Book Twenty-Nine

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.


  1. Author’s Note
  2. Index
  3. Preface

  4. Proceedings
  5. The President Delivered the Following Address
  6. The Otago Institute

  7. Transactions
  8. On The Building Materials of Otago
  9. Experiments With Prepared Fibre
  10. Proximate Principles Of The Leaf
  11. The Dunedin Fish Supply

  12. Papers And Verbal Descriptions
  13. On New Zealand Coffee
  14. On the Root Stock of Marattia fraxinea
  15. On a Better Knowledge of the Maori Race
  16. Whence of the Word
  17. Some New Slugs
  18. May 7th. of this Year
  19. Notes on the Microscopic Structure of Certain Igneous Rocks
  20. Some Coccidae in New Zealand
  21. Fertilization Among the Orchids
  22. [Fertilization of Pterostylis]
  23. On the Fertilisation of Cyrtostylis oblonga
  24. On the Nesting Habits of the Huia
  25. [Some Birds Found]
  26. Some Moa Remains
  27. The Sphenodon
  28. Taniwhasaurus
  29. [Dinornis elephantopus]
  30. A Raptorial Bird of Enormous Dimensions
  31. [Harpagornis moorei]
  32. On Measurement Made
  33. From a Catalogue of Naturalized Plants
  34. On A Rock Shelter Near the Opihi Gorge
  35. Notice of the Existence of a Large Bat in New Zealand
  36. Notes on the Economic Properties of Certain Native Grasses
  37. Fossil

  38. Essays
  39. The Genius of the Phenomena
  40. The Comparative Atmospheric Pressure of New Zealand & Great Britain
  41. Notes on Some Habits of the Frost Fish
  42. Forest Culture in the Austral Colonies
  43. Some Observations on Native Forest Land
  44. The People
  45. Autocthon

  46. Pages of Tables and Graphs
  47. On the Principle of N.Z. Weather Forecast
  48. On the Ancient Dog of the New Zealanders
  49. The Economy of the Naultinus
  50. [Naultinus pulcherrimus and Catocala traversii]
  51. The Herpetologist Loses his Pets
  52. On the Hot Winds of Canterbury
  53. On the Disappearance of the Larger Lizard from North Canterbury
  54. On the Phyllocladus
  55. A Note on the Breeding Habits of the Katipo

  56. Appendix
  57. Explanation of Plate XXVIII
  58. Description of Plate
  59. On Forest Culture
  60. Mr. Buller to the Rev. Mr. Taylor, Sir
  61. Errata
  62. Galapagos

Variant Texts:
  • [36] The Comparative Atmospheric Pressure of New Zealand & Great Britain
  • [37] Notes on Some Habits of the Frost Fish
  • [53] On Forest Culture

Editorial Note

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:
  • "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.
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.

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

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