Volume 61 1952 > Volume 61, No. 1 + 2 > I. L. G. Sutherland - 1897-1952, p 120-129
                                                                                             Previous | Next   

- 120
I. L. G. SUTHERLAND 1897-1952

WHEN I think of Ivan Sutherland I think first of an illimitable kindness. There can have been few men in New Zealand who were so kind, or who took such an unforced, simple pleasure in being kind. He liked doing things for people, he liked to show people things that would interest them, he liked making gifts to people. If there was an element of the rare and strange, the slightly mysterious about his gifts, all the better—an incised bamboo tea-caddy, or hand-picked Chinese “fish plates,” before fish plates became the rage; but if it was agricultural produce, so much the better also. How many times did he arrive to breakfast from the Lyttelton ferry loaded down with apples and vegetables, his own growth, or with articles that were in short supply in the North Island; with what almost child-like joy did he hand over a slap of the first butter he had made with his own hands! What vast exchanges he arranged, with himself as the beast of burden, between Christchurch and Masterton, with Wellington in between as a beneficiary of both! What trouble he took to see that French Pass blue cod should be properly smoked for a friend! How delighted he was that you should be delighted!

I think second of his enthusiasm—for people, for things, for causes. I think he liked living on a peak. He could make even the via media a peak. If he had to be cautious, he was even cautious with enthusiasm, he would speak about the necessity for caution with the fervour of the evangelist. Of course fundamentally he had the evangelical mind; he liked to transmit his own excitement, his own sense of life and death issues. He was like that over ethics and Browning in his first job as a university teacher at the beginning of the 'twenties; he was like that when he discovered Graham Wallas and D. H. Lawrence; he was like that when he became Warden of Weir House; he was like that when he discovered, above all, Ngata and the Maori people. He was always making discoveries: some of them were important, - 121 some of them were astonishingly elementary, so that his enthusiasm might be rather mystifyingly naive; but it was always a true enthusiasm.

It was the mingling of the kindness and the enthusiasm that made him so stimulating as a teacher in a rather dull period at Victoria College; made him take such endless trouble with individuals when running Weir House; made him so good at times, I believe, with people who needed the help of a professional psychologist in clearing up their personal problems.

The third thing I think of is the single-mindedness with which he did his best work—which is perhaps but another aspect of his enthusiasm, of the high tension at which he lived. I was in at the birth of his first little book, The Maori Situation—a passionate plea, as it were, for the shedding of passion in what he was certain was a great crisis—and I have since heard innumerable monologues on a variety of matters from, of course, the Maori situation to academic freedom or his children or the merits of different varieties of sweet corn. But whatever he talked about, one felt that for the time being it was the most important thing in the world for him. I think that perhaps there came a time when he found he could be no longer single-minded, and that then too came his time of trouble.

But last as well as first I think of his kindness.

—J. C. B.

Ivan Lorin George Sutherland was born in Masterton on 10 May, 1897. He received his primary and secondary education at the District High School there. After a short period of uncongenial work in a bank, he entered Victoria University College, intending to be a minister in the Methodist Church. He changed his mind; yet something of the seriousness of purpose in this earlier adolescent choice persisted all through his student and later days, even during the period when he appeared to have thrown it aside. That was part of his helpfulness to others, part of his gift for aiding other people to take a fresh grip on their problems. Though he had failed at school to pass the university entrance examination, missing in arithmetic as one of the - 122 compulsory subjects, he made a habit of getting first-class terms in all his university subjects: Firsts in 1916 in English, Latin, Psychology, Logic, and Experimental Psychology; Firsts again in these at an advanced stage, and in Education, in 1917. He took the Senior Scholarship in mental and moral philosophy, and graduated M.A. with first-class honours. The College Jacob Joseph Scholarship followed, and then the University post-graduate travelling scholarship and a free passage overseas. He went to Glasgow University and made a great impression on Sir Henry Jones; but not finding there just what he wanted, transferred to London, where he studied happily, much influenced by Graham Wallas, and completed the work for his Ph.D.

From 1924 to 1952 Sutherland taught psychology and philosophy: until 1936 as lecturer at Victoria and from 1937 as professor at Canterbury University College. As teacher and counsellor he was keen, conscientious and helpful; the same qualities marked him as a Warden of Weir House, recently opened as the Victoria College hostel for men students. He was active in the Workers' Educational Association, giving lectures himself and serving for a period as Director of Tutorial Classes. Always keenly interested in the United Nations' Association, he was first President of its Christchurch Branch and held the office till 1951. His varied activities brought him into touch with increasing numbers of men and women, many of whom for personal reasons or from such general causes as unemployment and the depression, had problems of adjustment in which he could help. Many who knew him will recall with gratitude occasions when he went far out of his way to help them. He was never too engrossed in the enthusiasm of the moment to find time to give to other people's problems. He was alert to encroachments on the freedom of the teacher and the student alike. Though not very robust physically, he was always conspicuous for his energy, his buoyant enthusiasm, the quick response of his mind—whether the stimulus were human beings or imaginative literature and the visual arts. He always gave the impression of being intensely alive. There was a dramatic quality about him, which showed itself in his ways of thinking, his conversation, his teaching. Nothing he took up was ever done half-heartedly.

- 123

Ivan Sutherland was sympathetically interested in a wide variety of public issues, local or worldwide in their impact. One illustration of this: he early sensed in broadcasting a new and potentially vital instrument of information, propaganda, and culture; he was aware of the significance of the new form of control by the “semi-autonomous public corporation” as pioneered by Reith in the B.B.C. He took the leading part in a modest, unpublicized, and wholly successful move to transfer the control of broadcasting in New Zealand from private commercial ownership to responsible public management. “Giving the public something just a little ahead of what the public wants” was the role of broadcasting that he foresaw and persistently urged; he drew freely, whether for example or for warning, on broadcasting developments in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, and other lands.


It was however to the Maori people, and particularly to the resurgence of difficult Maori-Pakeha relationships, that Sutherland more and more gave his mind and energies outside his professional university work. He came through psychology to cultural anthropology and thence specifically to the study of the Maori people—the major interest of the years of his maturity and one that remained strong and steady, however much his other enthusiasms waxed and waned. It was an interest that called into play many sides of his nature—his concern with the scientific understanding of human affairs, his feeling for the dramatic and the colourful, his appreciation of the values of non-European ways of life, and his active sympathy with the problems of a minority group.

In two articles on “Maori Culture and Modern Ethnology,” published in the Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philology in 1927, he made what he described as a “brief, preliminary survey” of some Polynesian and Maori problems. He drew on the writings of Sir George Grey and Colenso; S. Percy-Smith and Edward Tregear; Elsdon Best, H. D. Skinner, Te Rangi Hiroa; as well as on Elliot Smith, Rivers, Perry, Malinowski. He saw the relevance to local questions of the “revolution at present going on in the field of cultural anthropology”; its possible light even on the partly geological question whether Polynesian people had - 124 come here “as canoemen or pedestrians”; and on the re-interpretation of Maori myths and legends.

Within a few years his already sympathetic interest in Maori affairs was given a sense of urgency, largely by events that led to the resignation from office of Sir Apirana Ngata—“dismissal” from office was taken, by many of both his own people and Europeans, to be the substantial truth. Described by Sutherland himself as a “frankly occasional pamphlet,” the thirteen short chapters of The Maori Situation (1935) still give an admirable brief summary of Maori history and of his own approach; it was a vigorous “study of the Maori people, as they were before the advent of Europeans and since, endeavouring to analyse the contact of the two peoples in New Zealand down to the present day, to appreciate the effect on the Maori people of the passing of so much of their own way of life, and to observe their adaptation of European civilisation to their own needs.” The booklet was in effect a plea to his fellow-Europeans for a more sympathetic, more intelligent, understanding of the Maori point of view. Without a doubt it was widely influential in promoting better relations between the two peoples. The need for such a publication is perhaps less evident now than it was at the time. The last twenty years or so have seen much change in the material conditions and the outlook of the Maori people, and probably some change in the European attitude to Maoris. So in the nineteen-fifties it may be a little difficult, though it is necessary, to recall the particular setting in which this booklet was written.

The balloon of the inter-war boom had burst, but the Great Depression had not yet run its course. New Zealand, like a child who had lost its toy or was holding the string of the burst balloon (the analogy is typically Sutherland), was sullen and perplexed. If “censorious” is an epithet perhaps too readily applied to New Zealanders by some generalisers on national qualities, it was unfortunately more than usually applicable at that time. Certainly there was no lack of fault-finding with the Government and its individual members; and when a commission of inquiry reported book-keeping irregularities in Maori land transactions, and found responsible one who was a Cabinet Minister, and a Maori, the response of some was that of the scalp-hunter. To such, it counted little than Sir Apirana Ngata was the outstanding - 125 Maori leader in near half a century, that he was a man of impeccable personal and official honesty, that his people desperately needed his leadership and inspiration, or that the land-consolidation and other co-operative plans he had pioneered were to be so largely the turning point towards happier conditions for the whole Maori people. He and they were out of accord with the economies and negativism of the time. Ngata was condemned.

Sutherland sensed, and probably judged wisely, that the situation in 1934–35 had in it the germs of a possibly disastrous worsening of the Maori outlook, the defeat and souring of their hopes, an intensification of Maori-Pakeha misunderstandings reminiscent of a tragic decade in the previous century. Hence his book, and the renewed seriousness of his approach to the psychological-anthropological issues that had won his interest. If the fears of the nineteen-thirties now seem remote, and for a decade and more the Maori outlook and inter-racial relations have been as satisfactory as they have ever been, no one contributed more to this than he did. By his writings, his spoken words, his personal dealings with Maori and Pakeha, Sutherland stood with a few others—some would say he was first—in recapturing and strengthening mutual respect and understanding between the two races in New Zealand. Yet it would be reckless to take for granted that these, or any other values in our way of life, are secure for the future without vigilance on our part; and his writings over a period of twenty-five years can serve to sustain that vigilance.

The 1940 volume, The Maori People To-day, which he edited and to which he contributed two chapters of his own and another jointly with Sir Apirana Ngata, is unfortunately out of print. The following typical words may be quoted:—

“Are the economic necessities and the spiritual needs of the Maori people incompatible and irreconcilable? Will the Maori yield in the economic struggle in order to survive culturally as a distinct people? Will he, as many seem to expect him to, attempt all-round Pakeha standards and so lose his racial identity? ... If the Maori situation is seen in its actuality as a dynamic, developing and gradually changing situation with many meantime issues and progressive adaptations of policy, then the conflict may be in part soluble ... This survey ... does not appear to have disclosed any issues or likely issues - 126 between Maori and Pakeha which cannot be resolved by tolerance, mutual understanding and active goodwill ... The need for tolerance may be emphasized since New Zealanders, from their isolation and remoteness and general uniformity, have tended to be singularly intolerant of national and cultural differences.”

Before the war Sutherland was able to spend some leave in America, where his interests included study of the Hopi Indians; he visited some of the Pacific Islands, including the Cooks, Niue, and Tahiti; soon after the war he was sent on a short mission to the New Zealand armed forces in Japan, incidental to which he was able to see something of, and write a paper on, the Ainu people.

In what was to be the last year of his life, he had sabbatical leave from his professional work. It was far—too far, as time was to tell—from being a year of relaxation. Instead, he pressed himself with renewed energy to his studies. In the Alexander Turnbull Library he found material galore, almost overwhelming indeed for one who had not taken the formal study of colonial history beyond his schooldays.

His plan was to round out all he had so far done, to write a book that would tell the story of Maori-European relations from the time of the earliest contacts to the present day, with special reference to the changes that have taken place in Maori personality and outlook. He worked with very great intensity, with a sense of urgency and of the magnitude of the task to be done, reading and re-reading the historical documents, collecting contemporary information from all available sources, and making field trips to many Maori areas. He deepened his studies of present day Maori life, on the East Coast with his oldest Ngati Porou friends, in the Waikato and Urewera, in North Auckland, in Taranaki. He left in draft six chapters of the book, and hundreds of notes for other chapters. Some of these notes, his conversation with friends, and the last separate piece of writing he did, show that his thoughts had by no means settled into a rut. A paper read at a meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science in May, 1951, struck many who heard it as having all the freshness and gusto of an enthusiast breaking new ground. But the strain told, though he was adept in concealing its effects from those who knew him. A bad lapse in health, due to over-work - 127 under trying conditions away from his home, was followed by too short a time for convalescence. The burden of all he had taken on himself, in work and thought, was too great. It is probably impossible now to analyse the aggregate; but something had to break, and break it did. There is relevance in a sentence he had long ago quoted from a speech by Ngata in 1897, “I had rather die of overwork than live a life of aimless yawning, useless and purposeless”: nothing, indeed, was further than these five last words from describing the devotion with which he worked himself to the end.

Had it been otherwise, Ivan Sutherland's friendship and counsel and strenuous example, his kindness and his helpfulness, might have been with us a score of years longer. We can only remember these things. Remembering them, we salute a fine New Zealander and an honest scholar, with gratitude that he understood us so well and helped us so much: with regret that on our part we at the last understood his need so ill, and could help him so inadequately.

—A. E. C.
—R. M. C.

Others have written of I. L. G. Sutherland as a man and as a scholar. I should like to add a note on Sutherland as an honoured friend of the Maori people. I use the word “honoured” deliberately for it was to him that his first Maori friends, the Ngati Porou, gave the name of their most famous ancestor, Paikea, a very great tribute to the young pakeha stranger who came among them with unmistakable sincerity and interest. It is as Paikea that Ivan Sutherland is now known to the Maori people in all parts of the country.

Having had the rare experience of visiting all the tribes of North Auckland with Paikea, I am able to appreciate the respect and friendship he inspired. On the tribal marae, in the meeting house and in the home, I have seen gatherings of Maori people listening to him, utterly absorbed in what must have seemed to some of them a new gospel of friendship.

These talks of Paikea's will not easily be forgotten. He was so intensely human that he could put himself in the place of the young Maori uprooted from his familiar semitribal society and lost in the swirl of a modern city; he could feel deeply the anxiety and perplexity of the old people - 128 watching their families disintegrating under economic pressure; he could know and understand the resentment aroused by ill-conceived racial myths. At the same time he could free himself from that sickly sentimentality so often encountered amongst Europeans interested in Maori life. He could be critical of Maori shortcomings without causing offence.

The theme of his talks was the inter-racial situation and the almost critical need for the Maori to consolidate his position in New Zealand society and economy during the present generation. He preached education, wider fields of employment, self discipline and communal discipline and last, but not least, the maintenance of those features of Maori society and culture which can exist in modern life. No Maori or European who heard any of these talks could fail to grasp the magnitude and importance of the tasks which now confront the Maori people.

At almost every place we visited we were met at first with an air of puzzlement and uncertainty, not expressed but noticeable. Who was this pakeha? What axe had he come to grind? Was it political, religious, or what? It soon became apparent that it was none of these things—it was simply an honest man with no axe to grind, but with a genuine and informed interest in their well-being. It must have been a new experience to many of his listeners and it was the cause of their ready response in the discussions he provoked—frank and free discussions on the liquor question, land problems, social problems, all the many perplexities of modern Maori life which were so real to a scientist blessed with human understanding.

—J. M. McE.
  • Human Personality. Jacob Joseph Thesis, 1920. Unpublished MS., Victoria University College Library.
  • Some Tendencies in Psychology in Relation to the Theory of Human Conduct. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Glasgow, unpublished, 1923.
  • “Maori Culture and Modern Ethnology: a Preliminary Survey,” in Australasian Journal of Psychology and Philosophy, Vol. V, pp. 81-93, 186-201. 1927.
  • The Maori Situation. 123 pp. Wellington (Harry H. Tombs, Ltd.), 1935.
- 129
  • The Maori People To-day: a General Survey. Edited and with contributions by I. L. G. S., Wellington (N.Z. Institute of International Affairs and N.Z. Council for Educational Research), 1940. Sutherland's contributions were the Introduction (pp. 19-48); Chapter XII, “The Maori Situation,” pp. 399-441; and, with Sir Apirana Ngata, Chapter X, “Religious Influences,” pp. 336-73.
  • The Maori People. N.Z. Armed Services' Current Affairs Bulletins, Vol. 3, Nos. 7-8. 32pp. Wellington, 1945.
  • “The Science of Man and the Maori,” in The University and the Community: Essays in Honour of Thomas Alexander Hunter, pp. 70-79. Wellington (Victoria University College), 1946.
  • “A Maori Community”—review of Some Modern Maoris (Ernest and Pearl Beaglehole); in National Education, Vol. XXVIII, No. 305, p. 302. Wellington, October, 1946.
  • “Maori and Pakeha,” in H. Belshaw (ed.), New Zealand, pp. 48-72. University of California Press, 1947.
  • “The Ainu People of Northern Japan,” in Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 57, pp. 203-26, 1948.
  • “Maori Revival,” in the Yearbook of Education, 1949, pp. 213-221. London, 1949.
  • The Ngarimu Hui. pp. 5-13, Wellington (Polynesian Society), 1949.
  • “Leader of Genius” (a note on Sir Apirana Ngata), in Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 59, pp. 293-4, 1950.
  • “Maori and European.” A paper read to the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. Christchurch, 1951. Published in this issue.