Story: Wodzicki, Kazimierz Antoni z Granowa

Page 1 - Biography

Wodzicki, Kazimierz Antoni z Granowa

1900–1987

Biologist, university professor, consul general, scientific administrator

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

Kazimierz Antoni z Granowa Wodzicki, born on 4 February 1900 at Olejów, eastern Poland, was the son of Maria Dzieduszycka and her husband, Count Alexander Louis Wodzicki. Kazimierz’s father spent his life managing the family estates at Olejów; his grandfather was a distinguished naturalist.

Wodzicki had his primary schooling at home, his secondary and tertiary education at Cracow and Lwów (Lvov), and he graduated PhD from the Jagiellonian university in 1925. In 1928 he married Maria (Myna) Dunin Borkowska, who had a master of agricultural science degree from the same university. They were to have a daughter and a son. After lecturing in comparative anatomy at the Jagiellonian university, Kazimierz became professor of biology at Warsaw university college of agriculture in 1935. He combined teaching with research and by 1939 had published 39 scientific papers on such diverse subjects as parasitic worms, stork migration and the genetics of rabbits.

The Soviet Union’s occupation of Poland after the outbreak of the Second World War saw the family estates taken and Count Wodzicki deported to Siberia, where he died. Kazimierz was also arrested but escaped to Italy. His wife, an expert mountaineer and skier, joined the resistance and led refugees across the southern border of Poland, before escaping with the children and meeting up with Kazimierz in Paris. They fled to Britain and late in 1940 the Polish government in London appointed Wodzicki its consul general in Wellington, New Zealand, where he and his family arrived in January 1941. Kazimierz established a consulate in Kelburn Parade.

Assisting Polish war refugees was an important part of Wodzicki’s consular duties, and he helped his wife persuade the New Zealand government to accept a large number. She was actively involved in the establishment and management of a camp set up at Pahiatua to house over 700 Polish children and about 100 adults who arrived in 1944.

In 1945, with Poland firmly under the Soviet Union and the Warsaw government being recognised as the legitimate government of Poland by the Western powers, the Polish government-in-exile’s consulate in Wellington closed, leaving Wodzicki unemployed. He had no wish to return to communist-controlled Poland and the New Zealand government, sympathetic and aware of his scientific qualifications, invited him to review current knowledge about the economic importance of the many introduced wild mammals in New Zealand. His 1948 report, subsequently expanded and published as a book in 1950, led to the DSIR establishing an animal ecology section (later division) with Wodzicki in charge. He had acquired a house in Konini Road, Hataitai, in about 1946 and this remained his permanent home.

Wodzicki was an effective advocate for his research unit, which grew in size and in the diversity of its work, despite some opposition from other government departments. Ignoring such distractions he authored a flow of research papers, often with colleagues, on the ecology and control of rabbits (initially the section’s main concern), but he also published extensively on other mammals and on birds. With J. E. C. Flux he showed that the supposedly extinct Parma wallaby still survived on Kawau Island, where it was probably introduced by Sir George Grey about 1870. Among important bird studies were two surveys, some 30 years apart, which documented changes in the bird life at the Waikanae estuary. Also significant were 16 papers (some with co-authors) on gannets. With Charles Fleming, he used aerial photographs in the first objective count of a New Zealand seabird. Repeat counts showed that the gannet population was steadily increasing. By fitting leg-bands to young gannets at Cape Kidnappers, he discovered that many cross to Australia soon after fledging.

Despite the pressures of DSIR work, Wodzicki did not forget his Polish compatriots. For the rest of his life he took an active interest in the welfare of Polish immigrants and tried to ensure that the children appreciated their cultural heritage. He helped organise a Polish language course at Wellington Polytechnic, pressed for a faculty of Polish studies at Victoria University of Wellington, and helped secure a Polish chaplaincy in New Zealand. In this way, and by his personal interest in the New Zealand way of life, Wodzicki did much to foster a mutual understanding and respect between the two cultures.

After his retirement from the DSIR in 1965 Wodzicki, based first at the Dominion Museum and later at Victoria University, developed a keen interest in the ecology of rats on Pacific islands and their damage to coconuts. To this end he visited Tokelau, Rarotonga and Niue. Jointly with colleagues, he recorded his observations in 16 scientific papers, mostly on rats but also on birds, fruit bats, land crabs and on environmental issues. He was still writing papers at the time of his death in Wellington on 15 June 1987. His wife, Maria, had died in 1968 and he was survived by his two children, both of whom had become distinguished academics overseas.

Wodzicki’s services to New Zealand were rewarded with his appointment as an OBE in 1976. His scientific achievements were recognised by his election as a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1962, an honorary DSc from Victoria University in 1980, and honorary life membership of the New Zealand Ecological Society in 1984. Everywhere regarded as a gentleman, he had a knack of getting along with people in all walks of life. He was a devout Catholic. When once chided by his superiors for ignoring DSIR regulations, he replied that he recognised only the authority of God and the Pope.