Former museum director John Yaldwyn specialised in crustaceans, but he also had a keen interest in extinct New Zealand birds, archaeology, and history.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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).
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.
You can make a submission in the exhibition or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include why you chose the name. See our website for terms and conditions, and helpful hints on making a suggestion.