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The origin of the word "Kilmog" has been debated for decades in Dunedin circles. A letter in yesterday's ODT raises the question once more and occasions the publication of the following edited extract from the authoritative Spurious Maori Placenames of Southern New Zealand, by George Griffiths.
Kilmog: One of the most important vernacular relics of southern Maori dialect, from kirimoko (Griffiths & Goodall, Maori Dunedin, p45).
Beattie (Our Southernmost Maoris, p126) repeating a quote out of Canon Nevill's notebooks: "'Kilmog and muki muki (coprosma) tea' in early days."
Also Beattie (Lifeways, p193): "This kirimoko the collector has been informed is the small kind of manuka called 'kilmog' by the early settlers and it is said that Mount Kilmog between Dunedin and Oamaru was named because of its prevalence there."
Although, for many years, this name was attributed to all sorts of origins, the most convincing proof of its real origin can be found in a little-known book, Reminiscences of a Voyage Around the World in the Forties, by Captain Burr Osborn (Union City, Michigan, 1892), chapter 10; "Stealing a Blacksmith from Bluff".
Describing a passage from Bluff to the New River Estuary through "Killmogue swamp", it continued: "The 11 miles through Killmogue swamp was only a narrow foot-path made by the natives, perhaps centuries ago. The mud and water was a foot or more in depth the whole distance, and the path was no wider than a man's body all the way. The leaves of this bush, or Killmogue, makes excellent tea, and both the whites and natives use it for that purpose."
"The bush is about 10 feet in height and the brush part is very fine. The Whites use the brush for brooms if they use anything. It is of a resinous nature and the natives utilise it for torches when travelling by night" (reprinted in Richards, Foveaux Whaling Yarns, p42).
Otago Provincial Gazette, December 3, 1862, p269, reporting on the road between Dunedin and Waikouaiti: "In Kilmog Bush, one mile and three-quarters have been formed and metalled . . . track through Kilmog Bush to be widened". No mention of "the Kilmog" by itself.
Hocken's notebook (pp68-69): "Kilmog Hill. Pratt, the Maori member, says that when a boy (say circa 1840) his grandfather being desirous that he should learn English sent him to Otakou where he lived with Fowler the whaler.
"He remembers well the drinking of tea made from the leaves of the scrub manuka (Leptospermum scop.) which was also called kilmog (if so this must have been a rough patois). He says that this hill was then covered with kilmog and that he often heard Fowler and others call it Kilmog hill.
"Note. I do not believe this at all. I know Pratt (Tamati Parata) well, and have often asked him questions connected with his race which he did not answer satisfactorily . . .
"He is a modernised Maori. Within the last eight or nine years, however, especially since he has been an MHR, he seems to have accepted the role of an informant to the various questions with which he is constantly plied. My friend, F. R. Chapman, gives me Pratt's sanction, but neither of us can convert the word into whalers' slang Maori  . . .
"As regards Kilmog's etymology, I can only further suggest some alteration of mok-mok with some Irishman's prefix of Kil . . . This was suggested by a name in an old Witness and I cannot now give the number. I think, however, this suggestion unworthy . . . After all Pratt is right.
"Mr W. H. Pearson, an old identity, tells me that in an ancient expedition to Stewart Island, his companion, the whaler, frequently made kilmog (manuka) and mikmiki (coprosma) tea."