Art. LXX.—Old Huts at Dusky Sound.
[Read before the Wellington Philosophical Society, 14th March, 1899.]
Just a gossip about some old huts here which I only found a few days ago. It may be well known that there was an old pa here, but I never heard of it.
The site of the villages was on the sunny side of Luncheon
Cove, on the slopes of a little valley, where every floor needed levelling out, so that they are now easily seen, though all else-has nearly disappeared. The wreck people may have lived there, and the sealers evidently built a few huts, for the “pungas,” or fern-tree stems, were cut with wide, sharp axes; but long before that every desirable site in the cove and on the neighbouring islands was occupied by little huts-about 8 ft. long and 6 ft. wide, and in one spot I think there was a big place, but this and all the little floors are now thinly grown over with fern-trees from 6 ft. to 12 ft. high, and also a. dense growth of young trees, so that I had anchored several times in the cove and did not know that there was subject for so much interest within a stone's throw.
The sealers' huts are now mounds of “pungas,” very useful in showing stages in the decay of such material, which is wonderfully slow—so slow that some of these huts, which were a good size, may have been built by Mr. Reven's men, who came here in the “Britannia” in 1872, and started to-build their little vessel there (perhaps), because it was the nearest cove to the seals.
All the good firewood has been long ago cut down, and only a few red-pines are left standing. On one of these the date 1882 was chopped with an axe, and still looks quite fresh; but on the other was a very old mark, the common sailor's signature of the last century—X. I suppose the poor fellow did his best, and that the date was too much for him—partly our loss.
I had no spade, and got no certain evidence of the presence of Maoris, but there is no doubt about the great age, for a rata-tree 1 ft. thick had grown on one of the floors, and was cut down by the early sealers. It is the only possible place for women and children to live in the sound, because there are few or no sandflies there, and it is sunny, perfectly sheltered—the most beautiful little harbour you could imagine, and mild because of the warm sea-current, which is often 55° on a frosty morning up at our place. So we may be sure the Maoris did live there for centuries, when the sea was swarming with seals, which, had secret breeding-places then; and, when a boat's crew could get a hundred a day, the Maori could get plenty of the best of clothes, and, to his taste, delicious food also, abundance of fish in the smooth water, penguins in season and their eggs, and mutton-birds on some of the islands, so that we might expect the presence of a pa there. But why did not Cook see it? He was in there, and marked the cove nicely on his map (a copy of which Mrs. Hocken gave me), which none of the other map-makers have done or even made a decent attempt at. If, however, there was a fringe of trees round the water, and the natives, aware of his
presence, put out fires and laid low, he might have missed seeing the village, if he only put in to the first creek for lunch on his way out round the island.
I stayed several days, for the dim traces were of great, interest. I could distinctly trace the pathways worn out of the hillside, and in one place a piece going up hill was corduroyed with the durable “pungas,” just barely preserved well enough to give an idea of their origin. In another some rude fellow had built his hut in the natural path, and every one had to go up hill a little to get past it, for the place was crowded with huts, and on many are little mounds of decayed “pungas” grown over with scrub and fern-trees.
It is not only pleasant in the cove, but outside it is beautiful among the many little islands, where the water is so smooth. I landed on several islands, but it takes time, for there are about forty of them. They are all bush, of course, but it is not hard to walk through. They are generally pretty high, and some are little mountains too steep to climb. I think I saw traces of huts everywhere I landed, so that there must have been a great number of people here at one time. Then, by the greatest piece of good luck, I went to a steep little flat-topped island in the sun, on the side of a narrow strait, and there I found two little huts standing entire, just as they were left, perhaps, a hundred years ago, though this is hard to believe, one of them looked so good. The wind had eddied the dry leaves into it, which suggested a sleeper there not long ago, but it must have been a Van Winkle, for out of the roof is growing a tree, a Senecio, not up through, the roof, but it started on top, and sent its roots down the punga roof. It is in an airy dry place, where you may suppose the tree that loves the wet would not grow quickly, yet its stem is 6 in. thick. I wish I could send the hut to you, but it is too frail to move, for my dog got up on it and broke in a rafter. It is about 8 ft. long and 6 ft. wide, ridge-pole and all of pungas, with one end open. It is a hovel that any man would need long training to live in, so it is probably that of a Maori who could not find room to suit him in the cove, or a temporary camp. I often wondered what they did for a tent, but there it is, and not a bad substitute when it is cold and windy and the material was easily cut with their stone axes. Or perhaps it was a Maori of later date who wanted to hide, because it is in the most unlikely place for any one to land, and there is a good look-out. Fancy some refugee of that broken tribe, who had experience of the sealers' tender mercies, living here until recent years, distrusting everything in a boat, or in the shape of a man. Maybe he is not dead yet, and if ever I find him I will present him with a beautiful dinghy, axes, spike-nails, and fishhook, and then be as happy
as him. But I am afraid he is dead long ago for want of his sealskin clothes.
I was doubtful about these being Maori habitations when I could not find the stones for fireplaces in the centre of the floors, but they could not have had a fire in this hut. It must have been only a sleeping-place, and they may have had a big kitchen. The smallness of the huts suggests temporary camps, as if they only came here in the season for seals but they could not flourish here without plenty of canoes, so that the large population had either grown up here or come by sea, and Cook's description of the canoe does not suggest a sea-going craft.
I shall take a spade when I go out there again, and will write to you if I have anything worth writing about.
I have been several times to Pickersgill Harbour, and Captain Cook's clearing is quite easily traced by the old stumps and fallen trees on the bill, where no one else had any business. Even some of his small cut totara firewood is there yet, but of course no one would believe that. However, I am sending you a piece of totara older than that in a case going to Mr. Mait-land—-part of a side board of a canoe which we found under a cliff 100 ft. above and a quarter of a mile from the sea. The board was about 6 ft. long.