Story: Moore, Lucy Beatrice

Page 1 - Moore, Lucy Beatrice

Moore, Lucy Beatrice

1906–1987

Botanist, ecologist

This biography was written by John Morton and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000

Lucy Beatrice Moore was born in Warkworth on 14 July 1906, the fifth of eight children of Janet Morison and her husband, Harry Blomfield Moore. Their farm, Huamara, produced fruit and poultry and Harry was also a naturalist and the local librarian. A childhood amidst books and the wildlife of bush and shore gave Lucy a rich preparation for later life. She went to primary school at Warkworth and in 1920 to the recently founded Epsom Girls’ Grammar School in Auckland, where botany was taught from form four. Excelling in languages and science, she won a Junior Scholarship to Auckland University College, enrolling in 1925.

An early influence on Lucy Moore was the botanist T. L. Lancaster, under whose direction she gained a first-class MSc in 1929 with a thesis on the root parasite Dactylanthus. The same year she was awarded the Duffus Lubecki Scholarship, which she also received in 1930 and 1931 for further research. She began work in 1932 as a demonstrator in zoology for W. R. McGregor’s first-year practical classes at Auckland University College.

As an undergraduate Lucy Moore struck up a friendship with fellow student Lucy M. Cranwell (later Smith), and the ‘two Lucies’ (as the eminent botanist Leonard Cockayne called them) began in their 20s to collaborate on field research that took them to remote parts of New Zealand. A photograph taken on Maungapohatu trig in early 1932 shows Moore in her usual tramping outfit of boys’ serge shorts, heavy shirt and headscarf, proudly holding a hebe specimen. Together they wrote important papers on the northern high-peak vegetation of Mt Moehau and Maungapohatu, and on the Hen and Chickens Islands. They also produced zoological research: their joint paper on the intertidal zonation of the Poor Knights Islands (1938) was highly original and influential; it still stands as one of the best of its kind. This apprenticeship, which was supported by a network of fellow enthusiasts, culminated in their 10 months’ trip from May 1935 to Britain and Europe, where they attended botanical congresses in London and Amsterdam. Lucy Moore had the opportunity to work briefly at Kristineberg and Plymouth marine biological stations, and to demonstrate zoology at University College London, with G. P. Wells and J. B. S. Haldane.

Her attempts to gain a university position were unsuccessful, but in 1938 Moore was appointed to the Botany Division of the DSIR in Wellington. She was given responsibility for lower plants, and also assigned to work on weeds. This led to an important paper on the pasture invasion and life history of the hard fern Paesia , published in 1942. The Second World War brought the additional task of charting New Zealand’s seaweeds to assess local resources of agar: this was needed for medical research and had previously been supplied by Japan. Moore organised Maori school children on the East Coast to collect seaweeds that contained it. An algal survey of the coasts led her to write pamphlets which stimulated popular interest in seaweeds. In later years Moore was to remain an algologist, working with the botanical artist Nancy M. Adams to produce the widely read Plants of the New Zealand coast (1963).

Lucy Moore was also engaged in a study of the ecology of the high country Molesworth station in Marlborough, then recovering from deterioration under sheep grazing. She published on the invasive scabweed Raoulia (1953), on Rumex -dominated communities (1954), and in 1955 and 1956 on introduced grass and tussock establishment. At the International Botanical Congress at Stockholm in 1950 she spoke on both Raoulia ecology and a small brown alga, Sphacelaria .

In 1953 she began a more challenging assignment, to assist the ailing H. H. Allan in producing a reference work on New Zealand flora. Allan’s death in 1957 left her with editorial responsibility for the whole project. Not only this, but volume one needed full revision of the section on the genus Hebe. Lucy undertook this herself, as there was no one else available to do the work. The task was completed in a year, but she later professed to having hated it, persevering out of a sense of duty. It is for the production of volume one of Flora of New Zealand (1961) that botany is most indebted to Lucy Moore.

In 1960 she moved to Lincoln, near Christchurch, where the Botany Division had relocated in 1953. The shift coincided with the start of work on the second volume. This time it was more congenial; Lucy greatly enjoyed the research on monocotyledons, and the visits to overseas museums to check the types of New Zealand species. This work prompted her to write separate papers on asteliads, Bulbinella , Libertia and orchids. Launched in 1970, volume two of Flora of New Zealand , co-written with Elizabeth Edgar, was hailed for its thorough scholarship: ‘recommended to both the Flora-writer and the Flora-user as a model of its kind’.

Officially retiring in 1971 as one of the highest-ranking DSIR officers, Lucy Moore remained active at Lincoln until 1980. The final grassland ecology bulletin, The changing vegetation of Molesworth station, New Zealand, 1944 to 1971 , appeared in 1976, and in 1978 she produced the attractive Oxford book of New Zealand plants , with J. B. Irwin as artist.

She returned to Warkworth in 1980 to look after her surviving brother until his death. With improved sight after operations for cataract, she was active in the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, and took a close interest in Rodney County conservation issues, and in saving gumland scrub. In 1986 she gave the inaugural Lucy M. Cranwell Lecture for the Auckland Botanical Society, and also produced a history of Warkworth Public Library. Lucy Moore died on 9 June 1987 at an Orewa rest home and was cremated after a memorial service at Albany.

A stalwart of the Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury botanical societies, Moore was unstintingly helpful to all who were interested in botany, and was especially good with children. Her character commanded respect. She could be frugal and exacting with herself and – when called for – sharply critical of others; yet those she worked with not only revered but loved her. Though she disliked socialising and never married, she had a gift for lasting friendship.

Moore was a recipient of many honours. In 1945 she was elected a fellow of the exclusive Linnean Society of London. She was made an MBE in 1959, and in 1963 the University of Canterbury gave her its DSc for her Hebe research. A fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand from 1947, she was awarded its Hutton Memorial Medal in 1965. In the same year she delivered the Leonard Cockayne Memorial Lecture. In 1974 she was awarded the Sir Ernest Marsden Medal for Service to Science by the New Zealand Association of Scientists.

Lucy Moore was sometimes called ‘the mother of New Zealand botany’ and few botanists may ever again equal her range of expertise. She once recalled, ‘we were jacks, or jills, of many trades’. Much more than this, hers was a many-sided expertise, inspired by a vision, and practised with dedication.