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New Zealanders and Science


page v


The short span of New Zealand's national life is roughly coterminous with the life period of modern science. The colony came into being in a period of scientific ferment; and, by a happy chance, the Treaty of Waitangi was drawn up in a setting already made historic by the visit of the young Charles Darwin. So through a century the progress of New Zealand has kept pace with the progress of science. Among the first colonists were men fired by the discoveries of their time, and they and their successors found in the resources of this country a superlatively interesting field for the application of the training and knowledge they had acquired in the old world. Then, as the colony developed and its own scientific tradition was established, in its turn New Zealand sent out scientists of whom one at least was to achieve the highest eminence.

Indeed in a very wide sense New Zealand owes its present character and position to the application and page videvelopment of those scientific ideas which were current in the first half of the nineteenth century: its commerce, both internal and external, flows along channels formed by scientific invention and research; its principal export trade has been made possible by the work of scientists; the fertility of its soil has been renewed only by the aid of laboratories and research institutes. This, however, the more directly 'mechanic side of science', is not the subject of this survey. Vitally important as they are to the well-being of New Zealand, I am not concerned here with the Wheat Research Institute, the laboratories of agricultural colleges and of government departments—to name only a few of New Zealand's centres of applied science. Rather it has been my aim to present an account of 'theoretic' science in New Zealand (the definition of these terms I shall postpone to my first chapter) and of some amongst the men who have added to its achievements during the Dominion's short history.

This publication, I should further explain, is not a scientific brochure, it is certainly not written by a scientist, and it is primarily intended for the non-scientific reader. For these reasons I have made sparing use of technical terms and have introduced material which might be considered extraneous in a work of more rigidly scientific pretensions.

page vii

My thanks are due in preparing this survey to many helpers, but particularly to the friends connected with the Railways Magazine. I have helped myself liberally from that monthly which proved a veritable mine of information. Finally, I must not omit to mention the part taken by the Centennial publications staff in bringing this book into conformity with the other volumes of the series.

S. H. Jenkinson

December 1939