The 200th birthday of the founder of the Canterbury Museum is celebrated

Scholars will discuss the life and career of Canterbury Museum founder Sir Julius von Haast this weekend at an online symposium celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth.

Haast Symposium: Celebrating the Life of Sir Julius von Haast will feature 10 digital presentations by New Zealand and Austrian researchers.

Subjects include Haast’s correspondence, his dealings with museums and scientific societies in Europe, the 1,142-page biography compiled by his son, and his dubious claim to having discovered the West Coast pass which today bears his name.

Haast was born on May 1, 1822 in Bonn, a city in modern Germany that was then part of the Kingdom of Prussia.

He arrived in Aotearoa, New Zealand in 1858 to report on the country’s suitability for German immigrants. Within days he met the Viennese scientist Ferdinand Hochstetter, later founding director of the Imperial Museum of Natural History in Vienna, and accompanied him on his geological expedition through the country.

Haast became Canterbury Provincial Geologist in 1861 and was instrumental in founding the Canterbury Museum in 1867. His personal collection formed the bulk of the museum’s early exhibits.

Julius von Haast seated near the moa skeletons in the Mountfort Gallery, Canterbury Museum. Photo: Alfred Charles Barker, c1872. Canterbury Museum 1944.78.109

He was director of the Canterbury Museum from 1868 until his death in Christchurch in 1887. He was also the first professor of geology at the newly formed Canterbury College and a founding member of the Canterbury Philosophical Institute – later the branch of Canterbury of the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Aparangi.

Haast’s symposium is organized by a committee consisting of Dr. Sascha Nolden, research librarian of the Alexander Turnbull Library, geologist and former Te Ara science editor Simon Nathan, art historian and science editor George Hook and Canterbury Museum senior curators Julia Bradshaw and Dr Paul Scofield.

Dr. Nolden says the symposium is a chance to examine Haast’s legacy and learn more about the man himself.

“Sir Julius von Haast was the most decorated and internationally acclaimed German-born New Zealand scientist of the 19th century, and one of the great pioneers in the study of our extinct birds.

“He was a very typical 19th century scientist in that he was not really a specialist, he applied himself to a very wide range of scientific disciplines. This conference is an opportunity to shed new light on aspects of his life as well as on the scientific context in which he evolved.

Dr Paul Scofield says the Canterbury Museum is Haast’s legacy.

“Haast worked tirelessly to build this museum and its collections, and during his lifetime it was the most highly regarded museum in the southern hemisphere. We still occupy the buildings Haast arranged to be built, and our storerooms and displays are filled with items he collected. It was a huge legacy to leave in Canterbury.

  • The Haast Symposium takes place online from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Tickets and the symposium program are available on the Canterbury Museum website.

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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