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Victoria University College an Essay towards a History

II — The Missioners

page 23

The Missioners

A very respectable newspaper of the capital, Mr Blundell's Evening Post, had commented rather sadly on the Premier's idea of a university. ‘Fortunately for the colony’, it added, ‘we cannot imagine that the present Ministers, who know little about the requirements of education, will long remain in office.’ Unfortunately for prophecy, Mr Seddon was to remain in office for eight and a half years longer, and his henchmen for six years after that; so that the nascent college had just to make do with these unsatisfactory politicians as best it could. There were those indeed who came to regard the Premier as not at all an unsatisfactory person. He had the gift of gesture. The Victoria College Act, 1897, at any rate, was to be taken seriously.

In the succeeding months the necessary elections took place and appointments were made, and on the afternoon of 23 May 1898 the college Council held its inaugural meeting. There came the Bishop of Wellington, the Right Rev. Frederick Wallis; the Very Rev. Dr Felix Joseph Watters, the organizer and headmaster of St Patrick's College and the leading Catholic figure in secondary education; the Rev. W. A. Evans; Sir Robert Stout; Dr W. A. Chapple, a Wellington page 24 physician of some fame, born and educated in Otago; Dr D. P. James, a Fellow of a Royal College of Surgeons; Mr John Graham, M.H.R., a member of the Nelson Education Board and a supporter of Seddon in the House; Mr Alexander Wilson Hogg, M.H.R., the enthusiast from Masterton; Mr Charles Wilson, M.H.R., the honourable but ungrateful member for Wellington Suburbs, a newspaperman and later Parliamentary Librarian; Mr John Rutherfurd Blair, a serious Scots bookseller who had become chairman of the Wellington Education Board and the Wellington College Board of Governors, and was at that moment mayor of the city; Mr R. G. Bauchope, from the Taranaki Education Board; Mr A. P. Seymour, a Marlborough sheep-farmer and Education Board member; Mr J. P. Firth, the tall headmaster of Wellington College; Mr T. R. Fleming, a school inspector of some note; Mr Clement Watson, the headmaster of Te Aro School; and there came an apology from Mr P. J. O'Regan, M.H.R., a young man in politics who might be described as on the left wing of the Liberal Party.1 Thus, with a nice sense of ecclesiastical and secular gradation, the Council's minute book lists these founders of our corporate being. Sir Edward Osborne-Gibbes, the secretary to the Education Department, presided; he read a letter from his Minister calling the meeting and appointing him to conduct the election of a chairman. He duly conducted the election—Stout proposed and the Bishop seconded the name of Blair; Mr Blair was duly elected and given also the duty of treasurer; Sir Edward retired; and the Council started its business.

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It followed time-honoured precedent and appointed a committee—a committee to frame bylaws, to advertise for a secretary (at not more than £80 per annum), to consider if any amendments were required in the Act (some technical errors were suspected already), and ‘to report on the most practical way of beginning the work of the College’. Information was wanted about the Taranaki land endowment; money was wanted; and was the college to be in or near Wellington? Still uncertain about so many things, the Council, led by Stout, made at least one firm decision: the college was to be in Wellington. By its next meeting it had £2095 17s 9d in the Bank (something out of the £4000) and could regard itself as solvent.

There were four main immediate problems—to collect professors, to find a habitation, to arrange the bestowal of the Queen's Scholarships, and somehow to compass the financing of these things. It was agreed to start with four chairs: classics, English language and literature, mathematics and mathematical physics, and chemistry ‘and some one branch of physical science’; engagements were to be for five years, as the act had specified, at £700 per annum. The financial problem was at once apparent: Mr O'Regan urged £500 for the first year and £700 thereafter. Mr Fleming wanted a chair of natural science: there was not enough money, said Sir Robert Stout, lecturers would do for other subjects. The chairs were to be advertised in New Zealand, Sydney, Melbourne, England, Ireland and Scotland. That was settled by June, by which time also the committee had found that the act needed eleven amendments, and an absent Mr Bauchope had telegraphed strongly objecting to the idea of dividing the exiguous income from the land endowment, which should be kept ‘for the children of bona fide residents of the Taranaki provincial district’. It took longer, till August, to settle on a syllabus for the Queen's Scholarship examination: Composi- page 26 tion, Grammar (‘as in the 6th Standard’), Arithmetic, Geography (‘as in the 5th and 6th Standards’), Drawing, History, Science (‘based on the 4th, 5th and 6th Standards’—a large choice of Botany, Chemistry, Physiology, Domestic Economy, Physics, Agricultural Science); of which English, Arithmetic and Geography were to be compulsory. Mr John Gammell, B.A., consented to examine the products of the primary school system in these wide departments of polite knowledge. As for the habitation, the Council's mind turned at once, automatically, to the Gaol—to what was sometimes, more euphemistically, referred to as the Mount Cook site.

But here was check and disappointment. Blair had first proposed to the Minister of Education, as a short cut, that the Council should take over the Girl's High School at Thorndon at £900 per annum and that the girls should be put elsewhere; the Minister had not given him a reply. Then members of the Council went round various sites with the Premier; by September the Premier had said nothing. The Mount Cook site was the best, it had over thirteen acres, and the Council agreed to ask the government for it— ‘such portion of the Reserve as is not required for the college to be maintained as a Public Park accessible to the public under regulations’. Then Graham reported having seen the Premier: he had a letter to the effect that the government would consider granting a site—he thought Seddon was thinking of part of Mount Cook. The citizens of Wellington held a public meeting in its favour, the Council sent a deputation to Mr Seddon. The government announced that it had been decided ‘to ask the approval of the legislature to a proposal of a site’. In the meantime the Council could have the use of the so-called Ministerial Residence in Tinakori Road, then in use as a boarding-house, which would be available at the end of April 1899. This information was received in September 1898; in page 27 January 1899 the professors were appointed; by the next meeting of the Council the only further development was that the end of April, so far as the boarding-house was concerned, had become the end of May. The Council was getting desperate; the professors were due to arrive at the end of March. The best that could be done was to collect rooms: there was the ‘large Hall’ at the Museum that could be used for chemistry—though that was also open to members of the New Zealand Institute; there were, too, some rooms at the Girl's High School which could be used before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m., there were three upstairs rooms in the Technical School building in Victoria Street and another ‘large Hall’ in the Education Board building next door. With the Girls' High School and the Technical School rooms the Council resolved to face the immediate future.


On 1 April 1899, one of Wellington's best autumnal afternoons, the steamship Kaikoura appeared in the harbour and deposited on the wharf the new Professors Brown, Mackenzie, Easterfield, their wives, and half a dozen children—the harvest of that wide advertisement in New Zealand, Australia, England, Ireland and Scotland. Scotland had done well. Indeed, one councillor had voted for Easterfield (as he told that high-spirited young man on his arrival) only because there was no Scot on the short list. Professor Maclaurin, a bachelor, had made early enquiries, and finding that so much of the academic-domestic was being embarked en bloc had come out by a different route. The voyage, it appears, had not been without incident, from the time the Mackenzies, on the way to Tilbury, arrived at Fenchurch Street to find the station in flames. It could hardly be conceived otherwise than as a Missionary Journey. ‘After a week or two's experi- page 28 ence of my fellow-missioners’, wrote Mackenzie later on,2 ‘I concluded that Professor Brown could with propriety be represented as the St Paul and the head of the mission; Professor Easterfield as the St Peter; while I myself might, with some diffidence, aspire to the humbler role of a Barnabas.’ It took a steady course of Pauline exhortation to maintain the high seriousness of the other brethren; they could not afford, Paul argued, to arrive compromised on the scene of their labours. They were not, in any case, unimpressed with the seriousness of their destiny; they were even perhaps a little anxious, coming from a teaching experience exclusively male, as to how they would get on with ‘mixed classes’. They had held many meetings to discuss the future; and already some variety of thought had been revealed. Paul and Barnabas, it appears, ‘made it clear that they regarded their subjects as on a far higher plane educationally than mathematics and science, I [it is Peter who now writes] considered that culture could be derived from almost any subject if sufficiently well taught’. Peter wished to get down to first principles straight away, to lay out ideals for the new college, to give it a definite and independent spirit: the other apostles, whom no one was ever to call rash, preferred to wait, and to copy the colleges already established. Well, after the discussions of a seven weeks' voyage, here they all were. If one that First of April, when the Council met them, they had felt a little foolish they might have been forgiven. Somehow, before they left England, they had been given to understand that their college was not only adequately endowed, but actually physically in existence—that their task as founders was, as it were, to walk in and begin lecturing. Reality was different. The general scene was different from anything to which they were accus- page 29 tomed—except for the Aucklander Maclaurin; colonial, raw, and to eyes from St Andrews and Oxford and Würzburg a crude and unhappy jumble.

The Wellington of that day has gone. It has vanished, for us, as completely as the English towns and villages of our forefathers; it is as remote, almost, psychologically, as the first Reform Bill or Captain Cook or Abel Tasman. The Wellington of macadamized roads, where stable manure and straw mixed thickly with the clouds of dust that advanced on every wind, Wellington of the horse-tram, cabs and drags, business Wellington of wood, where on Lambton Quay an occasional building soared three stories skyward, and at the corners the German Band tossed its inspired strains to the enraptured air (within a few months they would be the strains of ‘Good-
, my Bluebird’ and ‘The Soldiers of the Queen’); Wellington of scattered rural railway stations and the blusterous Thorndon Esplanade, and the fantastic tracery of Government House, looking down on the one structure of grace and fine proportion in the town, the unfinished Government Building, with its huge slabs and planks of kauri and totara; Wellington where shrewd investors were taking shares in a company to run a cable tramway up to the farms of Kelburn, ripe for subdivision, and where a roving eye rested on the bare hills of Wadestown and Brooklyn; where, from the far borough of Karori, substantial citizens rode their horses or drove their traps down to business in the morning (a professor was soon to join them); where in the Theatre Royal, off Lambton Quay, Mr Bland Holt and his company proclaimed the drama, against backdrops that ravished all sensibilities; and in the Opera House in Manners Street, where meetings had declared for and against Home Rule for Ireland, Mr Robert Parker conducted the Musical Union in Elijah; Wellington, whence you went ‘over to the Bay’, to the sandhills and the toe-toe page 30 of a region not yet ‘Eastbourne’, where a few holiday cottages nestled against the hill; Wellington, where the Church Anniversary and the Sunday School Concert or picnic were still for thousands of citizens the principal festivals of the year; where Maori women still passed from door to door selling ferns, in little tins painted shiny black and gold; where George Winder, of Winder's Corner, was the Cheapest Ironmonger, and J. Godber, of Cuba Street, provided the most celebrated cream-puffs and horns: it was to this Wellington with its 48,000 inhabitants, where a house could be rented for 25s a week, a Wellington provincial and gawky and unsophisticated, but on the whole very much pleased with itself after its almost sixty years of existence, that our four professors came. It was this environment within which they, much more than parliament or a premier or a Council, were faced with the task of founding a university. Fortunately they all had qualities—comparative youth, and a vast good humour, or a faculty for genial contempt, or an undemonstrative endurance which gave them a high survival value; and at least two of them, as one said many years later, had lived through years of the Scottish Sabbath.

Here, then, were Brown and Mackenzie and Easterfield and Maclaurin. All four had something to give the new college which it could ill do without; all four became somehow incorporated in its legend; all had the mark of individuality. Now all were in the first rank of scholarship, but all had minds that were alive, all had the mark of some intellectual or moral conviction; all had the capacity, without which scholarship in itself is of little avail, to draw a mingled admiration and affection from their students, and themselves to feel for those students both admiration and affection. They were a somewhat oddly assorted quartet—Brown with his suppressed emotions, his shyness, his Scots mingling of caution and am- page 31 bition; Mackenzie the other Scot, with no repressions at all, the anecdotal, the laughter-loving; Easterfield the Englishman, the German-trained researcher, incisive, athletic, a high-spirited practical joker; the brilliant Maclaurin, virtually a New Zealander, with his astonishing diversity of gifts, detached, tolerantly critical, amused, the conscience-driven sojourner, the one, among those four, destined to a sort of greatness and too early death.

The first was John Rankine Brown. What made Brown come to New Zealand? He was not an academically adventurous man. Perhaps the truth is that he wanted to be a professor, and somehow in Scotland he had missed: the chairs were all too securely held. He was born near St Andrews in 1861, the son of the University tailor; the traditional sound classical and mathematical curriculum at the Madras College sent him on to University; at the age of twenty, with a distinguished M.A. and the Guthrie scholarship in classics and English to his account, he left St Andrews for Oxford, where he had been elected to an open scholarship at Worcester College. Then with a first in classical moderations and a second in Literae Humaniores he returned to St Andrews as an assistant; then in 1886 he went to Glasgow as senior assistant to the professor of Humanity, to become in 1896, after agitation for better conditions by assistants—in which he himself had taken a large part—senior university lecturer in Latin. There, as he neared forty, he seemed stuck. He was able, he had a good record, professionally he was well-known and he was unusually close to students. He was a first-rate teacher, and the undisciplined Glasgow men sat without riot at his feet. The printed brochure (a portentously thorough document) with which he applied for the Wellington chair seems to contain testimonials from every classical professor in Scotland—but also, more significantly, from a large group of his students. This was indeed to pass the acid test.

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In his first words from the chair which he was to occupy for forty-six years he struck no dangerous note, nor thereafter was he to do so. Brown the agitator had done his dash. The New Zealand Brown was very much the classical scholar, the Latinist, the man of gravitas. From deep down within him, perhaps, he gazed with a little envy at the freer, the more high-spirited, heel-kicking Greek; but his published work was in school editions of Caesar and not among the emotion-exciting poetry or philosophy of Hellas. Was not De Bello Gallico, Book VI, at one time almost a standard work in New Zealand, and the editor regarded with awe—someone in Wellington, who could be seen in the flesh, who had actually edited a Latin book? The great thing about the classical languages, argued Brown, was that they were dead. They —‘fourteen distinct intellectual operations for the proper comprehension of two words’ there was balance and refinement and purity of style and pensive pathos, ‘firm adherence to great principles’, there in fact was Culture. He was not immune to the charms of French, but it was a deplorably uninflected language. So Brown continued his good teaching, in the tradition. He was moderate, he was conscientious, laborious, kind; and he broadened. He saw the limitations of his students. Late in life he made his own unconscious comment on his inaugural lecture: ‘I do not think I have endeavoured to teach Latin in my classes; in fact, for the majority of students, it was really impossible to teach them Latin. But I have endeavoured to show that Latin is very much more interesting than the subject taught under that name in the schools and that it has a far-reaching influence through life, and that, if its teaching were abandoned, it would be a serious loss to civilization.’ In this belief, too, for the sister language he planned the later course in Greek history, art and page 33 literature, which must surely have seemed arrant sciolism to the Glasgow assistant of 1886. Like his colleagues he had his humour, but it was a pawky, a cautious humour, as so much of him was caution; not for Brown the earthy guffaw of large-framed Mackenzie, nor the unbuttoned gibe of Easterfield; his smile came with a certain hesitance, ‘I do not, of course, believe in picking questions,’ he would say at the end of the session in the old days of external examination, controlling his muscles with severity as he gazed at the hopeless class before him, ‘but So-and-so is the examiner this year, and he generally asks for the quotation of some passage of Latin verse; the … er … most celebrated passage in the Aeneid Book IX is that on the friendship of Nisus and Euryalus lines x to y’; and with the grateful acknowledging laughter from in front he would suffocate a smile, and you knew you had one question in the bag.3 He never outgrew that first (perhaps also last) infirmity of the classical mind, the love for bloomers in examination renderings; very late in life he would take the morning's crop over the road to Mackenzie's house for appreciative gustation at afternoon tea. He did not, one thinks, outgrow a certain innocuous streak of vanity, John Brawn, who started from scratch, had a taste for social distinction that was ungratified in the Wellington of 1899, where professors and professors' wives meant, in the hierarchy of wealth, nothing; but things improved a little—he valued the invitations to the garden parties at Government House, his membership of committees, he really enjoyed being Vice-Chancellor; he thought that late knighthood was not undeserved. There were things one had to guess at, or be told, if one did not know him. The students of his first ten or fifteen page 34 years knew him best; his shyness, his repression, in his last years grew on him to the point of a gruff inarticulateness. His repression—never, in the course of twenty years' golf, said Mackenzie, had he heard Brown, though often inwardly very much perturbed, give utterance to worse than ‘Per deos immortales!’ And Brown took his golf seriously, as one of the chief duties of man. It was not a thing one joked about. There were moments, nevertheless, in those last years when one was led to doubt the final hold of classical proportion and balance, of pensive pathos, on the mind that had upheld them so conscientiously; in the Staff Common Room one afternoon he suddenly staggered a very junior colleague, always embarrassed by what seemed John Brown's own muttering embarrassment, by opening his lips and recommending a novel he had just read—he would lend it—an American novel, a work written in a most excellent English style,… It was James Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice. Meanwhile, at the end of the old century, in an intellectual climate as alien from that hard-boiled masterpiece as the climate of St Andrews was from the tropics, stood Brown, the apostle of Virgil and of culture, the upholder of the humanist tradition, eager to help, patient, with a sense of the dignity of learning but anxious not to offend.

Hugh Mackenzie, a Highlander, one of those farm-bred Scotsmen with a natural gift for heresy, was born in the same year as Brown; notwithstanding which contemporaniety, he was pleased to relate, Brown had been his post-graduate tutor in Greek. He was a member of a huge family of Mackenzies which already extended to New Zealand, eighty or ninety of them—among whom was his generation-older half-brother Jock, the Minister of Lands who hoped no more would be heard of universities (and who, it is said, had had some determining hand in the appointment of Hugh). He was the child of the second marriage of a father born in 1795, page 35 whose services in populating this country he regarded, with glee, as of infinitely greater worth than those of the land-reformer or of the professor. Solidly grounded in the Greek and Latin of the Old Aberdeen Grammar School, he went to St Andrews for the eight years' course in arts and theology which would produce a minister of the Presbyterian Church, Range widely over literature and philosophy Mackenzie did, but he became no more than a ‘stickit minister’. Like other students, he was strongly affected by the battle raging over the theology of the great Robertson Smith, the Free Church professor of Hebrew whom Aberdeen dismissed; that famous heresty hunt decided Hugh that the Presbyterian ministry was not for him, and he settled down as a private tutor at St Andrews. This was the life, no doubt agreeable enough, not without expectations, but not very enriching to the philoprogenitive, which he exchanged for a colonial professorship.

Who can measure the range of that expansive geniality? For expansiveness, geniality, were the qualities in Mackenzie that made him loved. He knew his Latin and Greek and Gaelic, but in the technical nineteenth century sense of the term he was no scholar, he brooded over emendations to no text, he would never have edited Caesar. Wide, rather than deep, was his reading; wide, uncertainly rolling, studded with parentheses and quotations the little academic writing in which he indulged. Herbert Spencer, Taine, Sainte-Beuve, Mathew Arnold, Carlyle, Wordsworth, Shelley, Materialism, Utilitarianism, Communism, the social regimen, the French Academy, Mr Frederic Harrison, Chaucer, Tennyson, ‘the light that never was on sea or land’—all find a place in his inaugural lecture, all were liable to be drawn on in the course of the next thirty-five years. (There was less variety in the history of the English language—there it was all Sweet and Skeat, the measured repetition of the tabulated.) The professor was no rash critic, he made no giddy flights into mod- page 36 ernity. Nor did he shine, exactly, as a publicist for literature; he would never have made an extension lecturer. He was a publicist; but it was in the cause of free, secular and compulsory education that that massive blade was so often unsheathed, it was against the Bible-in-Schools League that it whirled, that the letters went to the paper,4 that the pamphlets were printed; it was Mackenzie the rationalist who smote and thundered in this sacred cause, or who sometimes, in milder vein, ascended the pulpit of the Unitarian Church to denounce the obscurantists or expound a non-theological metaphysic. How true to form he always was, with that welcoming benevolent smile, that afternoon-tea large hospitality (everyone went to Mackenzie's for afternoon tea), the love of gossip, the twitting of Brown, that ponderous heave of the mind and the voice as, at the outset of some long journey through reminiscence, the engine turned over. How true to form the fragmentary memories he wrote—a tumble of words, of inverted commas, of exclamation marks! The young, the intolerant among students were liable, in his last years, to feel impatience with that large smiling bulk, rather out of touch certainly with the most recent products of the English Muse, but his was a tolerance that never lost its kindliness; righteous indignation at the spectacle of Canon Garland and his League could hardy fail to be mingled, long after the battle, with almost affectionate laughter. One sees him yet, on the dais in room B2, the expounding of old notes, Matthew Arnold and poetry as a criticism of life, Hebraism and Hellenism; but somehow memory switches to the light that never was on sea or land; somehow that light shines—and there is the old man, he was recurred to the love-letters he wrote in page 37 his teens for Scotch lassies without the learning of the pen; Shelley's poetry (how did he ever read Shelley?) or Shelley's Harriet and the loves of Byron are moving up for consideration, the measured pace quickens, the gold pince-nez come down in the well-known gesture, that high tenor voice goes up higher—‘aye … aye …’—Hughie Mac is away.

A very different personality was Thomas Hill Easterfield, five years younger than his Scottish colleagues. Easterfield had the normal persistence of the Yorkshireman, but he had a lightness, a swiftness of mind and body (he had been a great miler in his undergraduate days), an habitual cheerfulness and buoyancy that were all his own. He got his university training at Leeds,5 Cambridge, Zürich and Würzburg, lectured for the University Extension movement, and at Cambridge (on the chemistry of sanitary science), and taught at Perse School. He had developed as a result of this experience an admirable lecture style, clear and orderly and simple; he was liable to break down into a mild slang, not always closely observing the proprieties of the fading Victorian age. Of all the first four, he most seems the man with a definite purpose. The impression he received in 1899, he later remarked, was that there was a general tendency in New Zealand to place a higher value on the possession of a degree than upon a sound intellectual training. This tendency, ‘in opposition to the advice of some colleagues’, he accordingly set out deliberately to assail; with vigour, without discursiveness he goes in his first lecture straight to the point. One thrust on the way disposed of the ‘craze for examination’; admirable lecturer, excellent teacher though he was, he showed his scepticism of too much ‘teaching’; the flower of Würzburg and of page 38 Cambridge laid before his hearers (some of them no doubt rather puzzled) the gospel of experiment, of ‘research as the prime factor in a scientific education’, Look at Liebig, look at Berzelius, at Bunsen and Pasteur and Victor Meyer!—back to the memoirs of the masters! There was original work to do in New Zealand; ‘I appeal to the citizens of Wellington, to the Council of the College, and to my students, whether regular candidates for a degree, or pharmacists, or those who work at chemistry from pure love of a fascinating science, to assist in establishing in this city a research school whose fame shall be the pride of our University’. This was strong meat. It was meat that failed to excite the taste of the citizens of Wellington6–even when Easterfield adverted to ‘the application of chemical, physical and biological research to the trade and manufacturing problems of the day’. Nevertheless he remained fast in his faith; no Wellingtonian proceeded, as it was so strongly suggested he should, to immortalize his name in the city's annals by building and endowing a chemical laboratory, but at least the students experimented, and when twenty years later Easterfield went to the further organization of research as first director of the Cawthron Institute it was no accident that his successor in the chair of chemistry was his own most brilliant student.

The researcher never became the fanatic. The early photographs show a face of a humorous cast. Over those orderly lectures flickered the spirit of jest, of a cheerful irrelevance even; and it amused, as well as pleased Easterfield, in his first session, to instruct a class of lawyers in scientific thought. page 39 He could, too, be more positive in his humour. There was, the memory of one of his colleagues records, in Easterfield's laboratory an attendant who had spent some time in a British gunboat on the coast of East Africa, and learnt the naval language. Easterfield took him up to Seifert's flaxmill near Levin to work on the utilization of waste. While they were there a fire broke out in a neighbouring mill and all hands rushed over to help put it out. Presently Easterfield was standing with a hose in his hand when he caught sight of his assistant on the roof of the burning shed. He could not resist the temptation, he pointed the hose. He gazed and listened with satisfaction and took an early train home. A week later Seifert's foreman came to town, obviously with a greatly heightened appreciation of the academic mind. ‘When you and that young chap went down to the fire that night’, he said to the professor, ‘we thought it was a mistake’. We didn't think you'd be much good; but we changed our minds, Sir, I tell you we changed our minds. You know, when you turned the hose on that young chap, why the men in the other mill couldn't come near him—we were proud of him, Sir, we were proud of him! ‘Obviously, the man who could stimulate this sort of reaction, as well as students whose experiments were recorded in the Transactions of the Chemical Society, was a man a new college might well take to its bosom’.

Last came Maclaurin, garbed in honours, not yet thirty. Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, born in Scotland in 1870, had been brought at the age of four to New Zealand. At Auckland, like any other brilliant student, he took his first in mathematics. What followed however, was highly unusual: the young man, elected to a foundation scholarship at St John's, Cambridge, was bracketed with the Senior Wrangler in 1896, carried off the Smith Prize in mathematics, and became a fellow of his college. Taking up law, he entered Lincoln's Inn with a studentship, in 1898 won the Yorke Prize for a disser- page 40 tation on title to realty, and then went to Strasburg to study philosophy. It was this much-admired person, astonishingly brilliant, versatile, charming, already a figure on the English university scene, with either of two great careers stretching before him, who (as one of his friends said) ‘accepted an insignificant post in New Zealand, at an institution scarcely of university rank, just struggling doubtfully into existence’. There was, it seems, in Maclaurin, among the large number of virtues with which he was endowed, a vein of moderate, rather deliberately controlled quixotry, which led him to bury all those gifts and accomplishments in the obscure spot at the end of the world. He felt, in some deep way, a New Zealander—New Zealand, at any rate, had given him his first chances, in the peculiar workings of her educational system; and to New Zealand he would give something back; he would start off by repaying the debt. Perhaps also the chance to lay foundations, to build, was not unattractive to him. But he was quixotic with a line of retreat: completely modest, he was yet conscious of his own powers, and he had no intention of undergoing indefinitely the remote provincial existence. The idealist was wordly-wise: a professor, he would earnestly advise a colleague, must go Home frequently if he did not wish to be forgotten; and Maclaurin went Home. A professor might sometimes not without advantage bow his neck in the house of Rimmon; Maclaurin was the only one of the band who was a member of the Wellington Club, and his Masonic lodge was most select. Meanwhile, life could be amusing, fools could be treated according to their folly, there were funny stories to tell. He was a highly accomplished raconteur. One could bring all one's tact and wisdom and practical shrewdness to bear on the problems of academic life in Wellington, with its now-and-again absurd administrative and social complications. And there were students, there was teaching, the reasons why he had come out, Mac- page 41 laurin, with his light touch, was a good teacher, he could lay his mind alongside of the undergraduate's; he could do the surprising, the illuminating thing, as later on, when he changed his chair, he illustrated Maine's Ancient Law from from Maning's Old New Zealand. He could manage a masterly popular lecture, like his inaugural, in which he astonished his audience with the declaration that Euclid's doctrine of parallel straight lines was only approximately true, went on to put Marconi firmly in his place in the history of wireless telegraphy, and concluded with an examination of the possibilities of mathematical statement in biology, taking the population of Wellington as data. It was Maclaurin who was first chairman of the Professorial Board, Maclaurin who presided when the Students' Society was formed (or was this because the bachelor-‘Mac the debonair, the lone-handed’; ‘Our Dick, the gayest of the boys’—was a more available man than his married colleagues, who had to get home; or merely because he was chairman of the Board?); it was Maclaurin who would lean against the mantelpiece and argue the point, a Euclidean point or any other; it was Maclaurin whose wit and elasticity and savior faire were as dependable as anything in those early days. When he took his Cambridge LL.D. there was a pleased excitement in what one might almost call the whole family. He could do it all without being extended; the mastery was easy, was apparent—Maclaurin, who never patronized, who never overbore, with his air of effortless and amused calm, could even seem at times a trifle negligent of labour. Why not?—was there any obvious labour to be done? Yet the cast of his mind, when fully examined in retrospect, seems to have been administrative. He could handle men as well as ideas. For a professor there was little direct administration to carry on, and no one could foresee the enormous task that lay ahead of him, the physically rather slight man, as university president in Massachusetts.

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It was the age of moustaches, All four professors had them. Maclaurin's was, comparatively, rather larger than the others.


On 12 April the professors were given a heart-warming reception in the Education Board building, surrounded with dignitaries religious, civil and political. Easterfield had been told on his arrival that if they came out strongly for the Seddon government, they would get all they wanted for their new college. Returning thanks at this meeting, he said that they wanted sympathy, students who valued knowledge for its own sake, a first-class reference library, and laboratories; but alas! he did not come out for the Seddon government. On 17 April they met their intending students, and during the week they gave their inaugural lectures.7 They drew up a timetable, they had their first official meeting as a Board and made their first report to the Council. The time-table is worth analysis, as a contrast to be complicated document of fifty years later. Except for Saturdays, most lectures were to be after 5 p.m.—this, it must always be remembered, was to be a college for part-time students, working during the day in fields far from academic—though one or two managed to begin as early as 3, and Jurisprudence and Constitutional History were at 8.45 in the morning. On Saturdays there was something going from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There were lectures in English (five periods a week) and Advanced English, Junior Latin, Senior Latin, Advanced Latin, French, Mental Science, Jurisprudence and Constitutional History, Physics, Mechanics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Advanced Mathematics. But there were only four professors? ‘Courage, mon page 43 ami!’ they might have said to one another; for Brown had agreed to lecture in French in addition to Latin, Mackenzie took Mental Science, Maclaurin added Law to Mathematics, and Easterfield had his Physics and Mechanics as well as Chemistry. On Saturdays Mackenzie did English from 9 to 10, Mental Science from 10 to 11, and Advanced English from 11 to 12. There was a proposal to add to the staff a lecturer (at £100 per annum) on Political Economy; applications being called, they are evidently not very satisfactory, and Professor Mackenzie was interviewed to ‘see if he can undertake to lecture on Political Economy’. Professor Mackenzie considered that there were limits even to a Highlander's endurance, and he declined. Then thee was that first professorial report, of which the Council approved. It defined the academic year as two terms, the first from the first Tuesday in April to the end of June, the second beginning three clear weeks from July 1 and ending in the last week of October.8 Students were to be deemed to have kept terms who had attended three-quarters of the lecturers in at least two subjects and passed the annual college examination in them; and the subjects for terms were to include not merely those on the time-table but General History and Political Economy. Perhaps in that last particular the Board had gone too fast, even though the Council, before it tried to saddle Mackenzie with Political Economy, had jettisoned General History. But after all, the professors were enthusiastic. They were not organizing the ephemeral.

If professors were enthusiastic, evangelical in their zeal, what is one to say of the students, these hundred undergraduates, men and women, ‘mixed classes’, who in that first year made for the Technical School and the Girls' High School?9 page 44 They came as the starved to a banquet, as the huntsman to the hunt, as the settler to his farm, as the lover to the beloved. Brown and Mackenzie and Easterfield and Maclaurin were more than professors, they were the Means of Grace. At last Wellington had a college, it had lectures, the arts and sciences, intellectual excitement, a fellowship of learning. Not in scarlet gowns, but not in utter nakedness, did the devotees rush through the streets from the rented rooms in Victoria Street to the rented rooms in Thorndon, from chemistry to philology, to the Age of Johnson and Caesar's Gallic War—they were clothed in a high purpose and in romance. Almost before they knew it they were a universitas, a body corporate. They hung around talking. They stayed up late at night with grammars and with argument. They began to jot down phrases about Pallas and Minerva. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.

1 Of these, Graham, Hogg and O'Regan were appointed by the Government; Chapple, Watters and Wilson were elected by members of the Legislature; Stout, the Bishop and Firth were elected by graduates; Evans, Fleming and Watson elected by teachers; Blair, Seymour and Bauchope elected by Education Boards; and James appointed to represent the Professorial Board.

2 In an account printed in 1924 and distributed in 1934, when the portraits of the Foundation Professors were presented to the College.

3 It was again Brown's pawky humour, not snobbery, that made him say to a much younger professorial colleague, with his peculiarly judicial manner, and a twinkle in the eye, about some other colleague whose behaviour had been in dubious taste, ‘You know, I have an old-fashioned prejudice that a professor should be a gentleman’.

4 With all his heresy, Mackenzie had a Scots love for authority. If, said Brown (Spike, 1940) you came on a pseudonymous letter in the newspaper containing the words ‘credible’ and ‘approved authority’, you could fairly safely guess it was his.

5 The Yorkshire College, Leeds, was itself a sort of training for Wellington; for this college, which was to become Leeds University, had its being in a bankrupt music hall known as the Colosseum, the auditorium of which served for chemistry lecture theatre.

6 The statement in the text is not quite true. The Post had a leader. Two days after the address the Council of the Pharmaceutical Association came to ask for Easterfield's help in giving a better education to young pharmacists. ‘This was followed by a visit from a man who asked me to assist him in a research on making gold from sawdust, in which he claimed to have been already partially successful,’ Easterfield, ‘The Early Years of Victoria College’, Spike, Golden Jubilee Number.

7 To keep the record quite straight, it should be added that two inaugural lectures were given on the evening of 17 April, the third on the 18th at 5 p.m., the fourth on the 19th at the same hour. The first ‘regular’ lectures to students were on Tuesday, 18 April 1899, which date may be said to mark the beginning of the college as a working institution.

8 There were two terms in the year till 1920, when the present three-term division was begun.

9 In the first month there were 98 students: English 38, Latin 49, Mathematics 37, French 15, Jurisprudence 17, Chemistry 30, Mechanics 15, Physics 11. By the end of the year there were 115, with 9 exempted.