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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 6 (September 2, 1935)

Famous New Zealanders

page 46

Famous New Zealanders.

(Continued from page 21.)

tion he travelled as far south as Okarito, and he was the first to explore the great glacier at the head of the Waiau River, which he named after the Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, in recognition of that Monarch's interest in New Zealand. It is to be noted that Haast placed on record the correct Maori name of the river and the glacier, Waiau, which in these days has been corrupted officially to “Waiho.” Waiau is descriptively appropriate; it means “Swirling Waters” or “River of (Strong) Currents,” which, as anyone knows who has ever forded that ice-born torrent, fits it very well.

Many another rough and toilsome journey was undertaken. The most adventurous of all was a cruise in an open boat for two hundred miles along the surf-beaten coast, landing here and there to make a geological examination of the Westland rocks and ranges. More than once disaster all but overtook Haast and his companions, in launching their small craft, which was nothing more than a dinghy, from the roller - pounded beaches, or running before the strong winds under a rag of sail.

No part of the Coast and mountains and plains in the Canterbury Geologist's district was left unexamined. Never in the history of New Zealand exploration was duty more thoroughly carried out regardless of discomfort, toil and danger.

The Glenmark Treasure.

Turn now to the Geologist's assiduous search for buried treasure—for treasure indeed those moa bones of Glenmark were to Haast and his beloved adopted country. No adventurers hunting for pirates' buried gold and jewel hoards ever unearthed their finds more joyfully than did Haast those huge prehistoric bones first revealed by drainage works on the Glenmark station in Canterbury. It was at the invitation of Mr. G. H. Moore, the New Zealand partner of Messrs. Kermode and Co., that he went in December, 1866, to excavate that last home of the moa. Mr. Moore presented most generously the large collection of remains of the great bird to the Museum in connection with the Geological Survey. The result of excavations carried out by the Geologist surpassed the highest expectations, and he returned to Christchurch with a waggon-load of bones, the most delighted of men. The taxidermist to the Museum, the late Mr. F. R. Fuller, articulated under Haast's direction from the collections the first seven moa skeletons which made a wonderful display in the Canterbury Museum. By exchange with other great museums, the skeletons not required in the Canterbury Museum procured for Haast's institution valuable general collections which enabled Canterbury to build up and fill its great treasure-house. Haast was the founder and the maker and finisher of that home of science and antiquities.

“The Little Stonebreaker.”

In 1863, Julius Haast was linked more intimately still with the land of his choice, for he was married in that year to Mary Dobson, the daughter of Edward Dobson, the Canterbury Provincial Engineer, and sister of his young surveyor associate, Arthur Dudley Dobson, the discoverer of the Arthur's Pass-Otira route. Miss Dobson was nineteen years old, Haast was forty-one. Notwithstanding, or perhaps because of, that difference in ages, it was an ideal happy union. In 1864 there arrived on the scene what Sir James Hector, a great friend of the two families, called “the little stone-breaker,” from the fact that the newly-made father placed in the cradle of the first-born a miniature geological hammer, in the hope that the boy would follow in his footsteps. Von Haast, junior, however travelled in another direction; law and literature claimed him, and we know him as one of New Zealand's leading barristers, writers and publicists, Mr. H. F. von Haast. Following little Heinrich Ferdinand (the second name in honour of Hochstetter) came four more young Haasts and anchored the Provincial Geologist for good and all to Canterbury.

For a quarter of a century the scientific pioneer of Canterbury toiled for his province and city and the many-sided cause of knowledge. In 1886 he was appointed by the New Zealand Government with the consent and approval of the Canterbury authorities, to go to London as the Colony's Commissioner to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition. There, following upon his knighthood (at the instance of the Prince of Wales)—he had been knighted in 1876 by the Emperor of Austria and thus became von Haast—other honours came to the veteran scientist. The University of Cambridge conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science, and the French Government made him an Officer d'Instructions Publique. Shortly after the opening of the Exhibition, Sir Julius urged the conversion of the collection into a permanent institution. From this appeal the Imperial Institute came into existence; but it soon assumed a very different form from that originally contemplated.

Sir Julius was suggested as the first Director of the Institute, but he declined the post; his heart was in New Zealand. He returned with his wife and his daughter who had accompanied him to Europe. Now ill-health had him in its grip; and he died in Christ-church on August 16, 1887, in the midst of his plans for the expansion of his beloved Museum.

In the last period of his life he came into personal contact in Europe with many of the great Continental scientists with whom he had been in constant correspondence from his earliest days in Canterbury. His career was fittingly crowned in the two years preceding his death not only by the honours that he received, but by the high appreciation of his labours expressed by the great men with whom he associated, and who, like many discerning fellow colonists admired and honoured his ability and revered his character. After all the years that have passed since his death in 1887, and, despite the developments in science, his reputation as a scientist stands to-day as high as ever it did. Time proved the substantial accuracy of his professional observations.

The great founder of the true science of education in Canterbury was, from the accounts that have come to me, the pleasantest and most vivacious as well as one of the wisest of men. He must have been a splendid travelling comrade, the best of companions under the most dismal of camping conditions in the wet and dripping Westland bush, in a mountain-side cave, or in the sandfly-infested country where explorers' tempers were frayed by the tiny torturers. He was a great and cultivated musician, a robust and artistic singer of great feeling, as well as an accomplished violinist. His fine stalwart figure, his kindly jolly air that came of a sanguine and generous temperament and his many accomplishments made him a leader in culture in the colonial community.

In a recent book on New Zealand and its people, the writer remarked that few biographies of eminent colonists had yet been written, and he suggested that memoirs of some of our great New Zealanders were overdue. This is particularly applicable to the useful life of such a man as Sir Julius von Haast, with his so-greatly varied career. There is, I think, only one man who could write it satisfactorily, and that is his son, Mr. H. F. von Haast. I hope his busy life will yet allow him time to tell the story of his father's life which he has long contemplated.

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