1842 - Jameson, R. G. New Zealand, South Australia and New South Wales [Part] - CHAPTER XXIV

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  1842 - Jameson, R. G. New Zealand, South Australia and New South Wales [Part] - CHAPTER XXIV
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Cultivable productions of New Zealand--Vines--Kumeras--Potatoes --Maize--Clearing of land--Choice of Seeds--New Zealand flax-- Its utility -- Timber -- Feathered tribes -- Absence of Reptiles -- Dogs--Wild pigs--Early migration of the New Zealanders--Colonial cadetships.

THE vine thrives well at the Bay of Islands, under the rude culture of the natives, and at Hokianga, bunches of grapes of great weight have been gathered, although its climate is proverbially moist. At Wellington, and other southern localities, there is not yet sufficient evidence to shew that it can arrive at the same perfection. Those who are experienced in its cultivation will form their own opinion from the fact, that the mean weekly temperature at Wellington, taken at 8 A. M. and 5 P. M., from April 1840 to April 1841, ranged between 42 deg. Fahrenheit in the end of July, and 72 deg. Fahrenheit in January; and that it never continued so low as 50 deg. throughout the day even in the depth of winter. It is said that the vines planted by the French settlers at Akaroa promise to succeed. North of the Bay of Islands, orange and fig trees have been reared; but it is doubtful whether their fruits can arrive at the same perfection as in New Holland. The aloe, the cactus, and the acacia, adorn the gardens of the missionaries; and the tobacco plant I have seen in flower on the island of Waiheke, in

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August, which is one of the winter months of New Zealand. The settler may, it is said, put green pease upon his table in ten months of the twelve. A crop of wheat and one of potatoes have been grown on the same piece of land at Port Nicholson within the year. Melons are cultivated by the natives in great abundance, and peach stones, scattered at random in various parts, have sprung up into groves, which are so prolific as to lead to the belief that were every colonist to adopt the rule of carrying the seed of this fruit in his pocket, for the purpose of sowing indiscriminately in the course of his rambles, peaches would in eight or ten years become sufficiently plentiful to constitute an article of food for pigs.

Among the vegetables the cultivation of which is to be strongly recommended to the colonists, is the kumera, or sweet potato, more difficult to rear, but far more nutritive and agreeable in flavour, than any kitchen vegetable grown in Europe. The taro, which is the tuberous root of a species of arum, is also worthy of attention as a useful and nutritious esculent; and the same remark is applicable to the large root called by the natives Kaipakea. The common potato, which is now the chief article of subsistence of the New Zealanders, becomes better and more farinaceous the further south it is cultivated. That we could seldom get good potatoes at the Bay of Islands, was partly, I believe, owing to the warmth of the climate, and partly to the careless cultivation of the natives, who, to save trouble, very commonly leave a portion of one crop in the ground as seed for an ensuing one. The potatoes of the Chatham Islands and those of Van Dieman's Land, being of a very superior description, should alone be planted by the colonists. With respect to turnips, carrots,

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cauliflower, asparagus, pease, onions, and the whole range of garden esculents and fruits, it is only to be observed, that the settler who has not abundance and to spare of all these articles of food must either be very negligent, or have some more advantageous pursuits to occupy his time. Mangel wurzel, Cape barley, and maize (holcus indicus), will form principal objects of cultivation, being very valuable for the fattening of cattle, pigs, and poultry; and until grasses are laid down, maize must constitute the principal food of horses, where natural grass is scarce. It is a general opinion, that, in the neighbourhood of Port Nicholson, and in all those districts which are overgrown with fern, it is impossible to maintain sheep, cattle, and horses. To a certain extent, this opinion is true; the pasturage of fern land being too scanty to maintain these animals in great numbers, unless they are permitted to range widely. It appears, however, that the cattle and horses of Port Nicholson subsist and keep in good condition by ranging over the hills. At Port Nicholson, as elsewhere, grass will doubtless spring up as soon as the brushwood is burnt down; but it is observed that, in many parts of New Zealand, there is a species of plant which often proves fatal to cattle, and must be guarded against, and if possible eradicated in situations where herds are turned loose. In all parts of the country that I have visited, I have found that goats thrive well on the spontaneous vegetation; they are therefore, to a certain extent, calculated to supersede milch cows in contributing to the comfort of the settler; and poultry multiplies very rapidly when fed on maize. Much depends upon the quality of the seeds imported by the colonists; and it will be necessary, in every case, that they be new, packed

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properly, and not stowed in the ship's hold during the voyage. Colonial seeds will, in general, answer better than European, but emigrants should not trust exclusively to the chance of being able to procure in the colonies such seeds as they may require. Those seedsmen who have acquired experience and reputation in the various out-ports in making up parcels for exportation, should alone be dealt with. In the clearing of land, burning will nearly supersede the use of the axe, and where this is resorted to, the trees should be merely cut across within a few feet of the ground--stumped, to use the colonial phrase--and suffered to decay. It will be necessary to erect pig fences round every cultivated spot.


The most important of the spontaneous productions of New Zealand, because it offers the most ample scope for the employment of capital, is the flax plant, which grows in all parts of the northern island in great abundance. The quality of the New Zealand flax, its strength of fibre and durability, are proved by the preference given to it by nautical men over any other material used in the manufacture of whale lines and running rigging, as also by the durability of the native mats and fishing nets. Its fibre has been found to sustain a greater weight than is sustained by an equal bulk of Russian hemp; and it is a fact not generally known, that, in France, it is converted, by peculiar processes, into tissues, resembling fine cambric, and also into textures imitative of silk. It is therefore adapted for a most extensive range of consumption, not only by its intrinsic merits as a material, but also by its

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great cheapness, for it can be sold in the English market at the low price of 3 1/2d. or 4d. per pound. A quantity of it has been sold in Leeds for the purpose of manufacture, but it does not appear that the French processes have as yet been equalled in England. It is impossible to take up a New Zealand mat of the finer sort without being struck by its silky gloss, its soft and pliant texture, and its strength, which would defy the efforts of several men to tear it asunder. This article, then, seems calculated to form a close commercial tie between New Zealand and the general markets of Europe.

Skill and experience in the preparation and packing of the New Zealand hemp have not yet been acquired; and much of it that has been sent to England has been more or less damaged, from not being sufficiently dried before shipment; nor has the best season for cutting it been ascertained. The process of tanning has been proposed with a view to remedy its only defect, which is, a liability to break in the knot. On the whole, the phormium tenax presents a fertile subject for the consideration of the ingenious, the industrious, and the speculative.


The forests of New Zealand present an abundance of materials literally inexhaustible for the purposes of the builder, the shipwright, and the cabinet-maker. Upwards of sixty kinds of more or less valuable timber have been sent to England as specimens; and doubtless in the impenetrable recesses of these forests there are many trees whose existence is unknown to the botanist. In illustration of this remark, I will mention, that a missionary

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shewed me a piece of wood, under the hands of an experienced cabinet-maker, which had been floated down the Kaweranga river, and which we all pronounced to be undistinguishable from mahogany. It was the first specimen of the wood that Mr. Preece had seen after a residence of many years in the district. A brief notice of the principal and most plentiful species will be interesting.

Kaori (erroneously pronounced Cowrie by Europeans) is the Dammara Australis of botanists. It is a gregarious tree, generally inhabiting the sides and declivities of clayey ranges, and attains the enormous altitude of from fifty to ninety feet without a branch, and a circumference of from fifteen to thirty feet near the base. The bark being of a silver grey colour, the stem resembles an enormous antique column. Round its base there accumulate large masses of the gum resin, which it exudes: it is a very clear and transparent substance, which burns freely with a black smoke, and tastes very resinous. It has been employed at the Bay of Islands as a varnish, and a good many tons of it have been carried to America, where it has been sold for 18l. a ton; being used, it is said, as a substitute for gum copal, or, more probably, in the adulteration of that substance.

The kaori tree, being very light in proportion to its strength and its noble dimensions, is used by the admiralty for the masts of men of war, and one or two cargoes, worth from 100l. to 200l each tree, are annually sent home to Her Majesty's dockyards. Its timber is as easily cut and wrought, and is therefore as well adapted for ship-building, as the white pine of Canada, or the larch, and it is more buoyant than the British oak and the Indian teak wood. Nearly all the coasting craft of New Zealand

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is built of this wood; the largest vessel constructed of it as yet is the Sir George Murray, which was built at Hokianga. The kaori is limited to the country north of Tauranga.

The kaikatea (dacrydium excelsum) inhabits low wet soils, and is found extending in belts along the margins of rivers, as the Thames, the Hutt, the Piako, &c. Its great height and straightness would render this a valuable tree, but for the softness of its wood, which speedily decays when exposed to alternations of wet and dry weather.

The timber of the kaikatea, being subject to decay when exposed to alternate wet and dry weather, is only suited for inside work, and will doubtless be cheaper than the other kinds of timber, being found on the banks of rivers, and therefore very accessible. The kaikatea becomes less spongy in texture; towards the south and at Stewart's Island it is said to be nearly as durable as kaori.

Totara (taxus), a tree which inhabits rising grounds, and attains frequently a height of from fifty to sixty feet, without branches. The wood is reddish, splits well, and is very hard. Its general appearance is that of a yew.

Rimu, (dacrydium cupressimum,) an elegant tree with a very graceful bright foliage, which has been compared to that of the weeping willow, or to a cluster of ostrich feathers. Its wood is hard, dark, rather brittle, and emits a resinous odour. The diameter of its trunk, when full grown, seldom exceeds four feet.

Kawaka (dacrydium plumosum) has a very fine, hard grain, is well adapted for cabinet work, and said to resemble the tulip wood of Moreton Bay.

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Puridi, (vitex littoralis,) called, from the hardness and durability of its timber, the New Zealand Oak, furnishes strong and durable timbers for ships, and ground plates for houses. It is dark, close grained, and takes a good polish, but is unfit to be sawn into boards, owing to its being much perforated by a large grub. Its stem is from twelve to twenty feet in circumference, and it grows to a height of thirty feet without branching.

Rewa-rewa, (knightia excelsa,) a slender tree, growing to the height of fifty or sixty feet, furnishes a brown wood, beautifully mottled with red. It is durable, and splits easily, and is therefore well adapted for fencing.

Mairi (podocarpus) attains a height of from forty to sixty feet, but its circumference never exceeds twelve feet. It furnishes a red, smooth-grained, and durable wood, of great weight.

Tanekaha (podocarpus asplenifolius) grows to the height of about forty-five feet, with only a girth of two feet. It furnishes excellent masts for small craft, posts, and floors for verandahs, and planks for the decks of vessels. Its wood is rather darker and more durable than that of kaori, and smells strongly of turpentine.

Miro, (podocarpus ferriginea,) of the same size as the preceding, furnishes a berry, the principal food of the wood-pigeon, which becomes very fat at this season. Its value as a timber is considerable, being the most durable of all the pines.

Towai, also a podocarpus, a tree similar in its dimensions to the preceding. It is said never to grow in the same forest with kaori.

Aki, a short, crooked tree, varying in the diameter of its stem from six inches to a foot. Its wood is finely marked

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and close grained, takes a most beautiful polish, and is therefore adapted for the finest fancy cabinet work. It is called the lignum vitae of New Zealand.

Pohutukana, (callistemon ellipticus,) a tree of great size, but of irregular form, with a dark and umbrageous foliage, resembling the ilex. Between December and January it assumes a splendid appearance, being covered with flowers of the richest purple. It always grows by the sea shore, on rocky precipices, almost destitute of soil, and gives much beauty to the sequestered bays and inlets of New Zealand. The wood, when polished, would form a good substitute for rosewood.

Hinau (dicera dentata) grows to a large size, and inhabits rich alluvial lands. Its bark furnishes a fine light-brown dye, which withstands washing. It is first pounded and then thrown into water, which holds its colouring matter in solution.

Rata, (metrosideros robustus,) a tree which attains a great size, with habits very peculiar, and as yet little understood. Its trunk and branches send down shoots to the ground, which sometimes become so massive as to support the old stem, having apparently exhausted its vitality. In fact, the rata is an enormous epiphyte, growing to, not from, the ground, which will explain the saying of the natives, that this tree is never young. Its timber is robust and durable, and its branches are well adapted for ship timbers. There is a remarkable circumstance, to which my attention was directed by Mr. Waterton, a brother of the celebrated naturalist of that name. At the base of the rata, and nowhere else, as the natives declare, is found a vegetable grub, or, to describe its appearance in two words, a wooden caterpillar. From

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its head there issues a long process, terminating in a point, closely resembling the fibrous root of a plant. As I had not an opportunity of inspecting the interior of this seemingly anomalous piece of nature's handiwork, I will not attempt to theorize on the subject, or to pronounce whether it is or is not a chrysalis.

Many of the smaller trees in the forests of New Zealand belong to the lauraceous order. Of these the most notable is the Tarairi (laurus macrophylla), which produces a berry resembling the damson in size and appearance, and is eaten by birds, but is noxious to man. The timber is valueless, but as a highly ornamental tree the tarairi deserves notice. The towai (also a lauraceous plant) produces berries of the shape of a small sloe, which are also noxious, but are sometimes eaten by the natives, who boil them previous to use. Of the New Zealand ferns fifty or sixty species have been collected, the most remarkable of which is the tree-fern, which arrives at perfection only in damp and shaded situations, to which the beautiful divergent form of its branches gives a tropical appearance. There is another variety of the fern-tree, (called by the natives the mother of the ferns,) the stem of which is eatable towards its root. In the plumelike disposition of its branches it bears a resemblance to the Cycas tribe of plants, which constitutes, like the palms and ferns, a principal feature of antediluvian or fossil vegetation.


Of the birds of New Zealand, the most notable are wood-pigeons; parrots, and paroquets, which are far less numerous than in New Holland; owls, hawks, warblers

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(sylviae), and many small birds, different in plumage, but allied in form and habits, to the woodpeckers, sparrows, and wrens, of Europe. The shores are frequented by the kingfisher (alcedo), of a large size, by gulls, gannets, penguins, terns, and cormorants, (carbo cormorans.) The last-named bird, although webfooted, perches upon branches overhanging the creeks and rivers, from whence it can descry the fish on which it feeds. Of the aquatic tribes, the most remarkable is the snow-white frigate bird (trachipeles aquilus), which darts down upon its prey from a great height, causing a loud noise by the violence with which it strikes the water. The sandy beaches and muddy flats of rivers are frequented by flocks of plovers, and sandlarks (hymantopi), which feed upon marine insects. Many of the rivers are frequented by wild ducks in greater numbers than I have found them in any other part of the world, and the sedgy banks afford shelter to bitterns, as large as adolescent turkeys, which, like the water-fowl (rallus), and the singular apteryx, which inhabits the same localities, is very timid, --I believe, nocturnal in its habits, --and is rarely seen. It is said that quails are found in Taranaki, and although I have not seen them in the parts of the island that I have visited, their presence in the grassy districts seems very probable.

Of the apteryx, a bird of a very anomalous nature, there are said to be two varieties, but I have only seen one specimen, which was presented by Mr. Busby to the museum of Sydney. Its feathers approximate in texture and appearance to hair; it has no tail, and merely the imperfect rudiments of wings. The most amusing of the New Zealand birds is the Tui, or parson bird, so called from its black plumage and a white tuft hanging from

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the front of its neck. It is of the size of the English blackbird, and is remarkable for its vivacity and restlessness, and for its imitative powers, which it displays by learning whole sentences by rote. A naturalist of some note has observed that it is good eating, but few colonists, it is hoped, will condemn to the spit a creature of such beauty and sprightliness, unless under the pressure of stern necessity.


Every writer on New Zealand mentions the abundance of its fish. Being on one occasion becalmed in the Frith of the Thames, over a snapper bank, we amused ourselves with the hook and line, and in half an hour caught many dozens of this fish, besides kawai or mackerel, barracoutas, and a young shark. The snapper, or bream, (abramis of Cuvier,) frequents the bays and estuaries in shoals, and, as it feeds at the bottom, is always caught with a bait. When split up the back, slightly salted, and smokedried, or even exposed to the sun, it forms a most palatable adjunct to the breakfast table. Besides the fishes above mentioned, there are rays, gurnards, mullet, soles, and a small fish of the herring or anchovy species, besides large eels, which abound in some of the rivers, and are highly prized by the natives. I have remarked the abundance of oysters in all situations where rocks occur between high and low water-mark, and the sandy beaches are everywhere strewed with cockles and muscles of a much larger size than we are accustomed to see in Europe. These shellfish constitute a favourite article of food for the numerous wild hogs that roam over New Zealand. Once a day, after the ebb

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of the tide, they emerge from the swamps and thickets, and occupy the time in crunching the helpless mollusks until the return of the tides drives them back to their exhaustless banquet of fern root and sow thistle. Lobsters of very large size are plentiful, as also are crayfish.


From poisonous reptiles, if we except a large spider of the Tarantula species, and a centipede, neither of which I have ever seen, New Zealand is happily free. The small and harmless lizard is plentiful, and a lizard of a larger size, resembling, it is said, the chameleon, was mentioned to me by a missionary as being known to the natives. Mention has been made of a large saurian reptile, like the cayman or gavial; but if ever this animal has existed in these islands, it has manifestly become extinct.

The most venemous insects of New Zealand are mosquitoes and sandflies, and among its vilest nuisances we must class a large brown fly, which, like the viviparous blue fly of Australia, deposits live maggots, and renders the use of wire-gauze dish covers indispensable in housekeeping.


There are no indigenous animals in New Zealand; mice and rats have, however, been introduced, and now overspread the land. To whom the natives are indebted for the rat is not known, but they assign to the missionaries the credit of introducing mice. Dogs have been their companions, and in some measure their food, from remote

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antiquity; and one of the old distinctions of chiefdom was the privilege of wearing a dog's-skin garment. These animals are trained to hunt wild pigs, in which duty they display much tact, fastening resolutely upon the ear, until the enemy is captured, dead or alive.

There are many grown-up pigs, however, whose ears prove that the dog is not always successful in these attacks; indeed, the bush pig is frequently a formidable adversary, and it is decidedly dangerous to attack a young litter under the maternal eye. The natives have a practice of notching the ears of all pigs which they catch and intend to leave in the bush, and in doing so, they are sometimes severely injured, notwithstanding their dexterity. During my stay in the Thames district, a lad was killed by a bush pig. These animals, living in a state of wildness, contract the gregarious instinct of watchfulness, and a peculiar cry, uttered by some detached sentry, gives notice to the herd of the approach of danger.

Whence came the dog of New Zealand? is a question as difficult of solution as that relating to the origin of the New Zealanders themselves. The migrations of the human species from one country to another, by land, we may suppose to have been the result of pastoral extension, of wars, or even of the jealousies of families; but these causes will not explain the migration of races whom we find to people islands of the ocean far distant from any inhabited continent. We cannot suppose such migrations to have been voluntary; but it is not difficult to understand them as accidents. A number of families proceeding in rafts or canoes from one part of a coast to another, may have been driven out to sea, and carried, by a prevailing wind or current, to a distance of thousands of miles, until some

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island received them, as the nucleus of a future population. In such a voyage, hunger would drive the stronger to subsist upon the weaker, as takes place even in our own day, and thus a few individuals of either sex would reach their future home, already familiarized with the fact, that the flesh of one human being will sustain the life of another, and thus cannibalism may have originated in these remote islands of the ocean, to which it has been chiefly, if not exclusively, confined. Judging from the form, complexion, and language, of the New Zealanders, it seems certain that they are originally of Malay origin, whilst many of their customs, especially the taboo and the practice of tattooing, are also common to the Polynesian races. I have even been given to understand by individuals well acquainted with their traditions, that there are obscure points of resemblance between these and some ancient mystical doctrines of Judaism. But this I only mention as a subject deserving a closer investigation.


In connexion with the subjects that have been treated of in the preceding pages, I will, in conclusion, advert to one which bears a very important relation to the colonization of New Zealand. It is impossible to look round us without being struck with the spectacle of thousands of young men, of good families and good education, who have no prospect before them but that of entering upon an arena of painful and, in most cases, of hopeless competition for the means of a genteel subsistence. To a young man of a superior spirit the con-

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sciousness of being a burden upon his family must be attended with a keen sense of humiliation, yet such, unhappily, is the condition of three-fourths of that portion of the rising generation that is comprised in the educated middle class; and from this there is no better refuge than some paltry salary, which confines the faculties and the natural ambition of youth within the scope of a cheerless, unchanging, dependency. Another large section of our youth, after being converted by classical studies and college learning into a set of helpless pedants, are turned loose on the wide field of the world, with their education, forsooth, and their abilities, to rely upon. By that very education and those superior abilities, accompanied, as they usually are, with innate dignity of feeling and an abhorrence of all base expedients, they are unfitted to compete for bread with a host of more unscrupulous rivals, who pursue the paths of clerical sycophancy, or of medical quackery, or who fish in the troubled waters of the law. There are, doubtless, prizes which are awarded to real merit in the honourable and useful exercise of talent; but then, how countless are the competitors, and how incalculable the abundance of ability and merit that is hopelessly shut out from employment, because every field of employment is filled up.

But in a new colony, where the resources of an extensive territory are to be developed by the force of skill and industry, the evil of excessive competition is of necessity unfelt; and this is a proposition which cannot be too strongly insisted upon with regard to the welfare of the rising community of England, as comprised within the middling, or, as they have been aptly termed, the "uneasy" classes. The following extract will render further obser-

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vations unnecessary:-- "Scarcely a week passes in which we do not receive applications for advice from gentlemen of property, desirous of providing for younger sons in the career of colonization. * * * In colonizing, although the fashion of thus providing for younger sons has revived of late years, there is as yet nothing regular or fixed in the preparatory steps. As a desire for the means of regular education in the art of civil engineering has led to the formation of a college for civil engineers, so are we in want of a college for colonial cadets. The expense of providing for a son in the army, or the church, or at the bar, amounts to a sum amply sufficient for the capital of a leading colonist; and the more, because, in the colonial career, as soon as the decision was made, a portion of the destined funds might be invested in lands which would continually grow in value, while the future proprietor was learning how to manage them profitably. In connexion with the proposed college in this country, arrangements might be made, by which the Company should take charge, during his minority, of the landed property intended for a cadet, and should afterwards extend to him, in case he still required it, such aid as would amount to a friendly guardianship in his first proceedings as a settler. This is a mere outline of the plan. It has been submitted to very competent judges of such a question, and has met with the warm approval of so many eminent persons, that the directors have reason to hope it may be carried into effect without much difficulty. The only real difficulty, indeed, is the first outlay for a suitable establishment; since the periodical payments to the college on account of cadets during residence might

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with propriety be made high enough to cover ordinary expenses."

Such are the means by which the influential association into whose hands the task of colonizing New Zealand has virtually been thrown, proposes to educate and protect the interests of its younger colonists.

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