The council can again congratulate the members on the continued progress of the Institute. During the year there have been nine general meetings held, which have been well attended. At these meetings twenty-one papers have been read by ten different authors, eight of whom are residents in this province, the other two being Dr. Otto Finsch, of Bremen, and Mr. W. Beddnal, of Adelaide. This is an increase of twelve papers and two contributing members over last year. Of these papers nine relate to zoology, five to geology and palæontology, three to botany, two to astronomy, two to Maori mythology, and one to medicine. Since the last annual meeting forty new members have joined us and one has retired, thus bringing our number up to 162 members. During the year the rules have been revised, printed, and distribubed to the members, the most important change being that, instead of holding meetings all the year round, we have now a winter session from May to October inclusive.
The balance sheet showed that £108 6s. 3d. had been received, and £101 2s. 8d. expended, leaving a balance in hand of £6 13s. 7d.
The report and balance sheet were unanimously adopted.
The President then delivered the following
I may say that the great event peculiarly interesting to us during the past session has been the transit of Venus, so it is necessary for me to relate to you
what steps our Institute took in forwarding the interests and views of the observing parties sent from the opposite quarter of the globe to our shores. On learning, in the early part of last year, that two expeditions were to be sent to New Zealand—one being from England, and the other from the United States of America—I at once took measures to have your advice, as to the possible manner in which we might be useful. So, in compliance with my motion, a committee of the Institute was formed, when it was decided that the most necessary information to the leaders of the expedition, would be in regard to climate, localities, and facilities for travelling. Maps and reports were consequently drawn up by this committee—consisting of Messrs. M'Kerrow, Skey, and myself—one packet of which was sent to the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich, the other to the States Astronomer at Washington. Whether the former reached its destination or not I am not aware, as I have been favoured with no reply to my letter accompanying the documents; but in regard to the latter we had immediate acknowledgment to the effect that our papers had been handed over to the leader of the expedition (Professor Peters), and who, on his arrival in New Zealand, would carefully consider our suggestions. Fortunately the American expedition was preceded by the second in command (Lieut. Bass), who, on his arrival, called on myself and Mr. M'Kerrow, and who, accompanied by the latter, proceeded into the interior to examine the country and judge of the climate for himself. Having done this, the expedition was waited for at Bluff Harbour. On the arrival of Professor Peters we were early informed that the recommendations of our Institute would be virtually followed, by the observing party proceeding into the interior and fixing their observatory at Queenstown, instead of remaining at the Bluff, as originally intended. The result you all know. The American expedition has been singularly and uniquely successful, they having obtained observations of the ingress of the planet on the sun's disc, besides securing 160 photographs of its positions while in transit—the latter being of the highest value to them. Professor Peters himself, when in Dunedin, did us the favour to explain to our Institute the peculiar value he set on his photographic diagrams in relation to the great power of the apparatus by which these were produced, its highly ingenious mode of application; also, in regard to its mathematical accuracy. Hence the high estimation which he put on what he had obtained. In this respect, also, he was greatly more completely equipped than any of the other expeditions observing in or near our shores. The scientific world may therefore particularly congratulate themselves on his success, as, owing to the failure of all other expeditions, the most valuable data have been secured for all nations.
Now, as Professor Peters himself remarked to us, what would have been the use of his coming here with all his delicate instruments, and at so great an
expense to his Government, had the transit of Venus been covered by clouds? None. To our local advice, therefore, he was so good as to ascribe his success. True, our assistance, though effectual, was that of humble friends—the assistance (if I may use a simile applicable to New Zealand with its dangerous mountain torrents) of those who not being skilful enough to construct the “mogie” or native raft, have by their local knowledge shown to the wanderer the safe ford which has led to success. The American expedition fixed their site for observation twenty-six miles westerly of the particular locality that we had recommended, from which it is divided by two ranges of mountains 5000 feet to 6000 feet in altitude. So, on their success and the complete failure of all other practical and scientific observers in New Zealand by reason of the weather, it became of interest to us to know the state of the atmosphere over the exact locality recommended by your committee, viz., the lower valley of the Manuherikia, and to this end I solicited the assistance of Mr. Lubecki, superintendent of the provincial telegraph lines. The result of the information that he has given me, as obtained from the telegraph offices of Clyde, Alexandra, and Ophir, is to the effect that the weather in their districts was highly favourable—indeed, quite as much so as at Queenstown. Thus, your committee was more than justified in pressing its experience on the English and American astronomers. But, gentlemen, having done this we must not rest contented. Another transit takes place between seven and eight years hence. By that time, what with our High Schools and Universities, I hope, under the auspices of the New Zealand Institute, to which we are affiliated, we may have the talents and acquirements within the colony at large, not only to observe, but to make independent deductions in one of the most subtle problems that engage the attention of astronomers. Further, I may hope that the Government of New Zealand will be strong and wealthy enough by that time to economise, by making use of these talents and acquirements, by fitting out expeditions on its own account.
On another subject I would desire to shortly detain you. While meantime enterprise from our shores is now extending itself over the balmy climates of Polynesia, drawing from thence wealth and gain; while, also, our Colonial Government, by the institution of training ships, is nurturing our seafaring interests, we should not neglect the more stormy and forbidding regions to the southward of us, an arena peculiarly belonging to Otago. It is in these regions that we have a nursery for seamanship and hardihood, such as those wherein the bravest and most useful of British sailors were bred. These southern seas are a prototype of the polar seas of the Northern Atlantic, and are within five to ten days' sail of us.
But our attention as a scientific society is not directed to the wealth in oil and other polar produce, which Sir James Ross assures us may there be
obtained, but rather to the geography, geology, and natural history of the great Antarctic Continent. What the above navigator did in a sailing ship, whose basis of operations was England, with great difficulty, we, by means of steam, would accomplish with comparative ease; and, moreover, in imitation of our northern brethren, in an opposite direction, if our ambition as yet be not to reach the South Pole, there is a vast field in Victoria Land for the investigations of the naturalist. The region is within the limits of the permanent habitation of man, as proved by the experience of the northern hemisphere. Then, is it inhabited, and by what race of people? If so, do they differ in form from other men? Or, considering the great alterations of climate that have been proved in New Zealand, if not now, may not the region have once been inhabited? If so, what new light would the fossil remains cast on a momentous question that now troubles men's thoughts? Science is ever scrutinising, and its greed after a comprehension of creation will never be allayed. Think not these speculations to be far fetched, for have we not proved an inscrutable link in language between the Murihiku Maori and the far distant Malagasi, and do not the peculiarities of the fauna bear also strange parallels? Yet these regions are immensely more apart than is New Zealand from Victoria Land.
That this mysterious land can be reached we know; that it has been landed on we also know; but that it has a secure harbour is yet to be proved. But, could this be found, then we would have a basis of exploration in the various branches of science so new that such an event has not occurred for many a day. Should this prove a new field—should it open new portals to scientific investigation—it would be pleasing if our Institute should, by its influence, aid towards this end.
In conclusion, I may congratulate the Institute on the fact that the several scientific men attached to the transit of Venus expeditions have been active in collecting subjects of natural history, not only in this, but in the islands of the surrounding seas. Thus, through them and in their connection with the Museum here, a great advance will this year be made on our previous knowledge, which will extend itself to the older and more powerful nations of the northern hemisphere.
Mr. Gillies remarked that he found from the treasurer's balance sheet that the sum of £50 had been contributed during the year, out of an income of £86, to the Otago Museum for the purchase of books. He had brought this subject up on more than one occasion already. This Institute occupied an anomalous position in reference to the Museum. The Otago Institute was a public body, contributed its own funds towards carrying on its special work, the officers were elected at the annual meetings, which were open to the public, and the public to a certain extent had control over the Institute. It was not so with
the Otago Museum committee. He really at the present moment did not know who were the members of this body, how they were elected, and whether there was any check over the proceedings. There was certainly no public check over the committee of the Museum. Now, he did not think that this was a desirable position for the committee of a public institution. He had always taken a very warm interest in the Museum and Institute. He thought that the fact that this Institute had been in existence for a number of years, and had been kept together by the enthusiasm of a few, who did not lay any claim to any great scientific wisdom, but who desired to see these things prosper, was to a certain extent a guarantee that their hearts were in the work. For his own part, he desired that the Museum should be either under the direction, of the Otago Institute, or, at any rate, should be managed by a public body over which the public should have some say or control. He was not prepared to say that the Institute should not contribute to the funds of the Museum; he did not go that length; he liked to see the Museum prosper, but he could not help regretting that the Museum was still in that position he had described. He might point out that by their rules the Institute was bound to give one-third of its funds to some public library or museum. The Institute had gone a long way beyond this, having given a sum of £50 out of an income of £86.
Captain Hutton replied at some length. He pointed out that the General Government subscribed equivalent to pound for pound, and had made it a condition for doing so that one-third of the revenue should be given to some public library.
Mr. Webb thought that Captain Hutton had misunderstood the drift of Mr. Gillies' remarks, which were to the effect that the Museum should be placed under the care of a committee, or be incorporated, instead of being an appendage of a Provincial Government department.
Captain Hutton, in reply, objected to the Museum, which was a public institution, being placed under the control of a private body like the Otago Institute. The Museum was better far under its present management. It was getting on well, and with the change proposed the public would not take so much interest in it.
Mr. Gillies explained that it was far from him to find any fault with the voting of the money towards the Museum—he was glad the council had done so. But he must say, and he thought it should be known by the public, that the members of the committee of the Museum did not give that attention to the affairs of their institution which might be expected from them. He had occasion some time ago to go round town with a subscription list for the purchase of some shells which Captain Hutton was extremely anxious to secure for the Museum. Instead of being assisted by members of the Museum committee, he was actually treated in a contrary way. He felt it was not right that the position of the Museum should be such that there should be on its committee members who not only took no interest in it, but threw cold water on those desiring to aid it.
After some further discussion,—
It was resolved that it be an instruction to the council to contribute a sum of not less than one-third of the annual income to the Museum.
Captain Hutton mentioned that in the new building that was being erected there was a lecture-room, which the Otago Institute could use, and a private room.