Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 31, 1898
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The Chairman drew attention to the loss the Society had sustained by the death of the late Rev. W. Colenso, and Sir James Hector moved, That a record be made in the minutes of the great services rendered by the deceased gentleman.

In doing so he said the deceased had been an intimate friend of his

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for the last thirty-five years, and also a constant correspondent. As they all knew, Mr. Colenso had been a constant contributor to the work of the New Zealand Institute. He took a lively interest in its progress, and in its success in every direction. He contributed to its meetings articles of the greatest interest and value upon almost every branch of natural science. He did valuable work as an explorer in the early days of settlement in New Zealand, and then and subsequently he did good work as a recorder in zoological science. But above all things he did good work in extending their, knowledge of the botany of New Zealand. No one who turned over the pages of Hooker's “Flora of New Zealand” could fail to see what a master mind his was, and what a master hand he had in collecting accurate knowledge in natural science. But these were by-paths in comparison with his great work in philology. When he came to New Zealand he was employed in printing the New Testament in the Maori language, and bound the work also with his own hands. A copy of this Testament, which he presented to Mr. R. C. Harding, one of their fellow-members, was on the table before them that night. The inscription in it stated that it was composed, printed, and bound by Mr. Colenso with his own hands, in the year 1837. However, that was not the end of his work. In addition to all his scientific labours, he carried on a very large and charitable work among the Maoris. But, above all, his mind was for many years almost solely devoted to the collection of the great treasures of knowledge that were buried in the languages of Polynesia, and particularly to the tracing out of the words that were involved in the Maori language. He was employed by the Government for many years to collect and arrange and prepare a lexicon of the Maori language and the cognate languages of Polynesia. He (Sir James) was, about 1870, asked to inspect the manuscript of this great work, and he was really surprised at its extent. It almost filled the walls of a room. And the manuscript, too, had been done in the most systematic manner. But, unfortunately, one or two of the important letters of the alphabet—they were very important; he thought they were “Ng” and some others—were at the time mislaid. The loss so disheartened Mr. Colenso that he seemed to have left off work for some time. There had been, he regretted to say, a few hard things said about Mr. Colenso for his apparent dilatoriness in getting on with the lexicon. But no one who knew of the exertion Mr. Colenso gave to the work could blame him in the least. There were many reasons at work, most of which were set forth in the small fragment of the lexicon that was published three years ago—half of the first letter. That fragment was enough to show what a great work the lexicon would have been if published under his eye. Mr. Colenso had presented this great work, under certain very moderate conditions, so he was informed, to the Government, for them to deal with it as they pleased. He presumed that what Mr. Colenso had stipulated, was that the work should not be lost, but should be published for the public benefit. In making other donations Mr. Colenso had been most lavish. He had presented to the Theological Library of Napier the whole of his collection of theological works and his collection of scientific works. His most valuable collection of zoological, botanical, and mineral specimens he had presented to the Napier Museum, He had also made certain donations to the Colonial Museum in Wellington, and in aid of that institution. In every way he had displayed a most liberal mind, and left behind him an influence for good. He was the founder, with the late Sir George Grey, of the New Zealand Society, upon which the Wellington Philosophical Society was engrafted; and he was a yearly member of the latter Society.

Mr. R. C. Harding said it was thirty-eight years that month since he first met the late Mr. Colenso. During the whole of that time he knew

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Mr. Colenso very intimately indeed, and during the whole of his (Mr. Harding's) residence in Wellington—nearly nine years—he had been in very close and intimate correspondence with him. He could fully indorse what Sir James Hector had said about Mr. Colenso's enormous industry and great gifts. He believed that every volume of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute” had contained valuable contributions from the band of Mr. Colenso. In, the first volume would be found two papers contributed by him by special request. One was on the aboriginal natives and the other was on the botany of New Zealand. These papers, be might say, would in themselves be sufficient to make the reputation of a scientific man for industrious investigation and scientific knowledge. In regard to the New Testament printed by Mr. Colenso, he (Mr. Harding), as a practical printer, thought it was one of the most wonderful productions that had ever issued from a printing press, when they considered the imperfect outfit with which Mr. Colenso was provided. And he believed that Mr. Colenso learned the art of bookbinding before he left London, in order that he might complete the works which he printed. When Mr. Colenso's book “Fifty Years ago in New Zealand” reached England Mr. William Blades, author of the “Life of Caxton,” wrote an article on it for the Printers' Register under the title of “A New Zealand Caxton.” As to the Maori Lexicon, Mr. Colenso did not look upon it as completed, because he had not written a fair copy of the manuscript. But his rough manuscript was as good as most of the fair copy that passed into a printer's hands. Mr. Harding concluded by expressing the hope that the Government would be public-spirited enough to put the work of printing the lexicon in hand, and so prevent the loss of the life-work of one of the greatest men they had had in Hew Zealand.

Mr. W. T. L. Travers spoke of the enormous diligence shown by Mr. Colenso in his investigation of the natural history of the colony.

Sir James Hector said Mr. Colenso had a great controversy with the late Sir Richard Owen as to whether or not he was the first European discoverer of the moa as part of the fauna of New Zealand. Mr. Colenso claimed that he was the first person to bring before the notice of Europeans the recent existence of these great birds in New Zealand as part of the fauna of the country. It was on that account that his name was received with such great favour at Home when he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. The controversy ended in its being shown that Mr. Colenso appreciated the nature of the gigantic bones of birds that had been discovered here before they were sent to England.

Sir Walter Buller said he visited Mr. Colenso in 1886 before he (Sir Walter) went to England. Mr. Colenso did not then mention the loss of any part of the manuscript of the lexicon. He (Sir Walter) thought the missing letters must have been recovered, because there were no empty pigeon holes at that time in the room in which the manuscript was kept. Sir Walter went on to mention a letter he had received from Sir Joseph Hooker, in which the writer spoke of Mr. Colenso as doing good sound work in philology—work that 'would live.

Papers.—1. “On New Zealand Galaxidœ,” by F. E. Clarke. (Transactions, p. 78.)

2. “On Exocœtus ilma,” by F. E. Clarke. (Transactions, p. 92.)

3. “On Girella multilineatus (the Mangrove Fish),” by F. E. Clarke. (Transactions, p. 96.)

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4. “On Artesian Wells at Longburn,” by J. Marchbanks; communicated by Sir J. Hector. (Transactions, p. 551.)

Sir James Hector described with drawings the geological structure of this district, and explained how the water had been obtained. He said it was a matter of enormous importance to a district like this, and a subject of congratulation to the Manawatu Railway Company, that it should have an underground supply of water of such an ample nature. It was not only water that came to the surface, but water with power. He complimented Mr. Marchbanks upon the manner in which he had treated the subject before the meeting, and for his having successfully carried out the work.

5. On “Further Light on the Circulation of the Atmosphere in the Southern Hemisphere,” by Major-General Schaw. (Transactions, p. 570.)

6. “Moa Farmers,” by Richard Henry; communicated by Sir James Hector. (Transactions, p. 673.)

7. “Old Huts at Dusky Sound,” by R. Henry; communicated by Sir James Hector. (Transactions, p. 677.)

8. Red Oats and Disease,” by R. Henry; communicated by Sir James Hector. (Transactions, p. 680.)