Colonials loved shooting birds

A history of hunting

ARTHUR FRYER
Last updated 08:57 25/01/2014
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A sportsman displays his morning bag.

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Our colonial forebears loved their shooting and fishing, two pastimes that many of them would have been unable to pursue in their home counties of the British Isles.

Riding horses after hounds in regular hunts organised by the Egmont Hunt Club was enjoyed too by aspiring gentry in a countryside not yet divided by the tight wire fences of dairy farms.

Some of the local sporting shooters formed the Hawera Gun Club in June 1880, contesting their marksmanship against pigeons released from traps.

At the first informal meeting of local shot gunners held in Mason's paddock on the Queen's Birthday in 1880, Messrs Crowhurst, Southey and G Willy shot well, others missing their birds completely.

It was reported that many of the ladies present were pleased when the birds escaped rather than being brought down by the crack shots.

A gun club was formed with the support of many local sportsmen and in the rules, among numerous others based on those of the Melbourne Gun Club, it was resolved that blunderbusses would be outlawed.

This was followed by an advertisement in the Hawera and Normanby Star, signed by Secretary Robert Douglas, stating that the gun club would buy strong birds at ten pence each to be delivered when required. At the November meeting 50 rock pigeons were brought to the shooting ground: 47 were fired at, 21 were killed and three escaped. So there must have been some unnamed local people breeding pigeons to be sold to the gun club.

At an early meeting of the shotgun enthusiasts on the Cricket Grounds, Fred Lysaght of Mokoia was about to win the event with his last shot and he went forward to pick up his dead bird, only for it to fly off and sit on the roof of the cricket pavilion, no doubt watching his would-be assassin.

These were rock pigeons introduced from Britain as pets whose considerable progeny provided targets for gun enthusiasts to shoot rising from traps. Perhaps it is from the descendants of these birds who avoided the gun that the current populations of pigeons on the Hawera Water Tower are derived.

Many of the gun club enthusiasts were also supporters of the new Hawera Acclimatisation Society who hunted pheasants and ducks in a closed season - May to the end of July - and who attempted to introduce more game birds such as quail, grouse and partridges, as well as trout for the local streams.

They supported a total ban on shooting tui, in or out of season, but shot 'native game', that is other birds in season. Their enthusiasm for conservation of the tui was not shared by the local Maori who would shoot many hundreds to take to a tribal gathering, along with large numbers of kaka and kereru. This clash of cultures was well summed up by a Maori elder who sagely observed that it was no use the Government protecting the tui when the Pakeha was destroying the bush, the home of the bird.

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Licences to shoot cock pheasants within the Hawera district were sold at the Post Office counter (they cost 30 shillings and a further 5 pounds to sell game), and a list of 22 shooting licence holders was published in the Hawera and Normanby Star, alongside notices from local landholders who prohibited shooting on their properties.

The shooters were soon to observe that very rarely were ducks seen on the waters of the group of lakes known at the time as Caverhill's Lakes and today referred to as Nowell's Lakes, and it was assumed that there must be giant eels living there that took the unsuspecting water fowl.

Local Maori, when questioned, believed it was the home of a taniwha. The more disbelieving settlers suggested exploding a dynamite bomb in the lakes and sending the resulting kill to Dr Hector at the Colonial Museum in Wellington for identification. There is no record of this being done, however.

People other than game shooters had an interest in the native birds of the district; Mr J Symes of Normanby advertised in the Hawera and Normanby Star in June 1881 that he would supply stuffed native birds for ladies' hats, no doubt responding to the continued fashion for women's hats to be trimmed with not only flowers and feathers but whole small birds.

The little brazilian blackbird died in vast numbers for the milliners in Great Britain and the United States.

For more than 25 years the Hawera Acclimatisation Society offered bounties on shags and hawks to protect the trout and the pheasants, but though they paid out six pence a head for hawks and a shilling a head for shags, there seemed to be no great increase in numbers of trout and pheasants. It was later that they realised the stoats and weasels that were seen in the district since the 1890s were the nest robbers of pheasants and quail and until they were controlled game bird numbers would not be improved.

Over the years many introductions of birds for shooting were made to the district; scottish grouse, several attempts of english and french partridges, various species of quail, and mallard ducks. It seemed that only starlings, australian magpies, thrushes, mynahs and sparrows would accept the South Taranaki environment.

The mallard ducks came to local ponds only after careful selection of suitable imported stock.

The enthusiasm of our Victorian rural forebears to copy British and European customs and the desire to kill small birds for sport continues to this day, modified only by the changes in farming patterns and diminishing number of men willing to sit in cold mai-mais or tramp the wintry paddocks.

Last week's history feature on Kimble Bent was written by Graeme Duckett, not Arthur Fryer. The Daily News apologises for the error.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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