Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 23, 1890
Abstract.

Mr. Hulke selected a most interesting subject for his address—viz., a review of the inventions and scientific discoveries of the half-century that had elapsed since the foundation of the colony. He said that no period in the world's history had been so prolific in inventions and discoveries as those fifty years. The advantages accruing from those inventions, the benefits resulting from the discoveries—so greatly beyond the expectations of those that made them that had any one at the time predicted such results he would have been deemed mad—we too often thanklessly and thoughtlessly enjoyed. The fruit of many an invention and many a discovery had often been prevented from ripening by the chill blasts of ridicule and prejudice, and we ought therefore not to criticize new theories too severely, for there was a great deal that we should like to know about our world, and too severe criticisms might delay the acquisition of that knowledge. He thought that the great progress which had been made in art and in science was due to the increased facilities for intercourse afforded by the development of the steam-engine, which he traced from the time of Dr. Papin, through James Watt's patents of 1769 and 1781, to Fulton's successful trip in the “Clermont” on the Hudson, in 1807, and finally to the establishment of the Cunard Line between Liverpool and New York, in 1840, the same year in which the English “penny post” was introduced. The latter was the greatest postal reform that had ever been introduced into any nation, and when we read of the opposition shown to the demand for a lower rate of ocean postage we should not forget the intense opposition offered by the English postal authorities to Rowland Hill's proposed scheme. Seldom had a nation the right to claim a great invention as its own: in one a thought had been uttered, in another that thought had been acted upon and partially developed, while in a third it had been rendered practically useful. The more frequent the repetition of such a course, the greater the benefit conferred upon mankind; and nothing could be so conducive to that repetition as the free interchange of ideas, which had been so greatly promoted, if not actually called into existence, by the postal reform he had spoken of. It was that rapid exchange of thought, that free communion between minds, that throwing-open the storehouses of genius and intellect, to which might be ascribed the great progress made in every department of art and science. Neither the telegraph nor photography would have attained their present perfection had their development been confined to some secluded valley or to the secret chamber of some guild. Referring to that meaningless expression “the good old times,” he contrasted the

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England of to-day with that of fifty years ago, saying that the best time was always the present, if we only strove to make good use of it. After giving a brief sketch of the history of Darwinism, and showing some pictures of Marsh's toothed birds from Kansas, he passed on to speak of the great improvements that had been effected in photography, and exhibited some exceedingly beautiful collotypes. After briefly noticing the modern applications of electricity—the telegraph, the telephone, electric light, and phonograph, which he intimated he intended to deal with more fully during the session—he said a few words about spectrum analysis. He then spoke of the revelations of the microscope in the matter of microbes and of their pathogenic tendencies, the remainder of his address being devoted to giving an account of the rise and growth of “organic chemistry,” illustrating his remarks by a reference to some of the products-obtained from coal. He concluded by expressing his regret that the more rational decimal system of weights and measures had not yet been made the legal standard of the colony.

Sir James Hector, in proposing a vote of thanks to the President, complimented him on the very able address he had just delivered, giving as it did a clear and most interesting sketch of the progress of science during the past fifty years. He congratulated the Society on the choice of its President, and said that, judging from the address, he was quite able to control the discussion in any branch of science that might be brought forward at the meetings.

Mr. Travers seconded the vote of thanks, which was carried. He said it was impossible on the spur of the moment to touch on all of the many points referred to by Mr. Hulke. The address he considered was most interesting, especially that part referring to the progress of photography. Mr. Travers gave examples of many new processes in this art, and, regarding technical education, alluded to the great need for the introduction of such instruction into our schools, saying that he believed the strong endeavour which was now being made to introduce it into the scholastic establishments of England was likely to meet with success. If, however, to-morrow we wished to introduce technical education into the schools of this country, he did not think there were a sufficient number of men in the colony capable of giving instruction. What we ought to have established were schools in which persons might be fitted for imparting such instruction to the young. Until that was done we could make no advance. At present we had no school of any kind in which technical education was taught, and yet he believed the Government were annually wasting enormous sums of money which might be devoted to this purpose.

Mr. Maskell said he would like to say a few words before the question was put. He very cordially indorsed all that had been said by the two-former speakers in thanking the President for his excellent address. He would not himself have gone as far as the President did in expressing admiration for the evolution theory; but that was merely a matter of private opinion. He rose, however, principally to emphasize somewhat a point in the address, where the President drew attention to the fact that the first steps in every improvement were made by men working in science for purely scientific ends. It was true that a man of science gives the first notion of an improvement to the world; then comes the inventor who applies that notion, and so great practical benefits to humanity have come about. But in this country, unfortunately, people take the least intelligent view possible of science; and an instance of this was afforded only a few days ago in a leading article in a Wellington journal, which held up scientific men to ridicule, seemingly only on the ground that they followed science. In fact, a man in New Zealand who attempted any scientific work without showing some immediate money returns for it is generally considered to be very much a fool. Now, unfortunately, this opinion is prevalent in all quarters, from the uneducated settler up to the

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governing classes, and it has a mischievous effect. For, to take only two things, there is a want clearly apparent in this country. In the case of the Fungi, for example, there are several even now becoming very noxious pests: he might instance the rust in wheat, or the Fusicladium (applescab, pear-scab). These are both bad pests, and the latter is going to play the mischief ere long with fruit-growing. Yet there is nobody in New Zealand who has studied Fungi systematically, and who is able to give authoritative and influential information to the colonists, because not the least encouragement is held out by the Government to scientific inquiry. Again, in the case of insect pests, who is there here able to advise the country with authority and influence on, say, such things as Phylloxera? Nobody: and those who do venture to say what their studies have led them to know are treated practically as either visionary or importunate. He hoped that an improvement in this respect would come about soon, perhaps even from the very necessity of the case. For his part, he desired very much to see the Government do what was urgently wanted—import a man, from England or elsewhere, competent to advise with full authority on both animal and vegetable pests—a man conversant with what had been done in other countries, and able to say what ought to be done here. But it is not only advice which would be required. For the officer he suggested ought to have full power to act in cases o necessity, as well as to instruct. He should be a man of both scientific and practical knowledge, a man well acquainted with both entomology and agriculture, and, besides, he ought not to be fettered and obstructed in the way too often seen with officers of our Government. Mr. Maskell expressed regret at having taken up so much of the time of the meeting; but the question which he ventured to raise was of great importance, and he trusted that before long some measure such as he suggested would be adopted.

The vote of thanks for the address having been carried,

The President expressed his obligations to Sir J. Hector and the members for their kindly appreciation of his services. In reply to Mr. Travers, he quoted from his address to show that he had mentioned the star-charts. Referring to the remarks of Mr. Maskell, he said that he (Mr. Maskell) was quite right. These things ought to receive more attention. Unfortunately, much of this kind of work, which was performed in other countries as a labour of love, would not be undertaken by an Englishman unless he could make money by it. In the village schools of Germany great pains were taken to make the children acquainted with everything injurious to agriculture; in fact, many of those children knew more about Nature than most of our University students did.