Sunday, October 2, 2011

Domain Waters 2: Trout tales

 Image from Wikipedia.

From "The Waipapa Stream" by Richard Simpson:

[The Auckland Acclimatisation Society] was founded in the Auckland Domain in 1861 with the intention of introducing a variety of fish, bird, animal and plant species into NZ. In 1867 fish breeding ponds were built on the Domain bank of the Waipapa Stream. Acclimatisation society established New Zealand's first trout hatchery beside the Waipapa. Both the brown trout and the rainbow trout were introduced here. 
Following on from the first in this series on Richard's history of the Waipapa Stream, this is another bit I felt I needed to check out.

First: where was the hatchery?

After a bit of looking, this plan (SO 3933, 1890) "Plan of the Auckland Domain, Surveyed for the Auckland City Council by G H A Purchas" provides the answer. Up above the Waipapa Stream, yes. Associating them with the stream due to proximity wouldn't be entirely incorrect.

Aerial view, 1940, Auckland Council website.

But then comes the claim of this being New Zealand's first trout hatchery, from 1867. History doesn't agree.

The Salmon and Trout Act was passed in 1867, leading to a rush among acclimatisation societies to take advantage of the new regulations. The race, however, was between Otago and Canterbury societies, with Nelson not too far behind initially --  but not Auckland. We lagged behind, eventually succeeding with a set-up in 1870.

The hatching-ponds, for the ova of salmon, trout, and other fish that may be obtainable, erected under the superintendence of F. Huddleston, Esq., Secretary of the Acclimatisation Society, in the rear of the Government Buildings, are now complete, and appear as if they would answer well, the only matter of doubt being whether, from the shallowness of the ponds, the water contained in them will not be too warm. At present the supply of water is but scanty, being drawn from Campbell's mill-lead, and the object of laying it on was simply to test the working of the ponds. As soon as the water-works' main is laid down, the supply of water may be increased to any extent, and as it will come direct in pipes from a gorge where, even in summer, the temperature is little influenced by the season, the temperature of the water in the ponds may always be kept low, so that we hope they will be found to answer. It is too late this season to obtain ova from Tasmania, but we shall be fully prepared to make the experiment next year, of introducing these valuable fish into the rivers of our province.

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 5 October 1867

The recent attempt to introduce trout to Otago and Canterbury, by bringing ova from Tasmania, has not been very successful, the result being only three live trout in the ponds in Christchurch. The time at which the experiment was made was too late in the season, and the ova, by being taken first to Melbourne, received a good deal of knocking about, which was increased by a bad passage from the latter port. Another year, the success we hope will be greater.

Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, 5 November 1867

This led to the controversy over which won, Otago or Canterbury. From Exotic Intruders by Joan Druett, 1983:

Mr Johnson, the curator of the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society from 1864 to 1875, claimed to have introduced many of the freshwater fish species in New Zealand. Unfortunately he and Mr Farr, the Secretary of the Society from 1870, did not get on very well at all, which has helped to make the records of that time somewhat unreliable.

The story of the first three brown trout in New Zealand—the survivors of the 800 brown trout ova sent from Tasmania in 1867, which were so dramatically flooded out and then a pair recaptured—has accordingly been claimed by some authorities to be untrue.

George Ferris, in his book Fly Fishing in New Zealand reports that the 1868 Otago consignment, brought in by Mr Clifford, was the first successful introduction of brown trout. The number of ova in Mr Clifford's shipment was also 800, a circumstance that makes it even more difficult to find out the true facts. At any rate, it can safely be assumed that brown trout were definitely acclimatised in New Zealand waters from 1868.
Auckland had a lot of fits and starts on its way to having a working trout hatchery. The following come from newspaper reports of the society's meetings.

The committee appointed to make arrangements for the introduction of trout ova having failed to discharge its functions, owing to unforeseen circumstances, the Council in order that the season might not be entirely lost, resolved that an attempt should be made to introduce young fish from Tasmania, and by the kind aid of Mr. J. W. Graves, of Hobart Town, this desirable object is likely to be accomplished, a supply of young trout being daily expected to arrive.

Southern Cross 10 March 1870

But, later that year, things must have finally gone right.

Next to the introduction of rooks must be noticed the hatching of trout ova in the Society's fish-house. About one thousand ova were presented to the Society by the Salmon Commissioners of Tasmania, and placed on board the Bella Mary in charge of Captain Copping, who kindly volunteered to take all necessary steps to ensure its safe transit. Owing however to the voyage of the Bella Mary having been unusually protracted, the supply of ice ran short, and the ova was only preserved by the incessant attention of the ship's officers, who were instructed by Captain Copping to have fresh water poured over the boxes at short intervals, both day and night. On arriving at the gardens the ova was at once unpacked by Mr. Earle, and placed in the hatching boxes, when it was found to have suffered considerably from the deficiency of ice, the ultimate result being that only about 60 healthy young trout were produced. These have been deposited in Edgcombe's creek, with the view of keeping them in a place where a future supply can readily be obtained for spawning purposes. The result of this attempt has conclusively proved that ova in good condition can be readily hatched and distributed with facility without greatly increasing the means already at the disposal of the Council. It is therefore determined to repeat the experiment, and, if possible, to obtain a supply of ova from the Canterbury Acclimatisation Society, so as to lessen the risk incurred by the longer transit from Tasmania.

Southern Cross 9 March 1871

The hatcheries at the Domain were constructed later that year.

The Secretary reported that a small pond had been constructed in the Domain, and the trout placed therein, and so far as could be known they were doing well. The water was of diminutive supply the stream above the pond had fairly dried up. Mr. Butler, of Mangonui, had declined to take the trout ordered for him.

Southern Cross 10 January 1872

The Secretary read an estimate of accounts for the ensuing year … £15 for removal of the fish-house to a new site, and construction of a basin for the young fish £30 for purchase of trout ova and the expenses contingent thereon …

Auckland Star 2 December 1873

But -- the location for the hatchery had one major flaw -- not enough water, and what was there became far too hot in the summer. The fish stocks suffered.

In a paragraph in yesterdays issue it was stated that one by one the large English trout in the Domain fish ponds had died off for want of sufficient water. It appears that the usual supply from the Domain springs has decreased during the present dry weather until it is quite inadequate to the requirements of the splendid trout reared by Mr Cliffe, the Acclimatisation Society's curator. The result has been most disastrous. After great trouble and patient perseverance trout had been reared up to maturity, and then, owing to the limited water supply getting too hot, they have one after another died off until all are lost.

Auckland Star 25 March 1887

Fish.—The Council regret to state that the anticipations made in the last report respecting the bleeding of the three varieties of trout kept in the Society's ponds have not been realised. With regard to the English brown trout, the unusually hot weather experienced during the summer and autumn of the previous season proved fatal to the whole of the mature fish. No doubt this would not have occurred had the ponds been situated by the side of a suitable stream, so that an ample supply of cool water could have been turned through during the hot weather. It has been a great and serious drawback to the fish breeding operations of the Society that no such stream exists near Auckland, and that circumstances have thus compelled the use of a locality so unsuitable as the Auckland Domain, where the water supply is limited and liable to have its temperature greatly raised during summer months. A connection has now been made with the city water supply, but the supply is limited to what will pass through a 1½ -inch pipe. The City Council have kindly promised to make no charge for this. The rainbow trout kept in excellent health during the whole season, being apparently unaffected by the heat that destroyed the brown trout. The females supplied large numbers of ova, and had a supply of milt been available, probably 50,000 or 60,000 eggs would have been obtained; but for some unexplained reason the males though healthy did not supply this, and the results have consequently been barren. As the ponds have now been enlarged, the fish will have more room, and it is to be hoped that better success will attend the operations of the Society during the coming season. The American-bred trout, though healthy, have shown no signs of breeding.

Auckland Star 10 April 1888

Bolding mine. I'd say, from that report, that being anywhere near the Waipapa Stream in those days wasn't exactly an advantage. This reinforces what I mentioned previously when posting about the so-called first water supply for Auckland from the Domain.

"During all the period in which water was diverted from the Domain to the city, it was only ever an auxiliary source – and always just as prone to drying up in the summer as any of the city’s wells."
Map from Auckland Council GIS website

It's likely that the fish ponds had only the supply running off from out of the springs heading into the Waipapa to count on. Not nearly enough as a water source when the sun beat down.

Still, Auckland did have a success with rainbow trout. From Exotic Intruders:

The rainbow trout is the most sought-after trout in the world, because of its fighting qualities and its beautiful chromium-like sheen. It was first introduced into New Zealand waters in 1883, by the Auckland Acclimatisation Society, and quite by accident. The Auckland Society was firmly convinced that it had brought out ova of brook trout, but from the 32 000 eggs, 5 000 young rainbow made their appearance. The Society had purchased the ova from a Mr La Motte, who operated a fish hatchery in California; he had taken them from Sonoma Creek and shipped them to San Francisco, where they were transferred to a ship heading for New Zealand. The Auckland Society kept on referring to the fish as 'brook trout' until 1886, when they admitted that they had unwittingly imported some rainbows. Mr Cheeseman stated in 1915, 'I believe that the whole of the wild stock of rainbow trout in New Zealand has been derived from the Auckland Society's introductions.'
By 1888, the society had things fairly well sussed.

Mr Cheeseman also announced the successful hatching of the rainbow trout ova, about 4,000 or 5,000 young fish having been obtained.

Auckland Star 5 September 1888

But, there was still that problem about the Domain water.
A discussion took place as to the advisability of finding another site than the Domain for the fish ponds, the supply of water being insufficient, and the temperature of the water being too high for the health of the fish. The secretary was desired to ascertain what could be done in the Waitakerei district to establish a breeding-place for fish.

Auckland Star 2 April 1890

The Society did seem to manage under the circumstances ...

At the commencement of the year there were in the Domain ponds about 3,000 healthy young rainbow trout, and 2,000 English brown trout.

Auckland Star 9 March 1892

But, by 1894, it appears it was all over, as far as the story of the Domain fish ponds was concerned.
The report referred to the removal of the Society's fish hatchery from the Auckland Domain to the Waimakariri, near Oxford, and to the work which had been done there in the construction of fish-ponds, etc. Trout fishing in the Waihou, Waimakariri and Oraki streams had been excellent during the past season, and the fish caught were of excellent quality.

Auckland Star 22 March 1894

So, yes, you can say the fish ponds at the Domain were associated with the Waipapa Stream due to their position -- but if there are any aquifer properties to the Domain's water system, once again, it failed under test. Auckland can take the prize for (accidentally) hatching rainbow trout -- but we weren't the first in the brown trout business. That award belongs to the Mainlanders.

Update 22 August 2012: Part 2, a description of the hatchery from the 1930s, here.


  1. Interesting article Lisa. And point proven with the contemporary reports of the day. Clear where the water supply came wasn't the Waipapa. Liked the bit about the accidential hatching of the Rainbow Trout

  2. Who would have thought trout could be so interesting. Here people bang on about carp destroying our trout habitat and their environmental threat, yet trout are not native to Australia.

  3. Save the exotic species from the exotic species?

  4. I've just come across this page. There is actually quite a lot of the ponds still visible, if you know where to look. Not at all covered over by road fill. Remember they are a legally protected archaeological site, too. DOC archaeologists carried out a small investigation of then some years ago and there is a detailed reopt on them.

  5. I have actually sighted one such report recently, thanks to John Adam. There is a certain amount of "we're not telling you exactly where they are" stuff, because of the protected nature of the sites as you say, Anonymous. But -- I was heartened to see that the location I found in the documents researched for this post was confirmed.