The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 5 (August 1, 1934)
A World Scientist — Passing of Dr. Leonard Cockayne
“Nothing great in science has ever been done by men, whatever their powers, in whom the divine afflatus of the truth-seeker was wanting.” —T. H. Huxley.
The great work to which the late Dr. L. Cockayne dedicated his boundless energy and outstanding intelligence is not, and in truth can never be, finished. It has, however, been established by him on such a sure foundation that others, both among the living and from those as yet unborn, will keep alight the torch that he made blaze so brilliantly. The delay to his work that will undoubtedly result from his death is not the greatest loss—the irreparable injury is the withdrawal of that personal inspiration that always animates scientific workers in all fields when a great scientist is living in their midst.
Progress in every branch of science depends on the services of two types of men. There is firstly the band of patient observers and classifiers, and secondly the directing intelligence that breathes life into the as yet dry dust of their collecting. Dr. Cockayne laboured untiringly among the first, but rode triumphantly among the world-leaders of the second. He was, by accident of environment and opportunity, a great botanist, but by virtue of his bold mentality he was pre-eminently a great scientist. His was one of the rare minds that dares to be to all things its own touchstone; if evolutionary and ecological botany had not engrossed his attention science would not have been the loser, he would inevitably have filled a creative role in some other branch of science or in literature. Even in his botany he pushed ahead into those fields where the particular merged into the general, and when the seal was attached to this fact and he was presented with the Darwin Medal, those who knew the man and his work recognised that he brought no less honour to this list of immortals than he received from his inclusion in it.
The phrase “New Zealand Scientist” implies a very obvious distinction. There are those, such as Rutherford, who were born in New Zealand but whose work owes nothing to their native soil, and there are those such as Dr. Cockayne, whose work is powerfully and inevitably influenced by their association with the Dominion. It is of course impossible to belittle such men as Rutherford or Mellor, but surely it may be pardoned to us if we take a more, dare I say affectionate, pride in those whom we have not shared so impartially with the world in general, and whose work bears the impress for all time of our dearer land and sea, or, more subtly, of our fresher and more vigorous mode of thought. These are, in the truer sense, our New Zealand scientists, and among these Dr. Cockayne will live ever in the first rank.
It has been said, and quite lately, that Dr. Cockayne received only a belated recognition in this Dominion. This is quite untrue in any sense that matters. His work was proudly “caviare to the general,” and in no country would he have received any more sincere and generous recognition than he was accorded in New Zealand. The private who marches in the ranks cannot, without fatuity, acclaim the leader, and the only praise that could be of value to Dr. Cockayne was ungrudgingly given him by his few New Zealand compeers. The only remark that might be made on this score is to point out that living and working in remote New Zealand formed no barrier to his full appreciation throughout the world. This is in itself a truism—the follower requires inspiration from his surroundings, the leader gives it.
It is idle to speculate what different legacy Dr. Cockayne would now be leaving to the world if the special conditions he recognised around him when he came to New Zealand as a young man had not led him into the then almost untrodden fields of evolutionary botany. It is not amiss, however, to point out that some great place in literature was surely his for the asking. It is also well worthwhile pointing out that in one path of literature New Zealand can indeed claim pride of place. It did not need the “dithyrambic eloquence” of Tyndall to assure us that scientific writings need not always and perforce be expressed in involved sentences of conglomerate English and labyrinthine constructions. It is no longer the fashion for scientists to resort in desperation to dog-Latin and childish anagrams when giving their message; but one is still justified in pointing out that it would be easier for the world if many of them recognised that literature should be regarded as not the least noble branch of general science. Clear and rigid thought expressed in flowing, incisive, sonorous language must always stand for literature; and in “New Zealand Plants and Their Story,” by Dr. Cockayne, “Geomorphology of New Zealand,” by Dr. Cotton, “Jurisprudence” and “The Law of Torts” by Dr. Salmond, in the anthropological writings of Elsdon Best, in the astronomical researches of A. C. Gifford, and in the ever-delightful “Tutira” by Guthrie-Smith that so defies classification, New Zealand possesses literature of no mean standing as well as scientific work of world-wide value. It is not possible to resist the lure of quotation to prove this contention, and the following, chosen almost at random, from “New Zealand Plants and Their Story” will show what mastery Dr. Cockayne possessed over the English language and how he was one with the great Huxley in recognising that “science and literature are not two things, but two sides of one thing.”
“For the plant-historians here, and the plant-questioners, have been but few in number; nor at any time have they been properly equipped for their work, either with books, instruments, or the all important money. But, as will be seen, they were furnished with what is better than all—love for their self-appointed tasks and true enthusiasm, armed with which success is certain. And surely that enthusiasm was fully justified, for the flora of New Zealand is remarkable enough—nay, “remarkable” is too weak a word for a plant population which can boast of including amongst its members the largest buttercup in the world, a forget-me-not with leaves as big as those of rhubarb, a speedwell 40 feet in height, the smallest member of the pine-tree family, tree-like daisies, aborescent lilies, plants of the carrot family with stiff leaves sharp as bayonets, mosses more than a foot tall, a brown seaweed hundreds of feet in length, and those strange anomalies of the plant-world, the vegetable sheep.” —New Zealand Plants and Their Story, p. 2.page 7
Thrilling Sport on “The Finest Ski-Run in the World.”
Mr, Barry Caulfeild, Principal of the Mt. Cook Ski School, demonstrating to pupils the art of ski-ing on the Ball Glacier, Mt. Cook, South Island, New Zealand. (1) and (7) Mr. Caulfeild executing a graceful turn; (2) the fascinating kea; (3) and (4) High School girls receiving a lesson; (5) Mr. Caulfeild; (6) mountain flora, the edelweiss; (inset) mountain daisies; (8) instructing the method of position for a turn; (9) general view of the ski-ing feild.