New Zealand's oldest oak tree has died, at 194.
It survived fire, witnessed the emergence of one of the first mission stations and the country's first European-style farm, lived through the Northern Wars, and was admired by naturalist Charles Darwin. But on Sunday a gust of wind proved too much and it came crashing down in a paddock at Waimate North.
The tree began as an acorn, brought by ship from England in 1824 by pioneering missionary Richard Davis. It is thought to have been one of several planted at the Paihia Mission Station, the only sapling to survive a fire through the grounds a few years later.
It was transplanted at Waimate North around 1830, where in 1835 it caught the attention of Charles Darwin and Robert Fitzroy, a Navy officer and scientist on the Beagle.
Remarking on the young tree in his diary, Fitzroy wrote: 'Englishmen one now meets everywhere; but a living, healthy English Oak was a sight too rare, near the Antipodes, to fail in exciting emotion.'
The tree's demise saddened Alex Bell, who manages Te Waimate Mission for Heritage New Zealand.
"Its sprawling branches bore witness to the growth of the mission and the emergence of the farm and settlement, the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and the transformation of the mission into a military settlement during the Northern Land Wars," he said.
"While its crown has thinned over the years, its leafy green canopy has been a prominent feature on the Te Waimate landscape for nearly two centuries, and it stirred the hearts of many homesick British settlers." He had taken cuttings from the tree to propagate it.
Natasha Baird, who owns the property but has only lived there for a month, said she heard an "almighty crash" on Sunday afternoon. Last year half its branches were lush and green, but she suspected that it had had a rough winter.
She and her partner had hoped to collect some acorns in case the tree didn't survive, but never found any. The old oak was the last visible sign of the property's history, she said.
A NZ Archaeological Association report from 1980 described the tree as still in "fairly good condition," with a girth of more than 3.4m and branches spreading over more than 60m.