Simon Nathan

Harold Wellman: A Man who Moved New Zealand

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The most influential New Zealand geologist of the 20th-century, Harold Wellman was the first to recognize one of New Zealand’'s most extraordinary features: the Alpine Fault that bisects the South Island. Wellman proposed that the rocks in Nelson and Otago had originally been joined together, and were subsequently dragged apart 480 kilometres by continuing movement of the Alpine Fault. It was regarded as a crackpot idea at the time, but it is now completely accepted.

Because he initially had no formal academic training, Wellman started with few preconceived ideas, and based his thinking on what he observed in the field. His research ranged widely over many ideas of earth science, and he acted as an inspiration and mentor to many young scientists in the DSIR and at Victoria University of Wellington.

Harold Wellman: A Man Who Moved New Zealand is the first biography of this fascinating individual. Written with verve and illustrated with over 150 photographs, maps and diagrams, it is a major contribution to New Zealand’'s scientific history.

'There are few biographies of 20th-century New Zealand scientists and Nathan does an admirable job, telling not only the story of Wellman, but also the story of the evolution of geological thinking in New Zealand.' —Rebecca Priestley, NZ LISTENER

'This most enjoyable book is a rich source of inspiration for geologists, educationists and those interested in how Harold Wellman put New Zealand on the tectonic map.' —Harold Williams, THE PRESS

'Simon Nathan skillfully narrates the career of this brilliant, dogged, prickly, abrasive yet sociable man who inspired, encouraged and irritated New Zealand geologists for many decades. Wellman's scientific research is thoroughly documented. We also get some sense of his equally remarkable wife, Joan.' —Rachel McAlpine KAPITI OBSERVER

'Simon Nathan's timely and authoritative biography of Harold Wellman is an important contribution to New Zealand's history. Nathan draws not only on the official record, but on personal reminiscences of Wellman's colleagues, friends and family, and, most importantly, Wellman's own unpublished written account, to chart the career of this extraordinary man.' —NZ JOURNAL OF GEOLOGY & GEOPHYSICS 2006 Vol 49


A note on the text
1 Earliest memories (1909–27)
2 Apprentice surveyor (1928–32)
3 Gold-mining on the West Coast (1932–34)
4 Apprentice geophysicist (1935–37)
5 Papua interlude (1938)
6 A man who could do anything (1939–42)
7 Greymouth coal geologist (1943–45)
8 Postwar geologist (1946–50)
9 Faulting and earthquakes (1950–52)
10 A northward move (1952–55)
11 Oil company geologist (1956–57)
12 At the university (1958–65)
13 New research horizons (1958–65)
14 Neotectonics (1966–79)
15 An active retirement (1979–88)
16 From iconoclast to icon (1989–99)
17 Wellman’s legacy
Sources and bibliography

Simon Nathan started his career as a DSIR geologist on the West Coast, following Wellman’s footsteps, and has a wide experience of New Zealand geology. In recent years he has become interested in the history of science, and has prepared biographical accounts of Wellman’s contemporaries Max Gage and Brian Mason. He now works as Science Editor for the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

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