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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1934

The Presentation Ceremony

page 13

The Presentation Ceremony

On the 5th May, 1934, the portraits of the first four Professors of the College, Hugh Mackenzie, John Rankine Brown, Thomas Hill Easterfield and Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, were officially presented to the College. The ceremony took place at 10.30 a.m. in the Library and every student generation from the Foundation was represented. Mr. P. Levi, Chairman of the Council, presided and there were present Mrs. Easterfield, Professors Mackenzie, Rankine Brown and Easterfield, as well as members of the Council and Staff, and Dr. J. S. Maclaurin representing Mrs. R. C. Maclaurin, of Boston, U.S.A.

The whole setting of the ceremony, as the officials and graduates filed into the Library—the academic robes lending their appropriate touch of colour and decorum—was dignified and impressive.

After the National Anthem, a minute's silence was observed, in the spirit of Lawrence Binyon's

"... and in the morning

We will remember them."

During the silence, a wreath was laid at the foot of the memorial window by a returned soldier graduate of the College, Mr. W. Perry, who has for several years held office as Dominion Vice-President of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association.

"Absent Friends" was then sung.

The presentation itself was made by Mr. A. H. Johnstone, K.C., a graduate of the earliest years. In handing over the portraits to the College, Mr. Johnstone said:—

Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,—More than thirty-six years ago this College was founded by an Act of Parliament of New Zealand. This Act, having by its preamble recited that its object was to promote higher education by the establishment of a College at Wellington in commemoration of the sixtieth year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, and having incorporated the College and constituted the College Council and Professorial Board, proceeded to make the following financial arrangements—first for the taking of reasonable fees from the students, secondly for the payment by the Colonial Treasurer out of the consolidated fund of the annual sum of £4,000, and lastly for the setting apart as a permanent endowment 4,000 acres of unproductive land. These arrangements were at all times hopelessly inadequate. No provision whatever was made for buildings, library or equipment; and although there was soon the nucleus of a library, thanks to the generosity of certain members of the Staff, and equipment was gradually acquired, several years elapsed before the College had a home of its own. Nevertheless it was thought at the time that the legislation was a great improvement upon that of three years earlier which also had founded a College but provided no means whatever for carrying it on. There was, of course, something to be said for the apparent parsimony of the Government. No great enthusiasm existed at that time for higher education in the Middle University District, and it was not then regarded as an essential function of the State to provide either for a University or a University College. Moreover, there were those who thought it not improbable that a State institution might soon lose its own soul-its academic independence. During the latter half of the nineteenth century six Colleges were founded in England, all of which subsequently became Universities. In every case they owed their existence to private endowment. In later times all these new universities received substantial aid from the State, but there has been no interference with the mode of carrying on their work. Unlike these, Victoria College came into existence without any private assistance whatsoever. No bidding prayer will ever be said within these walls for any pious founder or early benefactor. Fortunately, the original College Council was not deterred by the serious difficulties which confronted it. It determined according to the account contained in an old Calendar to begin, not by pressing for building or equipment but "by the appointment of four Professors for the chairs of Classics, English Language and Literature, Chemistry and Physics and Mathematics and the following were appointed: Classics, Professor John Rankine Brown, M.A., St. Andrews and Oxford; English Language and Literature, Professor Hugh Mackenzie, M.A., St Andrews; Chemistry and Physics, page 14 Professor Thomas Hill Easterfield, M.A. Cambridge, Ph.D. Wurzburg; Mathematics, Professor Richard Cockburn Maclaurin, M.A. New Zealand and Cambridge, LL.M. Cambridge."

The record goes on to say "These Professors arrived in the Colony at the end of March, 1899, and as soon as possible classes were organised and lectures begun. Having no college buildings, the Council arranged for the use of rooms in the Girls' High School and in the Technical School Buildings belonging to the Education Board." Later it is mentioned that 115 students attended lectures in 1899. This is the terse but very incomplete official account of the beginning of our college life. All four Professors had come from ancient and richly endowed seats of learning, from associations of culture, from mouldering halls and the glory of gardens. They came to a place where higher learning was little esteemed, where they were obliged to work in uncongenial surroundings and under every conceivable handicap. But there was ample precedent even for this. Sir Alfred Hopkinson, late of Victoria University, Manchester, remarks that he "found the professor of chemistry at Armstrong College lecturing in the kitchen of what had been an old dwellinghouse, and a distinguished professor of physics at work with his apparatus in the pantry." He mentions several instances where the conditions were similar, and adds that Owens College itself was originally housed in an old dwelling once occupied by Cobden. But he goes on to say—"In a University it is the men that matter. Expensive and elaborate equipment and great blocks of buildings will follow if needed, but to measure a university by the extent of its equipment or its buildings is a fatal mistake." And so we found it at Victoria College in 1899. Our professors were men of courage and resource; and if there were times when in the face of discouragement their hearts were faint within them no one ever knew. They set themselves resolutely to their tasks and they succeeded. It was in truth they who founded the College, and because they did it so well she is destined one day to be a great seat of learning.

Professor Maclaurin was the first to leave us. He was a man of brilliant attainments and an inspiring teacher. He proved later to be a great educational organiser as well. He had won high distinction at Cambridge both in mathematics and in law—he was both Smith's Prizeman and Yorke Prizeman—and he taught each with equal ease. The University of Cambridge honoured him with Doctorates in Law and in Science and he held many other academic distinctions. He was President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when he died in 1920 in the forty-ninth year of his age. Many of us have good cause to remember with gratitude this large-hearted, genial and kindly man.

Of the professors still with us it is, of course, more difficult to speak. Professor Easterfield went to Cawthron Institute in 1920, to our great regret, and became emeritus professor. For several years he carried on almost the whole of the scientific work of the college. He is too well known as a chemist and, shall I add, as an expert witness to need any commendation here, but it should not be forgotten that he is an able physicist as well. He had been, before coming to us, a pupil of Professor Roentgen. It was he who was responsible for the free translation of the college motto—"Wisdom is to be sought for the sake of more gold."

Professor Brown, ripe scholar steeped in the classics, has taught the classics here for full thirty-four years and is still teaching. In the early days he taught French as well. He has taken a prominent part in the affairs of the University of New Zealand and has been honoured by his own University of St. Andrews. To him we are indebted for our college song. He was always ready to help us, and to listen patiently, even to complaints. A lady student once complained that he had commented rather severely on a translation of hers from Latin to English. The professor maintained his ground. At length she retorted, "Oh well, I copied it straight out from a crib."

Professor Mackenzie has for the same period taught the beauties of our own incomparable language, and in his earlier years he taught philosophy as well. I was the member of a philosophy class of which the professor was not proud. He had no reason to be so. Two of us went up for the degree examinations. We were examined by Professor Caird and passed with fair marks. Professor Mackenzie mentioned this strange circumstance to his class the following year, and added by way of explanation "You know Caird is a very old man." He is a most kindly and helpful teacher and a great lover of freedom.

page 15

But the professors were more than teachers. If one may say so without presumption, they were our friends as well. I sometimes think that those of us who attended the College in the early years were specially fortunate. "Sweet," it is said, "are the uses of adversity." In our case adversity certainly created a bond of sympathy between professor and student which would not otherwise have existed. The very lectures were held at hours to suit our convenience, and no student sought help from a professor in vain. There were no college institutions when lectures commenced. The Debating Society was formed shortly afterwards. Professor Mackenzie was the president and afterwards Professor Maclaurin the vice-president and chairman. Professor Maclaurin took the chair at the first meeting of the Students' Society, as it was then called, and became its first patron. When the first tournament team was selected in 1902, Professor Easterfield, himself a Cambridge representative runner, became trainer and coach, and three of the professors accompanied the team to Christchurch. All of them delivered public lectures in the town, and strove in every way to increase the interest in the College and its life. They became important public personalities. I cannot recall that their authority was in the slightest degree lessened by the extraordinarily friendly relations which existed among us.

I suppose that anyone who does his allotted task conscientiously may rightly be careless of the opinion of others, but I venture to think that it must be some satisfaction to a professor that his students have not been ungrateful. I think I speak for the whole student body when I say that we have not been ungrateful. It was left to the kindliest of all students, Mr. G. F. Dixon, to evolve the mode whereby our gratitude might in some measure be expressed. It was he who thought that steps should be taken to procure the portraits which at the request of my fellow-subscribers I am about to present to the College. There was no difficulty in obtaining the portraits of Professors Brown, Easterfield and Mackenzie, but in the case of Professor Maclaurin there was no material in New Zealand from which the artist could work. Mr. Dixon then communicated with the Massachusetts Institute, with the result that the portrait of Professor Maclaurin was presented to us by that institution. We have accepted the gift in the kindly spirit in which it was made. It was a friendly gesture by a great American educational body to perpetuate the memory of a man who had served both with the utmost distinction.

Each of these professors in his time served Victoria College faithfully and well. The world has changed rapidly since they came to us. We were then at the close of the Victorian era. The South African War had not broken out; the social revolution which followed had not commenced; there were no motor-cars, wireless, or aeroplanes in common use. The Great War was fifteen years away. But throughout these mundane mutations they held aloft the lamp of knowledge and taught the truth as they knew it. "Two men," says Carlyle, "I honour, and no third. First the toil-worn craftsman that with earth-made implement laboriously conquers the earth and makes her man's. A second man I honour, and still more highly. Him who is seen working for the spiritually indispensable—not daily bread, but the bread of life. These two in all their degrees I honour. All else is chaff and dust, which let the wind blow whither it listeth."

They who have taught us the truth, have dispensed the spiritually indispensable, have broken the bread of life. Representatives of every generation of students who have passed through these halls return to-day to pay them respect and to do them honour. And now, Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the subscribers I hand over these portraits to you to keep them as an inspiration to all professors and students who may henceforth work in this place, and as a witness that the first four professors of this College—each in his several way—adorned the peerless profession of teaching. They laid the foundations sure. Withal they kept themselves humble in mind, avoiding all self-seeking and vanity. And of such is the salt of the earth.

Mr. Levi, on behalf of the Council, acknowledged a gift which so enriched the College and left a memorial which would be an inspiration to the future.

Seaforth Simpson Mackenzie, who had written the Ode on the laying of the Foundation Stone in 1904 had readily responded to an appeal for an Ode on the presentation of the Portraits. Nothing could have been more appropriate and the lines were spoken with great simplicity and feeling by Mrs. R. H. C. Mackenzie (nee Mary Elizabeth Cooley, M.A., 1926). Possibly no other note could page 16 have found such a response in the hearts of the older generations. Seaforth Mackenzie was in the beginning the surest interpreter of our student life, and his words had not lost their magic.

The College Song—Aedem Colimus Minervae— written by Professor Rankine Brown, concluded the Ceremony.

No report of these proceedings would be complete without a tribute to Mr. G. F. Dixon who conceived the idea of the presentation, undertook the whole of the organization, and carried it through with such conspicuous success. Possibly at no other gathering of Victoria College has the spirit of "The Old Clay Patch" at Kelburn—of the brave days before the War—been so fully expressed. The Ceremony in the Library by reason of its simplicity, sincerity and elevation rose to a high level and maintained a distinction worthy of the highest University tradition.