First Meeting: 18th May, 1886.
Professor F. D. Brown, President, in the Chair.
New Members.—W. T. Firth, G. Thorne, jun.
1. The President delivered the anniversary address.
I propose this evening to place before you my views as to the future of this Institute, and I venture to think that the present is a very appropriate time for dealing with this subject, for it is a time at which the entire conditions of its existence are undergoing change. For many years after its foundation it was forced, owing to want of means, to restrict its attention to the barest necessities of its existence; its every step was a struggle, and those who helped to found it must now reflect with justifiable pride upon the condition which, in spite of all obstacles, it has attained. Now this long struggle is over, and, owing to the munificent bequest of the late Mr. Costley, and to the setting apart by the Government of certain lands to be sold for the benefit of the Museum, we have passed from a state of penury to one almost of affluence. Under these circumstances, it is absolutely necessary that we should each and all seriously concern ourselves about the work which shall be done, by what is now a great public institution, and one which, if it be rightly conducted, may exercise incalculable influence for good. If our means have been augmented, our responsibilities have been increased in no less proportion; what in the past might have been a trivial mistake may become in the future an error, the gravity of which we cannot estimate. By thus defining our plan of action beforehand, we shall avoid great waste both of labour and money, and shall, at the same time, advance more rapidly along the road of progress. Sir George Grey is fond of repeating the statement that a great nation is being founded in New Zealand, and if this be indeed true—and who shall deny it?—then we also are engaged in the work; and if our portion of the foundations, and it is no inconsiderable portion, be not well and truly laid, if we do not do our utmost to prepare for those who come after us and to hand down to them such a legacy as they have a right to expect, we shall most certainly earn their most hearty condemnation.
Of the many things which lie in the path of a Society like this, founded to encourage literature and science, and to foster the study of the Maori race, three were undertaken from the first—the formation of a Museum, the establishment of a Library, and the holding of meetings of the members of the Society.
First, then, let us consider what shall be our ideal museum, a museum which is by no means beyond our reach, and for the possession of which we might always be striving, though it might be many years before we realized it.
Formerly a museum was regarded as a place in which curiosities of all kinds might be provided with safe keeping. Remarkable stones, the arms of famous soldiers, the clothes of sovereigns, curious works of art, the heads of criminals, all had their places in the museum, and a most extraordinary
medley they formed. There are such museums still in many a small European town. As the collections increased and became unmanageable, subdivision forced itself upon the attention, and the stones were separated from the arms, the works of art from the anatomical specimens. The improvement was obvious, but the museum still remained a mere collection of curiosities. After a time scientific classification entered the field, and the objects were arranged according to some system, elaborated by those who had paid attention to the special subject. It then became possible for the visitor who possessed the key to the classification to find his way amongst the collections, and even to observe instances of similarity or dissimilarity with reasonable facility; to those, however, who were not furnished with the key, the new arrangement offered no more and no better lessons than the old. To this day the great majority of museums remain at this stage, and they do so because those who are responsible for their management are conversant with the meaning of the classification; to them all seems clear enough, and they do not, and perhaps cannot, place themselves in the position of those who come to see the collections. This stage of improvement is, in my opinion, by no means the last which may be reached.
It must be remembered that a Natural History Museum is intended to be of use to two classes of individuals. The one class numbers, unhappily, but few persons; these are the mature students of Biological Science, who are enabled by virtue of their wide knowledge to read between the lines and to supply all those thoughts which are suggested by the collection to them, and to them only. If a museum were intended solely for the use of such persons, it would be exceedingly unwise to reject the ordinary classification; indeed, I do not advocate its rejection in any case, but simply the addition of another classification more suited to the second class of persons who make use of the institution. This class includes the great majority of our population—persons who are novices in the subject, and are quite unable to appreciate the meaning of the classification, or, indeed, to gather from it aught but the most confused impressions.
You are not all of you, any more than myself, familiar with all the details of biology, and I may therefore appeal to you to place yourselves in the position of the ordinary visitor to a museum, to look briefly over a collection of birds, of minerals, or of fossils, and then to sum up and estimate the value of the information you have acquired. You will then feel, if you do not already, that the collection fails in its chief object, if that object be, as I maintain that it is, to teach the masses of the population something really valuable about the world we live in.
The ordinary museum is capable of suggesting thoughts only to those who have already mastered those thoughts.
If you know so much of science as to be unable to regard the collection from this point of view, and if you are doubtful of the justice of my assertions, then follow discreetly, but closely, some party of visitors, and listen to their remarks—their “Isn't that a pretty colour?” and their “Dear me, what a funny tail!” Or perhaps you will follow some more educated party, and will then be rejoiced to hear that the word “Ceylon” on a label calls up memories of a friend who once visited that country, or that in the opinion of the visitor certain feathers would make remarkably good salmon flies. In any case you will come away less confident that the heavy expenditure incurred in maintaining the Museum is fully justified.
Suppose, now, that we attempt a new classification—that we seek to show to the uneducated that there are relations, points of similarity and of dissimilarity, between objects, that we endeavour to bring these points into prominence, instead of leaving them to be clumsily extricated by those who are unaccustomed to the ideas involved; and what do you think will be the result? Why, that our museum, which was dead, will become alive, will rise, as it were, from the grave to tell its myriad stories; while every case will teem with suggestions of profound thought, which the most careless and the most ignorant will be unable to avoid having thrust upon them.
Let me render this more clear by an illustration taken at random from the domain of Natural History. Imagine to yourselves a case devoted to the exhibition of the varieties in the feet and legs of birds. You would find in it the long-legged, flat-footed heron or crane, the web-footed and short-legged water-fowl, the bird of prey with its powerful talons, the burrowing bird, the climbing bird, the running bird, and all others possessing typical forms of feet; you would find accompanying each a drawing of the conditions under which it is accustomed to live and seek its food, or, if the means of the institution permitted, you would find these conditions actually imitated; you would observe that many of the birds had near them drawings of the fossil birds their ancestors, or, at any rate, of their feet and legs; perhaps even you might see the fossils themselves. Further, to each bird would be attached a label, not of the ordinary bald and meaningless description, but one in which attention would be drawn to the points to be noted, and comparison suggested with other inmates of the case. From such an exhibit, a visitor who had never seen or heard of any other bird than a sparrow would learn, and would be almost forced to learn, whole chapters of ornithology. His interest in the subject would be aroused, he would cease to confine himself to feeble or flippant remarks, and would finally return to his home with the firm intention of finding out more about birds. Scores of similar groups of objects will suggest themselves immediately to anyone. The wings of birds, the teeth of mammals, the fertilisation of flowers, the protective imitation of insects, the means taken by insects to protect their eggs, might all form subjects of instruction and enlightenment. Nor need we confine the system to Natural History; we can arrange artistic productions so as to show how one idea has begotten another; how at a certain time the work of a whole people was influenced by one man's thought; how at another the condition of a nation, its prosperity or adversity, was reflected in its art. It will be clearly seen that such groups as are here suggested would differ from the ordinary museum collection in that they would be arranged solely with a view to the elucidation of one idea; whereas the usual arrangement endeavours to convey all possible knowledge at the same time. Those who are experienced in matters of education will not, I feel certain, long hesitate to decide as to which is the best system.
Our future museum, then, in each of its departments, should, as far as is possible, endeavour to fulfil two distinct purposes: it should by special grouping, and by plentiful description on labels and illustration by drawing, lay itself out to interest and instruct the inhabitants in general; and it should maintain, for the benefit of the learned, as complete and well ordered a collection as is possible. The collections required for the first purpose should be attractively and fully displayed; those for the second should be to a great extent kept in drawers or cupboards, only those specimens which are in some way specially remarkable being displayed in cases. By this means an enormous economy of space would be obtained, while the interests of the real student would be equally well if not better served. Nothing whatever is gained by an attempt to exhibit in glass cases the whole or even any considerable portion of the collections of a museum; and no specimen should be placed in a case, unless it is possible to give perfectly definite reasons for showing it to the public.
And now let us turn to questions which, because they are less fundamental, will not improbably be termed more practical. I have said that the first great improvement in museums consists in the separation of the collection into great classes. This subdivision is not only valuable from the administrative point of view, but is necessary in order to avoid incongruous ideas being simultaneously thrust on the visitor. Take our own museum—which is not subdivided, for the simple reason that there is but one room, and that an insufficient one, in which to place all the collections. Here we find that, while we are endeavouring to obtain definite ideas with regard to the skeleton of the moa, our attention is suddenly diverted by the brilliant colours of a vase of wax flowers; we
are no sooner set musing upon the mysteries of artificial flower-making, than we are called off to wonder at the peculiarities of Maori archichecture; but while we are attempting to decipher the hieroglyphics emblematic of Maori tradition, we become conscious that close by us is the divine form of Aphrodite, and that a goddess from Olympus is smiling down upon the recent ornament of a Maori village.
Be it well understood that, in speaking thus of our collections, I do not in any way find fault with our excellent Curator, who has done all that he could reasonably be expected to do with the means and appliances at his disposal; nor do I attach any blame to those who have spared neither pains nor money to rear our young museum in spite of every kind of difficulty. The want of subdivision has been due solely to want of means, and now that the one want has disappeared the other ought rapidly to follow it into the past.
To subdivide our collections would be of very great value in quite another way. At present it is not clear that we are particularly interested in any special branch, and hence any person who may have devoted his attention to some subject, such as the accumulation of specimens of native work, is not led to feel that we also are engaged in the same direction. Gifts and bequests, which, as everyone knows, are the great support of institutions such as this, are not attracted, but find their way to England or to other towns in the colony, where it is presumed that they will be more prized and displayed with greater effect. By ignoring this aspect of the question we should, I am convinced, do our museum the greatest injury.
This re-arrangement of the museum in separate departments should, if possible, precede the construction of a museum designed for public inspection; it is, in my opinion, of infinitely more importance than the acquisition of new specimens with which to enrich the collections. It cannot, of course, be properly carried out without additional capital expenditure; but the interest on such capital would amount to less than is now expended on additions to the collections, which do not materially increase the value of the museum. Further, the annual numerical increase of the specimens would only suffer a temporary reduction, which would be recouped tenfold by the additional interest taken in the museum, and by the flow of donations which would undoubtedly follow. Thus, even from the point of view of the rigid economist, this subdivision must be admitted to be necessary. Moreover it would not, probably, be difficult to obtain the necessary capital or part of it as an advance from the Government, at a low rate of interest, or at none at all, on the £10,000 with which the museum is endowed.
There is, as far as I am aware, only one real difficulty in our way, and that is the extraordinary delay of the City Council in adopting decisively a plan for completing their excavations in this neighbourhood. By leaving open for years a question such as that of the future level of an important street, enterprise is checked, improvement rendered impossible, and the return from the rates diminished. I trust that some members of the Council will ere long move in this matter, and that we shall not have a vast scene of devastation permanently imposed upon the centre of the city.
While speaking of the subdivision of the museum, I should like to draw attention to the necessity of deciding without delay as to the precise nature of the collections to which we shall devote our attention. At present we have the beginnings of a natural history museum, of a museum of sculpture, or rather of plaster casts, and of an anthropological museum. Shall we continue always to keep up these three departments? Shall we, in the near future, be likely to add others to them? and, if so, what others? These are questions which must soon be answered, unless we wish to run the risk of wasting the funds at our disposal. In attempting to deal with them, we must be careful not to lose sight of the fact that this is not the only body in Auckland which possesses or will shortly possess a museum, and that it is extremely undesirable that small duplicate collections should be accumulated in different parts of the same town. This remark does not
apply with the same force to artistic collections, such as those of oil paintings, which, by their very nature, are not capable of duplication, unless it be admitted that a copy of a picture is a duplicate of it: hence a picture gallery, if it be designed with a view to embody some particular idea, loses nothing of its value by the presence in the same town of other and even of far larger galleries. In other departments, however, duplication of collections involves much waste of labour, and a sad disregard of economy of administration
Let me give a few instances of the duplication which is already arising in our midst. In Natural History we are already competing with the University College, which possesses an increasing Biological Museum, limited it is true, but in some respects superior to our own. In Anthropology, we shall compete with the City, which has been promised by Sir George Grey a beautiful collection of weapons, utensils, and ornaments of Maori and South Sea Island origin. In Art, where, as I have said, the scattering of collections is less hurtful, we shall share with the City and with the Mackelvie Trustees the responsible position of artistic guides to the people of Auckland. Surely we ought to come to some understanding with these bodies as to which work shall be undertaken by them and which by us.
In the case of the University College, an arrangement of some kind is urgently needed, inasmuch as both that body and ourselves are bound to maintain a Biological Museum and a Biological Library. It seems to me to show no great solicitude for the public interest that no one has hitherto made the slightest attempt to avoid the waste caused by the annual expenditure of hundreds of pounds by the College authorities, and by ourselves, for purposes which are in the main identical. I am not prepared to suggest, and should not in any case presume to draw up, any agreement such as would meet the difficulty; but I have not the slightest hesitation in affirming that the biological laboratories of the University College should adjoin and be in material connection with this building. If such an approximation of the similar departments of the two institutions were brought about, you may rest assured that the Auckland Institute would not be the one of the contracting parties which would gain the least.
Another important question is whether we should attempt to add any new departments to our collection. One department there is, which would probably eclipse in usefulness to the citizens all which we now possess. I refer to a Department of Technology. The importance of this class of museum to a colony like this is so great, the arguments in favour of it so undeniable, the examples of increased national wealth and prosperity so numerous, that it would be impossible for me this evening even to place before you the merest outline of the good which a Technical Museum would effect. Suffice it to say, that in nearly all the large towns of England, of Continental Europe, and of America, technical museums and technical classes have been established, and that the people in these places are so impressed with their value and their necessity that they have not hesitated to expend enormous sums upon their acquisition. Thus the little State of Switzerland established, as long ago as 1854, a Technical Museum and School, upon which a sum of £20,000 is annually spent, besides erecting buildings, the mere extension of a portion of which cost some year or so ago £50,000. Again, the Kingdom of Bavaria, with its restricted territory and by no means wealthy population, has erected, at a cost of £157,000, a Technical Museum and School. These are instances of comparatively small attempts in this direction. In Berlin, the building at Charlottenburg, outside the Brandenburg Gate, has cost no less than £450,000. It is always a matter of astonishment to me that throughout New Zealand—and in this respect the colony stands almost alone among civilized communities—no attempt should have been made to satisfy the wants of the population in this respect, and this, too, in spite of the fact that we, of all peoples, most require it. For it is evident that our isolation from the great centres of civilization renders it imperative that the results of that civilization should
be placed before us here. Other people can with facility inspect the structures, the manufacturing processes, the mining implements, and the agricultural improvements of their neighbours; and yet, as I have said, they have, almost without exception, found it necessary to establish technical colleges and museums within sight of their homes; we, who must journey 9,000 miles to the Eastern States of America and 13,000 miles to Europe, find that we have no need of institutions such as these.
Yet it is in technical knowledge that the future of this country lies. It must surely be apparent to every one that we cannot compete successfully on the same platform with the millions of India, or even with the dense and ill - paid populations of Europe. It can only be by the application of all our intelligence that we can hope to render the productions of Europe unnecessary to ourselves or place our own on the markets of the world with a fair prospect of remuneration. People talk of small agricultural holdings, of thrifty peasants and happy homesteads, thereby implying that the same grinding toil which was required to make a livelihood in Europe should be repeated here; but the colonist who is willing to do anything at all has outrun such drudgery as this. Give him knowledge, let him understand that ingenuity and invention, education and intelligence, are as compatible with, and as useful in agriculture as in any other occupation whatsoever, and he will cease to avoid the occupation of the land, and to stand listless at the corner of a street. Our aim here should be to make one man do the work of a score, and earn thereby a substantial remuneration; not to bring out here a score of poor creatures to do the work of one trained man, and thereby to cause a repetition of the social difficulties of the old world. Technical education will alone do this, and technical education we do not possess.
I do not, however, regard it as our duty to establish a technological museum. It would, in all probability, be better in the hands of those who, more than ourselves, are continually brought into contact with manufacturers, engineers, miners, and farmers. The wants of the people would be better gauged by our City Councillors than by ourselves, and I would suggest that they could make no better use of their new Art Gallery than to devote it to such a purpose.
It may not be our business to establish such a department, but I hold that our duty does not end with our Museum and Library; that, on the other hand, the maintenance of these is only a fraction of that duty. We have bound ourselves together to encourage literature, science, and the study of the Maori race. We are then, as far as regards these matters, to utilise the strength that lies in union in order to push forward projects which we regard as useful to the community; we are to initiate ideas, to collect evidence, and to do all those other things which must suggest themselves to a wealthy and important society bent on doing good to their fellow-men. If, then, we do not ourselves propose to have a technical museum, we can and ought to do our best to impress upon others its necessity. If we have not ourselves the means of maintaining an experimental farm and botanic garden, we should nevertheless strive to bring about the foundation by others of such an institution.
But let us return to the discussion of our future action with regard to those duties which we have already undertaken. Our Library should be our special care. We should decide, and that before we make any further purchases of books, upon adopting some definite plan, some leading idea, which should be our guide in the formation of the collection. There are many kinds of libraries, but they may, I think, all be classified under three heads—
Libraries for the general reader.
One library may, of course, if means permit, comprise all three departments. The reference library is intended for the use of persons who possess
books of their own, but are unwilling to purchase large and expensive works, which are not only beyond their means, but which contain, perhaps, only a few pages of special interest to themselves. Take, for instance, that well-known work, or series of works, the “Encyclopædia Brittanica.” We all, from time to time, would like to have the opportunity to-refer to one or other of its articles, but this desire is not so urgent as to impel us to expend upon the purchase of the book some eighty or ninety guineas. The reference library helps us out of the difficulty. On its shelves the book is to be found, and being there used by numbers of people, justifies the money expended in its purchase. There are, of course, vast numbers of books of this character, but in the scientific world none are more important than the serials published under the auspices of the various learned societies; and to which must be added others, such as the “Philosophical Magazine,” and the “Annales de Chimie et de Physique.” If our library is to be a reference library, we must endeavour to collect all these books within its walls; and as the majority soon fall out of print, and rise thereby greatly in price, it behoves us not to put off their purchase for too long a time.
A student's library requires no definition: it is one which contains manuals, text-books, and treatises on various subjects, and selected monographs upon special branches of those subjects. It is the necessary adjunct of every college and high school.
A library for the general reader contains all those books which are termed “popular,” all which are likely to interest or instruct the general public; in fact, all good and useful books other than those mentioned above.
Now, just as we saw that in the case of our collections, we are likely to do unnecessarily, and therefore wastefully, the same work as other bodies are bound to do; so here, we should remember that the City possesses a general library, and that the University College, of necessity, maintains a students' library. Our duty then would seem to be to form a reference library, to expend upon that the funds which we can spare, and not to fritter away those funds in the purchase of a number of books selected for no further reason than that they are nice books to have. If we form here a really good reference library, we shall be doing an incalculable service to our contemporaries, and a still greater service to our children, one for which they will never cease to be grateful.
To sum up the chief points of this very brief address—
We should subdivide our museum, so as to avoid incongruity of impression, and to facilitate classification and re-arrangement.
We should decide what departments of knowledge we propose to illustrate in our museum, and confine ourselves to these.
We should spend our energies to a large extent upon the formation of exhibits specially designed for the instruction of the people. To this must be added a system of ample labelling, or it will be of but little avail.
We should do our best to extend our influence in the community, and to make of this Socicty a real and active agent for those interests for which it was formed.
We should set up some definite aim with regard to our Library, and such aim should include the formation of a Reference Department.
In conclusion, let me beg of you not to regard this address as a mere mass of empty words, strung together for the purpose of filling the greater portion of an hour. The necessity of all which I have suggested has been graving itself on my mind ever since I have had the pleasure of being connected with this Society, and I have felt it my duty to put before you this evening my views with regard to the conduct of this institution—views which may differ in many respects from those of many among you, but which, I earnestly hope, will meet with your serious consideration. We are, as I have said before, no longer a private society, but a public body
endowed with considerable means. We have become subject to public criticism; let us do all we can, then, to earn the approval of that public, which, after all, is, in the long run, no bad judge of right and wrong. If we stand still, if we hesitate to venture along the road which fortune has opened out to us, we shall signally fail in our duty. If, when we are called to account by public opinion, we have only to say, “Lo, I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth; lo, there thou hast that which is thine,” we shall not improbably receive the answer, “Take, therefore, the talent from him, and give it him which hath ten talents.”