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Eric John Godley


OBE, MSc NZ PhD Cantab DSc Cantuar (honoris causa) Hon FLS FRSNZ


Eric Godley FRSNZ

Eric Godley FRSNZ


Early life

Eric Godley was born in Devonport, Auckland, on 10 May 1919. He was very much a North Shore boy; he regularly camped on Rangitoto Island with the cubs and scouts from the age of eight until the island was closed for military reasons in 1941. He even published an article in 2009 entitled ‘Rangitoto remembered at ninety’1. He attended Devonport District School and, from 1933 to 1936, Takapuna Grammar School. He had a notable career at Takapuna: in 1936 he was Head Boy, captain of the first Cricket XI and a member of the first Rugby XV. His interest in botany was first aroused in the fifth form by the teaching of Miss Olga Adams, who influenced him to follow a career in botany. He attended Auckland Teachers’ Training College in 1937 and 1938, and in 1939 took a special course in the teaching of biology. He taught advanced biology back at his old school, Takapuna Grammar, in 1939 and 1940.

Over some of this period he was also working towards an MSc in the Botany Department at Auckland University College, and in 1941 submitted a thesis entitled ‘Some observations on Aristotelia serrata (Forst.) W.R.B. Oliver, (Makomako, “Wineberry”) Fam. Elaeocarpaceae’2. It was customary at that time for botany MSc students to be allocated a single native plant species for closer anatomical and ecological study and the cynical view among students was that no one ever got a first and almost everyone got a second class pass. Eric’s MSc work and results followed this pattern exactly.

World War II

In 1941 it was the New Zealand Army for Eric. With the Japanese involvement there was an immediate call for protection from potential air raids. Eric was among those selected for an officer’s course in anti-aircraft artillery; soon it was 2nd Lieutenant Godley in charge of a group of Bofors anti-aircraft guns guarding his beloved North Shore in Auckland. This continued through 1942 and into 1943, but by then the Japanese threat had lessened and the call was for reinforcements for the 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force serving in the Middle East. Eric, along with other junior officers, was decommissioned as rapidly as he had been commissioned, and he left New Zealand as a sergeant in the 10th Reinforcements in July 1943. In Egypt he was posted to the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment, the unit in which he served throughout the campaign in Italy.

With the 2nd NZEF move in October 1943 the troops swapped the warm, dry desert for the cold, wet and muddy conditions of southern Italy. In the early stages of the Italian campaign Eric served on anti-tank guns, but after the battles for Cassino in 1944 the need for anti-tank protection had decreased (in the entire Italian campaign his regiment destroyed only one German tank!) and a new weapon (the 4.2-inch heavy mortar) had become available. The 2NZEF decided to use personnel from 7 Anti-Tank Regiment to introduce the new mortar and Eric was one of those transferred to a new unit (the 39/34 Heavy Mortar Battery). The new mortar proved to be highly mobile and was soon accepted and regularly used in the many barrages fired by New Zealand field artillery. In the last phase of the war (the April 1945 offensive across the Po Valley) it was extensively used and in fact provided the very front line of the Divisional offensive. It was in this unit that Eric spent the last year of the war until peace was declared.

In a hard-backed, cloth-spined notebook, 6¼" × 3½", 18 lines per page, Eric kept a miscellaneous record of events, conversations and thoughts, from July 1943 to 4 November 1944, during the Italian campaign. It was a war journal rather than a diary, except for some short periods such as 29 April – 27 May 1944 during the third Battle for Cassino, and 10–31 October 1944. Entries made while at Maadi, Egypt, included: a visit from Ted Bollard and Frank Newhook; an inspection by General Bernard Freyberg: ‘He is big but a little fat round the guts’; and a morning church parade: ‘An uninspiring mixture of Sankey, idealism, and anthropomorphism’ – as a former chorister he knew Sankey hymns.

One journal entry reflects his cultural attitude; it is for Sunday 22 July 1944. That day he ‘hitchhiked and tramped through eight miles of heat and Tuscan dirt to see Siena, and it was worth it’. Five pages of detail: a diagram of windows, comments on architecture, reference to a 1338 Sienese landscape by Lorenzetto, frescos featuring the Risorgiomento, Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel II, San Dominico, the cathedral in black and white stone, and a 14th century fresco of a battle between the Sienese and their hereditary enemy the Florentines. And then on 30 July: ‘In position just front [of] Cerbaia and guarding roads which lead down from Romola’.

In his university work in Auckland Eric had developed a keen interest in genetics; he was particularly intrigued by the work being carried out in London by JBS Haldane on the genetics of human blood groups. One of Haldane’s interests was the differences in blood group patterns in different human races and of the need for more data on this subject. Eric realised that he could probably access the blood group data of members of the Maori Battalion; here was a sample of 837, all genuinely Maori, exactly the sort of sample Haldane had been calling for.He obtained the data from the medical section of the battalion, which he then posted on to Haldane; he also got records of 1176 Europeans in three batteries of an artillery regiment. This was all done in mid winter while the Division was in the front line in southern Italy. Haldane acknowledged the data and used them in subsequent publications. This is a classic example of Eric’s ability to perceive a problem and recognise an opportunity to contribute to solving it, even under the most trying of circumstances. Eric wrote ‘Blood-group frequencies in New Zealand and Māori soldiers’ for Annals of Eugenics3 as his first published paper. There is no reference in his war journal to data collection and analysis, except for an entry on 20 October 1944: ‘Received letters from …. [and] Haldane this morning …the latter was quite a thrill’. Subsequently in 1950, JM Staveley and EJ Godley reported in Nature4that there was an error of up to 10% in the determination of blood-group O in the Army Transfusion Service records. ‘Thus the Army groupings were unreliable.’

Another human genetics topic in his war journal reflects the same kind of thing: ‘2 May 1944 Afternoon played bridge and started to write “Human Reproduction – an outline for young people”’. In the last pages of his journal, undated, pencil-written, he began ‘Most young people have played football or basketball and know that a team is made up of groups of players … working together to make a good combination. So it is with the human body, which is a marvellous combination of various parts each with a special task to perform. The bones support the soft parts, the heart pumps blood …; the system which I describe in this booklet is the human reproductive system.’ Following this are eight pages of sensible script. Nothing ever came of it.

In what is perhaps a surprising journal entry, for 10 October 1944 he wrote: ‘Camped about 2 miles north of Rimini and have been here about 12 days … I am to be Bty Historian from today and will be attached to B.H.Q.’ On 14 October he ‘Shifted to B.H.Q. as Bty Historian’ of 34 Battery 7 Anti-Tank Regiment. But on 31 October 34 Battery was merged with the 39th as the Heavy Mortar Battery. There was a church parade and a ‘final bash in the Municipal Theatre where wine and cigarettes were free’. Eric’s appointment as historian may not have been longer than those three weeks. He never referred to it again, and he is not mentioned in WE Murphy’s 2nd New Zealand Divisional Artillery (1966), although Murphy had been a member with Eric of 34 Battery. RD Munro, in his 7 NZ Anti-Tank Regiment, 2 N.Z.E.F., 1936-45, and in 39/34 Heavy Mortar Batteryin Italy, 1944-45, is also silent on Eric’s role.

There is an abundance of plant genetics in his war journal. Written after 1 February 1944 and before 24 March, he remarks: ‘The exact nature of the F2 in NZ hybrids has not been determined’, and in eight pages sets out propositions for testing expected segregations etc. Several pages were crossed out; on another page he noted: ‘I don’t think so’. And again, 31 March, written while ‘camped 4 miles from Cassino’, a further five pages but all crossed out. Later still, undated: ‘crossing diagrams and genetic outcomes’. His time was not all spent ‘arguing with Dick [Mathews] about probability’ (10 October); drinking 5 litres of wine with Dick (12 October); or having ‘an evening with Dick working out all plant families and typical genera’ (20 October).

An entry for 10 August 1944 headed ‘Crops on a Tuscan farm’ includes ripening of fruit and vegetables; reference to sunflower oil; the maize ‘is the Agortonelli type I think’. And about wheat: ‘No doubt the Tuscan wheat of NZ is derived from this one’. In comments on what we would call phenology, he noted: (29 April) ‘Trees are coming into leaf. Wild primroses, violets, violas and a small purple orchid … seen. Heard cuckoos the other day.’ (4 May) ‘The oaks are the only trees not showing leaves. Their buds are still tightly closed. The colouring of the young barley in the sun is brilliantly impressionistic.’ (19 May 1944) ‘The small terraced fields are bright under young wheat.’ On 27 May, after recording Venus setting at 12.40 a.m. and the Plough at 4.20 a.m., he wrote: ‘Collected a number of grasses to send to [HH] Allan, but probably a parcel of these will be too large.’

There was then a period of easy existence in beautiful summer conditions, before training for a move to Japan where the war was still proceeding. With the atomic bombs dropped on Japan, however, the war was over, bringing a distinct phase-change for Eric.


Withthe war in Europe over in May 1945, the opportunity was offered for extended rehabilitative education for discharged soldiers. Prime Minister Peter Fraser had visited the Division in 1944, reviewed the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment, and spoken to troops of the preparations being made for the rehabilitation of service people. Eric was among those who, at that early date (a year before the war ended), questioned the Prime Minister specifically on the possibility of overseas study for those suitably qualified. When, after the war, details of the rehabilitation scheme were published, there was provision for such overseas awards, and Eric was among a small group of ex-servicemen selected to go directly to UK universities (in Eric’s case, Cambridge) rather than return home.

Eric turned up at Cambridge in November 1945 and immediately began a research project under the supervision of David Catcheside, a lecturer in cytology and genetics at the Botany School who had worked in a variety of fields: genetic effects of radiation; biochemical genetics; Neurospora; and Oenothera. This proved to be a most compatible and fruitful association. There was much catching up to do and hard work was the order of the day; some ex-service students were criticised by their tutors for working too hard! Eric was able to play some inter-departmental cricket and he greatly enjoyed the theatre and other amusements now available in Cambridge.

His first year in Cambridge was spent in Trinity College (Withwell Court, Staircase H, Number 4), but then Eric had to find his own accommodation. He joined with two of his Auckland scientist friends, Ted (EG) Bollard and Dick (REF) Matthews, in looking for accommodation in which they could look after themselves domestically. They located a large house, ‘Conduit Head’, on the Madingley Road that they considered would be suitable. The owner, a widow, Frances Cornford, was intending to go on living in half the house but letting the other half to students. Accommodation was short in Cambridge and she was obviously going to pick her tenants using her own criteria. As she showed them through the house they passed a small statue and Eric casually remarked, ‘That looks like an Eric Gill work.’ Mrs Cornford responded, ‘That’s very clever of you.’ She was obviously impressed by the arty knowledge of her potential tenant and the house was theirs! Neither of Eric’s companions had ever heard of Eric Gill!

The association with Mrs Cornford became quite interesting. She turned out to be a well-known poet and associate of Rupert Brooke. More interestingly, she was the grand-daughter of Charles Darwin (daughter of Francis Darwin) and closely resembled her grandfather in facial features. Eric enjoyed going through with her references from Charles Darwin’s diary of the voyage of H.M.S. Beagle, for example: ‘We are glad to leave New Zealand. It is not a pleasant place’ – this after nine days in the Bay of Islands.

Mrs Cornford was at this time bringing up an 11-year-old grandson whose father had been killed in the Spanish Civil War. Eric was very good with the boy and, to Mrs Cornford’s delight, instructed him in sport (boxing and cricket). In return Mrs Cornford gave Eric a suitably inscribed photograph of Charles Darwin late in life, which had been taken by one of his sons, Major Leonard Darwin. At a symposium held in Dunedin in September 2009, on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, Eric gifted the photograph to the symposium5.It is now in the custody of the University of Otago Library.


While at Cambridge Eric had got to know Valentine Chapman, an instructor in the Botany School. On being appointed to the Chair of Botany at Auckland University College, he advised Eric that a new position (a lectureship in genetics) had been created in Auckland and suggested strongly that Eric might apply for it. This he did and in July 1947 was duly appointed. At that time Eric was only halfway through the nominal three years for a PhD, and was now committed to a job due to begin in Auckland at the beginning of the 1948 academic year. With a superhuman effort he submitted his thesis in record time. It was titled ‘The variation and cytology of the British species of Agropyron and their natural hybrids’. He had his oral examination in time to catch a boat back to New Zealand in January.

His research

On 3 November 1948, after some months’ teaching at Auckland University College, Eric gave a talk to the Auckland Botanical Society. It was titled ‘Research on New Zealand plants’ and is in abstract form in their Newsletter6. Its detail, tone and breadth set the platform for both his own research and methods and for others who favoured experiment. It was the logical, regional, post-war implementation of concepts in The new systematics,edited by Julian Huxley and published in 1940 at the beginning of the war. So many of the things Eric outlined there – flowering times, breeding systems, controlled hybridisation, seed set – were accomplished over the years. His vision of future botanical research is so important that we will often return to it because he was positioned to achieve it among his responsibilities for the direction of state-controlled botany for the nation.

He wrote only one paper on grasses7 – that from his PhD research at Cambridge University – and never worked on the Compositae (the daisies). A list of all his published papers is attached to the obituary by CJ Webb in the New Zealand Journal of Botany; it is not reproduced here but is available online8.


For long-sustained research, Fuchsia holds pride of place; controlled interspecific hybrids first made in 19519, a significant summation of South Pacific species in 199510, and a final contribution with Katie Reynolds of Whangarei in 199811 span nearly 50 years.

At the Auckland Botanical Society meeting in 19486 he posed the question: ‘Has anyone ever crossed Fuchsia excorticata with F. procumbens to synthesise the supposed hybrid F. colensoi? Why not try such an experiment as this?’ He did exactly that.

New Zealand species of Fuchsia were recognised as displaying floral polymorphism, uncommon among the family Onagraceae, and GM Thomson12, influenced by Charles Darwin’s The effects of cross and self fertilisation in the vegetable kingdom (1876) and The different forms of flowers on plants of the same species (1877), was astonished that the dimorphism in flowers had not been noticed before. Thomas Kirk13 interpreted the pattern of three floral forms as classical heterostyly – as typified by Primula flowers – noting: ‘If it were not for the two types of hermaphrodite flowers, New Zealand fuchsias might be treated as gynodioecious.’ Eric Godley in 19559 revealed that F. excorticata and F. perscandens are gynodioecious – plants are of two kinds bearing either perfect flowers or female flowers. The densely branched subshrub F. procumbens is subdioecious – plants are male or female but sometimes hermaphrodite14. HH Allan took up the detail in his Flora of New Zealand Vol. 1.

The genetics of control of male sterility is an essential in the definition and in the maintenance of gynodioecism as a reproductive system. In 196315 he showed in F. procumbens that the female plants are heterogametic and that male sterility is under the control of a single dominant gene, and later that the same holds true for F. excorticata10. Female heterogamety is unusual and so too is dominant male sterility, and neither applies to species in Mexico and South America. Eric’s original genetic solution contained a semblance of the genetics of dioecism and his subsequent reinterpretation of subdioecism in F. procumbens may bear that out.

And the answer to his 1948 question about the experimental synthesis of F. × colensoi from F. excorticate F. perscandens? The natural hybrids are even more abundant than F. perscandens itself, and are fertile but of lowered pollen stainability. ‘That plants referable to F. colensoi can arise as hybrids is shown by our artificial crosses’16.

The intrinsic structure and content of the 1995 fuchsia paper with PE Berry10 reflected all his ambitions outlined in 1948. It is a modern paper, and it embodies a unified biology embracing geobotany, developmental botany, anatomy, genetics, biochemistry, reproduction, natural hybridism, experimental hybrids, seeds and their dispersal. And the contributions of his co-author, Paul Berry, some beyond Eric’s personal experience, are indistinguishably integrated in the whole. Eric was in his mid-seventies then, and had devoted about 50 years to fuchsia. In 1985 he wrote ‘Paths to maturity’17: on his own path, in ‘The biology and systematics of Fuchsia in the South Pacific’10 the maturity is explicit. That paper includes his solitary entry into formal taxonomy: Fuchsia section Procumbentes E. J. Godley & P. E. Berry, Type: Fuchsia procumbens R. Cunn. ex A. Cunn10.

Mystifyingly, there is no mention of Fuchsia and Eric’s papers in a very recent review by Dufay and Billard18 of the roles of female advantage in gynodioecious plants.


New Zealand kowhai – Sophora spp., Leguminosae – were one of Eric’s favourite research topics; he used occasions of directorial travel to study populations throughout the country. Within Sophora the evolution of the widely distributed species S. microphylla was a central question, and in his 1974 Cockayne Memorial Lecture19 he outlined its origin. His solution involved hybridism between two diploids, the divaricating shrub S. prostrata and the tall tree S. tetraptera, followed by selections within the swarms. That proposal called upon homoploid speciation, regarded as much less common than amphiploidy – there being no change in chromosome number. He reciprocally made the F1 interspecific hybrids between modern members of the two species. The hybrids flowered at 8 years but there is no report on them. The original hybrids are still in cultivation at Landcare Research, Lincoln, together with F2 progenies20.

Allied to the studies on Sophora he included those on the New Zealand commonality ‘juvenile form’ – it may persist in S. microphylla for more than 25 years. He turned to juvenile forms in ‘Paths to maturity’17, especially in those shrubs with a divaricate juvenile habit. Godley proposed the generalisation that species with divaricating juveniles resulted from hybridisations between a divaricate shrub or small tree and a tree lacking divaricating branches; some later extinctions are essential to his hypothesis. An argument about the original evolution of divarication in New Zealand, re-ignited by Michael Greenwood and Ian Atkinson in 197721, has not concluded and the controversy rages. No victor is in sight.

The influence on Eric of Charles Darwin began during his schooldays and was life-long. In his 1948 talk to the Auckland Botanical Society6 he commented on a Darwinian ‘simple experiment’ thus: ‘or immersing seeds and fruits in seawater for a long period and testing their germinating capacity, to see if they could be distributed by ocean currents’. Once more he did exactly that, this time with kowhai seeds and in association with WR (Bill) Sykes. Sophora dispersal had been explored in terms of oceanic dispersal by HB Guppy and AW Schimper at the turn of the 20th century, and Sykes and Godley22 demonstrated with seeds from New Zealand plants their buoyancy and its duration in salt and sweet water, and the germinability of the floating seeds.

Sykes had collected kowhai seeds on the strands of Macauley and Raoul islands of the Kermadec Group, some 1000 km north-east of New Zealand, and plants were raised from them. Dispersal of viable seeds from New Zealand to the Kermadecs by oceanic currents was demonstrable, but plants do not establish there, unlike southern Chile where plants grow from seeds transported in the west wind drift. Just to complete the buoyancy story: seeds of S. prostrata sink and those of S. tetraptera only rarely float.

Buoyancy and germinability were established; longevity remained unexplored. Tests on seeds of several species stored dry for 24–40 years established germinability in species from Hawai’i, Gough Island, southern Chile, Lord Howe Island, and throughout New Zealand; about a third of the seeds tested were Eric’s own collections23. Their actual longevity still remains to be established, but for some species 28–38 years in storage is too long.

It is well known that chipping the hard seed-coat of kowhai seeds accelerates germination. In nature germination is controlled by moisture entering the seed through the depression in the hilum or scar, but seawater is toxic. In A botanist’s notebook24 the shape and cellular patterns of the hilum are beautifully shown in photographs of sections through the seed apex.

The golden kowhai flowers have emblematic status in New Zealand and are certainly much photographed. Seeds of S. tetraptera collected on Cook’s first voyage of 1768 were germinated at the Chelsea Apothecaries Garden in 1774; the plants soon flowered and William Curtis could write about them for illustration No. 167 in The Botanical Magazine of 1796 (Vol. V). Flowers and flowering were part of Eric’s 1948 overall programme. The growth of the inflorescences in three species of kowhai was described by Godley and his assistant, Diane Smith25. They showed that buds were initiated in summer, that the inflorescences increased quickly to mature length by January–February, then overwintered before flowering in spring (September onwards). Their figure shows an ideal sigmoid growth curve for inflorescences, and also displays interspecific differences in inflorescence length. Age at first flowering was also emphasised, and the effect of the long juvenile phase in S. microphylla meant that some plants still did not reach flowering even after 22 years. First flowering in S. fulvida occurred at 4 years and in S. tetraptera at 5 years.

There is no indication that Eric dissected individual flowers on an inflorescence to determine floral development during that long overwintering phase. As such he probably missed the differences in timing between floral initiation and organ differentiation in S. tetraptera described quite recently by Jiancheng Song et al.26. That very unusual timing difference lasts for several months during the summer–autumn dormancy and ends in early winter when floral organs resume their normal development. All of this is interpreted by Song and her co-authors in terms of ABC genes in a MADS-box analysis, where peaks of bimodal expression coincide with the development of flower parts.

There is no concordance of the current taxonomy of Sophora27 with the collections used in seed-coat phenolics28, or of those seeds in his paper with Bill Sykes on transoceanic dispersal22. Among the several species now recognised, S. microphylla is restricted to those plants with a persistent juvenile form. But which among his collections is the eponymous ecological species S. godleyi? Thankfully there are no problems with the taxa listed in seed longevity study23.

But the kowhai plantings in Canterbury around the buildings at Landcare Research in Lincoln and those at the Styx Mill Reserve near Belfast, the artificial F1 and F2 interspecific hybrids preserved in cultivation, and the glory of their flowers are other tributes to a study begun in 1958 and culminating 50 years later in a posthumous account of kowhai plants in the lower Waimakariri River catchment29.

Reproduction biology

It may seem repetitive to turn once more to Eric’s 1948 lecture to the Auckland Botanical Society, but in doing so one gives full recognition to his original ideas and to how he later fulfilled his own prescriptions. So to reproduction biology – how seeds are formed, dispersed, germinated to give rise to the next generation of plants.

New Zealand botany had an international reputation for flower biology led by GM Thomson in the 19th century; Eric Godley became his 20th century successor and restored us to that major international standing. This was realised in a well-attended international symposium on ‘Reproduction in flowering plants’ held in Christchurch, 10–15 February 1979 – EJ Godley was Chairman; to describe it as a resounding success is to understate its immediate and long-term value as reflected later in papers by David Lloyd (theory and evolution), Colin Webb (unbellifers among other groups), and Henry Connor (grasses).

The December issue of the New Zealand Journal of Botany Volume 17 contains the 13 invited papers in a special issue. Eric’s review ‘Flower biology in New Zealand’14 was typical of him – all topics were included and all studies accounted for. He emphasised dioecism whose frequency in New Zealand is well recognised, and he showed in a decalogue that much of that dioecism could not have evolved here. That review preceded the remarkable identification by CE Eckroyd30,31, a decade or so later, of nocturnal pollination by short-tailed native bats of the rare, dioecious, obligatory parasitic, highly scented, rosewood Dactylanthus taylori. Eric himself had slept out overnight in two-hour shifts in the hope of seeing pollination in native species of Calystegia; he never recorded the event.

The ‘white flower syndrome’ – about 60% of the attractive flowers in New Zealand plants are white – is a debated issue. Eric’s conclusion was ‘there is no one generalisation which can explain the evolution of white flowers in the New Zealand flora’14, and that plants on the main islands are completely or highly dependent on insect pollinators. This is not so on subantarctic islands, whose coloured flowers are prominent. He returned to white or coloured flowers in his study of gentians on Campbell and Antipodes islands32 but without any major conclusion. Diane Campbell33 and her colleagues, from field observations and colour manipulation experiments in alpine Otago 30 years later, agreed with Eric’s 1979 ‘no one generalisation’ conclusion, but added that flower colour does influence preferential insect visitation when compared with other floral traits.

TF Cheeseman of Auckland had, by 1873, investigated fertilisation in New Zealand orchids34, influenced by Darwin’s first book on insect pollination of orchids (1862)35. GM Thomson, from Dunedin, very soon joined the circus36.Eric, in his 1979 Symposium paper, carefully reviewed orchid reproduction biology14; it has since been continued by Brian PJ Molloy37, 38.

Particular identification of self-incompatibility was determined experimentally in Pentachondra pumila (Epacridaceae)39, preceded by discussion in Nature40 on unisexual flowers in Ericales where Cyathodes colensoi was shown to be dioecious and that seeds were set from hand pollinations. In Pseudowintera colorata (mountain horopito), a study begun in the 1970s, Eric Godley and Diane Smith41 showed that here is a special expression of self-incompatability. Self-pollen germinates on the carpel surface, pollen tubes grow down to the ovule and discharge of the male elements takes place, but ovules are aborted and no zygotes are formed. Self-incompatibility is not expressed as the characteristic pollen–stigma response. Later, Tammy Sage and Bruce Sampson42 confirmed, with extensive anatomical detail and illustration, that a late-acting ovular self-incompatibility occurs in Pseudowintera axillaris (lowland horopito) during the zygote phase of embryo development.

A dioecious species is expected to comprise populations with equal numbers of male and female plants. Confirmation in the field and in experiment is required. In natural populations of endemic dioecious species, 10 were found to comprise an excess of male plants43. Godley made the point several times that genera as a whole should be studied, not just the local species. In two native species of Clematis, male plants were 67% of the populations. Families of Tasmanian C. gentianoides44, amenable to experiment in glasshouse pot culture, were raised from seeds of 20 individual wild plants. The resulting segregations yielded a significant excess of males, consistent with field results in New Zealand; male heterogamety applies there as in most dioecious species.

Botany of the Southern Zone

This title chosen for his papers in Tuatara45,46 seems appropriate to any description of his research on the New Zealand subantarctic islands and to that in southern Chile. The Southern Zone for him also included the islands in the South Indian Ocean – Kerguelen and Heard, and those in the South Atlantic – Falklands and South Georgia. Many lie below 50oS and are sometimes referred to as the peri-Antarctic islands.

Quite soon after he was appointed Director of Botany Division, Eric went to southern Chile during August 1958 to March 1959 as a member of the Royal Society expedition commemorating the centennial of the publication of Darwin’s On the origin of species47. His itinerary is in the New Zealand Journal of Botany complete with maps48. He gave his impressions to the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture in 195949 and 50 years later in his autobiographical ‘Reminiscences of a Neo-Darwinian’5.

He read his paper on ‘The botany of Southern Chile in relation to New Zealand and the Subantarctic’ in London during 10 and 11 December 1959 in the ‘Discussion on the Biology of the Southern Cold Temperate Zone’50. He spoke three times at the conference: (i) his paper and (ii) briefly on climate and vegetation history in General Discussion on Botany and (iii) on the biology of Nothofagus; all are among the record in Proceedings of the Royal Society for 1960. Two topics dominate his symposium paper – the forests between 41oS and 48oS, and the Magellanic moorlands south of 48oSto Cape Horn. Genera in the forests such as Nothofagus, Laurelia and Weinmannia resonate with us, but not Aextoxicum or Saxegothea. Species of Weinmannia and Laurelia occur through the region in a more or less non-discriminatory way, unlike Nothofagus.

But it is the moorlands of the south that appear to have captivated him and he interpreted them as the only true subantarctic region on the extremity of South America. His map of their distribution corresponds with that of Andean diorite, and encompasses the area lying south of 48oS and to 60oS. The moorlands are dominated by cushion plants – species of Donatia, Astelia, Oreobolus and Gaimardia.

His phytogeographic synthesis on ‘Cushion bogs’51 combining data for Chile, New Zealand and its subantarctic islands, and comparisons with Tasmania and the Australian continent, the equatorial Andes, Malesia, and Hawai’i, must rank as his best ecophytogeographic paper. The physiognomic element, the cushion, occurs in many plant genera and he listed them, but their occurrence across the Southern Hemisphere and in tropical areas is irregular, and only Astelia, Acaena, and Drosera seem to be the common genera. That paper was one part in Geoecological relations between the southern temperate zone and the tropical mountains (1978), edited by Carl Troll and Wilhelm Lauer.

In his paper to the Royal Society, London, on the south Chilean expedition50 he emphasised that in comparisons among natural regions the taxonomic comparisons should be made first and the comparison of the vegetation second. This self-generated dictum is evident throughout his plant sociological papers. Another paper related to the Royal Society Expedition is ‘Plant geography of south Chile’52 primarily about extensions on the ranges of many taxa, but there are also extensive notes on Hebe salicifolia (koromiko), native to Chile and New Zealand. He returned to H. salicifolia in southern South America in a discussion in Nature53 on widely distributed species, and in keeping with his Darwinian ‘simple experiment’ showed that mature koromiko seeds sink in seawater when they are fully wetted.

Soon after the Chilean expedition Eric began his trips to the islands of the New Zealand Southern Zone: Campbell Island in 1961 and 1969; the Auckland Islands in 1963 and 1966, and Antipodes Island from the end of January to 12 March 1969. Floristic and phytogeographic data dominate his five papers from these voyages54–58. His first was one among several presented at the New Zealand Ecological Society 1964 Conference on ‘The ecology of the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand’. The last, 1989, on Antipodes Island, is exhaustive; it deals with all the expeditions; the composition of the flora, its phylogeny and its evolution are elaborated. That paper was 20 years in the making, and emerges as the best of subantarctic islands papers, and is indicative of what his ambitions must have been for papers about the other islands.

In one paper in Tuatara56 he included BC Aston’s previously unpublished report on the Auckland Islands, visited as part of the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury’s 1907 expedition. This personalised report had appeal for Eric because it was a day-by-day, place-by-place, species-by-species, difficulty-by-difficulty narrative. He never forgot the subantarctic islands, and again in Tuatara57 he reflected on his first trip to the Auckland Islands of 1962–1963.

In those two long, extensively documented, narrative accounts of Southern Zone explorations published in Tuatara, Eric described in chronological sequence the botanical explorations, the collectors, the collections, and research outcomes of expeditions during the 18th and 19th centuries. Few expeditions, if any, were purely biological let alone botanical, and the dependence on ships’ surgeons as collectors is evident; the exceptions are well known to New Zealand botany – Banks and Solander, the Forsters, and the younger Hooker. No matter the size of the expedition to the southern oceans, they are attested. The Magellanic zone, including islands in the Southern Atlantic and Indian oceans, is well attended. The Auckland Islands and Campbell Island of the Southern Ocean receive his greatest attention. And not unexpectedly, the youthful Joseph Dalton Hooker, author of Flora Antartica, Flora Tasmaniae, Flora Novae-Zelandeae59, reigns.

Several European nations – France, England, Italy, Germany – sent exploring voyages and among the 300 or so references in his two accounts56,57, papers in French were about one-third of the citations in the period to 1840, while in the period 1847–1890 papers in German were about one-third. One benefit of those endeavours is the large reference collection in the Landcare Research Library at Lincoln.

His experience with Southern Zone’s uncertainties of collecting sites and loca for ecological notes made him acutely aware of the need for an accurate account of his own voyaging through southern Chile. The safeguard is his ‘Botanist’s itinerary’ of 196348, a paper not totally welcomed by the Editor of the New Zealand Journal of Botany. He continued that plan in his Report to the Director-General of Lands on the activities of his Adams Island party of the Auckland Islands trip of 196660, and he in a Tuatara paper56 praised BC Aston’s unpublished report on the 1907 Auckland Islands expedition.

Although not exactly ‘Botany of the Southern Zone’ he wrote three papers on New Zealand vegetation at about the time he was revising Cockayne’s New Zealand plants and their story. One paper, ‘Vegetation, indigenous’, written for An encyclopaedia of New Zealand,was so expanded, so altered by a member of the encyclopaedia editorial staff after proofs were returned, that he wrote: ‘Whatever the merit of the changes I can only disclaim authorship of the whole as published’61. The editor of the encyclopaedia expressed his regret.

Perhaps his paper on ‘Flora and vegetation’ in G Kuschel’s Biogeography and ecology in New Zealand (1975) was unexpected. The ‘flora’ is about plant families, and life forms, reproductive systems, flower colour, fruits – all treated with analytical aplomb and all features of Eric’s personal botanical ethos. The ‘vegetation’ is descriptive, and only occasionally is it structural, developmental, or process-oriented. In the following year he contributed the chapter ‘Flora’ in Ian Ward’s boldly illustrated New Zealand atlas (1976); despite its title, his chapter is about plant communities; the accompanying 21 excellent photographs are of single species in our flora.

More could be written, but a very slight alteration to John 21:25 must suffice. ‘There are many more things that Eric did; if all were written down …’

Director, Botany Division DSIR

Eric Godley was Director of Botany Division from 1958 to 1980; those 22 years made him the longest-serving director of the Division, since his immediate predecessors AL Poole (1948–1950) and CM Smith (1951–1957) reigned for considerably shorter terms. The founding director, Dr HH Allan, had served as its chief from 1928 until 1947. Appointed at age 32 as Director, Crop Research Division in 1953 his mien seemed more mature than his years suggested. This early air of authority never left him. But it was his maturity of vision, not air of authority, that effected the transformation of Botany Division from the dominant ‘economic botany’ of the earlier days to the ‘documented botany’ that became the strength of his era.

This documentation was expressed at the highest level in the Flora of New Zealand series of five volumes arranged during his stewardship. It was expressed in Peter Wardle’s The vegetation of New Zealand (1991) published after Eric’s retirement. It was also expressed in the Botanical Surveys of Reserves, a long series of investigations of the botany of nationally owned and dedicated land parcels administered by the Department of Lands and Survey. All this achievement demanded prolonged and consistent effort. Of those three topics the least demanding of his time was The vegetation of New Zealand because it had a sole and very experienced author. The survey of reserves fell to many of his staff, distributed throughout both Islands, in a protracted documentation.

The discipline of Flora writing continued right up to the time of his retirement and later under the directorship of Warwick Harris; some of it continued much longer because the volume on The Grasses did not emerge until 2000 when Botany Division was already subsumed in Landcare Research. These delays may have tested his patience but no author records impatience. Cytology, palynology, anatomy, reproduction biology, chemotaxonomy were maintained, or initiated and developed. The herbarium, now the Allan Herbarium (CHR), was expanded. So, too, the library, with both book purchases and new journals.

When Eric began at Botany Division in Christchurch in January 1958 there were eight botanists of whom only two were younger than him, eight technicians, an artist, a librarian, and two in the office. When he retired in March 1984, the staff totalled 50; among these were 27 botanists – 10 were ecologists, reflecting the needs of the time – and 15 technicians. Staff numbers cannot tell it all, nor can the establishment of regional substations first at Taita with Soil Bureau, and later in Auckland, Nelson and Dunedin.

He attracted visiting botanists to work at the Division; notable among them: Ronald Melville of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1961–62; Peter and Tamra Raven, Missouri Botanic Gardens, 1969–70, authors of The genus Epilobium (Onagraceae) in Australasia: a systematic and evolutionary study; Richard Wood, University of Rhode Island, 1975–76, author with Ruth Mason of New Zealand Chlorophyta62. There were always lists of visitors in the Triennial Reports.

In a botanical trinity at rural Lincoln, after a shift from Christchurch city in May 1960, he saw a research unity in the herbarium, library, and experimental gardens. He ensured that the three were served by staff and with money. Fieldwork provided specimens for the herbarium; the library housed the reference works; and the gardens grew ‘the problems’ that the fieldwork and herbarium detected. The original 1960s herbarium was extended twice and currently houses just over 600,000 specimens. The library too was extended, and back issues of several European journals obtained. The gardens, about 10 ha, now faded from their early prominence, came to be replaced by glasshouses and special cultures.

Research highlights

Eric Godley’s own researches are not divorced from those of the Division he directed, but what follows are the signal botanical results achieved by his colleagues – always ‘my colleagues’, as in his dedication to A botanist’s notebook; never ‘my staff’.

The diversity is obvious. First, the Flora of New Zealand and the like:

‘The first step, in botany as in any other science, is the classification and recording of the units with which one is working. The units in our case are the species, first in the native flora and secondly of the introduced flora’6. In immediate post-War New Zealand when Eric Godley wrote those sentences, the current documentation lay in TF Cheeseman’s Manual of the New Zealand Flora (1925)and HH Allan’s A handbook of the naturalised flora of New Zealand (1940)and An introduction to the grasses of New Zealand (1936).

The concept of a new series of Floras to include ferns, gymnosperms and higher plants pre-dated Eric’s arrival at Botany Division in 1958, because HH Allan had already spent nine years in the preparation of the first volume on indigenous plants, eventually published in 1961. Credit for Volume II (Indigenous Tracheophyta – monocotyledons except Gramineae) by Lucy B Moore and Elizabeth Edgar, published in 1970 and dedicated to HH Allan, is due to Eric Godley. He appointed Dr Edgar to the project, and Dr Moore continued on from her task of completing Volume I after Dr Allan’s death in 1957. The remainder – all the grasses and the adventive and naturalised plants – totalled about half of the flora in New Zealand. Eric’s judgement and skills in the allocation of authorship and of the subdivisions of the plant kingdom were now displayed at their highest. Volume III, entitled Adventive cyperaceous, petalous & spathaceous monocotyledons, was written by Arthur J Healy and Elizabeth Edgar and published in 1980. It had a substantial Preface, quite unlike Volumes I and II.

Eric redistributed the work for most of the naturalised plants among his recently appointed botanists with Colin J Webb, WR (Bill) Sykes, and Philip J Garnock-Jones preparing Volume IV. Published in 1988, four years after his retirement, dedicated to AJ Healy, and 1365 pages long, Volume IV Naturalised pteridophytes, gymnosperms, dicotyledons – the weed book – finally met the largest impost that WM Hamilton, when Director-General DSIR, had set over Eric.

Victor D Zotov, between 1963 and 1973, wrote five taxonomic contributions preparatory to Volume V, which was to be devoted exclusively to the grass family. Eventually Volume V Gramineae was written by Elizabeth Edgar and Henry Connor after a further 23 papers, and first published in 2000, almost 16 years after Eric retired.

‘The Grasses’ was the final volume in the Flora of New Zealand series (1961–2000). An octet of authors presented to New Zealand that one critical part of the documentation of New Zealand botany – the cornerstone of botanical endeavours. Where it became obvious that a volume of the Flora could not be written by single pen Eric arranged for more pens. He had inherited eight botanists on his assumption of the rank Director, Botany Division, in 1958. Of these, three became flora writers though none was formally trained for, nor quite prepared for the specialist and demandingly tedious task of flora writing. The five volumes of Floras dominate Eric’s monuments.

Documentation in the Floras was further extended after his directorship by books initiated in his time. Signaled among them are: Neville T Moar Pollen grains of New Zealand dicotyledonous plants (1993); Colin J Webb and Margaret JA Simpson Seeds of New Zealand gymnosperms and dicotyledons (2001); Peter N Johnson and Patricia A Brooke Wetland plants in New Zealand (1989); David J Galloway Flora of New Zealand lichens (1985, 2007); and U Vivienne Cassie on diatoms in Bibliotheca Diatomologica 17 (1989). Representing a different type of documentation were the weed books by Healy63 (three editions) and Parham and Healy64 (also three editions), and Connor’s second edition of the poisonous plants book65.


As the conservation movement expanded in New Zealand in the 1960s and ‘70s pressures were applied on Botany Division to assist with assessments of the botanical make-up of reserves of several classes – scenic, flora and fauna, historic – administered by the Department of Lands and Survey. In 1964 Botany Division staff began to survey these reserves. The job was never small and, in all, 750 reports66 were eventually written by an enlarged ecological staff.

In a very long, commissioned report67 to the Waitangi Tribunal in 2001 on the indigenous flora and fauna claim (Wai 262), Geoff Park wrote that Botany Division was unprepared for the reserves inventory task, and had no standard survey or classification methods. But his main point of dissatisfaction was the failure by the survey ecologists, himself included, to acknowledge Māori history, Māori ecological knowledge or input, or even Māori presence and thus in their responsibilities to the Treaty of Waitangi. The deposit of botanical data from the surveys of reserves still lies in the original documentation; their reinterpretation remains open. The report of the Waitangi Tribunal on the flora and fauna claim was released in July 201168.

In another Wai 262 report (Ashley Gould, 2007; R 35) Eric’s role in kumara conservation is commended. During his time at Crop Research Division in the early 1950s, he encouraged Douglas G Yen to collect early Māori kumara cultivars, also called the pre-contact kumara. Local interest faded, and a part of Yen’s much enlarged kumara collection was finally safeguarded by transfer from New Zealand to Kyoto University, Japan. Some of the early Māori cultivars were returned with panoply to New Zealand by members of the Pou Hao Rangi Trust in 1988. Today, nine pre-contact cultivars are preserved in vitro, and virus-free69, at Plant & Food Research, Lincoln, the current successor to Crop Research DSIR where it all began.

Conservationists also expressed concern over the reduction in biodiversity expressed as loss of species of native plants. David R Given of Botany Division wrote The Red Book of New Zealand rare and endangered species … and vascular plants (with Gordon Williams, 1981), followed by Rare and endangered plants of New Zealand (1981) and then by Threatened plants of New Zealand (with Catherine M Wilson, 1989). The system of classification of plants in terms of conservation risk has been through its own evolution over the years, so have the plants that are listed. The latest classification is used in the well-illustrated Threatened plants of New Zealand (2010) by Peter J de Lange and his frequent associates.

New Zealand Journal of Botany

Historically, papers on New Zealand botany were published at home and abroad in a variety of journals but more frequently in the Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. Also available to botanists were the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology (from 1918), and later the New Zealand Journal of Science (from 1958), but there was no New Zealand journal dedicated to the science of botany. Eric, who had initially published his papers in Nature and Annals of Botany, advocated a dedicated botanical journal, and, as described by Warwick Harris70,the New Zealand Journal of Botany, Vol. 1, No.1 was published in 1963 by the Information Bureau, DSIR. Among the 10 or so papers in that initial issue two have a continued significance: Vic Zotov on the danthonioid grasses, and Brian Molloy and his four co-authors on Polynesian forest fires, which redeveloped much of eastern South Island vegetation.

Control of the publication of the New Zealand Journal of Botany, now in its 50th volume (2012), had altered in 2010. S. Wilkins71, publishing manager of the Royal Society of New Zealand, outlined changes ‘in editorial and production processes’. Editing is by local practising scientists, and publication is in a partnership with Taylor and Francis; typesetting is in India; printing in the UK or Singapore. Copyright remains with the Royal Society. Eric was Chairman of the Journal’s Editorial Advisory Board from 1965 to 1983.

Two special issues of the New Zealand Journal of Botany were particularly associated with Eric Godley: the first on ‘Reproduction in flowering plants’72; and the second, ‘Research on the vegetation of New Zealand’73, containing 11 papers presented at a symposium on 1–2 May 1984 – the‘Godley Gaudeamus’ – marking his retirement from Botany Division.

The New Zealand Journal of Botany (and Eric’s vision and persistence) has served botanical science because the world can more easily know of our plants and our vegetation, and also of the behaviour of their plants now naturalised in the alien but receptive environment of New Zealand. Preceding the arrival of the New Zealand Journal of Botany, but equally devoted to the dissemination of information, was his series of Botany Division Triennial Reports begun in 1960, and continued until the 11th and final report by Warwick Harris in 199174 when Botany Division ceased to be a DSIR division. These triennial reports, unique in DSIR, filled in the gaps between the start of research and final publication. Because botanists wrote their contributions, the reports reflect their individual philosophies and intellectual development; more importantly, free from rigid control, they reflect the expansion of botanical studies in a Government research institution, and of liberal science management. Now, 50 years on, those Triennial Reports are written histories; they reveal projects started but never concluded.


Two books, first written at the turn of the 20th century, have always been influential in the appreciation of New Zealand’s botany and vegetation; both were popular and in demand. In the 1960s Eric revised Leonard Cockayne’s New Zealand plants and their Story, first published 1910, and Robert M Laing and Ellen Blackwell’s Plants of New Zealand, first published in 1906.

For the fourth edition of New Zealand plants and their story he set himself five desiderata: (i) to interfere as little as possible with the text; but (ii) to provide modern names for the plants; (iii) to re-locate the photographs used by Cockayne or replace them appropriately; (iv) to provide footnotes; and (v) to provide a new Index. Of the 136 illustrations, 92 are new and include one of chromosomes in Ranunculus showing diploid and tetraploid complements. Another is of pollen grains, plant fragments, and of a pollen diagram of a bog on the Whanahuia Range, central North Island, showing pumice layers from the Taupo and Waimihia eruptions. There are 50 new footnotes which mostly drew attention to the then current literature.

While this work on the 1967 edition of New Zealand plants and their story was more than editing, that of the seventhedition of Laing and Blackwell’s Plants of New Zealand (1964) was a revision of the proper names of plants, except for the rewriting of the section on flowers of the endemic species of Fuchsia. Robert Malcolm Laing was well known to New Zealand botany, but EW Blackwell was an unknown, ‘une femme enigmatique. Ellen Wright Blackwell and Frank Bartram Blackwell feature in one of Eric’s Biographic Notes75; he showed that her share of authorship of the first edition of Plants of New Zealand lay in bringing to it her brother as a contributory photographer.

Eric Godley wrote the botanical commentaries for two books of paintings and engravings of New Zealand plants. For Sydney Parkinson, Artist of Cook’s Endeavour Voyage76 he made a representative collection of Parkinson’s drawings. His selection, apart from avoiding those already reproduced by other authors, reflects his interests in flowers, in endemic genera, and in solitary local species of genera of widespread distribution. Ten were colour engravings and 10 in black and white. Each is accompanied by taxonomic notes and other comments on the flowers or fruits. The text and illustrations, in an engaging narrative form, follow Cook’s journey; the botanical names from the Banks and Solander unpublished manuscript are included for historical reference. Of the 20 plates 14 are trees or shrubs, 5 species are dioecious or are dioecious variants. Somewhat earlier, Eric wrote the balanced commentaries for Norman B Harvey’s 40 gouache New Zealand botanical paintings (1969). They ranged from ferns through orchids to supplejack and flow on to higher plants such as mangrove, karaka, and pohutukawa. His contributions, often brief, include references to recognised uses, risks of poisoning, and flowering habits, and are aided by reference to works by Colenso, Cheeseman, Kirk and Cockayne, and to modern research by RV Mirams and RL Bieleski on kauri, and to LH Millener on whau.

His own book, A botanist’s notebook of 2006, was a composite one in the style of Canterbury authors Thomas H Potts, Leonard Cockayne and Arnold Wall, all of whom wrote short, regular pieces for newspapers that eventually became books. There was never an initial intimation that the 61 studies written for the New Zealand Gardener between 1978 and 1984 would be united, together with 11 other pieces of different sources, and regrouped in one book. Variety characterises this Notebook. One of the articles, in a group of four specially written for it, is a temporal lexicon of 81 words from Māori that have become generic, specific or infraspecific names of seed plants and ferns. The launch of the Notebook at the Canterbury Museum is recorded in the New Zealand Botanical Society’s Newsletter77.

Biographical notes

In an article in Tuatara on the 1907 Expedition to the subantarctic islands56 Eric offered biographic notes on the ‘lesser known members of the expedition’. Information on the well-known, he said, ‘can be found in their obituaries’. This seems to foreshadow his series of Biographical Notes begun in 1991 and published four times a year like clockwork for 20 years in the New Zealand Botanical Society Newsletter. They were about the ‘lesser known’ contributors to New Zealand botany, the unsung heroes and heroines. The exceptions are few, notably Professor John Stuart Yeates (Nos 68–70) formerly of Massey College; Sir George Grey (No. 75); and that on Captain Sir James Everard Home (No. 76), his last, published posthumously (June 2010).

Most entries are about contributions to the post-Cheeseman Flora period, though 37 are of Colonial and Dominion times. His botany teacher Olga LG Adams (No. 72) and his dependable botany text-book writer Frederick Neve (No. 35) are featured. Regional representation may not have been intended, but is there: the Matthews of Northland (Nos 3, 20); WL Townson of Westland (No. 8); Harry Carse of Northland (No. 29); JK Forbes of North Canterbury (No. 16); JH McMahon of Marlborough (No. 4); George Simpson of Otago (No. 28); Harry Talbot of Central Canterbury (No. 38). Some Notes covered two generations: JF and JB Armstrong of Canterbury (No. 33); F and HF Logan of Wellington (No. 36); that of the three Traill brothers, C, W and AW, (No. 47) is unique. The Biographical Notes follow no evident literary model, unlike the pieces in A botanist’s notebook. The decision to write them was his; the method was his. The long list of ‘people of interest’, of achievement, and of value to 19th, 20th, and 21st century New Zealand botany reveals his concern for our recognition of the accomplishments so often demeaned as contributions by ‘amateurs’. He praised the praiseworthy; the blameworthy he ignored. But this series of Notes illustrates another aspect of his style – select a topic, persist with it and publish regularly. Such rigour entails huge demands. It was his second such series.

Eric abhorred biographic errors; he must have been horrified by the edited entry in Who’s Who in New Zealand (12th edn) that recorded him as Director of Crop Research Division DSIR from 1958 to 1981 when he was, of course, Director of Botany Division.


Eric Godley always seemed to have been a Director; his stance, his demeanour signified, but he was not austere. A feature of DSIR administration was the monthly meeting of Directors of the Agriculture and Biology divisions. These provided a forum for discussion of all matters affecting them. One important meeting each year was for constructing an ‘order of merit list of scientists’. This list determined the salary and promotional prospects of each individual. In such an exercise it is easy to imagine biased advocacy becoming prominent. In this environment Eric provided mature, level-headed judgements and fairness, and acted as a model for his colleagues. That ability, exhibited elsewhere, was innate, but it did not reduce his critical abilities. Deafness had afflicted his life since boyhood; despite surgery he was hearing-aid dependent and it seems a marvel that despite the impairment he attended and controlled meetings successfully.

Determination was another personal characteristic; once a course of action was established he pursued it determinedly. He was generous in allowing staff the choice of research topics; freedom of thought and approach he ensured, but he eschewed dilettantism. There was never rule by restriction, nor by overt persuasion. Not that there were no difficulties, no conflicts; default did occur, its scale is now hard to recall. Management at Botany Division was simple – a meeting at 8.40 a.m. every Monday for the botanists, and once a month for all staff. Two-day meetings of all staff were held biennially. Botany Division was run on an ‘open’ system until the formation of sections in 1972 when staff numbers had increased. His staff selection policy entertained a simple principle: ‘The next appointment must be as good or better than the last’.

Beyond Divisional management, Eric served from 1962 to 1982 on the important Scientific Co-ordinating Committee for Beech Research, sponsored by NZ Forest Service. One of its functions was the selection of areas of forest for reservation, but later extended to include all forests, not just beech forests. Despite criticism, it was effective at a time when conservation seemed at low ebb. From 1962 to 1995 he was on the Board of Governors of the Miss E L Hellaby Indigenous Grasslands Research Trust, founded in 1959 and centred at Botany Department, University of Otago, Dunedin.

Many branches of science in New Zealand have national organisations and although botany had several local societies there was no national society until 1988. Eric was one of the foundation proposers of the New Zealand Botanical Society and its first President, from 1988 to 1995. To his disappointment he never achieved the Society’s admission to the Royal Society’s Constituent Organisation; ‘All amateurs’ was one dismissive argument against admission.


Eric John Godley married June Vivian Midgley in 1955; she predeceased him. There were no children from that marriage, but he had a large family of botanists. He inherited the first of it in 1958 when he became Director of Botany Division with its eight botanists, and allied staff. Later that same year he quickly founded the second with his own first appointments – botanists IAE Atkinson and FJF Fisher. There was a third group he brought to his lively botanical institute – botanists who were not ideally placed at the time. Among those who brought distinction to an engrossed family were Peter Wardle (in 1960, from forest ecology), Brian Molloy (in 1969, from agriculture), David Galloway (in 1972, from biochemistry) and Raj Patel (in 1974, from forestry).

Loyalty to Eric’s person and to his Botany Division was evident at the Godley Gaudeamus, the symposium to mark his retirement in 1984, and at the celebration of his 90th birthday in 2009 at the University Staff Club, Christchurch. They had gathered in June 1999 at Lincoln for Octogesimo Anno, and in 2006 at Canterbury Museum for the launch of A botanist’s notebook. A measure of the regard and affection he enjoyed was shown when family, friends, and botanical colleagues from across the country, about a hundred in all, assembled at Lincoln on 29 November 2010 for the Eric Godley Commemoration. It reflected his influence on two generations of scientists. Eric’s loyalty to his colleagues marked him; he attended their farewells, their public lectures, and their book launches. He spoke at several and always without notes, because his preparation was careful and exact.

Poetry was always in his life. Devonport, his birthplace, was the home to literary figures like Maurice Duggan, Frank Sargeson, and ARD Fairburn. In his mind he never left Devonport; its hold on him was tenacious. The downstream effect on Eric was poetry and literature as a lifelong inheritance; some called it the ‘Devonport Effect’.

In his war journal for 1 February 1944, when he was ‘Just below St. Angelo d’Alife’, he wrote out the three verses of Rupert Brooke’s 1913 poem They say that lovers look, and below the poem he continued ‘Perhaps (with D.H. Lawrence) Rupert Brooke is the last of the true poets – as I imagine poetry should be. Auden, Spender, MacNeish all give a feeling of sterility. Material and words – broken and sterile. In them the atmosphere of science has at last impacted with that of the spirit. The result could be sublime, but in their hands it is dry parched – even dead.’ [sic act. 24.] That was not the only poetry entry in his war journal. ‘The Engineer of St Elia’ is the heading for 18 April 1944. Giovanni Fumino, an artillery officer in WWI and now a water engineer, would write passages from Dante from memory and then translate them for Eric. The engineer was of the view that ‘The two greatest poets in the world, perhaps – Dante and Shakespeare’. Eric found translating Shakespeare for the Engineer ‘very difficult’. All of this discussion in five pages of record, while at Venafro a few days before guard duty with the infantry in the upper Rapido.

Eric collected first editions of New Zealand poets. In 1996 he gave 234 volumes of poetry to Peter N Johnson, Dunedin, formerly of Botany Division, Peter sharing the common passion for poetry. Eric made other gifts. He was a Foundation Donor to the Christchurch Art Gallery, and a donor to the Christ Church Cathedral Choral Scholarship Fund. His own art collection – which includes work by Cedric Savage, Nigel Brown and Quentin McFarlane – was donated to the Ashburton Art Gallery. His scientific books are the basis of the Godley Collection in the Allan Herbarium at Landcare Research, Lincoln.

Awards and recognition

The awards and distinctions for Eric John Godley were: BSc (1940); Senior Scholar in Botany (1940); MSc Hons (1941); PhD (Cantab.) (1948); FRSNZ (1965); Corresponding Member Chilean Academy of National Science (1966); FLS (1967); Queen Elizabeth Silver Jubilee Medal (1977); Fellow honoris causa Linnean Society (1977); AHRNZIH (1984); Loder Cup (1984); Hutton Medal (1986); OBE (1990); DSc honoris causa (Cantuar.) (2000). He gave the inaugural Cheeseman Lecture in 1969 and the Cockayne Memorial Lecture in 1974.


Eric Godley can justifiably be called The Father of Post-War Botany in New Zealand as Henry Connor said in 200677. Under his leadership, and favoured by a renaissance in science, the national centre for botanical research flourished – if judged solely by the numbers of published papers and books. Not only was there beauty in the flowers, there was an intellectual elegance and rigour among those in the flourish of cytology, experiment, ecology, palynology, anatomy, and flora writing. He ensured that renaissance in post-WWII botany in New Zealand, and was an active participant.

Eric J Godley died in Christchurch in the evening of 27 June 2010.

A quotation from Joachim Du Bellay Eric used twice – once at the colloquium on Étienne Raoul and Canterbury Botany 1840–199678, and again in his contribution to Aspects of Darwin: a New Zealand celebration5.It is the first line of sonnet number 31, one of a collection of 191 Alexandrine sonnets by Du Bellay published in 1558 as Les Regrets. It seems appropriate here; he was one ‘Heureux qui, comme Ulysse, a fait un beau voyage.





All references are to papers by EJ Godley except where joint authorships and other authors are indicated.

  1. Journal of the Auckland Botanical Society 64: 169–171; 2009.
  2. Deposited at the University of Auckland Library.
  3. Annals of Eugenics 13: 99–101; 1946.
  4. Nature 165: 174; 1950.
  5. Reminiscences of a neo-Darwinian. In: Galloway DJ, Timmins J eds Aspects of Darwin: a New Zealand celebration, Hewitson Library Occasional Monograph 1, pp. 10–19; 2010.
  6. Quarterly News Letter (Auckland Botanical Society) 6: 5–8; 1948.
  7. Annals of Botany 15: 535–545; 1951.
  8. CJ Webb New Zealand Journal of Botany 49: 1–16; 2011.
  9. Annals of Botany 19: 549–559; 1955.
  10. EJ Godley, PE Berry Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 82: 473–516; 1995.
  11. EJ Godley, K Reynolds The Royal Society of New Zealand Miscellaneous Series 48: 127–143; 1998.
  12. GM Thomson Transactions of the New Zealand Institute 13: 241–288; 1881.
  13. T Kirk Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute.25: 261–268; 1893.
  14. New Zealand Journal of Botany 17: 441–466; 1979.
  15. New Zealand Journal of Botany 1: 48–52; 1963.
  16. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 82:497; 1995.
  17. New Zealand Journal of Botany 23: 687–706; 1985.
  18. M Dufay, E Billard Annals of Botany 109: 505–519; 2012.
  19. New Zealand Journal of Botany 17: 197–215; 1979.
  20. PB Heenan, Landcare Research, Lincoln, in litt.; 2011.
  21. RM Greenwood, IAE Atkinson Proceedings of the New Zealand Ecological Society 24: 21–33; 1977.
  22. WR Sykes, EJ Godley: Nature 218: 495–496; 1968.
  23. DR Norton et al. New Zealand Journal of Botany 40: 389–396; 2002.
  24. A botanist’s notebook. Manuka Press; 2006.
  25. EJ Godley, DH Smith: Journal of the Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture 5: 24–31; 1977.
  26. J Song et al. Journal of Experimental Botany 59:247–259; 2008.
  27. PB Heenan et al. New Zealand Journal of Botany 39: 17–53; 2001.
  28. KR Markhan, EJ Godley New Zealand Journal of Botany 10: 627–640; 1972.
  29. EJ Godley et al. Canterbury Botanical Society Journal 42: 13–32; 2010–2011.
  30. CE Eckroyd Forest and Bird 24 (Issue 267): 24–28; Feb. 1993.
  31. CE Eckroyd New Zealand Journal of Ecology 20:81–100; 1996.
  32. New Zealand Journal of Botany 20:405–420;1982.
  33. DR Campbell et al. Ecology 91: 2638–2649; 2010.
  34. TF Cheeseman Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 5: 352–357; 1873.
  35. C Darwin On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects, and on the good effects of intercrossing, John Murray; 1862.
  36. GM Thomson Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute 11: 418–426; 1879.
  37. B Molloy Pp. 36–56 in The New Zealand orchids: natural history and cultivation, New Zealand Native Orchid Group; 1990.
  38. BPJ Molloy, MI Dawson The Royal Society of New Zealand Miscellaneous Series 48: 103–113; 1998.
  39. New Zealand Journal of Botany 4: 249–254; 1966.
  40. Nature 180:284–285; 1957.
  41. EJ Godley, DH Smith New Zealand Journal of Botany 19: 151–156; 1981.
  42. TL Sage, FB Sampson Annals of Botany 91: 807–816; 2003.
  43. New Zealand Journal of Botany 2: 205–212; 1964.
  44. New Zealand Journal of Botany 14: 299–306; 1976.
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Obituary was lodged on website on Thursday, 27 September 2012.