Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 42, 1909
– 99 –

Presidential Address.

The following is the presidential address delivered at the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute on the 27th January, 1910, by A. Hamilton, Director Dominion Museum:—

Gontlemen of the Board of Governors,—At our last annual meeting it was decided that in future the Proceedings at our annual meeting should include an opening address by the President for the time being, and, in accordance with this decision, I have the honour to bring before you a few remarkes on the progress of the Institute.

It is not necessary for me deal partioularly with the history of scientific societies in New Zealand, as this has been already done on former occasions, and more especially in a pamphlet compiled by the late Mr. R. Pharazyn, in which he sets forth a short history of the proceedings of the New Zealand Society, which was formed in 1851 at a public meeting hold in the Wellington Athonmum, and which was for its main object the bringing to light of the physical character of the New Zealand group—its natural history, resourceses, and capabilities. It had for its first President His Excellency Sir

– 100 –

George Grey, and a Council consisiting of the leading men of the time in Wellington. This first society had a short existence, and died a natural death on the departure from the colony of its Hon. Secretary, Dr. Ralph, in 1852, and its property passed into the possession of the Provincial Government, and was held by them until 1858, when a new Society was founded, and a nucleus of a museum was organized in the then Provincial Government Buildings.

Little is heard of scientific matters or of the Society until 1865, when the property belonging to the Society was transferred to the Museum then established by the General Government.

In 1867 the New Zealand Society was again reconstituted, and by this time public opinion was recognising that a society of this kind desreved hearty support by the people of the colony. The object as set forth at this date was to advance science, art, and literature, and to assist in the development of the resources of New Zealand; and to study the language, manners, and customs of the Natives of the South Pacific Islands. It was pointed out that the two main objects—that is, the advancement of science and the development of our resources—were intimately connected. “Nature,” it said in one of the newspaper articles on the establishment of a scientific society. “has planted at our feet the means whereby we may, and in time will, make New Zealand a great and prosperous country. Dreams of future prosperity will not be realised without much labour, and foremost in the work must march Science, to teach us where and how we must devote our energies. In the accomplisment of this she will be attaining her grand aim, she will do much towards the development of the resources of the country, and at the same time she will be giving broad of the hungry and carrying happiness to the homes of many weary families. This is no mean task—to call into action the thews and sinews of a class in who lies the strength of the nation, and to draw them to our shores, to make them one with us in the noble task of raising our country. Such is the work awaiting science, and such is the course apparently opening to New Zealand science.”

Even then the time had not arrived for a successful society, and the New Zealand Society became merged into what is known as the Wollington Philosophical Society. Local societies were established in Wellington Auckland, and Canterbury,* and these were affiliated to the New Zealand Institute, established by an Act of the General Assembly in 1867. The New Zealand Institute then became an important scientific organization, and, under the managership of the late Sir James Hector and various Boards of Governors nominated by the affiliated societies, continued to publish an important series of annual volumes, until, in 1903, the Institute was reconstituted as we now have it, and, as we all hope, entered upon a renewed period of activity.

For many years the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute” contained a great majority of papers on scientific subjects relating to natural history, botany, and ethnology of New Zealand, and the pioneers in these branches of science worked under great disadvantages, more especially in the zoological section, as means of communication with other societies and of consulting scientific literature were few and far between.

In addition to his duties as manager of the New Zealand Institute, Sir James Hector was Director of the New Zealand Geological Survey. There was a close and intimate connection between the work of the Geological Survey and the New Zealand Institute.

Other branches of science, such as meteorology and physics, received attention from the members of the Institute, and it may be said that, notwithstanding that the objects of the Institute were “to promote the general study and cultivation of the various branches and departments of art, science, literature, and philosophy,” all branches of science were encouraged, and, as far as possible, assisted in their development.

During the latter portion of the period the various Government Departments began to publish the work of their officers on various scientific subjects, in reports, bulletins, and parliamentary papers. This has greatly developed in recent years, and quite a large body of scientific literature has been issued in the form of parliamentary papers. One may, without any invidous distinctions, specially indicate the report issued by the Marine Department on the results of the trawling expedition, the valuable and practical reports issued by the Lands Department on various botanical subjects, and the important technical publications of the Agricultural Department.

The reconstituted New Zealand Institute, though it did not find a virgin field for observations as it did in the earlior years of its existence, has still many departments of research open to its members, in which there is much hard work to be done, and in which much honour is to be obtained. It has still before it its old ideals, with a greatly the increased opportunity to realise them. It is interested in everything connected with the material welfare of the people of this Dominion and with the resources of the country. The only one of the many avenues into which human industry and human activity is

[Footnote] * The Philosophical Institute of Canterury had been founded in 1862.

– 101 –

directed which is closed to us is politics. At every annual meeting of the representatives it is one of our duties to remember that as Governors of the Institute we should order our proceedings that we may show that we are, as a united whole, working for the progress of science in New Zealand upon sound and well-considered lines. It is more especially the duty of the local societies to be loyal to the Institute in these matters. From geographical circumstances over which we have no control is is not practicable for the Board of Governors to meet together as often as could be desired, but at the annual meeting I hope that sufficient time will be given to the discussion of all matters concerning the management of the Institute.

It will be noticed that the present Act differs from the old one, in which the local societies were affiliated to the New Zealand Institute. By the present Act the societies named are the Institute. By the regulations made by the Board of Governors, however, the local societies are permitted to enjoy the whole management of their affairs. For the future of the Society I have no fear, and, with due care in the administration of its affairs, it will successfully and worthily fill the place to which it as been called in this country.

During the past year there has been an alteration in the form of the annual volume, and a separate publication of the Proceedings has been carried out. The report of the Publication Committee will give you the necessary information as to the financial aspect of the change. With regard to the view taken by the members of the change in form, we shall no doubt hear from the members of the Board. I think, however, there are many benefits which can be claimed as justifying the change. Unfortunately, however, it does not appear that the Publishing Committee have been able to get the printing dono as quickly as they hoped. In connection with this there is the question of the number of the volumes to be printed to be considered. I think it will be found that a smaller issue will be sufficient.

In connection with the scientific publications issued during the year, not under the auspioos of the Institute, must be mentioned the two splendid volumes on the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand, edited by Dr. Chilton, and published by the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury. These are a worthy monument of a well-organized expedition made by the members of the Canterbury Philosophical Institute and others to the southern islands. In every respect the work seems worthy of high praise, and we must, I am sure, admire the courage of the Canterbury Institute in taking upon themselves for a time the financial responsibility for the printing of the work, and I feel sure that before long they will have disposed of the whole edition. The printing of the text and plates is highly creditable to the Government Printing Office.

I also notice in the report of the National Antarctic Expedition, –1904, the magnotic observations published by the Royal Society, and this volume contains some important work from the Christchurch Observatory. Dr. Chree, in his historical notes, makes reference to the great zoal with which Dr. Farr and Mr. Skey entered into the co-operative scheme of observations suggested by the Royal Society, and of the interest and importance of the information which they transmitted. He points out that magnetic stations in the Southern Hemisphere are so few in number that it was particularly useful to obtain so ample a record of observations from Christchurch, which is the nearest observatory to the Antarctic winter quarters of the “Discovery.”

It is satisfactory to learn that Mr. Suter has completed the manuscript of his “Mollusca of New Zealand,” and that steps are now being taken to commence the series of illustrations which is to accompany the volume when published.

The report of the trawling expeditions issued by the Marine Department I have already noticed. It contains a large amount of valuable and reliable information. I should also montion the parliamentary papers by Dr. Cockayne on “Sand-dunos” and on the “Vegetation of Stewart Island” as being excellent up-to-date reports on important matters.

At one of the recent annual meetings I suggested that it was desirable to include in the Proceedings short résumés of papers published in other countries directly affecting New Zealand subjects. I am glad to say a few have been so included. There is, I think, considerable robin for further development in this respect, and any member having the time and opportunity would do good work if he would take this matter under special consideration. Even if he is not an expert in the particular paper that he notices, he might hand it over to some one who is an export in that subject to make an extract or abstract.

Two very important matters appear on the horizon in which we are deeply interested, and concerning which I trust we shall hear more from the members of the Board of Governors during this meeting. The first is the proposed meeting of the British Association in Australia at an early date. If matters are arranged so that this meeting will take

– 102 –

place, it is our duty to do what we can to make the session a success from all points of view, and to heartily co-operate with the Australian societies in this matter. The other point is that before long another British Antarctic expedition will be setting out from the shores of New Zealand to make what we hope may be a final effort to attain the South Pole. I have no doubt that many of us would like to have the New Zealand base of the expedition at Wellington, yet our members at Christchurch have already shown themselves so very keen in this South Polar matter that we have no hesitation in leaving it in their experienced hands, and in assuring them that if we can in any way assist or strengthen their hands we shall be pleased to do so. In connection with this South Polar expedition there is one thing that I think we might consider. The Government of New Zealand showed their hearty appreciation of Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition by making a grant in aid of its funds, which had the cordial approval of the people of New Zealand. It is to be hoped that the Government may see their way to unite with the Australian Colonies in assisting the new enterprise. What I want to say, however, is that I think we ought to represent to the authorities who are organizing the expedition, or request our own Government to do so, that for a great variety of reasons it would be highly desirable to have several lines of soundings taken between the southern portion of New Zealand and the Antarctic Continent—the more the better, in fact—but I would not suggest a large number at first, so long as we have some definite scheme by which the voyage of the expedition and of the relief-ships could be utilised for soundings. I do not know whether the soundings made by the “Nimrod” on her way back have been published yet, but they would be of great interest. If the Canterbury Institute have a special Antarctic Committee, I would recommend the matter to their special notice, if they have not already taken steps to represent the matter to the authorities in the proper quarter.

There are certain points in the New Zealand Institute Act which I think should be carefully considered by the Board of Governors, and I shall suggest later on that the Standing Committee, or a special committee, be asked to consider the questions during the year, and to make a report to the next annual meeting. I do not deem it advisable to instance at the present time the points that I wish considered. It will be probably convenient at the same time to go into the question of the position of two or three incorporated societies whose position is not well defined in some respects.

Coming to the regulations, I have recently made a few suggestions to the Publication Committee with regard to the rearrangement of some of the regulations, and also proposed a few verbal alterations. Section f of the regulations regarding publications provide that each incorporated society will be entitled to receive “a proportional number of copies of the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute to be from time to time fixed by the Board of Governors.” This matter has, so far as I can find, never been dealt with, and the number supplied by the Secretary has been arrived at in another way. I also suggest that inquiries be made as to whether the incorporated societies are strictly complying with the regulations. It will be well to consider whether it can be made possible for the annual reports of the societies to be available at our annual meeting. The date of the meeting is fixed by the Act for the month of January. It seems desirable, therefore, that the societies should have their financial year ending on the 31st December. If this were done, we could have their reports laid before the annual meeting, and they could appear, probably, in the fourth part of the Proceedings for the year to which they belong. I recognise that this would involve a short year in some cases to begin with, but we must consider that the New Zealand Institute as constituted by section 3 of the Act is not a publishing body only, but is the societies themselves, notwithstanding that by Regulation 7 they are allowed to conduct their own affairs. It would be, of course, open to the Institute to pass a resolution that this should be done, but I trust the Governors will endeavour to bring their local Councils to fall in with what I can only consider a reasonable and proper action.

While on the subject of regulations, there is another matter provided for in clause 13 of the Act. This clause says, “All regulations, together with a copy of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, should be laid upon the table of both Houses of Parliament within twenty days of the meeting thereof.” The practice hitherto for the forty-odd years during which this clause has been operative has been to lay upon the table a printed copy of the Transactions containing the printed regulations. I think that the spirit and letter of the clause requires more than this. During the annual meeting of the Board of Governors and the meetings of the Standing Committee held during the year many matters are dealt with and decided which are to all intents and purposes regulations of the society—for instance, during the last twelve months we found it necessary to pass a resolution adopting the old seal of the New Zealand Institute as the seal of the new one, for the purpose of sealing the diplomas of the honorary members. It appears to me that all resolutions of importance affecting the policy of the Society

– 103 –

or the conduct of their business passed during the year should be brought forward at the annual meeting, and those that are considered to be equivalent to the regulations already printed should be printed separately, under the head of new regulations, in the Proceedings, after the existing regulations, and year by year included in the Transactions to be laid upon the table of both Houses of Parliament in the usual way. It is true that many of them that are held equivalent to regulations are duly set forth in various parts of the Proceedings, but together with these are resolutions granting exchanges of publications, resolution that a certain society be placed on the list of exchanges, and other matters of ephemeral interest.

You will have before you the report of the Hector Memorial Fund, and I trust that you will be able to co-operate with other committees for the future administration and investment of the fund. When this is done it would, I think, be desirable to print in a special form the regulations under the Hutton Memorial Research Fund and the similar conditions for the Hector Memorial Fund, for the benefit of students and others who may apply to the Board of Governors for grants. With regard to the Hutton Fund, as you are aware, the three gentlemen asked to act in awarding the Hutton Memorial Medal have consented to do so, but I cannot find that there is any provision as to when the first award is to be made. It is provided by the first regulation that it shall not be awarded more than once in three years; and then, apparently, the Board of Governors may not accept the award of the committee unless they are unanimously of the opinion that the contribution for which the medal is awarded is really deserving of the honour. Therefore, I should imagine it will be necessary for the Board of Governors to inform the committee when they wish the first award to be made. I do not notice in the Transactions for 1908 the regulations of the Hutton Memorial Medal and Research Fund, but Resolution 8 provides that they should be published annually in the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.”

Under the old Act the Geological Survey of this country was very closely connected with the New Zealand Institute, and naturally all the older members of the Institute are deeply interested in the progress of geological work in the Dominion. We therefore look with great interest on the series of bulletins being issued by the Mines Department, which record the work of the Directors and officers of the new Survey. In connection with this matter, I feel sure that the members of the Institute will agree with me in sending our good wishes to Mr. A McKay, the veteran geologist of the old Survey, who has recently retired from the Government service after long and arduous labour in the field. The enormous collections of the old Survey have been under revision, and are now in a condition in which they may be brought together for examination and description by experts. This long-delayed work is urgently needed, and the necessity for action in this matter was recognised by the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science at its meeting in Dunedin. I have recently written a paper setting forth the present position of New Zealand palæontology, and I believe it will shortly appear in the Transactions. When copies of the paper are available, I intend to submit it to all those interested in the matter, and then we may be able to again press the claims of the subject on the proper authorities.

There is one more subject on which I feel I should say a few words, and it is a subject in which I am more particularly interested—the exploration of the islands of the South Pacific, and the study of their ethnology. It is not the first time, by any means, in which the desirability of making a properly organized attack upon the subject has been brought forward, and although many expeditions have been planned, and although many enthusiastic collectors and explorers have been at work, there is still room for work in all branches of the subject. There was a time when I hoped that it might have been attempted by New Zealand scientists. This was at the time when practically the whole of the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific might have been brought under the control of New Zealand. Since then, however, things have altered, and many opportunities have been lost. If, as is shown by the publications recently issued by the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury, there is much interesting natural history and physical geography of the southern islands, there is evidently a much more interesting series of volumes to be written on the Natives and natural history and geology of our northern islands—that is, those groups which have been of recent years definitely included in the area of the Dominion of New Zealand. It is true that this requires the work of experienced linguists and ethnologists in addition to those experienced in natural science, but we should have no difficulty in finding several members of the Institute well qualified to undertake the task.

Whilst thus pointing out a special field of research lying almost at our doors, it may not be inopportune to call attention to suggestions that have been made as to the recognition by our New Zealand University of the claims that Polynesian philology and ethnology have to be included in the teaching offered by the University Colleges.

– 104 –

Already, as pointed out, the Maori language is a matriculation subject, and I, for one, hope that the Senate may be brought to see that the Governments of England and other countries are fast recognising that where the Governments of dependencies of the British Empire have to do with alien races it is of paramount importance that the rulers should study and have a good working knowledge of the language, manners, and customs of the people that they have to govern. It is for the Senate and the Government to see that our young students are not placed at a disadvantage by the lack of opportunity to study this important subject.

In conclusion, I feel that, instead of dwelling upon matters closely connected with the work of the Institute, I should probably have been trying to present to you a summary of the recent advances in the world of science, and to point out to you the real benefits conferred on the human race by our increased knowledge—to recognise, in fact, that our onward progress in the sciences is always towards raising and bettering the lives of those around us, to finally become the heritage of those who follow us in the chain of life.

I remember many presidential addresses which have greatly aided me and others by pointing out subjects for research in such a way that we thought no more of the toil and the unyielding patience required in our work, but only of the high aims and possibilities and of the ultimate unity and full relationship of all knowledge.

Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

It is not for me, however, to speak in such a strain to the Governors of this Institute; but I can take the opportunity to urge them to continue without weariness to give their help, counsel, and encouragement to the members of the Institute, that they may be inspired to labour earnestly in the pursuit of truth, and that they may thus be led on to make new discoveries for the benefit of mankind. For, notwithstanding the accumulated knowledge of nature's laws, and of their application to our needs, which the world now possesses—thanks to the work of those great men, past and present, who have devoted themselves to the cause of science, and for the result of whose labours the world cannot be too thankful—still, what Newton calls “the vast ocean of truth” lies practically unexplored around us. Every item of knowledge we obtain only shows us how much more there is to know; and, while many departments of human life and interest may always remain beyond the power of man to fathom, the possibilities disclosed by recent discoveries are such as to suggest that the future may have in store discoveries still more startling and brilliant, in the light of which our knowledge of to-day will appear but pale and dim in the eyes of posterity.