Ever wondered who the people are whose names are given to certain buildings on the University of Canterbury campus? The university does not do much to promote its history as it chooses to focus on the future and the Regional Science and Innovation Centre. But innovation is not necessarily the product of a narrowly focused education. Actually, the majority of these people had a variety of pursuits that comprised their lives, including a connection with the Arts, either through their education or other interests. In fact, looking at the biographies of famous scientists Ernest Rutherford and John Erskine, both of them did quite well with an enriching education that included Arts subjects of Latin, English, French, History, and Political Science in addition to Science and Mathematics subjects.
In an effort to bring some history back to campus, the following are brief biographies of the influential figures with buildings named after them.
The John Britten building is named after John Britten (1950-1995), an engineer who became known for his Britten bike which raced at Daytona in 1992. He studied for an engineering certificate through Christchurch Polytechnic and worked on restoring vehicles in his free time. After the Britten bike became famous for its unique design and performance, he set up a company to manufacture more of the bikes and moved on to other projects.
Alice Candy House
The Alice Candy House is named after Alice Muriel Flora Candy (1888-1977). Candy graduated from what was then called Canterbury College with a BA in Economics and an MA in Political Science in the 1910s. She went on to become an assistant lecturer in History in 1920 and brought new kinds of teaching skills from previous teaching experience. She partnered with James Hight, who was a shy professor of History and Political Science, and they wrote A short history of the Canterbury College in 1927. When she began teaching, she was only the second female on the academic staff, even though women made up 1/4 to 1/3 of the students, and ended up becoming an unofficial dean of women despite being a junior academic. She helped launch the Canterbury Women Graduates’ Association (which became the Canterbury branch of the New Zealand Federation of University Women) in 1921 and in 1936 became warden of a residential hostel for women students.
The Erskine building is named after John Angus Erskine (1872-1960), who was attending Canterbury College at the same time as James Hight and Ernest Rutherford. Erskine received his BA in 1893 after taking the required Pure Mathematics and Latin subjects, along with ones he selected: English, Applied Mathematics, Experimental Science, and History and Political Science. He received an MA with double first class honours in Experimental Science and Mathematics & Mathematical Physics. Erskine spent time in Germany and London and returned to New Zealand, where he received first class certificates in Mechanical Engineering at Canterbury College. He left money in his will to establish a trust fund to pay for academics to travel overseas and for overseas academics to visit Canterbury University College. This is still used today for almost one hundred academics in Commerce, Engineering, or Science.
The von Haast building is named after Johann Franz Julius von Haast (1822-1887), a geologist who explored and mapped many locations in New Zealand. He went on expeditions to all of the main rivers of Canterbury and made the first systematic examination of the Mount Cook area. He named Franz Josef Glacier and predicted accurately that there was a lot of artesian water underneath the gravels of the Canterbury Plains. He gave meticulously drawn maps to the provincial government and founded the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury in 1862. It was such a success that he founded the Canterbury Museum based on his own collections. Haast become Canterbury College’s first professor of Geology in 1876 and also taught Palaeontology. He also sang and played violin and enriched Christchurch’s musical scene. He is credited with encouraging and promoting science in New Zealand to come of age.
James Hight Library
The Puaka-James Hight Library is named after James Hight (1870-1958), one of the most formative influences on New Zealand higher education in the twentieth century. He received a BA in English and French and an MA with first-class honours in 1893-4. He became a lecturer in political economy and constitutional history at what was known as Canterbury College in 1901, and was later promoted to professor of History and Political Science in 1919. His “more serious work was almost exclusively political” and he believed in the “alliance of the social sciences among themselves and with the humanities” (Phillips). He was known as ‘Doc’ Hight and cared deeply about his students. He also was a music lover and an orchestral violinist.
The Locke building is named after Elsie Violet Farrelly Locke (1912-2001), a New Zealand writer and historian who was also an activist, campaigning for birth control, women’s rights, nuclear disarmament, social justice, and the environment before they became popular causes. She wrote almost forty books and received the Katherine Mansfield Award for Non-Fiction in 1959 and the Margaret Mahy Lecture Award in 1995 for her career in children’s literature. She edited the early feminist journal Woman Today in the 1930s and served on the national executive for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament from 1957 to 1970. She and her spouse, Jack Locke, were members of the New Zealand Communist Party in the mid-twentieth century and under surveillance by the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. Locke learned Maori to be able to better understand the Maori point of view and wrote children’s books and historical novels based on New Zealand events. The University of Canterbury awarded her an honorary D.Litt. in 1987. She is the only person who has had a park named in her honour by the Christchurch City Council during her lifetime, but the park was removed after the 2011 earthquake for the Margaret Mahy Playground.
The Logie building is named after James Logie, the registrar of Canterbury University College from 1950 to 1956. His spouse, Marion Steven (1912-1999), was a Classics staff member with a passion for Greek painted pottery. She had studied Greek and Classics at Canterbury in 1938 and taught between 1944 and 1976, being a much loved lecturer. After his death in 1956, she donated a collection of Greek pottery to the university in his memory. The James Logie Memorial Collection now houses numerous classical antiquities and is in the process of moving to the Arts Centre in downtown Christchurch, along with the Department of Classics and the School of Music.
Macmillan Brown Library
The Macmillan Brown Library was named after John Macmillan Brown (1845-1935), who became a professor of Classics and English at the newly established Canterbury College in 1874. He brought his Scottish and Oxford values with him and promoted scholarly asceticism and work, working sixteen hours a day. He believed in building character and improving moral standards, as well as fostering friendships amongst students, which he did through having classes meet for Sunday breakfast. He was a promoter of higher education for women and admitted the gifted Helen Connon as a student, making Canterbury College the first Australasian university to admit women on an equal basis with men. After supporting her as she became principal of Christchurch Girls’ High School, he asked her to marry him and they were married in 1886. He left a portion of his fortune to Canterbury College along with 15,000 books on New Zealand and the Pacific. In 1988, the Macmillan Brown Centre for Pacific Studies was established as part of the memorial provided for in his will.
The Karl Popper building (formerly the History building) is named after Sir Karl Popper (1902-1994). Popper is considered to be one of the greatest philosophers of science in the 20th century. He was born in Vienna, Austria, received a PhD in Philosophy in 1928, and was compelled to leave due to the rise of Nazism. He moved to New Zealand with his spouse, Josefine, and became a senior lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Canterbury in 1937 and remained there throughout the Second World War, later moving to London. He was knighted in 1965. His best-known philosophical work, The Open Society and Its Enemies, was published in 1945 and is seen as one of the most influential books of the twentieth century. He defended liberal democracy, or an open society, and was against totalitarianism, believing that the spirit of free, critical inquiry used in science should also be used in politics.
The Rutherford building is named after Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), one of New Zealand’s most respected scientists. He graduated from Canterbury College in 1893 with a BA in Pure Mathematics and Latin (compulsory) and Applied Mathematics, English, French, and Physics. In 1893 he received an MA with double first-class honours in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics and in Physical Science. He next received a BSc degree in 1895 for Geology and Chemisty. He left New Zealand for the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, and later become a professor in Montreal, Canada, where he investigated radioactivity. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. He also discovered the nuclear model of the atom and was knighted in 1914. His third discovery was to be the first person to split the atom. After his death, Rutherford’s medals were given to Canterbury College, which are now held in the Rutherford Collection at the Macmillan Brown Library.
The Angus Tait building is named after Sir Angus McMillan Tait (1919-2007), who founded Tait Electronics in 1969. He refused to sell the company to overseas buying in the 1980s, which saved many New Zealand jobs. The company was the first one in Australasia to build the all-transistor mobile radio. Tait was an outspoken critic of government policies like Sir Roger Douglas’ open market politics from the 1980s. His Tait Foundation has donated to many educational causes, including the University of Canterbury’s Wireless Research Centre. He was given an honorary doctorate of Engineering by the university in 1996 and knighted in 1999.
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Pollock, Kerryn. 2014 October 2. ‘Classical and foreign-language studies – Classics at universities‘, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
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Princeton University Press. 2016 March 8. “Abstract of The Open Society and Its Enemies.”
“Sir Karl Popper Is Dead at 92; Philosopher of ‘Open Society‘” 1994 September 18. The New York Times.
Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand. 1998. “Biography of John Britten.”
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University of Canterbury. “The John Angus Erskine Bequest.”
University of Canterbury. “Looking for Answers: A Life of Elsie Locke.”
University of Canterbury. “Rutherford Medals Collection.”