[Delivered at the Annual Meeting at Wellington on May 27, 1937, by the Right Reverend Bishop H. W. Williams, M.A., Litt.D. (Cantab. and N.Z.), F.R.S.N.Z.]
I Must again thank the Vice-President and the Standing Committee for their help and support during my term of office.
I have to welcome two new members of the Council—Dr. G. H.Cunningham and Prof. E. R. Hudson—the former of whom is evidence of the revivification of the Manawatu Society. I would like, in this connexion, to express my appreciation of the valuable services rendered to the Society by Mr. M. A. Eliott, who has been our Honorary Treasurer for the last sixteen years, during which he has devoted himself wholeheartedly to the furtheranec of the interests of the Society, which has benefited greatly by his experience and advice. I much regret that he is no longer an official member of the Council, but I have taken the liberty of inviting him to attend this meeting in order that he may be able to answer any questions which might arise upon the reports and accounts which he is presenting to us. I am not without hope that means may be devised whereby the Society may continue to enjoy the benefit of his services as Treasurer.
During the year past we have lost two Fellows of the Society Dr. R. J. Tillyard, F.R.S., who has been a Fellow since 1929, was formerly an ordinary member of the Society and since 1935 an Honorary Member. His death is a loss to the world of science, in which he had made a name for himself. Mr. E. Phillips Turner, whose death occurred last week, was elected to a Fellowship last year. He was a member of the Wellington Philosophical Society, and was an authority on New Zealand Forestry.
Of our ordinary members I would mention Sir Frederick Chapman, a former President of the Otago Institute, of which he became a member in 1872. He was the author of a notable paper on the Working of Greenstone, and of others on various subjects; Mr. H. K. Wilkinson was also for 60 years a member and a former President of the same Institute; Sir Francis Bell and Mr. C. H. Treadwell were members of the Wellington Philosophical Society; Mr. A. J.Entrican and Mr. L. T. Griffin were members of the Auckland Institute, the latter was Assistant Director of the Auckland Museum.
I have much pleasure in congratulating Dr. J. E. Holloway on being elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.
The Report of the Standing Committee has made you familiar with the progress of the Society during the year. I would like to make some observations upon one subject which is dealt with in that Report, namely the Carter Bequest. I will sketch very shortly the history of the Bequest.
Mr. C. R. Carter died in July, 1896, making the New Zealand Institute trustees of his residuary estate, amounting to £2240, to be held as the nucleus of a fund to establish, equip, and maintain the staff of an astronomical observatory in or near Wellington; and the testator expressed the hope that the fund would be augmented by private and public donations. It is obvious that without such augmentation nothing worthy of support could be done; and the Council of the Society invested the money and allowed it to accumulate. This policy has, from time to time, called forth much criticism both from within and without the Society, and since 1920 the Bequest has been the subject of much deliberation and activity on the part of the Council and Standing Committee. Resolutions have been passed, committees set up, reports considered, conferences held with the City Council, the Government and others, legal opinions obtained, and the result has been a considerable amount of friction—at times developing heat—and the incurring by the Society of no little obloquy. In my opinion the Society has been unjustly blamed. The terms of the Trust, while very wide, are in some respects distressingly vague. The testator imposed no conditions as to the time in which the proposed observatory was to be erected, nor did he indicate the magnitude of the scheme which he had in mind; and the Trustees could only offer such solutions of these questions as satisfied themselves. After about a year's quiescence, interest in the bequest was revived last year by the circulation of a foolish rumour that the Council proposed to give such an interpretation to the expression “near Wellington” as would allow them to erect an observatory in Central Otago. This led to representations being made to the Government—and, as you are now aware, a further conference has been held and this has resulted in the proposals now before you, which you will presently be invited to discuss. I commend this scheme to your favourable consideration. It provides for the absorption in buildings and equipment of about half of the £12,000 now available, to meet which the City Council will provide a site and a 9in telescope, while the Government and the city together will be responsible for the maintenance, while the balance of the fund will be held available for further development. It is proposed that the institution should be under the control of a Board to be set up by statute, on which the Society should have representation and the Society as such would be relieved of any further burden or responsibility in the matter. If you give, as I hope you will, your approval to this scheme the necessary legislation will be introduced by the Government. And it is hoped that with the equipment proposed an observatory will be founded in which something more than mere amateur stargazing will be carried on. This I imagine to have been the wish of the testator.
Another matter demanding your attention is the treatment of the medals. Several suggestions are before you and it will be necessary to decide which of these shall be adopted.
The other questions dealt with in the Report require no comment from me.
I have heard from time to time adverse criticism passed upon the Transactions of the Society. The criticism which has reached me takes mainly one of two forms—one that the papers are too technical and the other that there is not sufficient variety in the subjects treated. The answer to the first of these is simple. If a paper is to be of value to the scientific reader it must of necessity be technical. We would like to encourage readers of the Transactions, but mere popularity is not a legitimate aim for such a Society as this. Popularity may more properly be courted in lectures delivered under the aegis of the Society. The second point is not so easily met. What should be the scope of the papers admitted into the Transactions? The various Acts governing its constitution are surprisingly vague as to the objects of the Society. The Title of the present Act speaks of us as “a Body for the Promotion of Science,” former Acts added “and Art,” and our field of operations would appear to be limited solely by our interpretation of the word “Science.” This Council is empowered under the Act to arrange for meetings for the reading of papers and delivery of lectures in pursuance of the object of the Society. In actual fact all activities of this nature are discharged by the Member Bodies of the Society. It may be worth consideration whether the Council should not, itself, or through its Standing Committee, take some definite action in the direction indicated. All that the Standing Committee does at present is to decide whether or not a paper which has been read before a Member Society shall be printed in the Transactions of the Society. This has, apparently, been the continuous practice since the foundation of the Institute in 1867.
In order to test the validity of the complaint that the papers now finding place in the volume of Transactions are of less general interest than formerly, it will be necessary to review the nature of the papers which have, from time to time, been admitted.
It is not surprising to find that the bulk of the volumes was for many years taken up with papers treating the country, its geology, flora, fauna and inhabitants. It is natural that as time goes on the general treatment of these subjects will tend to exhaust itself, and the papers will become more technical. “The noblest study of mankind is man,” and many papers in the early volumes were devoted to the Maori, his history and his habits. The foundation of the Polynesian Society in 1892 has largely deprived us of this source of supply. In 1918 the Government set up the Board of Science and Art with functions overlapping, in some respects, those of this Society and the publication by that Board of the Journal of Science and Technology has offered an outlet for writers of papers of a more popular character which would probably have been admitted into
our Transactions. These and other similar happenings have tended to restrict the range of subjects dealt with by our contributors. Of the subjects most frequently appearing in the early volumes the Maori accounted for 140 papers, while the moa was the subject of no fewer than 88. In view of the developments mentioned above the falling off in these subjects might have been expected, and it is easy to understand why papers on Education, Engineering, Medicine and Trade now seldom appear in our lists, but there is no apparent reason why such subjects as Metaphysics and Literature, to mention two of many, should cease to move our members to write. Is the fault in our writers ? Looking over the names of early contributors, we find many who were surprisingly versatile and prolific. Prof. F. W. Hutton has no fewer than 183 to his credit dealing with Botany, Biology and Geology. Prof. T. Kirk contributed 132 papers on Botany, Mr. W. Colenso 94 papers on Anthropology and Botany, Mr. W. Skey 86 on Chemistry, Sir Walter Buller 82 on Ornithology and Mr. T. F. Cheeseman 79 on Botany. These and other writers have contributed to the early volumes of our Transactions papers which have a permanent interest, either for the information they contain or the treatment which was given to the subject; and many of them have been of great value to the Dominion. It is perhaps not fair to say that our writers to-day are not so industrious; they have, apparently, abandoned many of the subjects which occupied earlier workers and have failed to find other subjects for treatment among the numerous recent developments of science and, as I said earlier, there are symptoms that they are failing to attract readers. I do not want to be misunderstood. I am not belittling our present-day workers. I have no doubts as to the high standard of many of the papers recently published—and I know that in the past many were included which were not worth preserving—but I am concerned for the future. The bulk of the members of our Member Bodies are not themselves contributors, and only support the Society for the interest they take in it. The various bodies hold meetings for the delivery of lectures and the reading of papers and the measure of the result is found in the Transactions. I may have been unfortunate in the rumours which have reached me, but if they are well founded, it would appear that interest in the Society is waning. Another indication that this is so is the fact that beyond its own members the Society is hardly known. I draw this conclusion from the nature of the publicity given to its doings in the Press. We are charged by the Act under which we exist with the duty of promoting Science. I am not satisfied that we are doing so with sufficient vigour and success to keep us in the forefront of such an enterprise. The means at our—that is, the Council's—disposal suggested in the Act is the arranging of public meetings for the reading of papers and delivery of lectures. This we leave practically to the Member Bodies, some of which find the task a heavy one.
It is possible that the fault may be in the listeners, and that they require educating in the taste for a richer intellectual fare. Such education may fairly be regarded as the promotion of Science and, as such, will fall within the scope of the activities assigned to us by our controlling Act. This consideration makes it arguable
that it is our duty to foster lectures and papers of a popular character, provided only that they deal with some subject which may be included in the definition of Science. And this creation of interest in those who are not otherwise scientifically minded is a vital matter for the Society; for, while the Act empowers us to exist, we can only do so by the continued goodwill of those who are sufficiently interested in Science to join our Member Bodies.
I state the problem, but regret that I have no solution to offer. It might be possible for the Council, through the Standing Committee, to set up an Advisory Committee to assist the Member Bodies—particularly the weaker ones—in providing lecturers or readers of papers, and of co-ordinating the steps they are taking in promoting research. But I have no definite plan. I leave the solution to my successor and I wish him all success.