Today a deer hunt was to be organized. Everybody assured me that the territory was rich in game and thus the hunt promised excellent results. Even though I always am somewhat sceptic about such tales and promises in foreign countries, I was still full of hope to catch at least one specimen of the deer species introduced and acclimatized here. At dawn we set off from the board and met the adjutant of the governor at the landing as well as one of the highest civil servants who formerly had been resident in Tonkin and been assigned by the governor as his representative.
M. Picquie himself could not participate in the hunt as he had slipped and dislocated a leg while playing „catch“ with the young ladies during a garden party he had organized. Apparently the cause of his injury seemed to the governor not dignified enough to tell me and had instead communicated that he had fallen off a horse during a business trip and thus injured himself.
The company of the former resident of Tonkin by the way was very welcome as he could tell me during the drive many strange things about this country which had become important for the European Oriental politics and where he had lived for many years. We only had to cover 21 km but spent three hours as the horses were notable for their special slowness and the road went up and down the mountain.
The weather was agreeable, the temperature pleasantly fresh. We were now already in June, that is close to the coolest period in this part of hemisphere in which — in July and August — the average temperature drops from the annual average of 22 to 23° C during the day by 5 to 7° C, while it drops in cool nights down to about + 9° C.
The region we were driving through has a mostly monotonous character in scenery as the road goes almost always through the monotonous looking Niauli forests. Still there are changing and interesting impressions. Close to a saddle of a mountain which we had to cross there was an oasis amidst the Niauli forest with splendid almost tropical vegetation. We passed numerous settlements with large vegetable gardens and furthermore also hotels or more precisely road-side inns with proud names such as „Au rendez-vous des chasseurs“, „Hotel beau site“ etc. that offer the Libérés the prized opportunity to waste their small savings on drink.
The orange tree is growing splendidly here. Unfortunately, the golden fruits are fouling on the trees as it is not profitable to harvest them due to the impossibility of exporting oranges.
During the drive we saw few birds which was all the more remarkable as 45 species of birds were natives only of New Caledonia. I managed to observe only a small predator, then a kingfisher as well as a Myna and a few singing birds. Poorer still the country seemed to be as far as mammals were concerned. Apart from deer there seems to be only a species of fruit-eating bat, large megabats (Pteropididae). This lack of large animals and the periodically recurring need for more substantial food than fish, megabats, rats, worms and snails is used by ethnographers to explain the native predilection for human meat suppressed not long ago.
The last part of the journey turned out to be very difficult as a large water pipeline was under construction for Numea and the iron pipes was just then being transported there.
Next to a small settlement we were expected by two gentlemen who led us on foot through a wide valley to the hunting ground. Here I had the first chance of seeing a large number of Kanaks who had been called out of the interior of the island to serve as drivers — beautifully built muscular men of a dark coffee-brown color with dense fully curly hair of a true Papuan character which they wore combed upwards. Their faces are not beautiful and raw, but show a certain intelligence in their expression. Clothing is limited to small waist belts. In contrast the Kanaks are all the more equipped with all kinds of ornaments which they carry as necklaces and bracelets made out of shells and footrings made by twisting megabat hair. As weapons they carry long lances with very original points as well as clubs made out of heavy ironwood that is found on the island.
The endurance of the natives at swimming and their skill in fishing are reportedly excellent. My informants claimed to have personally observed how these islanders had swum out two to three miles out into the sea and there threw out a fishing rod while „treading water“, then keep their catch under their arm and continue to fish until they had caught a sufficient number of fishes to return to land. The Kanaks are said to be highly proficient in guiding canoes and using them for fishing, a method much preferred to the just described fishing rod technique. It might well be possible that my informants had seen more than actually happened and that the fishermen stood on reefs and cliffs — not visible to the observer — below sea level and so on a firm setting could go after catching fish.
In total there are about 40.000 natives on New Caledonia whose race however is on the way to extinction as the numerous endemic and many newly introduced illnesses as well as the numeric gender imbalance causes their number to decrease year by year. The killing of new born girls is said to be widely practised. Women are also treated everywhere much worse and have to perform all the hard work. In earlier times, the population was reduced by the continued feuds between the different tribes where the prisoners and the killed were always eaten. Today the natives are more peaceful but withdraw from contact with the whites.
The civil servant in charge of the natives had set out with the drivers and posted us for the hunt at the foot of a hill covered only with grass behind which was a densely forested mountain slope. The islanders with their dogs were tasked to drive through these woods to force the deer to cross over the hills. This battle plan did not please me in the slightest and in fact neither were the drivers as well as almost all the natives that had before taken part in our hunting. They walked without order or plan during the drive, took up position on small hills or at the edge of gorges where they started shouting for extended periods while only a few drivers with dogs actually entered into the woods. The dogs still barked a few times but the hunt took another direction turned away from our position what was to be expected right from the start as the game in New Caledonia too shows no preference to cross into an open valley. All the more so as there was much noise behind us caused by the construction of the water pipeline.
Thus I sat there for a full three hours when suddenly but at great distance a spike was fleeing in front of me. I shot it, apparently a hit to the lungs but the deer stood up again and draw itself forward for a few steps to collapse in the high grass. As soon as one of the drivers had seen this, they all ran in the true sense of the word like wild men with great shouting to the deer that naturally again stood up and fled into the very dense wood pursued by the wild men and the dogs where one could hear their sounds for some time until the deer disappeared forever. From a true follow-up search one could naturally not speak and also a heartfelt request directed to the wild men to find the wounded animal in their own manner and kill it was in vain.
Thus the first drive was a complete failure even though the game was said to be plentiful which had been assured at the start of the hunt that the game was more like a plague on the land by their quantity in the woods and the fields. As usual in such cases the hunting masters were certain that the failure of the hunt would have been successful at an earlier hour or if executed as a chase — an insight that came too late. As I would have put up no resistance to start the hunt earlier, I would even have started our journey after midnight if necessary.
Unfortunately a straight continuation of the hunt was impossible as the governor who had followed us was awaiting us in a settler’s house close by for an opulent breakfast which consumed a full two hours as the majordomo and liveried servants presented a never-ending series of dishes and wines. As well meant this feast had been I still considered it a waste of time — sitting on pins and needles — and would have preferred to use the time for hunting or collecting beetles and butterflies, with one word more purposeful as I had only a few days to visit the interesting island in the midst of the South Sea which I would never see again in my lifetime. I had not come to spend hours eating at a table! After the end of the breakfast I hoped to be released — but not at all. A Hiob’s message arrived that the dogs of the drivers had been lost and the hunt could only be continued after the dogs had been caught again. With the exception of my gentlemen all participants of the hunt seemed to e relieved and continued to eat until they finally managed to recall the dogs to duty late in the afternoon.
Finally a new drive started from a hill that was densely covered in ferns. The local islanders may be really honorable people and have all kinds of good qualities but driving and hunting they completely fail to understand. The dogs soon barked and one could see soon thereafter some great game run through the bushes. Unfortunately the unlucky drivers had noticed the deer too and now all ran in the direction of the game with cries. The deer naturally broke in the opposite direction which made the drivers happy and shouting and gesticulating in front of my position perform some kind of war dance.
As I lacked the possibility to express my opinion with some native strong or swear words I slung my rifle on my back in my helpless anger and turned away from this „wild, daring hunt“ to the wagon where I received the message from the fast following hunting master that just now four deer had crossed at the position I just had vacated. I did not doubt the truth of the appearance of the deer which might also only have shown up to restore the honor of the hunting master but did not change my direction to return to the position and started calmly my homeward journey.
This partly compensated for the failed hunt. Driving between the high mountains surrounding the valley, we enjoyed the vivid color effects produced by the rays of the setting sun on the mountain slopes; The Niauli trees glittered in a blueish color next to the clefts and bare areas which glittered metallic and were glowing red due to the rich iron content in its rocks.
At a late hour we were back on board of „Elisabeth“ which its commander followed by my gentlemen and a number of officers soon after left to attend a dinner given by the officers of the French armored ship „Thetis“ on its board while I stayed home.