Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 44, 1911
This text is also available in PDF
(499 KB) Opens in new window
– 75 –

Presidential Address.

The following is the presidential address delivered at the annual meeting of the Board of Governors of the New Zealand Institute at Christchurch, 28th January, 1912, by Mr. T. F. Cheeseman, F.L.S., F.Z.S., Curator of the Auckland Museum:—

Gentlemen Of The Board Of Governors,—It is clearly my first duty, as it is my sincere pleasure, to express my cordial thanks for the confidence you have shown in placing me in the responsible and honourable position of your President. And although I fear that this confidence is not so well founded as it should be, and although I am fully sensible of many shortcomings and deficiencies, I feel assured that I can rely on the cordial co-operation and support and the lenient judgment of the members of this Board. But for this belief I should indeed have hesitated before assuming duties and responsibilities for the discharge of which I possess no special qualifications.

Before proceeding to address you in reference to the work and progress of the Institute, it is my painful duty to advert for a few moments to the loss science has sustained through the death of Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, the greatest of British botanists, the senior honorary member of this Institute, and the man who above all others has left the most enduring mark on the history of science in New Zealand. This is neither the time nor the place to offer a formal eulogy on one who for more than seventy years was an active worker in the field of botanical science, and whose contributions thereto are renowned throughout the whole world. All I can do here is to make some general remarks on his life and career, with special reference to their connection with New Zealand.

In 1839, Hooker, then a young man of twenty-two, left England as assistant surgeon and botanist to the Antarctic expedition of Sir J. C. Ross. During this memorable voyage, which lasted nearly four years, he collected the material and made the observations which after his return enabled him to prepare the “Flora Antarctica,” the “Flora of New Zealand,” and the “Flora of Tasmania.” The six volumes comprising these works would alone have made the reputation of any naturalist; and upon them, as a broad and secure foundation, rests all subsequent work on the botany of the temperate portion of the Southern Hemisphere. Every New Zealand botanist owes a debt of gratitude for these magnificent volumes, wonderful in point of view of accuracy, originality of treatment, and fullness of detail. And the subsequently issued “Handbook of the New Zealand Flora,” in which Hooker included all fresh matter received up to the time of publication, made no inconsiderable addition to the already heavy load of indebtedness.

Hooker's other botanical work has not the same intimate connection with New Zealand, although its magnitude and importance are indisputable. All I need mention here are his memoirs on Nepenthes, Welwitschia, and Balanophora; his papers and addresses on geographical distribution; his monumental “Flora of British India”; and, in co-operation with Mr. Bentham, the invaluable “Genera Plantarum.” A full list of his contributions to systematic botany would fill many pages.

As Director of Kew, Hooker was able to use his unequalled knowledge of plants and great powers of organization to the very best advantage. The gardens were raised to a level never before attained, and were made the centre of the botanical work of the Empire, and the means of transmitting plants of economic value to all parts of the world. It has been well said that his connection with Kew added another great reputation to the great reputations he had already built up.

Whatever honours the scientific world could offer, those Sir Joseph Hooker has received. A member of almost all the chief learned societies in the world, the recipient of medals and decorations too numerous to particularize, the honour of knighthood, and the distinction of being selected as one of the first holders of the Order of Merit: it cannot be said that his labours have been without recognition. But his scientific work is the best monument to his memory, and will assuredly carry his name down to future ages. At the close of this address I propose to ask you to pass a resolution expressing our sense of the great and serious loss science has sustained in his death.

On the 30th January, 1908, the Board of Governors resolved that at each annual meeting the President should deliver an address. No theme or subject is particularized in the motion; but as the meeting is held primarily for business purposes, and

– 76 –

consequently must be largely concerned with the work performed by the Institute during the year, and must also take into consideration its financial position, it is obvious that it is the duty of the President to give those explanations that are necessary for a full knowledge of the doings of the society, and for the proper comprehension of its finances. I therefore propose to deal with these two matters first of all; after which I shall pass to some general considerations respecting the present position of the Institute and the various incorporated societies.

At the present time the chief work of the Institute lies in the publication of the annual volume of Transactions. I may therefore appropriately commence what I have to say with some brief remarks in reference to the volume—the forty-third of the series—which has been issued during the year. As members are aware, the Proceedings, although still separately issued, are now also bound up with the Transactions at the end of the year. The Transactions proper contain 680 pages and 32 plates (in addition to numerous figures in the text); the Proceedings extend to 128 pages. The entire volume thus comprises 808 pages, and is the largest single volume that has yet been issued by the Institute. In the previous year (1909) the Transactions covered 645 pages, and the separate Proceedings 160. In addition, two lengthy papers stretching over 104 pages were printed separately as Bulletins, the total publications for the year thus occupying no less than 909 pages.

I think it can be said that the recent volume of Transactions compares favourably with any of its predecessors. We all recognize that mere size has nothing to do with the value of any scientific publication; but an examination of the volume will prove to any unprejudiced observer that the quantity of matter contained in it has in no way depreciated in quality, and that the standard of merit of the various papers or memoirs is, on the whole, somewhat higher than in previous years. Personally, I think that one or two of the longer communications would have gained in value by judicious condensation; and I am inclined to doubt the expediency of admitting two others of great length and of a very different character from those usually printed. But these are minor matters and do not affect the value of the Transactions as a whole. I consider that the Editor and Publication Committee have discharged their duties in an efficient and admirable manner and deserve the hearty approval of the Board.

The index to the first forty volumes of the Transactions, first authorized at the meeting of the Board held on the 30th January, 1908, has been completed and printed. It has been compiled by Mr. Riddick, of the Government Printing Office, and consists of two parts—the first an index of authors, the second a classified catalogue of papers. The total cost of preparation and printing has been a little under £100. Those who have frequent occasion to use the Transactions will find the index a great convenience, and I am much surprised to hear that but few copies have been sold.

The report of the Publication Committee, which will be duly placed before you, contains several important suggestions, which will doubtless receive the careful consideration of the Board. I would particularly draw attention to a recommendation to the effect that theses for honours degrees should be pruned of all superfluous matter before being published in the Transactions. Most of us can recall instances where a regulation to the above effect would have been productive of much advantage.

In this place I regret to announce that in October Dr. Chilton resigned his position as Honorary Editor, on account of an approaching visit to Europe. With my concurrence, the Publication Committee arranged with Mr. R. Speight to act as Editor until the matter could be discussed by the Board.

I will now offer some remarks on the financial position of the Institute, which, I regret to say, is causing great anxiety to those who have the management of its affairs. Without entering into details, which will be found in the balance-sheet shortly to be placed before you. I will state that the amount to credit at the present time is about £390. Against this must be placed the sum due to the Government Printer for last year's Transactions and Proceedings, amounting to £545. The Institute is thus practically in debt to the extent of £155. Now, the reason for this very undesirable state of affairs is perfectly plain, and is doubtless known to all of you. It is simply due to the enlargement of the Transactions, to the separate issue and great amplification of the Proceedings, and to the occasional printing of Bulletins. If we inquire into the cost of the Transactions for the six years between 1902 and 1907 inclusive we shall find that it ranges from £350 to £480, the average being £414. If we take the three volumes of the new series—that is, Vols. 41 to 43 —with their attendant publications, the result can be given as follows: Cost of Vol. 41, £441 9s. 3d.; of Vol. 42, £699 12s.; of Vol. 43, £545; the average for the three years being £565. In short, the average cost of the Transactions for the last three years is greater by £151 per annum than the average cost of printing the volume for the previous six years.

– 77 –

From the above it is evident that if the publications of the Institute are to be issued in a style comparable to that of the previous three years, then additional funds must be obtained. An increase in the statutory grant payable by Parliament would solve all difficulties and enable the Institute to print its Transactions in a proper and creditable manner. The present grant of £500 per annum dates from 1868, when the circumstances of the colony were very different from what they are now, and when the entire membership of the Institute amounted to only 178. At the present time there are no less than nine incorporated societies, all actively engaged in carrying out the objects of the Institute, each in accordance with its local requirements, and possessing a total membership of not less than 1,000. Their growth has naturally been accompanied by increased duties and responsibilities, which tax their resources to the utmost; but all such demands have been cheerfully met. On the other hand, notwithstanding the lapse of forty-five years and the altogether changed conditions, the Government grant is the same as in 1868. It is only reasonable that the subsidy should be made more proportionate to the amount raised by private subscription by the incorporated societies and expended on the purposes of the Institute.

During the last session of Parliament an attempt was made to induce the Government to enlarge the grant, but, from a variety of causes, no satisfactory result was obtained. Another application is now being made, which I trust will prove more successful. I would suggest that this meeting should consider what steps ought to be taken to support the proposal. The affiliated societies can exercise considerable influence on members of Parliament, and a concerted attempt, if carefully organized, would probably prove successful. In the meantime I should recommend that as large a portion as possible of the Government Printer's account should be paid, and that the rest should stand over until the fate of the application is known, or possibly until the receipt of the grant for this year.

The report of the Standing Committee, shortly to be placed before you, suggests certain savings in the expenditure, and alludes to a possible levy on the funds of the affiliated societies. I am strongly of opinion that such a course is altogether inadvisable, and should only be adopted as a last resource after all other plans have failed. It is to the affiliated societies that we must look for the progress of the Institute. They provide the material for the annual volume, they carry out the work of the Institute in their separate districts, and they have in most cases entered into obligations which absorb the whole of their income. To levy contributions upon them is to arrest progress and create dissatisfaction, without effecting any permanent improvement in the position of the Institute.

The separate publication of the Proceedings, and their great enlargement, are responsible for much of the increase in our printing bill. Most of us will cordially welcome the improvements in the Transactions proper; but I think it will be difficult, under present circumstances, to justify the additional expenditure on the Proceedings. After all, a considerable part of the material printed therein is of ephemeral value. Five years hence few people will be interested in the doings at the meetings of the various branches of the Institute, provided that all papers of permanent value are published in the Transactions. Something can be said in favour of printing notices of scientific memoirs relating to New Zealand published outside the Dominion, but even in that case there is little necessity for lengthy abstracts, the main point being to draw attention to the memoir, and to state where it can be seen in the Dominion. As for the publication of short papers in the Proceedings, if such possess any permanent value, they ought to form part of the Transactions, to which they properly belong, and where they would be naturally sought for. If, as appears to be the case, the funds at the disposal of the Institute are insufficient to print both Transactions and Proceedings in the style now being followed, then it is clearly with respect to the latter that retrenchment should take place.

Leaving the financial position of the society, there are still one or two matters upon which some remarks may be expected. In the first place, I have to announce that a branch of the Institute has been formed at Wanganui, and that you will be called upon to sanction its incorporation, the preliminary steps for which have been taken by the Standing Committee. Wanganui has already shown marked activity in scientific matters, as is evidenced by the establishment of a public Museum and the foundation of a small astronomical observatory. I am sure you will join with me in welcoming the new Wanganui Institute and assuring it of our good wishes for its future success

While on the subject of the incorporated societies I ought, perhaps, to state that it is doubtful how far two of the number are complying with the regulations of the Institute. Notice of a motion on the subject has been given by Mr. Hamilton, and I trust that it will receive the careful consideration of the Board.

– 78 –

You are aware that the British Association is to meet in Australia towards the close of 1914, and that the New Zealand Government has very liberally voted the sum of £2,000 to cover the cost of bringing over a party of members from Australia after the close of the meeting, together with another party of well-known scientists from the United States and Canada. A supplementary meeting will then be held in New Zealand. Although it is almost certain that an arrangement will be made on the above lines, it is probable that the details will not be available until the close of 1913 or beginning of 1914. In the meantime, a reception committee has been formed, on which there is a full representation of the New Zealand Institute.

A few more words and I have finished. It is now nearly forty-five years since the New Zealand Institute Act became law and the Institute itself sprang into being. Although only a raw youth at the time, I was one of the original members; and I may perhaps be pardoned if I make a very few remarks on the growth of the Institute, its position at the present time, and what its aims should be in the future. I have never inquired as to who drafted the original New Zealand Institute Act, or who framed the first regulations issued under it; but whoever did so showed great foresight, and great knowledge of the springs of human action. He clearly recognized that the geographical configuration of the colony would effectually prevent the growth of one large centre like Sydney or Melbourne dominating and dwarfing all others, and that in its place there would be several widely separated towns, not far removed from one another, however, in size, in trade, and in relative importance. He therefore provided that the Institute should consist of distinct affiliated bodies. And as it was apparent that different portions of the colony would develop in different directions and under different circumstances, it naturally followed that the aims and objects of the various branches would be equally diverse. Hence the adoption of the important rule that the affiliated societies shall be entitled to retain or alter their own constitution, and shall conduct their own affairs. They are practically independent societies, bound together for the performance of a few common duties, but otherwise free to develop in any direction they may wish. Mr. Asquith, the Prime Minister of England, in a speech delivered at the time of the Imperial Conference, said that the problem to be solved in dealing with Imperial Federation was how to reconcile perfect autonomy with co-operation. I submit that forty-five years ago that question was settled so far as the scientific societies of New Zealand were concerned.

Two societies—the Wellington Philosophical Society and the Auckland Institute—were founded in 1868, within a few months of the passing of the Act. In the first year of their existence the members' roll numbered 178, the total revenue of the two societies being about £180. Five years afterwards, or in 1873, the number of societies had increased to five, with a membership of 563. At the present time there are nine incorporated societies, and the members' roll can be safely estimated at 1,000. The revenue derived from members' subscriptions exceeds of £1,000, being thus double the amount of the Government grant. So far as mere membership is concerned, there is no reason to be dissatisfied with the progress of the Institute.

The primary object of the Institute was originally defined as being “to promote the cultivation of the various branchès of art, science, literature, and philosophy.” If it be asked what the Institute has done in the direction thus indicated, I should reply that a plain and sufficient answer is written on the pages of the forty-three volumes of the Transactions. I need not tell you that the Transactions contain an immense amount of information relating to the natural history, geology, physiography, and resources of the Dominion. No one can now study the flora or fauna of the Dominion or undertake any investigation of a scientific nature respecting it, without frequent reference to the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute.” In short, as a repository and storehouse of information of a scientific and semi-scientific character relating to New Zealand the Transactions are unequalled, and in that respect alone have fully justified the formation of the Institute and the yearly subsidy granted by the Government.

If an inquiry be made as to the work done by the affiliated societies apart from the Transactions, an equally satisfactory reply can be given. Perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words in reference to the four leading branches of the Institute. In Canterbury we have a society surrounded by numerous local institutions tolerably well provided for. It has thus been able to confine its energies to the proper business of a scientific society, and in so doing has performed work of very great value. In proof of this I need only mention its enterprise in publishing Hutton's “Fauna Novæ Zealandiæ” and the Subantarctic reports. The Otago Institute follows very much the same lines, but in its recent formation of astronomical and technological branches is opening up an entirely new avenue of usefulness. In Auckland the Institute has undertaken the maintenance of the Auckland Museum, a work which taxes its resources to the utmost, and will do so for many years to come. It has,

– 79 –

however, succeeded in obtaining the hearty co-operation of the citizens, as is proved by the fact that nearly £20,000 has been either bequeathed or subscribed by private liberality for the endowment or advancement of the Museum. The Wellington Philosophical Society, if I may be allowed to say so, lags behind a little, and does not show a membership as numerous as should be the case in the capital city of the Dominion. This is much to be regretted, for it is to the Wellington Society that we must look for some local movement which will result in obtaining a permanent home for the library of the New Zealand Institute, and in rendering it available for the use of students.

As for the future, it lies in the hands of the affiliated societies. They are the Institute; their members prepare the papers to be published in the Transactions; their delegates form a majority of the Board of Governors; in their separate districts they keep alive the interest in the Institute. I see no reason why the Institute should not advance as well and as regularly in the future as in the past, provided that one little matter is kept in mind. It is this: Let the affiliated societies alone; make no attempt to tighten the framework which binds them together; avoid even the appearance of interfering with their local freedom. To again quote Mr. Asquith's words, our motto should be “Perfect autonomy, with co-operation”