Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 6, 1873
This text is also available in PDF
(548 KB) Opens in new window
– 394 –


In opening the sixth session of this Institute I cannot refrain from congratulating you on the progress and prosperity of our institution. When, six years ago, our first President (Mr. Whitaker) addressed you at the opening of the institution, he—notwithstanding the encouragement to be derived from the small beginnings of the Royal Society of England and the Academy of France, which he adduced—ventured only to express “a wavering hope,” “rather than a belief,” in our future career. And though in some respects our society has not attained to the usefulness to which its founders hoped it would have attained, in others it has, I think, exceeded their most sanguine anticipations. When I observe that our original 68 members in 1868 have now increased to 185; when I see that we stand first on the list of affiliated societies to the New Zealand Institute in point of numbers; when I observe that we stand second only to the central institution at Wellington in either the number or quality of contributions towards recording scientific facts, I think we have reason to congratulate ourselves on the success of our institution. Our contributors of papers have been fewer than I could have desired and, I think, fewer than they might have been, and the attendance at our meetings smaller than I had hoped for; nevertheless, the contributions to our Museum, and the numbers of visitors to it, prove that our efforts have not been altogether unavailing in maintaining and increasing an interest in the pursuit and results of physical science. Many of you, I doubt not, have planted shrubs and trees, the growth of which you have attentively watched, and, I doubt not, have observed that, as a rule, your short-lived shrubs have in growth rapidly outstripped your trees whose age can only be measured by centuries; that your long-lived trees take many years ere they put forth strong, vigorous shoots, and very many more ere they produce either blossom

– 395 –

or fruit. But, for all that, they are making meanwhile the underground roots, which will hereafter nourish and sustain them. And so it is, and I trust will be, with this society, that meanwhile, without much show or pretence, we are spreading out roots and preparing for the bloom and fruit of future years.

There is one thing, however, which is essential to the fair growth of any tree, however hardy and well adapted to its soil, namely, shelter. And I feel certain that the growing energies of our society must be rendered largely unavailing unless we obtain better shelter for our Library and Museum than we now have. We have already, in our Library, a large number of scientific works of reference, some of them, I believe, unique in the colony. We have specimens in various branches of science in our Museum, some of them unique, and others which could scarcely be replaced if destroyed, and yet these are not only comparatively valueless to the public and to the student, because of the inconvenience of studying them or referring to them, but are absolutely in constant danger of being swept away from amongst us by the merest accident, or of being destroyed by natural decay from the impossibility of properly preserving them. Had we a building suitable for a Library and Museum, in which scientific works and scientific collections and instruments could be deposited, we could, in addition to our existing treasures being safely kept, have, to my certain knowledge, several hundreds of volumes made accessible to students, and some thousands of specimens in various branches of science placed under their observation. It is to me lamentable to think that all these treasures should be locked up in the hands of and accessible only to a few, when, by a little exertion, we might render them accessible to all, by providing a building in which they would be safe and properly cared for. Such a state of things ought not to be in a community so large and so wealthy as this, and I trust it will not long be allowed to continue. For the sake of science, which we profess to love—for the sake of our society—for the sake of our successors—for the sake of our own credit and the credit of our Province—an effort, and a very strenuous effort, ought to be made by us to found, in some shape or way, a free public library and museum. We are possessed (thanks to the goodwill of my predecessor in office, as Superintendent) of an excellent and valuable site for such a building. The building is what we want. We cannot expect our Provincial Government, in its impoverished condition, to aid us to any considerable extent, as has been done to our sister societies in the South by their Provincial Governments, out of their plethoric land funds. We can hope for nothing from the General Government, for all that can with difficulty be squeezed out of the common purse is needed for (and, I will add, well spent in) the maintenance of the central institution at Wellington. We must, therefore, rely on our own energies, resources, and liberality. I would, therefore, invite some of our members to contribute designs for a suitable building, to

– 396 –

cost, say, from £2,000 to £3,000; and I would further invite others of our members to contribute various practical detailed plans by which the necessary amount might be raised. That it can be done I am convinced, if we only go earnestly and determinedly about it. We have, in fact, only to raise £1,000 in cash in order to obtain the remaining £2,000 at £120 per annum of interest, which, I believe, we could easily realize from rents of class rooms, lecture rooms, and proceeds of lectures, without interfering with the ordinary revenue of the society. Or we might, by combining with some kindred institution and uniting our forces, raise the entire sum required. I press this earnestly on your attention, for I believe that the present state of our Library and Museum has been a great hindrance to us in the past, and that a better state of these would be an immense impetus to us for the future.

In connection with the past of our own and kindred societies, permit me to invite your attention to the fifth volume of the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, just published. In quantity and in quality it is equal, if not superior, to its predecessors, although I venture to think that it might be somewhat abridged without loss to science or loss of interest to general readers. There are eighteen papers on miscellaneous subjects, the first of which, on “The Life and Times of Te Rauperaha,” will be found exceedingly interesting. There are nineteen zoological papers, some of them, in regard to the birds of New Zealand, of special interest; thirteen botanical papers, in which our worthy secretary stands pre-eminent; five chemical papers, all by Mr. Skey, of the Wellington Laboratory; and two geological papers, besides a summary of the proceedings of the various affiliated societies. It strikes me that chemistry and geology are, though ably, not so extensively represented as they might be if the votaries of these respective branches of science were to favour us with their contributions. And the absence of geographical and biological papers seems to me somewhat remarkable. The absence of biological papers may, no doubt, be fairly attributed to the hesitation which thinkers and observers on such subjects must naturally have in laying their thoughts and observations before the public in the present unsettled state of that branch of science; and yet that is just the state in which stray thoughts and observations may prove to be of the greatest value. The absence of geographical papers is less easily accounted for; for if there be one branch of elementary knowledge more than another in which we are defective in New Zealand, it is that of the geographical knowledge of our own colony. We have two, I think, small school books purporting to be geographies of New Zealand, but both miserably defective even where not positively erroneous. Our children are drilled into British geography rather than into that of their own native country, New Zealand. We find our newspaper editors constantly displaying the grossest ignorance of the geography of the colony, and they have no reliable book of

– 397 –

reference to guide them. Here, I think, is a department in which many of our members could give valuable contributions, which ere long could be built up into an authoritative and reliable geography of New Zealand.

It must, I think, be pleasing to you, as it is to me, to observe that—whether owing to the influence of our own and kindred societies or not I will not venture to assert—physical science is becoming rapidly recognized as a subject of even elementary education in the colony. Not only have we in the Otago University a Professor of Natural Science of no mean rank, but is several of the educational establishments affiliated to the New, Zealand University there are lecturers on chemistry, botany, and other branches of physics. And it is pleasing to observe that popular lectures in some of our towns on scientific subjects are attracting attention and drawing audiences. These things point to the progress of the future, when the dry bones of history and thrice-threshed straw of logic and philosophy will give place to the study of things capable of proof—of physical science.

But here I desire to remind you and the public that we are not merely a scientific society. The terms “science” and “scientific” have become so much words of terror to those who fancy themselves outside of the pale that they either, on the one hand, hate or fear us as antagonists, or pooh-pooh us as enthusiasts. From their ranks, as well as from yours, I desire to enlist contributors to our proceedings, by reminding you that we are an artistic and literary, as well as a scientific, society. Science is of things we know—the provable; it deals with with what is cognizable by our senses or demonstrable to them, and with the deductions that may either necessarily or probably be fairly derivable from these facts, observable by, or demonstrable to, our senses. But man is not all sense, however much his other capacities may owe to or be dependent upon his perceptive faculties. Whether his mental powers or æsthetic feelings be or be not independent of his physical nature in their origin, we must recognize the fact that in many the pure mental or literary powers, in many others the æsthetic or artistic feelings, largely predominate over the purely scientific faculty—the desire to know and the capacity of knowing. And we must further recognize the fact that there is an influence, and a very beneficial influence, exerted upon the scientific tendency by the, to some extent, divergent literary and artistic tendency. As Professor Tyndall has so well pointed out, there is a great scientific use of the imagination—“that wondrous faculty, which, left to ramble uncontrolled, leads us astray into a wilderness of perplexities and errors, a land of mists and shadows; but which, properly controlled by experience and reflection, becomes the noblest attribute of man—the source of poetic genius, the instrument of discovery in science, without the aid of which Newton would never have invented fluxions, nor Davy have decomposed the earths and alkalies, nor would Columbus have

– 398 –

found another continent.” So, also, of the artistic feelings—the love of harmony and the beautiful—they have a real scientific value. The popular collocation of art, science, and literature has more real substantial basis than we might be inclined at first sight to award it. In fact, like the popular instinct for beans and bacon, peas and pork, potatoes and beef, which Liebig shows to have certain real relative nutritive values, so the popular instinct which associates art, science, and literature unconsciously recognizes the fact that these have re-operative influences on each other, and that neither alone can well attain to perfection or develop its entire mental nutritive value without the other.

I therefore desire to remind you that literary or artistic contributions are not foreign to the aims of our society, that, indeed, they would tend to increase the interest in it, and relieve it from the opprobrium of dealing exclusively with what, to many minds, seem dry, dull things—namely, facts. Thus, I think, contributions relative to the mythology of the native race; anecdotes relative to the early settlement of the colony, or of those who took part in that great colonizing work; reviews of such works as Darwin's “Descent of Man,” or his “Emotions,” Maudsley on “Mind” and “Body and Mind,” Bastian's “Beginnings of Life,” Brassey's “Work and Wages”; or of such as Domett's “Ranolf and Amohia,” the Earl of Pembroke's “South Sea Bubbles,” Trollope's “Australia and New Zealand,” or criticisms on the works of our New Zealand artists, suggestions for beautifying our domains or for utilizing our natural products, these and many other subjects would, I think, come within the scope of our society's constitution, and impart an interest and popularity to our proceedings. Not that I would court a popularity which would impair, but only that which might enhance our usefulness. For there is a solid value in popularity when allied to usefulness, although by itself it is a worthless element, and, when allied to that which is useless, even a mischievous thing. But believing, as I do most sincerely, that we are in this society doing quietly and unassumingly a good work for the community at large, we cannot, I think, too much endeavour to render our work and our objects popular as well as useful. It is one of the characteristics of the science of the present age, that it endeavours to make itself popular—that is, known to, understood by, and liked by, the mass of the people. We find that the profoundest scientific minds think it not beneath them to endeavour—as Tyndall, Huxley, and others do and have done—to educate the minds and enlist the sympathies of the people in and in favour of the great truths which physical science teaches; I say the truths which it teaches, for herein lies the grand power of physical science—its confidence in truth, its utter hatred of all that is untrue; its unwillingness to admit as truth that which is only a probability; its doubt and distrust of what is only a

– 399 –

possibility. And, feeling in itself, the power and necessity of truth, the scientific mind accepts no authority and subscribes to no faith which it cannot if necessary test and verify; whilst, on the other hand, it asks no acceptance for its own conclusions without their being thoroughly tested, both as to the reality of the facts on which they are based and the legitimacy of the conclusions themselves. What the ultimate conclusions may be we know not, and fear not, confident in this—that if true scientific processes be employed to test them, they must be either true, or the nearest approach to truth that we mortals can hope to attain to.

I thank you for your patience, and bespeak your indulgence for the hurried thoughts I have this evening placed before you.

1. “On the Geological Structure of the Thames Gold Fields,” by Captain F. W. Hutton, F.G.S. (Transactions, p. 272.)