Celebrating the women of New Zealand science

Today, 16 October, is Ada Lovelace Day. Its aim is “Celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths”.

For interesting reading on New Zealand women scientists, try:

Elizabeth Joan Batham – Marine biologist, university lecturer

In England from late 1945, Batham did pioneering experimental work on sea anemones under Carl Pantin at both the University of Cambridge and the Plymouth laboratory of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. She returned to Dunedin in September 1950 to oversee the revival of the old marine station at Portobello, which was to be taken over by the university. She served on the New Zealand Oceanographic Committee, participated in the Danish Galathea Deep Sea Expedition (1952) and was a member of the Chatham Islands 1954 Expedition. Batham was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1962. She also served a term as president of the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society in 1966.

Muriel Emma Bell – Nutritionist, medical researcher

Appointed government nutrition officer to advise on problems arising out of the Second World War, she made recommendations concerning rationing and set the national ration scales for food items. Bell’s forte was applied research into subjects of practical everyday importance, such as the vitamin content of New Zealand fruit, vegetables, fish and cereals. She provided information to the public through the Department of Health, the Plunket Society, and the press.

Ellen Wright Blackwell Writer and botanist

Laing and Blackwell’s Plants of New Zealand was to become a botanical classic running to seven editions over the next 60 years. Several generations of people interested in New Zealand’s native plants were to use it as a constant reference book and a number of professional botanists would credit it with stimulating their original interest.

Kathleen Maisey Curtis Mycologist

Kathleen Curtis was the first New Zealand woman to gain a DSc, conferred by the University of London in 1919. Her thesis, on the cause of wart disease in potatoes, was considered the most outstanding mycological research of the decade. Suffrage Centennial Year, 1993, brought further recognition of her life’s work when, at the age of 100, she was remembered as a pioneer plant scientist. In 1994 a portrait of her as a young DSc graduate was painted by Colin Allen and hung in the Royal Society’s headquarters in Wellington.

Pérrine Moncrieff – Ornithologist, conservationist, writer

Her paternal grandparents were the British painter Sir John Millais and his wife, Euphemia Gray. There was no contemporary pocket field guide on native birds, and in 1925 Pérrine wrote New Zealand birds and how to identify them. She used her own observations in the field and in museums, ornithological texts, and had help from R. A. Falla, W. R. B. Oliver and other ornithologists. Although she intended her book for the untrained bird-lover, it influenced scientists as well as lay people and ran to five editions.

Beatrice Tinsley astronomer and cosmologist

Tinsley completed pioneering theoretical studies of how populations of stars age and affect the observable qualities of galaxies. She also collaborated on basic research into models investigating whether the universe is closed or open. Her galaxy models led to the first approximation of what protogalaxies should look like. In 1974 she received the American Astronomical Society’s Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy, awarded for “outstanding research and promise for future research by a postdoctoral woman researcher”, in recognition of her work on galaxy evolution. In 1977, Tinsley, with Richard Larson of Yale, organised a conference on ‘The Evolution of Galaxies and Stellar Populations’. Shortly after, in 1978, she became a professor of astronomy at Yale University.

Hidden treasures # 3: The Canterbury Almanack 1853

Apparently I should have sown my Oats and Barley last month.  The good news is, though, that there’s still plenty of time to get my Mangold Wurzel into the ground.  I am also to bear in mind that

… each successive day throughout the month [of October] suggests additional duties peculiar to itself, the performance of which cannot be advantageously deferred.

All this and much more helpful information can be found in this week’s ANZC treasure find – The Canterbury  Almanack for the Year of our Lord 1853, Calculated for the Meridian of Lyttelton (first year of publication).

With a charming disclaimer on the first page:

In presenting to the public the first Almanack published in the Canterbury Settlement, we are but too sensible of its shortcomings in many respects.  Such as it is, however, we present it, with its imperfections, to our fellow-colonists, in the hope that they will not too minutely scrutinize its deficiencies.

the almanack provides information ranging from phases of the moon, to planting guides for mangold wurzel, to a remarkably detailed description of the Canterbury landscape:

at the S.W. angle formed by the peninsula with the main land, a shallow lagoon, called Lake Ellesmere, about 18 miles long and 8 broad, is only divided from the sea by a narrow shingle bar, through which, at its S.W. extremity, the natives every year cut a channel for the purpose of catching eels on the borders of the lake thus laid dry.

I love almanacks, and I especially love that this one is both SO OLD, and SO LOCAL.  So much of the information here remains current or useful for research, despite its over-150-year-old publication date – planting guides, local geography, shipping list and other historical details.  The advertisements at the back not so much, however, which is a shame.  I would love to have visited Thomas Gee, Pastry-Cook, Confectioner, Fancy Biscuit Baker, and Ginger Beer Manufacturer in Canterbury Street, Lyttelton (for Bride-Cakes, Jellies, Blanch-Manges, Patties and Ornamented Savoy Cakes made to order), on moderate terms.

Tune in again in a few days, when we’ll be looking at manufacturing in 1965 Canterbury; read some previous Hidden Treasures posts; or just drop by the ANZC collection here at Central Tuam Library and find your very own gems!