Sir Julius von Haast was born Johann Franz Haast. “…a boy in heart until the day he died…” was once said about this German geologist. Before his journey to New Zealand in 1858, Julius traveled around Europe and married Antonia Schmitt. His studies of geology and mineralogy at Bonn University unbelievably were not his reasons for traveling to the new colony of New Zealand. He was to make a report on how suitable it was for the future immigration of Germans. On his arrival, he accepted a job offer as a geology researcher for Nelson and Canterbury. He discovered coal and gold! In 1859, Antonia died.
In 1860, Julius moved to Christchurch mainly to help with the development of the Lyttelton Railway Tunnel. It was because of his report of the Port Hills that the project was a success; not only for him but also William Sefton Moorhouse. In 1861, he became the Provincial Geologist and Surveyor General. Putting his life on the line, along with friends (like William Warner from Warner’s Hotel, Cathedral Square) that he would take with him, Julius exploreed the great rivers of Canterbury; drawing maps and making studies of the mineral potential. He traversed some impassable terrains and as a result of these adventures the Haast River, Haast Pass and the town of Haast are named. William Warner remembers years later that there were days in which the pair only had Weka and flour to eat. The great discovery of artesian water under the gravel of the Canterbury Plains also happened during this time.
Julius married for the second time; a Miss Mary Dobson, who was the sister of Arthur Dobson – now celebrated and acknowledged in the small mountainous pass known as Arthur’s Pass.
The following year he established the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury in which members encourage Julius to open a museum. He set up his own collection in a room at the Provincial Council Buildings. With the discovery of Moa remains at Glenmark Swamp, the Canterbury Museum (www.canterburymuseum.com) was put on the world-wide map and the collection grew in leaps and bounds. Benjamin Mountfort designed a new building for Julius and his museum opened in 1870. A long with his studies of the Moa and other extinct flight-less birds, Julius discovered the Haast Eagle – the largest of all eagles to exist. It was big enough to hunt man and Moa – this eagle had died out by the year 1400 A.D. During this time, Julius also had oversen the opening of a Public Library.
In 1871, Julius became “Professor Haast”, teaching geology at Canterbury College that would later become the University of Canterbury. The following year he changed the future of the Malvern Hills when he discovered coal and clay at Homebush, while int he company of James McIlwraith. He was knighted by the Emperor of Austria in 1875 (which is where the ‘von’ in his surname was adopted) and also by Queen Victoria in 1886. He died in Christchurch in 1887. He is buried at the Holy Trinity of Avonside. It was one of the oldest churches in Christchurch and became the reason behind the naming of the suburb of Avonside as the Holy Trinity Church was, literally, on Avon’s side. Unfortunately, the church was lost in the 22nd February earthquake.