Robert Speight

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Speight in 1907 Robert Speight 1907.jpg
Speight in 1907

Robert Speight (2 October 1867 8 September 1949) was a notable New Zealand geologist, university professor and museum curator.


Early life

Speight was born in Stockton-on-Tees, Durham, England in 1867. When he was about 12, his family emigrated to New Zealand. His father, a strong disciplinarian, was a teacher at the school at Tai Tapu, which is a rural village some 9 kilometres (5.6 mi) south of the Christchurch suburb of Halswell. Robert Speight gained a scholarship at Christchurch Boys' High School and it is said that his daily travels along the foot of the Port Hills, an extinct shield volcano, raised his interest in volcanology. His father transferred to St. Albans School and the family moved to Christchurch, and Speight continued his education at Canterbury College. He graduated in 1888 with a Bachelor of Arts, and in 1889 with a Master of Arts with first class honours in mathematics.

Stockton-on-Tees Market town in County Durham, England

Stockton-on-Tees is a market town in the unitary authority of Stockton on Tees within the ceremonial County of Durham, England. The town has a population of 85,000, with a population of around 196,000 in the wider area, the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees, according to 2017 estimates by ONS UK.

Durham, England City in England

Durham is a historic city and the county town of County Durham in North East England. The city lies on the River Wear, to the south-west of Sunderland, south of Newcastle upon Tyne and to the north of Darlington. Founded over the final resting place of St Cuthbert, its Norman cathedral became a centre of pilgrimage in medieval England. The cathedral and adjacent 11th-century castle were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The castle has been the home of Durham University since 1832. HM Prison Durham is also located close to the city centre. City of Durham is the name of the civil parish.

Tai Tapu Place in South Island, New Zealand

Tai Tapu is a small town adjacent to the Halswell River and nestled in the Port Hills, located 6 km east of the town of Lincoln and 18 km south west of Christchurch in the Canterbury region of New Zealand's South Island. State Highway 75 passes through the centre of the village, connecting Christchurch with Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula.

Professional career

Speight took a teaching position at his secondary school and studied science part-time under Frederick Wollaston Hutton, graduating in 1891 with a Bachelor of Science. When Hutton retired his teaching position from Canterbury College in 1903, Speight succeeded him as a lecturer, while retaining his teaching position at Boys' High for some more years. [1]

Frederick Wollaston Hutton scientist

Captain Frederick Wollaston Hutton, FRS, was an English-New Zealand scientist who applied the theory of natural selection to explain the origins and nature of the natural history of New Zealand. An army officer in early life, he then had an academic career in geology and biology. He became one of the most able and prolific nineteenth century naturalists of New Zealand.

A Bachelor of Science is an undergraduate academic degree awarded for completed courses that generally last three to five years, or a person holding such a degree.

Speight was appointed assistant curator of Canterbury Museum in 1911, and was full director from March 1914 to November 1935. [1] [2] During his career, Speight published 130 papers and reports, which span a wide area of earth science. Geographically, he mostly published Canterbury topics, but also the Kermadec Islands and the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands (which he visited in 1907). His papers on past worldwide climate changes and their causes gained him international attention, and he was elected to fellowships of the Geological Society of America and the Geological Society of London. He was also a fellow of the New Zealand Institute, and was the organisation's president from 1933 for two years and during that time, the name was changed to Royal Society of New Zealand in reference to the Royal Society based in London. [1]

Canterbury Museum, Christchurch museum in Christchurch, New Zealand

The Canterbury Museum is a museum located in the central city of Christchurch, New Zealand, in the city's Cultural Precinct. The museum was established in 1867 with Julius von Haast – whose collection formed its core – as its first director. The building is registered as a "Historic Place – Category I " by Heritage New Zealand.

Canterbury, New Zealand Region of New Zealand in South Island

Canterbury is a region of New Zealand, located in the central-eastern South Island. The region covers an area of 44,508 square kilometres (17,185 sq mi), and is home to a population of 624,000.

Kermadec Islands subtropical island arc in the South Pacific Ocean

The Kermadec Islands are a subtropical island arc in the South Pacific Ocean 800–1,000 km (500–620 mi) northeast of New Zealand's North Island, and a similar distance southwest of Tonga. The islands are part of New Zealand, 33.6 km2 (13.0 sq mi) in total area and uninhabited, except for the permanently manned Raoul Island Station, the northernmost outpost of New Zealand.

The New Zealand Institute awarded Speight the Hector Memorial Medal in 1921, at the time its highest award. [1] [3] He was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935. [4]

The Hector Medal is a science award given by the Royal Society of New Zealand in memory of Sir James Hector to researchers working in New Zealand. It is awarded annually in rotation for different sciences – currently there are three: chemical sciences; physical sciences; mathematical and information sciences. It is given to a researcher who "has undertaken work of great scientific or technological merit and has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the particular branch of science." It was previously rotated through more fields of science – in 1918 they were: botany, chemistry, ethnology, geology, physics, zoology. For a few years it was awarded biennially – it was not awarded in 2000, 2002 or 2004.

The King George V Silver Jubilee Medal is a commemorative medal, instituted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the accession of King George V.

Family and death

On 4 January 1899, he married Ruth Mary Seager at St Michael's Church in central Christchurch. [5] His wife was the sister of Rose Elizabeth Seager, the mother of the writer Ngaio Marsh. [1] [6] Ruth and Robert Speight's three children all went to live overseas, so after his wife died in 1941 his life was lonely. He died at St George's Hospital on 8 September 1949, aged 81. [1]

Church of St Michael and All Angels, Christchurch Church in Christchurch Central City, New Zealand

The Church of St Michael and All Angels is an Anglican church in Christchurch, New Zealand. The church building at 84 Oxford Terrace, Christchurch, is registered as Category I by Heritage New Zealand. Its freestanding belfry is registered separately.

Christchurch Central City Suburb in Christchurch City Council, New Zealand

Christchurch Central City is the geographical centre and the heart of Christchurch, New Zealand. It is defined as the area within the four avenues and thus includes the densely built up central city, some less dense surrounding areas of residential, educational and industrial usage, and green space including Hagley Park, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and the Barbadoes Street Cemetery.

Ngaio Marsh New Zealand writer

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Gage, Maxwell. "Robert Speight". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  2. Hiller, Norton; Pollard, Simon (December 2007). Records of the Canterbury Museum (PDF). 21. Canterbury Museum. ISSN   0370-3878. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 October 2012. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  3. "Recipients". Royal Society of New Zealand . Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  4. "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post . CXIX (105). 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 5 July 2019.
  5. "Marriages". The Star (6392). 24 January 1899. p. 3. Retrieved 4 December 2015.
  6. Stafford, Jane. "Marsh, Edith Ngaio". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 10 July 2011.