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Chapter XXXII. — Other Aliens on Tutira Prior to 1882

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Chapter XXXII.
Other Aliens on Tutira Prior to 1882.

According to the Wellington Acclimatisation Society's account,—an exact and democratic document, the courtesy prefix and initials of the bullock-puncher responsible for their carriage inland being given,—red-deer were introduced in '62. At the suggestion of John Morrison, then New Zealand Government agent in London, Prince Albert had presented six deer to the colony—three for Wellington and three for Canterbury. Two stags and four hinds had been captured in Windsor Park and there housed for a short period in preparation for their long sea voyage. One stag and two hinds were shipped by the Triton for Wellington, where on 5th June one stag and one hind arrived, the other dying during the voyage of 127 days. About the same date the other three deer were despatched for Canterbury, one hind only reaching Lyttelton alive. This hind was reshipped to Wellington. For some months the survivors were kept in a stable near Lambton Quay, where, according to the Society's report, they appeared to have been regarded somewhat in the light of white elephants. There was considerable grumbling by the public and by the members of the Provincial Government at the expense of their upkeep. Eventually J. R. Carter, then M.H.R. for the Wairarapa, offered to defray the cost of their conveyance to that district. To this the superintendent of the province agreed; the deer were replaced in the boxes in which they had travelled from England and carted—he shall have his prefix to the last—by Mr W. R. Herstwell over the Rimutaka Range to Carter's station on the Taranaki Plains. There they were given into the charge of James Robinson. After several weeks further detention they were liberated early in the year '63; crossing the Ruamahanga, the little herd of three took up its abode on the Maungaraki Range.

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Four years later according to one observer, five years later according to another, a red-deer stag had reached Tutira. George Bee, then working his father's station on the Heru-o-Tureia, believes he saw it first in '68; MacMahon, at that date managing Sir Thomas Tancred's Maungaharuru property, thinks it arrived in '67. Aparahama, Anaru Kune, and other natives give no specific date, but mention contemporaneous events which, however, I can only fix as having taken place also “about” the late 'sixties.

The attraction of the stag to the spot chosen was doubtless the small herd of wild horses strayed from native villages deserted and never afterwards repeopled. With them the lonely deer formed one of those curious animal friendships that strayed creatures make, a companionship similar to that of another stag which, at a much later date, consorted with the Black Head stud bulls,1 or to that of the first rabbit seen north of Petane, which for several seasons accompanied a flock of “wild turkeys” on the Tangoio run. The locality otherwise was in no way suitable. There was not an acre of grass-land in the neighbourhood; it was covered with tutu thickets and tangled bracken.

There, however, the deer remained for several years, a source of speculation to settlers and shepherds and of wonder to parties of natives pig-hunting or pigeon-shooting. Although the late Mr J. N. Williams and other friends and correspondents in Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay knew of the whereabouts of this wandered stag, the stages of its journey, as might have been expected, had been unmarked. That it followed for a great portion of the distance the mountain-top route I have little doubt. By this line the forest lands and densely wooded gorges running athwart its route would be avoided. Had the stag travelled by the coastal route, consisting then of strips of sea-shore and narrow native paths connecting station with station, sooner or later he would have fallen in with cattle or horses and stayed his career on one or another of the coastal runs. That he did not do so proves, I think, that

1 Mr Leslie M'Hardy of Black Head writes as follows: “The stag you inquire after used to come here about the month of April every year and stay for about four months. I remember him for three years, and the last year was the year of the Tarawera eruption—'86. He always stayed in the bull paddock at the cattle station, and was always to be found in the company of one old white bull. He seemed quite tame, as we could ride quite close to him, and on one occasion he followed the bulls into the stockyard. There was no doubt about him being a Wairarapa deer, as he was a typical Windsor Park specimen. He used to be very cruel to our bulls, but they got so used to him that they would not fight with him, and would lie down when he came near them.”

page 316 the wanderer must have passed through regions uninhabited by the larger domesticated animals. It is, in fact, as certain as any matter of this sort can be, that the first red-deer on Tutira reached the station by the ranges connecting the Wairarapa with Hawke's Bay.

The distance of the journey, about 150 miles, gauged even in mileage, is respectable; in regard to difficulties surmounted it is little less than marvellous. Loose rock, snow, pitfalls camouflaged by herbage uncropped and unburnt, want of water, entanglement and poisonous plants such as tutu and rangiora (Brachyglottis rangiora), must have at different times imperilled every mile of the distance. Only those who know by experience the enormous percentage of loss among heavy beasts running on country previously unstocked, can fully appreciate the risks of the long journey, the small chance of ultimate survival. Though nothing further can now be known, the identity and age of the stag, the exact course of his trek, the time taken in the journey, are interesting subjects upon which to speculate. It is difficult, for instance, to believe that the progenitor of the North Island herds should have deserted his hinds. It is more likely that the Tutira stag may have been the first-born male of the Windsor Park importations—the first red-deer calf born in New Zealand—either expelled by his sire, the master stag, or a voluntary wanderer in search of a harem of his own. Excepting likelihood, however, there is nothing now upon which to base theories. Those who saw the stranger were fully occupied with their own affairs; they had other matters in mind than the noting of his horn growth; he was merely the stag that had wandered from the Wairarapa. He was, moreover, apparently undetected during his journey; had he been anywhere seen by bushmen or shepherds, so curious an occurrence would have come to the ears of the run-holder near whose country he had been spotted, the fact would have obtained circulation at shows, race-meetings, county clubs, acclimatisation society meetings—in short, wherever country folk do most consort.

Although, however, the details of the journey can never be precisely known, there is one fact in connection with it worth recording,—it is this, that when forty years later rabbits in alarming numbers reached Tutira, they appeared in greatest profusion on the very same locality as that tenanted by the stag: it is probable that they had followed the same general line taken by the deer, threaded the self-same page 317 passes and moved along the summits trodden by him so many seasons before. I have always felt an interest in this exiled deer, in his wonderful trek, his solitary existence, his pathetic affection for his unresponsive neighbours the horses, his banishment from kith and kin, and lastly, his tragic fate—tangled by his antlers among supple-jack and slowly starved to death.

Until the ‘nineties no other deer reached Tutira. A hind was then seen on the station, but by that date the local herd of red-deer liberated in the highlands of Hawke's Bay had been established; the wanderer had strayed but fifty or sixty miles over open, well-roaded country. Twice since that time a single deer has been on Tutira for brief periods.

The line of the stag's journey, it is hardly necessary to state, is merely conjectural. We can only surmise that he did not—for reasons already given—travel by the coast; that he could not have travelled through breadths of forest land, dark dense jungle, seamed, moreover, with ravines running at right angles to the line of march. The route suggested is that of general likelihood, compiled from bushmen, shepherds, and surveyors, each wise in the lore of his particular beat.

There have, in all likelihood, been many liberations in New Zealand of black swan (Cygnus atratus). The earliest I can hear of were those freed in the ‘fifties at Kawau by Sir George Grey. They were imported from Australia, the story goes, to destroy the water-cress, then considered as a menace to some of the New Zealand rivers. It is quite as likely that Sir George acclimatised the breed on æsthetic grounds. Be that as it may, swan cannot have spread fast, for Archdeacon Samuel Williams has told me that they reached Hawke's Bay—at any rate, that they became conspicuous—only in the 'seventies; in the early eighties I remember them very plentiful in the lagoon whereon Napier South is now built. Swan have always been scarce on Tutira, where there are no suitable feeding-grounds; a few pair remain for a few days each season.

Pea-fowl reached Maungaharuru in the 'seventies. Mr MacMahon, for long resident in the district, first as manager of that station and later of Waihua, has told me of a hen which for years lived a solitary life on the former station. Another hen had been resident not far from the Tutira homestead five years before my arrival, and continued to live for another four years in a patch of open bush west of the Natural Paddock hill. A third hen appeared on the run in 1900, and survived page 318 for three seasons. Each of these female birds had a beat from which she never wandered, for pea-fowl are too large not to be dangerously conspicuous. The plumage of the male, indeed, may account for the fact that hens only have reached Tutira; male birds migrating may have been at once destroyed in consequence of their brilliant trains. Persecution of strangers, and especially of conspicuous strangers, is one of the minor factors by which nature emphasises limitation of range. The handsome native Paradise duck (Casarca variegata), for instance, which until 1917 but rarely visited the run, used to be unceasingly persecuted by hawks (Circus Gouldi) working in parties of three and four, whilst it is scarcely an exaggeration to state that the first arriving rabbits and hares were plucked alive.1 Pea-fowl have never been domesticated on the run; the birds reaching it from time to time were stragglers from a flock belonging to a settler twenty miles distant.

Pheasants have been imported into Hawke's Bay by private enterprise, by the Hawke's Bay Provincial Council, and, I believe, by the local Acclimatisation Society. Though never plentiful even in the 'eighties, it was possible to obtain three or four brace of cock birds in a day. They are now so scarce that, but for their crowing during earth-tremors, we should scarcely know of their presence on the station. Pheasants are either peculiarly sensitive to vibration or particularly noisy in their comment on it, for earth-tremors of even the faintest kind are invariably registered by the cock birds, tremors so slight as to be barely sensible even to persons perfectly quiescent; if by comparison of watches it is discovered that pheasants have in several parts of the run simultaneously chirruked, it is safe to infer that a slight shake has taken place.

A brace of partridges were sprung by myself and partner in September of '82, during inspection of our eastern boundary. They had been liberated on Moeangiangi by its then owner, Mr John Taylor.

Of alien insects on Tutira before my day, the mason fly (Pison prumosus), the black cricket (Gryllus servillei), and the honey bee were the most remarkable. The first-named, believed to have reached New Zealand in chinks and knots of Australian lumber, was noticed by the late Mr J. N. Williams in the late 'sixties. Unlike the black

1 After the great flood of 1917 a large flock of Paradise duck remained for months about the mud-submerged flats in the vicinity of the lake. During that time the harrier hawks became used to them. As a strange species they no longer attracted particular attention. Now in 1920 the few pair that remain to breed are left comparatively unmolested.

page 319 cricket, it seems never to have received a Maori name—a fact in itself pointing to a comparatively late naturalisation, to a period when the mind of the native had become surfeited with novelties, his intelligence sapped by ill-digested alien knowledge, his old-time interest lost in forest life and lore.

In the open the mason fly plasters its cells on to the pitted surfaces of limestone crag; within doors its vermiculated clay chambers are fitted into every available crack and chink, into key-holes, beneath projecting laps of weather-boarding, in folds of suspended garments. A situation particularly favoured is an oilskin coat suspended on a verandah—such an article, if shaken after prolonged disuse, always precipitating a rain of broken clay chips and flaccid spiders. Every chamber contains cells of different sizes, in each of which an egg is deposited, and the compartment then filled in with spiders, which for long retain their freshness, and which appear to be torpid rather than dead. In due course the eggs hatch, and the grubs feeding on the stores provided, become white maggots. Later again—unless, as not infrequently happens, destroyed by parasites—the mature insect, dark, slender, and elegant, emerges and completes the circle of life.

The black cricket, puharanga—“bush-ranger”—of the natives, whose faint musical trill tells us that autumn has come once more, is reputed to have reached New Zealand either in matting from the islands, or in the bedding of troops from India. It has never been plentiful on Tutira; the rainfall is too great for a semi-tropical insect, the soils of the run too porous. Only in localities where alluvial clays fissure and crack in summer can the insect become a plague, but on such lands I have known its numbers multiply into millions.1

1 Whakawhitira, a Poverty Bay farm, owned by my brother, Harry W. G.-S., in the 'nineties, was on one occasion so stripped of grass that not a green blade remained over several hundred acres. Each stool of ryegrass was nibbled as close as the night's stubble on a man's unshaven chin. The season had been unusually dry, and the soil—an exceedingly stiff “papa” alluvium—had fissured in innumerable deep cracks which afforded cover to the crickets, and where they bred in enormous quantities. Their numbers, vast in themselves, were reinforced by a general move coastwards from the interior, a movement increasingly noticeable during autumn. It was indeed only on the approach of winter that the crickets loosened their grip on the ravished farm; finally, probably in search of warmth, they perished in the sea, at any rate on two occasions whilst on the bay I noticed them thick aboard the steamers. Besides ruining the ryegrass fields, the boles of the lemon and orchard groves were barked as rabbits in snow bark ash and sycamore. As rabbits, too, cleared certain districts of cabbage-trees (Cordyline australis), first falling and then eating them, so the black crickets felled my brother's nine-feet maize crop, nibbling each stem through at the base, and then on the ground consuming stalk, leaf, and milky pod. Leather bands of machinery, kid boots, wall-papers and men's coats, were attacked. Ducks, fowls, and turkeys, gorged with insects, laid as if spring were again come. Poison was of no avail: grain phosphorised, or soaked in strychnine, or soaked in arsenic, was apparently innocuous to these terrible insects. The damage done—the utter destruction of grass and crop—was a revelation to me; having witnessed the ruin wrought in a few weeks, it has been easy to sympathise with the demands of early agriculturists for the importation of birds.

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The honey bee was liberated about the same date at the Bay of Islands and at New Plymouth; probably from the former, Hawke's Bay has been stocked directly or indirectly. The newly-imported insect had no enemies to contend with; there were no diseases and no competitors. The winters of the North Island are brief, or non-existent; there is no single month of the year when some native shrub or another is not to be found in blossom. Local conditions were extraordinarily favourable too; portions of eastern Tutira, viewed even from considerable distances, were during spring-time actually grey with the profusion of white clover-heads. Everywhere then also the purple-headed prickly thistle possessed the land. There was not a hollow tree or crannied limestone rock which in the 'eighties did not contain a hive; colonies were established even in the open, though from these unsheltered swarms no great store of honey was obtainable, dews and rains diluting the nectar gathered, and washing it from the uncapped cells.

The exuberant prosperity of the bee has passed away with the disappearance of the white clover and the thistle. Few indeed of the hollow crags now harbour colonies. One rock only—a vast square projecting from the highest tier of ocean floor on the Racecourse Paddock—has never to my knowledge during forty seasons been untenanted. Bees are now again on the increase, owing to ploughing, the use of artificial manures, and consequent revival of white clover.

Only these few insects, birds, and mammals had reached Tutira before my own occupation of the station; it was the good fortune of the writer to witness personally a later and greater trek of living things.