Volume 44 1935 > Volume 44, No. 173 > Obituary, p 54-55
PROFESSOR J. MACMILLAN BROWN, 1846-1935.
I SHALL not say that the totara has fallen, but that the point of the maire wedge is bated (E! ko te matakahi maire!—Behold the maire wedge!); for the late Professor J. Macmillan Brown held, like a jarl of old, his position as Chancellor of the New Zealand University at the point of the wedge ever driving into the opposing forces of ignorance and indifference. He was the right man at the point, too, for his experience was wide and his ideals high, so that the wedge was likely to drive true.
He came to New Zealand as Professor of Classics and English at Canterbury College on its inception in 1874, but in his fourth year he relinquished the chair of classics, but added the teaching of Political Economy and History to that of English.
In 1877 he became a member of the senate of the University of New Zealand, and held that position till the day of his death, he being the Chancellor during the last fourteen years.
He met his wife in Canterbury College, in Helen Connon, a student, and the first woman to graduate in a British university. She predeceased him, and her bust quietly adorns a niche in the beautiful Canterbury College Hall as her living presence did before.
He came from England intending to remain in the new land for perhaps two or three years—but the new land won his affections and he never left it, except in following the sun on his eyes giving out, compelling him to relinquish the Professorial chair. His travelling in the Pacific caused him to take up the study of anthropology, and the result was a series of books—Maori and Polynesian, 1907; The Dutch East, 1914; The Riddle of the Pacific, 1924; Peoples and Problems of the Pacific, 1927. These books brought him fame; all are provocative, the conclusions of a keen intellect and free imagination backed by a wide old-world scholarship.
For these and earlier works in English studies he received the degree of Doctor of Literature, but his title as Professor is that by which he is remembered, and as Professor of English he is loved by many students now scattered over the world. It was during my attendance at the evening classes in English literature that I first met him, that I was first inspired by him in my love for that literature, and have been subsequently encouraged by him. Since my leaving Christchurch we corresponded frequently, my last long letter from him dating but a week before his death.
He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1925, and was a life-member of the Polynesian Society.
His library of about 14,000 well-chosen books has been left to Canterbury College, with £2,500 for housing the collection, and £300 - 55 a year for its maintenance and for additions. He has also made provision for an annual lecture or course of lectures on the subject-matter of the collection.
Further, as showing his interest in the Polynesian studies and problems that during his later years engrossed his interest, the rest of his estate, after deduction of certain charges and annuities, has been left for the purpose of establishing a school of Pacific Ocean studies; but it is not possible to say at present what the ultimate position of the school will be, or what can be done toward its establishment.
I said earlier that the point of the maire wedge was bated. I was wrong. The Maori considered that every object had its wairua, its spiritual essence, and the Maori was right;—and by his poroaki, his final bequests, Professor Macmillan Brown has shown that he is still Jarl enough to wish to maintain his position at the point of the spiritual wedge—and may we help to spread the sides where he leads the way.—JOHANNES C. ANDERSEN.