1 JANUARY 1898, Page 23


Ito TEE EDITOR OF THE " SPECTATOR:9 SIR,—Referring to the article on "The Sense of Direction" that appeared in the Spectator of September 25th, 1897, your readers may perhaps be interested in the experience of a practical o.bserver as to the " homing " instinct in men and animals. While working as a surveyor in New Zealand, I lived for many years in the wilder portions of the Colony, and the greater part of that time was spent in the forest. My men were generally either Maoris or the sons of European settlers. The latter were brave, rough fellows, with little education of a lettered kind, but with mach knowledge of woodcraft, or bushmanship as we call it. I recognise, of course, that this knowledge is rarely considered as education, but in its proper place it may be treated as such. A cultured don might perish from hunger and exposure if suddenly set down in a dense forest, while one of my men in the same place would in an hoar or two have a hut built, fern-leaf bed made, a bright fire burning, and the tea- billy -boiling. These bushmen also knew the names, varieties, and- uses of hundreds of trees and shrubs; they were acquainted; with the habits of birds and animals; they under- stood bridgemaking, fencing,. prospecting for metals, &c.; in fact, the rougher sides of. many sciences and occupations. With all this they had only the poorest command of words and no idea of mental analysis, so that I feel certain that they could never have explained in what manner they could find their way through the tangled mazes of undergrowth to the point they wished to reach, as assuredly many of them could do. It was not only that they could take short cuts to the camp on returning at night, although even that was wonderful when one considers what a tiny speck of space the camp occupied in comparison with the great ocean of verdure that surrounded it for miles in every direction. Sometimes it would be desired on leaving the camp in the morning to hit the end of the survey-line where we had left off cutting it the night before ; going round to the commencement of the line and following it up would have been a tedious journey. Certainly they did not try to follow up the tracks of the night before; of these they were absolutely neglectful, but, straight as the trees or swamps would allow, and sure as a. dog on a strong scent, the leading man would guide us to the required spot. It must be remembered that this forest was not at all like an English wood or coppice. New Zealand bush is a dense growth of trees and underwood, vines, lianas, moss, and parasitic grasses, so close and luxuriant that to see ten yards in any direction is almost impossible. I was grown- up when I arrived in the Colony, and I could never acquire, even after years of experience, this wonderful sense of direc- tion. I could move about in the bush without fear of being lost, and with the feeling of being quite at home; I could go very nearly where I wished, but always and only with observa- tion in full exercise. That is to say, I took direction either from the sun, the trend of the ranges, the flowing of streams, the growth of certain trees, or something of the kind; I could never get the instinctive feeling. I feel convinced that if observation is used by bushmen it is quite unconsciously ; they never seemed to know how it was done. Many Maoris possess the faculty, but not all by any means; it appears to be innate in some men, as it is in the lower animals.

This remark may provoke objection, and leads me to my second point,—viz., that I know of a remarkable instance of the homing instinct in a dog. A friend of mine had sons who were "swarming off" and making homes of their own. One of these sons had married, and was going to a farm almost due west of his father's station, but across the island on the other coast. It was a very short distance, some forty miles, between the two places, but this forty miles was unknown land of broken and heavily timbered mountain country. With rivers =bridged and forests without roads, it was impossible to convey by land the furniture of the newly married couple to their home, so a, schooner was chartered, and the pair, taking with them a valuable dog belonging to the old man, set sail. The dog was fastened below in the hold. The schooner sailed two hundred miles to the northward, headed Cape Maria Van Dieman, and came south along the other coast to her haven. The dog was put ashore the next morn- ing, but it at once disappeared, and twenty-four hours after- wards appeared at its old home, muddy, tired, and foot-sore, having travelled through the forest from west to east. Nothing but a true homing instinct could have led the dog along a path =trodden by man to a point whence it had been carried for hundreds of miles in a circuitous route, and while hidden in the hold of a vessel.

I think this is a much more true example of the power of moving in a wished-for direction than that of the carrier- pigeon, because it is almost certain that the pigeon executes its task solely by the aid of keen sight. It is a well-known fact that carrier-pigeons cannot fly home even for a short distance like that across the English Channel if there is a thick fog at the time. There were obstacles more dense than fog in the path of the dog; mountain ranges and close vege- tation, precipice and swamp. I have had men who could do as much, but they could tell you how they did it just as much as the dog could, and no more.—I am, Sir, &c.,