150 Years of Discovery

Explore Royal Society Te Apārangi's 150 years of discovery with this interactive timeline.

1903 – A new Act of Parliament ushers in reforms GM Thomson pushed for in the 1880s making the Institute more democratic

Twenty years earlier, George M Thomson expresses a desire among members to make their Society more democratic. The eventual new Act of Parliament in 1903 makes special mention of this desire to link the Institute’s governance more closely with affiliated societies. For the first time the Board of Governors of the Institute comprises a majority of elected members, directly from the affiliates. The changes are fundamental in their effects and by their design. After several decades as the guiding hand of New Zealand science, James Hector retires from his positions. His departure leaves a significant hole in the organisation of science in New Zealand, particularly through his close association with government. For the first time in its history, the Institute establishes the position of president and the role of editor of the Transactions journal, both Board appointments. Additional funding refuses to be forthcoming, however, as the £500 government grant remains fixed, although, no longer subject to an annual vote by Parliament.

1966 – The Society establishes a parliamentary and scientific committee and begins a series of meetings and presentations to MPs on a variety of important topics to New Zealand

The Society’s expanded role also leads to closer engagement with Parliament and MPs. In 1965, councillors Tony Collins and Brian Shorland suggest the formation of a parliamentary and scientific committee such as exists in other countries. The first such committee is established in Britain in 1939. In the early 1960s, the idea is taken up in Sweden, Austria, Belgium, France and Turkey. Collins and Shorland note that such a committee could not work if scientists propose to educate MPs. It is better to suggest scientists need educating in politics. Brian Talboys, MP, suggests that scientists give talks to interested MPs. It is agreed that discussions are held ‘in committee’ to avoid a pressure group approach. Two trial talks are given – one on nuclear fallout and one on population and food. Afterwards, meetings take place two to three times a year from six to seven in the evening during the dinner break and are usually held in the caucus room of Parliament Buildings. They encompass a variety of topical issues, incluidng high-country research, the role of a royal society, the visit of society fellows to China, a society committee report called Limits to Growth? and black holes and pollution. In 1972, the addresses for meetings held prior to that year’s election on atomic fallout, biological control of insects, forestry resources and timber production and synthetic food are printed in the Proceedings, indicating their significance to the Society. In the late 1970s, MPs’ interest declined. Only one meeting on the productivity of land is held in 1978, an election year, and attendance is low. In 1979, the Society tries to relate topics more closely to the legislative programme and to current issues such as lignite, computers and the effect of automation on the workforce. But attendance still proves an issue. Three meetings are held in 1980, but in 1981, while one meeting on an issue of immediate interest, science and democracy, proves popular, the other is cancelled. Encouraged by Ian Shearer, the Society persists with organising meetings, albeit on a more limited basis. In 1985, despite a new minister, Bob Tizard, being keen to continue, the committee is dissolved. Instead, selected MPs are invited to lunchtime meetings with visiting scientists. The Society, energised by its role in the 21st century, resurrects the programme in 2003.

1840s – Treaty and first organised European settlements established in New Zealand

In 1840 the Treaty of Waitangi is signed and the first organised European settlements are established as immigrants arrive from Britain with the New Zealand Company.

1841 – New Zealand’s first scientific organisation established in Nelson

Literary and Scientific Institution of Nelson is formed mid-voyage on emigrant ship Whitby, with the initial collection of 700 books largely donated by passengers. Money is sent from England to buy more books, establish a museum, library and reading room. The Nelson Literary Scientific and Philosophical Institute continues to this day with lectures and discussion groups. The Institute's 170th birthday was celebrated on 22 May, 2011. [source: http://www.theprow.org.nz/society/nelson-institute/#.WB_my-V96Uk]

1851 – The New Zealand Society is founded in Wellington

The New Zealand Society (later the Wellington Philosophical Society) is founded in Wellington with Governor Sir George Grey as founding president. Members intend to publish scientific papers as they go on to do in similar organisations founded later in Canterbury (1862) and Auckland (1867). None of them are able to do so, however, due to a lack of resources. These presses are later used for the Royal Society of New Zealand, Te Apārangi.

1862 – Founding father of the Royal Society of New Zealand, James Hector arrives in Otago to take up the first of many New Zealand roles

17 April, 1862, James Hector arrives at Port Chalmers, Dunedin after 102 days travelling from London. Hector arrives to assume a role conducting a geological survey of the Otago province. It is the first time he has set foot in New Zealand. The Otago province discusses and commissions such a survey in the hope that the anticipated mineral wealth will buoy a regional economy, which has become stagnant prior to the 1860s. Hector travels throughout Otago, which at the time included Southland, contributing immeasurably to the understanding of the land beneath the feet of those who live there. At the time, Hector is one of the few people in Otago with any scientific training and consequently finds himself to be in high demand by organisations needing scientific input. In addition to producing a geological record of Otago – an area taking in more than sixty thousand square kilometres – Hector holds other significant roles, including Director of the Dunedin Water-Works Company, Commissioner of the Sanitary Commission in Dunedin, geologist to the Waste Lands Commission, committee member for the Otago Acclimatisation Society and Otago representative on the Flax Commission. In 1865, he is appointed to the Geological Survey in Wellington for three years. At this point, James Hector is widely considered to be the ‘father’ of the Royal Society of New Zealand, first called the New Zealand Institute. His career sees him effectively in control of the direction of New Zealand Science for several decades. He is ultimately responsible for the Meteorological Department, the Colonial Observatory, the Wellington Time-ball Observatory and the Botanic Garden of Wellington. He also assumes responsibility for the custody of the standard weights and measures and the Patent Office library. He is frequently called upon to advise in an official capacity on questions in the fields of science and technology, medicine and even commercial activity. R. K. Dell. 'Hector, James', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/biographies/1h15/hector-james (accessed 21 February 2017) Nathan, S., James Hector: Explorer, Scientist, Leader, Geoscience Society of New Zealand, Lower Hutt, 2015

1865 – Hector establishes the New Zealand Geological Survey in Wellington

In August 1865, James Hector is appointed to establish a permanent Geological Survey in Wellington. He becomes the only scientist employed by the New Zealand Government for some time. By 1869, he is in charge of the Geological Survey, the Colonial Museum (also established in 1865), the New Zealand Institute, the Colonial Botanic Gardens and the Colonial Observatory in addition to being a trusted advisor to the Government. Nathan, S., James Hector: Explorer, Scientist, Leader Geoscience Society of New Zealand, Lower Hutt, 2015

1865 – Hector founds the Colonial Museum behind Parliament with private collections. Earns himself fellowship to Royal Society of London

The Colonial Museum was established behind Parliament (on the then aptly named Museum Street, though it now has no museum). Founder, James Hector is adamant that a museum should be central to his new organisation and even lives adjacent to it. When the museum opens, it draws on some 14,000 items gathered from around New Zealand, including geological samples and recent specimens of shells in addition to collected Māori artefacts. Amongst the exhibits is one of the first-ever recognised dinosaur fossils, an Iguanadon tooth that Walter B.D Mantell – the first secretary of the New Zealand Institute – has inherited from his father, Gideon, an eminent naturalist in London. The museum opens in April the following year with an imposing display of moa and other giant birds greeting the viewer inside the door. 1865 is clearly a busy year for Hector. He is rewarded for his accomplishments by being recommended for a Royal Society of London fellowship by none other than the eminent botanist – and close friend of Charles Darwin – Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, elected a Fellow in 1866. Joseph Hooker, at the time, is the director of Kew Gardens and a supporter of both Hector and the new museum. Hooker famously claims a museum is one of the best ways to: “Screw money out of the public for science”. While his language may be jarring, Hooker’s words illustrate a desire to see science funded as effectively as possible. Beyond money, however, Hector and his contemporaries seek a permanent home for New Zealand science, seeing a museum as a step towards that goal.

1866 – First-elected President of the New Zealand Institute, Frederick Wollaston Hutton arrives in New Zealand

The first-elected President of the New Zealand Institute, Frederick Wollaston Hutton leaves England and relocates to New Zealand in 1866 to begin a career as a flax miller. Before his arrival in New Zealand, Hutton spends time in the Royal Army, where he holds the rank of captain. During campaigns in Crimea and India, he becomes associated with officers of the geological survey and publishes papers on the application of geology to the military. He becomes greatly influenced by Darwin’s theory of evolution and an overarching theme in his work is the search for rational meaning. Eventually, it is both his geological and military backgrounds that are called upon when he is asked by the government to survey the defence requirements of the harbours of Auckland, Nelson, Wellington, Lyttelton and Port Chalmers. From 1871, Hutton works alongside James Hector at the Geological Survey Department and conducts a range of work, including the mapping of Southland under Hector’s instructions. He eventually becomes a lecturer in geology and first curator of the Otago Museum. Despite the time pressure these roles naturally place upon him, Hutton manages to produce catalogues of New Zealand birds, New Zealand fishes and New Zealand mollusc, the latter having his name indelibly attached through his seminal Manual of the New Zealand Mollusca (1880) among several other published catalogues. For 25 years from 1880, he works as professor of biology and lecturer in geology at Canterbury College and curator of the local museum. In 1892, he is elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London. Between 1904 to 1905, he is President of the New Zealand Institute (later Royal Society of New Zealand) and is commemorated by the Hutton Memorial Medal and Research Fund established after his death in 1905.

1867 – The New Zealand Institute Act passes through Parliament, formally establishing a national organisation

On 16 August, 1867, a private member’s bill – the New Zealand Institute Act – is introduced into Parliament by William Travers. In addition to being a lawyer and politician, Travers is an avid explorer and naturalist. He also drafts the legislation establishing the Wellington Botanic Garden. Travers is one among many of his contemporaries who identify the need for New Zealand to formalise – and importantly, centralise – the country’s scientific research. James Hector and his management of the Colonial Museum and Geological Survey provides a central point around which such an institution can be built. Initially, the interested parties draw heavily on Parliament. A number of scientifically-minded politicians including William Colenso and Walter Mantell, who form important parts of the Society’s history, Charles Heaphy VC, prolific explorer and later of walking track fame, come together from around the country in support. This regional support, which coalesces around Hector, is important in creating a sense that the Institute is to represent the whole country. The Institute, which later becomes the Royal Society of New Zealand, is designed as a federated national organisation responsible for publishing the journal Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. It is proposed to: “Establish an institute for the advancement of science and art in New Zealand” and the Act formalises the place of the newly-constituted museum and central scientific laboratory. This method of establishing a national organisation for the scientific community is rare in the rest of the world and shows the willingness of the New Zealand Government to take an activist role in the promotion of institutions for the benefit of the country. The Bill passes in October and the Institute is granted an income of £500 from the national government, a figure which remains the same for almost 60 years. Parliamentary debate on the Bill takes place in a time of financial austerity in New Zealand – a time of ‘retrenchment’ as members call it. Much of the disagreement over, and opposition to, the funding of the Institute centres on the need to conserve money for the central government. However, the benefits of such an organisation to the country are ultimately seen to outweigh this cost, particularly in the midst of the excitement surrounding mineral wealth in Otago (gold!) and other parts of the colony. A number of those in favour of the Bill note that it will also ensure the operation of the Institute free from political interference and party differences. Both the value to New Zealand society and a fierce independence remain the hallmarks of the modern day Royal Society of New Zealand.

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