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The man who put Canterbury/Westland on the map

13 June 2005

Celebrating the man who put Canterbury/Westland on the map

A new book from Canterbury University Press celebrates a pioneer geologist who produced the first maps of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

Julius Haast in the Southern Alps, by Dr Colin Burrows, looks at the accomplishments of the central South Island’s pioneer glacial geologist, a man whose name lives on in many of the region’s landscape features and flora.

Julius Haast (1822-87) was the first scientist to enter the central Southern Alps. As provincial geologist for Canterbury, he was employed to make topographic and geological maps of the vast, unsurveyed hill and mountain country of the Canterbury/Westland region and to look for mineral resources.

The book traces the expeditions of Haast’s survey parties between 1861 and 1869 and outlines their results, illustrated by many of Haast’s original drawings as well as modern images.

In particular, the book focuses on Haast’s innovative studies of the glacial geology of the central Southern Alps. It looks at Haast’s observations on the evidence for glacial activity in the region, alongside chapters which cover the information accumulated since Haast’s time.

Using much of his own research, Dr Burrows updates Haast’s work by examining the region’s glacial record back to the beginning of the Ice Age, two and a half million years ago, to the present day.

Dr Burrows says his inspiration for writing the book was to see that Haast got due credit for his contribution to science and to ensure many of Haast’s watercolours, that depict that landscape as he found it in the 1860s, got to see the light of day.

“I hope this book will focus attention anew on the role of Julius Haast as the main founder of a mountain research tradition in this country.”

Dr Burrows is a Christchurch-based plant scientist interested in the glaciers of Canterbury-Westland and their history, as well as in the biology of the Ice Age times. He formerly taught at the University of Canterbury and is now a member of its Council, an ecological consultant and a conservationist helping to preserve natural areas. His research career and keen interest in mountaineering took him to many of the locations that Haast visited in the 1860s.

Among his many life achievements, Haast founded the Canterbury Museum and was later appointed director, and so it is fitting that Julius Haast in the Southern Alps will be officially launched at the museum this Thursday, 16 June, at 6pm.

Julius Haast in the Southern Alps was published with the help of a generous grant from the Brian Mason Scientific and Technical Trust, a charitable trust supporting the advancement of science and technology in Canterbury and Westland.


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