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14 July 2023

From Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan and Ada Wells to Sir Apirana Ngata and Dame Jean Herbison, learn about the Pioneers UC is showcasing to celebrate our 150th anniversary!

Leasi Scanlan
Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan

BSc 1978 

Pioneering the way for those after him, the highlight of Leasi Papali’i Tommy Scanlan’s career was becoming the first ever Samoan Governor of the Central Bank of Samoa, a position he held for 22 years. Originally coming to New Zealand on scholarship from Samoa, Leasi felt that Economists were needed just as much as engineers and doctors following Samoa’s independence in 1962. With his long and impressive career as Governor, Leasi was next called into the role of Diplomat as the Samoan High Commissioner to New Zealand in 2012 and Dean of the Diplomatic Corps from 2017, positions he held until his recent retirement in 2022.

UC Legend - Ada Wells
Ada Wells

Christchurch Normal School – Training Department (Primary) 1881

As a tireless campaigner for women’s equality and economic independence, Ada Wells is well-known for her contribution to the suffrage movement of the 1880s and 90s where she worked closely with Kate Sheppard as a fervent and efficient organiser. She attended Canterbury College in 1881 and went on to teach at Christchurch Girl’s High School. She was an advocate of free kindergartens, universal access to secondary education, the reform of local government, the charitable aid system and prisons. Ada was also active in the campaign to amend the electoral law to enable women to be elected to Parliament. In 1917, Ada was the first woman elected to the Christchurch City Council.

UC Legend - Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford OM FRS HonFRSE

MA (Hons) 1894

Often referred to as the “father of nuclear physics” for his discovery of the atomic structure, Ernest Rutherford is one of UC’s pioneering legends. Leaving Canterbury College with three degrees in 1895, he quickly made his mark on the scientific field. Most famed for being the first person to split the atom in 1917, Rutherford is also credited with discovering two different radioactive atom rays (alpha and beta) and producing the nuclear model of the atom. In 1908 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his investigations into the disintegration of elements and the chemistry of radioactive substances.

UC Legend - Sir Āpirana Ngata
Sir Apirana Ngata

MA 1893, LLB 1897

Graduating from UC with a BA in Political Science, followed by an MA and an LLB in 1896, Sir Apirana Ngata was the first Māori student to graduate from a university in Aotearoa. He went on to become a renowned leader, land reformer and long-serving politician - elected as an MP from 1905 until 1941. In recognition of his services to Māori communities and for his efforts as Chief Recruiting Officer during WW1, Apirana was knighted in 1927. He contributed profoundly to the revival of the Māori spiritually, culturally, and economically, and was paid tribute to in 1999 with his portrait embedded on the NZD $50 note.

UC Legend - Jane Soons
Jane Soons

UC Geography Department

Born in England, Emeritus Professor Jane Soons travelled to the other side of the world to take up a lecturer position at UC. Described as achieving “in a male dominated world, without modelling herself on men”, Jane was a trailblazer and role model for female academics and students of geomorphology. Appointed UC’s first female professor in 1971 and an Emeritus Professor upon her retirement in 1992, the University posthumously renamed the geography building after her in 2021, acknowledging her lasting contribution to her field.

Jean Herbison
Dame Jean Herbison DBE CMG

BA 1951

After graduating from UC, Dame Jean Herbison continued her studies in Auckland and the US. An esteemed alum of the Fulbright programme, her teaching career in New Zealand began at Avonside Girls’ High School, with positions later held at Christchurch Teachers’ College and Christchurch Polytechnic. Jean was elected to the UC Council in 1970, and in 1979 became the first woman to hold the post of Chancellor at a New Zealand university. She has been awarded Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), a recipient of the Queen’s Silver Medal Jubilee and appointed Dame Commander for her services to education.

Hon doc - Phyllis Guthardt
Dame Phyllis Guthardt DBE

Primary Teaching 1951, MA 1959

After beginning a teaching career, Dame Phyllis Guthardt went back to study, gaining her Diploma at Trinity Theological College. Phyllis went on to become the first woman to be ordained in New Zealand when, in 1959, she was ordained into the Methodist Church. For more than 30 years, she was a regular broadcaster on RNZ for religious and current affairs and lent her time and experience to several national committees and councils. A member of the UC Council from 1981 to 2001, she held the posts of Pro-Chancellor and Chancellor for a period in that time.

Julie Maxton 1
Dr Dame Julie Maxton DBE

LLM 1981

After moving from Scotland to complete her Master of Laws at UC, Dr Julie Maxton began her academic career teaching within UC’s School of Law as a Lecturer. Upon marrying, Dr Julie moved to the University of Auckland, acting in roles of Professor of Law, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Law. Also a practicing barrister, Dr Julie was made a Master of the Bench of Middle Temple in 2012. She is the Executive Director of the Royal Society; the first woman in 350 years to hold the post, and before this was Registrar at the University of Oxford, the first woman in 550 years in the role. In the 2023 UK New Year’s Honour List, Dr Julie was made a Dame.

UC Legend - Helen Connon
Helen Connon

MA 1881

Helen Connon played a pioneering role in the education of New Zealand women. When a founding professor at Canterbury College, and later her husband, John Macmillan Brown agreed to enrol her – the decision settled the issue of inviting women into New Zealand’s universities. A tireless worker, she impressed by becoming one of the five teachers at Christchurch Girls’ High School during her studies. Becoming the school’s second principal in 1882, she dedicated herself to making educational opportunities accessible to girls. After her death in 1903, the Helen Macmillan Brown Bursary was established, with students still benefitting from her legacy today. Alongside this, the first UC Hall of Residence was built in her name.

George Jobberns
George Jobberns CBE FRGS MNZGS

BA 1917, MA (Hons) 1921, Dip Ed 1930, PhD 1936

Equipped with an impressive range of degrees, George Jobberns’ career saw him beginning work as a science teacher and assistant master in Dunedin and Gore. His fascination with geological and geomorphical research led to his appointment as New Zealand’s first geography lecturer in 1937 at Canterbury University College. In 1942, he was elected the First Chair of Geography in New Zealand and recognised as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1963. A highly respected member of the community, his vision and approach to his field has had huge influence over the popularity of the subject and guided generations of students.

Photo Credit: Christchurch City Libraries. CCL-Star-1971-1067-025-030N-01

Brian Mason
Dr Brian Mason

MSc (Hons) 1939

After completing his studies at UC, Brian achieved his PhD overseas and embarked on a research career that saw him hold academic posts around the world, including here at UC where he was appointed as a lecturer in geology. He is considered a pioneer in the study of meteorites and played a leading part in understanding the nature of the solar system. Concerned that the number of meteorites available to study was limited, Brian spent 3 decades encouraging UC’s collection, and it is likely that he has seen more than anyone else in the world. Receiving many awards over his lifetime, he was commemorated by the naming of asteroid 1292Brianmasoni, as well as minerals Brianite and Stenhuggarite (from the Swedish word for stone mason).

Photo credit: Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture & Heritage, p-4655-pc

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