The John Angus Erskine Bequest
Each year, some 70 distinguished, international academic visitors who are already advanced in the learning of any subject taught in the Faculties of Commerce, Engineering or Science are invited to the University of Canterbury for durations of, normally, one to three months for the purpose of giving lectures in such subjects to students of the University.
Each Visiting Erskine Fellow receives a grant-in-aid which takes account of up to two return air fares and a daily allowance towards living expenses. A visitor must be nominated by the Department concerned and only distinguished academics in their fields are approved for the Visiting Erskine Programme.
The Erskine Bequest also funds some 25 outgoing Erskine Fellowships each year which enable University academic staff members in the above participating Faculties to increase their knowledge in such subjects so as to better enable them to teach those subjects to students.
The Bequest has funded these Programmes since 1963.
His father, Robert Erskine, migrated from Scotland to Southland as a 16-year-old and set up a bookshop in Esk Street, Invercargill. He later became president of the Southland Building Society. Robert Erskine was extremely thrifty and passed this trait on to his son, Jack, who was born in 1872. Educated at South School and nominally at Southland Boys' High School, Jack Erskine preferred to help his father in business. While working at Johnston's iron foundry, he took evening classes at Southland Collegiate.
At the end of 1890, Erskine became the first Southland youth to win a Junior Scholarship to the University of New Zealand. Third equal on the list, he was one place above that achieved the previous year by distinguished University of Canterbury alumnus, nuclear physicist Ernest Rutherford.
In 1891, Erskine chose to enrol at what was then Canterbury College, whose golden age was reaching a climax. Here he was surrounded by students of similar calibre, including: Willie Marris who later became a brilliant administrator and Governor of Assam; Apirana Ngata, the first Maori to graduate from the University of New Zealand; Rutherford; and James Hight who returned to lead the College as Rector from 1928 to 1941.
Erskine passed his final B.A. exams in 1893, having taken the compulsory pure mathematics and Latin, and his four selected subjects of English, applied mathematics, experimental science (electricity option), and history & political science. With the start of the new term in April 1894, Rutherford and Erskine applied to use a basement room in which to carry out electrical experiments.
It was here that Erskine investigated the magnetic screening of high-frequency oscillations by various metals, an offshoot of Rutherford's pioneering work. This gained Erskine an M.A. with double first class honours (the sixth person to achieve this in New Zealand, Rutherford being the fifth), in experimental science and in mathematics & mathematical physics.
Results of his research appeared in the Transactions of the New Zealand Institute in 1895. Towards the end of 1895, Erskine was put in charge of mathematics while Professor Cook went on overseas leave.
When Erskine was awarded the Exhibition of 1851 Scholarship for 1896 he chose to go initially to the Frederick-William University of Berlin. In 1897, he and Rutherford holidayed together in Germany and that year and part of 1898 Erskine was at the University of Leipzig. During his spell in Germany, he published several papers in German on magnetic screening and on dielectric constants of liquids at high frequencies.
Erskine then moved to London and spent 1899 and 1900 there, attending classes at University College and translating German works into English, including Helmolt's The World History for Heinemann. On his return to New Zealand the only work he could find in Invercargill was as a boiler stoker.
Erskine spent 1901 attending courses in mechanical engineering at Canterbury College and obtained first class certificates in strengths of materials, advanced steam, applied mechanics, and the mechanics of machinery. In June he addressed the Canterbury College Engineering Society on the 'Conservation of Entropy'.
He then began working in industry, firstly for the General Electric Company at Shenectady in the United States (1903 - 1904), then as an electrical engineer for the Sulphide Corporation at the Broken Hill mines in Australia (1905-1911), and for General Electric in Australia (1912 - 1920).
After 1920 he worked as a private consultant and was labelled either retired or in private practice. In actual fact, he played the stock market with great success, having one of the finest analytical brains in the business. Although he made a great deal of money, he practised frugality, often reporting to his stock market friends when he had found an even cheaper place for lunch.
Jack Erskine died in Melbourne on 27 April 1960; his will having been written in 1957. (The biographical details of Jack Erskine are from Rutherford - Scientist Supreme (AAS Publications, 1999) by Dr John Campbell, Department of Physics and Astronomy).
The instructions in Jack Erskine's will were explicit: income from a trust fund was to be used to pay the fares and reasonable travelling expenses of members of the teaching staff, of the then Canterbury University College, to overseas countries to enable them to increase their knowledge in any subject taught in the Science, Engineering or Commerce faculties and better enable them to teach those subjects.
The fund would also pay 'fares and reasonable travelling expenses of and bringing to New Zealand by sea or air travel from the United Kingdom the British Dominions and Colonies and the United States of America persons who speak the English language fluently and who are already advanced in the learning of such subjects for the purpose of giving lectures in such subjects to students of the said College'.
The Will conditions have been legally widened in the past - firstly, about 30 years ago, to enable investment in more profitable shares than the originals, and again in 1986. This later effort succeeded in extending the bequest to fluent English-speaking visitors from other countries than those stated in the will.
The Erskine Programme's travel policy allows for return air travel by the most direct and economical route (i.e. advance purchase economy class) for the visitor, and the same travel for a spouse or partner or other immediate member of the visitor's family for a minimum stay of 28 nights, being the current minimum duration of an Erskine Fellowship.
The per diem allowance is reviewed periodically in line with any significant increases in the academic salary scale for continuing staff, and is currently NZ$100 per night in term-time.
Extract from the Last Will and Testament
'UPON TRUST to pay the same to or to vest the same in CANTERBURY UNIVERSITY COLLEGE Christchurch New Zealand to hold the same UPON TRUST to use the income to arise therefrom for the purpose of paying the fares and reasonable travelling expenses of and sending members of the Teaching Staff of the said College by sea or air travel to overseas countries to enable such members to increase their knowledge in any subject taught in the Faculties of Science Engineering or Economics and Commerce so as to better enable them to teach such subjects to students and other members of the Teaching Staff of the said College and for the purpose of paying the fares and reasonable travelling expenses of and bringing to New Zealand by sea or air travel from the United Kingdom the British Dominions and Colonies and the United States of America persons who speak the English language fluently and who are already advanced in the learning of such subjects for the purpose of giving lectures in such subjects to students of the said College AND I HEREBY DECLARE that it is my express desire but not direction that any portion or portions of my estate which at the date of my death is or are invested in or represented by stocks shares or securities in the Dominion of Canada or invested in companies whether limited or proprietary limited which hold shares of stock in any company or companies situate in the Dominion of Canada shall be retained by the said College in such stocks shares or securities and not disposed of unless in the opinion of such College it would be prejudicial to retain such shares and stocks AND I DIRECT that the said College shall invest any moneys requiring to be invested by such College in shares or stock in any limited company carrying on business in the Dominion of New Zealand or the Dominion of Canada or in the Commonwealth of Australia or in the United States of America whose shares are listed on any official Stock Exchange in Dominions or Commonwealth or United States but shall not invest any of such moneys as aforesaid in mortgages of real or personal property or in the purchase of shares in any investment company of the type or kind referred to in Part 6 of the Companies Act 1938 of the State of Victoria or in any securities debentures or inscribed stock of Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board, The Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria, the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioner, the State Electricity Commission or any similar body or corporation or in any Parliamentary stocks or public funds or Government Securities of the Dominion of New Zealand or insofar as they may be legally excluded of the Commonwealth of Australia'.