trace of such
easily recognizable beds to be found; and thus, even assuming that the clear and undeniable data, which the Canterbury plains present as to their origin, were not in existence, the character of the silt deposits on the slopes of Banks Peninsula, and the absence of recent marine beds, would at once compel us to reject Captain Hutton's new theory as incorrect in all its issues. Captain Hutton's attempts to prove the correctness of his own views by selecting a few unconnected passages from my own reports, which show, as I believe clearly, the subaerial formation of the Canterbury plains, are rather ingenious; but where he has done so he has either failed to follow the drift of my reasonings, or he totally misunderstood the explanations I gave of the observed facts.
And with these few remarks I wish to leave the subject, but not without expressing a wish that those who intend to learn something more of the matter should examine for themselves the points at issue, as accurate observations can be made, as it were, close to our own doors. Moreover, it is not my intention to refute in detail any theories which are unsupported by facts, as I should have to repeat what I have written before on the subject; and, in future, I shall only reply with the words, “go and see,” used by Desmarest, one of the fathers of geology, when, towards the end of last century, the Neptunists wanted to draw him into an argument about the nature of basalt.
I have hitherto refrained from publishing any of my notes on the researches made during a number of years upon the accumulated treasures obtained in the turbary deposits of Glenmark, except a list of measurements of leg bones of different species, in the first volume of our “Transactions,” and the description of the bones of the remarkable genus Harpagornis, in Vol. IV., always expecting that Professor Owen, whose truly classical labours have laid the foundations of the edifice of which present and future researches will only form additions, would himself review the whole subject at length. Finding, however, that instead of doing so, that illustrious comparative anatomist is inclined to unite, as it were, all the principal species with a struthious character into one genus under the general term of Dinornis, dropping altogether the name Palapteryx, I feel that I should not do my duty if I were to hold back the following notes any longer.
If it were our good fortune that Professor Owen could have access to the rich material which is exhibited in the Canterbury Museum, I am sure he would never have united under one genus a number of species which show such a remarkable diversity of character; but, as his description of single bones of sorue species, or at most of portions only of others, were given during a considerable space of time, ranging over more than thirty years, I can easily understand that Professor Owen will find every day, as the material increases, greater difficulty in making himself acquainted with all the details, unless he could have such a complete series as we possess in the Canterbury Museum to
refer to. Such a series would have afforded him at a glance a confirmation that the new arrangement which I venture to propose in the following notes is not based altogether upon unsound principles.
I am well aware that there are still many naturalists who think that the division of the bones of our extinct avifauna into so many species is a mistake, and that future researches will prove that what appeared to Professor Owen as several well-defined species were after all only various stages of age and growth of one and the same kind. However, in this respect the collections of the Canterbury Museum bear a strong confirmation of the correctness of the great English anatomist's conclusions. We possess, not only young bones of each species, from the chick to the full-grown bird, where—to take only one bone as a guide—the tarsal epiphysis of the metatarsus is not yet quite anchylosed, * but we have of each species a series of specimens of generally two distinct sizes, from which we may conclude that they represent the male and female bird of each species. In some instances, of which I shall speak more fully in the sequel, we possess of each species four distinct sizes, which might represent the two sexes of two distinct but closely allied species.
Although Professor Owen thinks that the back toe (hallux) was only a small functionless appendage to the foot, and that thus the existence or non-existence of such bone is of no consequence, and has, therefore, felt obliged to abandon this ground of generic distinction, I am more convinced than ever that it is of great importance, and that the principal division of our extinct struthious birds has to be based upon this, as I believe, constant character. † If we add to this all the other distinctive features, which I shall enumerate in the sequel, such as the existence or non-existence of a bony scapulo-coracoid, the shape of the sternum and of the bill, and many others, the presence or absence of a hallux becomes of still more importance.
[Footnote] * We possess, amongst others, the leg bones of a specimen of Dinornis maximus, which is in size only second to the largest bones we have, but in which this immature character in the metatarsus is not yet quite effaced.
[Footnote] † I formerly believed that an impression observed on the back of one of the first metatarsals of Dinornis ingens I ever obtained was there for the articulation of the back trochlea, but since then several more specimens of that species have passed through my hands, which showed that impression either only faintly or not at all. Dr. Jaeger, of Vienna, articulated a small back trochlea with the skeleton of Dinornis ingens found in the Moa Cave of Nelson, but there is no evidence that the small bone in question belonged to it. In my first paper of measurements, on page 85 of the first volume of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, I have already pointed to the distinct rough groove which invariably exists at the back of the metatarsus of a number of species, which I have now ventured to unite under the term Palapterygidæ. I may add that a number of back trochleæ in the possession of the Canterbury Museum, as to form and size, agree in a remarkable degree with the form and size of the bones of the different species belonging to that family. It would be strange if this striking coincidence, together with the rough grooves previously alluded to, should have misled me to draw wrong conclusions therefrom.
And I might add here another important peculiarity in these two main divisions, which was first pointed out to me by Mr. Fuller, and which is of great practical value when examining even the smallest bones. Mr. Fuller has found that in the mere handling of the bones a great difference is at once to be detected amongst those coming from the very same spot. Thus the remains of Palapteryx are harder, and have resisted more effectually the influence of time than those of Dinornis; the exterior dense crust is far stronger and thicker and is less smooth than in the latter. Moreover, the bones of the Palapterygidæ are not quite so porous as those of the Dinornithidæ, and consequently are heavier in proportion.
After these few introductory observations I now proceed to lay before you the scheme after which I propose grouping together the different species of our extinct struthious birds, giving, at the same time, some of the principal distinctive features of each group :—