Art. XXIV.—Notes on some Moa Remains found at the Great Barrier Island during February, 1886.
[Read before the Auckland Institute, 18th October, 1886.]
Before going to the Barrier, in August, 1885, I was told by Mr. G. A. Martin, of the Survey Department, that, when at the island in 1881, he had found some Moa bones close to the Owana River, and not far from the beach. So when we were camped near there at the beginning of the present year, I asked my party, who were in the habit of walking on the beach on Sundays, to look out for Moa bones, which they kindly did, Sunday after Sunday, but without success, until shortly before we left, when Mr. George Malcolm, who had been with Mr. Martin, succeeded in finding some bones, supposed to be those of the Moa. These I brought to town, and submitted to Mr. Cheeseman, who pronounced them to be Moa and Seal bones, which was so far satisfactory, as establishing the fact that Moa bones had for the first time—as I learn from Mr. Cheeseman—been found off the mainland.
These bones comprise—
A portion of a rib;
and belonged, I am informed by Mr. Cheeseman, to one of the smaller species; the leg bones measuring in all about 22 inches, so that the bird must have been about 4 feet in height.
They were found near the surface of the drift sand, about 30 yards distant inland from and 20 feet above high water-mark, spring tides, and almost directly opposite to the mouth of the Owana River, as shown on the plan (Plate XXII.), from which
it will be seen that the river, when within eight chains of the coast, turns almost at right angles and runs parallel with the coast for about 40 chains before joining the sea. On this narrow strip of land, which rises to a height of 330 feet above the sea, a most picturesque, and what must have been an almost impregnable, pa stands, having a perpendicular rock face towards the sea, and a very steep slope inland towards the river. From this fact, and the one that the only dry flat on the island is there, it is reasonable to suppose that it was a favourite camping-ground of the Natives, and that much feasting must at times have been indulged in. Therefore, I think we may conclude that these bones, associated as they were with those of the Seal, formed, with them, in all probability, the remains of a repast.
The most interesting question to decide is whether the bird was found on the island, or taken there, and it is one upon which I cannot venture to express an opinion; but, from the very precipitous, broken, and rocky nature of the island, coupled with the fact that it must, at the time of the Moa, have been almost entirely covered with dense forest, I am inclined to think that if it existed there at all, the Moa would have considerable difficulty in travelling, and would be compelled to come down on to the beaches for a “constitutional,” where it would easily be captured by a Moa-hunter.
In conclusion, I may mention that Mr. Malcolm, who found these bones, is of opinion that they are not as large as those found by Mr. Martin's party. If this is so, it is obvious that more than one Moa was eaten there; and should remains be found at different parts of the island, there will be some foundation for the belief that the bird existed there.