R. Gillies in the chair.
“Observations on the different Modifications in the Capsules of Mosses, with reference to the Dispersion of their Spores,” by Captain F. W. Hutton, C.M.Z.S. (Transactions, p. 342.)
“On the Dimensions of Dinornis bones,” by Captain F. W. Hutton, C.M.Z.S. (Transactions, p. 274.)
“Description of the Moa Swamp at Hamilton,” by B. S. Booth; communicated by Captain Hutton. (Transactions, p. 123.)
Mr. Murison said however they might disagree with the theories that had
been advanced by Mr. Booth in his paper, there could be no doubt that the information which it contained was a valuable contribution to the records of the Institute. The paper was valuable, because it embodied the independent observations of an intelligent man, who seems to have devoted a good deal of time and thought to the investigation of this bone deposit. Mr. Booth's primary object in preparing his paper was to describe, according to his own ideas, the manner in which these bones had come to be deposited in the swamp at Hamilton; but there arose out of his deductions on this subject the larger question of the date of the existence of the moa. Mr. Booth concluded that the bird became extinct several thousand years ago, and his conclusions, therefore, were not altogether dissimilar to those of Dr. Haast, although that gentleman fixed the date of the extinction of the moa at somewhere about five hundred years back.
Captain Hutton: Three thousand years ago is the time, I think, fixed by Dr. Haast.
Mr. Murison pointed out that the evidence upon which Dr. Haast, Mr. Booth, and others rested their theory of the moa having become extinct at a very remote period was altogether of a negative character. It was quite true that the bird had lived in these remote ages, but the positive evidence which many of the settlers, in this province at least, were able to bring forward, went to show that the moa lived within the last hundred years, and probably within the present century. The discoveries of moa remains on the Maniototo plains, in his opinion, established beyond all doubt the fact of the comparatively recent existence of the moa. On the banks of the Puketoitoi creek, some years ago, were found on the surface of the ground bones in a tolerably perfect state of preservation; and when it is borne in mind how rapidly the bones of stock on the runs become decayed through the action of the atmosphere, this circumstance of the presence of the moa bones on the surface goes a long way towards proving that the bird existed in recent times. In the same neighbourhood, moreover, valuable confirmatory evidence of this theory was obtained in the kitchen middens and ovens of the moa-hunters. An examination of these showed that these people used both rude chert and polished stone implements—a circumstance which, if acknowledged, at once upsets Dr. Haast's theory of a palæolithic age in which the moas and moa-hunters lived, and in which rough stone implements only were used by the latter; and a neolithic period, or age in which polished implements were used; the latter period dating from a time long anterior to the arrival of Europeans in the islands. Mr. Booth's paper, although somewhat lengthy, was the representative of a class of contributions which he would gladly see presented more frequently to the Institute. There could be no doubt that a feeling had got abroad that, in order to produce a paper which would prove acceptable to the
Institute, a great deal of trouble would have to be taken by the writer in the preparation of his paper. This feeling deterred many who could supply valuable information from contributing the result of their observations. It could not be too widely made known throughout the province that the Institute was prepared to receive statements of facts not only concerning the subject which had been dealt with in the paper just read, but regarding natural history objects and other matters of interest. The time would undoubtedly come when the observations of the early settlers of the province, however meagre and apparently unimportant at present, would be regarded as of great value by scientific men. He hoped, therefore, soon to hear of many of the up-country settlers following the example of Mr. Booth.
Captain Hutton fully endorsed the remarks made by Mr. Murison as to the great value of Mr. Booth's paper. He would be very glad to see other papers written in the same style. The question of the extinction of the moa was one thing, and the time it had lived was another. At the previous meeting he had brought forward a paper to show that the moa had lived in the present century, but how far back it lived was quite another question. He might say that it had existed in New Zealand ever since it had been an island. He should not be at all surprised in the brown coal series to come across the bones of birds from which the moa had proceeded. He did not agree with Mr. Booth's theories, and thought they would not bear much investigation. In the first place, the difference of climate contended for could not be greater than Hamilton as it is now and the sea-coast. He (Captain Hutton) thought that would not be sufficient to warrant Mr. Booth's assumption. Secondly, Mr. Booth seemed to lay great stress upon the question as to the moa not being able to hatch its eggs. He (Captain Hutton) thought that was a mistake, and referred to what history had stated of the ostrich, not hatching its eggs. If he had time he would be able to show that Mr. Booth's argument, that there were no moas since the Lake period, had but little foundation. With regard to the absence of egg shells, that was a remarkable fact; but there were numbers of bones of little chicks or birds, not certainly more than a year old. He could say that he had seen Glenmark on the Canterbury plains, but would not say much about it, for fear he might get into a row. (Laughter.) The bones were only found round springs similar to that at Hamilton. He was not going to start any theory, but he freely acknowledged the good sense which Mr. Booth had brought to bear upon the question.
Mr. Thomson wished to know if the moa bones were diseased, and whether the cold caused such a disease.
Captain Hutton quite forgot that. Many toe bones were diseased, but Dr. Coughtrey and Dr. Hocken had found that the other bones were not so. Dr. Black had also shown that the Hamilton spring was not poisonous nor thermal.
Dr. Cole said that he would suggest one theory, but perhaps it would not hold water. He could not ascertain the fact why these birds should congregate round a spring, without it was a natural instinct that they should seek water when they felt they were about to die. It was, perhaps, rather an imbecile theory, but it occurred to his mind at the moment.
Mr. J. S. Webb thought most of the members would agree with him that Mr. Booth's paper was more interesting than a moa skeleton even. The remarks of Mr. Booth with regard to the presence of snow and frost, and the birds' preference to spring water, clearly showed that there was something in his arguments. The severe and sudden storms which those present had witnessed that day, would drive birds to that particular spot mentioned to get free from cold. That argument was most ingenious.
The chairman said that he must add his quota of praise to the paper, and expressed his delight upon reading it. Though he did not agree with Mr. Booth's conclusions, he was much pleased at the paper having been brought before the Institute. He agreed with Mantell, that the time had not yet arrived to say when the moa became extinct. Had Mr. Booth been better acquainted with what had been done previously, he would have saved himself a deal of trouble. A large portion of his paper went to prove that the moa lived a great many centuries ago. No one doubted that. The real question was—had it come down to modern times? They had a very important fact, that the Maoris—all those who were competent to give an opinion—said they had no tradition whatever on the subject. (Voices: No, no.) He said it on the authority of Mantell, Sir George Grey, and others. The word moa seemed to show that the Maoris had known something of the bird. But that word moa was used in a great many different senses. Therefore, that word being in the language was no proof that the Maoris knew anything of the moa. They said it used to be hunted, but the fact he wished to point out was that the Maoris had no knowledge of the moa. So far as his opinion went, he inclined to the modern theory. There was this in its character, that the moa bones had been found with human bones, and that the former appeared to have been used as food. They had in the museum a leg with some of the flesh, sinews, and so on. He believed they would not get half-a-dozen of the old residents of Otago who thought that the moa had not existed recently. Large numbers of bones had been found on the surface of the ground, in grassy country, and on the plains. Mr. Booth would have to prove that the country had been much warmer, that the place referred to was a spring, and that the moa birds were unable to rear their offspring. If any of these theories were not proved, the arguments in their favour would tumble, to the ground. Mr. Booth stated that the bones were all trampled firmly in and not broken. How would they, then, account for the bones having been entire? The time had not
come to explain this thing, and they must have more patience before they could generalize upon the subject.