The President, after some introductory remarks, proceeded to discuss the position of the Society and the reasons for its establishment: “First of all there is the fulfilment of a duty towards promoting the accumulation of knowledge in the community. There are Commissions and Boards to look after primary education; others to look after the preservation of the peace and the maintenance of law and order; the interests of religion, too, have each of them their guardians, while the progress of culture in the departments of science, art, and literature ought to have those whose duty it is to watch, and to watch with intention to help, the spread of such culture in the midst of us, and not merely to accumulate facts (which is not culture), but the reduction of such facts into influence on character, which is culture.
“Further, the observation and registration of phenomena, which would otherwise pass unnoticed, is a duty which is now left undone in this place. Formerly, the Government had meteorological observations taken here, and rightly so too, for Nelson is exceptional in many points of view, and its merits and attractions lie in that exceptional position, and should be honestly and graphically, but not ostentatiously, set forth.
“It is said we are too ambitious in setting up a Society of this kind here, where there are few experts in any one branch of science: we can only answer, we see no unworthy ambition in giving out publicly that we are seeking knowledge; and it would seem
unreasonable for us not to have in this our community an institution, a parallel to which may be seen to exist, in far less promising fields, in the provincial towns and cities of England. Should it be said, also, that there can be but one or two experts in so small a population; yet the encouragement which association will give to such persons will perhaps induce others to become specialists, and many facts will be saved from oblivion which would otherwise perish.
“A further reason let me add of increasing cogency: Nelson is likely to become a rendezvous for men of leisure and people of some substance, and the days and hours of a life of retirement, especially after active business habits, are likely to become tedious and full of ennui—it is something to occupy their minds. Labour, too, must not be allowed in this our new country to exercise the tyranny it is doing in the old, consuming all the hours of the day. Knowledge is also a kind of possession: a man who knows of what the landscape consists, what goes to make up its varied tints, and what are the wonders of its woods and the treasures of its rocks, though he may not possess any or many acres of land itself, gets more from the world as he looks on it, and enjoys it perhaps more than those who only look at it as a means of livelihood.
“We associate together to communicate and to receive; to look at phenomena from the point of view of others; to learn from others in a few words what many hours of study and time-consuming research and inquiry would perhaps scarce have told us.
“Above all, our position, with its many advantages, bids us exist; and our existence is its own best reason. No premium, political or social, invites us to unite, but only the legitimate attraction of combined operation and the well-known, though not easily accounted for, pleasure derived from the study of nature, the pursuit of knowledge, and the cultivation of art—a pleasure so great and so unique as to be one of the most distinguishing features of man above all other beings.”
He then proceeded to explain more closely and specifically the objects the Society should have in view.
Speaking of the importance of studying the changes effected by the introduction of exotic animals and plants, the President said: “Is it altogether a vain idea that this Society might purchase a few rough tracts or gullies here and there, in distinctive situations, to be exempted from the fowler's snare and the sportsman's gun, where no cattle shall tear away the protective undergrowth, no lambent fire lick up the grassy carpet of herbage, nor scorching flame make the landscape sorrowful with mournful edges of blackened trunks, but where nature shall have her own sweet will? Are there no Government lands which could be leased by, say 1,000 acres, to this Society, for, say 100 years (not sold, of course, for that would be out of keeping with the spirit of the age), which might be our Yellowstone dominion? Must we have nature's vagaries and eccentricities to justify such a locality? I, myself, have secured on a lease, as much for the enjoyment of others as my own, the beautiful promontory near Cable Bay, in order to prevent its destruction by fires and cattle, and an association like this might easily kindle sufficient enthusiasm in the conservation of similar localities.
“The plot of ground which would suit us as an Herbarium or Aviarium would probably be of little use to the sheepfarmer or agriculturist, and the rising generation might learn that there was pleasure in seeing as well as in receiving, and it might become a recognized wrong to hurt or spoil in such a true sanctuary of nature.
“Would that I could say that these were the only animals and forces that we have to dread, lest they should extinguish some herb or flower. I am informed that within the very area of which I have spoken, a person discovered recently a fern, or peculiar species
of fern, never before seen, and deliberately rooted up every fibre and rootlet of it to transport it to Melbourne to be raised there in their hot-houses in a strange land, for the sake of the money to be obtained thereby. Vandalism is too good a word to be used for such an act; that was chiefly directed against works of art of man's construction, of which it might be said, what man had done once he might do again; but, although his plea might be the promotion of the species in the flower shows of Victoria, yet the risk run of its extinction in the process does not justify the destruction, but legitimately calls forth my protest. Similar ruthless proceedings have removed many ferns from out-of-door habitats in England and elsewhere. The scientific botanist, indeed, knows how to take his specimen so as not to injure, but to further aid, the extension of it, while the ignorant and thoughtless collector will pull up and tear away from its appropriate bed a whole pile of roots and bulbs just to enlarge a nosegay, and too often to be cast away as a thing of no beauty, which has been neglected till it is too late to be preserved within the leaves of the drying book.
“What I say of Botany applies to the other departments as well, and I therefore am proud to congratulate this Society on having before it a large field, an accessible field, a varied field, and an untried field, a field in which it is well we should work, if only to show to ourselves and others how much there is to be known.”
After impressing on the Society the importance of the Local Museum and Public Library, and expressing a hope that popular lectures and popular scientific excursions to collect observations in the field would be instituted as part of the work of the Society, the President concluded by expressing the satisfaction felt at the prospect of so many earnest workers being ready to take up many, if not all, of these branches in the pursuit of knowledge, and hoped that “the promise of this Society will be amply fulfilled, that its members will yearly increase, and that it will receive the recognition and support of the public, so that we may add to the natural attractions of the place an association hospitable to the devotees of science, art, and literature, and so the pure light and genial heat which the cultivation of these three departments gives to the human mind, will not be absent from the midst of us.”