Walter Baldock Durrant Mantell

1820–1895

Public servant, politician, naturalist, and a key participant in the establishment of the Wellington Botanic Garden

Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources

PART 1 INTRODUCTION

Walter Baldock Durrant Mantell was born at Lewes Sussex, England, in 1820. His father Gideon Mantell, was a medical practitioner, and also a prominent palaeontologist and geologist, who was in touch with the leading scientists of his day. He hoped to steer his son into his profession but Walter did not complete his training and on 18 September 1839, though only 19, suddenly departed on the Oriental for the New Zealand Company settlement at Wellington, where he arrived on 31 January 1840.

He married Mary Sarah Prince at Wellington on 5 August 1869; their only child, Walter Godfrey, born in 1864, was legitimised in 1894. Mary Mantell died in 1873 and is buried in the Bolton Street Memorial Park. On 10 January 1876, at Wellington, Mantell married Jane Hardwick; they had no children.

Mantell died at his Wellington residence on 7 September 1895

Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources

PART 2 GOVERNMENT POSITIONS, POLITICIAN

Like many of the romantic young gentlemen who were beguiled by the propaganda of the New Zealand Company, Mantell came out with no fixed career in mind, but he had the skills and contacts to find a position. He tried his hand at farming, but in December 1840 was appointed clerk to the Bench of Magistrates and Deputy Postmaster at Wellington. He had given up the former position by October 1841, and in 1842 the latter position was combined with that of clerk to the acting sub-collector of customs. Mantell was twice threatened with redundancy before his resignation in February 1844. His positions were far from onerous, and he found time to assist with the formation of the settlements at Wanganui and New Plymouth, and to indulge his passion for natural history. Then from 1845 to 1848 Mantell was a superintendent of military roads at Porirua, a job that at least allowed him to learn Maori from his workforce, thus preparing the way for his next and far more important appointment.

In August 1848 Mantell was appointed to the office of commissioner for extinguishing native titles, Middle Island (South Island), with the initial responsibility of setting aside reserves for Ngai Tahu within the Canterbury block. At this time Mantell was content to serve the interests of government, to which he looked for future employment and his services were duly rewarded. In 1849 he completed the purchase of two blocks, and commenced the purchase of a third on Banks Peninsula, in the face of considerable opposition from Ngai Tahu, who, as he put it, 'conducted themselves, as usual, in the most insolent and turbulent manner'. The whole of the peninsula, apart from land set aside in two reserves for Ngai Tahu and for the French Nanto-Bordelaise company, was regarded as Crown land.

In October 1851, as a result of the 'able and satisfactory manner' in which he had carried out his earlier purchases, Mantell was entrusted with the purchase of a huge area, comprising the whole of the south-west portion of the South Island

In 1851 he became Commissioner of Crown Lands for the Southern District , with responsibility for the settlement of Europeans on the lands purchased from the Maori. Some squatters had already occupied pastures while it was still in Maori ownership, thus lending urgency to his quest to complete the purchase for the Crown. When Cargill became superintendent of Otago in 1853 and demanded control of Crown land, a stalemate was reached, and in December 1853 Mantell was instructed to assume the administration of the Otago block. The dispute was exacerbated by Mantell's penchant for ridiculing the puritanical Scots of Dunedin and suspicions that Cargill was trafficking in land orders. He took leave of absence and returned to England in 1855.

Mantell was becoming preoccupied by a concern that was to haunt his conscience and affect his career for the rest of his life: the non-fulfillment of promises he and others had made to Ngai Tahu at the time of the original land purchases. Unsatisfied , Mantell resigned his New Zealand appointment. He returned to New Zealand and took his case to the General Assembly, being elected to the House of Representatives for Wallace in 1861.

Mantell's chequered parliamentary career was affected by his temperamental personality and persistent but unavailing attempts to rectify the broken promises to Ngai Tahu. In July 1861 he accepted office as native minister in the Fox government, on condition that the promises to Ngai Tahu would be fulfilled. He resigned six months later when that condition was repudiated. He again accepted office in the Domett and Weld ministries, on the same conditions, and again resigned from both when the promises were not fulfilled. In 1866 he retired from the House but accepted a seat in the Legislative Council, which he retained until his death in 1895. In various government inquiries into Ngai Tahu claims, he remained a persistent advocate of the Ngai Tahu cause. He resented the procrastination over settlement of the claim and felt that he had been unwittingly led to negotiate under false pretences.


Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources

PART 3 COLONIAL MUSUEM

Mantell was influential in the establishment of the Colonial Museum (Dominion Museum/Te Papa) and the appointment of Hector, to whom he gave considerable assistance when he first arrived in Wellington from Otago. Although a founder Governor of the New Zealand Institute, he withdrew in 1868 to allow Hector, as Manager of the Institute, to become a nominated Governor. He returned as a nominated Governor in 1874 and was still holding this office at the time of the Vesting Act transsferring the Garden to the Wellington City Council, in 1891.

Throughout his life he maintained a lively correspondence with noted English writers and scholars. He was a founder and the first secretary of the New Zealand Society and a supporter for the establishment of a New Zealand Institute. His extensive library and collection of family papers were donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1927.

Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources

PART 4 BOTANIC GARDEN

Mantell supported the introduction of the Botanic Garden Act in 1869. He donated many plants to the Garden and was one of the leading members of the Botanic Garden Board during the entire period of its existence. In fact, during Hector's absence overseas in 1875-76 and again in 1880, he directed the affairs of the Museum and the Garden.

While Hector was overseas in 1875, Walter Mantell, as acting Manager of the Garden, became concerned at the lack of attention being given to the birds in captivity, introduced by the Acclimatisation Society. He wrote a strong letter to Travers, the first President of the Society, and still a leading member of the Acclimatisation Society, informing him that the Curator, William Bramley, was unable to take time to attend to the birds, that one black cock had died and the others looked sick and that no one from the Acclimatisation Society had visited them. Mantell continued

"The emus, which with your consent have been put in confinement to prevent the wholesale destruction of young plants, are looking ill.....The location of your importations in the garden has never yet been properly defined. If that had been done you might long since have fenced off the portion allotted to your Society and both the animals and the garden would have been great gainers. No instructions appear to have accompanied your last importation of birds which are therefore still in confinement". We do not know how the Society reacted but Traver's reputation suffered with this letter.

In Mantell's Wellington garden; (clockwise) Mantell seated, John Buchanan,
son Walter Godfrey and James Hector

Mantell's letter indicates that there were two emus in the Garden in 1875. By 1882 one had died possibly as a result of an attack by dogs in 1881. In 1903 it was reported: "that before the advent of the Zoo at Newtown Park (1906) the Garden had a small flea-bitten collection of animals ….... - a few monkeys, a kiwi or two, and the emu ... I was so impressed with its misbegotten air". It would appear that the birds and emu were housed in the space where today the children's playground is situated.

During Hector's same absence, Mantell reported on incidents that had occurred in the Garden ---”We have had a great fuss about a copulation case in the Botanic Garden. Crawford gave the "culprits a month's hard labour each”, but the man had an influential draper on his side who got hold of the newspaper hounds — so there was a petition for mitigation and daily bulletins until there was a reduction of the sentence to a week without hard labour - which was quite enough - another pair caught a few days before bolted out of the colony. The extracts covering this important affair form a strip two yards long which now hangs behind the door. We shall have to get one or two more cases yet. The place has become infamous. . . and unsafe for decent people not bent on copulation, and to Bramley's indignation that divine service was performed openly by the path sides and frequently on his young trees - one Senecio Hectori has been quite flattened by fornication. From our present point of view this is very horrible and disgusting - yet "while memory lasts" we must own that few more charming places for the purpose could be anywhere found than the Wellington Buchamcal Garden."

As well as preserving the existing flora of the Reserve, the Board wished to establish a collection of indigenous trees and shrubs from other parts of New Zealand. The Wellington Philosophical Society, of which Mantell at the time was President, supported this policy and in 1870 donated £50 towards collecting native plants and the provision of labels for them showing scientific, popular and Maori names for the principal trees and shrubs along the paths. The Board was so eager to obtain specimens that they spent £13 in the first year for alpine plants alone. Among the collectors were W.T.L. Travers's son Henry, John Buchanan and Thomas Kirk. Over the years unusual plants were obtained from as far away as the Chatham and Auckland Islands and from Westport in 1876 came plants of that appropriately named fern Todea superba, supplied by Arthur Green for £3.

In 1870 Walter Mantell giving his Presidential Address to the Wellington Philosophical Society also chose to refer to the Institute's new responsibility; "Next to the rapidly increasing importance and public utility of the Colonial Museum, no undertaking that I am aware of is more likely to aid in furtherance of the object of our Society than the formation of a Botanic Garden.

Of the successful accomplishment of which there now seems to be a reasonable probability, and we may, I am assured confidentially, trust that the gentlemen to whom the direction of this work is committed will keep constantly in view the great public objects to be attained by the proper use of a botanical garden in this, the average climate of the colony and will resist the temptation of sacrificing to gaudy parterres of foreign flowers the space required for assembling together specimens of all our indigenous flora. When that most instructive collection has been achieved, or at least when a sufficient space for such a collection has been carefully selected and set apart for that purpose, there will remain plenty of room for some of the more valuable importations whether of trees, shrubs or flowers. Should any impediment arise from that too common cause, insufficiency of funds, I feel confident that some substantial aid, in an institution offering such attractions, will gladly be afforded by our fellow citizens. I would even suggest to the Council of our Society relieved as we are from the running of a separate Museum, a portion of our funds might appropriately be devoted to this kindred work”.

Mantells businesslike approach during these two periods is evident from his letters. In 1891, as a Member of the Legislative Council, he questioned those who gave evidence when the Vesting Act was before the Upper House.

The following list records Mantell's donations of plants to the Garden

1870/72      145 species

1872/73 Cuttisgs of roses 36 passion flowers, 60 Pinus insignus, 2 Cupressus semperirens

1873/74 undefined donations

1874/75 a large collection of pine trees, shrubs and seeds

1875/76 2 cases of plants, 2 bags of ferns, a quantity of shrubs

plus further undefined donations in the years up to 1881

Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources

PART 5 NATURAL SCIENCES

If Mantell's involvement in Maori affairs and politics was a cause of much anguish, his pioneering work in natural history brought him considerable satisfaction and some fame. Through his father's connections Walter Mantell was in regular contact with scientists such as Charles Lyell, the doyen of British geology, who asked Mantell for information on earthquakes, and Charles Darwin, who asked about glacial action, a possibly extinct hairy reptile and the Maori conception of beauty. He answered their inquiries as best he could. He had absorbed enough geology to enable him in 1844, to investigate fossil finds in Taranaki, especially those involving the moa.

Mantell was the first scientific explorer of the Moa-beds of Waikouaiti (a small town in East Otago, within the city limits of Dunedin. The town is close to the coast and the mouth of the Waikouaiti River) and Waingongoro (Taranaki Region), and he succeeded in forming some magnificent collections of fossil remains, which were forwarded to England and ultimately deposited in the British Museum. The value to science of these discoveries is amply demonstrated in Professor Owen’s elaborate ‘Memoirs’ on Dinornis and its allies, read before the Zoological Society from time to time, and published in the ‘Transactions.’ Not only has Mr. Mantell contributed largely to our knowledge of the geology and palæontology of the country, but he has likewise made additions to our ornithology, the most important of these being his discovery of a living species of Notornis, with which his name is now associated'.


Porphyrio hochstetteri
(A. B. Meyer, 1883)
Synonyms
Notornis mantelli Mantell, 1847
Porphyrio mantelli hochstetteri

At a Meeting of the Wellington Philosophical Society on September 3, 1881, after the reading of a paper on the capture of another example of Notornis, during the discussion that followed Mantell disclaimed any credit for the discovery of the original bird with which his name had been connected. Sealers were involved in the European discovery of the takahē in 1849.  Finding the trail of a large and unknown bird on the snow, they followed the footprints till they obtained a sight of the Notornis, which their dogs instantly pursued, and after a long chase it was caught alive in the gully of a sound behind Resolution Island. It ran with great speed, and upon being captured uttered loud screams, and fought and struggled violently.  It was kept alive three or four days on board the schooner and then killed, and the body roasted and eaten by the crew, and the bird was declared to be "delicious"!!. They kept the skin, which was obtained by a maori, then sold to the naturalist Walter Mantell. He observed it hanging in a whare at a native settlement in Otago, along with Kakapos, a pair of Huias, and Kiwis that had been brought from the West Coast, and, recognising it to be new, obtained it from the owner. The second specimen was sent to him by Captain Howell of Riverton. He sent it to England. Mantell is commemorated in the name of the extinct North Island takahē, Porphyrio mantelli.  Mantell noted that according to Maori traditions, a large Rail was contemporary with the Moa, and formed a principal article of food among their ancestors. It was known to the North-Islanders by the name of ‘Moho,’ and to the South-Islanders by that of ‘Takahe;’ but the bird was considered by both natives and Europeans to have been long since exterminated by the wild cats and dogs, not an individual having been seen or heard of since the arrival of the English colonists…


NOTORNIS MANTELLI
.A History of the Birds of New Zealand.
Sir Walter Lawry Buller's illustration 1888

More than a year before the discovery of the live bird itself, Professor Owen had drawn the generic characters of a large Rail,subsequently named Notornis mantelli, then supposed to be extinct, from the fossil remains collected by Mantell, dedicating the species to the discoverer of the bones. It was somewhat curious that it should have fallen to the lot of the same scientific explorer to discover the living bird itself; and although Mantell modestly disclaimed any merit, it seemed peculiarly fitting and right that, in commemoration of his services, his name should be permanently associated with the species. The North Island Takahe (P. mantelli) or moho is extinct and only known from skeletal remains. Both forms of Takahe were long assumed to be subspecies of mantelli, and were usually placed in the genus Notornis. However, it has been determined that the differences between Porphyrio and Notornis were insufficient for separating the latter, whereas the differences between the North and South Island forms justified the splitting into two species, as each evolved independently towards flightlessness.

Mantell's most notable association was with Richard Owen, superintendent of the Natural History Department of the British Museum. Mantell supplied him with collections of specimens, including numerous crates of moa bones, which he dug from the Waingongoro site in South Taranaki in 1847 and collected from various South Island sites during his land-buying expeditions in the early 1850s. He hoped that payments for the collections would cover his costs; his father, seeking to promote Walter's discoveries to learned societies in London, hoped also that they would facilitate his career in the public service in New Zealand. Gideon Mantell's death in 1852, before the arrival of Walter's large South Island collection of moa bones, removed an important link in the scientific chain. But Walter Mantell's work with Owen at the British Museum during his sojourn in London in 1856 resulted in the reconstruction of the largest moa skeleton then recovered, Dinornis elephantopus. In Britain it was Owen who gained fame and fortune from the moa discoveries, although as Mantell noted sourly some years later: 'He has made considerable blunderings & flounderings in his search after renown rather than truth.'

Caricature of Walter Mantell by James Brown (1851)
recognising his moa discoveries and as a geologist

Otago University Research Heritage


Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources

PART 6 CONCLUSION

Mantell's position was typical of the colonial relationship that then existed in science. The young collector was provided grist to the intellectual mills of the experts in London. But in New Zealand, at least, Mantell had the respect of his fellow scientific workers. He was in frequent contact with other leaders in the moa hunt, including William Colenso, Julius von Haast and James Hector. He discovered and gave his name to Notornis mantelli, and he was active in the affairs of several learned societies, including the Wellington Philosophical Society and the New Zealand Institute. From time to time, during Hector's absences, Mantell was acting director of the Geological Survey and Colonial Museum. And he was sometimes used by government to act as a commissioner; for instance, for the Philadelphia Centenary Exhibition in 1876 and the Australian Exhibition in 1879.

Mantell was a handy man, who, however, never won the top prizes in science, administration or politics. In a contemporary analysis (1897), William Gisborne notes Mantell had “ abilities of the highest order. His mind was richly stored with valuable information and the results of its own intelligent and careful thought. He was especially a great authority in native matters. Few, if any, equalled him in knowledge of the language, customs, and character of the natives. Politically, he has been a disappointment. He seems to have had a natural distaste for politics. He was the Diogenes of Parliament, always alone in a cave, agreeing with no one, scarcely with himself. He never heartily joined in the political tournament ; he loved to be on the outskirts, and " shoot folly as it flies." Twice he has just joined Ministries, and suddenly left them for some mysterious cause. As a critical satirist Mr. Mantell was undoubtedly great. He was caustic, cynical, and unequalled in epigrammatic wit. He was a member of the House of Representatives for some years, but in 1867 he was appointed to the Legislative Council, of which he was still a member, when he died on September 7th, 1895.

In justice to his memory, it is only right to say that no fair estimate could be formed of Mr. Mantell by mere observation of some outward traits in his character, which, as I have said, were somewhat cynical. He had an inner nature which only his very intimate friends knew, and they knew it as rich in precious gifts, not only of intellect, inimitable humour, and scientific attainments, but of kindliness of heart and sympathy with those whom he really liked and trusted. The truth •is that he was a man of intense feelings which he draped from the outer world under a rather repellant covering of cynicism. He had a contempt for hypocrisy and deceit, and his hatred of injustice was implacable. In 1846 and 1847 he successfully negotiated under the instruction of Sir George Grey, then Governor of New-Zealand, for the cession to the Crown by natives in the South Island of their rights of ownership over large tracts of territory, which afterwards constituted the Provinces of Canterbury and Otago. In addition to the money given, which was nominal, Mr. Mantell, under the Governor's authority, made to the natives who ceded their territorial rights promises of future consideration in the shape of reserves, schools, hospitals, and other benefits, assured to them and their children. The fulfillment of these promises has, no doubt, been unjustifiably delayed, and it was the urgent persistence of Mr. Mantell that has materially caused them already to be substantially fulfilled, or put into course of early fulfillment. But it is certain that Mr. Mantell bitterly resented the long and unjustifiable procrastination that occurred, and his sensitive nature painfully felt that he had been made the unintentional instrument of negotiating with the natives under false pretences.

Mr. Mantell was never at heart a politician, though always an intelligent critic of political conduct, but he was devoted to the cause of science, which to him was a labour of love. As the son of a man of scientific eminence, he inherited the tastes and abilities of his father, Dr. Mantell. He was the first scientific explorer of the Moa beds of Waikopiaiti and Waingongoro. He succeeded in forming some magnificent collections of fossil remains, which were forwarded to England, and were ultimately deposited in the British Museum.”

Sir Walter Buller, in his " Birds of New Zealand," vol. ii. pp. 85 and 86, writes as follows:

" The name of Mr. Walter Mantell will ever be associated with the palaeontology of the Postpliocene and Pleistocene deposits of New Zealand, as is that of his illustrious father, the late Dr. Mantell, with the palaeontology of the Western formation of the South-East Coast of England. . . . Not only has Mr. Mantell contributed largely to our knowledge of the geology and palaeontology of New Zealand, but he has likewise made additions to our ornithology, the most important of a living species of a Notornis with which his name is associated."

Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources

 PART 7 SOURCES AND RESOURCES


Winsome Shepherd and Walter Cook; The Botanic Garden, Wellington A New Zealand History 1840 - 1987 Highly recommended for the story of the Garden. This article is significantly sourced from this book.

TeAra Story: Mantell, Walter Baldock Durrant Page 1 - Biography http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1m11/mantell-walter-baldock-durran t

Portrait http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/710/walter-baldock-durrant-mantell

Images http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/name-208663.html#image-gallery

Mantell, Walter Baldock Durrant (1820–95). Land Purchase Commissioner, scientist, and politician Encyclopaedia of NZ 1966
http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/mantell-walter-baldock-durrant

Nineteenth Century New Zealand Artists: A Guide & Handbook Mantell, Walter Baldock Durant FGS 1820–1895
http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-PlaNine-t1-body-d1-d792.html#name-208663-mention

Carlyle letters http://carlyleletters.dukejournals.org/cgi/content/full/33/1/ed-33-biographical-notes.

Cyclopedia of New Zealand http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Cyc01Cycl-t1-body-d3-d9-d11.html#name-208663-mention

Cyclopedia of New Zealand http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-Cyc01Cycl-t1-body-d4-d7-d8.html#name-208663-mention

The Honorable Walter Baldock Durrant Mantell 1820–1895 works
http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/name-208663.html#written-works

Buller - A History of the Birds of New Zealand. Notornis Mantelli. — (Mantell’s Notornis.)
http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-BulBird-t1-g1-t2-body-d36.html#name-208663-mention

Mantell, Walter Baldock Durrant (1820-1895) The Community Archive http://thecommunityarchive.org.nz/node/271237/description

William Gisborne, New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen 1840–1897 [1897] 152–53

Journal of Gideon Mantell, Walters farher which containes references to his son in New Zealand
http://www.brighton-hove-rpml.org.uk/HistoryAndCollections/aboutcollections/naturalsciences/Pages/Theunpublishedjournalofgideonmantell.aspx

Caricatures of Walter Mantell by James Brown Otago University Research Heritage
http://otago.ourheritage.ac.nz/index.php/items/browse?search=Caricatures%20and%20cartoons&submit_search=Search

Story: European discovery of plants and animals Page 4 – Sealers, missionaries and botanists
http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/european-discovery-of-plants-and-animals/page-4

N Z History Online Walter Mantell http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/people/walter-mantell
Takahē
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takah%C4%93


Part 1   Introduction
Part 2   Government positions  politician
Part 3   Colonial Museum
Part 4   Botanic Garden
Part 5   Natural sciences
Part 6   Conclusion
Part 7   Sources and resources