Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 7, 1874
– 493 –

Third Meeting. 8th August, 1874.

Charles Knight, F.R.C.S., President, in the chair.

New members.—Andrew Tod, J. E. Nathan, Hon. Colonel Brett

Dr. Hector called attention to the valuable contributions which had been presented to the Museum since the last meeting. Among these were a large collection of Crustacea—shrimps, prawns, and such like—found at Spitzbergen, presented, with some valuable works, descriptive of the collection, by Professor Loveèn, of Stockholm; also a series of English Crag fossils, presented by Mr. Crowfoot, of Norwich.


“Description of a Wreck found at the Haast River,” by Thomas Turnbull, Harbour-master at Hokitika; communicated by W. T. L. Travers, F.L.S. (Transactions, p. 146.)

This fragment was found at a great distance from the present high-water mark, surrounded by dense bush. It was discovered by diggers in 1867, since which time no trace could be found of any vessel of that class having been wrecked on the coast of New Zealand. From the peculiar manner of construction, Captain Turnbill concluded that it was a piece of the hull of a French or Netherlands built ship.

Dr. Hector said that in 1867 he had called attention to the wreck in a short account which appeared in the society's papers, and, by the kindness of the District Surveyor, Mr. Muller, he had been enabled to make the sketch showing the position of the wreck, which he exhibited. The most important point was the distance from high-water mark at which it had been found, which was fully 300 yards. It was surrounded by low ngaio scrub, the terraces behind being heavily timbered. This proved that the high-water mark at that time must have been very different from what it is at present. It had been suggested during the former discussion that the piece of wreck had been cast into that position by an earthquake wave, but he thought it rather due to the rapid making of the coast. The vessel to which it had belonged had been built in a peculiar manner, screw trenails having been used, and a layer of felt between every two layers of timber.

The Hon. Captain Fraser suggested that it might be a portion of La Perouse's ship “l'Astrolabe,” which had for many years been sought in vain. He intended taking a portion of it home with him, and lodging it with the French Government, with a view to identification.


“On the Identity of the Moa-hunters with the present Maori Race,” by Alexander McKay, of the Geological Survey Department. (Transactions, p. 98.)

Mr. T. Cockburn-Hood said, with reference to the existence of distinct traditions regarding the Moa, few persons could possibly doubt the fact who

– 494 –

were aware that in 1837, before any of the present settlements in New Zealand were occupied by Europeans, a writer on these islands, Mr. Polack * had stated his conclusion from the stories he heard from the natives, that a large struthious bird existed still in Victoria, as he called the South Island, and was only lately extinct in the Northern. He had received a very interesting letter from the highest authority and ablest writer on old New Zealand, Mr. Maning, Judge of the Native Lands Court, and, although he had not his permission to do so, would venture to read from it some extracts which would satisfy all who heard them, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Maori knew the Moa perfectly well:—

“There is no subject, except perhaps the history of their wars and migrations, none on which the traditions of the Maori are so numerous and particular, as those regarding the Moa—none which have that freshness and vraisemblance which are perfectly convincing to those who know them: indeed, the natives would be much amused if any pakeha from Europe should set to work to persuade them that their forefathers had not hunted the Moa, and at no remote date.

“The natives are particularly remarkable as acute observers of everything coming under their notice; they have named every tree, shrub, plant, and insect in the country, and, what is more remarkable, have classified the plants to a great extent, and upon very sound principles.

“The Moa was of such incalculable value to them as animal food that to facilitate its capture they have evidently, as in the case of smaller birds used for food, studied with the greatest keenness its habits, food, character, and everything possible to be known about it. Their songs contain allusions to hunting the Moa, and tradition tells how they caught, cooked, the fat melted, and preserved, and in fact everything about them.

“The Moa appears to have been a stupid, inert bird, except at certain seasons, when it is supposed they came together and fought with great obstinacy, when many were killed. There is a Maori saying which is parallel to our “stupid as a goose"; they sometimes say of a man, “he is as inert as a Moa.” I have no doubt whatever, and Maori tradition affirms positively, that the extinction of the Moa was accomplished by their wasteful method of hunting.

“The traditions of the great bird of prey are fully as explicit and particular as are to be expected. * * That it was called in song, 'Hokioi of the resounding wing'; that it inhabited the mountain peaks; that its appearance, under certain circumstances, was considered ominous; that it came often accompanied by thunder and lightning, probably driven to the low grounds by the storm, and, where I now sit writing, I can see a tract of land which has

[Footnote] * See Trans. N. Z. Inst., V., p. 413.

– 495 –

been for many generations called ‘The wing of the Hokioi,’ from the tradition of the appearance of the great bird at that place. When the Moa became extinct the destroyer died also, having nothing left to feed on, and so both these great creatures have disappeared, to be seen no more.”

Judge Maning also bears indisputable testimony to the assertion that the flint and obsidian flakes found about the Moa-hunters' ovens and kitchen middens cannot be considered as the slightest evidence of the existence of an inferior race of men by whom these birds were exterminated.

“Those flint flakes and obsidian splinters certainly have been used by all aboriginal races all over the world; but Dr. Haast says that the people who used the greenstone, well-finished tools, were a different people from those who used the flint flakes. This is absolutely not the case, for I have seen the obsidian and flint flakes in full use myself; have seen the splinters knocked off the blocks of obsidian; the blocks were an article of traffic, and kept with great care, and splinters knocked off (it required some art to do it properly) as they were wanted from time to time. These splinters were the ordinary kitchen knives, so to speak; they were also used for cutting hair, cutting up human bodies, for surgical instruments, for cutting flax and raupo.

“The obsidian broke off with an extremely fine edge, but it would not last, and was quite useless for cutting wood, making paddles, canoes, or clubs—the greenstone was used for these purposes, and the tools made of it were valued far more than an equal bulk of gold ever was in the civilised world.”

Mr. Travers regretted that he had not been aware that the paper on the Sumner Cave was to be read that evening, as he had in his possession a quantity of bones and implements dug out of that cave, and along with them the fragment of a gourd which had evidently been used for drinking purposes. He might mention, as an interesting fact, that there was a family of Maoris who frequently, for months at a time, occupy a cave in Port Nicholson under exactly similar circumstances to the early Maori inhabitants of the Sumner Cave. This cave is situate at less than a mile from the pilot station at the Heads. There were six or seven Maoris living there, and he had frequently visited them. They live chiefly on shell-fish.

Mr. Webb remarked that a complete human skeleton, now in the Christ-church Museum, had been found in the cave, no mention of which was made in Mr. McKay's paper. He also stated that a fine deposit of Moa bones had been lately found in the silt deposit that covers the hills round Lyttelton harbour.

Dr. Hector said that the only grounds Mr. McKay had for doubt as to the recent date of the Moa's existence seemed to be the absence of Maori traditions with regard to it. He could only say that modern Maoris seem to know all about it. When he was at Hikurangi he sought out the oldest Maori, and

– 496 –

conversed with him respecting the different kinds of birds there. The Maori knew the Moa, and said he could get some of the bones, and that he knew a man who had seen one. He also knew the tarepo, which was a kind of large goose that went about with the Moas. They were now extinct, but had been seen by living Maoris. We should bear in mind that if Mr. Mantell had not procured two skins of the Notornis, they would have known of it existence only from bones found in Maori ovens, as in the case of the Moa. On the whole he thought there was no reason for jumping to the conclusion that the Moa had become extinct at a very remote period. The positive evidence of the existence of the Moa in New Zealand was probably greater than that of the existence of the emu in some parts of Victoria. Many persons were not conversant with the rapidity with which animals disappear. In proof of this he would refer to the bison. A hundred and fifty years ago these animals roamed over the Eastern States in countless herds; yet it would now be very difficult to obtain positive proof of their existence in those States. We should, therefore, be careful in accepting assumptions on this subject, as they might mislead us in regard to the physical changes in post-tertiary times in New Zealand, and especially as there is no country so favourably circumstanced as this for settling interesting questions about the origin and variation of species and other important points.


“Notes on Maori Traditions of the Moa,” by J. W. Hamilton; communicated by Dr. Hector. (Transactions, p. 121.)

Dr. Hector observed that Mr. Hamilton had been one of the survey officers on board H.M.S. “Acheron,” when that vessel was surveying the New Zealand coast, and his statements might be relied on, as he had ample opportunities.

Mr. Hood thought it quite possible that the tarepo still existed, and the evidences of the recent existence of the Moa in the South Island were so numerous that it seemed impossible for persons unprejudiced in favour of a pet theory to doubt it. The negative evidence of the alleged absence of traditions, insisted upon by Dr. Haast and others, even were it proved to be the case, instead of the reverse, would have but little weight when one considered, as Dr. Hector had just shown, how rapidly animals, large and numerous as the bison, pass away almost unnoticed. He questioned if one in a thousand amongst the peasantry of Switzerland could give any distinct description of the beaver—remarkable in its habits, and the evidences of whose labours are so permanent—and yet we know the last beaver was killed there in 1812.


“On the Wanganui Tertiaries,” by C. W. Purnell. (Transactions, p. 453.)

Dr. Hector observed that the author pointed out an unconformity in

– 497 –

breaking up the Lower Wanganui series, which, if established, would have an important bearing on the geology of the district.


“Notes on the Microscopic Structure of certain Igneous Rocks submitted by the Director of the Geological Survey of New Zealand,” by R. Daintree, F.G.S., Agent—General for Queensland; communicated by Dr. Hector. (Transactions, p. 458.)

Dr. Hector stated that specimens had been sent by him to the author, who was formerly Government Geologist in Australia, and was now devoting his attention to this subject. The results of his examinations so far were very interesting, but of a highly technical nature.

The President remarked that this method of examining rocks was a very recent and important advance in science, and he was glad to see that its application to New Zealand was not overlooked.

After the meeting many members remained to examine a large series of sketches made by Mr. W. M. Cooper, illustrating the scenery of the West Coast mining districts, and other parts of the colony.