An extract from a newly published book -”New Zealand -The Benefits of Colonisation” by Adam Plover, published by Tross Publishing
The native people were not the only life form in New Zealand at the time that the first Europeans arrived; there were also the birds and the trees and the plants, and it is respect of the impact that colonisation made upon the environment that the benefits are offset in several ways by the disadvantages. By 1800 the land of New Zealand had already been ravaged by the Maoris who, “with fire, dogs [kuri] and hunting weapons”,2 had already exterminated all nine species of moa as well as 38 species of birds (including the Haast’s eagle, adzebill, the giant goose, the flightless Fisher’s duck and all but one of the flightless wrens) as well as three species of frogs, numerous lizards, a bat and the New Zealand sea lion and sea elephant. 3 Others, like the huia, were on the point of extinction and, in fact, became extinct shortly after the Europeans’ arrival. The Maoris had also burned about 40% of the forest, mainly on the lowlands of the east coast of both islands.
In the words of W.F. Benfield in his book, The Third Wave; Poisoning the Land, “By around 1500 A.D. the expansion phase of the Maori invasion was complete. A stable ecosystem, that had evolved over millions of years through many climate epochs without significant outside influence, was irretrievably lost. In its place was a human society without the technology to support the population that had grown on the moa and other birds…..An extremely destructive phase in the evolution of this Gondwana land remnant was drawing to a close. A new player was entering the scene, one who would bring his own problems, but for the Maoris it would save them from the further consequences of environmental ruin with its resulting food shortage, social collapse and warfare.” 4
W F (Bill) Benfield
Into this already partly ravaged environment stepped the Europeans with their own birds, trees, flowers and farm animals, even earthworms. “It was only natural that our first settlers wanted to bring animals and plants from their native countries to New Zealand. Maori brought rats and dogs. Europeans brought rabbits, possums, pigs, goats and highly prized hunting animals like deer, chamois and tahr. They also brought game birds for hunting: quail, pheasant, Canadian geese and mallard ducks.
The kiore rat had arrived with the Maoris when they sailed their canoes from Polynesia in the thirteenth century and, despite being a food source for them, it was reasonably rampant by the time that the European settlers arrived in the 1840s. When a family from Bath, England, arrived in Wellington on the Birman in March, 1842, the wife wrote home, “On getting ashore we found that the building intended for our use and accommodation had been appropriated by a shipload of emigrants who had had the good fortune to arrive a few days before we did. The result was that we were all crammed into a large, empty storehouse – just like an old barn, filthy beyond description and overrun with swarms of small rats [the small, brown kiore].” 5
However, it wasn’t long before the kiore rat was progressively reduced in numbers by various factors, including the introduction of the cat which itself was to become a predator. However, the kiore rat was more than replaced by the Norway rat and the ship rat which, like the cockroaches, infested every wooden ship that sailed the Seven Seas.
Since the arrival of the European a further eighteen species of bird (including snipe, saddleback and the Stephens Island wren) have disappeared although, as already noted, several of these were already on the verge of extinction. The Europeans brought with them the concept of conserving species with the result that sanctuaries were set up at such places as Little Barrier Island (1894), Stephens Island (1896) and Kapiti Island (1897)
Gorse was introduced in 1835 by the missionaries and, as it spread down the country, was soon to become a prolific, unwanted and noxious plant. Then the first Saint Andrew’s Day of settler New Zealand was celebrated on 30 November, 1840, in Wellington. “They planted the first thistle in New Zealand at Mr. Lyon’s farm on the Wellington side of Petone.” 6 After that came an even worse one – blackberry – which has been the bane of gardeners and farmers ever since.
Initially Captain Hobson wanted a moratorium on the felling of kauri but he was persuaded by Tamati Waka Nene and other northern chiefs to let the felling go ahead as they were making money out of it. With their efficient metal saws the pioneers cut down much of the kauri and totara trees in the North Island. This was done out of sheer necessity for, like every other colony or country, New Zealand had to pay its bills. Before farming became a major exporter in the 1880s New Zealand had to export whatever the rest of the world wanted in order to get the overseas funds to pay for the imports of such things as machinery, consumer goods and coal, the last mentioned coming mainly from Newcastle, New South Wales. And what the Australians wanted was kauri as it was the only timber that was impervious to that scourge of Australian builders, the white ant, not to mention its desirability for the masts and spars of wooden sailing vessels. Throughout the nineteenth century kauri and its gum were the main contributors to New Zealand’s wealth, providing employment for thousands and export revenue of millions.
Just as the Maoris resisted Hobson’s proposed moratorium on the cutting of kauri so too did they ignore a Notice issued by Edward Shortland, Private Secretary to the Governor, in 1842. The Notice was: “The Governor further directs it to be notified that any person cutting timber or firewood on the reserves and especially on the belt which surrounds the town of Wellington, will be proceeded against according to the law”.
“The Maoris, in utter disregard of the published notice of the Governor, did some three months ago fell large quantities of trees, and are now employed in burning them off the ground. An immense number of trees not cut down have been blackened and blighted by the smoke and, unless a stop is put to their proceedings, the Maoris will succeed in converting the chief beauty of our town into a mass of cheerless, stunted, naked barrenness. There is but one feeling of sorrow and anger on this subject among the settlers. We are aware of the difficulty in enforcing the law against the Maoris,” wrote the New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator on 19th January, 1842.
Not all of the European introductions were bad. Worms and bees were a great aid to farming while the sheep, cows, pigs and goats were to form the basis of the economy. In the words of Jim Hilton and Roger Childs in their book, New Zealand’s Changing Biodiversity, “Basically humans got it right with most of its biota imports. Present day New Zealand is richer in biodiversity than it was before humans arrived. People use many exotic species to make money and pay their bills.
The beauty of many of these non-natives enhances our surroundings and makes our country more attractive – the blossom trees of Cambridge and Alexandra, the tall poplars between Wanganui and Raetihi, the phoenix palms along Kennedy Road in Napier, the Norfolk pines that grace Wellington’s Oriental Parade, the oaks that shade Hastings’ Ormond Road, and the weeping willows that stretch down to the waters of the Avon in Christchurch…..The trout in our lakes and rivers, as well as deer and other introduced animals, bring fishermen and hunters from overseas.” 7
And not just from overseas. In the words of fisherman and journalist, Tony Orman, “In New Zealand’s egalitarian society anyone can fish or hunt. It was a legacy that the first European settlers instilled into the new colony in order to escape the feudal system of Britain where, for example, the best trout fishing, deerstalking or pheasant shooting is the preserve of the wealthy minority who could pay the exorbitant trout and salmon fishing, game bird shooting and deerstalking fees required.” 8
In 1842 the first pheasants arrived. “Mrs. Willis, who was a passenger in the London, deserves the thanks of the colony for having brought the first pheasants to New Zealand. A cock and three hens were landed in safety,” wrote Edward Jerningham Wakefield. 9
Even better was the feathered brigade on the Cashmere, which arrived at Auckland on 8th April, 1862, with 88 singing and other birds “whose carols are so grateful to the ears of the colonists and so fruitful of suggestions of home”. 10 These birds included partridges, blackbirds, thrushes, skylarks, goldfinches, bullfinches, linnets, sparrows, starlings, Canadian geese, and teal. They were in 81 cages on the deck throughout the voyage and had been fed on German paste, preserved liver, rice, potatoes, carrots, wheat, apples, hemp seed and barley. They had been caught in the wild rather than being hand reared from the nest. Thus they had been at liberty and so should have been stronger and more able to look after themselves.
Deer came in 1861 with a stag and two hinds from Lord Petre of Thorndon Hall in Essex, after which the inner suburb of Wellington is named. “Within two years they had increased to seven animals and by 1870 the herd numbered more than seventy.” 11 Trout were introduced in 1867 and so this dish could be added to venison as yet a further widening of the New Zealand menu.
As we know, not all the introductions were so positive. After rabbit numbers exploded the ferret was introduced on the grounds that rabbits are the desired diet of ferrets. Stoats and weasels came too and they didn’t even have the justification of killing rabbits.
As W.F. Benfield pointed out in his book, The Third Wave; Poisoning the Land, “By the end of the nineteenth century the rate of importation and establishment of exotic life forms had reached the stage where you could say that a whole new ecosystem was being transplanted on to the old…..A land mass on which, a century before, the population was having to maintain itself by constant warfare and cannibalism was now able to export foodstuffs to the world.” 12 In the process, despite hiccups along the way, natives and exotics have learned to live with each other – be they birds, trees, plants, insects or farm animals.
Footnote: ”New Zealand -The Benefits of Colonisation” by Adam Plover, published by Tross Publishing, price $30 is available from the publishers at <www.trosspublishing.co.nz>