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Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand : a report comprising the results of official explorations

Chapter I. Introduction

page 236

Chapter I. Introduction.

The first mention of geological research in Canterbury, of which I can find any record, is in Dr. G. A. Mantell's paper on the remains of Dinornis, &c, collected by Mr. W. Mantell in the Middle Island of New Zealand—Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, Vol. VI. (1850). Dr. Mantell there prints the notes taken by Mr. Walter Mantell during a journey from Mount Grey to the Waitaki. They consist, first of some observations on the character of Banks' Peninsula, the volcanic origin of which is correctly described, although the beds on the crest of the range were mistaken for metaraorphic rocks. It is also mentioned that the Canterbury plains, consisting of slightly coherent gravel, are fringed by a series of newly formed hills of driftsand, by which Banks' Peninsula, formerly an island has recently been joined to the plains. Mr. Mantell estimates however, that the elevation of the plains near the foot of the mountains is not less than 350 or 400 feet, consequently about a thousand feet below their actual altitude, and he distinguishes also between the older tableland and the deltas of more recent origin, which have been and are still being formed near the mouths of the rivers. Next, the character of the vesicular volcanic rock (at Timaru), is pointed out and mention made of lignite existing inland of Timaru, which is however described as being of a more bituminous nature than that occurring near Mount Grey.

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In Dr. C. Forbes' paper "On the Geology of New Zealand, with notes on its carboniferous deposits"—(Quarterly Journal Geological Society of London, Vol. XI., 1855), we meet with a short description of the Canterbury plains, and the statement that they consist of a gravel formation, covered by alluvial deposits in the neighbourhood of the rivers. The 'author also observes that the plains are much cut up by immense dry water-courses, down which the mountain torrents must, at one time have rushed in great floods; he thus clearly recognised the character of the broad shallow water-courses on the fans, in which the rivers by which they were formed were flowing in succession. Dr. Forbes also visited the Mount Grey district, and by following the course of the Kowai, discovered a fossiliferous bed belonging to the Pareora formation, describing its contents correctly; he at the same time alludes to a seam of lignite, four feet thick at the foot of Mount Grey Further on, he speaks of the gravel which forms the substratum through out the Canterbury plains, and states his conviction that Banks' Peninsula, at a very recent period, must have been an island; he then correctly describes the chain of sandhills, having all the appearance of once having formed the sea shore from the mouth of the Waimakariri to the Waihora (Lake Ellesmere). He also points out that the soil covering the slopes of Banks' Peninsula consists of a yellow arenaceous clay, and that many specimens of the Moa are imbedded in it.

In the year 1864, after my researches in the Geology of Canterbury had already considerably advanced, Mr. W. T. Doyne, M.I.C.E., whose professional services shortly before had been secured by the Provincial Government, received instructions to report, from an engineering point of view, upon several of the rivers flowing through the Canterbury plains. In June, 1864, that gentleman furnished the Government with a very able report "Upon the Plains and Rivers of Canterbury," in which he also treated of the general characteristics of the Canterbury plains, and the rivers by which they were traversed or which take their rise in them, some interesting and instructive sections accompanying this Report, which was printed in folio at the Press office in 1864. A second report " Upon the River Waimakariri and the Lower Plains " was furnished to the Provincial Government, November 30th, 1865, by that Engineer. It was printed in folio at the Press office in the same year, and its value is enhanced by many illustrations, of which those proving the correctness of my fan theory, as put forward in my previous Report on the formation of the Canterbury plains, are very instructive. One of these illustrations page 238on a reduced scale, has been added to this Report. Mr. Doyne in his second Report treats principally of the lower course of the Waimakariri, in respect to the tendency it has for changing its course in a southerly direction, and thus endangering Christchurch; of Kaiapoi Island; of underground streams, as well as of the formation of the Canterbury plains by fluviatile action, all based upon his levels: subject's to which I shall return in due time. I have already referred to Mr. E. Dobson's valuable Report (page 174 et sequ.), in which, a considerable amount of interesting information in reference to the Physical Geography and Geology of the Central Chain is contained.

The following papers also deal with the geology of Canterbury and Westland:—Mr. J. Buchanan, of the Geological Survey of New Zealand, in 1866, visited the north-eastern portion of the Province, on his way to the Kaikoura district, and made some observations on its geological features, of which an account is to be found in his Report on the Kaikoura district.—Geological Survey Eeports, 1866-67. Besides a number of notices in publications of a general character, Dr. J. Hector, F.R.S., published in the Reports of the Geological Explorations of 1870-71, " On the geological structure of the Malvern Hills district"; and in those of 1871-2, "Further Report on Malvern Hill Coal." In the same publication for 1872-3, Captain Hutton, F.G.S., gives a general Report " On the Geology of the north-east portion of the South Island, from Cook's Straits to the Rakaia"; in which, notwithstanding his short stay in the Province, a great deal of information is contained.

I do not wish to refer here to a number of papers in the " Transactions of the New Zealand Institute," treating of the age and time of extinction of the Dinornithidæ as I shall allude to them when treating of the subject which has given rise to so much controversial writing.

It will also be observed that the Great Glacier Epoch of New Zealand and the formation of the Canterbury plains have mostly been selected by other scientific writers for treatment, and although I wish to avoid as much as possible entering into controversies, I shall not fail to review concisely some of the contents of a few of the principal papers, in order to clear, in some degree, the haze which has been spread by several of the writers in question.

The following are the titles of the principal papers by other writers treating of Canterbury Geology, in the " Transactions of the New Zealand Institute ":—

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  • In Volume V, issued May, 1873, "On the date of the last Great Glacier Period in New Zealand," by Captain F. W. Hutton, F.G.S.
  • In Volume VI, issued June, 1874:—(1) "Notes on the Glacier Period," by A. E. Dobson, C.E., F.G.S. (2) "On the Extinct Glaciers of the Middle Island of New Zealand," by W. T. L. Travers, F.L.S. (3) "On the Glacial Action and Terrace Formations of South New Zealand," by J. T. Thomson, F.R.G.S. (4) "On the Fossil Eeptilia of New Zealand," by James Hector, M.D., F.R.S.
  • In Volume VII, issued July, 1875:—(1) "Notes on Dr. Haast's supposed Pleistocene Glaciation of New Zealand," by W. T. L. Travers, F.L.S. (2) "On the Date of the Glacial Period"; a comparison of views represented in papers published in the "Transactions of the New Zealand Institute" in Volumes V and VI—by A. Dudley Dobson, C.E., F.G.S.
  • In Volume VIII, issued May, 1876:—(1) "On the old Lake System of New Zealand," with some observations on the formation of the Canterbury plains, by J. C. Crawford, E.G.S. (2) "On the Cause of the former Great Extension of the Glaciers in New Zealand," by Captain F. W. Hutton, F.G.S.