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Volume 42, 1909

Philosophical Institute of Canterbury.

Third Meeting: 7th July, 1909.

Present: Mr. Edgar R. Waite (President) in the chair, and sixty others. New Members.—Messrs. C. E. Toovey, W. D. Blair, F. T. Agar, J. H. Seager, and Professor Gabbatt.

A large number of donations were received, and laid on the table.

The Secretary referred to the announcement of the death of Mr. J. T. Meeson, a past President and Treasurer of the Institute, and a very active member for many years.

By the direction of the President, it was decided to make due record of his services on the minutes of the Institute.

The President announced that the sum of nearly £35 had been contributed to date for the funds of the Institute, and by private members of the Institute towards the Hector Memorial Fund.

The Pres dent further detailed the steps which were being taken towards securing the more adequate protection of our fauna.

He mentioned that arrangements had been made for holding a conference with the Acclimatisation Society, so as to secure united action in the matter.

Papers.—1. “Sand-dunes,” by Dr. L. Cockayne.

This was illustrated by a very fine series of lantern-slides of sand-dunes of the Dominion and of foreign countries. Many of the pictures from which these slides were made were taken by Dr. Cockayne himself during the course of the work on which he was engaged at the request of the Government, and the Institute is indebted to the Minister of Lands for granting permission to him to lecture on the subject before his official report has been made public.

The lecturer drew attention, first of all, to the large area in the Dominion—no less than 310,000 acres—which was occupied by sand-dunes. He dwelt upon the importance of dealing properly with the area so that it might give the best return to the State, and also that it might be as little a danger as possible to fertile lands. In this connection he detailed instances where good agricultural land was being destroyed by an invasion of sand-dunes.

After this introduction Dr. Cockayne described the formation of sand-ripples, explaining fully the action of wind-vortices, and then led on to the different types of dunes, detailing their formation and destruction.

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He devoted a considerable amount of attention to sand-binding and sand-holding plants, and emphasized the danger of destroying the natural surface-covering by stock and by fire.

He concluded by showing what had been done in other countries in the way of utilising apparently sterile lands by tree-planting, and gave several instances where this had been carried on successfully in New Zealand.

The paper was discussed by Mr. T. W. Adams and Mr. G. M. Thomson, M.P.

2. “The Smallest Basic Unit in the Classification of English Verse,” by Johannes C. Andersen.

The essential difference between prose and poetry was first discussed. This difference is in form rather than in spirit. If a reader were given an unknown poem written straight on as prose he would read it as prose until he perceived a lilt, when he would say “Oh, this is poetry”; and, reading again, would read it quite differently. He would add a rhythm of time to the irregular rhythm of ordinary accent and non-accent. It is this temporal rhythm that forms the essential difference between prose and poetry: floating on this rhythm, even the words of an unknown tongue are musical and pleasing. The smallest basic unit in poetry, then, will be the smallest unit of the temporal rhythm; and, as the time is marked by the accents and stresses, the unit will be the pulsation lying between two stresses. This pulsation may be silent, or it may have floating upon it one, two, or more syllables; but though pulsations may vary in the number of syllables, they vary very little as regards time—they are of comparatively equal length.

The various kinds of stress are discussed. Firstly, the two-syllabled units, known as iamb and trochee. It is shown that the trochee is always preceded by a pause when it appears in iambic verse: this pause can be, and is at times, filled by a syllable, so that it is equal to a syllable, and forms an integral part of the unit. As the vast majority of verse ends on a stress, the unit is taken as the stress and the pulsation preceding it Trochaic verse generally ends on a stress: therefore trochaic verse differs from iambic in the first unit (or foot) only, which unit in iambic verse is composed of two syllables, and in trochaic of a pause and a syllable. Three-syllabled units are likewise shown to spring from one stock, the so-called anapest. The relationship between two-syllabled and three-syllabled units is then discussed. It is pointed out that in old ballads two-syllabled and three-syllabled units are indiscrimmately blended, and it was due to the artificial school of Dryden and Pope that they were, as much as possible, separated and regarded as two distinct measures. Their homogeneity was again demonstrated in later days, notably by Coleridge in “Christabel” and Shelley in “The Sensitive Plant.” It is pointed out that even where they blend, the time-value of the two-syllabled units is equal to the time-value of the three-syllabled; and that the former may always be changed to the latter by the insertion of a syllable, and vice versa by the dropping of a syllable. The four-syllabled unit is then discussed, and examples of occasional five-syllabled units given.

Variations in units are then dealt with, such as suppression of stress, where a unit appears with no stress; duplication of stress, where it appears with two stresses; paused stress, where a stress falling in a certain place causes the creation of a unit composed of a pause and a stressed syllable followed by a unit of three syllables—both equal in time-value. Copious examples from Milton and Shakespeare are used in illustration of the various points wished to be made.

The unit in verse is practically what the cell is in the plant—it is the smallest living unit of growth; and as the cell may vary indefinitely in form, so may the unit. The paper is intended to demonstrate the uniformity underlying the variation of the units in poetry.

Fourth Meeting (Additional Meeting): 13th July, 1909.

Present: Mr. Edgar R. Waite, President, in the chair, and seventy others.

New Members.—Messrs. Joshua Little and George H. Parkinson.

Paper.—“On the Radio-activity of the Christchurch Artesian Waters, and some Evidence of its Effect upon Fish,” by C. Coleridge Farr, D.Sc., and D. C. H. Florance, M.A., M.Sc.

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In this paper, which was the special business of the meeting, the authors give an account of some investigations into the radio-activity of the Christchurch artesian system, and find that all the wells examined contain radium emanation in considerable quantities as compared with waters examined by Curie and Laborde (C.R., vol. 142, p. 1464) and others in Europe.

To ascertain whether any effect upon trout was to be ascribed to radium emanation, inquiries were made and experiments conducted which show that the Christchurch water is fatal to a large proportion of healthy fish if these be confined near the outflow from the well; and that in a considerable number of those not dying, pop-eye results. Neither death nor pop-eye supervene if the water has run a short distance in an open channel. Experiments by the authors show that the radium emanation escapes very rapidly from the water. Marsh and Gorham (1904; “Report of the Bureau of Fisheries,” p. 345) ascribe somewhat similar effects to an excess of nitrogen; and an examination (at the request of the authors) of the gases contained in the waters by Mr. G. Gray, F.C.S., shows a slight excess of nitrogen over the saturation amount. The authors contend that it is still an open question. Experiments made by the Acclimatisation Society with the authors show that the death of trout-ova in the hatching-boxes fell off as these were removed further from the well, in a manner similar to the decrease of radium emanation. Further experiments are in progress.

The paper was illustrated with lantern-slides and diagrams, and also with specimens of diseased fish.

A long discussion followed, in which the following took part: the President, Drs. Chilton, Gibson, Moorhouse, Evans, and Talbot, and Messrs. G. Gray and Kuhn.

Fifth Meeting: 5th August, 1909.

Present: Dr. Charles Chilton in the chair, and over a hundred others.

New Member.—Mr. F. S. Oliver.

Mr. Edgar F. Stead then delivered his lecture on “Bird-life in New Zealand.”

First of all he exhibited a number of skins of birds, including those of the kea, sparrow-hawk, and rifléman. He showed, too, the skin of a curlew stilt, the third he had secured in New Zealand. This bird, he stated, bred in the Yenesei Valley, and came here in the summer. The last specimen he obtained was still in its winter plumage. “Here is a knot,” the speaker continued, exhibiting a specimen with a brilliant breast and other conspicuous markings. “He is in his evening dress, which he wears when he goes courting, and it is quite an elaborate get-up.”

After exhibiting and describing the bird-skins, he showed a large number of slides illustrating different phases of bird-life. The first of the slides depicted a colony of terns in the Rakaia River bed. These birds, he said, began to arrive early in October, and finally settled down on the shingle-bank thirty to fifty thousand strong. About the end of October they went up the river to select breeding-grounds. They displayed marvellous discretion in choosing spots not likely to be flooded by freshes in the river. The nests were built of small pebbles of a colour which strongly resembled the tintings of the young. From his own observations, the lecturer concluded that these birds would devour any eggs not in the nests. Another peculiarity was that, while the adult birds contented themselves with “silveries” found in the river, they went out to the sea for sprats for their young: probably the sprats were more nutritious. A picture illustrating the tern's sailing flight was displayed, and the lecturer pointed out the remarkable resemblance of the bird in that attitude to the monoplane.

Keas, he said, inhabited high country, showing a preference for localities with scrubby bush and shingly mountain-slopes. They stayed in dark valleys, and emerged at nights, or when anything excited their curiosity. There was no more inquisitive bird than the kea. He would come within a couple of feet of a stranger, and pick at his boot-laces to see what they were made of. Of all the birds he knew, the kea was the most amusing. Five of these interesting birds he had in captivity would throw up tins merely for the fun of hearing them rattle when they came down again. He also showed a lantern-slide depicting a kea standing on the edge of a rock with a sheer fall of 150 ft., dropping chips and pebbles over the face in an ecstasy of whimsical delight. Another picture showed a male and female kea on top of a stump, and the female scratching her mate's head with her beak.

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One very interesting photograph was that of the rifleman, the smallest of our native birds. So small is it that Mr. Stead had discovered one making a nest in a 2 in. augerhole in a gate-post. The picture showed the female bird just entering the nest, in a hole in the trunk of a large tree.

Several pictures of blue or mountain ducks were shown, the lecturer stating that were they not so tame they would probably be more numerous.

The female sparrow-hawk, he said, displayed extraordinary ferocity in the protection of her young. If any one approached within a hundred yards of her nest she would swoop down at the intruder from a great height. If any one were watching her, she would approach within a foot and mount upwards again; if any one were not watching, however, she would strike at his head with her claws as she passed. The common harrier was much more of a coward, and if disturbed on its nest would utter a protesting squawk and fly away. Mr. Stead showed by specimens which he produced that the female sparrow-hawk was much larger than the male, as was the case with all falcons. In New Zealand there were supposed to be two distinct varieties, and he said he was endeavouring to prove that the larger bird was the female and the smaller the male of the same variety. His largest specimen coincided with the largest dimension given by Buller for the female bird, and his smallest specimen coincided with the smallest dimensions given for the male. He had found two birds of those descriptions mating, and that, to his mind, disposed of the theory that there were two different varieties in New Zealand.

The spotted shag fed entirely at sea, and the speaker entered a protest against the organization of shooting parties which visited the Heads and shot hundreds of old birds, leaving the little ones in the nests to starve. The big black shag built its nest overhanging the water, so that on the slightest alarm the young ones could drop over the side and dive out of harm's way. The adult birds used the same nests year after year, so that in the course of time they became quite prodigious structures. A remarkable series of pictures was shown illustrating the manner in which the young shags clung to branches by their feet, wings, or chins.

The albatros Mr. Stead described as a perfect aeroplane. Once started upon its flight, and provided it made no mistake, it should be able to continue its sailing without once flapping its wings, either against the wind or with it. The remarkable mode of this particular bird's flight was minutely described. It often happened, however, that, owing to the whirls, vortices, and eddy-currents close to the water being so intricate, albatroses, even after years of flight, were baffled and thrown out of their reckoning, and had to flap their wings to counteract the unexpected influences. An excellent photograph of a wandering-albatros was shown, and this was described by the speaker as the long section of a perfect racing-yacht.

The lecture concluded with a series of pictures of native bush. Mr. Stead explained by means of these the haunts and habits of various native birds—from pigeons, which delighted in low berry-bearing scrub furnished with tall trees, to the grebe, which built a floating nest upon the edge of a remote lake or lagoon, and anchored its home to a strand of flax.

A hearty vote of thanks was accorded the lecturer. In seconding the motion, Dr. Cockayne congratulated Mr. Stead upon his extremely accurate account of native bird life and habits. He said it was one of the scandals of our beautiful country that such beautiful birds as the shags (except where there were trout-streams) should be permitted to be destroyed. At Stewart Island, where there were no trout, the beautiful Stewart Island shag was being shot out by pot-hunters. We tried to attract tourists to inspect the wonders of our country, and yet little or nothing was done to protect the native-bird life.

Paper.—“On a Supposed Relation between Atmospheric Carbondioxide and the Development of Plant-surface,” by S. Page.

This paper is an attempt to explain the evolution of leaves as resulting from a gradual decrease in atmospheric CO2.

Taking the percentage of CO2 in air as 0.04, and of carbon in the earth as 0.02, every 8 in. in depth of the earth's crust contains carbon equal to that in the air. The CO2 locked up in Cambrian and later limestones and in fossil vegetable matter exceeds that at present in the atmosphere more than twenty thousand times.

Most of this carbon was probably thrown into the air during the earth's high-temperature period, any carbides formed being oxidized by metallic oxides and silicates; and has been again progressively removed by peat and carbonate formation largely since Cambrian times.

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Any great and continuous change in a vital part of the environment, if not fatal to the organism, if the balance is preserved, must be accompanied by a corresponding change in the organism.

The part of plants mainly concerned in the progressive diminution of CO2 is the surface, and balance might be retained in two ways—(1) by increased effectiveness of a given area as a CO2 collector; (2) by increase of surface-area. The second—increase of plant-surface—is claimed to have occurred.

The earliest-known dominant plants were relatively massive, branchless, and leaf as, with a small ratio of surface to mass. Branching and leaf-development came in gradually. Leafy plants were not dominant till late Carboniferous times, while the present dominant plants are excessively leafy.

Ferns developed considerable surface very early, owing possibly to the large surface necessary to shade-plants in order to collect sufficient light. This factor—deficiency of light—was probably at work long before CO2 became scarce. Hence the early development of surface in ferns.

The subject-matter of the paper was subsequently discussed by Drs. Cockayne and Chilton and Mr. Speight, and the author replied to the criticisms which had been directed against his general conclusions.