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Erskine Fellowship

05 December 2023

Unique to UC, the Erskine Fellowship plays an essential role in keeping us connected with international academics and universities. It enables the best minds in the world to travel to and from UC and brings distinguished international academics to lecture at UC. Learn more about the Erskine fellowship.

Unique to UC

Unique to Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | University of Canterbury (UC), the UC Erskine Fellowship plays an essential role in keeping the University connected with international academics and universities.

Established in 1963, the bequest of mineral shares valued at £250,000 from John (Jack) Erskine was astutely invested and is today worth NZ$73 million.

Mobilising Academics

Enabling the best minds in the world to travel to and from UC, the UC Erskine Fellowship brings distinguished international academics to lecture at UC, while the UC Erskine Grants send UC’s top scholars overseas to enhance their skills and knowledge.

Jack Erskine

Born in 1872, John Angus Erskine’s (Jack) early education was at South School and Southland Boys' High School, but early on he showed a preference for helping his father, Robert Erskine, in business. As a young man, his appetite for learning emerged, and while working at Johnston's iron foundry, he took evening classes at Southland Collegiate.

In 1890, Jack became the first Southland youth to win a Junior Scholarship to the University of New Zealand, putting his name next to another future New Zealand great, nuclear physicist Ernest, Lord Rutherford. In fact, Jack placed one position above where distinguished University of Canterbury alumnus, Lord Rutherford had placed the year before.

A year later, Jack chose to enrol at Canterbury College (formally University of New Zealand). Surrounded by students of similar calibre, Jack passed his final BA exams in 1893 – subjects he studied ranged from traditional to experimental including, pure mathematics and Latin, English, applied mathematics, experimental science, and history and political science.

 Following this, now friends, Jack and Lord Rutherford applied to use a basement room to carry out electrical experiments. Here Jack investigated the magnetic screening of high-frequency oscillations by various metals, an offshoot of Lord Rutherford's pioneering work.

This experimental work gained Jack an MA with double first-class honours in experimental science and in mathematics and mathematical physics.

Now a published researcher, Jack spent some time teaching mathematics, before leaving the shores of New Zealand in 1896 to travel to Germany on an Exhibition of 1851 Scholarship - initially choosing to study at the Frederick-William University of Berlin.

An enduring friendship, Lord Rutherford and Jack holidayed in Germany in 1897, while Jack was at the University of Leipzig where he published papers on magnetic screening and on dielectric constants of liquids at high frequencies in German.

A man of many talents, in 1899 Jack’s adventures took him to University College in London where he translated German works into English. Following this, Jack returned to his humble Southland beginnings. On his return the only work Jack could find in Invercargill was as a boiler stoker and it wasn’t long until he enrolled in mechanical engineering courses at Canterbury College.

First-class certificates in strengths of materials, advanced steam, applied mechanics, and the mechanics of machinery launched Jack into his career in industry. First for the General Electric Company in the United States, then as an electrical engineer for the Sulphide Corporation in Australia, and for General Electric in Australia.

After 1920, Jack worked as a private consultant. Never a man to be idle, in fact, he played the stock market with great success. His deeply analytical business brain ensured his great success, and although he made a lot of money, his thriftiness, exemplified by his father shone through – he was known to report to his stock market friends when he found even cheaper places to lunch.

Jack Erskine died in Melbourne on 27 April 1960 leaving the bequest to the University of Canterbury which launched the Erskine Fellowship, the largest academic mobility fund in Australasia.

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