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​Thomas Cheeseman's travelling writing case​

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​Thomas Cheeseman's travelling writing case​

​This travelling writing case belonged to Thomas Frederick Cheeseman. A keen botanist, he was the first director of the Auckland Institute and Museum - from 1874 until his death in 1923. He travelled the length and breadth of New Zealand, collecting and recording plants, and observing the geographical terrain. 

Botanist (and Museum director) Thomas Cheeseman kept the tools of his trade - a pocket knife, ruler and magnifying lens - in the drawer of his travelling writing desk.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 2002x1.24.

A published author

During his career, Cheeseman described three plant genera, some 140 species, 67 varieties and one forma. A genus and 29 plant species from New Zealand and the Cook Islands were named after him. At the request of the New Zealand government, Cheeseman began his magnum opus, Manual of the New Zealand flora, which was first published in 1906. In 1914 he edited the two-volume work Illustrations of the New Zealand flora. Cheeseman also published important papers on subantarctic flora.

Thomas Cheeseman's travelling writing desk sits on a large table in his office at Auckland Museum in its former premises on Princes St in January 1928.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-NEG-14821.

Tools of the trade

On his trip to the Craigieburn Range, South Island in 1880, he lugged this writing case to his lodgings in Arthur's Pass. He would have recorded the day's findings, then tucked them safely away under lock and key. He kept the tools of his trade - a pocket knife, ruler and magnifying lens - inside the drawer. 

Notes from the field

In an excerpt from Thomas Cheeseman's field notebook, Canterbury Alps 1880, Broken River to Arthur's Pass, the botanist describes his descent down the steep terrain of Craigieburn Valley. Not given to detailed or florid descriptions, Cheeseman gives a brief description of Mt Rolleston. At the time of his sighting in 1880, the 2271-metre peak in the Southern Alps was renowned for its two glaciers, which could be clearly seen from the town of Arthur's Pass.

We crossed a low saddle into the Craigieburn Valley down which we went by a steep and rapid descent. It was nearly dark when we reached the bottom … Emerging from the Bealey Valley, we reach Arthur's Pass - Mt Rolleston in the south side and Mt Williams in the north. Two little glaciers could be seen in the face of Mt Rolleston …

Today those glaciers are mere blimps on the face of Mt Rolleston, an intriguing comparison for scientists looking for clues on global warming. The first ascent on this prominent peak was made 32 years after Cheeseman passed through the valley.  

Further reading

Rayner, M. (2015). Thomas Cheeseman's window into Auckland's biological past. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. 

Cite this article

MacFarlane, Kirsten. ​Thomas Cheeseman's travelling writing case​. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 20 November 2015. Updated: 12 November 2019.

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