Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Trout (and other fish) tales Part 2

 Image from Wikipedia.

I've just received this email from Brian Watson:
"My great grandfather, Robert Cliffe variously known as the gardener or curator worked in the Domain for the Acclimatisation Society, about 1870s to 1890s. I believe he constructed the ponds, was involved in the hatching and at various times took hatchlings, by rail, to a number of places in the North Island. He lived in the then Conquest Place, Parnell. Later he was the gardener at Government House. One of his sons was Robert McKenzie Cliffe, who wrote two articles in the Auckland Star of Saturday 20 June 1931."
Thanks for this, and pointing out the articles, Brian. Here they are -- an update to the previous post.




In a leafy gully in the Auckland Domain where a tiny stream trickles, is the remains of Auckland's first hatchery and fish pond. It was abandoned many years ago. The wooden fences rotted and decayed, but there is still to be found some of the foundation of what was many years ago quite a little hive of industry, and a place of great interest to visitors.

Captain R. McKenzie Cliffe is now a marine expert, but in the days when there were fish ponds in the Domain reserve, he was a boy and one most interested in fish, their ways and their doings. His father was the curator of the hatchery, and he was what might be termed first assistant. Few people remember these ponds, and the care which was lavished on them in earlier days, but Captain Cliffe has written, depicting them as they were, the quietness and the peace of the gardens.

"To begin with,” he writes, "the hatchery and fish ponds were never situated in the Domain gardens. They were built on the sides of a gully about 200 yards south of the southerly end of Carlaw Park. The ruins are still there and it was from this place that all the trout, perch, carp and cat fish were distributed all over the Auckland province to the Waikato, Thames and North Auckland. The hatchery covered an area of perhaps two acres, which were fenced with 9in planks about 8ft high. There was one reservoir and 15 ponds, varying in side from 60ft by 6ft to 10ft by 6ft. Their depth varied from 18in to 3ft. The sides of the ponds were paved with large smooth stones and the bottoms had about two to three inches of shingle spread on them.

The Hatchery Described.

"In addition to these ponds there were 60 boxes arranged in tiers, placed in one of the two houses there. One of them was used as a hatchery and the other as a toolshed. In the latter was a fireplace where we cooked the bullocks' livers, which, with worms, formed the staple diet of the fish.

The hatchery contained about 60 hatching boxes each 4ft 6in long by 1ft 9in deep. On each side of the boxes, three inches under the water, were placed serrated battens. Athwartwise, with their ends lying on the battens were glass tubes close together. In these were placed the ova. The hatchery was under the shade of great trees and even in the hottest weather the place was very cold.

Some of the ponds were partially covered by battens over which clematis and other beautiful creepers were trained. Banking the sides of all the ponds were masses of tree ferns, and the ground was green with maidenhair and lycopodium, some of which trailed in the slowly moving water."

Besides giving the spot a witchery and an elusive beauty, these trailing ferns afforded some protection from potential marauders, among which were numbered shags, kingfishers, an occasional wild duck, cats, rats and even mice.

“It was from this place that later on came English brown trout, American brook and black-spotted mountain trout, perch, carp and catfish. Here also were a few native gray fish and Maori trout."

Birds and Beauty in the Old Domain.

Captain Cliffe deprecates the planting of exotic trees in the Domain, and the birds which were there then are heard but seldom now. When he was a boy it was the usual thing to see most of the more common native birds. "Tui, bellbirds, weka, kaka, mopokes, blight-birds, fern birds, teal, wild duck, New Zealand wrens, fantails, both pied and black, parrakeets, all these were there," he writes, "and many more which I cannot remember. An occasional bittern and a few pukekos used to frequent the swamp where the pond now is.

“I could write for hours of the beauty of the old Domain, of its birds, its trees, giant manuka, and wonderful mosses. Now it is neither one thing nor the other. The sooner the exotics are exterminated, and the native bush allowed to grow, the better it will be. It is a national asset which we do not appreciate. Some day we will be sorry and then it will be too late."

Auckland Star 20 June 1931 p.11

"Well, now I will tell you about Lake Pupuke,” he writes. "My father had to take a batch of trout up to Matamata, and Mr. Edwin Harrow was very impatiently asking for some trout for Lake Pupuke. Under the circumstances there was nothing else for it but for me to take the batch of trout to Takapuna. So, after putting them (by the way, they were a mixture of English brown trout and American brook trout) into three large cans, my father departed with his batch for the Auckland station.

"A Good Idea."

"On arrival he sent his conveyance back to take my batch to the ferry boat. Thus I was left in charge at the hatchery. I walked round, and I thought it would be a good idea to put a few carp among the trout. Getting a net, I soon had about half a dozen half-grown carp, and I placed them with the trout. Then a brilliant idea came. The week before we had been out to Lake St. John, and secured about 400 catfish, each about 13 inches long. I thought that it would be a grand idea to add a few of these to the crowd. I did so, and now my cans contained trout, carp, and catfish. Shortly afterwards we went to the ferry. We shipped our load and were met at Devonport by Mr. Harrow. We liberated our batch just below where the Lake House stood.

"So that is the story of the liberation of 'trout' in Lake Pupuke. A few years later a fish was caught weighing between 9lb and 10lb. There was a good deal of speculation about it. It had all the markings of a trout, but it was more the shape of a John Dory. It had grown downwards instead of lengthwise.

"Years afterwards in New York I was talking to a piseiculturist, and he told me that this condition was nearly always obtained when fish which were used to running water were transferred into still, stagnant water. As to the truth of it I cannot say.

Conditions Unsuitable.

"As to the idea of liberating trout again into Lake Pupuke, I do not think the project would be a success. The essentials necessary for success in trout-raising are plenty of running water, a shingle bed for spawning, and plenty of live food. They pine in stagnant water and finally die out. Perch and carp would do there; in fact, there are a good few carp there now, or were a few years ago; but these fish are too small to be very valuable for food or sport. In fact, ground baiting is necessary in both cases, and the water in Takapuna is too deep for either." 

Auckland Star 20 June 1931 p.12

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