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
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.
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.
VIII, 1875, Pp XXVII-XXXVIII.
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,
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.
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.