Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

HUTTON, Frederick Wollaston

(1836–1905).

Scientist and university professor.

A new biography of Hutton, Frederick Wollaston appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Frederick Wollaston Hutton was born in Lincolnshire in November 1836. His father was the Rev. H. F. Hutton, vicar of Gate Burton. After attending Southwell Grammar School and the Royal Naval Academy at Gosport, Hutton served for three years as a midshipman and then fought in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny. In 1865, after studying geology for the army at Sandhurst, he sailed with his wife and two children to New Zealand. Following a brief attempt at flaxmilling in the Waikato district he took up science. His early years as a geologist in New Zealand were spent in the field, first for the Geological Survey, under Sir James Hector, and later as Provincial Geologist of Otago.

But Hutton's real talents lay in laboratory research and in lecturing, and in 1877 he was appointed Professor of Natural Science to the newly established Otago University. Three years later he became Professor of Biology at Canterbury College and, in 1893, Curator of the Canterbury Museum. His gentle manner and humility qualified him well as a scholar and leader of students. In 1905, after a holiday in England, he died on the return voyage on 27 October, and was buried somewhere west of the Cape of Good Hope.

Hutton stands with Hector and Haast in a select trilogy as one of the most important contributors to geology and biology in nineteenth century New Zealand. His interests covered many fields, ranging from economic reports on goldfields and descriptions of rocks, to the geological nature of many areas in New Zealand; but his chief achievement lay in the systematic descriptions of fossil and living shells and other animals, summarised in his Index Faunae Novae-Zealandiae.

Hutton also wrote two books, Darwinism and Lamarckism, Old and New (1899) and The Lesson of Evolution (1902). In these works he staunchly defended Darwin's ideas against a growing dissatisfaction among fellow scientists, and at the same time he asserted his faith in a Creator against such materialist philosophers as Spencer.

Hutton was an acute observer, able to summarise tersely his observations. He was not in the first rank of scientists, for he achieved no vast synthesis of knowledge or gain in perspective, but he strove faithfully to fill in the groundwork of science with his “postage stamp” observations, for someone else to synthesise, and furthermore, he sought to relate his science to the significance of life itself.

by John Bruce Waterhouse, M.SC.(N.Z.), PH.D. (CANTAB.), New Zealand Geological Survey, Lower Hutt.

  • A History of the University of Otago (1809–1919). Thomson, G. E. (1921)
  • A Short History of the Canterbury College, Hight, J., Candy, A. M. F. (1927)
  • New Zealanders and Science, Jenkinson, S. H. (1940)
  • Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute, Vol. 38 (1906) (Obit).


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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