Story: Shand, John

Page 1: Biography

Shand, John


University professor, educationalist, administrator

This biography was written by P. C. Fenton and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

John Shand was born on 22 January 1834, near Elgin, Morayshire, Scotland, the son of Isabella McKenzie and her husband, Alexander Shand, a farm steward. John attended Elgin Academy, excelling in all subjects but particularly mathematics. He was awarded a scholarship to King's College, University of Aberdeen, which he entered in 1850. He was held to be among the most accomplished students of his year, notable for his energy, persistence and, as one of his teachers put it, moral tone.

Shand graduated MA in 1854 and took up a position as tutor in the Glasgow Academy. In 1856 he moved to the military mathematical department of the Royal Academy, Gosport. He was appointed mathematics master at Ayr Academy in 1858, and at Edinburgh Academy in 1868. Shand was widely respected for the breadth of his views on the theory and practice of education, for his open disposition, at once forthright and courteous, and more generally for a certain cultured panache: he was well-read in classical and modern languages and frequently holidayed on the Continent.

In 1870 Shand was appointed professor of mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He arrived at Port Chalmers aboard the Wild Deer on 21 June 1871 accompanied by his wife, Annie Bell. They had married in Glasgow on 8 February 1871, and were to have seven daughters and two sons. Less brilliant than his colleagues Duncan MacGregor and George Sale, Shand nevertheless brought with him a coherent vision of his prospective work and the steadiness of purpose to carry it out. In the early years of the university, when 'the discouragement of the friends of the institution, the gibes of its enemies, and the half-contemptuous indifference of the public had to be borne in silence', these were qualities to be highly valued.

Shand was a fellow of the Physical Society, London, but published little, confining himself to teaching. In 1883 he gave a series of public lectures on physics, directed mainly at school teachers. A university physics course, albeit without laboratory work (there was as yet no equipment), was offered for the first time in 1885; a laboratory component was added in 1887. In 1886 the chair of mathematics and natural philosophy was divided and Shand, offered the choice, took natural philosophy.

An outstanding teacher, Shand was clear, generous and encouraging, able to see and appreciate the students' point of view. In a trivial but revealing episode he was among a minority on the council to support a request from the students for permission to hold graduation festivities. He held offices in several of the university's clubs and societies, including the debating society, dramatic club, football club and cricket club.

Shand filled, at one time or another, all of the significant administrative positions in the University of Otago open to its academic members. He chaired the Professorial Board at various periods from its inception in 1875, and in 1895 was one of the first academic staff elected to the university council, remaining a member until 1914. He had a distinct flair for financial affairs: as a member of the senate of the University of New Zealand from 1877 to 1914 and chairman of its finance committee he established and consolidated the University of New Zealand's reserves for scholarships and travel.

In 1877 Shand pressed for the amalgamation of the University of Otago and the proposed University of New Zealand, a body whose functions were to be the provision of external examinations and the conferring of degrees. This was the more urgent as the foundation of Canterbury College threatened a haphazard duplication of professional schools at a time when the colony could barely equip and sustain the original institutions. He was a key member of the royal commission (1878–80) set up to inquire into the organisation of higher education in New Zealand.

Shand's involvement in secondary education in New Zealand probably dates from his arrival. In 1873 he served on a commission to inquire into the state of the High School of Otago (later Otago Boys' High School). He was appointed to the school's board of advice in July 1874 and served as the university's representative on its board of governors from 1878 to 1890 and from 1898 to 1904. His inaugural presidential address to the Educational Institute of Otago in April 1878 is an interesting response to the Education Act of 1877; he approved of the trend towards a uniform national education system, but felt that this had not yet gone far enough, and he considered the provision of funding for education to be inadequate. He was a member of the Otago Education Board from 1877 to 1886, chairman between 1882 and 1885, and was largely responsible for framing a system of remuneration for teachers which operated for much of the rest of the century.

For his contributions to education Shand was awarded the honorary degree of LLD from the University of Aberdeen in 1889. He was appointed a CMG in 1913. He is said, however, to have most appreciated the comparatively humble distinction of having a laboratory at Otago Boys' High School named after him.

From his early years Shand had been noted for his moral rectitude, and his natural gravity came to overshadow the lighter elements of his personality. His youngest daughter Elizabeth remembered lunchtime walks with him in the Botanical Gardens, accompanied by MacGregor, Sale and a terrier dog, but the conversation was severely philosophical. Annie Shand, on the contrary, was gregarious and not at all academic. Into her last years (she died in Dunedin on 9 May 1939 at the age of 95) she delighted in company and talk. In religious matters Shand was probably not strictly orthodox. Annie, however, was active in Knox Church and took the children with her to Sunday services. Occasionally she forfeited one or two of them to John who took them on long walks, saying that he was 'going to Dr Greenfield's church today.' He remained modest about his considerable achievements: 'Praise', he said, 'is poison; praise is poison.' Failing eyesight led to his resignation in 1913, and he died at Dunedin on 30 November 1914.

How to cite this page:

P. C. Fenton. 'Shand, John', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 27 March 2017)