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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 22

Wellington Philosophical Society: anniversary address delivered ... on Saturday, August 7, 1875

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Wellington Philosophical Society.

Anniversary Address

Delivered by Walter L. Buller, C.M.G., D.Sc., &c.,

London: Printed by Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court. Fleet Street. 1876.

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Wellington Philosophical Society.

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The first General Meeting of the Society, for the present year, was held in the Provincial Council Hall on Saturday evening, August 7th, Professor Kirk, in the absence of the Vice-President, taking the chair.

New Members.

The following new members were admitted: — The Hon. Colonel Fielding, of London; John Ballance, Esq., M.H.R., Wanganui; Major Charles Brown, Taranaki; Henry T. Qarke, Esq., Under Native-Secretary; S. Herbert Cox, Esq., F.C.S., F.G.S., Assistant-Geologist, Government of New Zealand

The Chairman, in a few well-chosen remarks, then introduced the new President, Dr. Buller, C.M.G., F.L.S., F.G.S., &c.

The President's Address.

Dr. Buller having taken the Chair, said :—

Gentlemen,—At the opening of each annual session of the Wellington Philosophical Society, something in the nature of an address is expected page 4 of the President; and as the Society has seen fit to elect me to this honourable post, I must endeavour, to the best of my ability, to fulfil its duties in this respect.

I understand that it is the custom here to open with a short address, reserving a more lengthy dissertation, on general scientific topics, for the close of the presidential term.

In selecting, then, a subject for the few remarks I shall offer this evening, I feel that I cannot do better than follow the example of my able predecessors in this Chair, by reviewing briefly the scientific work done by our Society during the past year (as recorded in the volume of 'Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute' just issued from the press). But, before doing this, I am anxious, with your indulgence, to step out of the beaten track and take a wider range, for the purpose of briefly noting the progress and development of scientific research in this colony during a somewhat longer period.

My distinguished predecessor, the Hon. Mr. Man-tell, has on a former occasion recalled the circumstances under which, in 1851, the New-Zealand Society (the parent, as he termed it, of the New-Zealand Institute) was founded by his Excellency Sir George Grey. That Society flourished for a time, and promised to take firm root among the colonists; but immediately on the departure of its chief patron page 5 and promoter it languished, and ultimately became defunct through lack of funds. Years passed on, and a new Society was formed on the ruins of the old one; and of this I had the honour to be chosen Secretary. The original name of "The New-Zealand Society" was at first retained; but this was afterwards (at the instance, I believe, of Bishop Abraham) changed to that under which we have assembled this evening. It is just sixteen years this month since we held our first meeting in one of the upper rooms of the old Provincial Government Buildings—a very modest place compared with the one which, by the courtesy of his Honour the Superintendent, we are allowed to occupy this evening. Casting my mind back to those early efforts to kindle in our midst the torch of science, it seems to me that a glance (however hasty and imperfect) at the state of our knowledge at that time of the natural history and resources of the country, as compared with what it is at present, will best illustrate the rapid progress that has since been made in every department of natural and physical science.

At the time to which I refer, the scientific literature of the colony consisted of Dr. Hooker's 'New-Zealand Plora,' Dr. Mantell's chapters on New Zealand in his 'Fossils of the British Museum,' the 'Zoology of the Voyage of the Erebus and page 6 Terror,' Dr. Dieffenbach's two volumes of 'Travels' (which contained much information on geology and some valuable natural-history appendices), Professor Owen's early memoirs on Dinornis and its allies in the 'Transactions' of the Zoological Society of London, besides a few minor works and scattered papers in the 'Proceedings' of various learned bodies. With the exception of the botany, which had been explored at a very early date by Banks, Solander, Sparmann, and the two Forsters, and had afterwards been exhaustively treated by the accomplished Director of Kew, no department of New-Zealand biology had been, in any sense, properly worked. The lists of the fauna appended to Dieffenbacli's 'Travels,' although useful to students in the colony as a basis to work upon, were enumerations of such species only as were known to science, and were confessedly imperfect. In every section of zoology the number of recorded species has been considerably increased. For example, the whales and dolphins positively mentioned by that author as inhabiting the New-Zealand seas were only 4; the number has since been increased to 21, and new species are being continually added. Of the 84 species of birds enumerated, no less than 17 were of doubtful authority; the number of well-ascertained species has now reached 155, and of most of them the life-history has been exhaustively written. The page 7 6 lizards have since increased to 14, not including one or two doubtful species. The list of fishes was then 92; it now comprehends 163 species, and fresh discoveries are being constantly made. Although the list of Mollusca even then included 240 species, the number has now increased to 502; the Radiata and Crustacea have been largely multiplied, while the list of insects has increased to nearly a thousand recorded forms. In botany large and important additions have been made in every section, chiefly through the zeal of local collectors in both islands. Dr. Hooker's 'Handbook of the New-Zealand Flora,' published in 1864, enumerates 935 species of flowering plants, to say nothing of the immense variety of ferns and lycopods, mosses and jungermannias, lichens, fungi, and seaweeds. The pages of our 'Transactions' contain many subsequent additions by Kirk, Buchanan, Travers, and other local botanists.

Of the physical geography and geology of the country comparatively little was at that time known, while a great part of the interior was still a terra incognita. Even the Southern Alps had not been explored, and nothing was known of those glaciers since discovered by Dr. Haast, which are said to surpass in magnitude and grandeur the well-known glaciers of the European Alps.

In the field of palaeontology, however, even he- page 10 affiliated body. Not only has the Institute been a rallying-point, so to speak, for the young scientific societies in various parts of the colony, but it has also, through its official branch (the Geological Survey), done much valuable work in every department of Natural and Physical Science. The volumes of geological reports issued year by year (all of them replete with original research), Dr. Hector's valuable treatise on Whales and Dolphins, the excellent synopsis of the Fishes of New Zealand compiled by Capt. Hutton, the critical lists of Mollusca by Dr. E. von Martens of Berlin (prepared at the expense of the Institute), and much other work of a similar kind bear testimony to the ability and activity of this department. And it is not too much to say that the growth and progress of the Institute is due in a very large measure to the individual zeal and energy of Dr. Hector.

From year to year the scientific work of the New-Zealand Institute has kept pace with the rapid progress of the colony; and the last volume of 'Transactions' (Vol. VII.) is in every way worthy of its predecessors, both as to bulk and quality. On a cursory perusal, it is evident that our Society has done its fair share of work during the year, no less than twenty-four of the papers selected by the Governors as worthy of publication having emanated from our Members.

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As most of you are aware, our Vice-President, Mr. Travers, is one of the most industrious of our working members; and the present volume contains a lengthy contribution from him, entitled "Notes on Dr. Haast's supposed Pleistocene Glaciation of New Zealand." The author dissents entirely from the learned Doctor's views as propounded in his Report to the Provincial Government of Canterbury in 1864, and since repeated; and following up his former article on the extinct glaciers of the South Island, he has now placed before us an able exposition of his own views on this subject. It is not within my province as President to express any opinion on the questions at issue, even were I competent to do so; but, without pledging myself to some of the views advanced, I can recommend the article to the careful study of all those who take an interest in the past physical history of "the land we live in."

Another important paper read before the Society during the past year is that by Dr. Hector on whales; and the excellent plates which accompany it, from photographs by Mr. Travers, add much to the interest of the article. It contains a full description of Neobalœna marginata, founded on a specimen which was captured among a large school of blackfish at Stewart's Island, and forwarded to the Colonial Museum by Mr. Charles page 12 Traill,—also of the "Sulphur-bottom" (Physalus australis), the skeleton of which is now in the Wellington Botanic Gardens,—and of that interesting form of ziphioid whale known as Berardius hectori, from a specimen cast ashore in Lyall Bay in January last.

It is to be hoped that Dr. Hector will be able to carry out his intention of publishing, while in England, a monograph of the Cetacea inhabiting the southern seas, for which, as he informs me, he has collected and taken home ample material. There is probably no other section of zoology in which a contribution of this sort would be more acceptable to the savans of Europe, owing to the present neglected state of its literature and the confusion of nomenclature in which many of the species are involved.

There is another article from the same pen, on New-Zealand ichthyology, which contains descriptions of no less than sixteen new species of fishes, all taken recently on our coast, thus proving that this field of investigation is far from being exhausted.

In the section Botany, the first article is a paper read by Mr. Buchanan in November last on the Flowering Plants and Ferns of the Chatham Islands, the materials being drawn from the collection in the herbarium of the Colonial Museum, nearly the whole page 13 of which was made by Mr. Henry Travers during his two expeditions to those islands in 1861 and 1871. The article throughout bears testimony to Mr. Buchanan's usual care and accuracy; and the illustrations (five in number) are very beautifully executed. That of the so-called Chatham-Island lily (Myosotidium nobile), a handsome plant with large glossy leaves and clusters of blue flowers, which I was fortunate enough to discover during a visit to the Chathams just twenty years ago, is especially noticeable.

Our late President, Dr. Knight, resuming a subject in which he has already made several important contributions to science, presents us with a vauable paper on New-Zealand lichens, and with another containing descriptions of some new species of Gym-nostomum, all the carefully drawn illustrations being from the author's own pencil.

The papers on chemistry have emanated, as usual, from Mr. Skey, the analyst to the Geological Survey, the value of whose work in this department of science has already been brought prominently before you by a former occupant of this chair.

I will not detain you longer, as there are several papers to be read; but I would just point out that the eminently practical treatise by Mr. Lemon on "duplex telegraphy," and the suggestive paper by Mr. McKay on the hot winds of Canterbury, page 14 show that other subjects have been discussed, and that the attention of our Society has not been confined to any particular branch of scientific inquiry— that, on the contrary, it has during the past year kept in view the avowed object of its existence, namely "the development of the physical character of the New-Zealand group—its natural history, resources, and capabilities."


The President said he had received a letter from Dr. Hector, and lie was quite sure the Meeting would be glad to hear it read. The letter contained a series of very interesting ornithological notes made daring the voyage to England.

A paper was read from the Venerable Archdeacon Stock, containing remarks upon a large Bat that had been seen by him in 1854, which he believed to be a new variety.

Mr. Kirk stated that he had seen a large Bat at the Clarence River, but he had been unable to distinguish it from Scotophilus tuberculatus.

The President read a paper entitled "Notes on Gerygone flaviventris." The paper contained extracts from 'The Birds of New Zealand,' and observations in reply to a paper from Mr. Justice Gillies in last year's volume of 'Transactions.'

A paper entitled "Remarks on Dr. Finsch's paper on Ornithology, in Vol. VII. of 'Transactions of the New-Zealand Institute,'" was also read by the President. The paper contained criticisms on Dr. Finsch's views respecting classification, as propounded in a paper read before the Otago Institute.

A discussion ensued, in which the author of the paper and Messrs. Kirk and Graham took part, on the question "What page 15 constitutes a species?" The President contended for the specific value of Apteryx mantelli of the North Island, on the ground that it was readily distinguishable from the other bird, and that the variation was constant; while Professor Kirk agreed with Dr. Finsch, who proposes to call it Apteryx australis, var. mantelli, considering that the bird discovered in the North Island is merely a variety of the species in the south (Apteryx australis), the slight difference between them being insufficient to warrant their separation.

Mr. C. C. Graham, in proposing a vote of thanks to the President, said that the Society was fortunate in having at its head one who had so thoroughly identified himself with the furtherance of science in New Zealand. The able résumé contained in Dr. Buller's address gave a clear view of the rise and progress of science in this colony, and of its rapid development during the past few years. He asked the Meeting to join with him in congratulating their President on the scientific honours which had fallen upon him. Although born and bred in the colony, he had, through his devotion to science, achieved a position of great distinction, and was therefore entitled to the thanks of all who had the interest of the country at heart.

The vote was carried by acclamation.

Dr. Buller expressed his thanks, and then intimated that at the next Meeting, which would probably take place in the new lecture hall at the Museum, a paper would be read by Mr. Carruthers on "Volcanic Action regarded as due to the retardation of the Earth's Rotation."