Go to National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa
Volume 52, 1920
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Major Thomas Broun, 1838–1919.

Major Thomas Broun, a member of an old titled Scottish family, was born in Edinburgh on the 15th July, 1838, and died in Auckland on the 24th August, 1919. Both his father and an uncle (Captain Thomas Broun) were naturalists of considerable repute in their day, and no doubt it was from them that he inherited his scientific tastes.

Intended for the Army, he was educated by a private tutor in Edinburgh, and received his first commission at the age of sixteen, during the Crimean War. After the close of that war he accompanied his regiment (the 35th Royal Sussex Infantry) to Burma. Here the large size and brilliant colours of many of the tropical insects attracted his attention, and he commenced to form a collection for the British Museum. But the outbreak of the Indian. Mutiny in May, 1857, put an end to this project, and his regiment was despatched to Calcutta. Immediately on arrival it was sent to succour the French settlement of Chandernagore, whose existence was then threatened by a large body of mutineers; and for services rendered during this expedition he many years afterwards received the distinction of Knight of the Legion of Honour. He served in India during the whole period of the Mutiny. He was present at the assault and capture of Delhi, at the relief of Lucknow, and was attached to Lord Clyde's main force through most of his campaigns. He received the Indian Mutiny medal and other decorations. Towards the close of 1861 he was struck down with cholera, and narrowly escaped death. He was invalided home in 1862, and retired from the Army in the same year.

In 1863 he married, and after a brief stay in Scotland emigrated to New Zealand. He brought with him letters of introduction from the Duke of Hamilton to Sir George Grey, who at once offered him a commission as Captain in the 1st Waikato Regiment, then being formed for service during the Maori War. He served through the whole of the war, partly in the Waikato and partly on the East Coast, and was awarded the New Zealand medal. Shortly afterwards he took up land in the Opotiki district, and remained there for some years. His attempts at farming, however, did not prove remunerative, and on the advice of the Hon. Colonel Haultain, who, as Defence Minister, was well acquainted with him, he in 1876 accepted educational work under the Auckland Board of Education, and remained in the service of the Board until 1888. He was appointed Government Entomologist in 1890, a post which he held for several years.

Major Broun's active work in New Zealand entomology commenced immediately after the close of the Maori War, and continued to within a few weeks of his death. Although he collected a considerable number of Hemiptera and Orthoptera for various correspondents, and had a good working knowledge of most other families, his chief efforts were always devoted to the Coleoptera. When the writer first met him, in 1875, he stated his desire to prepare a general work on the New Zealand species, and described the preparations he had already made in amassing material and obtaining works of reference. A few years later he applied to the Auckland Institute for assistance in publishing his work. The Institute, having no funds that it could devote to such a purpose, forwarded his application to Sir James Hector, as Director of the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey. After some little delay the publication of the work

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was authorized, and it appeared in 1880. An opinion given by Captain Hutton to Sir James Hector may be appropriately quoted here: “I regard this as a most excellent work, containing 1,140 species, a large part of which are described for the first time. No country outside Europe and the United States has produced such a catalogue.” Sir James Hector refers to it as “a monument of the zeal and industry of an ardent naturalist.”

The publication of the Manual not only spurred the author to renewed efforts, but brought to the front collectors in all parts of the Dominion. Five supplementary parts were issued between 1881 and 1893. Seven memoirs of considerable length appeared in volumes 41 to 45 of the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute, while six Bulletins have since been separately printed. In these publications the author has increased the 1,140 species of the Manual to 3,979; and it is understood that much additional manuscript remains in the hands of the Institute. There are few countries, if any, where a single individual has so fully and completely described a branch of the fauna equivalent in numbers to that of the Coleoptera of New Zealand:

Major Broun devoted himself to his work with a conscientious single-mindedness, and with inexhaustible energy; and it was not until he had long passed the ordinary span of life that he knew what it was to be tired either in body or in mind. As for his character, he was mainly distinguished by being thoroughly honest and outspoken; and, from his naturally independent spirit and bearing, he was sometimes misunderstood. He had a warm and feeling heart, and to his friends he was a genial companion, full of anecdotes, which he often related with much felicity of expression.

T. F. Cheeseman.