Wednesday, 19 August 2009
A lone piper plays a dirge overlooking Lake Manapouri, first surveyed by James Mckerrow
James McKerrow – Surveyor
James McKerrow was born on 7 July 1834 in Kilmarnock, Scotland, with a genealogy that can be traced back to King James the Vth. 
His Father, Andrew McKerrow was a famous ploughmaker of Beansburn, Kilmarnock, who manufactured patent single furrowed ploughs and back delivery reaping machines which gave him the means to provide his sons an adequate education. James was a bright young student and frequently was top of his class and had a great love of mathematics, and after a good grounding in both pure and mixed aspects of the subjects under Mr. Thomas Lee of Kilmarnock Academy, he studied these subjects further at Glasgow University. Like all his brothers, James did an apprenticeship in implement making as his father believed that having a trade ‘prove a safe standby in times of need, and would often open the door to numerous other occupations.’ During his apprenticeship, James showed more interest in surveying the paddocks in the neighbourhood and gaining knowledge of surveying.
James was the eldest of ten children, nine brothers and one sister. When James was five, his sister Jean was born but she died before the age of one. His brother John, born when he was three, died at the age of 21, the year before James left for New Zealand. He was the first to leave for New Zealand, and later, 6 of his brothers emigrated
James McKerrow married Martha Dunlop at Fenwick, Ayreshire Scotland, on 5 August, 1859. Three weeks after their marriage, James and Martha traveled to Glasgow to board the Cheviot, a ship with a reputation for speed, weighing 1066 tons.
Unfortunately the Ship’s departure was delayed some hours so James and Martha, decided to fill the time in by having their last walk on Scottish soil. As they were strolling through the countryside, they passed a field of turnips, and feeling the pangs of hunger, James climbed over the fence, and plucked a turnip. As he was climbing back over the wall, a farmer appeared and threatened to get the police and take charges against him. James quickly produced a sum of money and paid an exorbitant price for a miserable turnip, and they quickly scurried back to the ship, before any other misfortune came their way.
The cargo vessel ‘Cheviot’ set sail on Tuesday the, 23 August and left ‘The Tail of the Bank’ at Greenock and with it Scotland. The ship was heavily laden with foodstuff, spirituous liquors, iron goods, building materials, farm implements, stud sheep, pigs and cattle. Being a cargo ship, it was only able to accommodate twenty-four cabin and eighteen steerage passengers. The majority of the steerage passengers were emigrating under the sponsorship of a Mr. Holmes, who had made large purchases of land in the Lumsden district where he intended to settle them on his holdings. The McKerrows were in the steerage cabins together with sixteen men and one woman.
The Cheviot rounded Ireland and then reached Madeira on 3 September, passed close to Cape Verde on 7 September, and after confusing winds, crossed the equator on 26 September For the next leg of the journey, the weather was good and they rounded Cape Horn on 25 October and a point, south of Adelaide reached on 18 November.
The trip had been eventful with the discovery of a ‘stowaway, the death of a still born baby, the provisioning of a life boat from a foundered vessel and condition were tough at times with cramped quarters, snow and thunder storms, gales force winds and ripped sails, and near misses from flying blocks. The dairy of one of the passengers, Mr. T.L. Barnhill, on 3 October 1859 shows the spirit on board. “ shipped a sea which ducked almost all the steerage passengers who were standing together- all in good spirits owing to our making such progress.” 
James and Martha got their first look at New Zealand a week later when they sighted Stewart Island and the next day after ninety five days at sea, they entered the Otago Harbour.
‘ I was very much struck with the beautiful situation of Dunedin and with the clean, neat appearances of the houses looking out spick and span from picturesque spots in the surrounding bush. In coming up the bay and through the islets of Port Chalmers, I was strongly reminded of beautiful Loch Lomond.
In 1859 James amd Martha McKerrow
Surveyor, explorer, administrator
James McKerrow was a man of wide and yet at the same time narrow interests; wide in that anything pertaining to learning, culture, religion, patriotism, and his fellow man and their lives came into his scheme of things; narrow in that the general and conventional frivolities and amusements of the day were of the very slenderest interest to him. Drinking he regarded as reprehensible, smoking as unnecessary, and sports as relatively uninteresting. His time was too fully occupied in the vital and essential elements of life to allow participation in any such extraneous activities. Not that McKerrow could be accused of pursuing a life of unwearied toil unrelieved by amusement or enjoyment. On the contrary he lived happily but his happiness depended not on conventional entertainments, but on his work, his books, his religion, his love of nature and through intercourse with his friends and family..
He arrived in New Zealand in November 1859 to take up an appointment with the survey department of the Otago Province. McKerrow worked with J. T. Thomson in the triangulation of Otago and Southland, helping to make the Otago system of surveying, based on the practice of the survey of India, the best in New Zealand and later its model.
One of McKerrow's main tasks was the exploration and mapping of the Otago lakes district, where sheep farmers had already penetrated, between 1861 and 1864. He began with a journey through from Wanaka down into Southland. Then he explored the two northern lakes, Wanaka and Hawea, reached over the Lindis Pass, and his excellent account in the Otago Provincial Gazette comments shrewdly on the possibilities and the drawbacks of this inland region with its pastoral as well as goldmining potentialities. It could be reached by bullock dray only by the Lindis Pass, and the unfordable Clutha made southern access difficult. McKerrow explored the Matukituki, Motatapu, Makarora, and many subsidiary river systems. He noted especially the great seasonal fluctuations in volume of the glacier-fed mountain rivers. Later McKerrow travelled through the southern portion of the lakes district, exploring Wakatipu, Te Anau, and Manapouri, with the rivers feeding the lakes from the Kawarau south to the Waiau. He left the exploration of country beyond Lake Hauroko to be completed from Preservation Inlet. Again his report was shrewd and realistic: even if passes existed to the West Coast, the routes would be so menaced by flooding rivers as to be of doubtful value.
The physical difficulties of these journeys, in which over 500 square miles of country were explored, can hardly be exaggerated, even though the existence of a few scattered sheep stations provided a certain amount of support. Lakes Wanaka and Hawea were surveyed from a whaleboat. A much smaller craft had to be used in similar waterborne surveys of Manapouri and Te Anau, where storms made the enterprise especially dangerous. In January 1864 McKerrow and his companion landed at the head of the western-lying Middle Fiord of Te Anau and made their only deliberate attempt to reach the West Coast. Although after some days of struggle in this very difficult region they stopped short of their objective, they did reach a mountain top from which they could see Caswell Sound in the distance.
In 1863 McKerrow was appointed Geodesical Surveyor and Inspector of Surveys in Otago. His work was of a high standard; his younger colleague, J. H. Baker, who accompanied him on his visit to Bluff Hill to take bearings on prominent distant features, attested his debt to McKerrow: “This work and my conversations with Mr McKerrow were of great use to me, as they gave me an insight into the higher branch of my profession which I had not had before”.
In 1873 McKerrow was appointed Chief Surveyor of Otago. In 1877, after the abolition of the provinces and the absorption of their servants into the General Government's civil service, McKerrow became Assistant Surveyor-General. Two years later he was appointed Surveyor-General and Secretary of Lands and Mines. In 1882 McKerrow observed the transit of Venus from the Wellington Observatory, and in 1885 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.
As a competent administrator, McKerrow had much to do with work with other Government Departments. He was appointed Chief Commissioner of Railways in 1889 and on the dissolution of the Railways Commission in 1895 he became chairman of the Land Purchase Board. He retired from the Public Service on 31 December 1901. In 1905 he was appointed chairman of the Land Commission. He died on 30 June 1919.
A casual acquaintance, C. S. Ross, reported McKerrow's genial nature and that “his wide and comprehensive knowledge of New Zealand made him a most attractive and interesting companion”. McKerrow was typical of the lad “of pairts” who came out from Scotland with a good education and undertook skilled tasks with “painstaking enthusiasm and tireless accuracy”. In addition to his meticulous survey field work, McKerrow discharged with distinction the tasks of a higher public servant at a time when administration needed resource and invention as well as energy and method.
by David Oswald William Hall, M.A., Director, Adult Education, University of Otago (retired).
History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
Exploration of New Zealand, McClymont, W. G. (1959)
Early Otago and Some of its Notable Men, Ross, C. S. (1907)
A Surveyor in New Zealand, Baker, J. H.
Related stories from Te Ara
From Survey Quarterly, Issue 37 march 2004 by Janet Holm
As Surveyor General, he admired the work his surveyors did and he could empasise with the hardships they encountered.
By then Westland had been divided into three circuits – Hokitika, Okariti and Jackson Bay, and Roberts was to extend the standard bearings through the Hokitika circuit. James McKerrow outlined roberts’ undertaking in his annual report in mid-1877. He had just spent three months under Mr Mueller’s direction, selecting and preparing stations ‘through wooded, mountainous country’. Several were extremely high and difficult to access, so would become the points of major triangulation, while numerous reference stations would be easily accessible.
In the 1978 report McKerrow wrote that Roberts had extended bearings from the geodesical station at Koiterangi to that at Arahura. This ‘….under very great difficulties of a busy country and wet climate, which laid him up for a time….’
In 1890 Roberts led the first survey party to venture into the glaciated regions of Westland. To him must go the credit of being the first New Zealand-born mountaineer to read up on the subject of mountaineering beforehand. With his foreman Dan Strachan, he went up the Wanganui Valley to the Lambert Junction, and spent three days cutting a track from the forks up a steep bush ridge to a rock promontory which terminated a range coming off the Divide. This promontory, named Blue Lookout, became central to later journeys by Douglas and Teichelmann who built on Robert’s earlier survey. Roberts completed his 1880 explorations by moving from Blue Lookout and exploring the snow grass platforms. ‘Above them rose a line of vertical rock faces (the Lord Range) and towards these the party moved, finding the snow slopes very useful for by cutting steps (we) got to the top of peaks otherwise unscalable’ until they were ‘finally jammed by the western (south-west) precipices of Dan's Peak’. Eventually the party found access to the Main Divide by following along the northern side of the Lord Range to the point where it met The Divide. Here three high massifs met at a low depression (which they named Strachan Pass) leading through to the Ramsay Glacier in Canterbury. Among lower peaks there were potential trig points and, through the pass, others of much the same altitude could be seen in line; both close at hand on the Butler Range and far away on the north shoulder of the Arrowsmiths.’
‘Roberts found mountaineering skills to be essential in the course of his work, and had forged a link between mountaineering and surveying.’
Deeply impressed by the outstanding work of Roberts, McKerrow wrote in his 1881 Report:
‘ This was very arduous work, conducted, as it necessarity was, for a considerable distance over glaciers and snow-fields, with trigonometrical stations 5000, 6000, and 7000 feet in height…’
He further noted that several of the surveyors had been ill ‘owing to continuous work in the wet bush of the West Coast district.’
Roberts triangulation surveys continued down the West Coast and by 1882 had got close to Jackson’s Bay. In his report McKerrow wrote: The accuracy of this officer’s work, and the progress he has made, despite the difficulties of a very rugged bush-country and a wet climate, entitle him to the warmest commendations.’
 Andrew Kennedy McKerrow, Your Folk and Mine – The story of the McKerrows, private circulation, Edinburgh, 1990
 David G.Herron, James McKerrow –SURVEYOR, EXPLORER AND CIVIL SERVANT- With special reference to Exploration, 1861-3, Presented for History Honours, University of New Zealand.1948
 Otago Witness, 3 December, 1859
 Barnhill, T.L., MSS Dairy of Voyage of Cheviot. Read by D.C. Herron, 1947.
 Mckerrow, J., Reminiscences, p.10 MSS
 John Acheson, op cit.
 Trish McCormack, A History of Survey and Mountaineering in South Westland. Department of Conservation, Hokitika, 1988. pp23, 30.