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Volume 7, 1874
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Note on Rallus modestus.


“Additional Notes on New Zealand Ichthyology,” by James Hector, M.D., F.R.S. (Transactions, p. 239.)


“Further Notes on New Zealand Whales,” by Dr. Hector. (Transactions, p. 251.)


Dr. Buller said that he was glad to avail himself of this opportunity of placing before the society a letter which he had just received from Professor Newton, on the subject of Rallus modestus, of the Chatham Islands, and its claim to be considered a good species. It would, no doubt, be in the recollection of those present who took special interest in ornithology, that Captain Hutton some time ago recorded a new species of Rail from the Chatham Islands, as forming part of the novelties collected by Mr. Henry Travers. One of the specimens obtained was forwarded to England, and on examination he (Dr. Buller) pronounced it to be the young of a rare species already known to science (Rallus dieffenbachii), of which only one adult specimen exists in the British Museum. In this view he was confirmed by the concurrent opinions of several leading ornithologists to whom the birds were submitted. Captain Hutton, however, having obtained fresh evidence on the subject from Mr. Henry Travers, maintained the validity of his new species, and forwarded specimens of the skin and skeleton to Professor Newton, of Cambridge, whose judgment on any critical point in ornithology all parties would be inclined to accept as final. The result of this reference was favourable to Captain Hutton, and he (Dr. Buller) was only too glad to welcome Rallus modestus into the ranks of true and accepted species. The extract from Professor Newton's letter, which he was about to read, illustrated the importance of securing, whenever it was possible, the skeleton, or at any rate the sternum, of any bird supposed to be new or unknown; for, in the present instance, it would have been quite impossible without this aid to determine satisfactorily the point at issue between himself and Captain Hutton. Professor Newton writes, under date 13th December, 1874:—

“As to Rallus modestus, I wrote some time ago to Hutton, telling him that I had placed the specimens in Murie's hands, and that he has been very carefully working them out. The result was to have been in the next number of ‘The Ibis,’ but I hear from Salvin (who is now domiciled here as ‘Strickland Curator’) that it is doubtful whether he can get it in, especially as Murie has been much delayed by illness and other work from completing it. However, the long and short of it is that Rallus modestus is a perfectly good species, and belongs to the Ocydromine group of Rallidœ, as Hutton suggested, but with some hesitation, a year or more ago. The existence of so small a form of Ocydromus is a very interesting fact.”

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The chairman, before the close of the meeting, took the opportunity to observe that the cause of science generally in New Zealand would be greatly advanced by Dr. Hector's visit to Europe, especially as he would take with him a large and valuable collection of specimens of natural history and other objects. He very much feared that the voyage, which afforded a great deal of leisure to most people, instead of being a rest to him, would be attended with a very great deal more labour than if he were to remain at home. However, with Dr. Hector it would be a labour of love, and he knew, by the valuable assistance Dr. Hector had rendered the colony, that he would be a welcome guest amongst those gentlemen at Home who took an interest in all scientific matters concerning New Zealand. He was sure they all wished Dr Hector “God speed,” and trusted they would soon see him back again, to take that active part in assisting to develope the natural resources of the colony, from which so much advantage had been derived in the past.

Dr. Hector briefly returned thanks for the kind wishes expressed, intimating, at the same time, that he hoped to return before very long with a handsome collection for the Museum, in exchange for the specimens he was about to take Home with him.