The World of Joseph Mellor

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Pr Lyall Hanton

Pr Lyall Hanton

The Centre for the Book starts the year with a sudden rush of lectures.  This is a lecture from last week presented by the current Mellor Professor, Lyall Hanlan, on the namesake of his eponymous professorship, Joseph Mellor.  The lecture was well attended, with five Mellor Professors in attendance in the audience.  Professorial seats bear some resemblance to time-lords in that respect.

The Mellor family migrated to New Zealand, first to Kaiapoi, then to Dunedin.  Joseph Mellor started at Kaikorai School.  He left school at 13 to work at the Dunedin boot business McKinlays, then as a boot strapper for Sargoods.  The boot-strapping metaphor is not inappropriate for Mellor’s later successful career in chemistry.  He starts from humble beginnings.

The family moved from Marshall Street in Dunedin to Willis Street.  His walk to work took him an hour, one way.  He had a lot of time to think.  At home he took to his shed and copied books.  To keep warm while he studied his mother heated a brick and wrapped it in flannel.  On top of everything else, he started night classes at the King Edward Technical College.  When he turned 20 he attended Professor Black’s lectures on natural science and chemistry at the university, allowed time during working hours.  For a moment Mellor was seen as Black’s successor when his position became vacant.  The University chose Inglis instead.

During his university years at the turn of the twentieth century exam papers were sent to be graded in Britain, a voyage of six months before pass marks could be notified.  His final year exams had the misfortune of being sank off the coast of Cape Horn, requiring him to resit the exam.

He added chess to his pass-times.  He considered himself an average player, enough to frighten other chess-players when he took his skills overseas.  He later described the chess club that encouraged him as a red-hot chess club.

He was a member of the Wesleyan Church where he was a lay preacher and when he was 30 years old he married Emma Bates the church organist.  He referred to her as “The Boss”, and she was very protective of “Her Joe”.  In later life she would become a spiritualist, a world-view that was a source of amusement to Mellor.

His teaching started at Lincoln College in Canterbury.  After the turn of the century he would go to Owens College in Manchester now the University of Manchester.  It was the best academic college of its time in his field.  His Ph.D. from Owens College produced eight papers, two published by the Royal Society and another two with the Chemistry Society.  He wrote a book dedicated to mathematics applied to chemistry, Higher Mathematics for Students of Chemistry and Physics.  By page 6 the mathematics has already started on calculus.

He graduated as a Materials Chemist and took up a teaching position at Newcastle under Lyme (not Newcastle on Tyne) at the Pottery School now part of the University of Staffordshire.  He was not a ceramic artist himself.  He worked in refractory materials, and was a friend of Frank Wedgewood, one of the Wedgewood family.  His work provided an alternative to ceremics manufactured to support the steel industry during the Great War that was previously reliant on material from Germany and Austria.  He declined a peerage for contribution to the war effort, other men had given their lives.

He continued writing late into the night.  His secretary would set out his table at night: an ounce of tabacco for his pipe (no small amount); six pens; and a bottle of worcester sauce (Mellor was a compulsive auto-condimenter of his food).  His writing resulted in a sixteen volume treatise on organic chemistry.  He was only the second ceramicist, after Josiah Wedgewood, elected to the Royal Society.  He paid for a life membership of the Society.

When did he learn to draw cartoons?  His cartoons, produced for a small audience were fluid, confident and complex in composition.  From the beginning his diagrammatics for his manuscripts showed his confidence as an artist.  And where did the friendship with his fellow New Zealand migrant, Ernest Rutherford, come from? These remain questions.

He died aged 69.  At the time of his death when his widow disposed of his library he had collected eight tonnes of books.  He earned a posthumous CBE.  In 2014 historian Doctor Ali Clark pointed out that Mellor House, the oldest building on the University of Otago Dunedin Campus is named for Joseph Mellor.

Joseph W. Mellor, beware the book thief!

Joseph W. Mellor, beware the book thief!

What is social class?

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17939338I have been reading Social Class in Applied Linguistics by David Block. Some interesting thoughts from it.

Young working class males create a culture of resistance to corporate identity. They see it as emasculating. Their idea is to enter adult life as quickly as possible. Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll are attributes of adult life.  Their culture is egalitarian and horizontal. No one will be better than they are. Conformity will be enforced if necessary.

Young middle class males recognise the limits of rebellion. It’s a weekend activity. During the week the corporate hierarchy will be respected because there is an opportunity to level up and improve one’s status, paradise postponed.  The alternative between achievers and non-achievers makes the jock a middle-class achiever.

Freedom from restriction; to travel, and the choice of consumption, to be intellectually worldly and experienced, becomes characteristics of the middle class.  When we move into situations where those characteristics are de-valued or out-classed our status is disempowered.  We become de-classed.

Perhaps this is obvious.  I haven’t seen the literature where this is so clearly written out and explained before.  I will have to play around with these ideas and think about them.


John Buckland Wright: Engraver and Book Illustrator

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This week’s lecture was Dr Christopher Buckland-Wright hosted by the Centre for the Book talking in Dunedin about his father John Buckland Wright, a New Zealand-born illustrator active in the first half of the Twentieth Century.

John Buckland Wright was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, before the turn of the Twenthieth century.  The Wright family of Redroofs had been one of the founders of the Wrightsons firm.  The family left New Zealand after the death of his father and settled in England.  Wright was educated at Clifden College in Bristol and at Rugby School.  His education was interupted as an ambulance driver in the Great War.  At the end of the war he returned to his studies at Magdelene College at Oxford and at the Bartlett School of Architecture.  His vocation was not in architecture and a grand tour of Europe took him to Europe where he joined with Alexander Stols in the creating and binding of the ideal book.  He worked in copper plate images moving from straight lines into swirls and curves.  In 1933 a crisis of confidence stopped him in his work.  He moved away from copper engraving, experimented with oil painting, and then into wood engraving.  He had a contract with Golden Cockerill Press that produced 14 books between 1936 to 1952.  During the Second World War Wright and his wife fled Europe from France, one step ahead of the advancing German forces.  Back in London he worked on a series of illustrations for Endymion.  Wright’s book, Etching and Engraving: Techniques and the Modern Trend remains a standard in its field.

He died suddenly in 1954 aged 56.  During a thirty year career Wright was producing a new design on average one per week.  Much of it was on the female human form.  He delighted in retaining sensitivity to the female model.

Pervigilium Veneris Plate 9, by John Buckland Wright.

Pervigilium Veneris Plate 9, by John Buckland Wright.

Changing Perceptions of the Treaty 1840-2040

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February the Sixth is Waitangi Day, a national holiday for the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi.  I never know what to do with this day off work.  Fortunately this year Lachy Paterson from the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture was doing a presentation at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.  I was glad to support him and go along and listen.  What looked like to be a small audience soon filled up with perhaps a couple of hundred people in attendance.

The Treaty of Waitangi is a dangerous topic for a lecture.  It is always in the news.  There are usually politicians involved, and protests.  It’s the document that marks the birth of the New Zealand nation.  Everyone has an opinion on it.  And, the lecturer forgot his reading glasses!

The Treaty claims are a result of the existence of the Treaty.  The Waitangi Tribunal hears the claims on the grounds Has a breach of Treaty principles occured or not.  It exists now as a legal document, the interpretation of experts on law.

Originally it was a political tool to gain sovereignty, a gray document rather than a black and white document.  The first settlers were bicultural out of necessity.  There were more of the Maori than there were of the settlers.  The settler government wanted the Maori to surrender their sovereignty at the expense of rangatiratanga (chieftainship).  They wanted to acculturate Maori into Pakeha society.

Maori may not have understood what they were signing on to.  Some opted in, part of a new world order, the coalition of the willing.  Others accepted the gift of a blanket when they signed on.

After the signing of the Treaty Pakeha settlers flooded into the country in great numbers.  The Crown enforced Common Sense laws.  (It made common sense to them!)  The Crown understood that Maori had signed away their systems of government to British sovereignty.  The settler parliament was less involved with Treaty issues than the Governor’s office.  As the numbers game changed Maori became economically marginalised.  The Treaty became superfluous in assimilating Maori into the new state.  Famously Judge Prendergast declares it non-constitutional in 1877.  The colonial imperative was overwhelming.

Then Lord and Lady Bledisloe came to Waitangi.  In 1934 the first commemoration of Waitangi day was held.  They gifted the site to the nation.  With the government uninterested in the Treaty Maori picked it up.  The Maori Seat MPs, from the Ratana movement, lobbied the Labour Government to establish the Waitangi Day Act in 1960.  Matiu Rata under the fourth Labour Government pushed through the Treaty of Waitangi Act in 1985 to establish the Waitangi Tribunal and look at land claims going back to the 1840s.  When Maori youth took up the cause they moved quickly from the slogan The Treaty is a Fraud to Honour the Treaty.  The Treaty is a polical document.

A document for the future? If it continues to be relevant.  There are more Maori in Parliament under MMP, and more tribal organisations.  The Treaty is less a focus for Maori protest.  It has become part of our political and social understanding.  Sometimes when I hear a government making policy I wonder if the policy is unpopular enough that it can be challenged under the Treaty of Waitangi.  More often are the times when Maori partners with the Crown raise their voices in protest.  The Treaty does not disappoint me.  Long live kaitiakitanga!

The future?  Waitangi Day is entrenched in our calendar.  The Treaty will remain the founding document of the nation into the republic era when it comes.  Wishful thinking says that historic claims will be settled in the next five years (yeah, right!)  We are not yet in the post-Treaty age.  It continues to have meaning.


Women’s Rights

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First lecture of the year was from visiting Muslim lecturer Zara Faris.  Her subject was what defines women’s rights.  I’m delighted to have the open lecture season starting up again.

Faris listed several sources for rights: nature, man/woman/humanity, god.  She proceded through them.

Humanity has a natural right to life, liberty and happiness.  This conflicts with the struggle to survive in nature.  It’s a free market out there, nonsense on stilts!

Human happiness determines rights, the argument from utilitarianism.  There is a problem if freedom and happiness derives from systemic injustice.  Will future rights prove to be paradise postponed?  Rights supported from a position of strength supports those in power and enforces hierarchy.  The majority rules and the right of association prevents integration.  The right to freedom is deprived from prisoners who need to be constrained.  The rights to minorities are an act of good faith.

Rights rise out of what people deserve.  Every human being is entrusted with a body by a creator.  Our rights are ensured by mutual duty, the responsibility to think of others.  Revelation is determined by human beings, spoken, and recited by both male and female voices.  Feminist methodology presupposes a conclusion.  Islam seeks a god without gender or bias.

I confess that I’m disappointed.  The first lecture of the year proved to be about apologetics, a field of study I have no patience for.  The argument for rights from the transcendent becomes particularist rather than inclusive.  The imposition of one transcendent interpretation, Islam, becomes itself majoritarian and enforced.  I resile from the argument.  It acts out of a position of strength rather than mutual respect, allowing oneself to be one voice heard in a community of voices.  I continue to seek a broader foundation.