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Prestigious book collection up for auction

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Bethunes at Webb's is proud to offer the prestigious C L Thomas Collection of rare books and related materials.

The collection was begun by Thomas, a Napier pharmacist, at the beginning of the twentieth century and was extended by his son and daughter-in-law.

In addition to a profusion of New Zealand classics, such as Parkinson's A journal of a voyage to the South Seas, in His Majesty's Ship, the Endeavour (1773) and Buller's A history of the birds of New Zealand (1888), the C L Thomas Collection features a series of items relating to renowned pioneer William Colenso, including fascinating manuscript diaries and papers, books and pamphlets, a collecting tin and a beguiling dissecting microscope.

One of the most significant scientific instruments ever to be offered for sale in New Zealand, the microscope was sent to Colenso in 1885 by the illustrious Joseph Dalton Hooker, head of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and a fierce supporter of Charles Darwin.

Hooker met Colenso in the Bay of Islands in 1841, during a voyage of exploration to the Antarctic. The two spent some time together exploring areas little-known to Pakeha and collecting plant specimens - starting a friendship that would last for nearly sixty years. In 1866, with Hooker's endorsement, Colenso became the first New Zealander to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Colenso is important not only for his numerous contributions to early New Zealand science but also for his work as printer, missionary, politician and historian. He was responsible for the first book printed in New Zealand and for the first printing of the New Testament in Maori. He was present at the initial signing of the Treaty of Waitangi and famously questioned whether the articles were fully understood by Maori. He wrote the best eye-witness account of the historic event and carried out the first printing of the document.

As a missionary, Colenso laboured tirelessly, caring much for the welfare of his widely-scattered flock and indifferent to his own comfort and health. His evangelising efforts were greatly assisted by his extensive knowledge of Maori language and culture. His standing in New Zealand colonial society was lost when it was discovered that he had fathered a son by Ripeka, the Maori maid of his wife, Elizabeth Fairburn Colenso.

Following a long wilderness period, he took an active role as a local politician in Napier. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 1861, but was defeated by Donald McLean in 1866. From 1872 to 1878 he was Inspector of Schools, introducing ideas well in advance of his time.

Up to his death in 1899, Colenso remained the foremost authority on the Maori, as well as on New Zealand botany. New Zealand has been slow to recognise the significance of this remarkable man. Indeed, without forward-looking individuals such as C L Thomas, important information and artefacts might have been lost forever.

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