Taxidermist, naturalist, and collector.
A new biography of Reischek, Andreas appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Andreas Reischek was born in 1845 at Linz, Austria, the son of a tax collector – his mother dying soon after his birth. After a few years' schooling he was apprenticed to a baker who encouraged in him a love for natural history. In 1866 Reischek saw war service in the Tyrol. By 1875 he had married and was settled down as a taxidermist in Vienna. He was selected in 1877 by Dr Hochstetter to visit New Zealand for two years to assist in setting up displays in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, then under the direction of Dr Julius Von Haast. In New Zealand his work centred around the Canterbury, Wanganui, and Auckland Museums, but he was also a collector on his own account, amassing a vast collection of biological specimens as well as many objects of ethnographic interest.
In 1888 Reischek visited the Auckland and Campbell Islands in the New Zealand Government steamer Stella which made annual voyages to service lighthouses and to search for castaways. In addition he spent several months collecting on the Chickens, Little Barrier Island, and at the West Coast Sounds. He also visited the King Country with the express permission of “King” Tawhiao, and on his journey southwards, at Whatiwhatihoe, Reischek received from the King's uncle, Te Witiora, a casket with a huia tail or hua. He was thus created a chief and named “Ihaka Reiheke, Te Kiwi, Rangatira te Auturia”. On later visits he received many gifts including two more hua, and in return he gave pipes, tobacco, mirrors, pencils, and ear-rings to the Maori chiefs. These travels occupied 12 years and on 13 April 1889 he returned to Austria. Ultimately Reischek was asked to superintend the formation of the new Francis-Caroline Museum at Linz, and he died there on 3 April 1902.
Reischek's ornithological collection numbered 3,016 specimens, including 738 extinct exotic birds and 227 Dinornis. Mammals were represented by 120 skins; fishes and reptiles comprised 8,000 items and plants, 2,406. The total number of Maori objects was 453, including weapons, agricultural implements, house carvings, canoe ornaments, and articles of personal adornment. There were also some 37 Maori skulls. Although urged to do so, the Imperial Museum authorities hesitated to purchase Reischek's collection. At last a number of Austrians subscribed sufficient money to acquire it and, in 1926, the Imperial Museum (now the Vienna State Museum) held a special Reischek exhibition.
Reischek is alleged to have secured four mummies from a cave at Kawhia, two being described as being in a state of perfect preservation. He had been guided to the cave by “two Maoris sufficiently europeanised to be willing to renounce their national and religious principles for gold”. Actually Reischek took only two bodies – now in the Naturhistorische Museum in Vienna – they were dessicated and trussed bodies (not mummies), much of the flesh being still preserved on the bones. The knees were drawn up and the hands folded on the body, a traditional posture used for Maori dead who were later hidden in secluded spots or even placed in large trees. Also outstanding in the Maori collection were two burial chests, one being elaborately carved and containing bones of at least two persons. The carving on this chest is archaic and, apparently, unique. Such chests belong only to Waikato and Northland, and held selected bones of dead ancestors.
Reischek was a skilful taxidermist and a selftaught naturalist. He is depicted as a tough, wiry, bewhiskered man with high temples, a swag on his back and a gun in his hand. He had a remarkable physique and was a good linguist, speaking English and Maori with fluency. His dog, Caesar, which he acquired as a pup and trained to his requirements, accompanied him on all his expeditions. Reischek shot hundreds of native birds for food or for his collections. He had a genuine love for, and interest in, bird life and was the first to suggest Little Barrier Island as a sanctuary for native birds. Reischek made many intimate friends among the Maoris; but he showed little hesitation in taking objects of rare value to add to his collections. For his contributions to botany he was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society. Many of his articles were published in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute. The English translation of his book, Yesterdays in Maoriland, appeared in 1930.
by William John Phillipps, formerly Registrar and Ethnologist, Dominion Museum, Wellington.
- Yesterdays in Maoriland, Reischek, A. (1930), (1952)
- Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 39 (1930) (W. J. Phillipps)
- lb., Vol. 40 (1931), (R. Firth).