Art. LXV.—Notes on a Visit to Macquarie Island.
[Read before the Otago Institute, 13th November, 1894.]
In the early part of 1894 I endeavoured to make arrangements to go down to Macquarie Island, for the purpose of studying the plants and the general natural history of that remote speck in the southern ocean. I also desired, if possible, to obtain a specimen of the skeleton of the great sea-elephant for the University Museum. There is a good stuffed skin in the collection, but there is no perfect skeleton of an adult male in the museums of the Australasian Colonies. Professor Scott, who visited Macquarie Island in 1880, brought back a good skeleton of a female sea-elephant, which is now in the Medical Museum of the University of Otago. I had several interviews with Mr. Hatch, of Invercargill, the owner of the ketch which is the sole means of communicating with the island, with a view to arranging for a passage; but his demands were quite beyond my means, and I had to abandon the project on the lines I had originally intended. I then suggested that Professor Parker, the Director of the University Museum, should get up an expendition, and if the necessary funds for my passage could be found I should be very glad to volunteer my services as an extra collector. With the help of some gentlemen who kindly assisted the professor by guaranteeing the necessary funds, arrangements were made with Mr.
Hatch for a passage to the island and back for Mr. Jennings (the Museum taxidermist) and myself, the University Council having kindly granted me leave of absence from my duties.
An excellent description of the general features of Macquarie Island has already been given in the Transactions by Professor J. H. Scott,* but there is still much interesting information to be gathered from an island so barren and inhospitable. Darwin said, in 1857, “It is my most deliberate conviction that nothing would and more natural history than carefully collecting and investigating all the productions of the most isolated islands, especially of the Southern Hemisphere.” This is certainly as true now as it was then; and, notwithstanding the discomforts and perils of the voyage, I should certainly like to have the opportunity of staying for twelve months on the island to complete a year's observations on the habits of the penguins and other birds, the few days which we spent on the island being quite inadequate for observations of much value.
Macquarie Island† is about 540 miles from the south-west cape of Stewart Island, and was discovered by the master of a sailing-vessel‡ early in the present century. It is said that no less than 80,000 fur-seals were obtained from the island by that party. Fur-seals are hardly ever seen there now.
The exact size of the island is unknown. The English chart made by Lieutenant Langdon in 1822 makes it thirty-eight miles long. The Russian navigator, Bellinghausen, in 1820, made it only nineteen miles long—probably as much too short as the other was too long. In 1840 Captain Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, landed a party on the island on the west side. There are bold outlying rocks at each end of the island. The bold rocky shores afford but little shelter and but indifferent anchorage, the water being deep close into the land: 10 to 90 fathoms are marked on the chart all along the east side at three miles from shore. At present the usual anchorages are on the east side—at the Nuggets and at Lusitania Bay. Both English and Russian accounts agree in making the island about five or six miles wide.
In 1890 an endeavour was made to get the island annexed or transferred to New Zealand, as it was found to belong to Tasmania, but without success.§ It was agreed, however,
[Footnote] * Trans., vol. xiv., p. 561; vol. xv., p. 484.
[Footnote] † Named after the Governor of New South Wales at that time.
[Footnote] ‡ Captain Garbutt, in the brig “Concord,” in April, 1811, and again in February, 1812. On both occasions his vessel was driven from her anchorage, and on the second occasion his boat was upset in the surf and all hands lost.
[Footnote] § N.Z. Parl. Papers, App. to Journals of House of Representatives, Sess. II., 1891, A.-5, in cont. of A.-5, 1890.
that the taking of seals of any kind should be prohibited; and regulations to that effect, under section 12 of “The Fisheries Act, 1889” (53 Vict., No. 11), were issued in 1891 by the Tasmanian Government, and published in the Hobart Gazette (21st April, 1891). This being the law, it was necessary for us to apply for permission to kill some sea-elephants for scientific purposes. The requisite permit was kindly granted by the Colonial Secretary of Tasmania before we left New Zealand.
Like the other outlying islands of the South, there is already a mournful list of wrecks on this speck in the waste of waters, and some rude graves at the northern end of the island contain the remains of some who surely here rest in peace. The “Caroline,” a ship supposed to have been named the “Eagle,” and several others have gone to pieces on these shores. Though not wrecked on the island, the people of New Zealand will always associate the disappearance of the steamer “Kakanui”* with Macquarie Island, when nineteen men were lost on the return of the steamer to New Zealand. She no doubt foundered in one of the heavy gales which are so frequent in this part. In 1830 the “Lord Nelson” was lost at the north-west end. At a place now called Eagle Bay, about half-way down the west coast, the “Eagle” was lost, and her crew had to remain on the island about two years; some of them died before they were rescued. The “Caroline,” a barque, was wrecked at the south end in 1838. The “Countess Cimento” was wrecked in 1849, about three miles from the north end, on the east coast; and in 1879 the schooner “Bencleugh” was wrecked near the same place.
The vessel in which we sailed is a smart little ketch of about 100 tons called the “Gratitude,” and we embarked from Dunedin wharf with all our stores and collecting-material on the 22nd of February. This vessel usually makes three trips in the year—in December, February, and March. A good supply of stores was taken, as it was considered possible that Mr. Jennings might find it necessary to remain on the island till the vessel returned on the March trip. Besides ourselves, there were two boys from Dunedin as passengers, so the small cabin was very crowded.
Our passage along the coast was slow and uneventful. Between the Otago Heads and the Nuggets I saw some gannets and an occasional albatros (D. exulans). Being a very bad-sailor, I was soon in “Sick Bay,” and I got worse and worse, until at one time I thought I should never land again; and I was confined to my bed the whole of the voyage, both
[Footnote] * For particulars of the loss of the “Kakanui,” 83 tons, 22 h.p., see Captain Fairchild's report on the result of the two searches, in the Otago Daily Times, 23rd February, 1891.
going and returning, with a bilious fever. The weather, from a landsman's point of view, was certainly boisterous and disagreeable. On the 25th February we saw the steep and majestic rocks known as the Solanders, and, having passed these, we stood to the westward, and felt that our voyage had now really begun. It is necessary to get a good deal to the westward in making a course for the island, as it is extremely difficult to approach from the eastward against the prevailing winds and currents. Between the 2nd and 12th of March we were tossed about, and sustained considerable damage to our sails and gear. Once we got down within a short distance of the position of the island, and a furious gale drove us back a long distance to the northward. The ship itself behaved splendidly, riding like a duck over the furious seas, and shipping very little water. Very few birds were seen after leaving the New Zealand coast. On the 10th a few petrels were seen about the ship; and in the evening land was sighted—the north-west corner of the island. All sail was crowded on to try and gain the shelter of the east side of the island from the stiff gale which was blowing. The gale increased, and we had the prospect of being again driven back, but by tacking off and on all night we managed to keep the land in sight, and in the morning bore down upon it, running in towards the Nuggets, the northern anchorage on the east side. Here we were met by a whaleboat from the island with some of the shore party in it. Delivering Mr. Hatch's letter of instructions, we arranged to be landed with all our stores at the southern station in Lusitania Bay. As we kept along the rocky coast-line we could see large colonies of penguins on the beaches between the headlands. Flocks of small grey petrels and mutton-birds flew round the ship, with an occasional black-backed gull and some giant petrels, or nellies. At Lusitania Bay we went in and dropped anchor within a few hundred yards of the shore in 15 fathoms of water. The wind increased in strength, and it was impossible to land, as, although the wind was off the land, there was too much surf. We had to amuse ourselves by watching the thousands of king penguins (Aptenodytes) sporting around us, sometimes chasing each other in strings like porpoises, at other times rushing by in a compact body, seemingly moving in concert, diving, and bobbing up and down, lying on their backs in a most comical way, and making every now and then a curious “quank,” which at a certain distance and at certain times seems like a human cry. They manifested great curiosity, or else took the ship for a new kind of rock, as they were constantly pecking at the sides, and apparently trying to scramble on board. They were very quick in their movements, easily avoiding anything thrown at them by a sudden dive, reappearing the next
instant. We could not see that they caught anything in the way of food, but they seemed to come off in large parties from the shore and swim round the ship, playing and springing clean out of the water, and after a little time returning to the shore, landing on the crest of a wave, and scrambling up the stony beach in a most comical way. The wind swept down from the hills with such force that our anchor dragged, and in endeavouring to get it up the cable parted, and we lost the anchor and 45 fathoms of chain. We were not in a condition to go to sea again, so the vessel was run in quite close to the land, and another anchor dropped in about 8 or 10 fathoms. This fortunately held; and at 10 o'clock on the following morning (the 12th March), the tide being high, we were safely landed on the shingle-beach, after passing through the great beds of kelp which cover the rocks near the shore. Our party was left here while the ketch went north to the anchorage at the Nuggets to discharge her cargo of coal, casks, and stores, and take in her cargo of casks of oil for the Bluff.
The island has for some years been visited by parties from Port Chalmers and the Bluff, for the purpose of procuring sea-elephant oil and penguing-oil, both of which oils are much used in commerce, particularly in the manufacture of twine and rope. The slaughter of the sea-elephants has practically ceased, but the heaps of bones and the quantities of oil obtained indicate that a large number have been killed in the past. The chief industry now is the boiling-down of the royal penguin (E. schlegeli). For the purposes of the party, the fat birds are selected as they pass up and down from the sea to the “rookery,” usually those of a year old. After being killed with a club, the penguins are bled and partly cleaned, and then thrown bodily into the steam digesters and steamed for some hours. The season for fat birds lasts only for about six weeks, and during that time the party are kept hard at work. This is at the end of January. The oil from the digesters passes into large vats, and the refuse is thrown out into heaps, and if there were any means of bringing it easily to civilized parts it would be of great value as manure. From the vats the oil is put into casks, and on the arrival of the vessel the casks have to be rafted out through the surf to the ship. This is a difficult and dangerous operation, and requires much experience and skill. The oil is refined at Invercargill. Mr. Hatch has been put to much trouble and expense in establishing the necessary buildings and machinery and the excellent accommodation, both at the Nuggets and at Lusitania, for the men who go down. These men usually form a party, and contract to furnish so many gallons of oil during their stay on the island. One very serious item of expense is found in the necessity for taking down all the wood and coal requisite for
the digesters and for domestic purposes. The factory at Lusitania at the king-penguin rookery is not now used; the great heap of refuse testifies to the great number of birds destroyed. No impression, however, seems to have been made on the numbers occupying the beach, as every available place seemed full of birds.
The area of the island is probably about the same as that of Otago Peninsula, and it has been already well described by Professor Scott before this Institute after his visit in 1880. The rough-sketch outline annexed (Plate L.) will give some idea of the relative positions of the places afterwards mentioned. The hut in which we lived at Lusitania stood on the crown of the shingle-beach. Immediately behind it was a small creek coming down from the hills at the back, over the sloping terrace thickly covered with a huge tussock grass. This grass (Poa foliosa) forms a huge stool, around which is usually a muddy pool more or less deep, into every one of which you plunge with unerring certainty when trying to cross the belt of tussock swamp, the only way to avoid this unpleasantness being to jump from the top of one tussock to another. Once beyond the belt of swamp you ascend the steep slopes of the hills, and here you struggle and wrestle with the huge leaves of the Macquarie Island cabbage (Stilbocarpa polaris) a plant resembling very fine rhubarb. The tussocks and the Stilbocarpa become smaller as you ascend, and at about 300ft. you gain a plateau so swept by the antarctic gales that vegetation is reduced to compact closely-growing mosses, small Uncinias, and the conspicuous cushion-like masses of Azorella selago. In the hollows of the uplands are countless little tarns or lakes, some of considerable extent. Round the tops of the hills the wind has cut out wonderful terraces from a few inches to a foot or two in height, with completely bare rock much disintegrated by the weather on the top. In some of the more sheltered places or gullies stunted plants of Stilbocarpa and Pleurophyllum cover the ground. The Pleurophyllum was, unfortunately, long past flower, and so I did not get any specimens of this beautiful aster-like flower, with its purple ray-florets and yellow centre. The majority of the plants on the island are littoral, and are to be found on the swampy ground near the beach. It is interesting to see how the introduced Poa annua has taken possession of the highly-manured soil on the crown of the beach, and radiates from the settlements, together with some other introduced weeds. From the ship it appeared as if there were some good-sized bushes or shrubs growing on the lower levels, but on landing these were found to be only huge detached rocks overgrown with mosses and large tussocks of Poa foliosa. On the whole of the island there is not
a shrub or plant large enough to make a penholder. Indeed, the only plant of a ligneous genus is the small creeping Coprosma repens.
From the list given by Professor Scott, and the revision of the Macquarie Island plants published by Mr. T. Kirk in the Proceedings of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, it was evident that there was very little chance of finding any useful shrubs; so before leaving Dunedin I determined to try and establish some on the island that might some day be of use, at any rate, for firewood. Mr. Matthews, of Mornington, kindly gave me a large bag of seeds of several New Zealand Pittosporums, and of a variety of deciduous trees. Messrs. Howden and Moncrief also gave me some seeds of several varieties of pines. I also took a quantity of cabbage-seed. I took the opportunity of sowing these seeds in various places around Lusitania Bay, and I trust that some of them may become established. Somehow the very seed that we ought to have taken—manuka (Leptospermum)—nobody thought of. This would have been probably the best calculated to succeed in that climate, and would have been of service for fuel. The time of year was an unfavourable one for the experiment, as the winter was just coming on, and the germinating plants would experience the cold at the most critical time. The large Poa tussocks are the great feature of the low levels, and on the hill-tops the special feature is the Azorella, masses of bright-green closely-growing convex masses of stems and leaves. These masses are so solid and elastic as to bear the weight of a man without material injury. Embedded in the substance of this cushion grow two small but interesting plants—Coprosma repens, with its striking dimorphous flowers and scarlet berries; and a very minute form of a fern, Polypodium australe, the frond of which is about ½in. long. This truly alpine form I have collected on the top of the Kaweka Mountains, in Hawke's Bay. Two other ferns are found on the island: the one is Lomaria alpina, the other Aspidium aculeatum, var. vestitum. The plants which I collected on the island have been submitted to my friend Mr. Kirk and to Mr. Petrie, and I have to thank them very heartily for the trouble they have taken in identifying the specimens. I had hoped to find something very new and striking in an island which the soundings show to be separated by a deep submarine valley of 1,000 fathoms from New Zealand, but the results seem to support the conclusion arrived at in the report on the “Challenger” voyage: that the composition of the vegetation of the remotely-separated exceedingly small islands in the southern seas, on the extreme limit of phanerogamic life, is practically the same all round the globe, and is, in all probability, the remains of a more ex-
tended and possibly continuous belt, because the present conditions cannot be accounted for by the ordinary means of dispersal.*
List of Plants collected
Ranunculus crassipes, Hook. f. Variable size; growing in the swamps and on the sides of the “stools” of the Poa. In exposed situations the ripe carpels become scarlet and very conspicuous. The leaves are also smaller and stouter. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “Some of the carpels have a faint marginal ridge in the young state, which becomes absorbed before they reach maturity. This is probably the R. aucklandicus of my list,† the R. acaulis of Professor Scott's paper,‡ which was represented by a mere scrap. This species should be placed next to R. macropus, Hook. f.”]
Cardamine hirsuta, L., var. corymbosa. This plant formed a green margin to the vegetation on the top of the beach wherever a creek or swamp ran out to the sea.
Colobanthus muscoides, Hook. f. Tufts on the rocks on the beach and cliffs; in some cases must be frequently drenched with salt water. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “Doubtless the Azorella lycopodioides of Professor Scott's list. The larger tufts are very like the masses of Azorella selago.”]
Colobanthus billardieri, Fenzl. Not so plentiful as the preceding.
Stellaria decipiens, Hook. f. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “Through a slip of the pen, ‘S. elatinoides’ was inserted in my list (of 1891) instead of ‘S. decipiens.’”]
Stellaria media, L. One of the plants which have succeeded in naturalizing themselves near the factories, having probably been introduced in the straw packing of the machinery, & c., together with
Cerastium triviale, Link. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “An unusually luxuriant state, with almost fleshy leaves.”]
Montia fontana, L. Grows in the same situation as Cardamine and Callitriche. It is recorded from Kerguelen's Land and from South Georgia, lat. 54° S., and long. 37° W.§ All these three might easily be dispersed by. the mud of their habitat containing the seeds adhering to the feet of ducks, & c.
[Footnote] * Botany, vol. i.; Introduction, p. 57. See also Science Progress, July, 1894, p. 395: W. Botting Hemsley.
[Footnote] † On the Flora of Macquarie Island: Report of the third meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science, pp. 226, 227; 1891.
[Footnote] ‡ Professor J. H. Scott: “On the Fauna and Flora of Macquarie Island”; Trans. and Proc. N.Z. Inst., xv., pp. 484–938.
[Footnote] § Dr. Will: “Die Phanerogamenflora von Süd-Georgien”: “Botanische Jahrbucher,” vii., pp. 281–285.
Acæna sanguisorbæ, Vahl. This is A. buchanani of Professor Scott's list. Acæna occurs on Kerguelen* and on South Georgia. An infusion of the leaves of this plant is said to be a febrifuge and an efficient anti-scorbutic by whalers, and is sometimes known as “Kerguelen tea.” (Kidder.)
A. adscendens, Vahl. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “This species was collected on Macquarie Island by Fraser.” Handbook N.Z. Flora, p. 56.]
Callitriche antarctica, Engl. This species was without flower or fruit at the time of my visit, so the identification can hardly be positive, but the same species occurs at Kerguelen and on South Georgia.
Epilobium nummularifolium, A. Cunn. Growing in the swamps.
Epilobium, linnæoides, Hook. f. A prostrate form. This species is also recorded from Antipodes Island and the other islands up to New Zealand.
Azorella, selago, Hook. f. No flowers or fruit could be found on any of the specimens seen. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “Kidder states that he could not find hair or bristles on the upper surface of the leaf in the Kerguelen plant. They are present in these specimens, which have neither flowers nor fruit.”]
Stilbocarpa polaris, Hook. f. A noble plant, which grows in perfection on the steep slopes of the cliffs. Its local name is Macquarie Island cabbage.
Coprosma repens, Hook. Growing in the masses of Azorella and in the tufts of moss on the higher grounds. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “Stamens four; stimas four in many flowers. Interesting as attaining the highest southern limit of ligneous vegetation.”]
Cotula plumosa, Hook. f. This handsome plant grows well along the littoral belt, but not so luxuriantly as in the Auckland Islands. Recorded from the Crozets and Kerguelen's Land by Dr. Kidder and by the English Transit of Venus Expedition,† who also noted that the whalers consider an infusion of this plant to be a prompt and effectual emetic. (Hooker, fide Rev. A. Eaton.)
Pleurophyllum hookerianum, J. Buch. This handsome plant was long past flowering when we landed, and the tips of the silvery leaves were frost-bitten. The last flowering did not seem to have been very general, as a very small
[Footnote] * Kidder, J. H.: “Contributions to the Natural History of Kerguelen Island”: Transit of Venus Expedition, 1874–75, pt. ii., p. 23.
[Footnote] † J. D. Hooker: “Flowering Plants, &c., Kerguelen Island,” p. 9, Trans. Royal Soc., No. 168 (extra volume).
percentage bore the dry flower-spikes. On one plant there were nine of these, bearing the remains of 164 flowers. The seedlings, even while the leaves are less than 3in. long, have strong stout rootlets, which go down through the mass of vegetable matter in which they grow. There is absolutely no sand or loam for them to grow in—nothing but decayed vegetable matter. In a specimen before me,-in which the leaves are about 20mm. long, the rootlet is 160mm. in length. Mr. Kirk notes that “the leaves of the young plants approach those of P. criniferum more nearly than specimens from Auckland and Campbell Islands, but the identification is certain. This is doubtless the P. criniferum of Professor Scott's list.” The edges of the leaves carry stiff bristles. The silvery patches of this handsome plant show out plainly among the mosses and grasses in the drier parts of the swamps, and in sheltered places on the uplands.
Uncinia nervosa, Boott. [Note by Mr. Kirk: “This plant is intermediate between U. compacta, R. Br., and U. tenella, R. Br.: the leaves closely approach those of the former, while the fruits resemble the latter, but are of a darker colour, and more glossy. The spike is scarcely longer than that of U. tenella. It is U. cheesemanii, Bœckeler.”]
Luzula crinita, Hook. f. This appeared to be the only Luzula on the island. I failed to get. L. campestris of Professor Scott's list.
Deschampsia hookeri, T. Kirk,* var. inermis and var. effusa. [Mr. Kirk says, “Both are interesting varieties of one of the most variable grasses in the colony.”] Mr. Petrie considers the first to be D. tenella, Petrie.
Deschampsia penicillata, n. sp. (MS.), T. Kirk.† A puzzling species, which is provisionally named pending the examination of the other species new to New Zealand.
Poa foliosa, Hook f., a. This noble grass forms huge tussocks, especially in the damper portions and where the drainage and the liquid manure from the penguin rookeries assists its growth. In such places one can walk between the columns with the plant waving far overhead.
Poa hamiltonii, T. Kirk.‡ [Mr. Kirk says, “Allied to P. anceps, Forst., and P. foliosa, Hook. f. One of the most distinct species in the flora.”]
Poa annua, L. Naturalized, and doing very well.
Agrostis antarctica, Hook. f. = A. multicaulis, Hook. f. [Mr.
[Footnote] * “Journal of Botany,” 1891.
[Footnote] † See “On New Grasses from Macquarie Island,” by T. Kirk, above, p. 354.
[Footnote] ‡ Above, p. 353.
Kirk says, “The palea is poorly developed, or absent in many flowers. = A. multicaulis, Hook. f., and I think this name should have precedence.”]
Festuca contracta, T. Kirk, n.s. [Mr. Kirk says, “Certainly not F. duriuscula, L.; but the specimens are not very good, being mostly too far advanced, and many of the glumes are infested with a small Sphæria.”]
Aspidium aculeatum, Swn., var. vestitum. A very coarse form, with large and beautiful scales. The patches of this fern, being of a very dark colour, are visible against the lighter green of the Stilbocarpa and the yellow of the dead grass for some distance.
Polypodium australe, Mitt. Plentiful in clumps of Azorella on the highest parts of the island.
Lomaria alpina, Sprengl. Not seen near Lusitania, but obtained on the west coast.
Lycopodium billardieri, Sprengl., var. varium: The habit is like that of L. selago, but denser; the leaves are much broader. Seedling plants growing amongst the stems have distant oblong leaves. Found on the hills immediately behind Lusitania Bay.
In addition to the above plants, I also collected Tillæ, moschata, DC.,* and two species of Cyperaceæ, but the whole of the specimens of these were lost in the accident which occurred on the homeward voyage. The mosses and lichens collected were so injured by the wet, and by the delay of some months which occurred before they were brought up from the island, that I fear it will probably be impossible to give a list of any value.
At the time of our visit the king penguins (Aptenodytes) had nearly finished their breeding-season, and the royals and victorias (E. chrysolophus and pachyrhynchus) were moulting. The chief king-penguin rookery seen by us was the one at Lusitania Bay. Here a small stream comes sparkling down under the overarching leaves of the Stilbocarpa, and spreads itself out over the fan-like talus of rock-fragments brought down by its waters and the coarse blue shingle which composes the beaches, and eventually trickles through the looser portion to the sea. Moseley,† in his description of the penguin rookeries at Tristan d'Acunha, gives a vivid description of the discomforts of crossing through one of these large collections of birds; so we had taken the precaution of having some strong canvas leggings made, and were thus well “armed,” or defended,
[Footnote] * See above, Art. xliii., “Description of New Grasses from Macquarie Island,” by T. Kirk.
[Footnote] † Moseley, H. N.: “Notes by a Naturalist on the ‘Challenger,’” 1879, p. 113.
from the vicious pecks and the vigorous blows from the wings of the birds. The interest and the novelty of the sight of 30 or 40 acres of penguins made up for the deafening noise and the fearful smell, and we found that if we stood still the birds did not take the trouble to move or bite. Some of the birds were fighting with their neighbours, standing still, either in a puddle or on a wet slimy stone, but keeping their wings and bill in constant action, their apparent object being to make everybody keep his regulation distance from the others. No sign of a nest is to be seen. Subangular fragments of rock covered with slimy black mud cover the ground, and the beautiful white breasts of the birds were simply filthy with the splashings. Some few birds just at the edge of the crowd (late arrivals, I suppose) had eggs not yet hatched, one egg to each bird, and this egg was carefully carried on the two big black feet, with a fold of the skin of the abdomen tucked over it. They even found it possible to move about like this, with the egg in this curious position, much resembling a boy in a sack-race. There were others whose anxieties were over, and who had the care of a fat little chicken, as black as a coal and very helpless. They all endeavoured to get as far under their parent as possible; but these seemed to be very little protection for them. During incubation I am told that the male relieves the female about every two days, but I cannot affirm this of my own knowledge. There is no perceptible difference between the males and the females. The distance allowed around each bird seemed to be about 1ft. 4in., and any encroachment on this area caused an immediate squabble, which only ceased when the intruder had been driven out and order restored. This large rookery reaches from the crown of the beach to the foot of the hill-slope or cliff, and appeared to be devoted entirely to the breeding birds, a constant stream of birds passing up and down from their stations in the rookery to the sea and returning again. Some of the young birds were of large size, and the down which covers their body of a dark-brown or black colour. In a few cases I saw the young birds fed, their parent giving up some part of its own dinner. I could not ascertain if a bird always returned to exactly the same spot; from the amount of struggling and pushing going on I should imagine that they did. The slopes of the beach in front of the breeding-ground were apparently devoted to the bachelors, and the birds who occupied various nooks and corners and small grassy plots between the tussocks seemed to attach themselves to these particular places. I marked one fine bird that belonged to a party of about twenty who occupied the open grassy place just under the window of the small room in which I slept, and, with the exception of an occasional short
absence for a swim, he and his friends were generally within a very short distance of the house, and always spent the night there. I took one of the large brown young birds, nearly as large as an adult, from the middle of the breeding-ground, and carried it down to the beach, and let it loose amongst the bachelors and the “unemployed.” Directly I put it on the ground it set up its cry of distress—a very shrill whistle, quite unlike the hoarse croak of the adult. It was set upon at once by all the birds in the neighbourhood, and thrashed and driven up the beach towards its proper quarters. If it went in any way out of the direct line half a dozen birds would make a furious rush to turn it into the right path, and they only left it when it regained the rookery and vanished in the crowd.
Nearly the whole of the Lusitania beach, over half a mile in length, is occupied by king penguins; but a small colony of royal penguins were camped at one part, moulting, probably crowded out of some other beach. These birds have thick, powerful beaks, and they varied their existence by most desperate duels for the most trivial causes, striking each other about the head till the blood flowed freely. These birds are much smaller than the kings, but have an attractive crest of yellow feathers when in good plumage.
Sailing about overhead were numbers of the dark-coloured hawk-like skua gull—Lestris antarctica (Stercorarius antaac-ticus)—the terror of all other birds. The working party find them so destructive to the young penguins that, by means of poison, a very large number have been killed to protect the oil interest. They are still extremely numerous. I did not, however, find them so bold as some have reported them. Not being their breeding-season may have made the difference.
A little to the southward of the Lusitauia beach is a breeding-place of the victoria penguin (E. filholi), and the air was filled with the flying feathers and down from the moulting birds. These little birds are very active, and climb up and down the face of the cliffs in a most agile manner, and are much more entitled to the name “rock-hopper” than the other species (Pygoscelis taniata), which are much less plentiful and more lumbering in their gait.
There are four kinds of penguins on the island. The king penguins (Aptenodytes) do not make any attempt at a nest; the royal penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli) carry up stones or bones from the beach to a convenient place amongst the grass for their nests; the victorias (Eudyptes filholi) pluck grass and form a rough nest; the rock-hoppers (Pygoscelis) do the same, generally on the slope of a cliff. The kings lay their eggs from December to February or March; the royals lay in September, and also the rock-hoppers; the victorias in
September. At certain times in the year the birds become extremely fat. In February a fat royal penguin will weigh 141b.; a king penguin will weigh at least 301b. It seems to be pretty well established that all the four kinds of penguins migrate and pass a portion of the year somewhere to the southward, but there are no regular observations on the point. I was not able to ascertain what kind of food was available for the birds at the time I was there: all the birds examined had nothing but a brown slime in them as food.
Shags were often seen flying by or sitting quietly on the rocks. On our first walk along the coast to the south we came on a breeding-place where there were numbers of all ages, and by carefully crawling up the rocks we managed to secure three specimens by hand. On sending down a man the next day to procure some more he found them much more wary, and had to shoot those he required. The species is one common to the islands to the south of New Zealand (Phalacro corax carunculatus). Some distance to the north of the Lusitania hut there is a beautifully arranged breeding-place of this shag, with about thirty nests arranged in terraces on a huge rock, each nest being on a little pedestal, the accumulation of years.
Ossifraga gigantea.—The huge and ungainly “nelly,” handsome and even noble when wheeling round and round in the air, is on the land but a lumbering robber, and usually to be found skulking around the breeding-places, trying to pick up a young penguin or wood-hen. The breeding-places are upon the bleak moorlands on the top of the island. In one that I saw there were about fifteen or twenty young birds almost ready to fly, and out of the hundred or more birds in the breeding-place there must have been at least a dozen pure or partial albinoes. The whole surface of the island is covered with the bones of small Prions, swallowed and then ejected by these giant petrels.
Ocydromus.—Some years ago Mr. Elder turned out some Maori-hens from New Zealand, and these have increased and multiplied in a most extraordinary way. On any part of the coast (with the exception of the extreme north) they may be seen feeding on the small crustacea and mollusca amongst the kelp. They might well be called kelp-hens, as their colouring is so assimilated to the shades of brown taken by the wet and dry kelp that it is only when they are moving or are on the shingle that they can be distinguished. It was a very easy matter to knock over with stones enough of these birds to make a most excellent stew, and no fear need ever be entertained of any castaways or inhabitants starving on Macquarie Island, as these birds alone would be quite sufficient to provide plenty of nourishment. They are just as inquisitive
as on the mainland, and several were killed under our beds, having come into the house when the door was left open. Whilst mentioning food-supplies I may say that rabbits are fairly numerous in the south-east; they have disappeared from the north owing to the wild cats, which are very numerous and of great size.
Another important food-supply is derived from the mutton-birds, probably two species. These were seen at sea, but they had not commenced to lay at the time we left, although daily expected. They must be very numerous, to judge by the burrows on the hills. A little dove-petrel (Prion banksii) flies to sea at night-time, and is much persecuted by the Ossifraga and the Lestris.
Larus dominicanus.—The black-backed gull was fairly plentiful at the time of our visit, and also the small terns, Sterna frontalis and Sterna antarctica. The latter was only seen at the northern end of the island.
Professor Scott, in 1880, included in his list a green parrakeet, which at that time was plentiful all over the island, and nested in the vegetation covering the large rocks on the beach. I had also heard from a man who had been working on the island some years later that they were plentiful along the seashore near the isthmus at the north end. We took down some cages to bring back some of these, but our utmost endeavours failed to procure or even see a single specimen. The party at present on the island have not seen any during the two years they have been there. One of them told me that he had seen a large flock of them fly away northwards when he was on the island about four years ago. It seems pretty certain that these birds have either migrated or have been exterminated by the wild cats which have spread over the island within the last few years. The migration theory is scarcely likely, as all accounts represent the parrakeets as having lost by disuse the power of sustained flight. On-the other hand, the birds seem to have disappeared from all parts of the island, whereas the cats do not seem to have reached the south at present. The parrakeets are said to have frequented the heaps of seaweed on the seashore in search of the crustaceans and other small forms of animal life. The loss of this bird is much to be regretted, as we can hardly doubt that it would prove to be a local race corresponding to the forms found on the Antipodes and the other groups of southern islands. There is no specimen of this bird in the Otago Museum.
Of Rallus macquariensis* Professor Scott says, “Not
[Footnote] * Buller's “Birds of New Zealand,” 2nd ed., p. 95; and Hutton, Ibis, 1879, p. 454. There is a specimen from Macquarie Island in the Otago University Museum, presented by Elder and Co.
at all uncommon. There seemed to be two varieties: one, slightly the larger, was reddish in colour; the other was black.” This bird is considered by Sir Walter Buller to be a local variety of R. philippensis, and I wished very much to procure specimens of the two kinds mentioned in the above quotation. Not a sign of either was seen by us, and I could not hear from any of the party on the island that any had been seen.
Professor Scott mentions that teal were occasionally seen on the lakes. I could not hear that any had been killed, but I saw the common grey duck (A. superciliosa) on the coast, and on some small inland lakes. These birds have a very wide range, but I do not think they have been reported from Macquarie Island before.
Most of my notes were made at Lusitania; but I was on the North Head for a few hours on the day we left, and there I noticed, on a bare wind-swept surface of clay, great quantities of rounded stones exactly like the moa gizzard-stones found in New Zealand, but smaller. These have probably accumulated in the course of time from the birds destroyed by the skuas and nellies, the remains of which are found all over the surface of the island, ejected by these offal-feeders. At the narrow neck of land connecting the North Head with the mainland I saw a large heap of the bones of the sea-elephants, which had been gathered together with a view of taking them to New Zealand for bone-crushing. Near the heap was a stretch of shifting sand, which revealed evidence that this was the site of the large rookery of king penguins seen here by Bennett in 1815, since entirely destroyed. Amongst the bones I found two perfect skulls of a very large species of albatros. These I specially valued, as we were unable to verify the statement that a species of albatros breeds on Macquarie Island, or to say what the species was. The skulls, together with a valuable collection of other specimens, were swept overboard on our homeward passage.
Of the mutton-birds frequenting the islands, one species, which we only saw on the wing whilst off the island, seemed to be new.
The list of birds will stand somewhat as follows:—
Platycerus. Probably extinct.
Sterorarius antarcticus (skua gull).
Rallus macquariensis = R. philippensis. Not seen or heard of.
Diomedea … (?)
Puffinus … (?)
Fregetta melanogaster. (?)
Eudyptes chrysocomus (victoria penguin).
Eudyptes schlegeli (royal penguin).
Pygoscelis taniatus (rock-hopper).
Aptenodytes longirostris (king penguin).
As I mentioned at the commencement of my paper, the object of our visit was to obtain good specimens of the skeleton of the adult male sea-elephant—Morunga elephantina (Macrorhinus leoninus). The season at which we went was not a favourable one for the purpose, as the only specimens we saw were on the wild west coast of the island. Taking advantage of a fine but cold day (the average temperature during our stay on the island, taken at 9 a.m., was 50°) we crossed in a south-west direction to the west coast, and, after struggling over the bare and bleak hill-tops against the icy blasts from the antarctic, we descended to a sheltered bay, and here we saw several of the huge monsters among the large tussocks some little distance from the stony beach. Each animal had formed a kind of wallow in the wet swampy ground, and seemed to be passing the time in sleep until the old coat had fallen offen and a new fur had grown. All seemed fat and quite happy. One old gentleman remained whilst I took several photographs of him at a distance of a few feet, and, as I was anxious to get a photograph of the distended nose, which is so remarkable, we pelted him with stones until he raised up his head, inflated his nostrils, and roared. Unfortunately the photographs were not very successful, but, as the aspect of this curious inflation is of some interest, I have given an outline drawn from the life and from a photograph taken at the same time (Plate L.). After some further teasing the old fellow went down to the sea with an awkward-looking but rapid motion. Two other specimens at the other end of the beach were sketched, and then driven out to sea. One of them, strange to say, reared up and roared, taking exactly the form given in the old voyagers plate, which apparently looks so absurd and impossible.* Once in the water they went out to
[Footnote] *See Anson's Voyages, 1742. The plate No. xxxii. in the Paris edition, 1807, of Peron's Voyages, gives a very fair representation of the head and trunk.
sea through the kelp like torpedo-boats. Many of those we saw had scars and recently-healed wounds, and when Mr. Jennings and the rest of the party were killing and preparing the skeleton further up the west coast some males were seen in the water fighting desperately, rising straight up in the water, throwing their huge bulk against each other, and tearing great strips of skin with their tusks. Mr. Jennings selected four of the finest specimens, apparently adults, and, after shooting them with a carbine, found that the skins were in too poor a condition to be of any use for specimen purposes. He therefore, with very great labour, and under very great hardships from the want of sufficient food and proper shelter at night, stripped the flesh of all four elephants from the bones, and carefully prepared the bones for transportation across the island to a place called South-east Harbour. With the assistance of one of the men on the island he succeeded in carrying across the four miles of most difficult country the heads of the four specimens and the complete skeleton of the smallest of the four, together with some of the most important of the small bones of the remainder. It was found impossible to bring over the remainder at that time. Mr. Jennings carefully examined the intestines and stomach, but could find nothing but a brown slime—possibly the remains of kelp. The ground in the neighbourhood of the bodies was saturated with blood, and the skuas and nellies gorged themselves to repletion. Although the specimens selected for slaughter appeared fully adult, it was found, when the skulls were finally cleaned, that very few sutures had closed, and that they must remain open for a longtime after the animals are apparently full-grown, all of the four killed measuring over 20ft. in length. I also noticed that in the huge heap of bones at the north end all the bones appeared to be of immature individuals. It is to be regretted that, owing to a series of misfortunes, only one of the skeletons should up to the present have reached Dunedin —-and that one slightly imperfect—as the work of preparing the skeletons was performed under the most trying circumstances, and involved a great amount of work.
I was unable to accompany the party who went for the sea-elephants, as I had to remain at Lusitania. Along the coast-line I collected several skeletons, more or less perfect, of very young sea-elephants, about 8ft. long. I had one adventure with a female sea-elephant, the only one seen during our visit. I came on it one morning on the upper part of the beach, but was unable to kill it, as it escaped to the sea badly wounded. It was about 9ft. long, and had a beautiful lightbrown coat, much more attractive than the mangy-looking coats of the males. Professor Scott records that they calve after October. Judging by the remains of skeletons on the various
beaches, the only other seal that is at all plentiful here is the sea-leopard seal (Stenorhynchus leptonyx). I believe that the time at which we were on the island is one at which both sealeopards and sea-elephants are generally absent. I saw several of the fore-flappers of this seal pickled for eating. They are said to be very good, but we were not there long enough to come down as far as that. The sea-elephants are said to be much scarcer than formerly, and they do not range much to the northward at the present time, although there is a skull of a very aged individual in the Otago Museum, found at Oamaru, and one in the Colonial Museum at Wellington, found near Castle Point.
Fishes.—In the tidal pools at low water some small gobies were found, which have not yet been examined critically, but I think one of the two species is Harpagifer bispinis, also found at Kerguelen. A good-sized fish was obtained by fishing with a hook from one of the rocks, and specimens were preserved, but have not come to hand; and two small specimens were picked up on the beach of a small sprat-like fish. The terns and gulls were seen one day pursuing and diving into a shoal of fish passing along the coast with the strong current to the north-east.
Mollusca.—The rocks exposed by the tides at Lusitania Bay are not very extensive, and are much swept by the shingle, so that the area is not a good collecting-ground for invertebrates. Between South-east Harbour and the Nuggets I saw a large area of exposed flat reef which I had not time to explore. The most attractive shell is a bright scarlet bivalve which attaches itself to the bright-green Ulva in the rock-pools and to the kelp in the deeper water. It is very plentiful, and I think it is Lasea rubra, or a Kellia. There has not yet been time to get the few species examined, but they will be worked up later on. A careful search for land or fresh-water mollusca resulted in the finding of only one species, which Mr. Suter refers to Laoma campbellica, Filhol (No. 139, 1880), a species already known from Campbell Island. It is a minute species, and occurs plentifully in the decayed vegetation everywhere. I was much disappointed in not finding any freshwater mollusca.
Three species of spiders were found under the leaves of the Stilbocarpa, and a few small flies were caught in the same situation, one being apterous.
I also collected some earthworms, which have, I believe, been sent Home for examination. The ponds and tidal pools were infested with small white worms, and a small black marine planarian was common. Some starfish, echinoderms and holothurians, were also collected, but have not yet been identified.
Mr. G. M. Thomson has kindly examined the crustaceans collected, and has written a note for this volume of the Transactions.*
On the 22nd of March I walked along the coast-line from Lusitania Bay to the Nuggets, and saw a number of most interesting rookeries of the royal and victoria penguins, and some very romantic rock-scenery. The next morning, as I was commencing to examine the north end of the island, the wind changed and began to blow furiously from the northeast, and snow fell, and it was with some difficulty and danger that we were taken off from the beach to the ship. I was knocked down by the surf whilst getting into the boat, and got very wet. The weather, instead of moderating, became so bad that, without being able to communicate with the island again or to take our goods or specimens on board, the captain had to run for the Bluff without waiting to complete his cargo.
On the morning of the 26th (Easter Monday), while running before wind and sea, a very heavy sea broke on board and swept the decks, washing overboard a large surf-boat and the ship's quarter-boat with davits, the cook's galley, with the cook and a young Maori boy in it, and one of the watch on deck. The heavy sea running rendered it impossible to do anything to try to save the men: nothing was ever seen of either men or wreckage. The log recorded a calm at 4 a.m., and at the time the wave came, about 8.30, the barometer was down to 28–15°. There was comparatively little wind till the barometer began to rise, which it did at the rate of about 0–1 an hour. The wind was from E. to S.W. and S. After this we had a fairly good passage, and landed at the Bluff on the 31st of March.
We had to leave the island with just the clothes we wore, and leave everything on the island that we had collected. Some of our things were brought up on the next trip of the boat, but, as might be expected, a number of valuable specimens were ruined, and others never reached us. My photographs and apparatus were brought safely, but, as I said above, the photographs were not satisfactory as works of art. They, however, are of interest as showing several points with greater accuracy than any drawing could do.
I have to thank Professor Parker, the Curator of the Otago University Museum, for the permission to use the specimens collected for the purposes of my paper, and Mr. Jennings, the taxidermist to the Museum, whose kindness to me during my illness on the voyage both down to the island and back to the Bluff I can never forget.
[Footnote] * See above, Art. XXII., p. 210.
Note.—In the list of the manuscripts presented by Sir George Grey to the Capetown library, South Africa, there is a diary kept by a Mr. John Cook, who resided on the island for six months in 1850.
I have also a memorandum as follows: “A Sojourn on the Macquarrie Islands, and Sufferings of the Hunters': Capt. Sinclair; October, 1877–8.” This, I suppose, will be an account of the wreck of the schooner “Bencleugh,” but I cannot find the description.