Tuesday, 21 December 2010

So, so close to a watery end

I posted earlier that we are in Hikkaduwa hoping to go surfing.. At 2 pm the waves were really wild and only one or two locals were braving the thunderous conditions.About 4.30 pm, the waves looked surfable so I thought it would be important for Ablai (11) and me to swim out and get used to the waves that looked huge, but manageable, We had been practicing for two weeks in a local pool to et the arm strength and technique back. We dived through a few, body surfed in and were starting to feel like getting a board to go out. Slowly something happened, almost inperceptably to the currents and a rip pulled us out like the arms of an invisible octopus was tugging us further and further away from shore.
We were in difficulties. What do you say to al ll year old whose Father was once like a fish in water, but slowing a little ? Do you say “don’t panic.” No ! “ Ablai,” I said, “we’re being pulled out, just tred water and save energy.”

“The waves will take us out, but later they will bring us in.” I could see three local surfers relishing in the curling waves and flowing through tube like waves. After some minutes one of them noticed we were in difficulty. First Galem came up and said, “ Can I help.” I said, “yes, can you help Ablai to shore.” I breathed a sigh of relief and being an ex Outward Bound instructor, recalled my words to students, “ You have to learn to push beyond your own self-imposed limitations, and find the real you.” The real me was a drowned Bob, or a wet, tired and live one.

I was trying to conserve energy but was being pulled further out, but reassured Galem was helping Ablai closer to shore. Next this dreadlocked smiling face surfed up to me and said, “ Do you need help ? ”

My Mother used to teach me Genteelism, so I said ” my right arm is bit painful and I am not swimming as strong as I should, would you be so kind as to help.” First he gave me his lightweight board that acted more like a submarine but together we were able to make ground shorewards. The submerged board acted more like a plough and a few minutes later Sanjay turned up with Nadeem, who had a large surf board. With huge smiles om their faces, they gave me the board. Slowly with a little pulling and pushing from Sanjay and Nadeem, I got to shore

Lessons learned ? Many.

We going back tomorrow and i will hire these four professional surf experts who probably saved our lives.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


THE prevalence of the spotting system of survey was the source of additional work for Mr. Thomson, and when in 1866 Goldfield’s Survey was added to his list of worries, he decided to appoint an Inspector of Surveys. The duties of this officer would be to examine instruments and equipment at every
station and camp, to check and supervise all field operations, and to ensure careful work on the part of every surveyor in the province

St. Bathan's Range, Otago. Photo: Courtesy Donald Lousley.
James McKerrow was the logical choice for this (1) position, and was duly appointed.

The question of the relationship between Goldfield and general survey had been threshed out in 1864 by a Select Committee of the Provincial Council Vincent Pyke, Secretary (2} for the Goldfields, maintained that two departments were covering similar ground in an uncooperative manner which could only lead to inextricable confusion. He advocated their amalgamation, and also pressed for the establishment of District Survey Offices.

Thomson opposed the plan since he himself had had no experience in goldfield survey, and because he could see no merit in a scheme which divided the province into survey districts under men of inferior ability and with incomplete information on land affairs.

The huge swathe of land that James McKerrow Surveyed.

Despite his protests, the Select Committee recommended that the two survey systems be amalgamated, and that District Land Offices be established at the principal goldfields and towns of Central Otago
By 1867 the amalgamation had been e ected, and Thomson took steps to satisfy himself as to the e ciency of the surveyors in the goldfields. McKerrow and he started immediately on a thorough tour of inspection.
Proper camp and field equipment (4) was granted to each surveyor, and each member of the sta was
excused the quasi-public duties which had formerly interrupted his work. Each surveyor was then informed that all surveys for record on public maps were to be repeated. With the assistance of several of the officers of the general staff  , rapid progress was made in this work, and credit for much of the improvement must be given to the new inspector.

He applied himself to the instruction of various officers in the routine of the Otago system; a system easily mastered by the more intelligent among them. The whole service was infused with new life and by 1870 Thomson could refer to the in uence of land o ces in Lawrence and Queenstown as turning “the
face of the country from a desert to a garden.” (5)

General as well as goldfields inspection was within the scope of McKerrow’s appointment, and it was his responsibility to check the work being carried out by both government and contracting surveyors . It was felt that contracting surveyors (6) were more liable to error than those working on a standard wage, and for the reason their activities were limited to block survey, the accuracy of which could easily be verified . Under (7) the Boileau sur veying system, McKerrow had only to plant his theodolite on any point of a triangulation or traverse within sight of two or more established points to be able at once to confirm accuracy or detect error. Furthermore, this same check was open to each individual surveyor, and since errors were necessarily either intentional or the result of gross carelessness, dishonesty or incompetency was swiftly disclosed by the logic of the figures. “This”, maintained Thomson “is the secret of our success”. (8)

The Otago survey staff soon came to enjoy a reputation for speed and e ciency unrivalled in New Zealand. Among the members of this sta moved McKerrow, checking, inspecting, and ready with encouragement or practical suggestion. “The measurement of this base . . . was completed in the presence of . . . Mr. McKerrow, who himself made the requisite corrections. . . on two steep terrace slopes, at each end of the line, and worked out the result”, wrote J.S. Connell (9)

As time went on, and the survey sta settled into an established routine, McKerrow found time to turn his attention to special projects which from time to time devolved on the Survey Department.
One of these special problems occurred in 1869. In that year, Mr. Thomson, despairing of securing adequate longitudes for the Otago survey system, erected a small observatory of his own, and set out to ascertain the longitude of the Pronvincial Surveys by independent astronomical observation. The method
he employed was that known as “Moon culminating stars”.

Between August 1869 and March 1870 the moon’s transits were observed at all hours of the night, but adverse weather conditions cut down considerably the number of acceptable readings. McKerrow’s and Thomson’s calculations of the longitudinal determinations di ered slightly, but this was attributed to the di erent tables and principles of computation employed. The results of the e ort were considered to be very satisfactory. Thomson reported: “I have much pleasure in here stating that I have been accompanied by McKerrow in all the calculations required in the . . . astronomical and geodesical observations which have been long and laborious, and which could never have been produced with confidence had I no one
competent, as he is, to a ord me check”. (10)

Early in 1870 preparations for the establishment of smallbody of settlers at Martin’s Bay, Western Otago were set on foot, and McKerrow was sent to see if a practicable bridle track could be pushed through to the Hollyford River via the Dart River, the Routeburn River and Lake Harris. Several explorers,
P.Q Caples included, had already used this route, and the Otago Witness was therefore at fault when it stated that McKerrow’s party was seeking a pass to the West Coast . The purpose of (11) the trip was not to discover a pass; this had already been done.

It was to Survey the district and to make a report on the track. The party went up the Routeburn, passed over the Harris saddle, climbed peaks commanding a view of the complete course of the Hollyford River, and descended into the Hollyford Valley. After crossing the river and making an examination of
the land on the western side, they retraced their steps. McKerrow reported that the distance from Lake Wakatiputo Lake McKerrow was thirty five miles, and that if trees were blazed on the track and dead timber removed, it should be possible to walk the distance in one day. He found this track
shorter than any other, but pointed out that several di cult places had to be negotiated and, that as the altitude of the pass was 4500 feet, it might prove to be impassable for a few weeks
each winter (12)

A tracing of McKerrow’s map was in use as early as April 1870, and although some confusion arose through the incorrect aming of a ford it was found to be extremely useful (13)

This survey provided for a long felt want since it enabledarrangements for the Jamestown settlement to go ahead, and he Otago Witness expressed its satisfaction that McKerrow ad attracted more attention to this rather inaccessible cornerof the province (14)

During 1871 McKerrow spent some time in inspectingsurveys, and, along with Mr. J.H. Baker, in extending standardbearings over the Southland District and Stewart Island,(15) bu to an ever increasing degree he was being called on to report on the suitability of blocks of land under consideration
for Hundreds.

In July 1871, in response to a series of1 6 qestions put to him in a memorandum from Mr. Thomson, he furnished evidence regarding the fertility, topography and suitability for settlement of a 5800 acre block at Waiarika
At (17) the conclusion of the report, he pointed out that as bona fide  settlement was a ver y gradual process large areas must always be open for selection (18)

Another run McKerrow examined was that of Mr. W.J. Clarke of Mao Flat. Part of the run had been sold but as contradictor y reports were in circulation regarding the quality of the land, a request was made to the Chief Sur veyor that he “instruct an officer of his department (in whose judgement regarding such matters he can place confidence) to make a thorough inspection,” and prepare a plan delineating such
features as agricultural and pastoral lands, streams, and the position of roads. McKerrow duly furnished a report and explained that he had modified the boundaries of the original
application in order to preserve the connection between the road and the back country, and to include the homestead in the agricultural block selected by the leaseholder.

In 1872 the survey Department was reorganized, and for purposes of inspection was divided into two districts; one under McKerrow, the other under Baker (19) interest in land questions was fully maintained. Donald Reid introduced his deferred payment scheme in 1872, and in the same year a committee was set up by Parliament to enquire into the sale of large blocks of land in the goldfields by the Otago Waste
Lands Baord. McKerrow was asked to report on the 20,000 acre block opposite Clarke’s Moa Flat Station which Messsrs. Cargill and Anderson wished to purchase. His contention that the block
contained no agricultural land was vigorously contested by the Roxburgh Progress League, whose members protested that the best inland district in Otago was being locked up from agricultural
and mining settlement. The widely divergent opinions of other witnesses as to the precise area of good agricultural land in the block would suggest that they were not altogether in agreement
as to what constituted agricultural land (20)

Other blocks examined by McKerrow towards the end of 1872 included one in the Glenkenich and Waipahi district, and another between the Pomahaka and Waikoikoi Streams.

Both were being opened up for sale following the payment of compensation to the leaseholder (21)

The sale of a 10,000 acre block in the Maerewhenua district (22} brought more work, for the miners who had acquired rights in the gullies of the run had brought in water at considerable expense,
and protested that their interests were being neglected. By all accounts much of the land within the block was auriferous. McKerrow had examined the block some time previous to the outery, and had advised that it was predominantly suitable for pastoral purposes, but in December, 1872, together with
Mr. T.L. Shepherd, he was appointed to a commission with instructions to re-examine the block and report back with special reference to its auriferous nature. The members of the
commission questioned the miners, examined their sluices and claims, and reported that the 5800 acres of auriferous land in the Maerowhenua Block was capable of providing steady employment to the miners for years.

The advisability of diverting the head-waters of the Kakanui River was also discussed. The miners claimed that such a diversion was essential for the prosperity of the goldfield. On the other hand, the mill owners and fellmongers at the mouth of the river objected, and maintained that any diversion
would decrease the volume of water at the river’s mouth to a level insu cient for their purposes. The commission advised a better utilistion of the available water by the mill owners and fellmongers as a solution to the problem.

In June 1873 McKerrow made his way back to the Maerehenua block to prepare a report on the amended application. At the same time he examined the Otiake and Otekaike valleys and Doctor’s Creek to determine their auriferous nature. For two days, he and several members of the Mining Association prospected for gold with tin dishes and shovels, but although specks of gold were found, it was agreed
that the expense necessary to sink shafts and to bring in water would not be justified
Besides undertaking duties in connection with land sales, McKerrow continued his work as Inspector of Surveys. During the 1872-3 season he checked work at Lawrence, Queenstown,
Naseby, Clyde, Balclutha, Mataura, Dunedin, Camaru; also the triangulations being carried out between Lake Ohau and Mt. Aspiring. (24)

In November 1873, a change took place in the department.Under provisions of the 1872 Otago Waste Lands Act, the Chief urveyor was not entitled to hold his position in conjunction ith that of Commissioner of Crown Lands and of the Waste Lnds Board. Mr. Thomson decided to retain the latter two
appointments and after a period of seventeen years as Chief Surveyor severed his offcial connection with the Otago Survey Department.(25)

James McKerrow was Thomson’s logical successor and was apointed Chief Surveyor as from 26 November, 1873

The appointment met with general approval. “I thus had a new chief ”, writes J.H. Baker, “but as I had met and worked with him before, I knew that I should have no di culty in getting
on with him” (27}
There was no revolutionary change in policy or procedure.

The work of the department proceeded smoothly and e ciently and McKerrow passed the necessary plans. These he kept indexed in his field book (28)

He was often required to pass judgement on proposeddeferred payment blocks, and, as a guide, prepared a tabulation showing the extent of certain runs, the area of land which (29) could be taken from them, and the area which it was proposed to take from them immediately it appeared that one block of 82,600 acres was to be opened between the Waiairiki Hundred and the boundary of the Wairuna and Pomahaka Hundreds at Popotunoa. McKerrow pointed out that the opening of this (30) block would complete the chain of settlement from Riverton to the Waitaki River. He also prepared reports on hundreds
at Heriot and in the Waikaka Valley, and an estimate of the agricultural and pastoral potentialities of the Waiau Valley. Yet another report dealt with the protest which Messrs. Cargill and Anderson lodged against the decision to open for settlement 2800 acres of their run. McKerrow had suggested that part of the run was suitable for closer division, but the run-holders took the case to law and succeeded in retaining possession of the disputed part.

In his first annual report McKerrow was able to report a satisfactory standard of e ciency and attainment by both surveyors and draughtsmen. He pointed out that as large areas awaited trigonometrical survey and 8,000,000 acres had still to undergo section survey, there was ample work to occupy offcers of the department for many years. (31)

During his years as Chief Sur veyor, McKerrow had to discharge sundr y duties other than those of a surveyor and an Assessor of Waste Lands.

His intimate knowledge of Central Otago made him an admirable guide for scientists. On one occasion he and Captain F.W. Hutton spent some time searching around Wakatipu for traces (other than moraines) left by the reteating glacier. The search was fruitless, and none of the more perishable remains,
such as blocs perches and straite, were to be found (32)

In 1874 a scientific event of peculiar interest occurred. A transit of Venus was due. On learning that British and American expeditions were being dispatched to New Zealand, the Otago
Institute appointed Messrs. Thomson, McKerrow and Skey as a committee to assist the visitors. The committee collected data on climate, traveling facilities, and suitable localities in
Otago for obser vation, and forwarded reports and maps to the Astronomer Royal at Greenwich and to the States Astronomer in America. No reply was received from the former, but the latter
reported that Professor Peters would consider the proposals on his arrival in New Zealand.
Lieutenant Bass of the American party preceded Peters to New Zealand, and under the guidance of McKerrow made an extensive tour of Central Otago. He decided to follow the Institute’s advice and to make Queenstown the base for operations. From there the Americans enjoyed singular success in their observations. No fewer than 160 photographs of the transit of the planet on the sun’s disc were secured. “The scientific world may . . . congratulate themselves on his success”, stated Thoson “as owing to the failure of all other expeditions the most valuable data has been secured for all nations”. Peters acknowledged his debt to this voluntary band of helpers, whose advicee had enabled him to choose an ideal spot. The other expeditions had not been so fortunate for bad weather had hindered their operations

Major Palmer, the leader of the English party engaged in observing the transit of Venus, was an authority on sur veying, and before he left the country was approached by the Central
 Government o undertake the examination of what was generally conceded to be a disjointed and ine ective survey system.

The Chief Surveyors of the Provinces were well aware of
the deficiencies in their sta s and systems, but maintained that
lack of time and trained personnel had forced them to push
on with systems lacking a consistent geodetic basis. They met
in conference in 1873, and recommended the adoption of one
co-ordinated system throughout the country. Thomson, who
was unable to be present, wrote emphasizing the need for the
establishment of a national system under a Surveyor General
before too much of the country was surveyed into sections (34)

The Government had made no move in this direction, but by 1875 was forced to institute an enquir y.
Palmer’s report revealed chaos and disorder in practically
every province. He described the history of Auckland Surveys
as “one of lamentable confusion and neglect, and want of
system and accuracy”. The only system which came in for any
substantial measure of commendation was that of Otago. Of
it he wrote that “Surveys of Otago which have mainly been
carried out on this safe and steady system, are on the whole
in a better state than those of the other provinces . . . The
Late Chief Sur veyor, Mr. J.T. Thomson established in 1861 a
uniform system of surveying which was . . . simple and practical.
Upon this system the surveys have been pushed forward as
rapidly as possible under the direction of Mr. Thomson, and
latterly under that of his successor, Mr. McKerrow. They have
generally kept pace with the demands of settlement, and are
at present in a forward state . . . All work hitherto done may
be considered fairly accurate showing that, as an expedient for
promoting rapid and correct land sales and preventing waste,
the Otago system has answered well. Indeed both of the cardinal
branches, trigonometrical and detail, have been surrounded
with most of the safeguards and precautions which should be
looked for in a well-managed survey department. All original
records, moreover, have been carefully kept and registered, and
the trigonometrical stations with few exceptions are erect and
permanently marked, so that ever y part will be available for
further use if required”.
“When as the surveys within circuits progressed the various
initial points came to be connected together by inter vening
minor triangulations, it became possible to test the accuracy
of the work by making comparisons between the observed
di erences of latitude and di erences computed through the
network of triangles; also by comparing the observed and
computed convergence of meridians. The results of these tests
were very satisfactory, considering the means and instruments
used, and they do high credit to the skill and care of Mr.
McKerrow, by whom all the original observations for latitude
and tr ue azimuth were made” (35)

Palmer came to the conclusion that one exact and
comprehensive system was needed to eliminate small errors,
and to weld the existing piecemeal systems into a homogeneous unit
. No immediate action was taken to implement these (36)
suggestions immediately however, and the province found
themselves free to pursue their activities unchecked.

During 1875 and 1876 the work of the Otago Survey
Depar tment went on at high pressure, and showed every
indication of continuing that way. The rate of settlement under
the deferred payment system was increasing in tempo, and
it was necessar y to keep surveys ahead of settlement. Sixteen
pastoral leases embracing a total area of 400,000 acres were
due to expire in 1878, and something more detailed than a
Reconnaissance Survey would be required for administrative
purposes. Maps, grants and lease must also be prepared for
District Land Offices (37)

McKerrow was not destined to supervise all these plans.
In 1875 the Central Government decided that the Provincial
Governments had outlived their usefulness. Despite vigorous
protests, they were abolished the following year, and most of their
essential functions transferred to Government Departments
in Wellington. Mr. J.T. Thomson was appointed Sur veyor
General, and expected that McKerrow would be his assistant
. Nor was he disappointed for on the 16of December, 1876 (38)
James McKerrow was appointed Assistant Surveyor General.
Thus at one blow Otago lost to wider spheres of service two
gentlemen who had played an active part in opening up and
settling the province’s lands. They had subjected the work of
their subordinates to stringent enquiry, and by encouragement
and personal example had succeeded in inculcating an “esprit
de corps” into the department. Only really competent surveyors
could find employment in Otago, and those that did took a
delight in reducing their margins of error below the maximum
allowed by regulations. They took a pride in their work, and
appreciated the need for rigid standards. Thus although a
stickler for accuracy, McKerrow was popular with the members
of his sta , and when he left for Wellington they presented him
with a handsome gold watch.
The value of the work accomplished in Otago by Thomson
and McKerrow has been universally recognized. “Otago was
fortunate in its choice of surveyors”, writes W.G.McClymont, “and

McKerrow no less than Thomson was a man of marked ability”
(39) J.H. Baker, a prominent surveyor in early times, maintained that,
“Mr. Thomson was one of the pioneers of scientific survey in New
Zealand, and the colony owes more to him and his assistant Mr.
McKerrow than is I think generally recognized”.(40)
McKerrow’s qualities of character attracted all classes
of people, and when he moved from Otago, he left behind
hundreds of friends and acquaintances in both town and
country. He was invariably obliging and cour teous on both
social and o cial occasions. “I had an interview with Mr.
McKerrow”, wrote Hon. George McLean the Conservator of
State Forests, and the latter, who was just leaving for Wellington,
kindly gave me all the information in his power during the
short time at his disposal, and sketched out a route which
served as a general guide during my stay in the province.”(41)

“We traveled . . . with Mr. McKerrow whose genial nature and
wide and comprehensive knowledge of New Zealand made
him a most attractive and interesting companion”, writes C.S.
. Friendships cemented in remote districts of Otago were
(42) not forgotten, and at his residence in Wellington McKerrow
entertained a constant stream of his old Otago friends.

1. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. X, 5th Sept. 1866, P. 173. Thomson’s report
2. App. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XIX, 1864, Select Committee
Reports, Pp. 89-90
3. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. XI, 28th Aug. 1867, Pp. 226-7.
4. Ibid
5. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XXVII, 1870, Departmental
Reports, P. 33.
6. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XXIII, 1867, Departmental
Reports, P 2.
7. Connell, J.S. On New Zealand Surveys, App. Trans. N.Z. Inst. Vol.
8. Thomson, J.T. Exposition of Processes and Results, P. 15.
9. Connell, op cit. P. XXXVI.
10. V & P Otago Prov. Council Session XXVII, 1870. Departmental
Reports, Pp. 30-33.
11. Otago Witness 26th Feb. 1870, Article
12. Otago Witness, 26th Feb. 1870, McKerrow’s Report
13. Otago Witness April 16 and 23, 1870. The Martin’s Bay Expedition
14. Otago Witness 26th Feb. 1870, Article.
15. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XIX, 1871. Departmental Reports,
Pp. 34-5.
16. Eccles, A., The Life of Donald Reid Pp. 179-211 gives a good account
of land conditions and tenure, 1856-76.
17. Between the Mataura and the Waikaka districts.
18. App. H of R 1873, Cl, Pp 18-19, Mao Flat is near Heriot, Central
19. App. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XXX, 1872. P. 64 Survey
20. App. H. of R. 1872, H1
21. App. V & P, Otago Prov. Council Session XXXII, 1872, Pp. 117-121.
Waipahi is 84 miles south-west of Dunedin
22. App. V & P, Otago Prov. Council Session XXXII, 1873, Pp. 14-29.
Maerewhenua is about 30 miles north west of Oamaru, and on the
south side of the Waitaki River.
23. App. V & P Otago Prov. Cuncil, Session XXII, 1873, Pp. 14-29
24. Ibid P. 12. Survey Report
25. Baker J.H., op. cit. P. 134
26. Otago Prov. Gaz. 26th Nov., 1873, P. 437
27. Baker, op cit P. 134
28. Field Book No. 330, Dunedin Survey O ce
29. App. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XXX, 1874, Pp. 106-08.
30. In the Clinton district – about 80 miles south-west of Dunedin.
31. App. V & P. Otago Prov. Council Session XXXIII 1874, P. 67
32. Trans. N.Z. Inst. Vol. V, 1872, P. 343. Hutton, F.W., On the Last
Glacier Period in New Zealand.
33. Trans. N.Z. Inst. Vol. VII, 1874. Pp. 550-53
34. App. H. of R. 1873. H1.
35. Palmer, Major, State of Surveys in New Zealand. App. V & P.H. of R.
H1. 1875
36. Ibid
37. App. V & P. Otago Prov. Council, session XXXIV, 1876. Departmental
Reports No. 5
38. Baker, J.H. A Surveyor in New Zealand, P. 140
39. McClymont, W.G. Op. cit. P. 132.
40. Baker, J.H. P. 116
41. App. H. of R. 03, 1877, P. 7. Report of Conservator of State Forests
42. Ross, C.S. Early Otago, P. 182.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

James McKerrow's Geodetical Surveys

I have had a few people asking me about James Mckerrow's work on Geodetical Surveys. here is a page from David Herron's 1948 Thesis.

IN his annual report for 1862, Mr.J.T. Thomson made a recommendation that McKerrow be employed on Geodetical 1 operations after he had completed the Reconnaissance surveys. Under Thomson’s tutelage he would gain practice in this type of operation 2, so that unaided, he might establish standard bearings and distance, and set up marks to guide the district surveyors 3.As long as the detailed surveys were confined to narrow limits, no harm could arise from the use of small instruments in directing general survey, but as operations were extended the governing power of larger and more delicate appliances became more and more necessary. The cheap and rapid Reconnaissance surveys were adequate to control all preliminary arrangementsfor settlement and to guard against the possibility of major boundary disputes, but as minor triangulation and section survey extended slowly westward, the approximate observations of the Reconnaissance surveys were found to be palpably insufficient. 4Thomson had long been considering the advisability of securing a set of observations exact enough to maintain accuracy in succeeding surveys, but before 1864 could find neither the time nor means to do so.

It had been intended to use the department’s solitary eightinch theodolite to carry out major triangulation from the series of bases sixty miles long. This scheme would have taken twentyeight years to complete5, but the discovery of gold however,
and the subsequent influx of settlers gave such an impetus to settlement in scattered and isolated communities that a more rapid system was needed 6

Thomson had two courses open to him. One was to carryout operations in areas unconnected with one another; the other to use a common standard of reference connected with given points. A decision was essential; to temporize would have
meant immediate relief, but ultimate disgrace and disaster 7
Thomson knew only too well that when isolated and unconforming surveys close, confusion and overlapping is inevitable, and it comes as no surprise to learn that he decided on a system governed by common references. Throwing time-honoured precedents to the winds, he adopted a system appropriate to circumstances. It had as its bases the use ofmeridional circuits; it was rapid, would control settlement
survey and did not deviate from true principle 8. What more could be desired?
The province was to be divided into five large districts named meridional circuits. These were to be not more than 120 miles in length and 90 in breadth, and were to be bounded by conspicuous geographical features. In each circuit there would be set up an initial station, central if possible, from which observations for latitude and true meridian would be made with the eight-inch transit theodolite. 9 The methods to be used were those of “equal altitude of stars”, and “high and low stars”. From the initial points bearings would be extended and traverses carried firstly down those valleys already inhabited, and ultimately into every accessible corner of the province.

Points on these traverses, called geodetic stations, would be placed from ten to fifteen miles apart, and bearings of the traverse lines, all referring to the meridian of the initial station would become fundamental bearings for all subsequent minor triangulation and section survey.10

McKerrow spent his first season in geodetic surveying in extending true bearings in south-eastern Otago.11 His theodolitewas set up at Trig. Station A., North Taieri, the initial station for the south-eastern districts, and from that point observationswere taken to find true meridian 12. The first set of observations taken were to discover the altitude and azimuth of the sun13,
but it was found that evaporation from a nearby swamp was having a considerable effect on the readings. To obtain results independent of this error, observations were directed to thestar B Orionis (Rigel) in order to apply a system of calculation
known as equal altitudes and azimutha 14. This method relied for
success on a clear sky for several hours, but being independent
of latitude, time and altitude, reduced the possibility of error to
a minimum, provided that the instrument was not disturbed.
Reference before and after observations to a distant mark
precluded the possibility of a disturbance passing unnoticed.
The same method was used to determine the true meridian of
Observation Point, Port Chalmers, although on this occasion,
a different star was employed.

The latitudes of the stations were found by observing
stars north and south of the zenith. The stars selected did not
differ much in altitude15 or right ascension 16; thus errors due
to refraction affected each star equally and were neutralized.
It was important however, that the instrument be adjusted
perfectly horizontally. It it wasn’t when it was turned round
to the second of the two stars any error would be doubled.
To guard against such a contingency great care was taken in
levelling the horizontal limb, and, as an added precaution, the
instrument was placed on a massive stone pedestal and wellprotected
from the weather.
McKerrow considered that the mountain masses close to
the initial stations might also be suspect if errors crept into his
observations. To check up on this possibility he recommended
the comparison of measurements by standard chain and
latitudinal observations on half a mile of meridional line on a
level plain. Such an experiment would show the accuracy of the
theodolite observations and enable corrections to be applied to
the initial point.
At Port Chalmers the observations for latitude were taken on
still clear nights, and the results compared with those obtained
by Captain Stokes of the Acheron and by Mr. Thomson. Cloudy
weather hindered operations at North Taieri, and appeared to
preclude the possibility of anything other than an ordinary
geographical determination. McKerrow decided to leave a
geodetical determination for some other time, however, and as
soon as he had determined true meridian began the extension
of bearings through south-east Otago so as to overtake the
surveys in progress. Within a few months bearings on true
meridian had been extended through the surveyed districts
in Kuriwao Peak17 and thence to Glenomaru18, Waikawa19,
Tuturau20, Toitois21 and to the Pomahaka22 and Waikaia valleys.
From Port Chalmers bearings were extended to Black Hill and
up the Waitaki Valley and a start made up the Shag Valley
One of the stations of the minor triangulation was always
converted into a geodetical station if the district had been
triangulated, and from it a round of angles were taken to the
surrounding stations. In this manner much minor triangulation
was checked and the difference between it and the standard
system noted. In unsurveyed districts a reference trig station
was erected within two or three miles of the geodetical station.
This made the geodetical stations available for checking. The
stations were built of stones, when it was necessary to erect one
– otherwise a stone was placed in the centre of a circular plot of
ground twenty feet in diameter and enclosed by a trench. The
augur point was the centre of a circle carved on the face of the
block. Reference trig stations were always selected so that they
could be of use in the minor triangulation system.
To keep the theodolite safe during the journey from station
to station, its parts were placed in strong padded boxes and
carried in a spring wagon. Moreover it was screened from sun
and wind during observation, and its adjustments frequently
Another duty which fell to McKerrow during his time as
Geodetical Surveyor was to lay down standard length chains
for the use of district surveyors. During his first season he did
this at the Custom House Dunedin, at the survey offices in
Popotunca, Toko, Oamaru, and Hampden23, and on the rocks
on the Otago side of the Mataura Falls. Stone blocks with brass
centres were placed sixty-six feet apart in the ground while the
temperature was between 55o and 60o F. For the convenience
of surveyors testing chains, an oblong pivot was placed on one
of the brass plates, and on this one of the handles of the chain
could be hung while the other was brought up to the graduation
on the second plate. At each ix feet pegs were driven in, so that
if the chain rested on them while being tested, it would be in
one and the same plane.24 At the Mataura Falls the rock had to
be cut down to the level of the line joining the brass centres.25During the course of his work, McKerrow was frequently
called on to repair or renew stations of the minor triangulation.
In some cases both mound and trig were gone and it was
necessary to take observations to re-determine their position.26Mr. J.T. Thomson was gratified with the results achieved.
In his annual report for 1863-64 he stated that “particular
notice is called for to the most important operations that
have been undertaken since I had charge of the Department,
viz. the Geodetical Survey conducted by Mr. McKerrow . .
. So far much objection cannot be taken against the survey
as the error does not exceed the maximum allowed in lineal
measurements; but had the work proceeded on to more distant
areas the error would have increased so materially as to be a
cause of opprobrium against the survey, and this not only in a
professional point of view, but errors of sufficient magnitude to
cause lawsuits regarding disputed boundaries would have crept
in to so great a degree as probably to put the province to the
expenses of a revisal of survey.27On the recommendation of the Chief surveyor McKerrow
spent 1865 in carrying geodetical bearings further into the
interior28. Astronomical observations for latitude, true meridian,
and compass variation were taken at Lindis Peak; then standard
bearings were extended down the Ahuriri Valley to meet with
the line of bearings previously extended up the Waitaki Valley
from Observation Point Port Chalmers. Reference stations were
erected at various points, and standard chain lengths again laid
down, this time at Peninsula Pt., between Taieri Lake and the
mouth of the Kyeburn, at the Mining Survey Office Warden’s
camp, Clyde, and on the banks of the Clutha.29McKerrow’s work once more earned him the approbation
of Mr. Thomson. Regarding the cost of geodetical survey
operations (£114/7/3), the latter wrote: “I need say little, as
the high importance of the service to all future surveys of this
Province is now well established.”30One more season was required for the completion
of geodetical operations, and it was occupied in making
observations for latitude, true meridian and variation of
compass at Mt. York and Mt. Nicholas, and in re-determining
the latitude of the station at North Taieri. The observations for
latitude were taken under flawless conditions. On comparing
the two sets of readings for the latitude of North Taieri,
very little difference was found, a tribute to the accuracy of
McKerrow’s work. When the true meridians of Mt. York
and Mt. Nicholas had been determined, the bearings of the
different meridians were extended and closed on one another,
and it was possible to draw a comparison between calculated
and observed meridional differences.31
Only a slight discrepancy was found, despite the
incorporation of errors accumulated during the extension of
bearings through as many as thirty intermediate stations. A
further comparison, this time of the latitudes obtained during
the Reconnaissance Survey on one hand and the geodetical
operations on the other, led McKerrow to report that “it is
satisfactory . . . that the differences are so nearly uniform”.
Standard chain lengths were laid down during the season at Fern
Hill, Te Anau Downs, and at the Survey Office, Queenstown.
Mr. Thomson received the final report with enthusiasm32.
“The primary operations that will henceforth regulate and
govern all survey operations in the Province I am happy to
state have now been completed by Mr. McKerrow, in so far
as it is at present necessary, the strip of precipitous land on
the West Coast alone remaining, but which does not call for
survey . . . The total cost of the geodetical operations have,
from their commencement amounted to £3735.17. These
operations have extended over 10,300,000 acres, as the rate of
cost per acre is only 8/100ths of a penny . . . As these points
or stations are accessible to all surveyors in different parts of
the province wherever employed, they can now proceed with
their work correctly and without error or difference. A map of
these standards bearings is now in the course of publication so
that the benefit of Mr. McKerrow’s labours will be at the easy
command of all . . . I annex Mr. McKerrow’s report. On his
last year’s work in full, by which the care, patience and skill
with which he has pursued his labours, under many difficulties,
discouragements and not to mention perils, during these last
three years, will be apparent to the Government. The work as
it now stands, if it goes no further, will be a lasting monument
of his services to this department and I have no doubt will
be fully appreciated by those who will reap the most benefit,
viz. the members of his own profession, and the settlers whose
properties can now be surveyed without fear of errors and law
In a newly settled country such as New Zealand in the sixties,
there was opportunity for pioneer work in many spheres; work
of a permanent nature which when done is done for all time.
Thus McKerrow was fortunate in that he was able to secure
a standing in New Zealand surveying circles by engaging in
geographical work of peculiar interest to the colony. McKerrow
himself, with characteristic modesty, attributed his success
to his good fortune in being entrusted with the vital work33,
but the fact remains that he was picked from a staff of highly
competent craftsmen as the most suitable for the job, and he
carried it through to success. He overcame great hardships34,
used his ingenuity to meet problems as they arose, and secured
valuable and exact data. The value of the Geodetical Surveys
can be established from this fact – they still form the basis of
Otago Surveys.
1. Geodetical survey, as opposed to plane survey, takes into account the
curvature of the earth. It ties the humbles village in with a world-wide
scheme. Geodesy means literally “earth division”.
2. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. V, November 26, 1862, p. 207.
3. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XVIII, 1863, Departmental
Reports, p. 12.
4. V & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XIX, 1864, Departmental Reports,
pp. 31-3.
5. Palmer, Major. State of Surveys in New Zealand, App. H of R 1875,
6. Thomson, J.T. Exposition of Processes and Results of the Otago Survey
System, p. 11, Pamphlet in Hocken Library.
7. V & P Otago Prov. Council Session XXVII, 1870, Departmental
Reports, pp. 30-33.
8. Ibid.
9. The theodolite is used to measure horizontal and vertical angles with
the aid of a telescope and graduated circles. Theodolites are grouped
into two classes; plain and transit. The latter is used for astronomical
and geodetical observations, and differs from the plain in one respect.
The telescope of a plain theodolite can move through an arc of about
45o upwards or downwards from the horizontal plains; in the transit
theodolite the telescope may take a complete revolution from the
horizontal. Thus a different method of mounting the telescope to
correct its adjustments is necessary.
10. Palmer, Major, op cit.
11. V. & P Otago Prov. Council, Session XIX, 1864, Departmental
Reports, pp. 4-8 [McKerrow’s Report].
12. True meridian as opposed to magnetic meridian.
13. The zenith is the point in the celestial sphere immediately above
the observer’s head. The angle which the plane passing through the
zenith and the heavenly body makes with the meridian is known as
the azimuth of the heavenly body. It is generally measured from the
James McKerrow D 107 d
north towards the right, and will of course vary from 0o to 360o. The
term is thus practically synonymous with bearing, and means merely
horizontal direction.
14. All stars appear to revolve from east to west around a point in the sky
known as the Celestial Pole. To mark out a true north and south line,
the direction of the celestial pole must be determined. The simplest
way to do this is to observe a circum polar star, wait until it is seen
again at the same altitude, and then to bisect the line adjoining the
two points of observation. The celestial meridian is thus obtained for it
starts at the celestial pole and passes through the zenith. True meridian
on the earth lies directly below the celestal meridian.
15. Altitude refers to the angular altitude of stars in a vertical plane above
the horizon.
16. Each star crosses a meridian at a definite sidereal time. The sidereal
time at which a star is on the meridian is called its Right Ascension.
17. About 70 miles south of Dunedin.
18. About 65 miles south of Dunedin on the Catlins Line.
19. On the South Coast of the South Island.
20. Forty miles north-east of Invercargill.
21. On the south coast.
22. Ninety-two miles south of Dunedin.
23. Popotunoa is near Clinton, Toko near Milton.
24. V & P. Otago Prov. Council, Session XIX, 1864, Departmental
Reports, pp. 4-8
25. Field Book No. 163, Dunedin Survey Office.
26. V & P. Otago Prov. Council, Session XIX, 1864. Departmental
Reports, Pp. 4-8.
27. Ibid. Thomson’s Report.
28. Ibid.
29. Otago. Prov. Gaz. Vol. IX, September 20, 1865, p. 201. McKerrow’s
30. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol. X. September 5, 1866, pp. 172-3, Thomson’s
31. The difference found when meridional circuits meet is due to the fact
that the meridian of any point in a circuit is calculated as though it were
parallel to true meridian of the initial point of that circuit. Actually it is
not, as lines of meridians converge slightly. Thus a slight discrepancy is
found at the point where circuits meet.
32. Otago Prov. Gaz. Vol X, 5th Sept. 1866, pp. 172-3. Thomson’s
33. Kilmarnock Standard, September 12, 1903.
34. Unfortunately no narrative accounts of the 1863-66 journeys appear to
have been kept. One of the chainsmen on these journeys died several
years ago at a ripe old age. He is said to have told many tales of the
adventures the party experienced in the