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

Famous New Zealanders — No. 30 — Sir Julius Von Haast: — Our Great Pioneer of Geological Exploration — and Scientific Education

Famous New Zealanders
No. 30
Sir Julius Von Haast:
Our Great Pioneer of Geological Exploration
and Scientific Education

Many explorers and men of science have left their mark on New Zealand. The master hand of all, the foremost and most persistent and enthusiastic in the pursuit of knowledge of the country and its hidden wonders and treasures was that distinguished German-born colonist Sir Julius von Haast. Not only was he a courageous and persevering explorer, who specialised in geology, but he became a leader in the cause of higher education. He was the first advocate of the study of physical science as an indispensable part of advanced education in New Zealand. He founded, and for many years presided over the Canterbury Philosophical Institute, and with Bishop Harper founded the Christchurch Collegiate Union, which developed into Canterbury University College. Christchurch was his home and the Canterbury Museum, which he founded and enriched, is a noble monument to his career and achievements. He was an eloquent speaker and as eloquent a writer, and his reports on the geology and landscapes of the South Island are admirable for their scientific thoroughness and for their graphic and vivid descriptions of the alpine and forest country which he explored under the most arduous conditions.

Sir Julius Von Haast, K.C.M.G., Ph.D., F.R.S., F.G.S. (Horn 1st May, 1822; died 16th August, 1887).

Sir Julius Von Haast, K.C.M.G., Ph.D., F.R.S., F.G.S. (Horn 1st May, 1822; died 16th August, 1887).

Two great names of foreign-born scientists are linked together in an early-days' exploring association in New Zealand. Science knows no frontiers, and it is to learned men of the Continent of Europe that we have reason to be grateful for much pioneering data concerning this British Colony. One man of note whose observations on the physical characteristics and the people of New Zealand nearly three-quarters of a century ago still stand as reliable and authoritative was Dr. Ferdinand von Hochstetter, the geologist. A friend and professional colleague of Hochstetter was Julius von Haast. Hochstetter soon returned to Europe; von Haast remained to become a naturalised British citizen, a valuable settler, and a great scientific benefactor of his fellow-colonists.

It was within a day of each other, in December, 1858, that Hochstetter and Haast set foot on New Zealand's shores. They were then unknown to one another, but they soon met and became friends and travelling comrades, and their friendship lasted until death. Dr. von Hochstetter had come out as geologist in the Austrian warship “Novara,” cruising round the world, an expedition which led to the formation of many links of interest between the colony and Vienna.

Early Life in Europe.

Julius von Haast was born on May 1, 1822, at Bonn, in Germany. His father was for many years Burgomaster of that city. When young Julius entered the University of Bonn he developed a taste for geological and mineralogical studies, which decided his life's bent and purpose. He travelled about his native mountains, and soon formed a large mineralogical collection. After leaving the University he spent several years in France, and for eight years before coming to New Zealand he travelled about Europe, visiting Russia, Austria and Italy, occupying himself with scientific research, and also with the study of art and music. In 1852 he made an ascent of Mt. Etna while the volcano was in eruption. In 1858 he was sent out to New Zealand by a firm of London shipowners to report on the suitability of this country as a field for German settlement. The result of his report was the emigration of many German people to the colony.

Arrival in New Zealand.

It was in the British ship “Evening Star” that the gifted son of the Bonn Burgomaster reached Auckland; and it was on board the hospitable “Novara” that he began his acquaintance with the young geologist from Vienna, who was considerably his junior. The pair of scientists soon found themselves associated in an exploring journey through the greater part of the North Island.

Here it is convenient to explain that von Haast's career may be divided into three periods. First, there was his life in Europe, up to the age of 36; then his coming to New Zealand and his era of many scientific explorations in this country in the prime of his life, 36 to 48. Next, from 1870 onward for some fifteen years, came his development of a Canterbury Museum and preparation and publication of his geological writings and descriptions of his explorations. Lastly, in 1886, his official visit to Europe and London as Exhibition Commissioner.

With Hochstetter Through the North Island.

In 1859, Dr. Hochstetter having been commissioned by the Government in Auckland, with the consent of the Austrian Government, to carry out a geological examination of the interior of the province, the two new friends, with a large party, set out up the page 18 Waikato River by Maori canoe. From the Waipa they travelled through the region that afterwards became the King Country, to Lake Taupo, then to Rotorua and back to Auckland.

The late Mr. L. M. Grace, the Taupo missionary's son, told me that one Sunday morning the family were at prayers in the mission home at Pukawa, at the south end of Lake Taupo, when he saw as he looked up a line of men with packs on their backs approaching the house. The strangers halted when they heard the voice of the missionary, the Rev. Thomas Samuel Grace, and stood there in silence near the porch until the devotions were over.

Then they introduced themselves—Hochstetter and Haast and their party. The scientists were most hospitably received and made free of Pukawa while they remained; educated Europeans were too seldom seen in that remote part of the country.

The geologists examined the country and particularly the thermal springs region extending to Rotomahana and Rotorua. Dr. Hochstetter's description in his large book on New Zealand is of special interest in this section for purposes of comparison with present conditions in the Geyserland country.

The Maori War in Taranaki and the looming war in Waikato checked for a time European immigration to the colony. Haast had sent reports to the leading German periodicals on his explorations. Dr. Hochstetter returned to Europe, taking with him as guests of the Austrian Government two Waikato Maori chiefs, who returned with many gifts, and then cheerfully took up gun and tomahawk with their tribesfolk in the Waikato War. By the time of their return Haast was established in the South as Canterbury Provincial Geologist.

Exploring South Nelson and the West Coast.

At the end of 1860, after the North Island journey, Haast was requested by the Nelson Provincial Government to carry out an exploration of the West Coast district of the province. He spent several months on this arduous mission and carried it through with great success and with profit to the province, especially in the revelation of South Nelson's vast mineral resources. He produced a report which to-day reads like a wonderful story of adventure in no wise less absorbing than Thomas Brunner's account of his famous journey to the West Coast many years before Haast. Mr. James Burnett, surveyor, had been engaged as his topographical assistant. For a considerable part of the explorations von Haast was in company, at various times with James Mackay and Alexander Mackay. He also met and camped with occasionally that skilful explorer and surveyor John Rochfort. After exploring thoroughly the headwaters of the Buller, he prospected the Lower Grey Valley, where coal measures had been reported.

Grey River Coal and a Prophecy.

He found the main seam, which he followed up to the bed of a small rivulet, where it was lying exposed to a depth of 12ft. 6in. “I must confess,”
Dr. Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter. (Born 30th April, 1829; died 20th July, 1884).

Dr. Ferdinand Ritter von Hochstetter. (Born 30th April, 1829; died 20th July, 1884).

he wrote in describing his Grey coal discovery, “that I was much excited because in examining the coal in situ, it was clear to me that I had to do with a real coal, its compactness, specific gravity, lustre and combustibility leaving nothing to be desired. As the seam struck in a regular way across the river, whilst at the same time I was able to trace it towards the north I had no difficulty in concluding that the spot upon which I was standing would prove a source of great wealth, not only to this district but to the colony at large.”

Finding of Famous Coalbrookdale.

That discovery meant a great deal for the West Coast and New Zealand. More valuable still, if possible, was his exploration on the high forested range near Westport, where John Rochfort had reported coal some time previously. He climbed Mt. Rochfort, and on descending to the plateau below—where Denniston, the alpine town of coal-miners now is—he found pieces of coal everywhere among the creeks and gullies. At one place he found a large seam of good coal in a creek, and on removing the moss and ice that encumbered a small waterfall he found 8 ft. 2 inches of pure coal. He named the valley Coalbrook Dale. That is not the only treasure-trove in coal that a waterfall has revealed to New Zealand geologists.