Photo mysteries


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This is a plea for help! Today’s post is rather different from previous ones. I’m posting some photographs I’d like to know more about. Some have appeared on the blog previously, while others are new. They’re all interesting images that I’m thinking of including in the University of Otago history book, and it would be great to have more details before they appear in print. Do you recognise any of the people or places or activities, or can you help with missing dates? If so, I’d love to hear from you, either by a comment on this post, or by email or letter (the ‘about’ page has a link to my university staff page with contact details).

I’ve gathered lots of images from archival, personal and departmental collections over the last few years, but I’m still short in some areas. In particular, I’m keen to locate photos relating to activities involving the commerce division/school of business and the humanities division (though I have a good supply of photos for the languages departments). Zoology, maths and psychology are other departments I’d like to find more images for. Where more general images of student life are concerned, I’d love to find a few photos relating to life in student flats and to lodgings and landladies. I have plenty of capping parade photos, but some other photos of student activities would be great. Overall, the 1980s are a bit of a gap in my lists of potential illustrations, so I’m on the lookout especially for anything from that decade, and to a lesser extent the 1960s, 1970s and 1990s. Another major gap is for images relating to the Christchurch, Wellington and Invercargill campuses. If you have any interesting photos you would be willing to lend to the project, please do get in touch!

Now, on with the mystery photos …

1. Gentlemen dining


Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Irvine family papers, MS-4207/006, S16-669a.

These gentlemen, about to indulge in a little fine dining at the Christchurch Club, have connections to the early years of the Christchurch Clinical School (now the University of Otago, Christchurch). Those I have identified so far were either senior Christchurch medical men or Otago administrators and members of the Christchurch Clinical School Council. That council was organised in 1971 and met for the first time in 1972. Max Panckhurst, an Otago chemistry professor who was on the council, died in 1976, so the photo must date from before that, and since it also features Robin Williams, who completed his term as Otago Vice-Chancellor in 1973, it probably comes from the early 1970s. Do you know the exact occasion or year?

The men I have identified are, starting from Max Panckhurst, who is closest to the camera with fair curly hair, and working clockwise: LM Berry, Carl Perkins, George Rolleston, Robin Williams, Leslie Averill, Alan Burdekin (Christchurch Club manager,standing), Bill Adams, LA Bennett, Robin Irvine, unknown, unknown, Pat Cotter (partly obscured), D Horne, Don Beaven, unknown, Fred Shannon, Athol Mann, JL Laurenson. Do you recognise anybody else? Or have I got any of these wrong? Some other potential candidates, who were also on the Clinical School Council, are EA Crothall, DP Girvan, TC Grigg and CF Whitty.

2. Burgers

Were you a Burger? After I published a story about Helensburgh House, a student hall of residence in the former Wakari nurses’ home, I met up with Glenys Roome, who had been its warden. She kindly shared some photos, including these three. Helensburgh House ran from 1984 to 1991 – I’d love to identify which year these were taken, and perhaps some names!





3. The missing singer


Photo courtesy of Michael Shackleton.

All but one of the members of the 1952 sextet in this photo are identified – can you help with the full name of the young man third from left? His first name was John. The lineup was, from left: Linley Ellis, Richard Bush, John ?, Keith Monagan, Michael Shackleton, Brian McMahon. The story of the sextet featured in an earlier post.

4. On the rocks

S15-592b 96-063-36

Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Otago University Tramping Club records, 96-063/036, S15-592b.

This is one of my favourite photos – it’s already featured on the blog a couple of times and is sure to end up in the book! In the original tramping club album it is identified as being at Mihiwaka, but somebody kindly pointed out when I posted about the tramping club that this is most likely taken from Mount Cargill. Do you recognise this spot? And can you identify any of the 1946 trampers?

5. Phys-eders

The School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences has kindly shared some of their photo collection. The photograph on the beams was taken in the 1970s – were you there, and do you know the exact year? How about the others – any ideas where and when they were taken, or who the people are? I published a post about the early years of the phys ed school in an earlier post, and there are photos on that I’d love to have more information about too, so please take a look!






6. Te Huka Mātauraka

Students 2002

Photo courtesy of the Māori Centre

This photo was taken outside the Māori Centre, Te Huka Mātauraka, in 2002 and featured in a post about the centre. Can you identify anybody?

7. Microbiologists

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Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Department of Physiology records, r.6681, S16-521c.

This photograph is a good example of the value of this blog. In the original, the man is identified as Franz Bielschowsky, of the cancer research laboratory. When I included it in a story featuring Bielschowsky, people informed me that the man here is actually Leopold Kirschner, a microbiologist working in the Medical Research Council Microbiology Unit. It was probably taken in 1949. Typically for that period, the female assistant is not named – do you know who she is? What, exactly, are they doing? I suspect health and safety procedures have changed since then!


Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, University of Otago Photographic Unit records, MS-4185/042, S15-500d.

Here’s another microbiology-related photo, taken during the first hands-on science camp in 1990 – it featured in an earlier post about hands-on science. Can you identify any of these high school students? I’m curious to know if any of them ended up as University of Otago students!

8. The St Margaret’s ball

St Mags ball

Image courtesy of Peter Chin.

This photograph, taken at an early 1960s St Margaret’s ball, featured in a story about Chinese students at Otago. At centre front are Jocelyn Wong and Peter Chin – can you identify anybody else? Exactly which year was it?

9. Picnickers


Latin picnic

Image courtesy of Alexander Turnbull Library, Ref: 1/2-166716-F.

The Latin picnic was a popular event in the early twentieth century. This photo was taken at Whare Flat in 1932 – it featured in an earlier post about writers at the university. People identified so far include Dan Davin, on the far right, with Angus Ross in front of him and Christopher Johnson to Davin’s right. Other students include Frank Hall (back left), Winnie McQuilkan (centre front) and Ida Lawson (in dark jacket behind her). The Classics staff, Prof Thomas Dagger Adams and Mary Turnbull, are at front left. Can you identify anybody else?

10. In the food science lab

I featured these mystery photos quite some time ago on the blog, and people have identified Rachel Noble, a 1980s student, as the woman in the centre of the bottom image. The food scientists tell me these students were in the yellow lab, possibly working on an experimental foods course or the product development course run by Richard Beyer. Can you help with the date, or identify any of the other students?


Images courtesy of the Hocken Collections, from the archives of the Association of Home Science Alumnae of NZ, MS-1516/082, S13-556b (above) and S13-556c (below).



I have quite a few other photograph puzzles, but will save those for future posts!


Thanks very much to those of you who have identified some of the mystery people already – yay! And thanks for the kind offers of further photographs. For those with photographs, here are a few instructions. If they’re already digital, that’s great. If you are scanning them, it would help if you make them high resolution (say 300dpi), preferably in TIFF format, but JPEGs are okay. If they are hard copy, I’m happy to scan them for you if you’re willing to lend them to me – I promise to return them promptly. I can pick up items if you’re in Dunedin, otherwise you can post them to me (it’s probably easiest if you send them to Ali Clarke, c/o Hocken Collections, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin 9054). Remember if you’re sending images that you need to be willing for them to appear, potentially, in the new university history book (due out 2019) or on this blog! I’ll send you a form to sign granting permission for their use in university publications. Any published photos will be attributed to you; do let me know if there’s a photographer I should clear copyright with as well. Thanks🙂


A home for art and artists


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Curator Donald Jamieson in the Hocken pictures stack, 1965. Photograph courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Box-240-004, S16-102b.

Otago does not, like some universities, have a fine arts programme; the highly-regarded Dunedin School of Art, established in 1870, is part of Otago Polytechnic. But the university has not neglected art: it has an art history programme, a prestigious fellowship for artists and one of New Zealand’s finest art collections.

That collection began when Thomas Morland Hocken donated his large collection of publications, archives, maps, photographs and paintings to the University of Otago, to be held in trust for the people of New Zealand. The deed of trust was signed in 1907, and in 1910 – shortly before Hocken’s death – the Hocken Library opened in a new wing of the Otago Museum (which was then run by the university). Hocken’s donation included over 400 pictures. Although his wife Bessie Hocken was a painter and photographer, he was not really interested in art for its aesthetics, but for the evidence it provided for research into his true passion, New Zealand history. The artworks he donated ranged from landscapes to political cartoons to paintings of Māori people and activities, and many included keys created by the Hockens to identify people and topographical features. Over the next few decades the library purchased further artworks and others were donated; the first published catalogue of the pictorial collection, dated 1948, included hundreds more works. Like the original collection, additions were mostly acquired for their historical interest, but they included many fine drawings and paintings. A great example is John Buchanan’s 1863 painting of Milford Sound. Linda Tyler, formerly pictorial curator at the Hocken, described this 1920s acquisition as ‘one of the icons of New Zealand art’; she recently discussed it on radio as her favourite New Zealand painting.

From the 1950s the Hocken pictorial collection took a new direction thanks to the influence – and generosity – of some noted art experts and collectors. Poet and editor Charles Brasch headed a new Hocken pictures subcommittee and – not without some opposition – shifted the acquisitions focus from history to aesthetics, and to include modern works. Brasch’s friend Rodney Kennedy made the first of many significant gifts to the Hocken in 1956 with 23 drawings by Colin McCahon. Kennedy attended the Dunedin School of Art in the 1920s and had many artist friends and a fine collection of New Zealand artworks; he was well-known around Otago as a long-serving drama tutor for the university extension department. Brasch, too, began gifting paintings in the late 1950s; both men gave further significant artworks during their lifetimes and by bequest. The Hocken’s important collection of McCahon’s works started with Kennedy and Brasch, but continued with gifts directly from McCahon and a bequest from his parents. Charlton Edgar, who taught at the Dunedin School of Art in the 1930s, gave nearly 400 works to the Hocken in 1961. This gift – known as the Mona Edgar collection in honour of his wife – ‘would update the Hocken with thirty years worth of modern New Zealand art’, wrote Tyler; it ‘changed the historical orientation of the collection irrevocably’. In subsequent decades the Hocken continued to purchase and receive generous donations of New Zealand artworks both modern and historical; by 2007 it held some 14,000 pictures. Those artworks have appeared in many exhibitions (in Dunedin and beyond) and publications and some can now be viewed digitally on the Otago University Research Heritage website. Dr Hocken little knew what he was starting when he gifted those 400 or so works depicting the history of New Zealand to the people of this country!

From 1966 the Hocken benefited from the existence of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, named in honour of one of New Zealand’s greatest artists. Modelled on the university’s Robert Burns Fellowship for writers, which had commenced in 1959, the new fellowship offered artists the opportunity to live in Dunedin for a year with a secure income and studio space provided; they had complete freedom of expression to work on projects of their choice. Anonymous ‘friends of the university’ made a large donation which endowed the fellowship, designed to aid and encourage painters and sculptors and foster interest in the arts at the university. The university was becoming an important patron of the arts, with fellowships for composers and dancers and children’s writers to follow later. Such fellowships were few and far between in New Zealand, so they carried considerable prestige.

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Michael Illingworth, photographed in his studio by Max Oettli, 1968. Illingworth was the first Frances Hodgkins Fellow in 1966. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, P2011-027, S16-102c. Reproduced with the kind permission of Max Oettli and Dene Illingworth.

The rules stated that potential fellows needed to have ‘executed sufficient work’ to demonstrate talent as a painter or sculptor, and shown that they were ‘a serious artist’ who would be ‘diligent’ in developing their talent and would benefit from the fellowship. There was no requirement for applicants to have any formal education in fine arts, ensuring ‘mavericks’ would not be cut out. The university – or, at least, its selection committee – from the beginning showed a willingness to be bold and support innovative and sometimes controversial artists. The first Frances Hodgkins Fellow, Michael Illingworth, made the news a year earlier when his painting As Adam and Eve, on show at Auckland’s Barry Lett Galleries, attracted an obscenity complaint to the police. That incident cemented the painter’s frustration with the conservatism of middle-class New Zealand. A friend, the writer Kevin Ireland, later described Illingworth as ‘a person with a blunderbuss conversation and philosophy – he sprayed out and hit everything yet his art was so worked and jewel-like and carefully done’. The fellowship got off to rather an unfortunate start when Illingworth left halfway through his 1966 tenure, claiming he couldn’t work in the studio provided. The second Frances Hodgkins Fellow, sculptor Tanya Ashken, found Dunedin more congenial. Among the friends she made was Philip Smithells, director of the physical education school; she joined the students in his gymnastic classes and her observations of their movements and poses contributed to her new sculpture. Following her fellowship there was an exhibition of her work in the foyer of the museum (where the Hocken was still located).

Finding a suitable space for the fellows proved a long-term challenge. In 1975 the Cumberland St house where fellow John Parker had his studio was demolished partway through his term and he moved into an alternative in Leith St. In 1978 fellow Grahame Sydney declared the latest space, near the Leith, ‘a completely satisfactory studio’, but that one didn’t last either. The 2008 fellow, painter Heather Straka, noted that the then studio in Union Street West had good light and hours could pass without her realising: ‘Before I know it, it is 1am and I am still working’. For the past few years the studio has been in a prefab near the Albany Street music studio. Another challenge was funding. Although the original anonymous gift was intended to endow the fellowship permanently, by the late 1970s inflation had eroded the value of its income, along with those of the Burns and Mozart fellowships. The university held a successful appeal to boost fellowship funds, attracting donations from individuals and businesses, along with a government grant. In 1986 the university decided to withhold the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship for a year to build up its capital, but donations from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council and M.W. James Trust meant it could be offered for a shorter term of 6 months. Since then, the fellowship has been awarded every year.

The list of former Frances Hodgkins Fellows is a veritable who’s who of the New Zealand art world. Many of the artists held the fellowship fairly early or mid-career and went on to great acclaim, such as Ralph Hotere (1969), Marilynn Webb (1974), Jeffrey Harris (1977), Gretchen Albrecht (1981), Fiona Pardington (1996 and 1997), Shane Cotton (1998) and Seraphine Pick (1999). ‘It’s flattering to be in such good company’, said Heather Straka during her tenure. ‘Everyone who has come through this residency has been of quite good note and has produced great work while on the residency’. Freedom from financial worry – for a year, at least – led to the production of many fine works of art: John Ward Knox, the 2015 fellow, described it as ‘a windfall of time and space and freedom’ to create. The Hocken showcased the work of each fellow through an exhibition hosted soon after their tenure, and acquired some of those works for its collection.

If you’re in Dunedin, take the opportunity to see some of the highlights of the Hocken at its current exhibition (on until 22 October). And keep an eye out for the exhibition to be held later this year at the Hocken Collections and Dunedin Public Art Gallery to mark 50 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship. If you’re further away, you can still enjoy many of the Hocken’s art treasures in digital format – happy viewing!

A sporting university


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The women’s A grade hockey team of 1920. Back (from left): R. Patterson, W. Elder, G. Lynn, F. Barraclough. Centre: E. Stubbs, H. Sellwood (captain), Prof George Thompson (president), V. White (deputy captain), M. Morton. Front: E. D’Auvergne, I. Preston. From Otago University Review, 1921.

With the Olympics underway, it seems a good time to think about sport! The first serious sporting fixture at the University of Otago involved rugby, though it was a very different sort of game back then. In 1871 there were just 81 students enrolled at Otago, but they managed to muster a team for a 22-a-side football game against Otago Boys High School. It extended over several hours and two Saturdays and ended in a draw. George Sale, the young classics professor and an old boy of Rugby School, played alongside the students, and in 1884 he became inaugural president of the Otago University Rugby Football Club. Cricket wasn’t far behind rugby, with its first match also in 1871, against the Citizens Cricket Club. Cricket historian George Griffiths suggested this first match was ‘archetypal’, for it ‘began disgracefully late, two selected players failed to turn up, and University were resoundingly beaten’. George Sale was again one of the team. Enthusiasts formed a University of Otago Cricket Club in 1876, but it only lasted three seasons; a second attempt survived from 1895 to 1900. The university managed to scratch together teams for one-off matches, but it was in the 1930s that it again managed to get together a club which played regularly in the local competition.


Taking a break during the home science tennis tournament of 1952. Photo courtesy of Sadie Andrews.

Tennis was one of the most popular early sports, for it required few people and could be played by men and women together. In 1884 students petitioned the university council to provide a tennis court and it duly obliged; the students formed a tennis club and within a couple of years had raised funds to lay down a second court. The tennis club, like many, had its ups and downs through the years. In 1890 one of its courts had to make way for the new School of Mines building and this was not the last time tennis courts were to provide an ideal flat site for building expansion; in the 1970s the Archway Lecture Theatres took the place of tennis courts.

The Otago University Bicycle Club, featured in an earlier post, was founded in 1896, and a year later the University Gymnastic Club began meeting weekly for ‘both exercise and amusement’. By 1901 the ‘noble art’ of boxing was an important feature of the club: ‘It is a huge treat to see a couple of junior Meds punching each other vigorously’, noted its correspondent in the Review. The gymnastic club was very short of members though, and may have evolved into the more specialist boxing club, which was up and running by 1910.

Hockey was another favourite with both men and women. ‘The hockeyites are enthusiastic and promise great things’, noted the Review in 1905, when both women’s and men’s clubs got started. Otago women students were early adopters of basketball (known as netball from 1970). This new sport, which some found preferable ‘to the more strenuous game of hockey’ was taking off in Dunedin schools and church organisations. University teams played in local matches in 1915, the year that the Otago Basket Ball Association, New Zealand’s first, was established, and by 1918 there was an established university club. The Golf Club, consisting of ‘some thirty enthusiastic players’, got started in 1920. Later to start than some other sports clubs, but destined for a flourishing future, was the rowing club, founded in 1929. It started out using the facilities of the Otago Rowing Club, but by the late 1930s had acquired its own boats and had dozens of members. In subsequent decades the growing university was able to support an ever-broadening range of sports clubs, from archery and taekwondo to diving and badminton, and of course some students also played for clubs outside the university.

Runners - men

Preparing to set off in the men’s harrier race, 1952. Photo courtesy of Sadie Andrews.

Students didn’t have to join a club to enjoy sports. Many a scratch team was put together for a bit of fun, such as the regular annual footy matches between dental and mining students. Residential colleges promoted sports as well, forming teams and playing against other colleges. Soon after Otago’s second college, Knox, opened in 1909, it began playing tennis, hockey and rugby games against the first college, Selwyn. In 1932 they institutionalised their sporting rivalry with the Cameron Shield, hotly contested in various codes ever since. Arthur Porritt, an early 1920s medical student and Selwyn resident, recalled that ‘statutory work accomplished, we indulged to the maximum extent possible in sport …. “Billy” Fea and Mackereth – two “All Blacks” – were our heroes – and we rejoiced in winning the Inter Varsity Tournament’. Porritt was an outstanding athlete himself, winning a bronze medal in the 100m at the 1924 Olympics in Paris (famously portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire, but with a fictional character representing Porritt). Athletics took off at Otago when the Easter Tournament between the four university colleges commenced in 1902. Soon after that first tournament – hosted and won by Canterbury – Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa) presided at the founding meeting of the Otago University Amateur Athletic Club. The club ran annual ‘inter-faculty’ events, where students of Otago’s various faculties competed for athletic glory; they served as trials for the Otago tournament team. In 1923 the athletic club acquired ‘an offspring’, the University Harrier Club, which held Saturday afternoon distance runs. The harrier club reported in 1930 that its ‘finest individual performance’ came from one J. Lovelock, ‘the best distance runner whom Otago University has yet produced’. Jack Lovelock, a medical student of 1929 and 1930, headed to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship in 1931 and became ‘one of the most celebrated of all Olympic champions’, winning gold in the prestigious 1500m race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Runners - women

Women harriers ready to set off, 1952. Photo courtesy of Sadie Andrews.

Otago students have become sporting stars in many codes through the years. Some came to Otago for its physical education school, which for several decades offered the country’s only sports science tertiary qualification. Many of its alumni became household names, such as netballers Adine Wilson and Anna Rowberry, rugby players Anton Oliver, Josh Kronfeld and Jamie Joseph and cyclist Greg Henderson. Farah Palmer first took rugby seriously after arriving in the south; she went on to lead the Black Ferns to three world cup wins and complete a PhD in physical education. But sports stars came from other disciplines as well. In 1998 Otago claimed a national ‘captaincy treble’: Palmer was captain of the Black Ferns; Taine Randell, a 1997 law and commerce graduate, captain of the All Blacks; and Belinda Colling, a 1998 psychology graduate, captain of the Silver Ferns. Completing a degree while representing your country or province in sport was no easy feat and some sports people dropped out or took longer than usual to finish their studies. In 1990, for instance, John Wright, captain of the New Zealand men’s cricket team, graduated with a BSc in biochemistry, completed after a 15-year break from study. In 2012 the university celebrated when two former students, Hamish Bond and Nathan Cohen, won gold for rowing at the London Olympics; both had studied commerce at Otago before sport took over and they switched to distance education via Massey University. The students’ association recognised its star sportsmen and women with ‘blues’ for outstanding achievements. It also provided financial support for various sports clubs and their facilities. One of the biggest OUSA investments was the Aquatic Centre, opened in 2002 as a new home for the rowing club, which had lost its old premises and boats in a 1999 fire. The splendid facilities presumably contributed to Otago’s long run of success in national and international rowing events in subsequent years.


University sport can be pretty casual! ‘Burgers’ playing volleyball in the spacious surroundings of Helensburgh House, a hall of residence from 1984 to 1991. I’d be delighted to hear from anybody who can identify the year this photo was taken. Photo courtesy of Glenys Roome.

Of course, most students had lesser sporting abilities, and OUSA also developed premises for those who just wanted to keep fit and have fun. Smithells Gym provided room for some indoor activities, but the needs of the physical education school took priority there. OUSA built its Clubs and Societies Building in 1980 to cater for a wide range of activities, and it was soon hosting aerobics classes and weight training. It quickly proved inadequate for the rapidly growing student roll, providing an incentive for the OUSA to take part in a new scheme proposed by the Otago Polytechnic Students Association. The two associations and the university purchased and converted a former stationery factory in Anzac Avenue into the Unipol Recreation Centre, which opened in 1990 and immediately became a hive of physical activity. The university itself developed a recreation services department in 1984, hiring out equipment and organising courses and trips. Recreation services also held the contract to run Unipol. In 2012 Unipol moved to a larger purpose-built space in the new University Plaza building, attracting a jump in student use. Soon afterwards OUSA sold its share of Unipol to the university, unwilling to commit more funds and confident that the university had student needs at heart. Student president Logan Edgar cited the famous example where Unipol had refused a gym booking to the All Blacks ‘when it would have limited the space of students attempting to work out’. OUSA put the proceeds towards a major upgrade of the Clubs and Societies Building (then known as the Recreation Centre), completed in 2014.


This shot of officials at the 1953 interfaculty sports, held at the University Oval, demonstrates the commitment of staff to university sports. From left: Michael Shackleton (medical student), Prof Philip Smithells (Physical Education), Prof Angus Ross (History), Stanley Wilson (Surgery), Prof Bill Adams (Anatomy), Dr Bruce Howie (Pathology), Prof Jack Dodds (Physics), Dr Gil Bogle (Physics). Photo courtesy of Michael Shackleton.

Throughout the university’s history, its students and staff have played an important role in local sport, some as participants and administrators and others as spectators. Indeed, cheering on the local team on the terraces of Carisbrook or, more recently, in ‘the zoo’ at Forsyth Barr Stadium, is an iconic part of ‘scarfie’ culture. This no doubt contributed to the university’s 2014 decision to sponsor the local super rugby team. That decision raised many eyebrows and attracted some opposition, notably from the Tertiary Education Union, unhappy with the extent of spending on marketing within the education sector. Fortunately, the university’s sponsorship coincided with a big improvement in the Highlanders’ results, and when they won the championship in 2015 with ‘University of Otago’ emblazoned on their shirts it was a proud moment for their sponsors. The Highlanders have had another good season, even if they didn’t retain champion status; now it’s time to cheer on our Olympic athletes!

An administrative note

Regular readers may have noticed that this blog post is later than usual. From now on I will be putting up new posts every 4 weeks, rather than every 2. That’s simply because I need to devote more time to writing the book this blog project arose from!


The Nobel connection


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Staff and senior students of the physiology department in 1951. Front row, from left: Laurie Brock, Ken Bradley, Prof Eccles, Eric Hook, Charlie Morris, Wilfrid Rall. Middle row: Arthur Chapman, Jack Coombs, Yap Tien Beng, Molly Bradley, Graham Jeffries, Pearl Cousins. Back row: Arnold Annand, Ron Stevenson, Dan Whyte. Photo courtesy of the Department of Physiology.

At first glance, the Otago physiology department’s one-page annual report for 1951 appears somewhat mundane. It listed student numbers, staff changes, research topics and publications, but it was a simple factual report and made no comment on the teaching workload (which was heavy), research productivity and quality (high), or the achievements of departing staff (remarkable).

A closer look at the 7 publications listed provides further insight into goings-on in the department. Two appeared in the leading journal Nature: ‘Plasticity of mammalian monosynaptic reflexes’, by departing professor Jack Eccles and senior lecturer Archie McIntyre; and ‘The afferent limb of the myotatic reflex arc’, by McIntyre. Several others appeared in the local publication Proceedings of the University of Otago Medical School, including ‘Action potentials of motoneurones with intracellular electrode’, authored by physiology lecturer Laurie Brock (a recent Otago medical graduate), physics lecturer Jack Coombs (another Otago graduate) and Eccles. That article – just a page and a half long – was the first published report of an important breakthrough in neurophysiology research; it was a significant step in the work that won Eccles a Nobel Prize in 1963.

Eccles, born in Melbourne in 1903, commenced at Otago in 1944, bringing impressive credentials from his years as a physiology researcher in Oxford and Sydney. He replaced John Malcolm, who had been physiology professor since 1905. Malcolm was an active researcher, highly respected for his work in biochemistry and nutrition, but Eccles was to take the research activity of the department to a new level. First, though, he had to reacquaint himself with the whole of physiology in order to teach medical students, something he had not done for some years. Preparing 75 lectures for second-year meds, plus others for first-year meds, along with a completely new laboratory course and discussion groups, meant his research ‘virtually came to an end’ during that first year, Eccles later recalled. He did design some of the medical students’ lab work to assist his research, as Miles Hursthouse explained: the professor ‘conducted many interesting experiments, some of them on us! At our practical sessions we had to endure having needles stuck into a muscle, then contract that muscle while measuring the electrical impulse and rate of propagation’. There weren’t many staff to assist, though Eccles was grateful for those he had, including Norman Edson, appointed associate professor of biochemistry in 1944. Biochemistry was a rapidly-growing field, and in 1949 it split from physiology to become an independent department with Edson as inaugural professor; the two fields continued to work closely together despite the administrative separation.

Though he had little time for research in 1944, it was ‘important in my scientific life above all my post-Sherrington years’, recalled Eccles (Charles Sherrington being the distinguished neurophysiologist who inspired him at Oxford). It was then he met the great philosopher Karl Popper, who was teaching at Canterbury. Hearing of the stir that Popper was creating among the scientists of Christchurch, Eccles and Edson invited him to visit Otago. Eccles was heavily influenced by the ‘inspiring new vision of science that Popper gave us’, most notably by his message ‘that science is not inductive, but deductive’. With Popper’s urging, Eccles set about designing experiments that would test a hypothesis ‘in its most vulnerable aspects in an attempt at falsification’. He was keen to prove his theory that messages crossed the synapses of nerve cells by electrical rather than chemical means.

By 1945 Eccles was busy experimenting alongside his teaching duties. David Cole, future dean of the Auckland medical school, completed a BMedSci degree with Eccles that year, recalling that ‘the ebullient JCE’ had ‘ideas tumbling out of his mind’; students appreciated ‘the invaluable experience of working close to the edge of scientific knowledge’. The professor’s lab was ‘a huge cage of chicken wire’ and ‘almost a caricature of the mad scientist amongst his oscilloscopes, wires and animals’. Another student recalled the day that Eccles ‘arrived in great excitement, having, he said, a testable hypothesis about inhibition which had come to him, like Archimedes, in the bath that morning. He retired to his wire cage for 24 hours or more, being fed sandwiches through the door’.

Neurophysiology experiments required sophisticated and intricate electronic equipment; Eccles acknowledged that such technology ‘rapidly outstripped my understanding …. My indebtedness to my associates is immeasurable’. In his travels around the world, he noted, ‘I have left … a trail of elaborately designed shielded research rooms stripped of equipment!’. To Otago he brought not just specialist electrical equipment, but also a technician, Arthur Chapman. He also made the most of the technical expertise he found in Dunedin. Arnold Annand, whose electrical expertise had been honed during service in the Air Force, joined the physiology department as a technician in 1948, beginning a career of almost 40 years building and maintaining equipment for the university’s health science departments. In 1950 Eccles asked Jack Coombs, a ‘shy genius’ who had been lecturing in the physics department since 1940, to design a machine capable of the electronic stimulation and recording he needed for his experiments. Coombs came up with devices which remained, for many years, ‘the best general research instruments for electrophysiology in the world’, said Eccles. Coombs also participated in the neurophysiology experiments. Eccles attracted PhD students – then a rare breed – to Otago. For instance, Wilfrid Rall, a Yale graduate, came to study with Eccles, remaining on as a lecturer for several years before returning to pioneering neuroscience work in the US. Another important recruit to the department was Archie McIntyre, an old Australian neurophysiology colleague. Eccles convinced McIntyre to join him at Otago, where he became senior lecturer in 1949.


Eccles at work on an experiment, assisted by Molly Bradley, in 1951. Photo courtesy of the Department of Physiology.

The breakthrough 1951 experiment required the insertion of a tiny electrode, less than a micrometer wide, into a single nerve cell in the spinal cord of an anaesthetised cat; the action potentials of the cell could then be measured. Similar experiments had been carried out on frog muscle fibres, but never successfully on mammals. The day that revealed that synaptic action was chemically mediated, thus disproving Eccles’s theory of electrical transmission, was remarkable not only for that result. The experiment lasted for many hours, but for some time Eccles was left to tend it alone while one of his colleagues, Laurie Brock, delivered the baby of the wife of the third member of the team, Jack Coombs! As an enthusiastic disciple of Popper’s deductive method, Eccles was happy to accept that his theory was false, becoming a ‘belated’ convert to English neuroscientist Henry Dale’s hypothesis of chemical synaptic transmission even in the central nervous system.

Although Eccles was to carry out further ground-breaking experiments in neurophysiology, they didn’t take place in Dunedin. At the end of 1951 he departed for a plum job as founding physiology professor at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, attached to the recently-established Australian National University, Canberra. There he could carry on his research without the distraction of the heavy teaching load which he found a burden at Otago. Jack Coombs (whose younger brother Doug was geology professor at Otago for many years) and Arthur Chapman followed Eccles to ANU, as did some of the specialised equipment. But he left behind a strong legacy of experimental neuroscience at Otago and, by no means least, his much-respected colleague Archie McIntyre, who succeeded him as physiology professor. Under McIntyre’s leadership the department continued to attract talented research students and staff and maintained a strong experimental focus, albeit one less focused on neurophysiology, as new staff with other interests within physiology joined the team.

Ted Jones, who became a prominent neuroscientist in the USA, arrived at Otago as a medical student a few years after Eccles departed. He could not recall ever being told that Eccles had carried out groundbreaking work ‘in one of those rather grubby basement rooms of the Lindo Ferguson building. If Eccles was remembered at all it was for his irascibility, not his scientific achievements’. Perhaps the subsequent award of a Nobel Prize alerted later students to what this man had achieved in the world’s southernmost medical school – certainly it’s something we can celebrate today!

The absent-minded professor


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The absent-minded professor is not a mythical figure; numerous people have fitted this description through Otago’s history. I thought it would be fun to lighten the midwinter gloom with a few of the more entertaining stories of such characters. I must stress, however, that I have considerable sympathy for these people. It is all too easy for scholars to become caught up in the pursuit of their intellectual passions and lose track of the world around them!

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Noel ‘Bennie’ Benson in characteristic pose, pointing out a feature of geological interest during a field trip in 1924. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Department of Geology archives, MS-3195/132, S16-591b.

The most notorious absent-minded professor in Otago’s past is Noel Benson, who was geology professor from 1917 to 1950. Benson – known as ‘Bennie’ to generations of students – was an excellent geologist, who received one of the ultimate accolades in science, Fellowship of the Royal Society (London). He was a tall and somewhat shambling figure. John Mackie, a student of the 1920s and 1930s who went on to teach in the School of Mines and founded the surveying school, recalled that Benson ‘wore on all occasions an ancient, somewhat shapeless, dark tweed suit which bore the slightly green sheen of age’. At one point he acquired a new suit with two pairs of trousers, but it didn’t survive long. One day, as he assisted a student examining a map in a practical geology class, there was ‘a powerful smell of scorching’. The professor hadn’t noticed the heater under the table, and when he stepped back ‘the toasted fronts of his trouser legs fell out to reveal his pink long-johns’. A few weeks later, running late to meet a visiting scholar at the railway station, he tripped over the tram rails and fell, removing the knees from the second pair of pants. ‘Next day we saw a limping Bennie clad in the old familiar garb’.

Benson was not the best of lecturers, since he generally spoke with his eyes closed or facing the board, forgot to turn the lights on after showing slides or tripped over the projector cord, and often ran over time. As Mackie noted, ‘his thoughts were often far away on trilobites, or the structural features of the margin of Australasia, or the geology of eastern Otago, and if you spoke to him on such occasions he would reply automatically, “Yes – just so!”’. While he was courting his future wife – Helen Rawson, the home science professor – Benson became even more absent-minded than usual: as he lectured in the mining school he gazed ‘dreamily out the window to the home science building opposite’ and addressed ‘burly’ mining students as ‘my dear’, reported long-time physics lecturer Agnes Blackie. Helen Benson did her best to assist her husband in practical matters; for instance, she attached his compass, eraser and pencil to his button holes with string so he had less chance of losing them on field trips. But she couldn’t prevent some of his more famous lapses, such as the time he set off to work carrying his suitcase and the ashcan lid, carefully depositing his case at the front gate and taking the lid to the university.

Despite – or perhaps because of – his eccentricities, students regarded ‘Bennie’ with affection, and his knowledge and passion for geology inspired many. They were less fond of him when he drove them on field trips. John Mackie recalled ‘descending pale and shaken from his vehicle after being driven around winding roads in the bush, mostly on the wrong side, while he was peering at outcrops’.  Fred Fastier wrote that ‘One reason for an astonishing lack of collisions was that Benny kept his trafficator out “just in case” he might need to turn right. He would also get down to his lowest gear at least a mile away from the Mount Cargill Road lest he should forget to do so later on’.

Unfortunately, Benson was not the only absent-minded driver on the Otago staff. Another famous case was his contemporary Henry Devenish Skinner, the anthropology lecturer and museum director. Neil Howard recalled ‘one hair raising trip when driving out to Murdering Beach excavation site he went around the tortuous corners on the old Mt Cargill road on the wrong side, blowing the horn vigorously as he went. “Please excuse the horn,” says he, “you cannot be too careful”’. Another famous driving story relates to history professor William (‘Willie’) Morrell. His daughter Judith Nathan kindly shares the ‘best known story’ of the professor’s ‘legendary absentmindedness. He left my mother behind at the Vice Chancellor’s residence at St Leonard’s. He was taking the guest of honour home so the guest sat in the front and my mother in the back. As the back window was fogged up, she got out to clean it on the outside and he drove off. After a while the guest reportedly said: “Is your wife in the car?” to which my father is alleged to have replied: “Goodness me. I don’t believe she is.” At which point he turned the car around’. Despite such lapses, Morrell did pay attention to detail, as Neil Howard notes: ‘It was quite a performance when he would halt in a lecture, take out a propelling pencil, propel the lead, insert a comma in his lecture notes, ‘unpropel’ the pencil and replace it in his pocket then carry on’.


The future history professor during his own Otago student days, dressed as a schoolgirl for capping in 1920. From left: F.H. McDowall, G.A. Naylor, J.S. Adam, W.P. Morrell, L.S. Rogers and A.G. Crust. Image courtesy of Judith Morrell Nathan.

There were far fewer women academics back in the day and, since they had to overcome significant obstacles to achieve academic careers, they could not really afford to be absent-minded. Nevertheless, women professors stood out and eccentricity was not confined to the male of the species. Sticking to the transport theme, I don’t know if home science professor Ann Gilchrist Strong was a good driver, but her Model A Ford was a prized possession. 1920s student Sylvia Keane recalled that another of the professor’s prize possessions was her fox terrier Binkie, who had a basket in Strong’s office and ‘sported a bright scarlet coat in the winter’. It was ‘quite a memorable sight to see her sitting up beside Mrs Strong in the car’. The first home science professor, Winifred Boys-Smith, used a bicycle rather than a car. In contrast to the American Strong, Boys-Smith was ‘English to the backbone’, recalled Agnes Blackie, and ‘had a clear idea of the respect due to her position’. She was ‘a well-known figure as, clad in an ankle-length, black, caped waterproof coat and a broad-brimmed hat held securely in place with an enveloping motor-veil, she cycled from place to place round the university’.

Eccentricity and absent-mindedness do, of course, survive on campus to this day, but for obvious reasons I have confined these tales to people who have long since departed!

A chorus of laughs – the Sextet


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The 1962 Sextette in traditional clown costume. Back from left: Doug Cox, Alastair Stokes, Terry Wilson, Peter Chin. Front: Roger McElroy, Gus Ferguson (pianist), Ian Robertson. Photo by de Clifford Photography, courtesy of Peter Chin.

The Sextet has been entertaining audiences at Otago’s capping show with beautifully-sung and witty words for over a century. Given its tendency to come close to the line – and sometimes to cross it – with offensive subject material, it seems only appropriate that its origins were not ‘politically correct’. The capping show itself dates back to 1894, when the University of New Zealand authorities banned public graduation ceremonies after becoming fed up with riotous student behaviour at these supposedly formal occasions. That prompted students to develop their own capping carnival of dances, concerts and processions, while the official graduation ceremony, when reinstated, became a much more seemly affair.

The capping concert soon became a hit with both students and the public, offering amusing commentary on the life and personalities of the university in particular, sometimes extending to the rest of Dunedin and the wider world. Alternative lyrics set to popular tunes were one of its standbys. One of the Sextet’s most famous old boys, conductor and composer Tecwyn Evans, researched its history as an honours project in 1993. He traced its origins to the appearance of ‘Coon’s Quartette’ at the 1903 capping concert. Presumably they made themselves up in ‘blackface’, then popular but later heavily criticised for its racist stereotypes. A review of the 1905 capping concert noted that ‘a coon tableau and a cake walk by a quartet of coloured gentlemen went well’.

The 1903 quartet was followed by various 4 or 5-man combinations, with the first 6-man singing group appearing in 1912. By 1919 the Sextette (as it was known until 1966, when it became the Sextet) was a regular feature of the capping concert, famous for its cheeky words sung with angelic voices. An ODT review of the 1923 concert noted ‘their rendering of topical verses was to many the very best item of the evening. In their first appearance they made play behind great song books of ’Varsity blue. Their songs when they appeared in evening dress in the second half were particularly clever and most amusing as one after another unburdened himself of the confession of the murder of some professor or other equally undesirable person. They also successfully burlesqued the Sistine Choir, and were rewarded with the most prolonged and emphatic applause of the evening’. The tradition of appearing in clown costume for some items and in evening dress for others quickly developed, though occasionally they branched out into other outfits.


The 1948 Sextette dressed as Victorian clergy to fit in with the theme of the capping show, ‘Dunover, or Cargill Rides Again’ (in honour of the centenary of the Otago colony). Left to right: Ninian Walden, John Somerville, Linley Ellis, Brian Neill, Ritchie Gilmour, Michael Shackleton. Photo courtesy of Michael Shackleton.

The Sextet, like the capping carnival, took a break during World War II. When the concert recommenced in 1945, getting traditions going again with no experienced seniors to help proved tricky. Concert director David Cole (future dean of the Auckland medical school) noted that ‘we could only find a quartette the first year but the sextette has reigned supreme again since then’.


The 1952 Sextette, from left: Linley Ellis, Richard Bush, John ?, Keith Monagan, Michael Shackleton, Brian McMahon. Photo courtesy of Michael Shackleton.

Writer James K. Baxter, who was Burns Fellow at Otago in 1966 and 1967, was a fan of capping shows, ‘chiefly on account of their vigour and their freedom of satire, both of which the country sorely needs’. In a review in the notorious but short-lived student publication Falus, he commended the 1967 production as more sophisticated than usual, though it did mean that ‘the sheer drive of spontaneous gutsiness was not so strong’. Fortunately, the ‘casual energy of Sextet provided a counterpoint’. Their performance included a ‘Geering interlude’ – presumably a commentary on the well-known theology professor, who was tried for heresy that year – among other things. ‘The alternation of wide-open satire with straight singing broadened their presentation … I think they were indispensable’, wrote Baxter.


The 1959 Sextette in action. Back from left: Bob McKegg, Jim Cleland, Alastair Brown. Front: John Burton, Peter Chin, Meikle Skelly. Peter Foreman was the pianist. Photo courtesy of Peter Chin.

Members of the Sextet were chosen for their vocal skill. Shy young first-year law student Peter Chin headed along to the audition for the large capping chorus with some friends from school in 1959. At the audition, talent-spotters suggested he should audition for the Sextet, and he was to sing with them for 3 of his 5 years at university. Becoming part of this elite group provided him with an instant introduction into student society. Chin – a future mayor of Dunedin – later became a well-known performer in local productions. The abilities of the Sextet have, naturally, varied from year to year, but there are some very famous names among the old boys, with vocal stars Roger Wilson, Martin Snell, Simon O’Neill and Jonathan Lemalu all lending their talents to the group during their university days. Although the performances have been a cappella for many years, in the past the group had a piano accompanist, and generally sang in unison rather than with the harmonies which became a feature during the 1970s.

The lyrics, also, varied in quality from year to year; sometimes the Sextet wrote the words themselves, and sometimes they received help from others. An anonymous article in a 1991 graduate publication noted that the content varied ‘from the traditional to the topical and from the harmless to the emphatically unsuitable’. Certainly the level of sexual innuendo in the lyrics grew and became more explicit, and in 2010 Rape Crisis criticised the Sextet for trivialising rape and sexual abuse in some lyrics.

Because the capping stage was open to men only until 1947, the Sextet started as an all-male group, and so it determinedly remained. In 1966 the show featured an all-female vocal group, named the Sextette, in addition to the all-male Sextet, but it proved a one-off. The ODT reported that ‘the girls do a good job, but their voices are not strong enough and most of their words are lost’. Finally, in 2001, a new female a cappella group – the Sexytet – debuted at the capping show, becoming a regular feature. The women’s group, which settled on ‘1950s housewife’ costumes, performed witty and smutty songs in beautiful harmonies, as in Sextet tradition.


The 1963 Sextette enjoying themselves backstage. Back from left – Terry Wilson, Jenny Black, Peter McKenzie, Alistair Wright. Front – Gus Ferguson (pianist), John Sayers, Peter Chin, Bob Salamonsen. Photo by Alan Stuart, courtesy of Peter Chin.

Through the years the Sextet has provided a lot of laughs to a lot of people. And, though they often put in a lot of work practising, the singers have clearly enjoyed themselves very much too (with a notable exception in 1993, when they were pelted with beer cans when performing as a warm-up act before a rugby test match at Carisbrook). Video of performances by Sextets and Sexytets of recent years can be found on Youtube – viewer discretion is definitely advised!

Photo by Daniel Chew © |

The 2014 Sextet. Through the years the clown hats have been lost, but more make-up added. Photo by Daniel Chew, courtesy of OUSA.

The accounting night school


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The Otago University Commerce Faculty Association in 1922. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Paterson and Lang records, 83-070 Box 3, S16-571a.

The University of Otago has been teaching commerce subjects for over a century, but for the first 50 years it was a part-time enterprise. While lectures in economics date back to the 1870s, other commerce disciplines started in the 20th century. In 1904, in response to advocacy from business leaders who wanted ‘keener, better educated, more live young men’ in the business world, the University of New Zealand approved a new degree, the Bachelor of Commerce. It was closely modelled on similar degrees recently introduced in England’s northern universities. The degree included a mix of subjects, some not yet taught at Otago, so it had little impact to begin with, but a few years later further advocacy from the business sector helped get commerce classes going.

The New Zealand Society of Accountants, which controlled entry to the accountancy profession, in 1911 negotiated with the University of New Zealand to have its examinations run by the university; the university amended its BCom syllabus so that its papers and topics met the qualifying requirements of the NZSA. Funding from the NZSA helped smooth the path of the new system. It offered a five-year subsidy to each of the university colleges; when supplemented with a matching subsidy from the government plus student fees this enabled the cash-strapped University of Otago to take on the new venture of teaching specialist commerce subjects in addition to its existing economics programme. In 1912 young Dunedin accountant George Reid, who had completed a BCom with honours at Victoria University College in 1910, commenced as Otago’s first part-time accounting lecturer, and economics lecturer Harry Bedford added to his schedule the business law teaching required by commerce students (mercantile law, rights and duties of trustees, law of bankruptcy and law of joint stock companies). The new classes met ‘a felt want, a fact which is amply demonstrated by the large number of students who have availed themselves of the facilities offered’, noted the university’s annual report; 46 students enrolled in commerce subjects in that first year.

For the first five decades, almost all commerce students were part-timers working towards their professional accountancy exams; they already had full-time jobs. They could have studied at the technical school or by correspondence from one of the commercial colleges, but the University of Otago courses were an attractive option for southerners, for the commerce faculty soon developed a reputation for high quality teaching, with students typically scoring very well in external exams. Though the early teachers were lauded for their professional knowledge, dedication and teaching skills, they were not, of course, without flaws. One accounting lecturer resigned suddenly in the middle of 1947 after he was accused of embezzling bank funds, hardly the desired behaviour of a man educating the next generation of accountants.

Very few students went on to complete degrees in the early decades. By 1920 just five Otago students had graduated with a BCom; the first, in 1915, was Owen Wilkinson. Before he had even received his certificate, Wilkinson had signed on with the Field Artillery and headed to Gallipoli; he later became an accountant in Christchurch and presided over the Canterbury Chamber of Commerce. It was a very masculine world. The first woman enrolled in the commerce faculty in 1914 and by 1917 the female roll had reached 13. The dean, George Reid, reported that ‘during the latter part of the war period, exceptional opportunities opened up for women in the more advanced branches of commercial work’, with a ‘large number of women seeking to qualify themselves by attendance at the classes in commerce’. But in 1920 female enrolments fell, with just 6 women studying alongside 130 men: ‘evidently the reinstatement of returned soldiers in commercial occupations has made commercial training less attractive to women’, noted Reid. The faculty wanted to attract women, stating in bold print in the 1920 calendar that classes were ‘open to persons of both sexes, without restriction as to age or occupation’. But numbers remained low, and by the time the next world war broke out there were just 9 women studying alongside 118 men.

Classes were held outside business hours to suit both students and lecturers, who were practising accountants and lawyers. Tom Cowan, a student of the 1930s and part-time lecturer from the 1940s, noted they ‘shivered through law lectures in the early mornings and … at the end of the day returned to their desks in the Lower Oliver classroom to study accounting’. An anonymous commerce student noted the advantages and disadvantages of part-time study in a 1946 Review article. ‘Because he dissipates his energy for eight hours a day in an office, [the part-time student] invariably approaches his study with a weary mind, which is not conducive to the clearest thought and greatest absorption’. Part-timers had to develop an ‘orderly and efficient’ attitude, ‘qualities to be commended in all who seek advancement and success, at least in the commercial world’. They had ‘little time for the frivolities and interests so precious to the average student’. However, commerce students did support one another through their own students’ association. This organised various social events, including an annual dinner and ball and rugby matches against the law faculty; debating flourished in the 1920s and by the 1930s there was an annual fancy dress post-exam party at the Gardens tea kiosk.

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It wasn’t all grim – the 1933 commerce faculty ball, held in the Dunedin Town Hall Concert Chamber. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Box 237-005, S16-548c.

The 1960s were revolutionary for commerce education at Otago. In 1960 – 48 years after teaching had begun – Tom Cowan became the first ever full-time staff member and was promoted to a new chair of accountancy the following year. He set up in an office ‘right under the clock tower, then in a shaky condition. Perhaps there was some hope that an Act of God might crush the Commerce intruder and his fledgling Department, and, with him, the threatening aspirations of his Faculty’, recalled Cowan. From 1962, controversially, Otago’s commerce lectures shifted from the evening and early mornings to daytime, with the advanced accounting courses on Saturdays as part of a compromise with local employers. It was all part of a strategy to recruit more full-time and degree students; the 1960 Parry report on New Zealand universities was highly critical of part-time study, which was associated with high attrition rates, and commerce faculties were the worst offenders. The faculty was now able to introduce tutorials in the evenings, giving students more contact time with their teachers; course standards rose. Employers became more reluctant to employ part-time students, since they needed to be released during business hours for lectures, and full-time study became more attractive. By 1970, two-thirds of commerce students were full-time, a dramatic change from the 8% of 1960, and in the same period degree completions in commerce jumped from 8 to 76. The roll also grew dramatically, like that of the university as a whole; there were 238 commerce students in 1960, but 580 in 1970 (together with an additional 92 external students, mostly in Invercargill). Some of these new students were attracted to the greater diversity of subjects on offer. From the mid-1960s BCom students could choose between three majors: accounting, economics or management. Otago’s first management course was taught in 1962 and marketing courses commenced in 1966; both proved popular immediately and acquired their own professors the following decade … but that’s another story!

Do you have any memories to share of the accounting night school days? I’m keen to track down photographs relating to the commerce faculty (right through to the 1990s) – I’ve found plenty of formal portraits, but would love to see some more interesting images!

The class of 1946


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Waiting for the capping parade to start, 1946. Image courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

1946: New Zealand’s population drew close to 2 million, the long war was finally over, Prime Minister Peter Fraser led the Labour government into a fourth term, Southland held the Ranfurly Shield and The Best Years of Our Lives beat It’s a Wonderful Life to take the Oscar for best picture. But what was life like for Otago’s 2440 students? I recently stumbled upon a survey of a large group of students, which provides some fascinating insights into their lives.

The survey was carried out by the recently-established Student Health Service. The medical school had been carrying out medical examinations of its own students for a while, but in 1946 the university decided to open a general practice health service for all students. It was initiated by the Preventive and Social Medicine Department and partly funded by a social security grant allocated for each student who signed up; it aimed to combine ‘preventive and therapeutic work’. By the end of its first year the service had signed up 736 students, and carried out a statistical analysis of 614 of these, for whom detailed records were available. The information, therefore, covered a quarter of Otago students of that time. It wasn’t a fully representative sample, though. Unsurprisingly, medical students were over-represented, accounting for 53% of the survey, when they were 28% of all Otago students. Home science students were also over-represented, being 20% of those surveyed when they made up just 8% of the student roll. On the other hand, only 15% of those in the survey were arts or science students, at a time when they made up 37% of Otago students. Presumably students at the ‘special’ schools, such as home science, were more likely to sign up to student health as they often came from out of town, and did not already have a local family doctor. The involvement of so many home science students helped sway the gender of the survey, which was 40% female when only 27% of Otago students were women.

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A group of dental students clean their pride and joy, 1946. Image courtesy of Michael Shackleton.

The data reported on the physical, mental and social well-being of the students. In an effort to measure the impact of the students’ early environment and class background, they were asked about their home locations and father’s occupation. These reflected New Zealand’s strongly urbanised culture. Just 13% had grown up in the country, and a further 7% in a ‘village’, while 78% had ‘town’ backgrounds. A remarkable 44% had a father with a professional background, 28% were in business, 13% in farming and just 14% in trades. At the 1945 census, just 10% of married men engaged in the workforce were classed as being in ‘clerical and professional occupations’, so it is clear that the children of the upper echelons of society were greatly over-represented at the university. Ethnicity was not recorded, but birthplace was, and 93% of the students had been born in New Zealand – internationalisation had a long way to go! Most of the others had been born in Britain, while a few came from Australia, central Europe, China and the Pacific. 10% of students in the survey lived at home – presumably that included the 6% who were married – and 46% in residential colleges. Flatting was yet to take off in popularity, with just 4% of the sample in flats; 39% lived in ‘digs’, or private board.

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The shadow of the war loomed large. The ‘SS War Bride’ was the science students’ float for the 1946 capping parade. Image courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

The shadow of the war loomed large, with 10% of those surveyed having served overseas with the military; this ‘might have a considerable bearing on physical and mental health’, noted Archie Douglas, the student health director. It also had quite a bearing on student life. Tom O’Donnell, a future medical professor and dean of the Wellington school of medicine, was just 16 years old when he arrived to study at Otago towards the end of the war, and recalled that the few returned servicemen in his class provided some welcome maturity. In 1946, a third of the second-year medical class had served in the war. Miles Hursthouse, who was in that class, noted that it ‘became known in that and subsequent years for the dedication and hard work of the students’. The older men, like him, ‘were realising a lifetime ambition and worked like blazes for it, thus stimulating the younger ones to keep with or beat us academically’.

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One of many popular physical activities of 1946 students – tramping. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Otago University Tramping Club records, 96-063/036, S15-592b.

But it wasn’t all work: 64% of the students played at least one sport on a regular basis and 41% participated actively in clubs and societies. Reports in the Otago University Review reveal that 1946 was a great year for sports clubs. The boxing, cricket, golf, harrier, ski, soccer and tennis clubs all had successful years, and rowing, after a ‘lapse of some years’, ‘assumed its rightful place in the sporting life of the University’. The rugby club had more members than ever before and fielded 8 teams in the Dunedin competition; 6 players represented Otago and medical student Ron Elvidge, captain of the A team, was selected for the All Blacks. Other clubs and societies had varied success. The Review noted that the photographic society had come to a halt but the literary society had staged a comeback; the debating societies were ‘moderately active’. A new chess club was waiting for chess sets to arrive; the game had ‘a large following’ in the medical school. A new musical union formed a ‘long-needed union between the various musical groups’, with regular ‘gramophone recitals’ and several chamber music recitals in Allen Hall. A piano recital by Lili Kraus, a Hungarian Jew recently released from internship under the Japanese, was a highlight of the year. The dramatic society and dramatic club both staged productions, including The Black Eye, The Spartan Girl, Orange Blossom, a section from The Taming of the Shrew and a play reading of Blithe Spirit. ‘Ill-considered criticism is sometimes levelled at the Drama Club’, suggested OUSA’s intellectual affairs rep, but it ‘works under many difficulties’. The biological society and medical history society flourished, as did the Christian groups, which maintained ‘a continuity for which other societies contend in vain’.

The health service made an attempt to assess the ‘mental hygiene’ of students with a scale measuring their ‘temperament’. A creditable 43% were described as ‘calm’, 39% as ‘average’ and 17% as ‘nervous’. The nervous perhaps included the 8% classed as heavy smokers (’more than 10 cigarettes a day, or the equivalent in pipes’); a further 36% were ‘light’ smokers, while 56% didn’t smoke. Physical examination of the students uncovered a range of physical ‘defects’. The most common – each affecting 17% of the study group – were ‘thyroid’, ‘previous respiratory illness’ and ‘vision unsatisfactory’ (17% wore glasses regularly and 4% for reading – according to my optometrist those are very low percentages compared with today’s student cohort). The most common reason for students to consult the health service was a skin problem, while the greatest cause of acute sickness was ‘the feverish attack labelled flu’. Another problem ‘constantly calling for diagnosis and treatment’ was ‘the possible appendix’.

Mining float

The School of Mines float for 1946 featured ‘Paddy’s Band of Angels’, a reference to recently-retired cabinet minister Paddy Webb, who declared that ‘the people should take their hats off to the miners’. The capping parade was a popular public event. Image courtesy of Arthur Campbell.

Infectious disease loomed large in the histories of 1946 students. The ‘common cold and its complications is the outstanding ailment of the student group’, reported Douglas, but many had previously suffered more serious infections. Half had experienced mumps, and more than half whooping cough and chickenpox, while a remarkable 95% had suffered measles. A smaller number had survived scarlet fever, diphtheria and polio. Pneumonia and rheumatic fever were the most common causes of the ‘serious illness’ that 9% reported as part of their health history. The threat of tuberculosis – for which the first effective drug treatment, streptomycin, was only discovered in 1944 – was a constant concern. 10% of students had been in contact with TB within their own family. The clinic conducted 270 Mantoux tests and 72 were positive, indicating those people had been infected with TB, though they did not necessarily have active disease (‘latent’ TB being more common). The other main tool of tuberculosis screening – a chest x-ray – was provided to 309 students.

The class of 1946 was clearly a hardy group. Though they came, on the whole, from relatively privileged backgrounds, these young people had grown up during an economic depression, recovered from a range of potentially life-threatening or disabling illnesses and survived a long war (some of them on active service). They worked hard and many of them played hard. The capping carnival – which had been on hold during the war years – was revived in full in 1946 and enjoyed by both students and community. There was an air of conservatism among students: one of the most controversial issues on campus in 1946 was a campaign to overthrow the traditional exclusion of women from participation in the capping show. Women remained behind the scenes in 1946 but would finally appear on stage at the 1947 show.

Capping show 46

The cast of the Knox Farce, ‘Cameo and Mabelette’, performed at the 1946 capping show. Image courtesy of Michael Shackleton.

I don’t suppose the director of the student health service had historians in mind when he compiled his report on the clinic’s first year! Nevertheless, his broad-ranging analysis has survived to provide a fascinating window into the lives of one generation of Otago students. I am grateful to him, and also to some former students of 1946 – Arthur Campbell and Michael Shackleton – who have shared some of their photographs from student days.

Three more colleges


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The first stage of Knox College under construction, c.1908. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Universal Post Card Co., G. Campbell series, Box-308-006, S16-548b.

The Anglicans – a minority group in colonial Otago – were the first to establish a residential college at the university, as I outlined in a recent post. The much larger Presbyterian community was slower to get started, but once it did, it went one better, opening a college for men in 1909 (Knox) and another for women in 1911 (St Margaret’s). As the university grew, the Presbyterians also added a third college – Salmond – in 1971. As had been the case with Selwyn, it was the needs of theology students that helped get these colleges started, though they were open to other students from the beginning.

The campaign to open a Presbyterian residential college was started and led by popular Presbyterian minister Andrew Cameron. Cameron, one of Otago’s early graduates, was on the university council (he later served as chancellor) and convened the church’s committee on theological training. The church had started training its own ministers locally in the 1870s. Classes took place at the theology professor’s home in Leith Street (where St Margaret’s now stands), but between the professor’s large family, the library and a growing student body the space quickly grew cramped. Cameron was keen to establish a college which would provide a better space for theology training, together with residential accommodation for its students and those of the university. He identified a good site in Opoho – the land already belonged to the Presbyterian Church – and in 1902 set about a major fundraising campaign. The campaign started well with a large donation from one of New Zealand’s wealthiest men, John Ross, of the large importing and manufacturing firm Ross and Glendining. Other donations trickled in, and in 1908 the foundation stone of a grand and imposing building was laid. The first 40 residents moved into Knox College – named after the Scottish theological reformer – in 1909. Nineteen of them were students at the theological hall and the remainder were university students (9 of those completing the undergraduate university degree necessary before they could start theological training). With new wings and alterations, by 1914 the college had expanded to house 94 residents.

Knox Farce

The Knox farce was a regular feature of capping concerts for many years. The cast of the 1946 farce, ‘Cameo and Mabelette’, included Ratu Kamisese Mara, future Prime Minister of Fiji (the tall figure, standing at centre). Image courtesy of Michael Shackleton.

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The original St Margaret’s College in 1911. The building had previously housed the Presbyterian theology professor. Image from the Otago Witness, 19 April 1911, courtesy of the Hocken Collections, S10-133a.

Other than the master’s family and the domestic staff, all of the Knox residents were men: the idea that male and female students might live in the same college was well outside the norms of the era. But women coming to study at the university or teachers’ college in Dunedin also needed somewhere to live, especially as landladies often preferred male to female boarders (because men often spent more time out of the house, and also required fewer laundry facilities). In 1909 a Women Student’s Hostel Committee was formed by church people interested in establishing a women’s college. After various political complications, they managed to secure the lease of the building vacated by the theological college when Knox opened. It was a rundown building but the site, right next to the university, was ideal. After a few hurried repairs, early in 1911 the first residents moved into St Margaret’s College, which was named after a highly devout medieval Queen of Scotland. By the end of the year the new college had 15 residents, made up of 12 training college and 3 university students. It was a small beginning, but the college council had big plans; unfortunately it did not have any money. After several years of fundraising, in 1914 construction commenced on a new brick building, and at the end of 1917 it was complete, with room for 70 residents. Life in St Margaret’s was strictly controlled, but the women established a happy community at a time when they were not welcomed by all parts of the university. Almost a third of Otago students were women in the 1910s (even more in the war years), and as St Margaret’s historian Susannah Grant points out, the college ‘stood on the hill as a visible symbol of women’s increasing participation in higher education’. It also served as a focal point and meeting place for all women students.

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St Margaret’s College residents and staff in 1924. Image courtesy of Hocken Collections, St Margaret’s College records, AG-157-N2, S10-532a.

Knox and St Margaret’s grew through the decades, especially during the 1960s, when both added new wings. By the end of that decade Knox provided a home for 155 residents and St Margaret’s for 170. There was no shortage of demand for student accommodation, with the university roll doubling between 1960 and 1970. That was one of the motives behind a 1960s scheme to build another women’s residential college in the grounds of Knox College. The initial spur for the new project was, however, the needs of women training for church vocations. Since 1903 women training as Presbyterian deaconesses had lived together as a small community, but some of their leaders felt they would benefit from living alongside other students, just as men training for the ministry did at Knox College. After all, the women already shared some classes with men at the theological hall. In 1963 the Presbyterian Church approved the scheme for a new residence, which would cater for women training as deaconesses as well as other women students of all denominations and all faculties. The idea that Presbyterian women should be granted the same privileges as men gained further impetus the following year, when the church approved the ordination of women as clergy. Nobody yet considered the more radical possibility that men and women might actually live together in one college.

A fundraising appeal got underway in 1965; generous government subsidies for the building of student accommodation meant the church only needed to raise part of the expense. There were considerable delays, with the government deferring its contribution due to financial difficulties and tightening controls on the building industry, but construction finally started late in 1969. In 1971 the first intake of 140 women moved in; three were students for the Presbyterian ministry, with the rest at the university or teachers’ college. Salmond Hall (known as Salmond College from 2006) was named for a prominent local Presbyterian family, in particular Mary Salmond, a former principal of the deaconess college, and her brother James Salmond, a minister and leader of Christian education. The first warden, Keren Fulton, combined experience and good Presbyterian credentials; she had run the YWCA hostel, Kinnaird House, and was a Presbyterian deacon.

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The newly-built Salmond Hall, c.1971. Image courtesy of Hocken Collections, Salmond Anderson Architects records, MS-3821/2000, S16-548a.

Salmond quickly developed a life of its own. Though it shared a few facilities, such as tennis courts, with its older neighbour up the hill, and they held a few combined social events, Salmond and Knox maintained distinct identities and cultures. They were, however, governed by the same council. Once Salmond was up and running that council turned its attention to the needs of another growing group of students for the ministry: those who were married, often with children. In 1976 it opened a new complex of flats in the Knox grounds, named Somerville Court in honour of Knox master and university chancellor Jack Somerville. They included flats designed for families alongside others which catered for the growing demand for flats from groups of single students. As private flat provision grew, there was less call for these flats, so they were absorbed into Knox College. Together with other additions and alterations, this expanded Knox to cater for 215 residents; St Margaret’s now accommodates 224 residents and Salmond 238.

Knox 2008

An aerial view of Knox College in 2008. The Somerville Court flats are to the left of the main building, and the Presbyterian theological hall (now the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership) and library at the rear. Image courtesy of University of Otago Marketing and Communications.

Knox, St Margaret’s and Salmond are now formally affiliated to the University of Otago, but continue to be owned and managed by the Presbyterian Church. Despite their religious background, they have always been open to students of any faith (or none). I suspect, though, that some of the Presbyterian founders might be a little surprised to know that the college they established for young ladies in 1911 has had a Catholic priest (Peter Norris) as warden since 1989! They might also be surprised to discover that the colleges, like all at Otago, accommodate both men and women. Salmond did not remain a solely female domain for long, admitting a few men from 1975, while St Margaret’s admitted men for the first time in 1981. Knox admitted its first woman as a senior resident in 1982, meaning it narrowly escaped becoming the last single sex college at Otago; both Knox and Selwyn provided a home for undergraduate women from 1982.

St Margarets 2012

St Margaret’s College, 2012. Image courtesy of University of Otago Marketing and Communications.

With over 600 residents each year, the Presbyterian colleges make a big contribution to the university (and in Salmond’s case, also to the Otago Polytechnic). Do you have any stories to share of their past? I’m especially interested in hearing memories of Salmond, since it doesn’t have the benefit of a published history, like Knox and St Margaret’s!

Salmond 2009

Salmond College in 2009. Image courtesy of University of Otago Marketing and Communications.

On a foreign field


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Alexander Maclure (mistakenly named here as Arnold) and other international volunteers arrested while attempting to enter Spain, at an appearance in a French court in 1937. Image from the Workers Weekly, 2 July 1937, courtesy of the Hocken Collections, S16-521d.

I’ve written previously about the university in World War I and World War II, so to mark Anzac Day this year I’m exploring the intriguing and little-known story of an Otago student killed in one of the other conflicts of the 20th century, the Spanish Civil War. Alexander Crocker Maclure was not your average Otago student. For a start, he came from Canada, not a common origin for students at that time. Born in 1912, Alex Maclure grew up in Montreal. After leaving school, where he did well, he headed to remote northern Manitoba, working as a wireless operator at Fort Churchill. He was, it seems, a man of adventure and one keen to escape his roots in Westmount, a wealthy Anglophone enclave of Montreal. His parents loved their oldest son, but had no time for his leftist politics; indeed, his father chaired the council of the Montreal branch of the Royal Empire Society. In 1931 Alex Maclure enrolled at the Otago School of Mines. We can only speculate about why he came here when he could have attended one of Canada’s mining schools. The Otago school had a distinguished international reputation, so perhaps that was the drawcard; perhaps he wanted also to explore a new country.

There were only around 1100 students at Otago when Maclure arrived, and he quickly earned the reputation of being the most politically radical person on campus. That wasn’t an especially big challenge: a study by Sharon Dooley of Otago students in the depression concluded that most were ‘conservative members of the middle class’, preoccupied with completing their qualifications. There were a few, like future history professor Angus Ross, who were shocked by the poverty they witnessed in those difficult times and took an active interest in politics as a result, but Maclure was unusual in being a committed member of the Communist Party (it expelled him more than once for unorthodox views). Maclure was a driving force behind the formation of the first formal left-wing groups on campus. The Public Questions Union, first affiliated to OUSA in 1932, organised regular discussions and mock parliaments; it also served as a ‘front’ for the Independent Radical Club, ‘an influential cell’ of more radical students, with about 30 members by 1935.

Maclure was heavily committed to his political beliefs. He was always up for a discussion and a very good speaker, though his views shocked many. He started out living at the Dunedin YMCA and later lived in digs in Cumberland and Hyde streets. His university enrolment card for 1935 gave his address as ‘no fixed abode’; that may have been when friends recalled him living in a deserted house, unable to afford heating or food. He had little choice but to turn to his parents for financial support. Writer Dan Davin, a student contemporary, later wrote a vivid portrait of Maclure (disguised as McGregor) in his short story ‘The Hydra’, published in The Gorse Blooms Pale in 1947. It revealed the radical as an extremist, who always ‘seemed too vehement, slightly absurd’; other students threw him in the Leith when he advertised the first meeting of the Radical Club. But Davin also expressed some sympathy with Maclure’s views on food riots by the unemployed, and felt uncomfortable at his conviction and fine for scrawling political slogans on Dunedin footpaths. Maclure wrote about politics wherever he could, including in student publications Critic and the Otago University Review. Meanwhile, he slogged his way through the mining course, completing some of the practical component in the West Coast mines. He took a year off his course in 1933 and it is unclear what he did then; perhaps he simply got a job to fund his later studies. He completed his final course work at the school of mines in 1936; he didn’t receive his diploma, but that was only because he had yet to complete the required thesis about his practical work, often submitted by students a year or two after they left the mining school.

Maclure now had other priorities. Like other political junkies he developed a keen interest in events in Spain, where in 1931 a coalition left-right government took over from the previous deeply conservative dictatorship and monarch, and after the 1936 election a coalition leftist government – the Popular Front – won power. Later that year the right-wing military began an uprising, led by General Francisco Franco, and a brutal civil war broke out in earnest; the war was eventually won by Franco in 1939. The fight was confined to Spain, but it had much broader significance as a battle between the extremes of left and right in a region where fascism was on the rise. Hitler and Mussolini committed resources, including troops, to Franco’s cause and, in the absence of any effective intervention from other countries, leftists around the world recruited volunteers to support the republican government’s battle against the right. The International Brigades, as they were known, eventually included around 40,000 volunteers from 50 countries. Soon after the war broke out Alex Maclure helped set up the General Spanish Aid Committee, later absorbed into the Spanish Medical Aid Committee, which became this country’s major relief organisation for the war.

But Maclure wanted to do more than raise funds. Early in 1937 he returned briefly to Canada, where he joined a group of Canadian and American volunteers heading to Spain. He intended to get involved in the blood transfusion unit, but because of his record as a crack marksman (he won prizes for his shooting ability at school) he was posted to a fighting unit of the MacKenzie-Papineau Battalion. The first challenge was to gain entry into Spain, as France closed its border in February 1937. Maclure and some of his companions were captured by French authorities while travelling up the Mediterranean, hidden in the hold of a fishing vessel; together with several others, picked up by border patrols in the Pyrenees; they spent 20 days in a French prison for evading a non-intervention agreement, which supposedly banned all foreign powers from intervening in Spain. The Workers Weekly, the New Zealand communist paper, published a letter from Maclure in jail, as did the Grey River Argus. The prisoners were in high spirits, and received lots of support from French locals. They finally made their way into Spain some weeks later, crossing by foot in darkness over mountain trails.

Maclure’s movements in Spain remain unclear, but he became sergeant in charge of one of the American Division’s machine guns and was reported wounded and missing in August 1937; he died a couple of months later, probably in battle at Fuentes de Ebro, in the Zaragoza (Saragossa) province of northern Spain. News of Maclure’s death reached Dunedin in December 1937; the Workers Weekly proclaimed the heroism of a comrade ‘killed in action defending, with his comrades in the International Brigade, freedom and world peace against the Fascist invaders’. He ‘demonstrated that New Zealand can point to men to whom freedom means more than life itself’. An obituary in the first issue of Critic for 1938 recalled Maclure’s years as an Otago student, noting his ‘considerable’ intellect and his whole-hearted promotion of his Communist beliefs. ‘His enthusiasm, his sincerity, his moral fearlessness earned him the regard of all who respect such qualities’. Critic did not, naturally enough, demonstrate such approval of Maclure’s politics as the Workers Weekly, commenting that ‘there are many who heartily deplore the theories for which Maclure fought’. It did, however, acclaim his sincerity: ‘to whatever creed we cling we can not but feel admiration for the rare and fine qualities in Maclure’s character, qualities that are revealed by his giving up his life for his ideals’.

Maclure was, to the best of my knowledge, the only Otago student or graduate to serve as a frontline soldier in the Spanish Civil War, but a couple of others did play significant roles in journalism and medicine. Geoffrey Cox completed an MA in history at Otago before heading to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1932. He stayed on in England, beginning an acclaimed career in journalism as a junior reporter for the News Chronicle. In the early months of the Spanish Civil War, Cox became the paper’s correspondent in Madrid. The original correspondent had been captured, and Cox suggested he was sent because the paper saw him as junior enough to be expendable. His reports from the Spanish capital, then heavily besieged by Franco’s forces, became one of the few sources of information to the outside world. His vividly written eye-witness account of five weeks in Madrid was published in the book Defence of Madrid the following year. His reputation as a correspondent grew as he reported for the Daily Express from Vienna and Paris in the years leading up to World War II, covering the Anschluss and Munich crisis and the invasion of Poland, then the war in Finland and German invasion of the low countries. After the fall of France he signed on with the New Zealand Division and served with distinction. When the war ended he returned to his career as an English newspaper journalist, later becoming a pioneer of television journalism.

Geoffrey Cox

Geoffrey Cox, photographed by S.P. Andrew in 1932. Image courtesy of the Alexander Turnbull Library, reference 1/2-C-22830. Alexander Turnbull Library

Douglas Jolly was another Otago graduate who published a book based on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War, but it had a very different purpose: to equip surgeons for battle. Jolly graduated in medicine in 1930. During his university years, and later, he was heavily involved in the Student Christian Movement, becoming a convinced Christian socialist. When the war broke out in Spain he was in England, close to completing his specialist qualifications as a surgeon. As the republicans lost most of their military medical services with the army rebellion and the Red Cross refused to intervene in an internal conflict, there was a call for international volunteers to support the leftist cause. Jolly immediately abandoned his studies, arriving in Spain in November 1936 with the first contingent of British medics. He was assigned to the XI International Brigade, for whom he formed a 50-bed mobile surgical unit. He gave two years of almost continuous service as a frontline surgeon, only departing when all international volunteers were withdrawn from Spain. He proved an excellent surgeon, ‘courageous and totally reliable’, much respected by all with whom he served. His patients included civilians injured in air raids alongside frontline soldiers, and the settings for the ever-mobile field unit ranged from the basement of a shell-ruined flour mill to railway tunnels and a cave. After the war he campaigned on behalf of post-war refugees, including during a return visit to New Zealand in 1939. When World War II broke out he returned to England and wrote the medical manual Field Surgery in Total War, published in October 1940 to glowing reviews. His advice on abdominal surgery saved many lives, and his systems for dealing with multiple injured patients became the basis for surgical units in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Doug Jolly also signed on with the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving as a surgeon in North Africa and Italy. His long service on the battlefields of two wars eventually caught up with Jolly; after World War II he lost his enthusiasm and confidence for surgery, spending the rest of his career as medical officer at Queen Mary’s Hospital for amputees in London.

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Marianne Bielschowsky in April 1939. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Bielschowsky papers, MS-1493/036, S16-521d.

The involvement of two later Otago staff members, Franz and Marianne Bielschowsky, in the Spanish Civil War was less intentional than that of the three Otago-educated people already mentioned. They were already living in Spain when war broke out. Franz Bielschowsky, son of distinguished German neurologist Max Bielschowsky, undertook his medical training in a succession of German universities before completing an MD at Berlin and embarking on a career in medical research in Dusseldorf. Early in 1933 he was dismissed from his job because of his Jewish parentage and fled to Amsterdam. In 1934 he relocated to Madrid, where he became a lecturer in the medical faculty; in the following year he was appointed director of the biochemistry department of the new Institute for Experimental Medicine at the Central University of Madrid. Marianne Angermann, a German biochemist who had worked with Franz Bielschowsky in Dusseldorf, joined him at the Institute in Madrid late in 1935; they were to marry in 1937. Angermann and Bielschowsky refused offers to leave Spain when the civil war began; they did not feel vulnerable and respected the support they saw for the republican government. But as the siege of Madrid lengthened, their research work became impossible. Franz joined the republican medical service and worked at a military hospital in Madrid. The Bielschowskys remained in Madrid after the withdrawal of international medical staff in 1938, but fled Spain early in 1939, as Franco’s forces prepared to enter the capital. They were now refugees for a second time, and as war took over Europe they ended up in England. They both obtained work at the University of Sheffield, where Franz’s research took a new direction, investigating the role of hormones in the development of cancers. In 1948 the Bielschowskys arrived in Otago, where Franz had been appointed director of the cancer research laboratory. Like his work in Sheffield it was sponsored by the British Empire Cancer Campaign Society. Franz continued a productive research career at Otago for 17 years, until his sudden death in 1965. Marianne, who worked alongside him, continued her work until her own death in 1977. She was especially known for her development of various special strains of mice, used worldwide for medical research.

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Franz Bielschowsky in 1949, when he was Director of Cancer Research at the University of Otago. Image courtesy of the Hocken Collections, Physiology Department records, r.6681, S16-521c. (I would be delighted to hear from anybody who can identify the woman in this photo).

The Spanish Civil War of the 1930s might be dismissed as foreign by many New Zealanders, but its dramatic progress caught up several people from these distant shores. The involvement of people connected with Otago reflected the international influences – and standing – of this university. There were an international student from Canada whose politics drove him to his death in a fight against fascism, and two New Zealanders – a Cromwell-born doctor and a Palmerston North-born journalist – who took the skills developed at Otago and further honed in England to make their own contributions during that brutal war. Last, but by no means least, came the cultured German scientists whose fortunes became caught up in that war; it was one of the events which led them to eventually settle and make an important contribution in this more peaceful corner of the world.

I am grateful to Wellington historians Simon Nathan and Mark Derby for sharing information about Alexander Maclure. I highly recommend to anybody interested in learning more the book edited by Mark Derby, Kiwi Compañeros: New Zealand and the Spanish Civil War. Mark tells me discussions are underway about a possible memorial to Doug Jolly in his home town, Cromwell.

An update (18 July 2016) – somebody who knew the Bielschowskys has kindly been in touch to alert me that the photo labelled as being of Franz is not actually him! She suggests it may be of Leopold Kirschner. If you recognise this gentleman, I’d love to hear from you.

A further update (20 July 2016) – a couple more people have confirmed that the man in the laboratory photograph is not Franz Bielschowsky, but Leopold (‘Poldi’) Kirschner. Kirschner was a microbiologist and worked in the Medical Research Council’s Microbiology Research Unit. He was another of Europe’s Jewish diaspora.Originally from Austria, he did important work on leptospirosis in Indonesia, but was interned there during the war. He continued the work on leptospirosis at Otago. My sincere thanks to those who helped correct the photo identification. The identity of the woman in the photo remains a mystery – suggestions are welcome!