The Deer of New Zealand by E. Hardcastle

The ‘New Zealand International Exhibition’ opened November 1st, 1906 at Hagley Park, Christchurch. Nearly two million people visited the exhibition, which included a pavilion created by the then Department of Tourist and Health Resorts and its display of 100 trophy deer heads shot in New Zealand. The exhibition closed on 15 April 1907.

The following is an extract from the exhibition’s official record regarding the trophy heads display:

“Around the walls above the pictures many a good red deer “uplifted high his caberfeidh” [meaning deer’s antlers] — magnificently antlered kings of hill and forest that brought a thrill of delight to the heart of many an old stalker. There were a full hundred of these stately heads, some from the Wairarapa forests, some from the mountain country of south Nelson, some from the Morven Hills and the wild highlands around Lake Hawea, in the South Island. One sportsman who inspected them said he doubted whether a similarly fine collection of stags’ heads had ever been got together in the world. Certainly the heads were well worthy the rifle of any British stalker who cares to desert his Highland glens to explore the deer-country of New Zealand. It has long been agreed that the red deer introduced into this country have developed a massiveness and size of horn unapproached in either the Scottish or the European herds. The heads, collected from all parts of New Zealand, had all been carefully measured under Mr. Donne’s supervision, and these measurements were given in an illustrated booklet issued by the Department to visiting sportsmen. The Wairarapa heads, the Nelson collection, and those from north Otago (Lake Hawea district, Ahuriri Gorge, etc.) were in each case grouped together, and were numbered so that by reference to the Department’s pamphlet the visitor could easily tell the place of origin of each trophy. The Wairarapa heads numbered thirty-five, those from Nelson sixteen, and the north Otago heads thirty-three;  the stalkers whose rifles contributed to the great collection were the Rev. W. C. Oliver, Messrs. E. Hardcastle, H. E. and C. D. Hodgkinson, R. H. Rhodes, J. Forbes, E. J. Riddiford, T. E. Donne, E. W. Bunny, and a number of other New Zealand sportsmen. In symmetry and perfection of development of the tines the North Otago heads were a remarkably fine collection. In the group of Nelson heads there was that of the first stag imported into the district. In addition to the red-deer there were a number of good types of fallow-deer heads, from Motutapu Island, in the Hauraki Gulf, and the Waikato, sent by Mr. F. H. Coombes of Auckland; also from Nelson and from the Blue Mountains in Otago.

The Tourist Court was constructed and arranged under the personal supervision of Mr. Donne, who was assisted by Messrs F. Moorhouse and J. W. Hill, of his Head-office staff.  Mr. Hill and other officers were in attendance in the Inquiry Office during the season, and were kept busy night and day. The visitors’ book in the court contained about twelve thousand signatures by closing-day, but many thousands of those who visited the court did not trouble to enter their names.”

Reproduced in full below is the “illustrated booklet” issued by the Government to visitors.


[p.1] The principal herds of red deer in New Zealand are those in the Wairarapa district (South-east Wellington), North Otago, Nelson, Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury, and there are several newly-formed herds in various parts of the North and South Islands.

In a former publication Mr. T. E. Donne, of Wellington, gave the following account of the importation of red deer to the North Island of New Zealand:–

“The herd in the Wairarapa sprang from three deer, which were introduced into New Zealand from England in the year 1862. They were the gift of the late Prince Consort, and come from the herd in Windsor Park. Two stags and four hinds were shipped to the colony, the intention being to divide them between the provinces of Wellington and Canterbury. One stag and two hinds were sent out by the ship “Triton” to Wellington, where one stag and one hind arrived safely, one hind having died at sea. About the same time the three other deer were shipped for Canterbury, but as only one hind was landed there alive, it was sent to Wellington and placed with the other two. For some months they were kept in a Wellington stable, and were regarded somewhat in the light of white elephants. There was considerable grumbling by the public and the members of the Provincial Government at the expense of their keep, until Mr. C. R. Carter, then M.H.R. for the Wairarapa, offered to defray the cost of conveying them to the Wairarapa. They were carted over the Rimutaka Ranges to Mr. Carter’s station on the Taratahi Plains, where they were given in charge of Mr. James Robieson. After being kept in confinement for several weeks they were liberated early in the year 1863, and crossing the Raumahanga River, South Wairarapa, took up their abode on the Maungaraki ranges. In these favoured regions the deer increased with great rapidity, until now the Wairarapa forest is probably the best stocked red deer ground on the globe.”

[p.3] On Te Awaite run, bordering on the East Coast, the deer may now be seen in bunches of up to a hundred head. At the beginning of last year it was estimated that there were fully 10,000 head on the station.

The Wairarapa herd contains mixed blood. According to information given in The Field of September, 1906, the Windsor Park herd has been replenished from English, Scottish, German, and probably Danish stock. The result has produced in the Wairarapa herd, stags that are remarkable for their massive antlers, some of which are of the German type, and others again more resembling the Scottish form. The antlers do not grow to great length, but some are very wide in spread over-all, and there is a good proportion of Imperials, the most number of points recorded being 22. The stags mature their antlers early, and plenty of shootable heads are therefore obtainable. The stalking grounds are easily accessible from Wellington, so that the Wairarapa has always been a favourite stalking ground with colonial and visiting sportsmen. A number of heads have been shot on Te Awaite Station, showing the abnormal development of the back tines on one antler, such as is to be seen in the case of the great Warnham Park stags in England and is probably due to the highly favourable conditions of climate, feed and shelter. A remarkable head of this type is a 17-pointer, shot by Mr. E. W. Bunny, on Te Awite in 1905, which weighed, with the dry skull, 20lbs, the record weight for the colony.

The North Otago herd of red deer is decended from seven head that were liberated on the Morven Hills run, east of Lake Hawea, in 1870, being part of a shipment received through the Otago Acclimisation Society from Earl of Dalhousie, whose deer forest is in Forfarshire, Scotland [i.e Inverness]. The North Otago herd is the only large one of pure Scottish red deer in the colony. The other portion of the shipment was liberated on the Horse Range between Dunedin and Palmerston South, where they do not appear to have multiplied. The North Otago herd now numbers many thousands, and is scattered over the mountain chains abutted on the main Alpine range, and extending from Lake Wanaka in Otago to Lake Ohau in Canterbury. They have worked their way up the Hunter River, [p.5] which runs into Lake Hawea; there are a few in the Makarore, at the head of Lake Wanaka; they are numerous in the Ahuriri Gorge, and are working their way to the north-east, via the Hopkins and Dobson Gorges towards Mount Cook. In this back country they have unlimited room, and, owing to the absence of other stock, there is abundance of rich native pasture, plenty of bush cover in the gorges, but owing to the majority of the big stags wintering so far up the gorges under the alpine ranges, the growth of antlers is considerably affected by the seasons. A mild winter and early spring means good heads, and severe winter and long, late spring, a deficiency in growth. The North Otago stags maintain the true Scottish type of antler, but they grow to much greater length than the antlers of any stags that have been shot in the British Isles. Their antlers are so remarkable for their symmetry and perfection in the development of the tines, and particularly the lower tines. The stalking ground can be reached in two days from either Christchurch or Dunedin, but it takes from one to three more days to arrive at the best camps in the back country. The whole of the deer country is essentially mountainous, the ranges rising from three to seven thousand feet, and usually very steep and rugged. Most of it is, however, well grassed and open. There are patches of birch bush in gullies here and there, and, about Hawea Lake, considerable forest, but generally the country is free from heavy cover. All over this district the stags are fairly plentiful, and the stalker who is not afraid of a stiff climb can generally find his game. One lucky sportsman bagged three Royals during his first day, near the mouth of the Hunter River, and on numerous occasions a sportsman has filled his license (four heads) in five days. Some magnificent heads have been got in the Hunter, Upper and Lower Dingle, and Timaru Creek, including a 17 and 18-pointer, and two Royals each 46 inches in length of antlers. The coats of the stags are generally shaggy, owing, no doubt, to the severe climate in winter.

The Nelson herd of red deer was founded by the importation of a stag and two hinds, presented by Lord Petre from his Park in Essex. These arrived in February, 1861, and their descendants now cover a considerable portion of the Nelson and Marlborough Provinces [p.7] and are extending into Canterbury and towards the West Coast. Taking a westerly line from Havelock, Pelorus Sound, for over a hundred miles one passes through good deer country, mostly rough bush land, but admirably suited to their habits. With the City of Nelson as centre, the stalker can find the object of his quest on nearly every hand. Red deer abound on the shore of Lake Rotoiti, a beautiful Alpine lake about a day and a half’s journey from Nelson. Here the thick bush affords excellent cover, alternating with open grassy glades. Some fine heads are now to be got in the Upper Buller Gorge. The heads obtained in Nelson are of a good, dark colour, and fairly massive, but compared with those of Wairarapa and Hawea, they have not the same average of span or spread. There are exceptions, of course. Splendid Royals are to be got, but Imperials not often. In the collection of Nelson heads in the Tourist’s Departments Court in the New Zealand International Exhibition is that of the first stag imported. The stag used to be seen alone for many years in the vicinity of Fringe Hill, and about 1874 the late Mr. Harry F. Hodgson discovered his skeleton on the Barren Hill near Dun Mountain. The head carried 20 points, and was afterwards mounted with the skin of a Wairarapa stag. This head is particularly interesting to the naturalist as well as the sportsmen, as, by comparison with the heads shot in recent years, it shows how remarkably the original type of antler has been preserved. The heads in the Exhibition surrounding this progenitor of the herd may almost be taken for those of his brothers or his sons. The probable explanation of this is that Lord Petre’s herd had had no new blood introduced into it for many years, so that a particular type of antler had been fixed from which there is no throwing back. The heaviest Nelson head, of which there is a record, is a 13-pointer shot by Mr. R. Acton-Adams on Tarndale Station in 1903, and is to be seen in the North Canterbury Court in the Exhibition. This head, with the dry skull, is said to have weighed 20lbs., which equals that of the heaviest Wairarapa head — the 17-pointer shot by Mr. E. W. Bunny.

Another fairly large and interesting herd of red deer is to be found on the Ruahine Ranges, in Hawke’s Bay, formed from Wairarapa [p.9] stock, and licenses are now available for this herd. In 1897 seven head of deer were imported from England by the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society, and liberated in the Rakaia Gorge, where they have done exceedingly well, and will, in a few years, provide some excellent stalking. Other herds have been established by the Wellington Acclimatisation Society by means of calves captured in the Wairarapa, at Paraparaumu in the Manawatu, and at Wainui-o-Mata, near Wellington. Herds have also been founded at Tongariro, Rotorua, and Galatea in the North Island by the Tourist Department. The Department also liberated a small herd of red deer at Hokitika, which were presented by Miss Audrey Chirnside, of Werribee Park, Victoria, Aus. The Southland Acclimatisation Society have turned out red deer at Lake Manapouri and Stewart Island, and in one or two other places, and there is a privately-owned her at Clifton, in South Otago.


In New Zealand the wild fallow deer are only second in interest to red. They are to be found in large numbers on the Blue Mountains near Tapanui, in Otago, and on the Maungakawa Range, in the Waikato, Auckland Province. The bucks develop very good heads in this colony, due, doubtless, to the superior food and climate conditions. They are just as keen in sense of sight, hearing and scent as the red and quite as wary. On the beautiful Island of Motutapu, in the Hauraki Gulf, close to Auckland, there are about a thousand head of fallow deer. Motutapu is private property, the owner, Mr. James Reid, is noted for his hospitality to visiting sportsmen, who are very frequently granted the privilege of shooting over the island. A herd has been established at Albury, near Timaru, South Canterbury, with stock obtained from Mr. J. Reid, and they have done remarkably well, and license to shoot were issued this year for the first time. There are also some fallow deer on the Lower Wanganui, on the Totara Flat near Hokitika, and at the head of Lake Wakatupu. There is an old established herd in the Nelson Province.


[p.10] But these two species of big game are not the only ones to which the New Zealand Government and the Acclimatisation Societies are devoting attention. It has long been recognised that some of the more rugged uplands, particularly the Alpine regions of the South Island, and forests of Fiordland, are admirably suited for mountain game such as chamois, ibex, and other sporting animals, and for American wapiti and moose. Some six years ago a few moose were turned out in the forests of the West Coast of the South Island. In 1904 a number of thar, or Caucasian mountain-goats — similar in appearance and habits to the Spanish wild-goat — were received from the Duke of Bedford, and were liberated in the vicinity of the Mt. Cook “Hermitage” the great tourist resort in the Southern Alps. A number of Sambur deer have been acclimatised in the North Island, and some of the pretty Japanese deer [sika] have also been introduced, and have been liberated near Rangitaiki, between Napier and Lake Taupo. Axis deer [chital] from India were liberated some years ago near Palmerston South, but unfortunately they appear to have been shot out. In March of 1905 a valuable consignment of game animals was secured in the United States by Mr. T. E. Donne, on behalf of the New Zealand Government. This lot comprised twenty wapiti, including ten presented by President Roosevelt to Mr. Donne for New Zealand, nineteen Virginian deer [white-tailed deer] and five blacktail deer, and successfully shipped to New Zealand in charge of Mr. T. Moorhouse, of the Tourist Department. The wapiti were shipped to the extreme south of New Zealand, and liberated at the head of George Sound, one of the great forest-belted fiords which indent the West Coast of Otago. Here there is an immense area of wild unpeopled country, the Fiordland National Park, over two million acres in extent; in years to come it will be a famous hunting-ground. The Virginian deer were divided between the country at the head of Lake Wakatipu and the wooded hills of Stewart Island, while the blacktail deer were turned out on the bracken-clad ranges of the Kaimanawa, between the East Coast of the North Island and Taupo. All these herds will, of course, be strictly protected for some years to come. Should they increase with the same remarkable [p.11] rapidity as the red deer and fallow deer, New Zealand will, before very long, afford a variety of big game shooting that few civilised countries can present to the travelling sportsmen.

The Acclimatisation Societies of the various provincial districts encountered many difficulties in the initial stages of their work. Some of the places selected for the liberation of deer, for instance, were remote, and in this new country the means of transit were not always convenient. The red deer liberated in North Otago had to be carted over 100 miles in a bullock dray. The progenitors of the Maungakawa fallow deer in the seventies had to be taken a two days’ voyage in a small paddle steamer up the swift and flooded Waikato River to the head of navigation, then loaded on sledges, and carted a thousand fee up a steep and slippery mountain range. A cavalcade of Maoris accompanied the sledges, dismounting to give assistance to the drivers in the worst places, and asking many a curious questions concerning the habits of the strange animals. They looked upon them as magnified goats, but conceived that they might possibly be man-eaters, and one conservative old chief expressed the firm conviction that they were introduced by the white man for the express purpose of devouring the remnant of the Maori people. However, the aboriginal soon learned to appreciate the swift-footed many-horned deer of the paleface.


The red deer heads forming the large and unique collection in the Tourist Department’s Court in the New Zealand International Exhibition were all carefully measured under the supervision of Mr. T. E. Donne. The following is the list of heads, with the names of the sportsman to whose rifle they fell, and those who lent heads and the district in which they were shot.

This table is to be found on the inside front page of the booklet and details the seasons and licenses that could be procured in 1907.

This image of a ‘South Island Head’ is found on the back end paper

Bibliographic information

Title: The Deer of New Zealand
Author: E. Hardcastle, issued by The N.Z. Government Department of Tourist and Health Resorts
Editions: 1906-7
Publisher: Christchurch Press Company Limited, Printers, Christchurch, New Zealand
Format: Softcover, A5 leaflet, black and white illustrations, 17 pages

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