As I happened to know of this man Sutherland as having resided in the locality described, I made inquiry about him, and learnt that he was dead. I, however, found that he had left a son, whom I saw. The young man told me that he had no recollection of his father having mentioned that he had seen a moa, but that he had repeatedly heard old Maoris speak of them as existing in their younger days, and as having disappeared through the wild pigs destroying their eggs, and the large dogs, introduced by the whalers, having killed the young birds—causes which seem very likely ones to have led to such a result.
The following appeared in the Wanganui Chronicle of 17th June, 1893:—
On Tuesday Mr. Drew received a valuable contribution to our local Museum in the shape of the bones of perhaps the most perfect example of a moa yet found in New Zealand. The bones were exposed among the sandhills between the Turakina and Wangaehu Rivers by a late gale, and, having been noticed at once, have been brought to Wanganui in a very perfect condition. Though the skeleton will only stand 4 ½ft high, it is evidently that of an adult bird of a small variety of moa. This is proved not only by the hardness of the bones, but by the fact that, along with them, were many fragments of the shell of an egg, which must have been nearly hatched, as there were also bones of the young chick. It would seem as if the bird had been overwhelmed by the drifting sand while sitting on her nest. Even the bones of the head are complete, which is a very unusual circumstance, as from their fragility they usually get broken as soon as exposed to the weather and the trampling of stock. Along with the bones are the harder portions of the windpipe, which, we believe, had never been previously found under similar circumstances, and seem to point unmistakably to the bird having been alive at a comparatively recent date.
There is an inaccuracy in the report, the bones having been found on the other side of the Wanganui River. It is the only instance in which I have known of tracheal rings being found with moa-bones; and fragments of egg-shells are not often met with in this part. Only a few weeks ago the bones of a moa were found in a cave near Eketahuna by a party of roadmen, who divided them among them, instead of having the sense to collect them carefully and offer them for sale to some museum or collector of curiosities, as a perfect skeleton. I believe that, even when found, many skeletons have been destroyed or dispersed, owing to the ignorance of the finders.
I never could understand how the idea that the moa had been extinct for ages had arisen, since it seems to me that all the real evidence on the subject points to their having survived to quite a recent period—if, indeed, there may not be some in existence at the present day.
In a letter which I received from Professor Hutton, in September, 1892, he said that “in 1866 a smart New-Zealander got up a company in London to catch moas on the West Coast.” This indicates that at that date there must have been a very strong belief in the survival of the birds in that locality; and I remember Mr. G. Roberts, Government surveyor, telling me of one reported to have been seen there at even a later date, I think by some of his own survey party, on the opposite side of a flooded stream. The birds have been repeatedly reported as having been seen on the West Coast.
I was much struck by Mr. Tregear's paper on this subject in last year's Transactions, because the circumstance mentioned by him seems to me to point in the diametrically opposite direction from that which he appeared to think that it indicated. In my early days I read that the domestic fowl was introduced into the South Sea Islands by the missionaries,
and, as I have never met with any statement to the contrary, I believe the information to be correct. If, then, the natives of those islands, on seeing a bird of larger size than the other land-birds with which they were acquainted, and with only imperfect powers of flight, gave it the name of “moa,” it seems to me that they must have had, in some way, a tradition of a struthious bird, so called, haying formerly existed, either in the islands or in the country from which they themselves had come. I see no reason why all the Europeans (mostly uneducated men), who would not be likely to have heard of the moa, who, from time to time, have asserted that they have seen gigantic birds in the colony, should be set down as liars, or why the Maoris should be credited with having invented yarns about the birds to please us pakehas. If the Maoris never saw the bird, how should they have known that the bones belonged to one, and not to a mammal? and how should they have been able to describe its appearance and habits so correctly? I noticed that several of the traditions quoted by Captain Mair mentioned the birds as living in caves, and having red eyes or heads. The frequency with which the bones have been found in caves might give rise to the former idea, but certainly not to the latter; yet it is corroborated by passages in the letters of Mr. Cotterell and Major Lockett; and in the travels of a Swedish naturalist, named Helmholz, who visited Australia a few years back, I read that the Queensland cassowaries, or some of them, have red heads, and are nocturnal in their habits, hiding themselves in the thickest forests during the day. It is curious that all the Europeans who have reported having seen the birds seem to have spoken of doing so either in the evening or very early morning, and that what appears to have been their cry was also only heard at night.
It was from the Maoris that we learnt that the curious little heaps or groups of quartz pebbles scattered about the country were the crop-stones of the moa. But for the fact that they called these collections of white pebbles puku moa (moa's stomachs), and so led us to inquire, I doubt whether the reason of such pebbles being always found in such clusters, and so only, would have been likely to occur even to highly scientific men, though the fact of the stones being so collected had attracted general notice. Forty or forty-five years ago the Wanganui Maoris spoke of the existence of the bird in the vicinity of the Ruahine Range as a certain fact, and some years later a party who had gone up the Oroua River on a prospecting expedition asserted that they had seen a bird answering to the description.
Again, when I mentioned that an old Maori had described the bird to me, fully forty years ago, as fighting by standing on
one leg and striking forward with the other, Sir W. Buller said that this was the practice of all the struthious birds; and his words were corroborated last February by Mr. Bramley, the former curator of the Botanical Gardens at Wellington, who told me that he had had his clothes thus torn by a cassowary, which was formerly in the Gardens, when it was being shipped away; but how should a Maori have known of this practice unless acquainted with the bird? There is also a correspondence between the Maori and European statements as to the general colour of the bird, and the hairlike appearance of its plumage, and an agreement, in both cases, with that of cassowaries, which could hardly have arisen except from the narrators having really seen the birds which they professed to describe.
I think it would be well if some member of the Westland branch of the New Zealand Institute would take the trouble to collect the various notices which have been printed from time to time respecting moas being seen on the west coast of the South Island, and any other information on the subject that can now be obtained there; as the subject is an interesting one, though, perhaps, not of any practical value.