Henry Suter, 1841–1918.
With the issue of the twenty-second volume of the Transactions a new star rose on the conchological world. For here, under a name hitherto unknown, appeared a series of excellent descriptions of small land-shells, illustrated with unusually clear and detailed drawings by the same hand. In continuation an account followed of the jaws and radula of various minute snails. This very difficult work was beautifully done.
These contributions, signed “H. Suter,” were warmly welcomed by a little band of zoological research workers in Australasia. In answer to inquiries as to who our new comrade was, Captain Hutton replied that he was a Swiss, lately arrived in New Zealand with introductions from well-known European zoologists.
Henry Suter was born on the 9th March, 1841, and was the son of a prosperous silk-manufacturer of Zurich. He was educated at the local school and university, being trained as an analytical chemist. He joined the business of his father, and for some years engaged in various commercial pursuits.
From his boyhood he was deeply interested in natural history. He enjoyed the friendship and help of such men as Dr. August Forel, Professor Paul Godet, the brothers de Saussure, Escher von der Linth, and especially the well-known conchologist Dr. Albert Mousson.
Partly to improve his financial prospects and partly lured by the attraction of the fauna of a new country, Suter resolved to emigrate to New Zealand. It was the last day of the year 1886 when with his wife and a family of young children he landed in New Zealand.
He began his colonial career by taking up a remote selection in the Forty-mile Bush, in the Wairarapa district. It is only in a story that a middle-aged townsman can ever turn backwoodsman with success, and so after about a year Suter relinquished the hard and hopeless struggle.
At this critical time Captain Hutton, always a firm friend to zoologists, succeeded in obtaining for his protégé a post as assistant manager at the Mount Cook Hermitage. Subsequently work was available at the Canterbury Museum. After that, at one or another of the scientific institutions of New Zealand Suter spent the remainder of his life at congenial employment.
Henry Suter was an expert collector. He excelled in taking the minutest land-shells, to find which requires knowledge, patience, and the sharpest eyes. Specialists in other groups were often supplied by Suter with valuable material In Switzerland he had formed a fine collection of European land and fresh-water shells. This was afterwards acquired by the Australian Museum.
For several years Suter restricted his studies to the terrestrial and fluviatile Mollusca of his adopted country. When his work on these approached completion he proposed to extend his investigations to land Mollusca abroad. Hence his scattered papers on land Mollusca from Brazil, South Africa, and Tasmania. His friends, however, persuaded him that science would be better served if he relinquished the foreign shells and transferred his attention to the marine Mollusca of New Zealand. Not only did he take this course, but he finally embraced the Tertiary Mollusca also in his sphere of operations.
Glancing over his papers, it is apparent that his writings were largely modelled on those of his distinguished predecessor, Captain Hutton. It was indeed fortunate that the work of the one should have succeeded that of the other without the intervention of what the geologists describe as an unconformity. Perhaps at no time did Suter quite realize the undiscovered residue of the fauna on which he worked. In his various reviews and revisions and supplements he wrote as if he had in hand if not all at least almost all the species of the area under examination.
Patience, perseverance, and concentration, rather than any great breadth of view, were his characteristics. His magnum opus, the Manual of the New Zealand Mollusca,* was approached by a whole quarter-century of study and labour.
It was the late Mr. Augustus Hamilton who planned the Manual, and obtained from the Government the means for its production.
A competent critic wrote† of this magnificent volume that it made an extraordinary advance in Antipodean conchology. The nomenclature of the subject was raised to a modern standard, so that by its guidance any one can now correctly name the shells of New Zealand. Suter needs no other eulogy than his Manual.
After the Manual was completed he was engaged by the Geological Survey to describe collections of Tertiary Mollusca gathered by the Department. On this he was busy for the remainder of his life, and the results are embodied in three Palaeontological Bulletins of the Geological Survey.
After a brief illness Henry Suter passed away at his home in Christchurch on the 30th July, 1918.
[Footnote] * Published in 1913–15.
[Footnote] † Journ. of Conch., vol. 14, p. 287, 1915.