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Nation Making, a story of New Zealand

Chapter XXVIII. — Locating Fallow Deer

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Chapter XXVIII.
Locating Fallow Deer.

Deer from Burghley Park.—The Marquis and the Maiden.—A Bit of Romance.—The Deer on the River.—A Lurid illumination.—A black rushing River.—The Jaws of the Narrows.—A hard Battle.—A Mountain Road.—Stalwart Colonists.—The Maories and the Fallow Deer.—Man-eaters versus Deer-eaters.—Maori help.—A stiff Climb.—Hard Struggles.—Victory.—The Deer in their Mountain Home.

Twelve years ago a consignment of twenty English Fallow deer arrived at the port of Auckland. Of these, eighteen survived the ordeal of a three months' voyage.

Before describing their location in the interior, I cannot refrain from telling a pretty story told of the grandfather of the Marquis of Exeter, from whose seat at Burghley Park the deer were obtained.

This nobleman, inspired by an odd fancy, rambled incog. throughout England as an artist. Late one evening, he arrived at a shepherd's house, seeking food and shelter. The rude hospitality dispensed by the hands of the shepherd's fair daughter was so agreeable to the unknown stranger that, though a bright morning followed the stormy night, he prolonged his stay, page 263sketching bits of scenery, here and there. With light step and witching grace the child of nature led the artist to wooded knoll and shady dell. Everywhere he found scenic beauty. Everywhere sunshine and shadow greeted him. Everywhere the innocent maiden stood out in his pictures the fairest sunbeam in them all. Until at length, the beauty and simplicity of the fair shepherdess won his heart, and at the end of a month, he asked the shepherd for his daughter, and shortly afterwards, she became the Marchioness of Exeter, said to have been one of the handsomest women of her time. Kind reader, pray pardon the introduction of this bit of true romance into pages which record the hopes, the hard work, the adventures, and reverses of the busy toilers and traders of this practical age—so-called.

The Auckland Acclimatization Society, to whom the deer were consigned, entrusted their landing and location to Mr. Thomas Morrin and myself. Some account of this rather difficult operation may perhaps not be without interest, as showing one of the many things to be done in the Making of this young Nation.

Transferring such wild animals from ship to railway cars, and thence to a river steamer, was no easy task, but it was safely done.

The flooded state of the Waikato River made our progress slow, and steady rain all day, did not render it quite a pleasure trip. About midnight we entered the Narrows. The thick darkness and the rapid current of the flooded river, made the navigation of the Narrows no easy matter. Captain Spargo, whose page 264coolness and skill I could not but admire, now lit his lamps, in the shape of two large iron braziers, one on each side of the deck, forward of the paddle-boxes.

Just before entering the Narrows the fires in the braziers were in full blaze; two sailors constantly feeding them with wood and coal-tar. By this means, notwithstanding the thick darkness and surging current, the steamer was kept mid-stream; and slowly forged ahead, like some grim monster with fiery eyes, fighting against the black rushing river. As she dashed the water from her bows, the liquid fire illuminated the surging spray, and at intervals, as we passed a waterfall, fringed with shining foliage, it sparkled for an instant with rare and glittering beauty.

At length we reached the jaws of the Narrows under a full head of steam. The boat ground on her way through the seething waters; thud, thud, went the engines; louder and louder roared the steam, driving from the funnel, a fiery fountain of glowing sparks; whilst sheets of flame danced from the braziers, threatening every moment to set fire to the paddle-boxes. Now, I think of it, had a link or a bearing given way, it would have been awkward for the deer.

At last we emerged from the Narrows, and though the sensation was new and the surroundings weird and grand, we were not sorry to get into the less turbulent waters. At three o'clock next morning we arrived at the Cambridge wharf, and tumbling into bed at our hotel, snatched a few hours' sleep, ready for the hard work of the morrow.

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We had decided to place the deer on the park-like uplands of Maungakawa, a lofty range of wooded mountains, and had made arrangements accordingly. At early morn, the settlers mustered with their horses, waggons and sledges. It would be difficult to find a finer body of English yeomen than these hardy Waikato Colonists, who had so promptly responded to our call for help.

Without their willing and powerful aid we could not have accomplished the difficult task of transporting the deer up a precipitous range, 1,000 feet high, with the clay-tracks slippery as soap, from the heavy rains of the previous day. We were also fortunate in finding Mr. James Mackay and a large number of Maories at Cambridge. They were very inquisitive about the habits of the deer, and made many curious conjectures regarding them. One native said,

'It is all right. Mr. Firth is always bringing us some new fish or bird.'

'Ah,' said another, watching a deer chewing his cud, 'there is one of them grinding his teeth. I believe this new animal is a man-eater, brought here to destroy the Maories.'

Mr. Mackay who was standing near, said,

'Not at all; these animals eat grass and herbs, and if they did eat men, they might catch a stray Pakeha as well as a Maori.'

The Maori gentleman rejoined by asking rather a pertinent question:

'Are these animals fit for food?'

Mr. Mackay replied, 'Yes, very good eating; our page 266Rangitiras (noblemen) preserve them in large fenced cultivations of grass and trees.'

'Now,' said the aboriginal, 'I don't believe this animal (pointing to a buck) tastes like cow or sheep; I think he strongly resembles He naninani toa koroheke' (an old he-goat).

Mr. Mackay laughed and said, 'Come and help us to get them to Maungakawa.'

Intelligent Native again made a characteristic answer, by asking the question,

'He aha te utu ma Hohaia mo tenei rnaki?, ('What sum will Mr. Firth give in payment for this service?')

Mr. Mackay replied, 'Captain Cook landed pigs in New Zealand, and you have good sport and food from them. There was no Utu (payment) for that, and there can be none for this. Now then, let us go and paddle this new canoe, and help to pass the deer up the mountain side.'

At this, about a score started on horseback. In the meantime the waggons had been loaded with their live freight in pens, and the cavalcade, accompanied by mounted settlers and Natives, started for the foot of the range. Arrived there, the waggons were unloaded, and the deer in their pens or boxes were firmly lashed on sledges, each drawn by a pair of staunch and strong horses.

Now came the tug of war. We had to climb the steepest and greasiest road in the country, and nothing but the admirable position of the upland valley of the Maungakawa, with its abundant grass, sparkling page 267streams, wooded knolls and dells, would have warranted so difficult a task being undertaken, as placing them there. As each sledge was loaded Mr. Mackay told off a convoy of four Maories to accompany it. Three or four settlers followed in case of accident. And so, one by one, the sledges started. With steady efforts and desperate struggles, amidst terrific thunderstorms, attended by torrents of rain, through the mud, through the rain, through the lightning, these sturdy fellows fought their way, and at last, were rewarded by placing the deer in the charming park-like valleys of Maungakawa, without an accident of any kind.