The Spike Golden Jubilee Number May 1949
Personalities of Victoria College
Personalities of Victoria College
For people who write diaries, especially diaries kept in a locked drawer, with instructions to their executors not to publish for 50 years, it must be one of the pleasures of life to say exactly what one thinks about other people. Many such diaries have been published, and there are some that still make excellent reading—but what wry faces the diarists would have made, if asked to broadcast their impressions on the spot! The personal characteristics and histories of the men and women, teachers, administrators, and students of Victoria College in the early days are in many cases full of interest; in safe privacy, things could be told that must be suppressed today; and there is time to mention only very few out of many names.
To start with, the foundation professors; men of sharply differentiated types (and the wives of the married ones even more so), all remarkable men in different ways. The three married ones, two with families, made the long voyage in the same ship; one of them, Mackenzie, nearly missing the boat, so that all had to be hoisted on board in slings, somewhere in sight of the Needles. There was time for all of them to appraise each other's peculiarities, and the men learned to co-operate harmoniously without treading on each other's toes. The fourth, Maclaurin, a bachelor then, preferred to pay for his own passage by a quicker route. Maclaurin was indeed a remarkable man. He had been brought to New Zealand at the age of seven, and until he went to Cambridge received his education at Auckland. So he may be called a New Zealander, and a good one at that; he had a very brilliant academic career here and in England, was legitimately ambitious, highly regarded by the pundits of the world of universities for his personal charm as well as his intellect, with everything to tempt him to go on climbing the ladder on which he had so firm a footing. But, a quixotic streak in his make-up, a patriotic feeling that New Zealand had done something to help him and he must repay, induced him to accept an obscure, poorly paid, laborious post to help with the foundation of the fourth university college in New Zealand, in a commercial town profoundly indifferent to higher education. Oh that all our exported talent behaved in the same way!—still, one should be glad that at least some do. Maclaurin never intended to stay long. He told me once that a man must make the trip to England at least every other year if he did not want to be out-of-sight-out-of-mind with the dispensers of promotion. For he was worldly-wise too; he quite understood the necessity of belonging to the best clubs; he took office as a Freemason; if he had stayed long enough, he might have steered College and University into the sort of social recognition that impresses the groundlings and attracts benefactions from the rich. With no help in that direction from his colleagues, he could only look after himself. And in one way he was a typical New Zealander—he thought it important to have letters after one's name: thus he achieved the astounding feat of qualifying simultaneously as a wrangler and as a barrister, without any intention of ever practising law. Alas that in America overwork and over-conscientiousness should have ended his life-work so soon. He was a loyal friend, a sound and very frank adviser to me, and withal a man brilliantly witty and wonderful raconteur. The funny stories he told me about the great ones of the day, political, social, and academic, could never be broadcast. When reading the Streets of our City I often felt that it must have hurt my friend, the late Miss Irvine Smith—herself an outstanding personality of the early college days—to find out so many amusing things about people after whom Wellington streets are named, and not be able to tell . . .
Of the three married professors, Mackenzie was the senior in years. A man devoid of selfish ambitions, with a lovable simplicity of conscientious devotion to a modest if exacting routine of duty; without any offensiveness of over-zeal such as I myself showed now and then. A generous and trustworthy man, of the type that, according to the old fable, constitute the salt of the earth. It is not generally known that, in spite of his being one of the youngest of the numerous brothers of the powerful Minister of Lands, he very nearly missed the appointment from an evenly divided College Council. His rival competitor was Lafcadio Hearn, who was then anxious to return to a European community from his voluntary exile in Japan.
The great deserts of John Brown, the Low-lander, were of a different order to those of Mackenzie or Maclaurin. His was a puzzling character on which psycho-analytic treatment might have thrown light, combining as it did apparently irreconcilable characteristics. No man could have been kinder to his students, more generously eager to win their affection and to promote their interests. Well do I remember my first conversation with him: "Your evening meal will have to be before five or after nine, as thosepage break page break
The Staff, 1924
Back Row—E. P. Neale, M.A. D.Sc. (Economics), D. McLoed, M.A., B.Sc. (Mathematics), I.L.G. Sutherland, M.A. (Philosophy0, A.M. Cousins, LL.M. (Law), F.G. Maskell, M.Sc. (Biology), A.D. Monro, M.Sc. (Chemistry), professor Murphy (Economics), E.K. Lomas (Education).
Second Row—G. G. S. Robinson, M.A. (Registrar), Professor Cotton (Geology), Professor Tennant (Education), Miss Mckay (Law), Miss E. Pigott, M.A. (Biology), Mile d'Ery (Mod. Languages), Miss thora C. Marwick, M.Sc. (Physics), Professor Florance (Physics), Professor Sommerville (Mathematics)
Front Row—Professors F. P. Wilson (History), Robertson (Chemistry), Garrow (Law), Adamson (Law), Brown (Classics), Boyd-Wilson (Languages), Mackenzie (English), Kirk (Biology), Hunter (Philosophy), Rev B. H. Ward, B.A. (Librarian).
The Staff, 1948
Front Row (Left to Right): R.C. Bradshaw (Commerce), K.J. Scott (Political Science), Professors F.F. Miles (Maths.), E. Beaglehole (Phil.), R.O. McGechan (Law), D. C. H. Florence (Physics), L. R. Richardson (Zoo.), I. A. Gordon (English), E. J. Boyd-Wilson (Mod. Lang.), C. A. Cotton (Geology), B. E. Murphy (Economics), Sir Thos. Hunter (Principal), C. L. Bailey (Education), H. D. Gordon (Botany), H. A. Murray (Classics), F. L. W. Wood (History), Messrs G. G. S. Robison (Registrar), H. C. D. Somerset (Education), J. O. Shearer (Economics), R. W. Burchfield (English).
Middle Row (Left to Right): Messrs R. J. Munster (Physics), A. R. Caverhill (Chemistry), M. T. Te Punga (Geology), Dr H. B. Fell (Zoology), B. M. Bary (Zoo), W. H. Dawbin (Zoo), Dr C. J. Adcock (Phil.), A. S. M. Hely (Adult Education), Dr A. E. Fieldhouse (Education), Mrs M. B. Boyd (History), Misses P. M. Isaac (Library), R. Reid (Library), F. M. Huntington (Modern Languages), J. Stevens (English), Dr H. G. Heine (Economics), Misses P. M. Ralph (Zoology), J. K. Finney (Geography), D. A. Crawford (Botany), M. Peebles (Botany), S. G. Ogilvie (Asst. Registrar), Messrs W. G. Rodger (Commerce), R. C. Christie (Law).
Back Row (Left to Right): Messrs H. D. C. Waters (Chemistry), B. E. Swedlund (Chemistry), W. Summers (Accountant), Dr A. R. Lillie (Geology), H. Hudson (Philosophy), J. M. Bertram (English), Dr J. F. Kahn (Pol. Sc.), A. Miles (English), Dr C. J. Seelye (Maths.), D. B. Carrad (Mod. Languages), Dr J. T. Campbell (Mathematics), Miss D. D. Dettmann (Classics), Dr J. C. Beaglehole (History), Messrs T. R. Smith (Pol. Sc.), H. G. Miller (Librarian), A. B. Cochran (English), D. W. McKenzie (Geography), I. D. Campbell (Law), H. E. Strawbridge (W shop Engineer), H. R. C. Wild (Commerce), D. de P. Tayler (Commerce), D. Patterson (Maths.), Dr P. Munz (History), J. B. Owen (History).
Professors P. W. Robertson (Chemistry), J. Williams (Law), Misses E. F. Odell (Education), B. M. Spinley (Psychology), Messrs E. K. Braybrooke (Law), A. A. Congalton (Psychology), B. M. Cwilong (Physics), D. Lilburn (Music), W. S. Metcalfe (Chemistry), A. D. Monro (Chemistry), W. H. Oliver (History), G. A. Peddie (Physics), F. J. Page (Music).
are our only hours for teaching at present"—"I hope you won't consider my convenience in the matter."—But my voice must have shown the surprise I felt, for he answered with some asperity—"Your convenience has nothing to do with it at all. The only thing we consider is the interests of the students." A couple of months later, when we were working together on a Latin College song, we differed about the words "obsequens servitium" to describe the student body; I protested that they might legitimately object to the possible implications; Brown defended the words as from an Olympian height. When one remembers that in those days Latin was compulsory in the Arts and Law courses, one does not wonder that generations of his pupils repaid his devoted care of their interests by an unbounded loyalty of gratitude. I can't do better than quote from an account by one of them given in Sir Thomas Hunter's monograph on John Brown:
"The feeling of Brown's students for him was related not only to his consideration and helpfulness but also to his extreme conscientiousness. I doubt whether in the whole of his 46 years he ever scamped the marking of his proses and unseens—and temptation must have sometimes been very strong; I remember too how often he insisted on coming to College when be was off-colour and should have been in bed. Even very immature students have a queer way of knowing whether or not a man is honestly doing his job—and in Brown's case there was never any doubt about the point."
Brown had his reward not only in the love of his pupils; all his legitimate ambitions were gratified, though not all as quickly as he hoped. Throughout he clung to a sort of unofficial primacy on the Staff; he attained to high honours in the administration of the University; he was granted the doctorate honoris causi of his own University of St Andrew's; and to the satisfaction of friends and opponents alike received his knighthood, but at the close of his long life, with only a few months to enjoy the coveted honour bestowed many years before on some of his junior colleagues. But at last he did receive it, and surely no university teacher better deserved it.
Now what can be said of Easterfield, who may be listening in? Much could be said of how he, while the rest of us were looking for outside aid, single-handed, by his own energy, laid the foundations of scientific training for his students. I like best to think of him as an Englishman and a Yorkshire man at that; a typical Englishman, the only one for years on the Victoria College Staff. To me, whose early environment was English and whose grandfather came from Leeds, the word English brings warmth of emotion still.
And I cannot omit the name of H. B. Kirk, appointed next after me in 1903, for of all men I have known in a long life, he was the perfect example of chivalry, infinitely courteous, patient, gentle, self-sacrificing, yet with a disposition capable of heroism; and modest to the point of self-effacement, firmly declining the official honours offered to him for valuable services in war-time. And then his untiring, phenomenal devotion to his work. As was said of him by F. A. de la Mare, "No one has given more to Victoria University College"—de la Mare himself to my mind the most outstanding personality among that group of early students that includes so many remarkable men—one who exercised great influence for high purposes.
There were interesting personalities too among the early lecturers. J. W. Joynt for instance. A courteous and learned Irishman, a classical scholar, well-read in philosophy and in German literature. When Victoria College started, the Governor of the day—or perhaps his wife—had the bright idea of varying the ordinary routine of Government House balls and receptions by having a series of highbrow lectures through the winter. The new College would provide the lecturers. In Wellington's social world one did not refuse Government House invitations, even to hear a lecture, Joynt gave the first lecture—also the last—to our social elite. His subject was Goethe's Faust, about which his information and his enthusiasm were so great that the hour for refreshments went by unheeded, and much more. Then there was Maurice Richmond, the thoughtful, erudite philosophic lawyer, and David Ritchie, drawn from an altogether different environment. He came here for reasons of health, bringing capital for the purchase of a sheep farm. With Scottish prudence—he was heir presumptive to a great Scottish estate—he decided to investigate and learn before buying. Meanwhile, to occupy his days, he lectured at Victoria College and acted as assistant—for a short time—in the General Assembly Library. Here, while in charge of the Reading Room, he found a stertorously breathing drunk, sleeping it off on one of the Library sofas, shook him up and firmly escorted him off the premises. Such high-handed independence could not be tolerated—then—in a mere temporary civil servant. He was an Oxford graduate, a cultured gentleman with a countryman's tastes—a good golfer, a hundred break billiard player, an excellent fisherman and horseman, and became a successful farmer. Many pleasant memories his name brings back to me.
If time permitted, a long list might be given of interesting personalities among the early students. An old photograph in Miss Irvine Smith's book shows a casual college group in which are represented a surprising number of people who have distinguished themselves in various ways, paying us all amply for the cost, so sparingly doled out, of their higher education. There was George Dixon, whose organizing genius won success and smooth running for every corporate undertaking, who did nearly all the hard work, and simply page 26 disappeared when it came to the limelight. There was a future Chancellor of the University, but he may be listening, and 1 won't embarrass him by the complimentary things I should like to say. There was Seaforth MacKenzie, a true poet in a group of talented writers of verse—not time limit alone stops me, but the flood of memories that come with looking through old class lists and graduation rolls. From among so many who have claims, it becomes invidiously impossible to choose. May they forgive the imperfections and lacunae of this sketch of early Victoria University College personalities.
G. W. Von Zedlitz
(Emeritus Professor of Modern Languages)