[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 3rd February, 1883.]
That “National health is national wealth,” has become a firmly fixed article of belief among all modern thinkers. Much has been written upon the resources of New Zealand: authors have described in glowing words its boundless mineral wealth, and the luxuriant fertility of its rich soil. A few have touched upon the healthiness of the climate, but these latter have
made statements chiefly consisting of vague and shadowy beliefs, and not the results of patient enquiries. Upwards of forty years have come and gone since this colony was founded, and since 1874 the censuses have been so many and so accurate, and the population so large, as to afford us a sufficient supply of facts whereon to base the statements made by us. In the childhood of the colony several army surgeons collected statistics of the healthiness of the troops stationed in it, and compared these with those of our soldiers quartered in other parts of the globe. These statistics, though few, pointed strongly to the fact that the climate of New Zealand was good.
In conjunction with my friend Mr. Frankland I proposed to examine carefully what were the grounds on which this belief was based. We agreed to contribute a joint paper. Subsequently this plan was slightly changed, but the statistics in this paper were all supplied by him, and of their accuracy there can be no question. Mr. Frankland's great mathematical powers and his long and thorough acquaintance with the vital statistics of the colony are an absolute guarantee of their correctness.
Any physician investigating the question whether this colony is or is not healthy, would make search for diseases, old and new; for diseases well known to him and for diseases hitherto unrecognized. He would draw up a list of prevalent diseases, just as a botanist or geologist would prepare lists of plants and rocks.
Subjoined is a list (No. I.) of diseases known to exist in this colony and another (No. II.) of diseases not yet imported, whilst the last list (No. III.) shows the list of diseases peculiar to these islands. Though I have taken great pains and made many enquiries for the purposes of making these lists as accurate as possible, it must be remembered that no such lists as the first two can be perfect. Of one thing we are certain, viz., that all the diseases named in No. I. have actually obtained in New Zealand. It is possible that a few in No. II. may also have existed. These lists are compiled from various sources. The Registrar-General's returns are valuable only for diseases which kill; they take no heed of the others.
An examination of these lists shows us that people coming to this colony have no need to fear that they run a risk of catching new diseases, for the only indigenous diseases are the bite of the katipo, and very rare deaths from the eating of two or three different kinds of poisonous berries. From the Maoris, the original inhabitants, we have not acquired one single disease. They have not one new disease of their own. Earlier writers on the colony talk of a disease called ngerengere, but this is merely a variety of pure leprosy, which is common to all the Polynesian inhabitants of the Pacific isles. It presents no feature worthy of notice, except that it is fast disappearing, and is far less common now than it was forty years ago. Probably
there are not above twenty-five cases in all New Zealand. This disease has not been communicated to Europeans. It is true leprosy occurs in the colony, but it is the sporadic leprosy obtaining rarely in Great Britain.
The Maoris, the original inhabitants of these islands, never at any time formed a dense population, consequently the soil was never polluted with excreta and the dead as in older countries.
The European emigrants to these bountiful isles, come to lands free from any new disease, unfortunately they have brought most of their own, and in time will bring more; but it is a remarkable fact that in the country itself there is no new disease. Neither soil nor water, nor atmosphere, produce specific disease germs, or new diseases due to other conditions.
Had it been possible to maintain a rigorous and perfect system of quarantine, these isles might have been kept for ever free from typhoid, measles, and other zymotic diseases. It should be one of the chief aims of the Government and the people to prevent the introduction of those not yet brought hither.