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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Epilogue by the Author's Son

Epilogue by the Author's Son

Thus concludes the narrative of my father's life in New Zealand. But in welcoming him back, a silent heroine of his story must not be forgotten. Through all sorts of privations and hardships Reischek's wife, my never-to-be-forgotten mother, had waited for him in unchangeable trust and love.

After a brief and happy marriage, she, a young and lusty bride, had seen her husband leave her for 'three years' at the other side of the universe. When at the end of that time he did not return, but wrote instead that his work and his interest belonged to this strange new country and to the cause of Science, she accepted this renunciation without demur, thereby sacrificing her own natural rights and many, many hundred happy days of her youth.

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Hair streaked with silver, she now awaited on the platform with trembling heart the return of this bronzed and bearded man who had become a stranger to her. As she ran towards him, he must have felt the pangs of remorse for all those forsworn years of youth and love. Only from her eyes there still shone youth, and love, and happiness — as he embraced her and stooped in the welcoming kiss of return.

Two years afterwards a son was born to them. Reischek's life had achieved a new purpose. Work for the Science that he loved was over; now began a life of devotion to his family.

I look upon it as a deed of almost Biblical heroism that my father, a man of liberal mind and spirit, coming from a land of liberty where men are esteemed for worth of character rather than class or place, should, in the narrow confines of the homeland, have accepted the yoke of servitude without bitterness or thought of flight. Fresh from the free life of an English Colony, and the noble simplicity of the Maori, he had to suffer anew the domineering caste spirit which condemned him to poverty on the ground that he was merely a self-made man, a taxidermist, and no academic scholar.

On his return, Reischek fondly hoped that the Imperial Museum would purchase his collection without delay. He was poor, and could not make a gift of it, but in the immediate need of providing himself with a home, demanded for it far, far less than he had expended. He was made to wait, however, while a newspaper war ensued on the subject. Meanwhile, page 308he received tempting offers of many times as much from abroad, notably from England. Many foreign scientists, among them Virchow, came to see the collection, and were astonished at its completeness, begging him to pack up at once, and start off on other expeditions to the New World.

Reischek held out, however, and at last a number of his countrymen subscribed to present the collection to the Imperial Museum, now the State Museum, where a special Reischek Exhibition was held some four years ago, in 1926.

The annals of the Natural History Section for the year 1890 state: 'The significance of this collection lies in the ethnographical and zoological sections. The first includes 453 specimens from New Zealand, and must be the last great collection of Maori objects to reach Europe. Among them are 37 Maori skulls — a number reached by few collections, but of first-class importance in view of the perfect condition of the specimens. The ornithological objects total 3016 specimens, 738 being of extinct exotic birds, and 2278 specimens of the ornis of New Zealand, including a number of new species. The mammals comprise 120 skins; fishes and reptiles some 8000 objects; while the Reischek collection of plants contains 2406 items.'

After seeing this collection safely housed, Reischek bought a small house at Käfermarkt, so that he could live again amongst the woods where he had first gone hunting. After a few years, he moved to Linz, his birthplace, where he was asked to superintend the formation of the new Francis-Caroline Museum; and page 309here, in 1898, he built himself an idyllic home on a rock overlooking the Danube, where only a few brief years of happiness were granted him.

I can see him clearly before me now, his large, sinewy frame, with its high, expressive forehead, the fine nose, and those wonderful deep-set eyes, as I trotted beside him through the meadows and woods, while he taught me the secrets of their animal inhabitants. Those were joyful hours, too, while the boy listened to his father's life and experiences in faraway New Zealand. On still evenings, in the loving circle of his acquaintances, Reischek would sometimes bring out that trusty companion of his wanderings, his mouth-organ, and play this primitive instrument as I have never heard any one play it before or since.

Returning to his ice-cold Museum laboratory one day after a day's excavation of an old Roman camp in the vicinity, Reischek caught a severe chill, from which he never properly recovered. On April 3, 1902, he was suddenly taken worse. He asked for me continually, and the moment I ran back from school and entered the room, it was to catch the last glimpse of those smiling, fascinating eyes.