Art. XLIII.—Notes on some Changes in the Fauna of Otago.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 11th September, 1877.]
The writings of Darwin and others have made us familiar with the theory of natural selection, and given a new impetus and a definite meaning to the investigation of biological phenomena which previously were looked upon as isolated unrelated facts. Amidst all the turmoil and strife which the enunciation of this hypothesis provoked, perhaps there was nothing which excited less dispute than the assigning of the passing away of ancient races, and their being supplanted by new and more vigorous species, to the principle of the survival of the fittest, and there was no class of facts more freely and frankly admitted as such, than those which in such countries as Australia, South America, etc., demonstrate that the indigenous species have very quickly retired before and been supplanted by foreign introduced forms. It may, therefore, seem almost superfluous to supplement these facts in any way. But I am inclined to think that most people are not sufficiently impressed with them, and hence fail to grasp their meaning. At any rate I am quite sure that to those who have seen and observed similar pheno- mena, these changes appeal with a cogency which, to the ordinary reader is a-wanting. The forms of life which we see around us now in New Zealand are not the forms which peopled and clothed our hills and valleys, woods and plains, even a quarter of a century ago. The change, though rapid, and in some cases complete, has been silent and continuous, and hence has escaped observation, and it is only by casting the memory back to what was the state of matters years ago that we realize how much the conditions of things have changed. Hence it is, too, that a detailed and exact record of such changes is impossible, and that we even now find a difficulty in obtaining such reliable data as is desirable for our purpose. Were it possible to foresee what forms were likely to be modified or were becoming extinct, then
care could be taken so to conduct observations as to ensure results which could be tabulated with all the accuracy of numerical precision. But in the nature of the case this is impossible. We have changes going on now under our notice. Old forms gradually passing away, and new ones coming on the scene in their place, but who is to foretell what is doomed and what is to endure? No doubt much may be done and is doing with a view to the future. But the irrecallable past is gone without the data being preserved which now we wish we had, and it only remains for us to save the shreds and patches which linger in the memories of old settlers. These must necessarily be imperfect, but, as the only thing left to us, may not wholly be valueless, and to the younger generation growing up amidst the new order of things cannot be entirely without interest. It may be, too, that the following few scraps culled from my own experience and memory may be the means of inciting others possessed of fuller and better materials to put them on record in a simple form for what they are worth. Who knows, if this hint is acted upon, but we may yet have a record of the past of our fauna and flora as complete as I am quite certain it would be startling in comparison with the present.
I shall first refer to changes in our fauna, and, as the most practical and direct way of doing so, shall relate some facts connected with some that have passed or almost passed away—beginning with insects, then referring to a few birds, and then to the only mammals existing as wild in my memory; referring at the same time to some new forms that have been introduced and are now prevalent everywhere. I shall then pass on to such marked cases in the flora of the country as have come under my own notice, treating them in the same way. I shall then, if I have time, discuss some of the causes which have operated in producing the results referred to, and try to indicate in what directions our observations and efforts should be directed in future.
One of the greatest insect pests in Otago twenty-five years ago was what was called the common blow-fly—a large blue-bottle fly. It swarmed everywhere, and people now-a-days will hardly believe the trouble and annoyance which it gave to the early settlers. No woollen material could safely be left lying at rest for even a few minutes without running the risk of having the small white eggs of this fly deposited in large numbers and fixed in the fibres of the material by the glutinous envelope surrounding them. A working man took off his blue serge shirt and threw it down carelessly (and every man in those days was a working man and wore a blue shirt), in a very short time when he went to pick it up he would discover to his annoyance and disgust that it was fly-blown, and not very long after he would find it a crawling mass of maggots. If in his fear of the
maggot stage he precipitately proceeded to get rid of the eggs, he would soon discover that he had only succeeded in making matters ten times worse, for in his vain endeavours to rub or scrape off the eggs he was sure to burst most of them, the outer skin of which thereby became indelibly glued into the material, presenting for ever after the disgusting appearance of a dirty white blotch or stain on the garment. Experience soon taught the early settlers that the only effectual mode of remedying the evil was to wrap up the garment till the eggs were hatched out into the larval stage, when a smart shake of the outspread garment at once freed it from all trace of the nuisance. The evil was always worst in warm damp weather, but it was not confined to such days, nor to woollen materials lying at rest in the open air. For a long time it was absolutely necessary and commonly practised to wrap up all woollen materials in close calico bags—even the very blankets on beds had to be rolled up and wrapped in calico soon after the night's repose, and it was rare in those days to see blankets that had not been disfigured by the disagreeable stains alluded to, for once the eggs were burst there was no washing out of the mark afterwards.
I am indebted to W. D. Murison, Esq., editor of the “Daily Times,” for the following note on this subject, and subsequent ones on other fauna, which I shall read in their several places:—“It was common to take the blankets from the bed in the morning, if the weather was fine, and hang them over a rope. They would not then be ‘blown,’ as there were no folds.”
I remember on one occasion going on a fishing excursion to the Silver Stream, for in those days everybody was possessed with the fond belief that New Zealand would beat the world for fishing or shooting, or, for the matter of that, for any other natural production to be found in any country on the face of the globe—one of our infantile illusions long since got rid of. It was a warm damp night, on which, according to all orthodox rules of the piscatorial art, we ought to have had plenty of sport. But a drizzling rain and empty baskets sent us home in the early morning only for me to discover that my fine waterproof mohair overcoat, recently brought from home and looked upon as an invaluable companion in a land of few accommodation-houses and no umbrellas, was one mass of maggots everywhere. My inexperience made me disgustedly pitch it on the dung-heap, from whence it never reappeared, at any rate as a coat. Another instance: My father bought a property and run in the Tokomairiro district in 1852. There was no possibility then of taking any wheeled vehicle from Dunedin, and hence all goods and provisions were shipped in small coasting craft and sent round by sea to the Taieri mouth and landed at the head of the Waihola Lake. For in those primitive days it was officially impressed upon
all intending emigrants that the fine natural waterways which traversed the Otago block were kind dispensations of Providence for the special benefit of the Free Church settlement not accorded to the rival Church settlement in Canterbury, and which effectually precluded the necessity for such expensive new-fangled contrivances as railways. It is true that shipments of flour or goods generally have been known to be detained for months at the Heads waiting a fair wind; but time was not of much value then, and if settlers could not get their things, they had just to do without. Well, on one occasion we (my brothers and I) heard that the boat had been round and landed a lot of flour, sugar, etc., for us at the head of the lake. It so happened that it had been very wet weather, and the rivers and creeks were flooded to such an extent that it was impossible to bring home such commodities on the sledge without great loss; so one of us went down to the lake with a large woollen waggon-cover, exactly the same as those used by carriers in the old country. With this large new cover the goods were all securely protected from rain at least, for from rats there was no escape. Unfortunately the wet weather continued, and from the long rough herbage that everywhere covered the country the water was retained, so that it was six weeks before the creeks became sufficiently low to bring these goods home. You may judge of our annoyance and disgust when we went for them to find the large woollen cover one mass of rottenness crawling with maggots which had eaten away yards of it, and reduced it all to a useless mass of rags. So common and prevalent were these blow-flies that no damp or greasy surface was safe from them, even though not woollen. I have seen an iron crowbar that had been grasped by a greasy hand fly-blown in a very short time. As for mutton or beef it could scarcely be placed steaming on the table before these pests would attack it, and it was rare in the summer time that you used your knife and fork without having to remove from the crevices of perfectly fresh and wholesome meat the small living larvæ of these flies. Many of you may think that this was bad housewifery, or that I am greatly exaggerating, but it is not so. A story used to be told of an old lady at Clutha, who in her endeavours to keep cooked meat free of these pests, adopted the plan of putting it into a very large tin kettle, but she soon found out it was of no use, for, as she said, “the nasty things just ganged down the spout.”
Mr. C. H. Street tells me that on one occasion, many years ago, he was out pig hunting at the back of Warepa bush along with a gentleman now holding a high judicial position in the north, and that being unable to carry the pig which they had killed and disembowelled, they were compelled to drag it along some distance on the fern and grass. On looking back some one hundred yards they were astonished to see the broad track
formed by their dragging the carcass literally black with millions of blow-flies, and not one on any other part of the ground or herbage.” Mr. Murison remarks:—“Camp ovens were almost the only hiding-place for cooked meat which were secure from the attacks of the blow-fly.”
No person now can have any conception how numerous and unavoidable these universal pests were. One strange and most fortunate thing was that these flies never attacked or laid their eggs in the wool, or any part of the living sheep. In Britain a similar fly is a terrible scourge to the flock-master, producing the fatal disease known as maggots or blow-fly, which will run through a flock in a short time, sometimes before it is noticed. It is easy to conceive what the result would have been here with sheep roaming over the face of the rough country for months often un-shepherded. Sheep farming would have been an impossibility. But never in these years nor since, have I ever come across or heard of a genuine case of maggot running through a flock. Mr. Murison says:—“Sheep that were ‘cast’ were soon attacked by the blow-fly, but these were the only cases I think.” Now we may almost say that the blow-fly has disappeared. Its place in nature has been taken up by the smaller common house-fly, Musca domestica, a more annoying insect to a sleepy man in a hot summer day, but not at all so disgusting. In the days I have been speaking of there were no house-flies, but gradually they appeared, first in Dunedin, and were much talked about, then step by step, season after season, they extended in an ever widening circle till they overspread the whole province, entirely supplanting, by the inexorable law of the survival of the fittest, the genuine old-identity blow-fly.
Another insect pest which was very prevalent twenty-five years ago, and has now all but disappeared everywhere, was the mosquito, Culex acer. The mosquito was unknown in Great Britain, and all our ideas with reference to it are associated with hot tropical climates, so that it may appear to many of you almost startling to say that, in the early days of Otago, the mosquito was a great nuisance in the summer time. Still it is true, they were met with everywhere, though certain situations and localities were more notorious than others for their depredations. These were mostly low-lying situations near bush or swamps, but the tormenting pests were not by any means confined to such localities. During the summers of '52 and '53 I lived at the Waikari, near Dunedin, elevated some 600 feet above the level of the sea, and I well remember the dense clouds of mosquitos that used to congregate towards the ceilings of the rooms in the evening after the lamps were lit. They never were bad for biting there, the principal annoyance being the singing noise, which constantly kept one in nervous dread of an impending onslaught. But in the Taieri Plain the settlers did
not escape so easily, and dire tales of unrest and suffering were constantly recounted by hapless wights who had to spend a night anywhere on the great Taieri swamp, as it was termed in those days. There was a totara-bark house in the bush at the Taieri village, known as Milne's accommodation-house, that was noted far and wide for mosquitos; and amidst the wondrous tales of adventure and discomfort which every traveller in those days had to tell, the nocturnal sufferings endured, and the expedients tried, to escape from the mosquitos at Milne's accommodation-house, always bore a prominent part. The Tokomairiro Plain, on the other hand, was never considered bad for mosquitos, though up near the bush there were always plenty of them. The Molyneux Island, on the other hand, was notoriously bad; but it must be borne in mind that in those days this Ultima Thule of the Otago block was classic ground for all the wild tales of hair-breadth escapes, privations, and adventures that could possibly fall to the lot of a New Zealand colonist. But you must not suppose that I wish you to think the tales about mosquitos were mythical. I will come to actual facts within my own experience and observation. In the years 1856–8, before the country was settled, I was engaged as a government officer surveying the Waihopai, New River, and Mataura Plains trigonometrically, and of course lived entirely in tents. The mosquitos were, I can assure you, anything but myths, especially on the New River. On retiring to our tents in the evening, we tried to get rid of them by burning green branches, cow-dung, or anything that would make a dense smoke to drive them out, and then quickly and carefully closing up the curtain of the tent endeavoured to pop off to sleep before they made good their entrance again. But, alas! we soon found that the chances of success were small indeed, for those that had fallen stupefied to the ground with the smoke soon revived, and the first noise of the singing of their wings was the signal for the breaking out of an infernal chorus from all those that had been secreted about the blankets and fern forming our beds, who all sallied forth with bloodthirsty energy to revenge the retreat of their fellows upon the now prostrate and passive foe. Then, if “tired nature's sweet restorer” had not already “paid his ready visit,” good-bye to “balmy sleep.” So intolerable and incessant was the nuisance that at last I hit upon a plan which completely baffled them, and I could go to sleep with myriads buzzing round me and awake in the morning unharmed. For the benefit of all travellers, I must tell you what it was. In the first place I wrapped myself round in an opossum rug with the skinny side out. This they could not penetrate through, for it is a fact that they will penetrate through ordinary blankets. For the protection of my head and face, which, of course, had to be outside the rug, and were the
most vulnerable points, I took a piece of stiff drawing-paper and bent it over my head in the form of the old scoop-bonnets of our grandmothers. I then took a large piece of mosquito netting, and put it all over my head and face, and tied it firmly round my neck below the level of where the opossum rug was tucked in. In this way the netting did not inconvenience me in breathing, and was kept sufficiently far off my face to prevent my enemies stinging through it. For two summers I constantly lay down to sleep with this paraphernalia on my head, and I can assure you if you had looked in on me you would have thought me a very comical sight, but what matter about that, it secured me repose. Not so, however, my poor men, who had no mosquito netting. Many a night when I have happened to awake have I heard them tumbling about in the adjoining tent swearing at those mosquitos. And in the morning, to see them turn out haggard and weary, with perhaps an eye almost closed up or cheek swollen to undue proportions with the onslaught made on them during the night, I confess it required a harder nature than mine to refrain from pitying them. Though I must say they always made light of it, but then, in the early days, there was a romance in everything which made men glory in difficulties and discomforts, and even make fun of hunger and risk of life. I remember one season on the New River I had a new chum, fresh landed from the ship, as a chainman. That man was such a martyr to mosquitos that he always slept during the whole summer with all his clothes on him even to his very boots. He suffered so much that I would have discharged him had it not been that he was a first-class hand. Extraordinary though this may appear to you, it can be verified, for the man is alive to this day, and can be found as a successful settler not far from Invercargill.
It may seem almost ridiculous for me to tell you that fleas, Pulex irritans, were much more numerous in the early days of the settlement than they are now, for you will be sure at once to jump to the conclusion that that was owing to the necessarily semi-savage habits of the first settlers and to their contact with the Maoris. No doubt, as better houses were built and more civilized habits became possible, these insect pests had not the same chance as before, but this does not account for all the change. The Maoris, too, with their pigs and their dogs can, in other parts of New Zealand, account for a great deal of what was in those days, the special characteristic of New Zealand, but inasmuch as there never were many Maoris here, and they were hardly or ever employed or kept about the settlers' premises, this cause had practically no existence here. And yet, go where you liked, in town or country, the fleas were masters of the situation, and were more talked about than even the Crimean war. The whole face of the country was covered everywhere with a dense impenetrable
thicket of herbage, principally fern, tutu, and flax, and before this was burnt you could not lie down or go amongst it anywhere without being covered with fleas. Great differences of opinion used to exist as to whether these fleas were the true genuine flea (Pulex irritans), and there is no doubt they were not so active nor so bloodthirsty and irritating as their brethren, which infested all domiciles alike. About these latter there was no room for doubt, for there was no lack of energy about them, and no difference in their bloodthirsty predatory habits. I remember, on one occasion, camping out close to the west end of the West Taieri Bush, and after a night of energetic wakefulness following on a day of weary travel on foot with a heavy swag, killing hundreds of them in our blankets when we turned out in the morning. More than once I have seen, on entering a hut that had been shut up for a few hours, one's white moleskin trousers become gradually blacker and blacker with the innumerable fleas that swarmed on to the white object on the floor. The same kind friend to whom I have already alluded, sends me the following on this subject:—“In confirmation of what you say about the fleas, I may state that in the summer of 1856–57 I was one of several occupants of a bark hut on an island in the Molyneux River. The floor of the hut was the greyish-blue sand which is everywhere to be seen on the banks of the river, and it formed an excellent harbour for the fleas, which were exceedingly abundant and very troublesome. On one occasion, being cook for the day, I became so irritated by their bites when I was working before the fire that I took off my canvas trousers, turned them outside in and ran my two thumb nails along the lining, destroying all that did not jump away. The tally of slaughtered ones was seventy-six, but many more than that must have escaped. An hour after my anathemas were once more both loud and deep.” I could recall many circumstances to prove how extremely prevalent the fleas then were, but it would extend this paper to an undue length, and I believe it is quite unnecessary, as the fact will not be questioned. After the rough herbage, especially the fern, was burnt once or twice this insect pest almost disappeared, or at any rate became confined to its legitimate purpose in nature, that of a punishment for the want of cleanly household habits. I am not aware that anything else has taken the place occupied by this insect in the economy of nature, but its extinction (or reduction rather within proper bounds) has been brought about not by competition with other forms, but by the agency of fire.
The Aphis lanifera, or American blight on apple trees, is an insect which was quite unknown here for many years after the settlers had gardens; but when it first appeared, which I think must have been about fifteen or twenty years ago, it spread everywhere with most marvellous rapidity. So also did another insect of the same kind, which attacked the large
Cruciferæ, cabbage, cauliflower, turnip, etc., about the same time, and was not previously known in the country.
But blow-flies, mosquitos, and fleas were not the only insect nuisances which the early scttlers had to endure. For pertinacity and genuine sanguinary annoyance I think I will back the New Zealand sand-fly against them all. Near the beach, especially a sandy beach, or on the edge of a bush, these insects swarmed in millions; and in warm close weather, just before rain, their attacks were most ferocious and venomous. They were considered very good indicators of the weather, for settlers used to say, “It will be rain to-day, for the sand-flies are biting!” So numerous and ferocious were they, that even Captain Cook specially refers to them as being peculiarly harassing during his visit to Dusky Bay in this province. He says (p. 331): “The most mischievous animals here are the small black sand-flies, which are very numerous and so troublesome that they exceed everything of the kind I ever met with. Wherever they bite they cause a swelling, and such an intolerable itching that it is not possible to refrain from scratching, which at last brings on ulcers like the small-pox.” And in a book of such dry official details as the “New Zealand Pilot,” p. 261, it is stated:—“The sand-flies noticed by Cook are of a most virulent kind, and it was with great difficulty that the necessary astronomical observations on shore could be made by the officers of H.M.S. “Acheron,” who were frequently compelled to take refuge from their torments among the thick foliage a short distance from the beach, where, strange to say, they do not penetrate; these plagues invariably left the vessel at dusk, and did not reappear until the following daylight.” This refers to some of the West Coast Sounds, where no doubt they are still numerous; but many times in other parts of the province, when observing important trigonometrical stations with a theodolite, and consequently unable to defend myself, I have seen my hands and face one mass of blood from the inveterate attacks of these insects. Now, you will scarcely ever hear of the sand-fly, and no doubt many new colonists don't know what it is. My belief is that the climate of this province (at least the eastern portion of it) is now very much drier than it was, and that this accounts in a large measure for the almost total disappearance of the sand-fly—a result certainly not to be regretted.
Passing on to birds: the parrakeet, Platycercus novœ-zealandiœ, still lives amongst us and enlivens the bush with its “twitter-twitter” and with its beautiful green plumage and rounded head, but as compared with the numbers which swarmed in every bush in the early days, it may be said to be almost extinct. To say that they were continually to be seen in flocks of hundreds gives you a very faint idea of the extreme prevalence of this
bird everywhere. Early settlers whose cultivations were in the bush (and almost all cultivation in the early days was confined to bush clearing) had always the greatest difficulty in saving their crops of wheat. For this lively roguish little bird defied all scarecrows, and even shooting them was found to be an endless and expensive job, for, though a few might be killed at a shot, the flock just rose and settled down again immediately a few yards off. I have known patches of wheat rendered utterly valueless by this now harmless bird; so rare and scarce have they become that I notice that country settlers near bush now have quite a warm side to the little green parrakeet and often make household pets of them.
The kaka (Nestor meridionalis), too, is a parrot that has almost passed away. In the early days they were always abundant everywhere, and were constantly shot for the pot by the settlers. At certain seasons they lived on the black pine-berries, and their presence on any tree could always be detected by the cracking of the stones of the berries overhead and the falling of the broken shells, even though the usually noisy screeching kaka was sitting close and still. In such a case it was almost always possible to secure as many as you wanted, even though there was only one on the tree or in sight, for all you had to do was so to fire as only to wound the first one, when he would set up such a screeching and cawing as would soon assemble all the kakas for miles round, when you could knock over as many as you wanted. Though always obtainable, the kaka was more plentiful at certain times than others, but whether he migrated or not, or where he migrated to, I know not. It was a general belief amongst early settlers that the kaka did migrate—it was thought to the woods on the west coast—but no authentic information was ever obtained that I have heard of. Some years they appeared in the settled parts of the province in flocks positively of hundreds. One year especially I remember (I think it must have been 1855 or 1856), they came in such numbers as to amount almost to a plague. Nor did they confine themselves to the bush, but everywhere, in open or in bush alike, on stacks, on fences, or on the ridges of houses, you would see them perched in rows as close as they could sit. I have seen them sitting on a post-and-rail fence in the Tokomairiro Plain so close together, that new arrivals had to fight for perching-room, and by shooting along the line of a fence you could knock over half-a-dozen at a shot. The destruction which they caused that year to stacks and to thatched houses, tearing them open with their powerful bills, was something enormous. I remember settlers used to discuss how they were to protect their property against this serious pest, which it was believed would increase every year as the area of grain culture extended. But curiously enough, the following year to that there were
almost no kakas, and they have never been so numerous since. I have often tried to account for this sudden increase and as sudden decrease, but have only succeeded in making guesses which were dismissed almost as soon as discussed. On the east coast of the province it may be said this parrot has all but disappeared now; I have not seen one alive for years. Mr. Murison writes me:—“The beginning of 1861 was the greatest season for kakas I ever knew. I was then living in the Waikouaiti district, and for a time the birds became quite a pest to the settlers. They have not made their appearance in numbers since.”
The beautiful New Zealand pigeon (Carpophaga novœ-zealandiœ) is a bird which we must all regret has almost passed away. It is rare, indeed, to see it anywhere even in places which used to be its favourite haunt. The patches of low evergreen bush in which the fuchsia tree flourishes, near Dunedin and along the seaboard, were the places where the pigeon loved to dwell, and where they could always be obtained in the early days. No settler then need ever want for a rich supper, and the poor pigeons were slaughtered somewhat indiscriminately. It used to be a common recipe amongst early settlers, that it took fourteen pigeons and one kaka parrot to make good soup. After making every allowance, however, for this wholesale slaughter, I am inclined to think that it does not wholly account for the almost total disapperaance of the pigeon. Naturalists are aware that though the order Columbœ is cosmopolitan in its range, yet the Australian region is richer in it than any other zoological area in the world, possessing nearly double the genera and species of any other region. This is accounted for by the fact that it is, to a large extent, an insular region, and has no monkeys or other arboreal quadrupeds which feed largely on eggs or young birds, the pigeon being a bird that builds a rude exposed nest, and whose young remain defenceless for a long time. This, I think, gives us the key to the disappearance of our pigeon, viz., that it is to the great increase in domestic and wild cats that we are indebted in a large measure for the change.
The quail (Coturnix novœ-zealandiœ) is another native bird, extremely plentiful in the open grass lands in the early days, but now so rare as to be valuable as a museum specimen. It is really difficult now to realize how plentiful these birds were. You could not walk far in the country, especially if you had a dog at your foot, without raising one here and another there. Dogs seemed to take to hunting them naturally, and made sad havoc amongst them, for they could not at any time fly far. Shepherds and flockmasters found it a very difficult thing to train young sheep-dogs aright, for in spite of no end of thrashing, when a young dog was sent out after sheep the temptation was too great for him, and “he would go
after these quails.” Colonel Wakefield, in his official report to the directors of the New Zealand Company upon this part of New Zealand before the settlers arrived, gives special prominence to the fact that “quails are plentiful over all the downs and in the plains adjoining and would be more so but for the hawks and kites. Hereafter it will become the business of the Scottish sportsman to give rewards for their destruction.” But a more relentless foe than even the dogs or hawks and kites was at hand to sweep away the New Zealand quail. The tremendous conflagrations, which everywhere overspread the country for years after the first settlers came, pretty nearly annihilated the quail. There was no escape for it, for it could only fly a short distance, whilst the rapidity and extent of these grand prairie fires left no chance of escape. This result was not noticed or perhaps thought of at the time, but when the short herbage began to reclothe the face of nature it was soon discovered that the quail had disappeared. I doubt very much if it could have survived in the now bare shelterless aspect of the country, and I question, too, whether such imported birds as the partridge or even the pheasant will increase very much until such time as more shelter is provided, and I am quite sure if the Acclimatization Society wish to make their efforts a success they will have to limit in some way the indiscriminate destruction of these birds which is now apparently legally carried on.
The native ducks of various sorts have not by any means suffered so severely as many other forms, but even they are not at all so plentiful as they were in the early days. One instance will suffice to show this:—In the early days, if a person had to make the journey between the Bluff and Invercargill on foot—and it was only on foot that he could make it then—he would have to ford a tidal creek known as Duck Creek. If the tide was in when he came to it, he would have to wade pretty well up to his chin— and of course with his clothes tied in a bundle on his head. It was a common and notorious thing to warn travellers in such circumstances always to carry a short stick with them in crossing this creek to ward off the ducks, which were so numerous and so bold as to be troublesome. Of course I do not vouch for the statement that they did attack people; they certainly did not attack me, and I had occasion often to cross; but, though an exaggeration, it certainly was current and believed in by many, and is of this much value to us, that it could never have been originated unless the ducks existed there in immense numbers and were peculiarly tame. I have myself come across scores of nests of the grey duck (Anas superciliosa), containing generally about a dozen eggs, amongst the tussock grass that then waved luxuriantly over the Southland plains. It is a rare thing now for anyone to find a grey duck's nest. Two years ago I found one in the
gorge of the Awamoko River perched high up on a ledge on the face of a rocky precipice, where in the early days they never would be found.
Most of the birds I have referred to are shy and wild, and it is possible may have been driven back from the settled districts into the wilder and more uninhabited parts, though I do not think so. But the weka, or woodhen (Ocydromus australis), is a bold bird, and is extremely tame, delighting to haunt the environs of a camp and pick up refuse of all sorts about human habitations. It is rare indeed now to see its dignified stride or the odd sedate meditative nod of its head near a settler's dwelling, even in the country; whereas, even in Dunedin and its neighbourhood in the early days, no sooner did the evening shadows begin to close in than the peaceful calm which always set in after the habitual blow of a New Zealand day was sure to be broken by the peculiar call of the weka from every ferny brake and bushy dell. The lonely traveller then, camping out at the side of a bush, after having lit his fire and put on his billy, could always count on securing his supper by imitating their “cluck, clucking” cry, and without the bother of fire-arms, knocking them over by means of a stick with a red rag on the end of it. But, alas! fire and dogs have done their work all too effectually, and it looks very like as if the weka will soon be a bird of the past. Mr. Murison says;—“Wood-hens, I am told by a friend, are at present very plentiful in South Canterbury, where he says they will prove for some time a serious drawback to the successful acclimatization of the pheasant and partridge.” He further says:—“The pukeko or swamp-turkey was unknown in the interior twenty years ago, and to the best of my belief was not then seen beyond ten miles inland. About 1862 it made its appearance among the swamps of the Maniototo Plains, and since then it has spread rapidly throughout the adjoining districts.”
The rapidity with which certain introduced species of birds have spread over the country and increased in countless numbers is something marvellous. The wax-eye (Zosterops lateralis) was quite unknown for many years after the first settlers came, and now it swarms wherever there is a tree or a bush, in numbers only exceeded by the sparrow in the home country. It is believed to be of Australian origin; but the home birds introduced by the Acclimatization Society have also increased in a most wonderful ratio. It is only necessary for one to mention the starling (Sturnus vulgaris) in the open country, and the chaffinch (Fringilla cœlebs) in the neighbourhood of bush, to convince you of this.
As to mammals, Captain Cook, in his Second Voyage, states (p. 380):—“For three or four days after we arrived in Pickersgill Harbour, and as we were clearing the woods to set up our tents, etc., a four-footed animal was
seen by three or four of our people; but as no two gave the same description of it, I cannot say of what kind it is; all, however, agreed that it was about the size of a cat with short legs and of mouse-colour; one of the seamen, and he who had the best view of it, said it had a bushy tail and was the most like a jackall of any animal he knew. The most probable conjecture is, that it is of a new species; be this as it may, we are now certain that this country is not so destitute of quadrupeds as was once thought.” Nothing answerable to this animal has since been discovered, and the only mammals existing in this part of New Zealand when the settlers arrived were the rat, the wild pig, and the wild dog. The first of these—the rat (Mus decumanus) was met with everywhere in great numbers. It was not confined to the neighbourhood of the settlements—Maori or whaling—but wherever you pitched your camp away in the wilderness, where never human foot before trod, there rats were found as abundant as near the settlers' homes. I remember distinctly on one occasion riding after a mob of cattle on a flat in the Taieri Plain near Otohiro in the year 1852, and seeing the rats running here and there in all directions from the horse's feet. When a new settler settled anywhere alone, the rats for a time were a perfect pest to him. They stole everything portable from him even to his candle-moulds, but after a time they became less and less numerous, and though they never disappeared wholly, yet nowhere in the country do rats swarm as they did in the early days. For years I was accustomed to camp out in new country miles away from any human being, but there were always plenty of rats. On account of the dampness of the soil we used to make our fern or grass beds, if possible, on a bottom layer of dry branches, and we got so accustomed to the rats that we never felt inconvenienced by feeling them running below us through the branches or even over the top of us as we lay in bed. So tame were they that when the candle was lit in the tent they would come peering in at the door or under the curtain looking at you straight in the face with their earnest sharp gaze, and would only go when you shied something at them; they were not long in returning. On more than one occasion I have been present when men awoke with a rat lying right across their throat—we supposed for the sake of the warmth. There has been a great deal of discussion as to whether the rat of those days was the same species as the rat of to-day, or was what has been called the Maori rat. It is impossible now to determine; this much is certain, that people then never thought of it as the same as the home rat, but always spoke of it as the native rat, and there is no doubt the rat of those days was not so ferocious in his habits nor so timid and wild as the rat that abounds now. My own belief is that they were essentially different animals but of course in the absence of any exact information such a belief goes for nothing.
The gradual disappearance of the rat was accompanied by the appearance and gradual increase of the mouse (Mus musculus) and it was a common saying that the mice were driving the rats out. It is quite certain that there were no mice in Otago in 1852, but a year or perhaps two years after they were noticed in Dunedin first, having probably been imported in merchandise or in boxes. They increased rapidly and soon spread into the Taieri. Their further progress was marked by distinct stages. For a long time they seemed to be stopped by the Taieri River, as there were plenty so far, but none beyond. After a time they were heard of at Waihola and they then quickly overran the Tokomairiro Plain to the river—then stopped for a short time, when they appeared all over the district to the Clutha River. It was a considerable time before they were known of across that large stream, and for some time longer before the Molyneux Island was touched by them. A good story used to be told in those days about a certain merchant who imported in a vessel called the “Titan” a lot of mousetraps, but as there were no mice in the country the traps lay on his shelves decidedly bad stock, of use only for small wits to joke about. However, in about one or two years after the mice appeared, and the traps being the only ones in the market sold readily at a premium. Ill natured people used to say that having imported the traps the mice were afterwards brought in order to sell them, but my own belief is that it was only another instance of a far-seeing individual forecasting the wants and necessities of a new country, and providing for them long before any one else would ever think of them! At any rate the story is worth recording now as evidence that mice were not here before the date I have named above.
It must strike many of you as startling to say that only thirty years ago the flaxy hills and hollows which are now covered by the city of Dunedin were the regular hunting grounds of the Maoris and whalers resident at the heads for the wild pig (Sus scrofa.) And there are plenty of old settlers still amongst us who have hunted and caught wild pigs within the city boundaries. Even four-and-twenty years ago I have hunted them not far from the Half-way Bush. I remember on one occasion a large party of us went out to the back of Flagstaff Hill and in two days killed about seventy pigs, young and old. In various parts of the country I have seen them in herds of scores at a time, but they soon disappeared whenever the country became settled. I have had in my possession, and seen in the possession of settlers the tusks of very old boars that must have lived for many years where they were obtained, showing clearly that the pigs were not merely surplus stock escaped from the settlers and gone wild but genuine old Maori pigs. In fact the long pointed snout, long legs, and nondescript colours of the true wild pig showed them to be quite a different breed from
the settlers' imported pig. Their flesh, too, tasted quite different from pork, being more like venison than anything else. But pig-hunting, the New Zealand sport of sports, has long become only a tradition of the past.
So, too, the wild dog (Canis familiaris) is now unknown. For some years after the settlers arrived here the wild dog was the terror of the flockmaster, and the object of his inveterate hostility. The damage sustained by many settlers was very great, and rewards were offered and paid for the destruction of this predatory animal. It was not always or habitually that the wild dog attacked the flocks, for even where there were numbers of them weeks would go past without the loss of any sheep, and this shows that they must have had other means of subsistence which they depended principally upon, and which they must, indeed, have entirely depended upon before the introduction of sheep by the settlers into the country. But when the peculiar wail or howl of the wild dog was heard in the still night air, a sound which I cannot describe to you, but having something peculiarly weird and unearthly about it, quite different from the howl of any ordinary dog, and one which once heard by you could never be forgotten, then the shepherds with their dogs and guns had to turn out and save the defenceless flock. Most exciting accounts were sometimes told of the hunting of these wild dogs, for it was a curious fact that, as a rule, they ran from any tame dog, and that tame dogs, as a rule, would follow and attack them with all their masters' antipathy. Of course there were exceptions; where, for instance, a wild dog happened to be, as sometimes was the case, a pig dog of the bull-terrier breed gone wild from the Maori or whaling settlements. But the bulk of the wild dogs were not domestic animals gone wild, but the true old Maori wild dog. I know that this statement will be questioned by many who have never believed that there were genuine old-identity wild dogs in New Zealand before Europeans brought them here, even though Captain Cook, in his first voyage to New Zealand, p. 184, states:—“In this country there are no quadrupeds but dogs and rats, at least we saw no other, and the rats are so scarce that many of us never saw them. The dogs live with the people who breed them for no other purpose than to eat; there might indeed be quadrupeds that we did not see; but this is not probable because the chief pride of the natives with respect to their dress is in the skins and hair of such animals as they have, and we never saw the skin of any animal about them, but those of dogs and birds.” But the fact of their existence is now pretty well settled, first by the fact of actual specimens of two having been shot some years ago at the Wyndham, and their skeletons preserved now in the British Museum, and the skin of one of them in the Colonial Museum, and by the fact of the finding of the remains of a dog in Taranaki some nineteen feet below the surface, as detailed in a paper by
Dr. Hector in the last volume of the “Transactions.” And all these specimens agree pretty well in their general characters and “are unlike any other of the many breeds of dog with which we are familiar.” At any rate, whatever their breed, there is no doubt that they were invariably the first and most pressing danger which the squatter had to encounter in going out beyond the lines of settlement and taking up new country, into whatever part of the province he happened to go. Now the wild dog is certainly extinct.
But though now saved from this scourge, the runholder has to do battle with a more serious though less ferocious enemy. It is a matter of notoriety the rapidity and universality with which the rabbit (Lepus cuniculus) has overspread the province, and the tremendous loss which it is now entailing upon many runholders. Not many years ago there were no rabbits known as wild in the province, and you have only to look to various official documents, including the Report of a Special Commission, appointed by Government to advise on the subject, to be satisfied to what a serious extent they have multiplied. These documents contain full and ample information on the subject, and render it unnecessary for me here to do anything more than merely refer to this as one of the most extensive changes that has taken place in our fauna.
I cannot, however, refrain from expressing an opinion, which I have mentioned more than once before at our meetings, that if our settlers were a little more careful in protecting the weka or native wood-hen, Ocydromus australis, they would find in it one of the most effectual checks to the undue increase of the rabbit, mainly, of course, by its entering the breeding burrows and destroying the young.
At the beginning of this paper I proposed to pass on now to the consideration of some marked changes in the flora of the province which have been specially observed by me, and then to have discussed some of the general questions involved in the facts put before you with a view to the elucidation of the lines along which our observations in future ought to be directed, but my narrative has taken more of a popular character than I at first intended, and has already extended to such an undue length that I must leave these for some future time.
Note on the Wild Dog. By W. D.) Murison.
It was in the early part of 1858 that I first learned that wild dogs existed in numbers in the interior. I had previously heard of losses of sheep from dogs on the few runs then taken up on the coast, but it was never clearly known that these were occasioned by the animal which we afterwards knew
as the “wild dog.” In 1858 my brother and I took up country in the Maniototo Plains, and decided upon stocking it with sheep as soon as possible. We selected the Shag Valley as the route by which to approach the interior, and it took us several months to form a track before our bullock dray could reach the plains. The furthest back settler at that time was Mr. Charles Hopkinson, whose station was on the spot at Waihemo upon which Colonel Kitchener's house is now built. Mr. Hopkinson, who had visited the plains, was of opinion that the wild dogs would be found to be very troublesome to the sheep, and he advised us to get kangaroo dogs for the purpose of keeping them down. These we were fortunate enough to obtain, and they proved of infinite service to us as hunters. In the spring of 1858 we encountered the first wild dog when camped at the Swinburn on the east side of the Maniototo Plains. He was soon brought down by the kangaroos, one of which had tasted dingo blood in Australia. This particular wild dog was yellow in colour, and so was the second we killed, but the bulk of those ultimately destroyed by us were black and white, showing a marked mixture of the collie. The yellow dogs looked like a distinct breed. They were low set with short prick ears, broad forehead, sharp snout, and bushy tail. Indeed, those acquainted with the dingo professed to see little difference between that animal and the New Zealand yellow wild dog. It may be remarked, however, that most of the other dogs we killed, although variously coloured, possessed nearly all the other characteristics of the yellow dog.
The wild dog, of course, at once proved himself to be the natural enemy of the sheep. Fortunately, however, during the two years which marked their presence in the district, we sustained no very great loss from his ravages. This was due partly to the constant watchfulness of the shepherds and to the circumstance of the flocks being depastured on comparatively level country. The wild dogs were generally to be met with in twos or threes; they fed chiefly on quail, ground larks, young ducks, and occasionally on pigs. On one occasion, when riding through the Ida-burn Valley we came across four wild dogs baiting a sow and her litter of young ones in a dry tussocky lagoon. To our annoyance, our own dogs joined in the attack upon the sow, and the wild dogs got away without our getting one of them. We invariably found, however, when hunting the wild dog on a scent that our kangaroos would leave it, if crossed by the fresh scent of a wild pig.
That the yellow dog already referred to is the remnant of a breed which has existed in New Zealand, I think there can be no doubt. In addition to the evidence which has already been brought to bear in proof of this supposition, I may mention that, about twelve years ago, the jaw-bone of a dog was found in an old Maori oven, some few hundred yards from our
homestead, at the foot of Roughridge. The oven must have been pretty old, as it was covered by about a foot of silt, and the bone in question was amongst a quantity of moa bones, fragments of moa egg-shell, and chert flakes. This interesting relic is now in the Colonial Museum at Wellington.
In conclusion, let me add that I have now before me an old note-book containing a record of the dogs killed by our party in our pioneer days. The entries were made at the time. In all we destroyed fifty-two, thirty-one of which were males and twenty-one females. The first was killed at Swinburn on the 28th September, 1858, the last on the banks of the Upper Taieri on the 10th December, 1860. By far the greater number were killed on the Roughridge side of the plains.