John Yaldwyn and the frog crab

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Former museum director John Yaldwyn specialised in crustaceans, but he also had a keen interest in extinct New Zealand birds, archaeology, and history.

Dr John Yaldwyn, Assistant Director of the National Museum, 1976. Photograph by Trevor Ulyatt. Te Papa (MA_E.00350/32a)

Dr John Yaldwyn, when Assistant Director of the National Museum, 1976. Photograph by Trevor Ulyatt. Te Papa (MA_E.00350/32a)

Te Papa turned 150 years old on 8 December 2015. To celebrate 150 years since the opening of the Colonial Museum in Wellington, the exhibition ‘You called me WHAT?!’ is open on Level 3 until the end of 2016. The exhibition, and this series of blogs, explore the history of the museum by showcasing some of the more than 2,500 animal and plant species named by museum staff since 1865 – and seek your suggestions for names for species that have yet to be described and named.

This tenth blog in the series features the museum’s seventh Director – Dr John Cameron Yaldwyn (1929-2005). Yaldwyn was a zoologist at the Dominion Museum 1959–61, then (after a stint at the Australian Museum) Curator of Crustacea and Assistant Director 1969–80 (including when the museum changed its name to the National Museum in 1972), and Director of the National Museum 1980–89.

Members of the Chatham Islands 1954 Expedition on the aft deck of MV Alert on their return to Lyttelton, 12 February 1954. John Yaldwyn wearing his spare pair of glasses at lower left. Others approximately left to right are Jock Moreland, John McIntyre (with pipe), Ray Forster, Daphne Marshall, Betty Batham, Dave Garner, Alex Black (seated, captain), Dick Dell, George Knox and Elliot Dawson. Image: Te Papa MA_B.023472

Members of the Chatham Islands 1954 Expedition on the aft deck of MV Alert on their return to Lyttelton, 12 February 1954. John Yaldwyn wearing his spare pair of glasses at lower left. Others approximately left to right are Jock Moreland (cut off), John McIntyre (with pipe), Ray Forster, Daphne Marshall, Betty Batham, Dave Garner, Alex Black (captain, seated), Dick Dell, George Knox and Elliot Dawson. Image: Te Papa MA_B.023472

Yaldwyn was a masters student at Victoria University of Wellington when he was offered the opportunity to be a crew member on the 1954 Chatham Islands Expedition. During 3 weeks at sea, the research team on the Alert undertook dozens of deep water benthic samples, discovering more than 150 new species. Yaldwyn received a dunking and lost his glasses when the Alert’s dinghy capsized in the surf at Glory Bay on Pitt Island, but his parents were able to send over another pair on the next Sunderland flying boat to Chatham Island.

The ill-fated dinghy shortly before it capsized in Glory Bay on 26 January 1954. John Yaldwyn is closest to the camera, with Jock Moreland alongside and George Knox and Dick Dell (furthest from camera) behind. Image: Betty Batham, courtesy of Eliott Dawson.

The ill-fated dinghy shortly before it capsized in Glory Bay on 26 January 1954. John Yaldwyn is closest to the camera, with Jock Moreland alongside and George Knox and Dick Dell (furthest from camera) behind. Image: Dr E.J. Batham, courtesy of Elliot Dawson.

‘How nice to see you’ was Yaldwyn’s signature greeting, still remembered fondly by many of his former staff. He continued the work of the previous director, Dick Dell, appointing professional scientists and encouraging development and care of the collections. Yaldwyn also recruited Māori staff and was a key figure behind the ground-breaking Te Maori exhibition – setting the foundation for biculturalism at Te Papa.

Frog crab, Notosceles pepeke, named by John Yaldwyn and Elliot Dawson, 2000. The holotype was collected in 1998, between Three Kings Islands and Cape Reinga. Found at depths of 59–211 metres. Image by Richard Webber, Te Papa

Frog crab, Notosceles pepeke, named by John Yaldwyn and Elliot Dawson, 2000. The holotype was collected in 1998, between Three Kings Islands and Cape Reinga. Found at depths of 59–211 metres. Image by Richard Webber, Te Papa

One of the many species named by Yaldwyn was a curious looking crab that reminded him of a frog. Along with his Te Papa colleague Elliot Dawson, Yaldwyn proposed the name Notosceles pepeke, with ‘pepeke’ based on a Māori name for frog. Yaldwyn’s interest in bringing Māori language into science didn’t stop with names, however. In their paper describing this little taonga of New Zealand’s marine fauna, he and Dawson included a summary in te reo Māori – another step in Te Papa’s bicultural development.

South Island stout-legged wren, Pachyplichas yaldwyni, 2005, by Paul Martinson, watercolour on paper. From the series ‘Extinct Birds of New Zealand’. Te Papa (2006-0010-1/2)

Yaldwyn’s triplefin, Notoclinops yaldwyni named by Graham Hardy, 1987. Found at depths of 0–5 metres. Photograph by Ian Skipworth

Among the species named after John Yaldwyn were two species that have appeared on New Zealand postage stamps: Yaldwyn’s triplefin (a fish) and the South Island stout-legged wren (an extinct bird). Both were named by curators who Yaldwyn had appointed to the National Museum team, namely Graeme Hardy (Curator of Fish) and Phil Millener (Curator of Fossil Birds).

South Island stout-legged wren, Pachyplichas yaldwyni, 2005, by Paul Martinson, watercolour on paper. From the series ‘Extinct Birds of New Zealand’. Te Papa (2006-0010-1/2) May 2006 Equipment: Cruse CS 185SL450 Synchron Light Scanner Software Used: Adobe Photoshop CS 8.0 This file is property of Te Papa Press

South Island stout-legged wren, Pachyplichas yaldwyni, 2005, by Paul Martinson, watercolour on paper. From the series ‘Extinct Birds of New Zealand’. Te Papa (2006-0010-1/2)

With thanks to Elliot Dawson for information about the 1954 Chatham Islands Expedition.

Help us name a new species

For 150 years, Te Papa scientists have been working to discover, describe, and name new species. Now it’s your turn. Celebrate 150 years of science at Te Papa by helping us name a new species. You might just go down in history. Suggest a name for this Acanthoclinus rockfish. We’ll seriously consider your idea.

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You can make a submission in the exhibition or by emailing youcalledmewhat@tepapa.govt.nz. Please include why you chose the name. See our website for terms and conditions, and helpful hints on making a suggestion.

Related blogs

Sir James Hector, Hector’s dolphin and Taniwhasaurus

Sir James Hector and the Kerguelen connection

Augustus Hamilton and the gold-spangled butterfly

Allan Thomson and the Cenozoic brachiopods

W.R.B. Oliver – jack-of-all-trades and master of most

Robert Falla and the Westland petrel

Dick Dell and the fantastic frilled crab

Alan Baker and Maui’s dolphin

Nancy Adams, Wendy Nelson and the Three Kings’ seaweeds

Bruce Marshall and the volcanic vent mussel

Pat Brownsey and the cave-dwelling spleenwort

Clive Roberts and one tiny iota fish

 

Help name a new species

Unforgettable names for a new forget-me-not-species

7 Responses

  1. Elliot Dawson

    Congratulations to all on the latest additions to the blogs … Dick Dell was a great mentor and companion on the Chathams 1954 Expeditions. I well remember the shouts of delight as an exciting new mollusc, yet to be named, came up in our deep-water trawls … And mention of John Yaldwyn’s old army hut brought back happy memories of a treasure house full of interesting (and stimulating) items … No wonder he became such an outstanding museum man in due course. His father wanted him to become an Industrial Chemist but what a loss to the museum world that would have been!
    Thank you indeed, Colin, for conceiving these blogs.

    Reply
    • Colin Miskelly

      Thank you very much for this feedback Elliot, and for sharing your recollections and insights from a ground-breaking expedition undertaken 63 years ago. You have greatly aided in bringing the personalities of Dick Dell and John Yaldwyn to life.
      Kind regards
      Colin

  2. Phoebe Macdiarmid

    I knew John well as a boy. Together we spent hours mapping the rocks off shore at Point Howard where he lived. Even as a lad he had a “museum” of his own in a shed his parents had built for him in the garden.

    Reply
    • Colin Miskelly

      Thanks very much for this insight Phoebe. It is great that John was able to retain his childhood fascination with the natural world and turn it into a productive career.
      Na, Colin

  3. Gillian Candler

    The exhibit on level 3 is really interesting, is there a book coming out??

    Reply
    • Colin Miskelly

      Kia ora Marie-Louise and Gillian
      Thanks very much for your comments. There are no plans for a ‘You called me WHAT?!’ book, but that is an interesting thought – and it would be good to have a more permanent commemoration of the museum being 150 years old.
      Na, Colin

  4. Marie-Louise Myburgh

    Thanks for a very interesting blog.

    Reply

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