The first meeting of the Institute took place on July 20th, 1869; we are therefore approaching the fifth year of our existence. In looking over the papers published by the New Zealand Institute, of which this one is an affiliated society, I think it will be generally acknowledged that, after we have subtracted those written by the official or Government staff, our share of work has been fairly done; not that I would have you to relax your efforts in the pursuit of knowledge, but that they may be redoubled.
On Natural History we have had papers by Messrs. J. S. Webb, A.C. Purdie, A. Bathgate, W. D. Murison, P. Thomson, and R. Gillies, also by Captain F. W. Hutton; on Mathematics, by Messrs. Brent and R. Wilding; on Archæology, by Dr. Eccles; on Botany, by Mr. J. Buchanan; on Physics, by Messrs. M. Chapman and J. S. Webb; on Geology, by Messrs. J. M'Kerrow, and L. O. Beal; on Physical Geography, by Mr. P. Thomson; on Ethnography, by Mr. J. T. Thomson; on Meteorology, by Mr. J. S. Webb; on Engineering, by Messrs. G. M. Barr and Villine; on Mechanics, by Mr. J. T. Thomson; on Astronomy, by Messrs. J. S. Webb and H. Skey. These papers appear in the first five volumes of the New Zealand Institute, but were principally given in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th.
In choosing me as the third person to hold the presidency, you were so good as to give a reason for this—viz., that I had done work. It is no doubt a gratification to me to find that the little I have done has been thus appreciated, and, apart from all personal considerations, I think the principle a fair one, to be occasionally upheld as an incentive to exertion on the part of other workers, members of this Institute.
Observation is the practical and scientific basis on which our minds can work, and the more accurate and extended this be, so much the more just and comprehensive will be our views and conclusions. The country in which we live naturally presents the most ready and interesting field for observation.
The materials are abundant, the subjects various, in its organic and inorganic productions. On the nature of these you are constituted a court of enquiry, and to that enquiry our Institute places no limits. Then enter on their study and investigation in as far as your time and opportunity may permit.
As I have now been connected with this Province for 18 years, and in the first term of that period, when it was in a state of wilderness, I had special opportunities given me for estimating its probable resources and productions, I may, without incurring much risk of the charge of egotism, refer to my opinions at that time, given as the result of observations obtained when exploring the physical geography of the country. There were, no doubt, others as fully alive to the prospects of the colony as myself, but I am not aware that they made any record of their observations for the benefit of the public in general.
Turning to a lecture delivered by me in Dunedin during the month of July, 1858, at which time the population numbered less than 7,000 souls, I find that, after showing the audience what extent of forest, pasture, swamps, lakes, and barren mountains we had, I made the following remarks:—“The value of our forests is less apparent at present than it would be in future times, but the great extent of natural pasture is a fund of wealth whose development will be rapid. The total area of natural pasture extends over 15,000 square miles, or 9,600,000 acres. This, when fully stocked, may be assumed to carry 2,400,000 sheep, whose fleeces alone will afford an annual export valued at £360,000 sterling—that is allowing four acres to carry one sheep, and the average weight of a fleece to be 3lbs. Nor need we anticipate that our export of wool will stop at this limit, for with the increase of population and capital our finest lands will be improved and laid under artificial grass, thereby increasing their productive powers five or ten-fold.
“More tardy in development, but not less important to the permanent welfare of the Province, is the agricultural interest. The progress of this branch of industry will so much depend on contingencies, as connected with immigration from the mother country that it would be useless to speculate on the rate of its extension. That our agricultural capabilities are great there can be no doubt, for corn is sown and reaped in all parts of the Province, stretching from the Waitaki to Foveaux Strait. On the banks of the Ohau Lake, 1,500 feet above the sea level, I have seen the potato growing in perfection; and, as I believe fully half the area of this Province is below that level, it will be a safe estimate to put down a fourth, or 4,250,000 acres, as capable of producing corn or vegetables.
“Whatever may be the ultimate population seeking support from the above area, in the meantime it is evident—possessing, as we do, a fertile soil and a climate analogous to Great Britain—that our pastoral and agricultural
products will be the same, equal in quality and as highly esteemed, whether they be wool, corn, or dairy produce, fresh or cured meat, or malt liquors.
“Our underground resources have been too little examined to permit of much speculation. That we have considerable and easily available coalfields is undoubted, and gold may be a valuable part of our exports.”
No doubt my estimates, made at so early a date and while we as a colony were groping in the dark, are approximate, yet they were better than the estimates of those persons I saw at that time visiting Dunedin, who, looking at the snowy mountains behind Mount Cargill, shrugged their shoulders and took their passages by the next vessels sailing. The surmise of such was that Otago consisted of snowy mountains, whose appearance, in the language of a pioneer settler, was as a mass of sugar-loaves on a grocer's “bink.”
Going to facts as we find them, it is interesting to note in the New Zealand statistics of 1871 that our wool export had increased to £689,182; our grain to £46,132; * and gold to £617,617 sterling, thus more than bearing out my anticipations; but of the latter I pretended to make no estimate. Yet the indication of the future was there, as I remarked that “gold might be a valuable part of our exports,” and in giving this opinion I did not act without “observation.” I had gone over most part of the Province in 1856 and 1857, excepting the Tuapeka district and the western snowy mountains. In doing so I had seen gold detected in the Mataura, very generally over the Waiopai Plains, as well as in the Lindis; and at the Nokomai the formation gave strong evidence of an auriferous nature, which fact I recorded in my field book. Yet I traversed the Hogburn (now Naseby), the Raggedy Ranges (now Blacks), and Flatcap (now Hamiltons) without anticipating the discoveries that have since taken place.
At the same time my much-respected assistant, Mr. Alexander Garvie, in whose survey party was Mr. John Buchanan, of Australian gold-mining experience and the actual prospector, traversed the Tuapeka district, extending his explorations up the Clutha Valley as far as the Kawarau Junction (now Cromwell). Over this area Mr. Garvie reported gold to be generally distributed, and probably payable by “some wholesale system of washing.” It was on these data principally that I ventured on the suggestion. It was therefore founded on actual observation, and not made at haphazard.
Such was the state of the gold question in July, 1858, and, as subsequent events need not engage attention at present, I would refer those interested to
[Footnote] * As wool is almost entirely exported, while grain and agricultural produce are consumed at home, the statement, without remakr, would leave an unfavourable impression. The statistics of this last year show the value of agricultural produce to be as follows:—Wheat, £372,250; oats, £300,00; barley, £66,000; hay, £32,000; potatoes, £60,000—£830,550 sterling.
the excellent report of Mr. Vincent Pyke, dated 1st October, 1862, where a very fair and full account has been given of the whole subject.
My observations and the deductions therefrom were those of a pioneering and exploring surveyor, engaged for the purpose of facilitating the operations of first settlement. Since then momentous events have taken place, the most marked of which was the great gold discovery of Mr. Gabriel Read in June, 1861, and which has contributed so much to the promotion of the material wealth of this part of New Zealand. But how the progress of Otago has affected science is the question that engages this Institute.
I may mention, in passing, that when Mr. Gabriel Read was in the act of weighing out to me the gold of his first claim, he prophetically remarked that the face of the country would henceforth be changed. And so it has. Enterprise in all pursuits and avocations has been stimulated, and what were then barren wastes have been converted into smiling plains of waving corn, and the valleys in the interior resound with the din of manual and mechanical industry. The Government, by the increase of revenue, was enabled to engage scientific and professional men from abroad in the various departments. First, as being purely scientific, are to be mentioned the observations and explorations by Dr. Hector, F.R.S., so widely spread over all parts of the Province, even to the most inaccessible places; and which have been since extended to all New Zealand. For Otago this great good was done, that the public had the advantage of the opinions of a scientific man, based on our text-word—actual “observation.” They therefore obtained, by one competent mind at work, substantial results that never could be attained to by any number of unregulated, unauthoritative parties, however experienced particular individuals might be. During the few years that Dr. Hector was with us he not only illustrated the general geology of the Province and made maps of the same, but he also displayed to the public the nature of our mineral resources, their positions and comparative values—including gold, silver, copper and antimony, coal, lime, useful clays, etc. About the same time Mr. Vincent Pyke was engaged in organizing the Goldfields Department and promoting and recording new discoveries that electrified the public mind, at closely recurring intervals. To his care and supervision is due the Goldfields Map, used as a work of reference to the present day. Messrs. Swyer, Paterson, and Balfour, civil engineers, were also induced to come to this distant part of the world, and to them is due the initiation of many of our public works in general, railway, and marine engineering respectively. Now the railway system of New Zealand is making rapid strides here, carrying out works of great magnitude and difficulty, which when completed will promote intercourse between settlements widely separated and at present cut off by steep mountains and rapid rivers. The construction of the Oamaru breakwater—the design of
a local engineer, Mr. M'Gregor—must also be noticed, as it is a work of not only high scientific skill, but is likely to be a great success, and will form a type for many such other works round our coasts.
Nor has the profession more allied to the fine arts been neglected. The architectural beauty for which Dunedin is prominent has been due mostly to the labours of Messrs. Mason, Clayton, Lawson, and Ross. To proceed further in this direction would appear to lead us out of the domain of the Institute; but I think not, as our constitution allows us great latitude. It would be a serious oversight not to mention the manufacturing industries that have sprung up. Foremost, because the pioneer one, is the foundry of Mr. William Wilson, at which water-wheels of the largest size are constructed, also rock-boring apparatus, river gold-dredgers, pneumatic tubes for the same purpose, machinery for saw-mills, steam engines, winches, quartz-crushing machinery, winding and pumping gear for coal mines, wool-presses, etc. Here also the propelling shaft of the “Gothenburg” steamship was repaired, the steamer “Wallace” was built, and vessels of the same class up to 500 tons could be constructed were there water frontage.
To mention others by name would be invidious, as some would necessarily be omitted; but while there are other factories in the same branch capable of turning out the same material, how numerous are just now the factories devoted to other branches of industry—such as the manufacture of woollen cloths, leather, boots, shoes, soap, gas, candles, biscuits, sweetmeats, agricultural implements in general, ploughs, reaping machines, anchors, boilers, chains, boards, windows, sashes, and last, though not least, whiskey, gin, and ales, etc. The tall chimneys everywhere rising indicate that, in this part of the world, all the skilled trades have found a suitable and ever-increasing location. The owners of these are the true representatives of applied science, and this Institute would be all the more flourishing if we had more of them as members of it.
Nor have the pursuits which bring no money to their votaries been entirely neglected, though they return much heart's content—a great gain. Dr. Lauder Lindsay, of Perth, came this long voyage to collect and study the botany of our Province; and we have a scientific representative from Sweden here to-night in the person of Dr. Berggren. Mr. John Buchanan, for many years before he found official support, gave much of his time to the same department, and since which time he, I believe more than any other man, has explored the natural vegetation of this part of New Zealand, and illustrated the same by publication.
But we must not confine our attention to scanning ourselves alone; we must look abroad and observe the great movements that, through the influence of science and its applications, are going on in the world. Steam has stimulated
vast movements, the Press has given consistency to national effort, and the Electric Telegraph binds the world together. A mighty intelligence sympathetically moves all civilized peoples. The enthusiastic congratulate themselves that they live in the age of progress; the thoughtful see that it involves higher aims and responsibilities at the same time. The middle-aged man can now recount the labours of centuries within his own life's experience. Fifty years ago the United States was practically confined within the bounds of the Mississippi and St. Lawrence; now she stretches across the great American Continent, and binds her people on the two great oceans by a railway. Not less progressive, Great Britain since that time has conquered seven empires, and brought 100 millions of people under her sway. I allude to the Empire of the East. Forty-six years ago the first steamer made its voyage between Edinburgh and London, and I, amongst many thousand spectators, saw her pass my native place with my own eyes. In 1836 the second railway of Great Britain was completed, which joined the waters of the German Ocean and the Irish Sea. In 1838 three steamers only had reached India. The discovery of Œrsted was not yet developed into the electric telegraph, so it was at that time practically unknown. To navigate the Atlantic Ocean by steam was thought to be an impossibility. Ten years later, to join the Red and Mediterranean Seas by a canal was thought by almost all English engineers to be a chimerical scheme. Now, what have we by the aid of steam and science applied to the arts of war as well as peace? National exclusiveness has been broken down. Japan and China open their ports and interior districts, and their masses surge back upon us. In the face of life they react on their western brethren, and suffuse their nationality from centre to extremes.
In the year 1833 Earle gives a most circumstantial account of the killing, cooking, and eating of a young Maori girl by her own race. Was this not the shadow of coming events, an allegory of the certain fate of so inhuman a race? So, when we look at the great movements of the white races during these last two hundred years, and mark them by “observation,” do we not dimly see other movements in process? The red-coloured man has been swept off the face of the northern continent of America, and so recent and rapid has this momentous fact been that even now is to be seen, on the shelves of the Boston Library, the Bible translated into one of their languages, which is now a dead one. The tribe has passed away. Then, what has made the white man—or more conspicuously the Anglo-Saxon—of the Teutonic race so ubiquitously progressive and aggressive; this more especially of so recent a date? It is his humanity and science, combined with steam. And what makes steam for him? It is coal. What then has coal to do with our race? As far as we know yet, everything. Then what will be the effect of coal on our status in the world? This is what is not clearly apparent to us as yet.
Coal, economically considered, is nothing else than stored-up heat, which science can make into power. Thirty-six years ago, Buddle, the eminent coal owner at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, estimated the supply of coal of Great Britain, at the then rate of consumption, equal to a period of 1,000 years. Recent authoritative investigation places it only at 200 years, showing, at the same time, that the United States of America have fifteen times the stores of Great Britain, and China eight times (the two largest fields in the world). It is evident then that the coal question is a more limited and temporary one with England than with America and China. Is she then right in allowing free trade in a limited product essential to her power? Or is it right to take the cosmopolitan view, and reply, that where Englishmen go there is England? Be that as it may, the most ample and readily accessible coal supply is in the hands of the red man, i.e., the Chinese. Can he retain it, or will it pass out of his keeping in China, as it has passed out in America? Then which branch of the white race—the British, Russians, or Americans—will grasp the same, and by what routes? Oceanic—by the Red Sea, the Cape, or Pacific? Land—by Siberia, Tartary, or Hindostan? Or shall other white races possess this fund of power at present unused, when coal in this age of science is so essential to the power and existence of nations? These will become momentous problems to future generations, and have wide-spread influence on the movements of the human race. Certain it is that the people who have mere brute force and no science will in the long run succumb.
Then, in this remote corner of the globe, let us take a lesson from a great theme, and pursue the objects for which this Institute was established, viz., the cultivation of science; for science in this era more than ever supplies your necessities and protects your race. Nor be discouraged by the fewness of our numbers or the smallness of results, as compared with older countries, for we will enlarge with population, and, no doubt, do our fair proportion of service. Though our territory is not great, our climate is temperate, our atmosphere is bracing; so our people will be vigorous, and great Polynesia is before us.
The President read the report of the sub-committee appointed to communicate with the English and American Governments with reference to the approaching Transit of Venus.