It is my duty as President of this Society for the current year to commence the proceedings of the session by a few remarks. I propose, in doing so, in the first place to take a retrospective glance at the labours of the Society for the past year, and in the next place to make some suggestions as to the direction which its inquiries ought to take for the future. Any retrospective view, however, which I may be able to lay before you of the labours of the past year must, necessarily, be very imperfect, and must amount at best to a relation of matters, with which the majority of members may be as well acquainted as myself; but, nevertheless, it is often convenient to ascertain, by summarizing results, whether a Society professing to be a scientific one is properly discharging its functions. It is, in effect, our duty to determine to what extent we have added to the cumulative power of scientific thought, to what extent we have provided material calculated to aid ourselves and others in the progress of scientific enquiry. It has been well observed, in relation to recurrent periods in the progress of scientific investigation, that divisions of time are altogether artificial as compared with the activities of the human mind; and, therefore, in sketching the history of science during any such past interval as that to which I am referring, we are, as it were, only cutting out a fragment from the woof of a continuous fabric, which, whilst it may indicate the nature of the pattern, affords no definite hints as to its beginning or its end. Like my predecessor in this chair, I have found that the labours of this Society are so far bound up with those of other Societies affiliated to the New Zealand Institute, that I shall be compelled, even in the brief review I am about to lay before you, to refer to their proceedings as well as to our own, a course by no means improper, seeing that, after all, each society is but one of a series of grafts upon the tree of scientific knowledge which has been planted in this colony, and that the fruit which each of them bears must be good or indifferent, in proportion to the vigour of the common stock.
In looking over the results of the labours of the various societies during the past year, I find them divided by the learned editor of the Transactions of the Institute into five separate classes, under the several heads of Zoology, Botany, Chemistry, Geology, and Miscellaneous, and I find that in each of
these divisions there have been important contributions from members of our own Society. In the department of Zoology we again find papers of great interest and high scientific value from the pen of Dr. F. J. Knox. Indeed, we may congratulate not only ourselves, but the whole colony, upon the fact that we still possess amongst us a veteran inquirer who, in the only occasional intervals of leisure which the struggle for existence permits the colonist to enjoy, is still ready and willing to devote himself to science for science's sake. Again, during the past year, has he added to that store of knowledge in regard to the Cetaceæ which frequent our shores, to which my predecessor referred when opening the proceedings of last session, and it may not be uninteresting to our valued contributor to learn that in all probability he will soon have an opportunity of examining the material portions of the skeleton of another animal belonging to the class referred to, (reported to be of a species hitherto quite unknown to whalers), which has recently been killed at the Chatham Islands. My son has just started for those islands, with the intention, amongst other things, of securing this skeleton, and I hope, in due time, to see it added to the already excellent collection possessed by our Museum. Nor is it alone by his writings that our valued member confers obligations upon us, for his papers have usually been accompanied by illustrative anatomical preparations of the greatest value, which he has afterwards added to the collections in our Museum. Dr. J. E Gray, of the British Museum, who has also long taken an interest in the same class of animals, transmitted some notes on the skull of Balæna marginata, which were read during the course of the late session.
The successful introduction of the English Trout into many parts of this colony gives special interest to inquiries respecting the native species of Salmonidæ. The unrivalled excellence amongst fishes of almost every species belonging to this family as an article of diet, and its consequent commercial value, have given an importance to this class of fishes which is enjoyed by none other except the Newfoundland Cod, and we accordingly find that in every one of the Australian colonies its introduction has been deemed one of the most important duties, if not the most important, which devolved upon the various acclimatisation societies. It is, therefore, interesting to find that we possess, in this country, not less than three species of Salmonoid fish, (which were examined and described by Dr. Hector in a paper read before our Society during the past year), showing conclusively the adaptability of the waters of our rivers to fish belonging to this valuable family. In this connection I may refer to the recent establishment of an Acclimatisation Society in this province, and it may be gratifying to you to know that one of its first objects has been to take the necessary steps for the introduction of the European Trout. Receiving ponds will shortly be constructed in the Botanic Gardens, and I hope that in a few years our beautiful rivers will afford us one of those opportunities of healthy
recreation which make country life at home so attractive, and the want of which has hitherto been so much felt all over this colony. We cannot, indeed, too highly appreciate the labours of the acclimatisation societies in other parts of the colony, and to those who have had opportunities of seeing the admirable results already flowing from those labours, it is a source of sincere regret that we, in this province, should have so long neglected our share of the work. Let us hope that, although late in the field, our Society may yet be able to add something to the general stock of benefits which the efforts of its predecessors have conferred upon the colony.
In noticing the department of Zoology, I must specially call your attention to the valuable contributions to our knowledge of the Ornithology of this country which we have again received from our Vice-President, Mr. Buller, and from Mr. Potts. It is gratifying to find that the General Government, recognising the importance of Mr. Buller's labours in this branch of science, have given him material assistance towards the publication of a work upon this special subject; and I understand that it is his intention to proceed to England for that purpose in the course of the present year. Independently of the honour which must be reflected upon the colony by the fact that its Ornithology has been fully and satisfactorily investigated by one born and bred on its soil, and almost self-taught in Natural History, we may look forward to many material advantages from Mr. Buller's proposed residence in England, for he has promised to give his best aid in procuring additions to our collections in Natural History, and in furthering the efforts of our acclimatisation societies to restore the balance of life which has been so rudely disturbed by our colonization. Mr. Potts, in a second paper, has again conveyed to us, in a most attractive form, a large mass of useful and varied knowledge upon the same special subject, and I have no doubt that the store of matter, bearing on the face of it the mark of diligent and accurate inquiry and observation, which has been placed at Mr. Buller's command in these papers, will materially facilitate the undertaking in which he is about to engage.
Although not strictly within the compass of this address, it would perhaps be improper that I should pass over the labours of men like Dr. Otto Finsch, of Vienna, and Dr. Günther, of the British Museum, who have both taken great interest in special departments of the Natural History of these islands—the former having published admirable critical notes upon our Avifauna, which have been translated for the use of members unacquainted with the German language, and the latter having published several papers on our Fish and Reptiles. I mention these facts, not merely as a recognition of the services which these eminent men have thus rendered to science in connection with this colony, but in order to show you that subjects, which many persons here treat with little consideration, are deemed worthy of special attention by
persons at home occupying positions of world-wide celebrity in the realm of science.
In the department of Botany the great majority of papers published in the Transactions of the Institute are contributed by that indefatigable botanist, Mr. Kirk. Amongst these papers are carefully prepared lists of the remaining native and of the introduced plants observed by him in various localities in the Auckland province—lists which, in the future, will be of very great value in regard to that most interesting biological inquiry, the “replacement of species.” It would be well if all those who have the opportunities of doing so would from time to time collect the Flora, both native and introduced, over extended areas in the neighbourhood of all our centres of population, in order that, by means of successive comparisons, we might be able to arrive at some idea of the rate at which this process is going on. In few countries, if indeed in any, do the means of obtaining reliable information upon this important subject exist to a greater extent than in New Zealand; and it will undoubtedly be a matter of reproach hereafter if we neglect the opportunities now afforded to us of accumulating facts which will tend, when carefully examined and collated, to elucidate points of importance at present buried in obscurity. I had occasion to observe, during a recent visit to some of the alpine regions of the Nelson province, the enormously increasing destruction of the native alpine and sub-alpine Flora, owing, partly to the habit of firing bush districts, in order to replace the original vegetation by one better suited to pastoral purposes, and partly to the fact that the scanty herbaceous native vegetation was gradually being eaten out by the sheep and cattle, now roaming in large numbers over districts which, less than ten years ago, were practically as little known as the interior of Africa. Indeed, I have no doubt, from the present comparative rarity of many plants which were formerly found in abundance in such districts, that in a few years our only knowledge of them will be derived from the dried specimens in our herbaria.
Returning to my special subject, I find that in the department of Chemistry, with one exception, the whole of the papers published in the Transactions have been contributed by Mr. Skey, the diligent and accurate Analyst to the Geological Survey. I have no pretensions to chemical knowledge which would justify me in offering any criticisms on Mr. Skey's labours, but the highly favourable manner in which they have been referred to in works of authority devoted to such subjects, warrants me in believing that the papers in question contain matter of high practical value. If I correctly appreciate the object of several of these papers, as well as of some former papers from the same contributor, they are intended to aid in determining the best mode of economically and efficiently separating gold from the various substances, both earthy and metallic, with which it is usually associated in the gold mines of
this country; and seeing the enormous waste which must result from the employment of crude methods of extraction, we cannot too highly appreciate the discovery of any economical means of avoiding or mitigating the national loss which must ensue from such waste. But it is not alone in regard to the development of this source af our wealth that the labours of Mr. Skey have proved valuable to the colony, nor do the papers which have appeared in the Transactions afford the least idea of the extent of those labours. In order to understand these points it is necessary to refer to the Laboratory records, and those who have not yet done so will then not only be gratified and surprised, but will be able to appreciate the advantages which the colony at large derives from this branch of our scientific institutions. The only paper not contributed in this department by Mr. Skey is one from Mr. Hughes, of Hokitika, containing a detailed and valuable account of some of the properties of the tutu poison. The careful manner in which the subject appears to have been investigated by Mr. Hughes induces me to express a hope that we shall see, in future volumes of the Transactions, further recorded results of the chemical labours of that gentleman.
In Geology the principal contributions are from Captain Hutton and the late Mr. E. H. Davis, whose melancholy death by drowning, whilst in the performance of his duties, has deprived this colony of a talented and zealous worker in the field of science. These papers give part of the general results of the investigations of the Geological Department of the colony during the past year, and contain matters of considerable interest in connection with the material resources of the colony. It is quite needless for me, in addressing this Society, to call attention to the extreme value of geological investigations in a country so peculiarly circumstanced as New Zealand—one in which, as must be apparent even to the casual observer, mineral wealth must always play a conspicuous part. It is, therefore, of the highest importance that we should possess a staff of officers in connection with this department of science who are able and willing to direct its investigations to purposes of permanent and practical utility, and whose aim will rather be diligently and honestly to collect and record facts from which sound deductions may be drawn than to indulge in theoretical speculations, which, however interesting as subjects for debate, can add little, if anything, to our stock of useful practical knowledge. It is fortunate for the colony that the labours of this department are under the direction of a gentleman so well qualified for the duties it involves as Dr. Hector, and it is satisfactory to know that his services, and the character of the work he is carrying out, are receiving their due recognition, both at the hands of his own immediate employers, and at those of leading scientific men at home. I may be permitted to observe, without infringing the wholesome rule which prohibits the introduction of political subjects into our discussions,
that it would tend greatly to the advantage of the colony if additions were made to the present staff, which would permit its labours to be more divided, and thus leave its head the necessary opportunity and leisure to collate and digest the results obtained.
The miscellaneous papers in the Transactions, contributed by our Society, contain many of considerable value and interest, but it would lead me too far were I to notice their contents in this address. I may, however, refer to the circumstance that in many parts of the colony attention is being directed to inquiries into the origin and history of the Maori race, and we may hope that, before it is too late, we shall see on record all the facts yet obtainable which may be calculated to throw light upon this, at present, obscure subject.
In conclusion I propose to offer a few remarks upon the work before us. It has been observed that the progress of science, even during a single year, must greatly depend upon the recurrence of special phenomena in nature, to give occasion for inquiry, experiment, and speculation. This may be specially true in regard to some of the sciences, but certainly it is not strictly applicable to all, for, when we look around us, and even at our very feet, we find abundant matter for consideration and observation, which has remained untouched by former observers, and which still waits to be recorded. In former parts of this address I vindicated in some degree the direction which, as it appears to me, our labours should take in some of these departments of inquiry, and it is satisfactory to think that, whatever the result may be to the immediate political condition of the colony (apart from purely scientific considerations) from the works which are being undertaken and prosecuted by the Colonial Government, these works will afford invaluable opportunities of pushing on inquiries in various branches of the Natural History of this country, in a manner and with a rapidity which we could otherwise scarcely have hoped for. The construction of lines of road and rail, through tracts of country hitherto comparatively unknown, will give to the geologist and botanist, to the miner and agriculturist, and indeed to all who are engaged, either theoretically or practically, in inquiring into, or in developing the resources of the country, the greatest facilities for carrying out their objects; and we may look forward, in this aspect of the matter, to results of the highest importance and value. It behoves all who take an interest in these results, and who possess the leisure and opportunity of recording observed facts, to do so carefully; and I may observe that the Government itself could, by instructions to the more skilled of the officers engaged on the works, give material aid towards accumulating observations. I will not weary you with further remarks, and will now close this address by expressing a hope that all who take an interest in the progress of science in New Zealand will give their services to the work, remembering that the great object at present in view is,
not the propounding of theories and speculations in order to account for some observed appearance, but the careful collection and arrangement of accurate data, from which we may hope, in time, to arrive at a sound knowledge of matters affecting the material welfare of the country; and which may simultaneously be applied towards the solution of those important biological problems, which are now engaging the attention of eminent scientific men, in connection with “the origin, development, and life history of species or races.”
1. Description by Mr. E. Stowe of a New Shell found by the late Mr. E. H. Davis, and which he proposed to name Imperator Davisii. (See Transactions, p. 218.)
The President remarked that he was with Mr. Davis when the shell was found, and that it inhabits pot-holes worn in the sandstone rock that can only be reached at low tide.
2. “On some New Species of New Zealand Plants,” by J. Buchanan, of the Geological Survey of New Zealand. (See Transactions, p. 224.)
This paper contains descriptions of Haloragis aggregata, n. sp., Danthonia Raoulii, a. australis, n. sub-sp., D. semi-annularis, d. alpina, n. sub-sp., Acœna glabra, n. sp., Celmisia lateralis, n. sp., Rostkovia novœ zelandiœ, n. sp., and Carex pyrenica, n. sub-sp. They were collected by Mr. H. H. Travers, in the Nelson mountains, and were all found at a considerable altitude.