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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 30

VI. Animal and Vegetable Productions

VI. Animal and Vegetable Productions.

New Zealand might be regarded as a very empty land in respect of animals till within the last hundred years. A small rat, which has been almost if not quite exterminated by the European rat, and a wild dog, supposed to have been introduced cither by the Maories or soon after, and a few harmless lizards, seem to have constituted nearly all the animal life in the country. Birds, however, are numerous, and some of the forms are very singular. A tribe of colossal ostrich-like birds has become extinct, and other species are fast disappearing with the advance of colonisation. These are being replaced by more useful species through the agency of the Acclimatisation Societies. In the neighbourhood of Auckland, and in some other places, pheasants and partridges are abundant. Most of our common singing-birds have also found their way there; and as the rook has very recently been added to the imports, the homesteads of New Zealand, especially those which the taste of the owner has surrounded with English trees, will soon have a very home-look about them. It is unnecessary to add that all kinds of domestic poultry are there, and that in such a climate they thrive remarkably well. Fortunately there are no snakes, serpents, or any noxious reptiles. From all these New Zealand is as free as Ireland itself. The cattle introduced by Cook seem to have died out for the time, but the pig has multiplied exceedingly, and in some remote districts has become a wild animal, living on fern root, and not seldom carrying off the young lambs.

In more recent years large numbers of every kind of domestic animal, and many of them of high quality, have been introduced. page 18 Very large prices have been paid by some of the colonists for horses, cattle, pigs, and especially for sheep, which have been imported not only from England, but from the best continental breeds, such as that at Rambouillet, belonging to the late Emperor of the French. That the climate is admirably adapted for all sorts of domestic animals is proved by their multiplying so fast, and by their comparative freedom from many of their European diseases. Deer have also been introduced in various parts of the island, and seem to do very well. There are also hares and rabbits, but the latter are no great acquisition.

The rivers in New Zealand are on the whole destitute of fish, but it is hoped that ere long salmon, trout, and other home varieties will be quite common. The sea is tenanted by whales and seals, although not in such abundance as some years ago. There are also various kinds of fish—the butterfish, the snapper, the moki, a flat fish like a flounder, and also one about the size and shape of a herring, and passing under that name, as well as various others. Oysters, mussels, and crayfish also abound, and in several places whitebait of very good quality. There is no doubt that New Zealand fisheries, which in time past have not been much looked after, but which are now protected by legislative enactments, will ere long become of great importance.

Insects are rather abundant, and some of them are not over-pleasant neighbours. But with the introduction of birds, and with the progress of cultivation, it is to be hoped they will become, as in some parts they have already become, less troublesome. Wasps are known only by their absence, while the common bee has its place and work at many a homestead, and also in the forests, where trees are frequently cut down, with their cavities filled with immense quantities of honey.

It would occupy too much space, in such a publication as this, to give a proper account of the vegetable life in New Zealand, its abundance and variety being alike remarkable: The mountains, plains, and valleys are perpetually green, there being, exclusive of herbage and smaller plants, upwards of a hundred kinds of trees and shrubs. A New Zealand forest, from the thickness of the undergrowth, the size of the larger trees, and the interlacing of these by climbing plants, has a very different appearance from the forests in the home country. In some of the more cultivated parts of the country there are beautiful hedges, generally of thorn, sometimes interspersed with myrtle, roses, and geraniums. One of the most valuable trees in New Zealand is the kauri, now confined to the north part of the province of Auckland. This is much used for building purposes, while kauri gum is a valuable article of commerce. Then there are the red and white pine extending over a large part of the country, the puriri, the rimu, the totara, and many others. Some of these have been found a hundred and fifty feet high, and eight page 19 or ten in diameter, so that most of our home-trees seem stunted to any one who has been in New Zealand. The timber of not a few is capable of a very high polish, and it is now being made use of to some extent in the manufacture of house furniture, useful and ornamental.

There are also different varieties of ferns, from the tiniest little plant up to the fern-tree, which sometimes rises to 25 or 30 feet, and numerous species of highly ornamental shrubs. The wild flax (phormium tenax) must however be specially noted, as a most valuable article of commerce. Formerly, it was the material from which the natives prepared their clothing, mats, nets, and baskets.. But within the last few years, while a great quantity has been manufactured into ropes and cordage in New Zealand, a very large quantity has been sent in a partly prepared state to Britain, where it commands from £30 to £42 per ton, according to its measure of preparation. But this industry will not attain its. full development till some more simple and effectual means of separating the gummy substance from the fibre has been discovered.

In addition to the native New Zealand trees and plants, a great many others have been introduced from various parts of the world. Australia has contributed its blue and red gum, the acacia and sundry others, while most of the trees common in the British Islands have been added from time to time. The oak, the ash, the willow, the beech, the poplar, and the elm, have all a place in New Zealand. Although they do not become evergreen, like the trees of the country, they retain their leaves for a longer period, and their growth is much more rapid than in their native land.

Fruit is abundant in most parts of New Zealand. To the north of Auckland, oranges, citrons, and loquats may be grown, while farther south, peaches, apricots, grapes, figs, melons, tomatoes, apples, plums, pears, strawberries, gooseberries, &c., are found according to temperature. Roots and vegetable of all kinds also abound; pumpkins, carrots, turnips (of which 25 to 30 tons per acre is not an uncommon yield), peas, cabbage, parsnip, onions, and magnificent potatoes, grow largely. Hops have also been tried with success, chiefly in the Nelson province. In short, it may be added, that nearly all orchard and garden productions, fruits, flowers, and vegetables known in Britain are known in New Zealand, where also they generally come to greater perfection.

In regard to farm-produce, much the same may be said. Wheat (of which 48 to 55 bushels per acre may be obtained), barley, and oats are freely grown, with the addition of maize in some parts of the North Island. But agriculture has not been followed out on any very extensive scale as yet, from the scarcity and expense of labour, and from the want of an adequate market for much produce. More and more, however, the colon- page 20 ists are giving themselves to this mode of life, and as population increases, which, from the new Government scheme of immigration, it is expected to do, yet more attention will be paid to farming. The better parts of the sheep-runs, especially of those nearer the towns, will be let or sold for this purpose, and a number of moderately sized farms will be laid down, although for some years these may not be regularly cropped over as farms generally are in Britain. And there is no doubt that a steady industrious man having 40 or 60 acres fenced and chiefly laid down in clover and good English grasses, with little or no winter to provide against, can make a very comfortable livelihood for himself and his family. To this position any such man may easily attain from the comparatively high wages he would receive during his first few years in New Zealand. And the meat-preserving companies, which are already doing a great business, in spite of the prejudices among many against tinned beef and mutton, will help to secure a price that will pay the farmer.