Julius von Haast

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Julius von Haast
Julius von Haast.jpg
Born (1822-05-01)1 May 1822
Died 16 August 1887(1887-08-16) (aged 65)
Nationality German
Occupation Geologist
Known for Canterbury Museum
Spouse(s) Antonia Schmitt, Mary Dobson

Sir Johann Franz "Julius" von Haast KCMG (1 May 1822 – 16 August 1887) was a German geologist. He founded Canterbury Museum at Christchurch, New Zealand.

Early life[edit]

Johann Franz Julius Haast was born on 1 May 1822 in Bonn, a town in the Kingdom of Prussia, to a merchant and his wife. As a child, he attended a local school but was also educated at a grammar school in Cologne. After completing his formal schooling, he then entered the University of Bonn, where he studied geology and mineralogy.[1] However, he did not graduate.[2] As a young man, he travelled throughout Europe before basing himself in Frankfurt, working in the trading of books[1] and mineral samples collected on his journeys. On 26 October 1846, Haast married Antonia Schmitt at Frankfurt, Germany.[1] The marriage, although unhappy, produced a son named Robert two years later.[3]

Haast was fluent in English and, in 1858, was contracted by a British shipping firm, A. Willis, Gann & Company, to report on the suitability of New Zealand for German emigrants. He travelled to London and in September of that year embarked abroad the Evening Star, destined for New Zealand.[3] He arrived in Auckland on 21 December 1858[1] and, the following day, met the Austrian Ferdinand von Hochstetter at the home of a German emigrant.[4] Hochstetter, on a scientific cruise aboard the ship Novara, had been invited by the Governor of New Zealand, Thomas Gore Browne, to provide advice on a recent find of a coal field south of Auckland, in Drury.[5] Haast discovered the two men had a shared interest in geology and they quickly became friends.[4]

Exploring New Zealand[edit]

Haast accompanied Hochstetter on his journey to Drury a few days later and also present on the trip were several of Hochstetter's fellow scientists as well as the explorer and surveyor Charles Heaphy. Haast assisted Hochstetter in his investigations of the coal field[6] before the party pushed further south, interacting with local Māori and journeying along part of the Waikato River before returning to Auckland in early January 1859.[7]

Hochstetter's report on the Drury coal field was well received and he was formally asked to conduct geological surveys of New Zealand. His work with the Novara expedition largely complete, he agreed to stay on in new Zealand for several months although his salary would be paid by the Austrian government.[8] Over the next few weeks, Haast accompanied Hochstetter on geological expeditions of the area around Auckland. Hochstetter then turned his attention south, towards the Waikato province, and requested Haast join him.[9] The Waikato, apart from a few roads and trails, was largely unknown and the expedition, which left Auckland on 7 March 1859, had to make its own maps as they journeyed south. In three months, they travelled as far as Lake Taupo and also went as far west as Kāwhia Harbour and as east as Maketu, in the Bay of Plenty.[10] Arriving back in Auckland on 24 May 1859, the party, which included a photographer, had covered 1000 kilometres. Numerous samples had been taken and sketches and photographs taken on the journey added to the scientific knowledge of the area.[11]

The next month, Hochstetter and Haast departed for the Coromandel, to investigate the gold fields there.[12] Then, in late July, the two then sailed south for the settlement of Nelson,[13] Hochstetter accepting an invitation from the Nelson Provincial Council to inspect the mineral deposits, which were believed to include gold, coal and copper, in the region.[14] During his time in Nelson, while Hochstetter was carrying out his own fieldwork, Haast conducted several digs for moa bones and extracted several near-complete skeletons of the long extinct bird. He was also tasked by Hochstetter with carrying out independent fieldwork in Golden Bay[15] and investigating the mineral deposits to the east of Nelson. At Shakespeare Bay, near what is now Picton, he correctly predicted gold could be found based on his inspection of the rocks in the area.[16]

Haast returned to Nelson on 24 September September and met up with Hochstetter, whose time in New Zealand was drawing to a close. The pair delivered a public lecture on their geological findings, and their conclusion that the minerals in the area would contribute significantly to the wealth of the region was well received by the interested citizens of Nelson.[17] There was one final expedition, to investigate a newly discovered coal field in Golden Bay, at the end of September, before Hochstetter sailed for Sydney on 2 October.[18]

Following Hochstetter's departure from New Zealand, Haast was requested by the Nelson Provincial Council to build on the geological work already completed. In particular, he was to focus on identifying valuable minerals in the ranges between Nelson and the Grey River, scout out travelling routes to Westland, and complete a topographical map of the area. He started his work in January 1860, and it would take eight months before it was completed. His report to the Nelson Provincial Council was published in 1861 and of note were his discoveries of coal near what is now the town of Westport. He also found that the coal seams discovered by Thomas Brunner in 1848 were of a higher quality than first thought. He also found gold in several rivers and reported on his botanical and zoological findings.[19]

Life in Canterbury[edit]

Afterwards, at the request of the superintendent of Canterbury, William Moorhouse, Haast investigated the mountain range between Lyttelton and Canterbury. A rail tunnel was proposed through the mountain to link Lyttelton and Canterbury but engineers had encountered particular tough basaltic rocks which jeopardised the proposed route.[19] As a result of Haast's work, the rail link was able to proceed. He became provincial geologist to Canterbury, a post which he held from 1861 to 1868.[20]

His work in this capacity saw Haast conducting numerous expeditions throughout Canterbury and Westland, making geological discoveries and topographical maps of the area.[20] Late in 1861, he discovered a coal seam in Kowai and the following year searched for gold in the area around Mount Cook. He identified that the Mackenzie plains were once the bed of a major glacier and, as well as his geological observations, he collected numerous botanical specimens. He discovered and named many of the glaciers of the central South Island,[21] including the Franz Joseph Glacier, in honour of the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph.[1] He was the first person to study the bones of the extinct Haast's eagle.[22]

In 1870, Haast was appointed the curator of Canterbury Museum. The specimens that he collected on his expeditions of earlier years were a key part of the early holdings of the museum. Following the establishment of the Canterbury University College, he lectured in geology from 1873, and was made professor in 1876.[23]

His Geology of the Provinces of Canterbury and Westland, N.Z., was published in 1879. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1867, and was given a hereditary knighthood by the Emperor of Austria in 1875. He was awarded the Royal Geographical Society's Patron's Gold Medal in 1884 for his explorations in New Zealand.[24]

Later life and legacy[edit]

The grave of Julius von Haast's at Holy Trinity Avonside

Haast travelled to England in 1886, as New Zealand's commissioner to the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in London. While there, he was made Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George for his services.[25][26] He had previously been made a Companion of the same order three years previously.[1][27]

Haast died on 16 August 1887, following his return to Christchurch. He is buried in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church in Stanmore Road, Christchurch. He was survived by his second wife, Mary Dobson, daughter of the Canterbury Provincial Engineer Edward Dobson, and the couple's five children.

Several places in New Zealand are named for Haast, including Haast Pass, the Haast River and the town of Haast. The schist found in New Zealand is called the "Haast Schist" as a tribute to his contributions to geology.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Maling 1990, pp. 167–169.
  2. ^ Fleming 1966, pp. 892f.
  3. ^ a b Johnston & Nolden 2011, p. 32.
  4. ^ a b Johnston & Nolden 2011, p. 30.
  5. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 26f.
  6. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 34–36.
  7. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 40f.
  8. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 43–45.
  9. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 60f.
  10. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 64f.
  11. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, p. 115.
  12. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, p. 119.
  13. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, p. 129.
  14. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 137f.
  15. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 160–162.
  16. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, p. 197.
  17. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 219–223.
  18. ^ Johnston & Nolden 2011, pp. 224–226.
  19. ^ a b Jenkinson 1940, pp. 37f.
  20. ^ a b Jenkinson 1940, p. 39.
  21. ^ Jenkinson 1940, p. 40.
  22. ^ Haast 1872, pp. 193–196.
  23. ^ Jenkinson 1940, p. 46.
  24. ^ "List of Past Gold Medal Winners" (PDF). Royal Geographical Society. Retrieved 24 August 2015. 
  25. ^ Jenkinson 1940, pp. 46f.
  26. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 25602. p. 3082. 28 June 1886. Retrieved 20 April 2015.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 25233. p. 2731. 24 May 1883. Retrieved 20 April 2015.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Haast, Sir Johann Franz Julius von". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

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