Art. VI.—On the Moa.
Plates IV. and V..
[Read before the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, 10th June, 1878, and 13th October, 1879.]
For some time past I have been thinking of bringing this interesting subject before you, and that for several reasons.
Because this animal is purely a New Zealand one, and not only so, but it is, I think I may safely say, to be classed among the animal wonders of the world.
Because here in Hawke's Bay (Napier) but little is known of it—nothing indeed when compared with Christchurch, Wellington, and other towns, where also fine specimens of its entire skeleton may be seen in the Museums.* I believe that I may fairly infer, that not a few of you present have not yet heard any account of it—never yet seen any of its bones, save these which I now lay before you, † much less an entire mounted skeleton, such as are in those photographs, now on the table, procured from Christchurch.
[Footnote] * Here in Hawke's Bay, during the whole term of my residence (over 35 years), but very few bones of the Moa have been found, and those singly, scattered, and broken. Nevertheless, on one occasion, about twenty years ago, the men at work on the Middle Road (between Havelock and the entrance to the Kaokaoroa Valley), in making a cutting in the side of a hill, found, either the whole skeleton of a large Moa, or the bones of several all together, deeply embedded among or under the limestone. I did not hear of it until some time after, and, on my visiting the spot, I found that the whole of the bones had been smashed up and mixed with the clay and limestone from the cutting where they were found; in fact many of them fell to pieces on being exposed to the sun and air. I obtained, however, a few small pieces of the shank of a tibia and of a tarsus, which were of remarkable thickness, I think the thickest by far that I had ever seen. They had been partly converted into a kind of lime, and were wholly as white as the impure limestone in which they were found, and scarcely at first sight distinguishable from it. A few years ago a fine specimen of a tibia, in fair preservation, measuring two feet eight inches, was found near Patangata: this I now have.
[Footnote] † These were, a pair each of Femora, Tibiæ, and Tarsi, all from one Moa, found in situ, with other bones, at Poverty Bay, about thirty years ago. The tibiæ measure two feet five inches each, and the whole are in excellent preservation.
Because I diligently sought after it, and wrote very early about it, before New Zealand became a colony, in 1838–1842; and yet, though that early paper had been twice published, both in Tasmania and in England, I do not think there is a single copy in the Colony save my own. Indeed, I have failed to procure one at any price in London.
Because that early-written paper on the Moa has been frequently referred to and quoted in many scientific works published in Europe and America, as well as by Dr. Von Haast in the volumes of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute” in our Library.
Because I have been subsequently repeatedly written to, appealed to, and importuned, both from Europe and within the Colony, respecting what I had published, and also asked to add to what I first made known about it.
Because I have, during the past few years, been again seeking from every possible source to gather up anything that was left concerning the Moa.
Those are among the chief reasons which incline me now to bring this subject before you. I think you will agree with me as to their validity.
I propose, therefore, to divide my paper into two parts—1. What I originally wrote on the Moa (which being wholly unknown to you will be new); and 2. To bring before you all additional information which I have subsequently gleaned respecting it.
Part I.—What I originally wrote on the Moa.
“An Account of some enormous Fossil Bones of an unknown Species of the Class Aves, lately discovered in New Zealand.”*
During the summer of 1838, I accompanied the Rev. W. Williams on a visit to the tribes inhabiting the East Cape district. Whilst at Waiapu (a thickly inhabited locality about twenty miles S.W. from the East Cape), I heard from the natives of a certain monstrous animal; while some said it was a bird, and others “a person,” all agreed that it was called a Moa; that in general appearance it somewhat resembled an immense domestic cock, with the difference, however, of its having a “face like a man;” that it dwelt in a cavern in the precipitous side of a mountain; that it lived on air; and that it was attended or guarded by two immense Tuataras, † who, Argus-like, kept incessant watch while the Moa slept; also, that if any one ventured to approach the dwelling of this wonderful creature, he would be invariably trampled on and killed by it.
[Footnote] * My first paper was written early in 1842, and published with two plates of bones of the Moa in the “Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science,” Vol. II., part 7: this was subsequently republished in England, by Professor Owen, in the “Annals and Magazine of Natural History,” Vol. XIV., p. 81, with the above title.
[Footnote] † See Note A, Appendix I.
A mountain named Whakapunake, at least eighty miles distant in a southerly direction, was spoken of as the residence of this creature; here, however, only one existed, which, it was generally contended, was the sole survivor of the Moa race. Yet they could not assign any possible reason why it should have become all but extinct.
While, however, the existence of the Moa was universally believed (in fact, to dare to doubt of such a being amounted, in the native estimation, to a very high crime), no one person could be found who could positively testify to his having had ocular demonstration of it; for while with every one it was a matter of the profoundest credence, that belief only rested on the bare and unsupported assertion of others. Many of the natives, however, had from time to time seen very large bones; larger, from their account, than those of an ox; these bones they cut up into small pieces for the purpose of fastening to their fish-hooks as a lure instead of the Haliotis* shell, it answering that purpose much better, from its going more equably through the water.
It was almost ludicrous, whilst at the same time it showed the powerful effect which this belief of theirs had over them, to witness their unconcealed fear, almost amounting to horror, on requesting them to go to the residence of the Moa to procure it, or to act as our guides thither for that purpose. Unlike, too, what has been very frequently observed in savage nations, this fear seemed not to arise from any degree of superstitious dread, but merely from an abiding conviction of the physical powers of this prodigious animal; as well as from their belief of the moral certainty of such powers being put into immediate action if they dared to intrude within the precincts of this creature's resort.
As a matter of course, I treated the whole story (so far as related to the present existence of such an animal) as fabulous; looking on it as one more of those many peculiar tales and legends which so abounded in the “olden time,” and which every nation under heaven invariably possesses. I could not but think, however, what an excellent companion for the celebrated Roc† of oriental story and nursery fairy-tale it would have made, had it but been known a little earlier: for, however some few grown-up persons may still delight in reading such marvellous exploits, parents generally, I think, have come to the wise conclusion to prohibit their introduction to the rising generation.
On our return to the Bay of Islands, several natives from the East Cape district accompanied us. From them I subsequently received pretty nearly the same details concerning the Moa, as I had given me before when in that neighbourhood.
[Footnote] * See Note B, Appendix I.
[Footnote] † See Note C, Appendix I.
In the following year, 1839, the Rev. W. Williams again visited that district, accompanied by the Rev. K. Taylor. The non-arrival of the vessel by which these gentlemen were to return to the Bay of Islands, which caused them a fortnight's detention at the East Cape), afforded them much more leisure time than I had when there. Mr. Taylor, hearing of this Moa, prosecuted his enquiries, and was subsequently rewarded with the discovery of (what appeared to be) a part of a fossil toe (or rather claw) of some gigantic bird of former days.
In the summer of 1841–2, I again visited those parts. At Waiapu I gained the information, that Whakapunake (the mountain where the Moa was said to reside) had been visited by some baptized natives, purposely to ascertain the truth of the common belief; and which they declared to be altogether without foundation; finding neither cavern, nor lizard-guards, nor Moa, nor any signs of such uncommon lusus naturæ. But what was of far greater interest to me than this relation of theirs, were some bones which I had the good fortune to procure from them, and which were declared by the natives to be true Moa bones. These bones, seven in number, were all imperfect, and comprised five femora, one tibia, and one which I have not yet been able satisfactorily to determine. The largest femur, consisting of the diaphysis only without the processes, measured eight inches in length, and four and three-quarter inches in girth in the narrowest part. The portion of the tibia (which, like the femur, consisted only of the middle part), measured in length six inches, and in circumference four inches at the narrowest, and five inches at the widest part. The still remaining bone, the largest of all, which was merely a section, measured in length six inches, and in circumference seven and a quarter inches in the smallest part. These bones were all (excepting the last mentioned) of a very dark colour, almost a ferruginous brown, and appeared to have entirely lost their oily matter. They were very stout, especially the tibia, and were strongly marked and indented on the outside with muscular impressions. Within, what little remained of the reticulated cells appeared to be nearly perfect. They were all found by the natives in the Waiapu river, and were collected by them for the purpose of cutting-up and attaching to their fish-hooks, in order to fish. The portion of tibia which I obtained had been sawn across by the native in whose possession it was, for that purpose. I also obtained several hooks, each having portions of the bones of the Moa attached to it. I could not, however, ascertain, from the smallness of the slips, whether these had been originally cut out of such bones as those I had just procured, or whether they had not been sawn from bone of a different description and larger size.
Leaving Waiapu, and proceeding on by the coast towards the south, I arrived at Poverty Bay, where the Rev. W. Williams resided. This gentleman had had the good fortune to procure a nearly whole tibia of an immense bird, without, however, the entire processes of either end. This bone measured about eighteen inches in length, and was proportionably thick. Mr. Williams wishing to send this unique relic to Oxford, I left a pair of femora to accompany t, in order, if possible, to obtain from that seat of learning some light on these increasingly interesting remains. At Poverty Bay I made several enquiries after Moa bones, but to little purpose, as I could not obtain any.
Quitting Poverty Bay, and still travelling in a southerly direction, I soon came within sight of Whakapunake, the mountain celebrated as the residence of the only surviving Moa. As natives lived about its base, among whom my route lay, I looked forward with no small degree of interest to the chance of obtaining some relics of the Moa in this locality; in this, however, I was disappointed. At the close of the second day's travel we arrived at Te Reinga (a village situated at the foot of the mountain), where, as opportunity offered, I enquired of the natives relative to the Moa. They, in reply to my reiterated queries, said that he lived there in the mountain, although they had never seen him; still the Moa bones were very commonly seen after floods occasioned by heavy rains, when they would be washed up on the banks of gravel in the sides of the rivers and exposed to their view; at this time, however, they had not any by them. I offered large rewards for any that should be found hereafter, and which were to be taken to Mr. Williams, at Poverty Bay. Here, as at Waiapu, no one person could be found who possessed the hardihood positively to assert that he had seen this Moa, although this neighbourhood had ever been the dwelling-place of this tribe. The mountain, too, it appeared was by no means unknown to them; for, during a war between themselves and the Urewera tribe a few years ago, they had fled for refuge to their stronghold on the top of Whakapunake, where they had lived for some time, and where many of their relatives eventually fell into the hands of the enemy, who starved them into a surrender and took the place. Here, then, was still further proof, if proof were wanting, that no such colossal animal could possibly at this time be existing in this place. The spot, however, was well chosen for the fiction of such a creature's residence: a huge, table-topped and lofty mountain, covered with primæval forests of gloomy pines; its brow singularly adorned with a horizontal stratum of whitish sandstone, which ran continuously and precipitously for more than two miles. At the base of the mountain ran the river Whangaroa, down which we paddled in canoes for some distance. This river is a branch of the Wairoa river, which disembogues into Hawke's Bay.
These natives further informed me that a Moa resided in a certain high mountain in Te Whaiiti district, nearly five days' journey into the interior, in a N.W. direction from the place where we now were, and that there I should find people who had actually seen the animal. If I was little inclined to believe in the story of its existence before, I was much less inclined to do so now; however, as my route lay that way, I noticed this information among my memoranda, determining to make every possible enquiry after it.
Fifteen days after this I arrived at Te Whaiiti, the principal village of that district, and not far from the residence of the second Moa. Here, however, as before, the people had never seen a Moa, although they had always heard of, and invariably believed in, the existence of such a creature at that place. They, too, had not any bones in their possession; though such, they said, were very commonly seen after heavy floods. The following day I passed close by the mountain where this Moa had resided for so many years, but noticed nothing more than usual (although I availed myself to the utmost of the use of my pocket telescope), save that this part of the country had a much more barren and desolate appearance than any I had hitherto witnessed.
I returned in the autumn to the Bay of Islands, without gleaning any further information relative to the Moa.
It should, however, appear (from information which I have recently received from the Rev. W. Williams), that, very shortly after my leaving Poverty Bay, a Moa bone was brought him by a native, which he immediately purchased. The natives in the neighbourhood hearing of a price being given for such an article as a bone, which they had ever considered as of little worth, were stimulated to exertion, and a great number, perhaps more than a hundred persons, were soon engaged in the field, actively searching, after Moa bones; the result was that Mr. Williams soon had the pleasure of receiving a large quantity of fossil bones, some of which were of an enormous size, and in a good state of preservation. The bones, though numerous, were not in any great variety, chiefly comprising such as I have already mentioned, i.e., those of the femur and tibia, together with those of the tarsus, the lower part of the dorsal vertebræ, and a portion of the pelvis. Altogether the bones of nearly thirty birds, apparently of one species only, must have been brought to Mr. Williams. From the great difference in the sizes of some of them when compared with each other, Mr. Williams came to the conclusion that the animal to which they once belonged must have been very long-lived. Whilst, however, I do not perceive how far this inference is to be correctly deduced from the mere difference in the size of the bones, we know that longevity is common to very many of the feathered
race, particularly to those of the larger kinds. One of the bones, a tibia,* measured two feet ten inches in length, and was proportionably thick. Two others measured, each, two feet six inches in length. Another, a section of a femur, measured eight inches in circumference in the smallest part. On putting together the bones of the leg and thigh (although none of them exactly fitted), and making the necessary allowance for the portions deficient of the processes of the joints, the intermediate cartilages, and lower tendons and integuments of the foot, we obtain, at least, six feet of the lower extremities of a bird; which, supposing its upper parts to accord in size with the lower ones, must have measured in altitude when alive, at the lowest rate of calculation, from fourteen to sixteen feet—an enormous feathered monster, well worthy, from its gigantic size, of being classed with the Megalosaurus of Buckland and the Mastodon of Cuvier.
It so happened that about this time a mechanic, who had been living at Cloudy Bay, in the Middle Island, came to reside at Poverty Bay. He stated that this bird now existed in the high hills near Cloudy Bay; and that two Americans, residents at that place, hearing from, a native that such a bird lived on the mountainous and snowy heights, provided themselves with arms, and, thus equipped, went in high expectation of shooting one, taking the native with them as their guide. They ascended the mountain to the place where these birds resort, where, at the native's request, they hid themselves behind some bushes. Presently they saw the monster majestically stalking down in search of food; they were, however, so petrified with horror at the sight as to be utterly unable to fire on him. Had they commenced the combat, it is, I think, highly doubtful how it might have terminated. I think it very probable that they would have found themselves in a much worse situation than the Trojan chief and his followers did in their celebrated conflict with the harpies; so energetically and deploringly described by the poet in these lines:—
“Ergò, ubi delapsæ sonitum per curva deděre
Littora; dat signum speculâ Misenus ab altâ
ære cavo: invadunt socii, et nova prælia tentant,
Obscœnas pelagi ferro fædare volucres.
Sed neque vim plumis ullam, nec vulnera tergo
Accipiunt.”†—ÆN. lib. iii., 238.
[Footnote] * This has been sent by Mr. Williams, with several others, to Professor Buckland.
[Footnote] † For the benefit of the English reader, I give Dryden's translation of the passage from the celebrated Latin poet:—
“Then when along the crooked shore we hear
Their clatt'ring wings, and saw the foes appear,
Misenus sounds a charge: we take th' alarm,
And our strong hands with swords and bucklers arm.
In this new kind of combat, all employ
Their utmost force the monsters to destroy.—
In vain:—the fated skin is proof to wounds;
And from their plumes the shining sword rebounds.”—Book iii., 311.
To return;—they observed him for near an hour, ere he retired, and were glad enough at last to make their escape from witnessing a meal, where, like him of old, instead of eating, they were all but eaten! They described this animal as being about fourteen or sixteen feet in height.
The bones from which the annexed drawings* [Pl. IV. and V.] were made, were all found at Turanga, Poverty Bay. They comprise a tibia, a femur, a tarsus, and a fragment of a pelvis and dorsal vertebræ of a Moa. They are very stout, are deeply marked with muscular impressions, and are in a good state of preservation. 1. The tibia, which is nearly perfect, measures thirty inches in length, and in girth, at the largest end (where it was much broken away at the edges of the processes, and consequently reduced in size), sixteen and a half inches; at the smallest end twelve and a half inches, and in the smallest part, near the middle of the bone, five and a quarter inches. There are not any remains of a fibula, however rudimentary, attached to the tibia, nor is there any apparent mark of attachment to indicate that such formerly adhered thereto. The largest tibia yet found, in nearly a perfect state, measured four inches more in length than this.† 2. The femur, which also is nearly perfect, measures in length thirteen inches; in girth, at the one end over the head of the femur, eleven and a quarter inches; at the thickest end twelve and a half inches; and in the smallest part five and a half inches: the reticulated muscular impressions on this bone are very numerous and well defined. I have seen a portion of a femur, the small part of which measured in girth eight inches. The one, however, from which the drawing was taken, though not so large, was more perfect; and it was in consequence of its being so that it was selected for the purpose. 3. The tarsus (a small one), nearly perfect, measures in length ten inches, and in girth at one end nine inches, and at the opposite end eight inches, and in the smallest part four inches; this bone is comparatively very short and flat, and has articulations for only three toes. 4. The portion of the bone of the back and pelvis is not so perfect, being a very much-broken fragment, comprising from the upper and outer edge of the acetabulum to the lower joint of the dorsal vertebræ, in which the canal for the medulla spinalis is perfect. This bone, or rather fragment, measures, from the outer edge of the articulation of the head of the os femoris to the outer broken edge of the bone (which is that portion approaching towards the upper part of the bone of the pelvis), eleven inches; and across the inner and smallest part of the bone, immediately beneath the
[Footnote] * Drawings of these bones were sent to the Tasmanian Society, and published with the original monograph in their Journal.
[Footnote] †I much regret that I had not an opportunity of inspecting the largest and most perfect bones ere they were sent to England. A vessel sailing from Turanga for Port Nicholson, by which opportunity they were sent, was the reason of my not seeing them.
last of the dorsal vertebræ, where it was most perfect, seven inches. A correct idea cannot, however, be given of such a fragment as this, through the medium of a written description. This bone evidently differs very considerably from such bones in other birds, in its peculiar carinated shape in that portion of it which must have formed the highest part of the lumbar region; it must have been also considerably larger when entire, as the whole of the upper ridge is much broken. This bone is, also, very deeply indented with muscular impressions.
Having thus given, it is to be feared, rather a tedious detail of the Moa, and of the bones hitherto found, little remains at present than deferentially to offer a few remarks on the bones in question, and these suggestions may be noticed under two general heads: Firstly, does the Moa now exist, or, at what period of time is it probable that it existed? Secondly, to what order or family can we reasonably suppose the Moa to belong?
It is very true that at this time we have but little to assist us in our search; nevertheless, let us commence and prosecute our enquiry, considering such aids as may present themselves to our notice in the course of our investigation at all bearing on the subject before us.
Our first enquiry, then, will be, Does the Moa now exist, or, at what period of time is it probable that it did exist? To the first of these queries I reply, that it is my opinion that the species whose bones we have now before us does no longer exist, at least in New Zealand. A few reasons for this opinion of mine I will here adduce.
From my knowledge of the New Zealander, I can but believe that there is no part of his native land which has not been at one time or other trod by him, however mountainous or dreary it may be. As a proof of this, I might mention their having proper names for every portion of land and water, whether hill or dale, lake or running stream; and their never being at a loss in describing distant or unfrequented parts of their own country, some one or other present among the “listening crowd” having either visited the places spoken of, or received a narration from some one who had. Now, as no New Zealander is to be found who can positively state that he has actually seen such a bird, and as every nook and corner of the land is well known to the natives, I conclude that the animal in question no longer exists in New Zealand. In recording this opinion, it will be seen that I pay no attention whatever to the strange and fearful account of the Moa given by some natives, a relation which carries with it its own proof of being false; as I know full well the powers of the New Zealander for romance. The account, too, furnished to the Rev. W. Williams from the two American settlers, I also, in like manner, reject; but only as far as the bird whose bones we have before us is concerned. A very large and peculiar bird may exist
in the mountainous districts of the Middle Island; in fact, we know that several large birds, well known to the natives, though hitherto unknown to science, live on the high hills in the North Island. But I cannot persuade myself to receive one man's relation as perfectly correct in every particular, against the united testimony of those persons from among the different tribes of the Northern Island with whom I have conversed on the subject.*
In thus, however, disposing of that part of the question relative to the present existence of the Moa, we have still to enquire, at what period of time is it probable that this bird existed? And here, I think, we have to consider: first, the situation in which the bones are found; and, second, any additional evidence which native tradition may be able to afford us.
The Moa bones, as far as I have been able to ascertain, have hitherto been only found within the waters and channels of those rivers which disembogue into the Southern Ocean, between the East Cape and the South Head of Hawke's Bay, on the East Coast of the Northern Island of New Zealand. And, as I have before observed, they are only, when wanted, sought for after floods occasioned by heavy rains, when, on the subsiding of the waters, they are found deposited on the banks of gravel, etc., in the shallowest parts of the rivers. These rivers are, in several places, at a considerable depth below the present surface of the soil,† often possessing a great inclination, at once perceived by the rapidity of their waters. They all have more or less of a delta near their mouths, from a slight inspection of which it is known that their channels have, in those places at least, considerably changed. The rocks and strata in these localities indicate both secondary and tertiary formations; consisting, the former of argillaceous schist, sandstone, conglomerate, greensand, etc.; the latter of clay, marl, calcareous tufa, sand, gravel, and alluvial deposits. The real depositum, however, of the Moa bones is not certainly known. For my own part, I am inclined to believe, from a consideration of the depths of the channels of the rivers, and of the class and situation of the prevailing rocks and beds of strata in those parts, that they will be found lying embedded in the upper stratum of the secondary, or the lower strata of the tertiary formation; and not, I think, improbably in beds of shingle, the
[Footnote] *See Note D, Appendix I.
[Footnote] † The rivers at Waiapu and Turanga have high banks on either side, even where the country is a plain of rich alluvial deposit. Near Mangaruhe, and also near Whataroa (three days' journey inland from Poverty Bay), I descended the almost perpendicular banks of the river which falls into the Wairoa, where they were from thirty to sixty feet in height. This height they apparently preserved as far as the eye could trace them from the summits of the neighbouring hills. The Wairoa is a large river which disembogues into Hawke's Bay.
detritus of the deluge. In this opinion I, with some degree of diffidence, venture to differ from that of a respected and talented friend of mine, who supposes them to be of a much later period, and brought down from the mountains by the winter torrents; but, if they were thus conveyed from the mountains by the waters, the incessant rolling and friction to which they would have inevitably been exposed, would not only have broken off their finer parts, but would have also much battered and worn what remained. In all the specimens which I have yet seen, this, however, is not the case; for though broken and imperfect, they never appear to have been worn nor battered by friction, nor subject in any way to the action of water.
It has been alleged, that it is “in situations beyond the reach of river deposits that the fossil bones of ancient animals are usually found. “Whilst, however, for the avoiding of unnecessary argument, I grant this as a general rule, I would remark, that I do not for a moment suppose that the bones of the Moa are deposited in the beds of those rivers in which they have hitherto been met with. No; they show by their appearance that their place of concealment is not in water; and they equally, I think, indicate that their deposition has been in places effectually excluded from light and air, a fact which is, in my opinion, incontestably proved by the natives never meeting with them but when washed up or appearing on the beds of gravel in the rivers. We should not forget that the immense Megatherium was originally discovered by M. Sellon on the banks of the Arapey; and the greater part of an entire skeleton of that animal (which was brought to England by Mr. Paris, the English Consul at Buenos Ayres), was found by a peasant, half covered with water, in the river Salado.
From native tradition we gain nothing to aid us in our enquiries after the probable age in which this animal lived; for although the New Zealander abounds in traditionary lore, both natural and supernatural, he appears to be totally ignorant of anything concerning the Moa, save the fabulous stories already referred to. If such an animal ever existed within the times of the present race of New Zealanders, surely, to a people possessing no quadruped,* and but very scantily supplied with both animal and vegetable food, the chase and capture of such a creature would not only be a grand achievement, but one also, from its importance, not likely ever to be forgotten; seeing, too, that many things of comparatively minor importance are by them handed down from father to son in continued succession, from the very night of history. Even fishes, birds, and plants (anciently sought after with avidity as articles of food, and now, if not altogether, very nearly
[Footnote] * The only quadrupeds indigenous to New Zealand are a dog, a small rat, a few Saurians, a bat, and, on the coast, one or two species of seal. [This note is a long one of nearly two pages in the original monograph, describing those animals. I omit it here, —W.C.]
extinct), although never having been seen by either the passing or the rising generation of aborigines, are, notwithstanding, both in habit and uses, well known to them from the descriptive accounts repeatedly rehearsed in their hearing by the old men of the villages, descendants of ancient days. This very silence, however, I embrace as a valuable auxiliary evidence, bearing me out not a little in my conjecture, that the bones of the Moa will probably be found lying either in the upper stratum of the secondary, or the lower strata of the tertiary formation. In fact, unless we suppose this immense bird to have existed at a period prior to the peopling of these islands by their present aboriginal inhabitants, how are we to account for its becoming extinct, and, like the Dodo, blotted out of the list of the feathered race? From the bones of about thirty birds found at Turanga in a very short time and with very little labour, we can but infer that it once lived in some considerable numbers; and, from the size of those bones, we conclude the animal to have been powerful as well as numerous. What enemies, then, had it to contend with in these islands—where, from its colossal size, it must have been paramount lord of the creation—that it should have ceased to be? Man, the only antagonist at all able to cope with it, we have already shown as being entirely ignorant of its habits, use, and manner of capture, as well as utterly unable to assign any reason why it should have thus perished.
The period of time, then, in which I venture to conceive it most probable the Moa existed, was certainly either antecedent to or contemporaneous with, the peopling of these islands by the present race of New Zealanders.
But we will proceed, and endeavour to ascertain (as we proposed in the second place to do) to what order or family it is likely that the Moa belongs? In making this enquiry, we have little to assist us but the bones before us; and these, from the writer's situation in this land, without any known osteologic specimens for comparison, or any scientific books for reference, and also from the bones being so few in variety, will, he fears, afford him but little help.
From an attentive consideration, however, of these bones, we are necessarily led to conclude that the animal must have been of large size and great strength; and from the shortness of the tarsus (when compared with the length of the tibia) we also perceive it to have been short-legged. From its size, we shall naturally be led to seek for its affinities among either the Raptorial or Rasorial Orders; but from its tarsi possessing only articulations for three toes, we are at once precluded from supposing that it belonged to the former order; to which we may also add, first, the negative evidence that not a single specimen or fragment of a wing-bone has yet been found; and, second, the judicious observation of Cuvier (in
reference to the family of Struthionidæ), that it would be morally impossible to fit such heavy bodies with wings sufficient to enable them to fly.* In the latter, however (the Gallinaceous or Rasorial Order), we have the largest and stoutest birds known. These, too, are terrestrial in their habits, some exclusively so, and very often possess only three toes. It is true that in general the different known members of the family containing the largest birds have their tarsi long (whereas those of the Moa, as we have already seen, are short). Yet to this we have exceptions in the extinct Dodo and the Apteryx; and I think it is highly worthy of notice, that the latter, the only known existing genus of the family possessing short tarsi, is entirely confined to these islands.
From a conviction, then, that it is in this order only that the affinities of the Moa are to be sought with any prospect of success, and that it is in the family Struthionidæ where they will doubtless eventually be found, we are induced, for the present at least, to place the Moa in that gigantic group. In the absence, however, of a specimen of an Apteryx,† with which to compare the few bones we at present possess of the Moa, I should, I confess, be hazarding an opinion in saying that it was most nearly allied to that peculiar genus; yet when we consider that out of the five existing genera of this family, three at least, apparently possessing the nearest affinities to the remains of the bird before us, belong exclusively to the southernmost parts of the southern hemisphere,‡ and that a connecting link is, as it were, wanting between the Rhea of the Straits of Magellan, the Dromiceius of New Holland, the Casuarius of the Indian Archipelago, and the Apteryx of New Zealand, and that this connecting link may, in all probability, be supplied in the Moa, I think we shall be constrained to assign our Moa a place between the genera Casuarius and Apteryx, possessing as it does (only in a much greater degree) the immense size and strength of the former, combined with the short tarsi, and probably wingless structure, of the latter.
I venture, however, to suppose, that we may gain an additional gleam of light, both upon the probable period at which the Moa existed, and also
[Footnote] * The Baron's words are:—“It appears as if all the muscular power which is at the command of nature would be insufficient to move such immense wings as would be required to support their massive bodies in the air.” (Règne Animal, Class Aves, Ord. V., Fam. 1.) If such were the spontaneous remarks made by that illustrious naturalist, on contemplating the size of the known members of that family, what would he not have said had he but lived to examine the colossal structure of the Moa!
[Footnote] †It has been my good fortune to have at different times several specimens of the Apteryx in my possession; at present, however, I have not one, nor do I know in whose possession one is to be found in New Zealand.
[Footnote] ‡ See Note E, Appendix I.
on the family to which it may be allied, by a consideration of the etymology of its name. The word Moa, whence is it derived? I confess, I know not any New Zealand word from which it may be supposed to have derived its origin. And this will seem the more remarkable when we consider that a very great number of New Zealand appellatives are not only derived and easily traceable, but are also generally highly expressive of some action or quality of the thing itself; chiefly, too, is this to be observed when such action or quality is peculiar or uncommon. But in the Moa, the most uncommon animal New Zealand has ever produced (especially in the estimation of a native), we have a cognomen which seems an entire exception to the common rule; for, as far as I understand it at present, it has, in reference to this immense animal, no meaning whatever. Further, it may not be amiss also to notice, en passant, that it is of rare occurrence in the language to find anything bearing so very short an appellation as the bird in question. In the Friendly, Society, and Sandwich groups, the term “Moa” has been, I believe, invariably given by the natives of those islands to the domestic cock, and used as the proper name for that animal by the missionaries there. The New Zealander, in relating his fabulous account of the Moa, almost invariably said it was like a “tikaokao,” i.e., a cock (they having given the cock that name from its crow, which to them sounded like those letters when drawn out and pronounced after their manner), and that it was adorned with wattles, etc. Without, at all, at present, entering into the question as to what country or countries the existing race of New Zealanders emigrated from to these islands, the popular belief that at least a portion of them is of Malay origin, is, I think, in connection with the name of this bird, worthy of notice; for whilst we know the term “Moa” is used to denote the cock in the Friendly Islands and other groups, it is only in the isles of the Indian Archipelago that the cassowary (Casuarius casoar, Briss.) is to be found; and this bird, too, is “heavy and stoutly built,” and the only one of the whole family of Struthionidæ possessing wattles; for, according to Cuvier, it “has the skin of its head and top of the neck naked, of an azure-blue and fiery-red colour, with pendent caruncles like those of the turkey, and is the largest of all birds next to the ostrich.”* May we not, I would ask, be allowed to conjecture, that in that now long-past period, when the forefathers of the present race of aborigines first landed on these shores, a few of those New Zealand birds might still be found in the most secluded and mountainous retreats, having hitherto escaped the repeated inroads of the original inhabitants; or, we may suppose that the bones only were seen, and identified to belong to a bird by those new-comers, to which, from their real or supposed resem-
[Footnote] * Vide Cuvier “Règne Animal,” Glass Aves, Gen. Casuarius.
blance to those of the cassowary, they gave the name of Moa; the name which that giant bird bore in their fathers' land?
This conjecture, however, may be much more fully established, on ascertaining the name by which the cassowary is known to the present inhabitants of the islands of the Indian Sea.
The ornithology of New Zealand, now that these islands are become a British colony, will soon be known; and we may rest assured, that if such an animal exists, it cannot much longer remain concealed. And, it is further to be hoped, that ere long we shall be able to find somewhat more of the fossil remains of the Moa, so as not merely to form in part conjectural opinions on its size, habits, and affinities, but so as to be well-assured of what this prodigious creature really was.