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Yesterdays in Maoriland

Preface — The Author

page 7

The Author

Joy of discovery is writ large over the work of the simple, sympathetic foreigner who is the author of this book.

Fifty or so years ago he was admitted without question to the ranks of bearded Victorian pioneers to whom the Dominion of New Zealand owes so much.

To-day, however, he is forgotten.

It is the object of this book to save his work from forgetfulness, to place his among the gallery of portraits of the men of a bygone age, on whom the younger generations can look back.

Perhaps, also, he will help to remind them how good, how strenuous life was 'in the good old days,' when their Dominion was still half-savage, still unsettled, after the toughest of colonial wars, and before the fire and axe of succeeding generations of peaceful settlers had robbed her of so much of her incomparable possession, the native bush.

A remnant of that age may even be alive to-day, to recognise the picture given here of vanished times, when Ruapehu and Mount Cook were still unclimbed, when there was a tattooed Maori king, and the cry of the kiwi was still in the land.

Andreas Reischek was born in 1845, in the country town of Linz on the Danube, the son of a poor tax- page 8 inspector. His mother died soon after he was born, and his regular schooling lasted but a few years, after which he was apprenticed to a baker. This good man was, fortunately, fond of country life, and took his pupil with him on his excursions, so that the young boy soon became an excellent shot, developed a natural bent for observation, and was soon spending what little money he earned on scientific and travel books.

The war of 1866 caught him in its toils, and he saw service on the Tyrolese front, after which he travelled in Italy and elsewhere, seizing what opportunities came his way to extend his knowledge. In 1875 he married, and settled in Vienna as a taxidermist and seller of educational necessities.

The longing of his youth was soon to be fulfilled. Ferdinand Hochstetter, the famous geologist, whose great book about New Zealand was the fruit of his world tour on the frigate Novara, got to know of Reischek's abilities. One day he asked him if he would like to go out to New Zealand to arrange the newly built museum at Christchurch. Sir Julius von Haast, the director, had just written to Hochstetter, in his capacity as superintendent of the Imperial Natural History Museum at Vienna, to find if he could lay hands on a capable and practical man for the work. Reischek accepted the proposal with enthusiasm, taking no thought of the young wife he would have to leave behind. For the ambition of his youth, to see and explore unknown countries, was to be fulfilled.

The stipulated length of his engagement was two page 9years. But it was only after twelve full years, on April 13, 1889, that he at last returned to his home and to his wife. His passionate enthusiasm for Nature observation led him always to undertake fresh expeditions, which each time swallowed in advance his little store of hard-earned money; but the spell of New Zealand was so strong upon him that he was well content.

Reischek studied English during the voyage out, and our language soon became second nature to him, so that a large part of his records are written in English, and even for a long time after his return to Europe, his speech was thickly larded with anglicisms.

In New Zealand he arranged the museums of Christchurch, Auckland, and Wanganui — then a little town of a few thousand inhabitants — besides a large number of private collections. But the work he really loved lay far from towns, in the mountain and the bush; and in the twelve eventful years he made himself thoroughly acquainted with the country, the natives, and the odd flora and fauna of the Islands. He soon picked up the Maori language, a knowledge of which was to be of great service to him.

In the course of eight lengthy expeditions with his faithful dog Cæsar, he wandered through New Zealand from top to bottom, and also visited the adjacent islands.

English and Maori alike esteemed Reischek as a man and a pioneer of the true breed, and he spoke lovingly of the Colony to the very day of his death. His gift for honest friendship was recognised when he was elected member of one of New Zealand's first page 10Freemasons' lodges, mainly composed of Scotsmen; and his services to Science when he was made a member of the Linnean and other English scientific societies.

England was eager to buy his collection, but he preferred to give it to his native country where, until a year or two ago, his work was practically neglected. A Reischek Exhibition, held in Vienna in 1926, and the publication of the German edition of his diary, have already done much to remedy this neglect.

Few men have loved New Zealand better than this simple-hearted foreigner, the record of whose intrepid and untiring journeyings enriches our knowledge of that vanished age to which New Zealanders will ever look back with a mingling of pride and regret.

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