The Canterbury Branch Of The Royal Society of New Zealand Opened – 24th July 1862

A flyer, dated 16th July 1862, was sent out by mail to those who were considered to be Canterbury’s top professional minds. It was an invitation to attend a preliminary meeting concerning the formation of a science society – a society that would encourage scientific investigations and discussions.  Canterbury became the first to attempt the use of its own original research.

The response was positive, the first meeting taking place at the Government House on 24th July 1862. Bishop Harper (Canterbury’s first Anglican Bishop) led the meeting with the quick agreement upon the name of ‘Canterbury Philosophical Society’ and its guidelines. It cost £2 to join.

Some of Canterbury’s biggest pioneering personalities attended this first meeting, with the likes of William Sefton Moorhouse and Samuel Bealey (two of our Superintendents), [Sir] John Hall (chairman of the Christchurch City Council, Mayor and New Zealand Premier), Thomas Cass (Canterbury Association and Provincial Surveyor remembered in the naming of Cass Bay, Cass Peak and Cass township), T.W. Maude (the father of Nurse Maude), Julius von Haast (founder of the Canterbury Museum and remembered in the naming of Haast township, Haast Pass and the Haast Eagle) and Edward Dobson (Provincial Surveyor and father of Arthur Dudley Dobson who is acknowledged in the naming of Arthur’s Pass).

The first newsletter issued by the Society went out to 50 members. Monthly meetings were held and members were welcome to share papers and give speeches. Some early discussions revolved around farming problems and possible solutions, new discoveries concerning our wildlife and even theories were given about the extinction of the Moa. It wasn’t uncommon for these speeches and papers to end up in local and overseas newspapers, or be shared with other societies.

The ‘New Zealand Institute’ was founded by Governor Sir George Grey in 1867. The name was changed to the ‘Royal Society of New Zealand’ in 1933 – followed with the ‘Canterbury Philosophical Society’ becoming the Canterbury branch of this. Now, with 200 members, scientific study and discovery remains paramount to this group. They continue to support and fund different individual studies, their monthly meeting featuring guest speakers and discussion points. Representatives are also present in the running of such institutions as the Canterbury Museum and Riccarton House & Bush.

The attached image shows a Haast Eagle attacking two Moa, both species now extinct. It was Julian von Haast who first discovered the remains of this giant New Zealand eagle (hence the name) and he used Moa bones in exchange with other museums to increase his own collection of artifacts that became the foundation of the Canterbury Museum.

*Attaching image was painted by John Megahan*


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