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History of Marine Science at the University of Otago

Modified from original by John Jillett, 2000

Marine Science, established in 1992, is the most recent science department at the University of Otago. The historical roots of the department extend back to the appointment of Captain F.W. Hutton, previously Otago provincial geologist, as Professor of Natural Science in 1876. Even before Hutton, the transactions of the New Zealand Institute published several papers on marine topics by Dunedin authors.

The development of marine science at Otago was closely intertwined with the development of the Portobello Marine Laboratory, formerly a fish hatchery and marine investigation station, which was administratively independent for nearly 50 years until it was taken over by the University of Otago in 1951.


1876Captain F.W. Hutton, formerly the Otago provincial geologist, appointed Professor of Natural History and Curator of the University Museum.
1880T.J. Parker invited to become Professor of Biology and Curator of the Museum at Otago, upon the resignation of Hutton.
1887Professor Parker, in his Presidential Address to the Otago Institute, makes a case for the establishment of a marine laboratory in New Zealand. Parker in 1891 again made reference to the advisability of a marine laboratory in an address to the AAAS, Christchurch.
1895Idea of a marine laboratory taken up and energetically promoted by G.M. Thomson with assessment of Purakanui as a suitable site.
1896Publication by Parker, together with Professor W.A. Haswell (Sydney), of their two-volume work, A Textbook of Zoology, including many local marine animals as type examples.
1898W. B. Benham appointed to succeed Parker as Professor of Biology and Museum Curator.
1898Lake Falconer Ayson, chief fisheries advisor, recommends favourably on the marine laboratory/fish hatchery proposal after visits to Europe and North America.
1900Site chosen and land set aside by government for a fish hatchery at Purakanui.
1902Purakanui site considered unsuitable, plans switched to present Portobello site.
1904Opening of Fish Hatchery and Marine Investigation Station, Thomas Anderton appointed curator, major effort put into raising exotic species seen to have commercial potential, especially Atlantic lobsters, edible crabs, turbot, etc.
1916Death of Thomas Anderton, work continued by his assistant Wallace Adams.
1920Drift bottle release programme carried out.
1921Maxwell Young appointed as biological research student, first "scientific" appointee.
1928Hatchery work abandoned after death of final batch of lobsters, future work to be focussed on fisheries investigation and compliance.
1930David Graham appointed as scientist, initiates public education programme by charging for weekend lectures and admission.
1932Graham dismissed as his salary could no longer be met in a depression economy.
1933Death of the Hon. G.M. Thomson, to whose energy the establishment of the station was due and who had chaired the board of control since the beginning.
1938Government inquiry into the future of fisheries management recommends closure of the Fishery Investigation Station. University of Otago declines to take the station over as a gift, offering instead to contribute £ 50 per year for continued access by staff and students.
1950University of Otago negotiates to take over the fishery investigation station, having been persuaded by Professor John Eccles of the merits of having a marine station , especially for experimental neurophysiology.
1951University of Otago takes over site as Portobello Marine Biological Station with Dr Elizabeth Batham as Director.
1960Original laboratory building replaced by two-story structure.
1963Award of a lottery grant 0f £45,000 for the construction of a research vessel and to operate it for an initial five year period.
1965RV Munida launched at Lyttelton, delivery voyage to Dunedin prior to fitting out.
1966RV Munida entered service in mid-year with Mr Bill Tubman as skipper.
1968Two joint lectureships established between Marine Station and Zoology, following the appointment of Professor Roy Freeman as head of Zoology. Drs John Jillett and Barbara Williams appointed to these posts.
1970Review committee set up to recommend on the future of the research vessel, the Marine Station and its relationship to the University as a whole.
1971Review Committee recommends expansion of the Marine Station "without delay".
1974Dr Betty Batham steps aside after 23 years as Director, later disappears in mysterious circumstances at Wellington.
1974Dr John Jillett appointed Director of the renamed Portobello Marine Laboratory and vacated joint-appointment filled by Dr Charles Boyden. Otago staff and postgraduate students studying for Otago degrees take up all available space.
1978A round of "deferred maintenance" and minor extensions, in lieu of deferred major expansion. Permission is given to proceed to sketch plans for new buildings.
1979Sketch plans submitted. Charles Boyden accidentally drowns.
1980Dr Mike Barker appointed to joint lectureship, filled temporarily by Dr Geoff Hicks. Dr Keith Hunter appointed to a lectureship in Chemistry.
1982Introduction of a MSc in Marine Science with John Jillett as course director, contributions from a wide range of science departments (Botany, Chemistry, Geology, Microbiology, Physics, Surveying and Zoology).
1982Permission given for preparation of working drawings for new laboratory.
1984Contract let for the construction of the new laboratory. All on-going research work at the Marine Laboratory severely disrupted for the next three years.
1985Bill Tubman retires as skipper of the research vessel, replaced by Chris Spiers.
1987New laboratory building commissioned at Portobello, equipment grant of $1.83M awarded. Proposal initiated for a "Maritime Study Centre" on-site at Portobello.
1988Research vessel refitted and re-engined.
1989Professor Philip Mladenov appointed to newly established Chair of Marine Science to include the MSc course in Marine Science. Fiordland becomes a major target for research work.
1990NZ Marine Study Centre is adopted as the science project for major fund-raising.
1992Establishment of the Department of Marine Science with its administrative base on main campus. See History of the Department of Marine Science
1995Establishment of NIWA/Chemistry Centre of Excellence for Physical and Chemical Oceanography.