The President delivered his parting address.
After congratulating the Society on the interest of its proceedings, although the number of original papers was not large, and the well-attended meetings which had been held during the past year, he pointed out that it was not only in preparing original papers that members could assist in forwarding the interests of the Society, and went on to suggest several methods of increasing its usefulness and largely extending its operations. One step in that direction had already been taken in the matter of the proposed Mining School, the classes for which would be successively inaugurated next November. The following are the speaker's remarks on this subject:—
In a community like that of the Province of Nelson, where a very small number of the useful arts and occupations are established, and human industry runs altogether in few channels, it is of the very last importance that provision should be made for technical instruction, such as that which is given in the Real-schule of many cities on the Continent of Europe, and such as that also which is being given in the various technical colleges of England. Statesmen are continually addressing themselves to the question of the importance of establishing varied industries in our midst. Technical education would be one way to accomplish this, and a far better way than bounties and protective tariffs. If young people had the means of finding out for what they had natural taste and aptitude, they would be more diverse in their choice of occupation. At present the office or the plough is the alternative, the former meaning genteel poverty, and the latter a rougher struggle for existence. The Darwinian law may be inevitable, but human wisdom can surely mitigate the rigour with which it falls on poor humanity. To ameliorate the condition of people in a new land, the best way would perhaps be to introduce variety into the life of its inhabitants, which unfortunately tends to be altogether too groovish if left to itself and the operation of natural laws. How better do this than by acclimatizing new industries and occupations? And again, how better accomplish this than by teaching the useful arts, and allowing the love for them and the scientific investigation which they involve to grow up in the human mind while it is plastic ?
Another reason why technical education should be encouraged may be found in the fact that nowadays the apprenticeship system is altogether dying out, and therefore the old system of extended schooling is gone; and unless technical classes be formed, particularly as legitimate amusement in a new country is limited both in amount and variety, the young people of a colony are likely to find themselves in the position of those who, as the Spaniards say, rather tempt the devil than are tempted by him; and furthermore, if, as a community, even in the face of bad times and a falling revenue, we are indisposed to cut down our present large expenditure on public education, for very consistency's sake we should try and make that education as thorough and as modern as possible. At present, however, we are doing nothing of the kind. Even in old countries, where technical education, from one point of view at all events, is less needed than here on account of the diversified occupations of the people at large, the attention that has been devoted to, and the money that has been spent upon, the establishment of technical colleges and classes, are so great that as a community we ought indeed to take shame to ourselves for what must be characterised as culpable neglect. It is in this matter as in many others. If, as a people, we spend money on an object, we think we discharge our duties in reference to it. We do not trouble ourselves as to how the money is disbursed. We are more just and liberal with dollars than with thought, though we must know that there is much debt that dollars cannot discharge, but only employment of loving labour and patient thinking.
The fact is, what is now taught in the public schools of the Colony is not real education at all, but only elementary instruction; it is the means of acquiring education, but not the thing itself. It produces no real love for learning, no true curiosity to probe into the secrets of Nature, no anxiety to acquire manual skill, no pride in excellence of workmanship, no devotion to truth and nobility. Neither reverence for what is truly great, nor ability to be practically useful, nor recognition of native talent, the responsibility which it entails and the pleasure which result from its further development, can be expected to result from a meagre system of cram, such as we have at present in our scheme of public instruction. And although it would be too much to expect that all these beneficial results would necessarily spring from courses of technical training, it may fairly be said that some of them would.
The encouragement, therefore, of every effort in the direction of technica education for the community in which it exists, must be regarded as one of
the legitimate duties of a Society which professedly aims at the increase of human knowledge. And it is clear that in this, as in many other matters, it is only the making a beginning which is difficult. Once get classes fairly established for the teaching of both the practical and theoretical branches in the art of mining, and other classes, in which the theory and practice of other arts can be acquired, will soon be demanded and supplied. It is already proposed that the South Kensington Department of Science and Art should largely extend its sphere of operations and establish branches in the various British colonies. The Mining School will form the node or nucleus for such a branch in Nelson. A School of Design is the next desideratum, and it ought not to be long before that is established. Other departments should spring up by natural development, and will undoubtedly do so if the inhabitants of the district vouchsafe to the movement that popular support to which it is entitled.
He next referred to the importance of popular lectures and conversaziones, in which amusement could be efficiently blended with instruction, as further methods of increasing the Society's influence. The remainder of his address was devoted to arguing the claims of the prosecution of Science and Literature by those engaged in active business, as a means of developing a condition of sound mental health.