1849 - Hursthouse, C. An Account of the Settlement of New Plymouth - CHAPTER II: Natural productions...

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  1849 - Hursthouse, C. An Account of the Settlement of New Plymouth - CHAPTER II: Natural productions...
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CHAPTER II: Natural productions...

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Natural productions--Timber--Minerals--Birds--Fish--Insects.

THIS Settlement possesses a variety of valuable timber trees. The most common are Rimu, Kahikatea, Puriri, Rata, Kohe-kohe, Pukatea, Tawa, Rewa-rewa, and Hinau: there are others which attain a large size, but are not yet in general use. The Rimu, called Red Pine, more from its foliage than from any resemblance in the wood, is frequently sixty to seventy feet high without a branch, and from twelve to sixteen feet in circumference. Its foliage is remarkably graceful, drooping like clusters of feathers, and of a beautiful green. The tree opens very sound, is entirely free from knots, and, for a hard wood, works well. It is chiefly used for housebuilding; the finer parts for panelling and cabinet work: these are handsome, taking a fine polish, and in appearance something between Honduras mahogany and coarse rosewood.

The Kahikatea, or White Pine, is occasionally seen ninety feet high without a branch. In foliage

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and manner of growth it resembles the Rimu, but has a lighter-coloured bark. The wood is not much unlike the Baltic White Pine, but always sound and quite free from knots: it is used for general purposes, for oars and boat-planking.

The Puriri, or Iron Wood, is one of the most valuable trees in New Zealand, growing from thirty to fifty feet high, and from twelve to twenty feet in circumference. The wood has a strong scent, is of a dark brown colour, close grained, heavy, and of a greasy unctuous nature; which last property is probably the cause of its being so much perforated by a large white slug, peculiar to this tree, when growing. Iron wood is principally used for foundations, fencing-posts, mill-cogs, &c, for all of which it is admirably adapted; as it would be for any purpose requiring great strength and durability in moist situations.

The Rata in its manner of growth is very singular. At first it is a creeper, clinging for support round some young tree; for a time both flourish together in close embrace; but, as they grow, the subtle Rata, appearing to sap the strength of its early supporter, winds its strong arms around, by slow degrees, crushes it to death, and eventually becomes itself the tree. The Pukatea is generally favoured with these embraces, which, though slow, are sure to kill. The wood of the Rata is a reddish-brown colour, very strong and tough, well adapted to wheelwright's work; and, from its crooked manner

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of growth, furnishing suitable stuff for ship-building.

The Kohe-kohe attains a height of about forty feet without a branch; it has a handsome laurel-like leaf, and is the most common tree on the edges of the forest. It splits well, and is used for shingles, fencing-bars, and rails.

The Pukatea, a large tree, is a soft easy-working wood, of light brown colour; chiefly used for common work, and weather-boarding rough outbuildings.

The Tawa and the Rewa-rewa are handsome trees, particularly the latter; both, however, are of inferior quality, and not used except as split stuff: the first, being highly resinous, makes excellent firewood.

The Hinau is remarkable for the whiteness of its wood, and chiefly known for its valuable dying properties: the rich black dye of the native mats is obtained from its bark.

Of smaller trees, and shrubs forming the "light bush," there is a great variety; comprising the Fuschia, from twenty to thirty feet high; the Karaka, a beautiful tree of the laurel kind, bearing golden coloured berries in clusters, which contrast finely with the glossy greenness of its foliage; the Fern tree, occasionally attaining a height of even sixty feet, from its showy and elegant appearance, a striking feature in the forest scenery; and the Nikau, more rare, but the most beautiful of all. Many others are highly ornamental, and it is im-

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possible to conceive anything prettier as a shrubbery than could be made by a judicious selection of these evergreens.

In a country so rich in vegetable growth, it appears strange that there should be no fruits: many trees bear berries in profusion, but even the best of these cannot fairly be called fruit. The Karaka, for instance, almost as large as a magnum bonum plum, has a fine perfume, and looks tempting; but it is very poor in flavour, mealy, and insipid. The Tawa berry, in appearance, is a fine damson; but should the unwary stranger be seduced to taste one, he will be unpleasantly reminded of turpentine. The Poroporo, a handsome shrub springing up by road sides, produces the finest berry; when quite ripe its flavour is something between that of apple-peel and a bad strawberry; but if tasted before it is soft and mellow, the Poropo is most nauseous.

The Kiekie, a creeping thing, called by some the "New Zealand Pine-apple," fruits every third year. In summer it bears a flower, the inner leaves of which are soft and fleshy, forming what may be called the "Flower Fruit" (Tawara); in winter the real fruit (Pirori) ripens, and is then about five inches long by two to three in diameter. Some little interest was at first excited by this vegetable impostor. It appeared that the country could boast one fruit, triennial, certainly, but a "Pine-apple:" tasting at once dispelled the illusion; in both

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stages it has a medicated sweet flavour, earthy, and rather bitter. 1 The pith of a certain kind of fern-tree, with the Kamo-Kamo, a sort of gourd, were at first occasionally used as poor substitutes for fruit; and water-melons, of fair quality, the Kumera, and the Taro, all flourishing best on the black sandy soil, are raised in considerable quantities by the natives.

Lovers of fruit will probably grumble at the poor dessert here set before them; but they may console themselves with the reflection, that New Zealand, in this respect, as in many others, is preeminently a country for introductions. All English fruits will be obtained in profusion; with care some few others may succeed, one, the Cape gooseberry, being already so common as to be considered almost a weed.

Phormium Tenax, or New Zealand Flax, is plentiful and luxuriant in this district. Before the colonisation of the island, when the natives pre-

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pared it as barter for European goods, Sydney vessels obtained many part cargoes of it on this coast; but after the Settlement was founded, as the natives could more easily procure blankets and tobacco by exchanging pork and potatoes, they entirely abandoned the trade. Their method of dressing the plant is slow and inefficient; the fibre is scraped with a mussel-shell, and the preparation of a ton would occupy five or six individuals a month. The material produced by their rude process is, however, made into excellent rope, and has been woven into beautiful fabrics. It is, probably, the strongest vegetable fibre known; and is remarkably useful to Europeans even in its natural state, answering for cord and string. The natives apply it to a great variety of purposes; they fabricate large fishing-nets of it, and excellent mats of great beauty and richness; useful baskets, in which onions and potatoes are shipped, and finer sorts to hold their wheat and provisions.

The ruling spirit of this Settlement is so decidedly agricultural, that no attention has yet been paid to its mineral resources; in fact, in this respect, the whole of New Zealand is still a terra incognita. Rich iron-sand covers the beach, and substances, said to be manganese, nickel, and copper ore, have been accidentally discovered by the settler, and may be regarded as an earnest of what may be found when proper researches are made by qualified persons. Limestone has not yet

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been found in the Settlement; but the banks of the Maukau river, forty miles to the north, and Massacre Bay, on the Southern Island, distant but a few hours' sail, possess both limestone and coal. Parts of the beach near the town are covered with granite, lying on the sand in stones of all sizes from a foot cube to those of some tons in weight; and a kind of sandstone is found in many parts of the district.

Taranaki, in common with the whole country, does not possess a single native quadruped; although from its dense cover, genial climate, and constant abundance of herbage, one might naturally expect to find some few herbaceous animals. This deficiency is, however, balanced by the absence of all reptiles; for there are none, excepting a few harmless lizards.

Birds are rather numerous; and as they are generally of active habits, flitting from tree to tree as if, from the profusion around, they were embarrassed in their choice of food; as some are fine songsters, and others seem rivals in making the greatest possible noise, they give an air of pleasing liveliness and animation to the woods. One of the most common is the Tui, a bird of singular habits, and very amusing. It is always in motion, darting from some low bush to the topmost twig of a high tree, it will commence making such a variety of strange noises, with such volume of tone, that it is difficult to believe they all proceed from the same

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small bird. Should another Tui chance to be near, it breaks off to indulge in a little fighting; and, ending with a kind of shout, will throw a somerset or two, and dart into the bush, only to recommence another exhibition. This vivacious creature, sometimes called the Parson Bird, from its plumage, a glossy black, with two white feathers on the throat like bands, is larger than the blackbird, and, in the season of the Poroporo berries, gets very fat, and becomes excellent eating.

The Kukupa, or pigeon, is about a third larger than the English stock-dove; its plumage is richly shaded with green, purple, and gold. It is rather a stupid bird, and easily shot: feeding on buds and berries, it possesses, when in season, a game flavour not unlike that of the blackcock.

The Pukeko, in shape, is rather like the water-hen, but larger; its plumage is dark brown, slightly tinged with green, and a brilliant purple on the neck and breast. It is a shy, solitary bird, generally haunting rushy springs and old native gardens, where it digs up the potatoes, scooping them out in a curious manner.

The Kaka, a large brown parrot, prettily marked with red, is rather a shy bird, and difficult to shoot. It utters a loud and peculiar cry, and is here generally seen, early in clear frosty mornings, flying about the highest trees.

The Kakariki is an elegant parroquet, with green plumage, touched with gold about the head. It is

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the only bird in the least destructive to crops: in harvest small troops of them are seen around the edges of the bush-land, carrying off ears of wheat.

The Kotaretare resembles the king-fisher, although its plumage is much less brilliant. It is most common about cleared bush-land, feeding freely on caterpillars and other insects.

The Tirakara is an elegant little fly-catcher, with black and white plumage, and a delicate fan tail; it is remarkably quick in its movements, and a great consumer of sand-flies.

One of the most delightful songsters is the Makomako, rather like the green linnet, but larger. It is heard about sunrise, near the edges of the forest, when several sing together, and the effect can only be compared to the soft tinkling of numerous little bells.

Wild ducks are not plentiful; they are seldom seen by day, but are occasionally found feeding at night on the stubbles. Of birds of prey there are but three varieties common to the district: the Kahu, a large brown buzzard, an expert rat-catcher, but fond of poultry; the Karewarewa, a sharp flying sparrow-hawk; and the Ruru, a small brown owl, hiding in the gloomiest recesses of the forest, and coming out to prey at night, when it utters a singular and discordant cry.

It should be observed, that with the exception of pigeons and wild fowl, there is nothing for the sportsman. New Zealand is undoubtedly the worst

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country in the world for shooting; but this part of it, from climate, soil, cover, and productions, is well adapted to the introduction of game. For instance, it seems almost made for pheasants: the soil is light and dry; high fern is the finest cover imaginable, and almost every farm possesses a few acres of thickly wooded dell, affording the closest shelter with unfailing springs; around these, for feeding, lie the stubbles; and, at all seasons, there is an abundant variety of buds and berries; in summer and autumn, plenty of grasshoppers and other insects.

Partridges would perhaps succeed equally well, particularly the French variety; for, although they require a greater extent of stubble and cleared land than pheasants, they would already find abundance of food, and would probably often lie in the lightest fern around the farms, which are every year increasing in extent. The country is entirely free from such destructive animals as the fox, polecat, and weasel; whilst birds of prey are less numerous than in England. Should any intending emigrant be inclined to try a little game, he ought to procure that which has been bred in a domesticated state, as best adapted to bear the confinement of the voyage.

The numerous streams of this district afford but four varieties of fish: the Piharau or lamprey, remarkably rich and fine flavoured; the common eel, attaining a large size; the Kokopu, a poor, coarse fish; and the Upokororo, a kind of

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trout, seldom exceeding a pound in weight, but of very delicate flavour.

Of sea fish the varieties are more numerous. The best are the Hapuka, weighing from 30 to 70 lbs.; the Tarakihi, the Moki, and the Kawai, a mackerel-shaped fish of from 4 to 6 lbs.: it enters the mouths of the larger streams with the tide, when, with a net, it may be taken in considerable numbers. This fish will occasionally rise at a fly, and take any glittering bait, moved quickly through the water. There are also mullet, snapper, rock cod, crawfish, cockles, and mussels; and a small fry, almost equal to white bait, is taken in the river Waitera.

This country, destitute of animals and not particularly rich in birds, possesses many singular insects; a description of which would far exceed the compass of the present work. One of the most remarkable, is the vegetable caterpillar. It is occasionally picked up in raking light bush land from five to six inches long, and nearly as thick as the finger. It has then the exact shape and marks of a large dead caterpillar; but to the head, is generally attached something like a piece of slender twig or small fibrous root. On snapping the body, it is found to be white and pithy--a kind of petrified vegetable substance.

There are also a small caterpillar, destructive to barley when ripening; the common grasshopper; and a large one, flying something like a snipe. With the exception of a rare kind of fly, there is

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not a single stinging insect; and although musquitoes and sandflies are troublesome at first, yet even these seem to partake of the mild nature of the climate, and are innocuous as compared with those of America and Australia.

1   Here I am sorry to differ so much from the author of a late amusing work, "Angas's Savage Life and Scenes in Australia and New Zealand," who calls this fruit a "vegetable luxury," and says, "their taste, when fully ripe, is something like that of a ripe and juicy pear, with an aromatic flavour resembling vanilla." Chacun a son gout; but I would observe that although the Tawara might pass as fruit with the toiling traveller in the "Poukemarpou Forests," it would probably never appear twice at dessert. I have known fern root, putrescent maize, and the karaka berry, eaten with considerable gusto in various expeditions on the coast among the natives; but never remarked that the relish for such delicacies continued long after return to the European Settlement.

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