[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-
[Footnote] * Botany, vol. i.; Introduction, p. 57. See also Science Progress, July, 1894, p. 395: W. Botting Hemsley.