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Situation and Extent--Discovery by Captain Cook--Description of the Country--Climate--Seasons--Soil--Produce--Native Birds and Fish--The Whale Fisheries--Population--Natives described.
THE New Zealand group consists of two large islands, called the northern and southern. A smaller island, called Stewarts, to the extreme south, and several adjacent islets.
The group extends in length from north to south from the 34th to the 48th degrees of south latitude, and in breadth from east to west from the 166th to the 179th degree of east longitude.
The extreme length exceeds eight hundred miles, and the average breadth, which is variable, is about one hundred miles. The surface of the islands is estimated to contain 62,000 square miles, or about forty millions of acres.
These islands were first seen by Tasman, the Dutch navigator, in 1642; but as he never landed, supposing them to form part of a great southern continent, the honour of their discovery belongs to Captain Cook, who first proved the land to consist of islands, by circumnavigating the group, and surveying the coasts with such remarkable accuracy, that the surveys have been relied on up to the present day.
The distance from Queen Charlotte's Sound on the southern shore of Cook's Straits to Sydney is about 1100 miles, and to Hobart Town (Van Dieman's Land), about 1200 miles.
A chain of lofty mountains intersects the whole of the southern and a great part of the northern island: some of these mountains reach the height of more than 14,000 feet above the level of the sea; their sides are clothed with forest timber. Besides this chain, there are other ranges of hills covered for the most part with wood, and in some instances clothed with fern.
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In the mountains lie the sources of numerous streams and rivers, flowing on either side to the sea.
The mouths of the rivers mostly form harbours, which in number, size, and depth of water, are equal to those of any country in the world of similar extent.
The climate is one of the most equable in the world, and is peculiarly salubrious and delightful. The temperature resembles (after an allowance of about 7 degrees for the lower degree of heat of the southern hemisphere) that of the land between the north of France and the south of Portugal. New Zealand is neither exposed to the scorching heats of summer, nor to the blasting frosts of a severe winter.
A never-failing moisture is dispersed over the country by the clouds which collect on the mountain tops without the occurrence of rainy seasons, beyond storms of a few days' duration. This refreshing moisture, combined with the influence of the sea breezes, renders the climate very favourable to health, and remarkably congenial to European constitutions.
The seasons are as follow:--
Spring commences in the middle of August,
Summer in December,
Autumn in March, and Winter in July.
The soil of New Zealand is spoken of by all writers and travellers in the most favourable terms, from Captain Cook downwards. After describing the vast fertility of many particular spots, this great navigator says, "The quality of the soil is best indicated by the luxuriant growth of its productions; superior to any thing that imagination can conceive." In another place he says, "If this country should be settled by people from Europe, they would, with a little industry, be very soon supplied not only with the necessaries but with the luxuries of life in great abundance."
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The best evidence is afforded in the vigour and plenitude of all animal and vegetable life. All the productions of the south of Europe flourish, and verdure is almost perpetual.
Take the testimony of three recent travellers:--
Mr. Yate 1 says, "we have here almost every variety of soil. Large tracts of good land, available for the cultivation of wheat, barley, maize, beans, peas, &c., with extensive valleys of rich alluvial soil, deposited from the hills and mountains, and covered with the richest vegetation, which it supports summer and winter. We have also a deep, rank, vegetable mould, with a stiff, marly subsoil, capable of being slaked or pulverized with the ashes of the fern. All English grasses flourish well, but the white clover never seeds: and where the fern has been destroyed, a strong native grass, something of the nature of the canary-grass, grows in its place, and effectually prevents the fern from springing up again. Every diversity of European fruit and vegetable flourishes in New Zealand." Mr. Yate then enumerates all the most important productions of Europe which are raised in New Zealand, and adds, "where the rich alluvial valleys are cultivated, the labourer receives an ample harvest as the reward of his labour."
Mr. Nicholas says, 2 "the lands in this country, which are at present overrun with fern, might be brought to produce grasses of every description: were the experiment tried, I doubt not but it would prove invariably successful, and that the islands in general would afford as fine pasturage for sheep and cattle as any part of the known world." The experiment has been successfully tried by the missionaries.
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Mr. Earle says, 3 "in whatever direction I travelled, the soil appeared to me to be fat and rich, and also well watered. From every part of it which the natives have cultivated the produce has been immense. Here, where the finest samples of the human race are to be found, the largest and finest timber grows, and every vegetable yet planted thrives: the introduction of European grasses, fruits, &c., is a desideratum. Were this done, in a very short time farms would be sought after here more eagerly than they now are in New South Wales. All the fruits and plants introduced by the missionaries have succeeded wonderfully. Peaches and water-melons were now in full season; the natives brought baskets full of them to my door every day, which they exchanged with us for the merest trifles, such as a fish-hook or a button. Indian corn was very abundant, but the natives had no means of grinding it." Mr. Earle saw "a hundred head of fat cattle at a missionary station," and was surprised to find "that, although they never tasted any thing but fern, they gave as good milk, and were in as healthy a condition, as when they grazed on the rich grasses of Lincolnshire."
Mr. Yate says, in another place, "the forest-land is peculiarly rich; indeed, were it not so, it would be utterly impossible for it to support the immense vegetation constantly going on. In spring and summer, and autumn and winter, there is no visible change in the appearance of the woods; they are as beautiful in the depth of winter as in the height of summer. Leaves no sooner fall to the ground, than others directly assume their station; no branch withers from its trunk, but another, and a more vigorous one, puts out in its stead. The fairest and most tender shrubs shrink not from the southern blast, nor
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faint beneath the rays of the sun, when he rides highest in the heavens."
In fact, the whole country is covered with one or other of the four following productions; viz. grass, of which there are extensive ranges on the east side of the south island at least; secondly, the phormium tenax, or New Zealand flax, which appears to grow universally in low situations, and which, such is the strength and fineness of its fibre, requires only care in gathering and preparation to rival, if not supersede, European flax in the markets of Europe; thirdly, a plant, called fern, which affords a wholesome food for cattle, and now supports great numbers of wild swine in both islands; and, fourthly, a greater variety of finer trees--timber of a finer quality, and adapted to a greater number of different purposes, including all that relates to ship-building--than is produced in the forests, it may be safely said, of any other part of the world; which last production finds a ready and profitable market, not merely with the British Admiralty, who now regularly despatch vessels to procure spars in New Zealand, but also in Van Dieman's Land, New South Wales, various ports on the west coast of South America, Brazil, and British India.
The timber grows to a towering height, and in a perfection equalled in few other countries. The extensive forests offer an inexhaustible supply for the wants of many generations both for ship-building and other purposes.
The cowdie, or cauri, is a magnificent tree, growing to so stupendous a height, that the majestic pines of America and Norway dwindle into insignificance when compared with it.
A great variety of hard wood grows at New Zealand, admirably adapted for the timbering of any sized ships. There is also a great variety of other trees of a lesser growth, that are very closely grained, and which take a high polish, bringing out beautifully variegated veins, and peculiarly adapted for fancy work and furniture.
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Dye woods are in great variety and abundance.
The attention of the British government has for some years past been turned to the capabilities of the New Zealand woods, especially the cowdie, which has been ascertained to be entirely suitable to the important purposes of ship-building. The cowdie is excellently fitted for masts and spars for large ships, and has been found, on trial, to be of equal gravity with Riga spars, and to possess a greater degree of flexibility, as well as strength, than the very best species of fir procured from the north. The wood is finer grained than any timber of the pine tribe, and the trunks are of a sufficient size to serve for the main and fore top-masts of the largest three deckers. Establishments have been formed for the purpose of procuring spars for shipping, as well as timber for housebuilding, and several vessels have been built in the New Zealand rivers by English merchants, assisted by the natives.
Flax is another staple of the country; it grows wild in all parts, and appears to be indigenous and inexhaustible. It is of a good quality, and never fails in the European market, except from the improper manner in which it is dressed by the natives, who have no machinery, and satisfy themselves with separating the fibres of the vegetable, and rolling them upon their thigh with the hands.
Mr. Yate says, "the flax trade, on the present system, cannot last long. The natives' wants are supplied, and idleness will prevail over their desire for luxury. Could the flax be properly prepared, it would be an almost incalculable source of riches to those engaged in it." The same water-power applicable to saw-mills would propel the machinery necessary for dressing and spinning the flax. There is, however, a difficulty in the way of its preparation, which has not yet been overcome, no machinery yet tried having succeeded.
Cording and fishing-lines, made from New Zealand
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flax, have been proved to be far more durable than any made from European hemp.
The fern root, of which there are some fifty or sixty species, covers the plains very extensively, and formerly was a more important part of the ordinary food of the New Zealander than it is at present, when so many other articles have been made available for that purpose.
There are two crops of the New Zealand potato (red and white) annually. There are also two crops of the kumera (red and white): it is a species of the sweet potato, smaller, though far superior in every way: it may be eaten either raw or boiled, is very nutritious, and contains a great portion of saccharine matter. Large quantities of Indian corn are now raised; and there is no lack of cabbages, greens, turnips, and particularly fine species of the yam, with other esculent roots. Peaches are plentiful in the season; figs, grapes, oranges, melons, and the Cape gooseberry, thrive uncommonly well. There are several species of the native fruit, very pleasant and grateful to the taste. Strawberries and raspberries grow in abundance.
Among the edible plants for which we are indebted to New Zealand is the summer spinach, which was discovered in Cook's first voyage by Sir Joseph Banks. There are also many other indigenous shrubs and fruits, among which is a spruce-tree, from which Captain Cook made beer; and a tea-tree, which is said to form a substitute for tea.
The mineral productions already discovered are iron, coal, bitumen, freestone, marble, and sulphur.
The whole of the country abounds in clay fit for brick-making, and other useful purposes.
There are no native quadrupeds, and no reptiles, with the exception of a kind of rat; and whether this is indigenous or not seems doubtful.
The native birds are very numerous, consisting of
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many song birds, and a variety distinguished for the beauty of their plumage.
The southern island possesses wild fowl, ducks, geese, woodcocks, curlews, snipes, and pigeons in abundance.
Every part of the coast, and all the inland waters, abound with excellent fish. Captain Cook found there mackerel, lobsters, oysters, and a great variety of fish which he had never seen or heard of before.
The lakes produce conger eels of an enormous size.
"We have," says Mr. Yate, "a rich supply of excellent salt-water fish; but nothing more than eels in any of the fresh-water streams or lakes in New Zealand. Those most plentiful, and of greatest note, are soles, mackerel, cod-fish, a species of salmon, whiting, snapper, mullet, bream, skate, gurnards, and a few smaller kinds, some not so large as a sprat; with an abundance of crayfish, oysters, shrimps, prawns, muscles, and cockles. An immensely large muscle, measuring from eleven to thirteen inches, is found in great abundance at a harbour on the western coast."
New Zealand is the head quarters of the whale fishery in the south seas: the whales resort there for the purpose of calving, and are captured in great numbers.
The southern whale fishery consists of three distinct branches; first, that of the spermaceti whale; second, that of the common black whale of the southern seas; and, third, that of the sea elephant, or southern walrus. The spermaceti and black whale both frequent the coast of New Zealand for four months in the year.
The number of the natives of New Zealand is insignificant compared to the extent of country they inhabit; the entire population of both islands not exceeding 160,000.
Lieut. Breton says, "They are a fine race of people, being well formed, athletic, and active."
Mr. Savage says, "The natives are of a very superior order, both in point of personal appearance and intellectual endowments. The men are usually from five feet
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eight inches to six feet in height, well proportioned, and exhibit evident marks of great strength. The colour of the natives, taken as a mean, resembles that of a European gipsy; but there is considerable difference in the shades, varying between a dark chestnut and the tinge of an English brunette."
Mr. Earle says, "The children are so fine and powerfully made, that each might serve as a model for an infant Hercules."
Their dress consists of a great many different articles, made chiefly of the flax of the country, and suited to different seasons of the year: the outer garment, which they use in cold and wet weather, is very warm, and completely impervious to the rain.
The habitations of the natives are in little villages, or groups of huts, scattered thinly along the coast and harbours, the mountains of the interior not being inhabited. The villages are sometimes on the top of a hill or promontory, and within a rude fortification, called a pah. Wars are constantly occurring between the different tribes; and when once begun, they pass from one tribe to another, till the whole country is in an uproar.
Their capabilities of cultivation are great, yet they are essentially a savage people.
Their most conspicuous passion is war; and they kill and sometimes eat their vanquished enemies, scalping and exhibiting their heads as trophies. And, we regret to add, infanticide is still not uncommon, particularly of the female offspring. The spirit of revenge is implacable in their breasts; the law of retaliation is their only rule for the reconcilement of differences, and their hatred of their enemies is deep and deadly.
They excel in carving, of which their war canoes, carrying one hundred men, are specimens.
They entertain a superstitious dread of an "Atua" or supreme being; and adore the sun, moon, and stars, with many minor divinities.