Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

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

Famous New Zealanders

page 17

Famous New Zealanders

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.

A Mountain Picture.

This report of Haast's covering those great coal-finds abounds in eloquent descriptive passages and quite thrilling adventures and narrow escapes and the inevitable spells of hunger in an all but foodless land. The geologist was also a good deal of an artist and a poet. Up in those wild ranges, where it was so cold that it was difficult to hold a pencil to sketch or write, he could not resist setting down this evening vignette:

“… It was wonderful and beautiful to see the valleys below us in deep shades, while the summits of the mountains around glowed in the rich red tints of the declining sun. As the night advanced, the stars shone with extreme brilliancy, the splendid constellations of the Southern hemisphere rising one after the other above the sharp serrated outline of the eastern mountain chain, and the dazzling snowfield around us, illuminated by the flames of our campfire, imparted additional grandeur to the scene.”

Geologist for Canterbury.

Haast's next appointment, which proved to be his life work, was that of Geologist to the Province of Canterbury. The many and great duties of technical skill and arduous exploration which he carried out from 1860 to 1870 are detailed in his work, “The Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand,” published in Christchurch in 1879. His narrations combine graphic accounts of “the difficulties, dangers and joys of an explorer's life,” with a great mass of detailed information on the geography and geology of this very beautiful and wonderful region of New Zealand.

The Superintendent of Canterbury, Mr. W. Sefton Moorhouse, after whom Haast named the Moorhouse Range and Mount Sefton, sent a special urgent summons to Haast to examine the extinct volcano through which it was proposed to pierce the Lyttelton-Christchurch railway tunnel. The first contractor had abandoned the work on account of the hardness of the basalt lava rock met with. The geologist explained the sequence of the lava streams and ancient crater walls that would be encountered, and the small proportion of hard rock. In consequence of his report the contract was re-let and the page 19 tunnel successfully completed, under the supervision of Mr. Edward Dobson, the Provincial Engineer (afterwards Haast's father-in-law).

The Grave at Mesopotamia.

A memorable, and tragic expedition, undertaken in 1861, soon after von Haast's appointment as Provincial Geologist, was the exploration of the Rangitata and Ashburton Rivers up to their alpine sources. The geologist was accompanied by his friend Dr. Andrew Sinclair, who went to assist him with the botanical researches. Their headquarters were fixed at Mesopotamia, where Samuel Butler, presently to become famous as the author of “Erewhon,” had a few months previously established himself as a sheep-farmer. The scientists explored the glacial heads of the Rangitata — space prevents Haast's eloquent description of those scenes of alpine gloom and glory — and returned to Mesopotamia to rest their horses and obtain food. A few days later, when crossing one of the deep main streams of the Rangitata, Dr. Sinclair was washed away and drowned. His body was found next day 300 yards below, where he entered the river; the riderless horse had arrived at the Mesopotamia Station the previous night. It was a sad blow to Haast.

“We brought the body of my lamented friend to Mesopotamia and buried him on March 29. Near the banks of the river, just where it emerges from the Alps, with their perpetual snowfields glistening in the sun, amidst veronicas and senecios and covered with celmisias and gentians, there lies his lonely grave. With almost juvenile alacrity he had climbed and searched the mountain sides, showing that notwithstanding his advanced age his love for his cherished science had supplied him with strength for his pursuits, until at last, over-rating his powers and not sufficiently aware of the treacherous nature of alpine torrents he fell a victim to his zeal. Great and deep was my sorrow, and with a saddened heart I had to continue alone the work upon which we had set out together.”

In the Aorangi Region.

The Provincial Geologist's next scene of exploration was the head-waters of the Waitaki and the glaciated Tasman country. In this duty, which occupied four months in 1862, the late Sir Arthur Dudley Dobson (then a youthful cadet surveyor) was Haast's assistant in the topographical work. It was the first exploration and mapping of a country that is now a famous pleasure-ground for tourists, “the very centre of the Southern Alps, which,” Haast wrote, “in grandeur and beauty are worthy rivals of their European namesakes.” The excellent descriptions in the geologist's report are the first ever written of the Aorangi region. Haast named the chief peaks and glaciers and rivers of the region, and measured the terminals of the Great Tasman and other iceflows, and with his assistant set down a vast amount of data about this glorious centre of Alpland. He examined the lakes, traced the courses of the rivers, noted the vast eroding powers of the glaciers; pioneered the way for the surveyors and route-makers and squatter-station owners of far-out.

Discovery of the Haast Pass.

The next important exploration of Canterbury's geologist was a journey south to the Lake Wanaka region and thence through the unknown country at the head of Wanaka across the
(E. T. Robson, photo.) The Canterbury Museum (founded by Sir Julius von Haast), Christchurch, New Zealand.

(E. T. Robson, photo.)
The Canterbury Museum (founded by Sir Julius von Haast), Christchurch, New Zealand.

Southern Alps to the West Coast. This work he selected in order to make himself acquainted with the country along the boundary between Canterbury and Otago. In January, 1863, he started from Lake Wanaka, which he had reached on horseback, and then by a settler's boat, went to the Makarore (this name is misspelled on the present maps), which flows into the head of the lake from the main Alpine chain. He had heard that there was an aged Maori living at the Waitemate bush and he went to see him and ascertained that there was a way of reaching the West Coast by following up a branch of the Makarore. The old Maori said that by taking that route he would come out at the mouth of the Awarua, on the Western Sea, in two days. This branch the Maori pointed out. It was named the Wilkin by the firstcomers. But when on the spot and examining the physical features of the country, Haast decided, instead of the Wilkin, to try a page 20
Willington's new station in course of construction. The above illustrations give a good impression of the imposing dimensions of the new railway station at Wellington and of the progress being made with the building operations. The top view shows the main entrance to the station (facing Bunny Street) and the view below shows the Featherston Street elevation and the arrangement of the passenger platforms, The present Lambton Station is shown in the left foreground of the picture,

Willington's new station in course of construction.
The above illustrations give a good impression of the imposing dimensions of the new railway station at Wellington and of the progress being made with the building operations. The top view shows the main entrance to the station (facing Bunny Street) and the view below shows the Featherston Street elevation and the arrangement of the passenger platforms, The present Lambton Station is shown in the left foreground of the picture,

page 21 singular break in the main chain at the head of the Makarore itself and see whether a pass might be found in that direction. He therefore set out to cross the Alps there, and his belief was verified. He had heard when on the more northern part of the West Coast that the Maoris knew of an Alpine pass in this part, but had not been able to gather anything positive from them.

On January 2 he started from Makarore to find a practicable way; his companions were William Young (Assistant Surveyor for Canterbury, as topographical assistant), R. L. Holmes, F. Warner (later on proprietor of Warner's Hotel), and Charles Haring. The party carried very heavy swags; they took provisions for four weeks. About twenty-five miles from the Lake, following up a tributary of the Makarore through wild country, the travellers came to a place where the level of the swampy open forest had a slight fall to the north. Soon the small waterholes between the swamp moss increased, a watercourse was formed, which was running in a northerly direction. Thus a most remarkable pass was discovered, which has no equal in the whole range of the Southern Alps.

From these observations on this watershed, Haast found that its altitude was only 1,716 feet above sea-level, or 724 feet above the surface of Lake Wanaka. The mountains on both sides rose into great glaciated heights. This is the place now known as the Haast Pass. A horseback track has been made through the forest and ranges following closely the way pioneered by our explorer and his party. Some day it will be roaded for motor traffic and thus form a wonderful highway to the West Coast, linking up with the South Westland main road. An amazingly rugged route of sublime scenery, it is a difficult track to-day; the great snow-fed rivers are the obstacles. We may imagine, therefore, the formidable character of this wilderness of mountains and forests and roaring rivers through which Haast's party, laden heavily, toiled in 1863.

There is a high icy mountain, just on the northern side of the pass, which Haast and Young ascended, in order to use it as a central topographical station and examine it for its geology. Haast named it Mount Brewster. Its glaciers give rise to the main head-waters of the river flowing to the West Coast, which the Maoris called the Awarua in its lower parts.

“From the slopes of this grand mountain, from an altitude of about 6,500 feet,” the explorer wrote, “we had a most magnificent view over the Alps. Lake Wanaka appeared far in the South, its blue mirror-like surface set among wild rugged mountains. All around us rose peak above peak, their rocky pinnacles towering in grand majesty above the snow and ice upon their flanks, while deep below us, in narrow gorges, we could look upon the foaming waters of the torrents almost at our feet.”

The Wild Way to the Coast.

Tramping and clambering westward, making for the sea, the explorers encountered the most difficult part of the journey. It was a gorgeous savage country, with its lofty mountains, its precipices, tangled bush, snowy torrents and cataracts. “Among other curious places,” wrote Haast, “we were camped for several days under an enormous overhanging rock, with a vertical precipice of 150 feet near us, and the thundering and deafening roar of the swollen main river, forming here a large waterfall as its companion.” The Burke, Clarke and other rivers were named. Often the travellers had to scramble for hundreds of feet above the river, in making their way along the jungle-choked cliffs. It rained as it only can rain in the Westland country. At last, following down the wide many-branched river they reached the beach, and “stood in the surf, giving three hearty cheers.” The journey from Wanaka had taken them thirty days. It can be done now on horseback in two days, provided the rivers are not in flood.

It was March 2 before they completed their return journey, continually through the rain, emerging at Mr. Thompson's station at Lake Wanaka, all in rags, nearly shoeless and without any provisions. Remaining at the hospitable far-out settler's home for a week to recover their strength, they set out homeward, with a story of moving adventure to record. Besides the results of the geological and topographical work done, large collections were obtained in zoology and botany, so that considerable additions were made to the material brought from former explorations, which formed the foundations for a public Museum in Christchurch. In accordance with the direction of the Superintendent of the Province of Canterbury, the great river discovered, the Awarua of the Maoris, was named the Haast.

The Land of Glaciers and Gold.

In 1865, at the height of the great gold rush that made Westland famous, Haast made another journey across the Alps, this time by way of the Hurunui Pass, to examine and report on the new goldfields. For several years he had pointed out in his official reports that without doubt there were rich gold-bearing areas south of the Grey River. His views were more than confirmed by the results when thousands of eager diggers worked the fields as far south as Bruce Bay and the mouth of the Haast. The Geologist's report, as was always the way with his writings, covered a far wider field than the scientific aspect. He gave a vivid description of the huge bustle and feverish activity of the population so quickly attracted to a vast silent wilderness. In this expedi-

(Continued on page 46.)