[Transactions & Proceedings of the Royal Society of NZ]
The Galapagos Tracts
All the documents used in this work are taken from the first twelve volumes of the ‘Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute’, issued annually, and beginning with Vol. 1., May, 1869.
The preface to the first issue notes that ‘Many of the papers here published are of a most important character, and all are valuable contributions to scientific literature.’ It was a necessary publication, and chronicled the colony’s discovery of itself.
I was initially led to the ‘Transactions’ by scientific purposes, but became attracted to the beauty of its contents. This was sometimes quite obvious — for example, in the shape of a document, its tables, graphs, or serried paragraphs. Or it might lie in the scientific rhetoric, the writing style, the subject, the punctuation and typography, or irony created by the passage of time, and the startling language.
Sometimes this beauty is so hidden it must be revealed. In the attempt to do this nothing used has been left entirely as it was at its source. With some of the texts only a little shaping was necessary. With most, however, I have rebuilt after destruction, to release an admirable form. There does appear, at appointed intervals, a poem that is entirely of my own composition, but I have only permitted myself this liberty for the purpose of necessary comment.
Here and there, in restructuring a document, I have inserted my own words. There is no absolute in my attitude on this matter.
It could well be objected that some of the texts in this work can hardly be described as ‘poetry’. However, I do include them and present them as such. From any discussion on this subject good might come. The book is indexed as a volume of the Transactions, and as to the title — I leave that to the reader to decipher.
- Author’s Note
- The President Delivered the Following Address
- The Otago Institute
- On The Building Materials of Otago
- Experiments With Prepared Fibre
- Proximate Principles Of The Leaf
- The Dunedin Fish Supply
- On New Zealand Coffee
- On the Root Stock of Marattia fraxinea
- On a Better Knowledge of the Maori Race
- Whence of the Word
- Some New Slugs
- May 7th. of this Year
- Notes on the Microscopic Structure of Certain Igneous Rocks
- Some Coccidae in New Zealand
- Fertilization Among the Orchids
- [Fertilization of Pterostylis]
- On the Fertilisation of Cyrtostylis oblonga
- On the Nesting Habits of the Huia
- [Some Birds Found]
- Some Moa Remains
- The Sphenodon
- [Dinornis elephantopus]
- A Raptorial Bird of Enormous Dimensions
- [Harpagornis moorei]
- On Measurement Made
- From a Catalogue of Naturalized Plants
- On A Rock Shelter Near the Opihi Gorge
- Notice of the Existence of a Large Bat in New Zealand
- Notes on the Economic Properties of Certain Native Grasses
- The Genius of the Phenomena
- The Comparative Atmospheric Pressure of New Zealand & Great Britain
- Notes on Some Habits of the Frost Fish
- Forest Culture in the Austral Colonies
- Some Observations on Native Forest Land
- The People
- On the Principle of N.Z. Weather Forecast
- On the Ancient Dog of the New Zealanders
- The Economy of the Naultinus
- [Naultinus pulcherrimus and Catocala traversii]
- The Herpetologist Loses his Pets
- On the Hot Winds of Canterbury
- On the Disappearance of the Larger Lizard from North Canterbury
- On the Phyllocladus
- A Note on the Breeding Habits of the Katipo
- Explanation of Plate XXVIII
- Description of Plate
- On Forest Culture
- Mr. Buller to the Rev. Mr. Taylor, Sir
Papers And Verbal Descriptions
Pages of Tables and Graphs
-  The Comparative Atmospheric Pressure of New Zealand & Great Britain
-  Notes on Some Habits of the Frost Fish
-  On Forest Culture
This sequence of poems has been reconstructed from electronic files recovered from Leicester Kyle's computer hard-drive after his death. As his Author's Note (reprinted above) explains, his intention was to leave them without a title:
The book is indexed as a volume of the Transactions, and as to the title — I leave that to the reader to decipher.Leicester's Curriculum Vitae (2000), however, refers to it as "The Galapagos Tracts" (which I also remember having seen pasted on a loose-leaf folder of the whole work in draft during one of my visits to Millerton between 1998 and 2002). His c.v. describes it as:
Poetry based upon material in the first ten issues of ‘The Transactions of the N.Z. Institute’ (1867-1876).Unfortunately, I could only find fifty of the fifty-six entries included in Leicester's own index among the files on his computer (some in variant versions). Luckily one of the missing ones, "Mr. Buller to the Rev. Mr. Taylor, Sir," appeared in A Brief Description of the Whole World 16 (2000): 84. Four other sections of the work were also duplicated in successive issues of A Brief Description:
This has been extremely useful in establishing an accurate text for these particular pages, but is also a salutary reminder that there may have been extra visual or xeroxed elements in the sections recovered so far.
- "Comparative Atmospheric Pressure" & "On Forest Culture." brief 10/11 (1998): 43-46.
- "On The Principle Of New Zealand Weather." brief 14 (1999): 57-62.
- "Errata." brief 15 (2000): 86.
In the hope that a complete text of the work may turn up some day, I have included the five missing sections in the contents list above.
At this point it's difficult to know if the work had been abandoned, or was simply awaiting a final editorial read-through before publication. It certainly seems sufficiently interesting to merit being published here, despite its unfinished state. The delight these "Galapagos tracts" take in the more eccentric and self-deluded aspects of the (so-called) scientific state of mind is something that comes up often in his work, but never, I think, in so concentrated and undiluted a form.
The extreme varieties of adaptation to slight changes in environment characteristic of such island-chains as Darwin's Galapagos does seem to have formed an important part of Leicester's overall conception of the work. The savants whose work fills the pages of "Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute" do, from this perspective, sound rather like a set of eccentrically specialized finches, determined to shape themselves into something more appropriate to their own conception of the New Land.
Instead, what Leicester refers to above as the "irony created by the passage of time" has left us with a fascinating record of their "interesting failure to adapt on islands" (to quote Allen Curnow's "Skeleton of the Great Moa in the Canterbury Museum, Christchurch").
- Jack Ross,
Mairangi Bay, February 2012.
© Leicester Kyle Literary Estate, 2012